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History

Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

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This past week, we went “shufflin’ off to Buffalo.” Bet you don’t know where that expression came from. I certainly didn’t know that “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” is a song from Act II of the 1933 movie, “42nd Street,” and that it was a railroad saying even earlier. All I had to say was that I was going to Buffalo, and the response was immediate: “Shufflin’ off?” I was asked.

The second reaction was also the same. “Better bring your long underwear,” I was urged. “And a shovel. Is it snowing there yet?” Well, I’m going to tell you that Buffalo gets a bum rap. First of all, it was 82 degrees in the afternoon when it was only 80 degrees on Long Island. Fortunately I had passed on the suggested long underwear. I did bring a pair of shorts, but I did not wear them because I didn’t see anyone wearing shorts in the city. When I am traveling, I’m a big believer in the “When in Rome” adage.

Actually the city looked quite pleasant to me, larger than I had imagined, clean and with a fair share of tall buildings. The population of more than 250,000 residents makes it the second largest city in the state. I understand that Buffalo, like a number of rust-belt cities, has undergone quite a face-lift.

Admittedly I did not see much of it since I was there for the fall meeting of the New York Press Association, and that meant I was locked into the hotel site where the workshops were held. But we did have a chance to look around a bit when we went out to the Anchor Bar, where Buffalo chicken wings were allegedly invented. It’s a pleasant and good-sized sports bar, and most people at the tables were, sure enough, having chicken wings with blue-cheese dip and cut-up celery sticks on the side, although one lady was eating a good-looking dish of shrimp scampi. She must have been a native.

In the way of cultural attractions, the city has an art museum, a science museum, a theater district, multiple art galleries, and the historic Martin House that was recommended for viewing. Buffalo was once the scene of considerable wealth from the auto industry, where Pierce-Arrow automobiles were manufactured, also the railroads and the Erie Canal. As a result there are a number of urban mansions. It also has a river walk on Lake Erie that houses several eateries. Food, in fact, is big. And people we met, in restaurants, the hotel and on the streets were friendly and unhurried — such a change of pace for a native New Yorker like me or even someone born and bred on Long Island. It always helps when the weather is beautiful, which it was for our entire stay.

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum was enough to make lovers of antique automobiles cry for joy. The museum, which is large and planning to get larger, also has antique bikes and motorcycles, all in seemingly shiny new condition. And it even houses a filling station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a remarkable piece of architecture.

It was an eight-hour drive from Bridgeport, where the ferry docked, to Buffalo, and that does not count the stops. The roads are excellent, the roadside trees just beginning to suggest autumnal colors, and we spent one night on the way up in Canandaigua, about an hour and a half from Buffalo.

In the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes region, the area is deservedly famous for its Riesling wines, which I confess to having tasted. The village, its name derived from the Seneca tribe, was the scene of the Susan B. Anthony trial in which she was accused of voting illegally in 1873, since women were not then allowed to vote. She was found guilty and fined $100 with costs, which she did not pay.

Colleagues were surprised that we drove to Buffalo rather than just flying there, but I remembered from a previous trip many years ago, when I was a high school student, that the Mohawk Valley and upper New York state are truly lovely destinations. This trip confirmed that memory.

While going through items in his mother’s house Three Village historian Beverly Tyler discovers more about his family’s history, which included ownership of Tyler General Store circa 1890. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Beverly Tyler

Growing up in Setauket, first in my grandmother’s house and post office and then in the family home that dates to about 1740, I was aware that my ancestors had lived there for four generations. However, I was not conscious of the details of those families, nor did I realize that the material collection of those four generations was still in the house, packed, in most cases, carefully away in trunks, chests, barrels, boxes, tins and other assorted containers.

My mom died in August of last year, and my family members and I began the process of preparing for an estate sale of the contents of the house. We didn’t have to concern ourselves with the house itself as Mom made a wonderful deal with the Three Village Community Trust, which will eventually take ownership of the house and three acres.

While going through items in his mother’s house, above circa 1900, Three Village historian Beverly Tyler discovers more about his family’s history. Photo from Beverly Tyler

As we began opening trunks, boxes and closets, we discovered clothing, china, glassware, photographs and many other objects dating from the 19th century and even a few items dating to the 18th century. One of the discoveries was music composed and written by my great-grandfather, George Washington Hale Griffin, who worked at various times with both Christy’s and Hooley’s Minstrels in New York City and Chicago. I even discovered at least one piece of church music he wrote.

While I was growing up, I learned, through her letters home, about my great aunt, Mary Swift Jones, who voyaged to China and Japan from 1858 to 1861, in a 150-foot bark built in East Setauket Harbor by her Uncle William Bacon, whose father left England in 1796 to come to Long Island to work in the Blue Point Iron Works. His journal entries were among family papers I researched, even traveling to his hometown in Derbyshire, England, to discover where he came from and why he left. Many of these archival papers and artifacts, dating to the last three centuries, have been given to various Long Island museums and historical societies, while others are to be included in the estate sale.

What I didn’t realize was that the first two generations to live in the house were direct ancestors of my wife Barbara and that the original part of the house had just three bedrooms, which was home to families that each had five children.

When the house and farm were sold to my ancestors in the first decade of the 19th century, it became home to two generations of nine children, still in a home with three bedrooms. It was not until 1879 that an addition was added with two additional bedrooms upstairs, well after my grandfather and six of his eight siblings had married and moved on.

When the house and farm were sold to my ancestors in the first decade of the 19th century, it became home to two generations of nine children, still in a home with three bedrooms.”

I knew from an early age that my great-grandfather, Charles B. Tyler, and my two unmarried great aunts, Annie and Corinne, had remained in the house their entire lives. My family ran a general store for about 100 years in front of our house on the corner of Main Street and Old Field Road. After Charles died in 1899, Annie ran the post office, except for two terms of the President Cleveland administration when the postmaster position was given to party loyalists, and Corinne ran the general store. In the 1930s they closed the store and donated the building to the local American Legion post. The legion moved the building up Main Street where it sits today near the Setauket Methodist Church.

I treasure the knowledge that my ancestors left so many records of their existence. However, many of the individual photographs and photo albums, especially those dating to the 19th century, are of people I do not recognize and are, for the most part, unidentified. Only their clothing, hair styles and poses give hints to their time period and possibly their identity. Everyone I meet who has come face to face with family material from the past says the same thing, “I wish I had asked more questions when I had the opportunity.”

There are many avenues to explore to discover more about the people we love and the ancestors we know so little about. Take the time to learn more about your heritage and the history of the community where you live and label your photographs. The Three Village Historical Society and the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library are both good places to start, with helpful people who have the time, the talent and the desire to help you discover the links to your family and community history.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society located at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Almost everyone likes movies. But have you ever fantasized about making a movie? Now I’m not talking about a home movie of the kids swimming or starring in a play. I mean the big stuff, with lights, camera, action, Hollywood director’s chair, first-tier actors and bullhorn. Well, our newspapers are now in the filmmaking business, and it was history that made us do it.

History, particularly our local history about the Revolutionary War – the battle of Long Island, the Battle of Setauket, Nathan Hale and the Setauket Spies are as exciting to read as any stories today. In fact, they are remarkably relevant, as aspects of the Constitution are regularly part of our political discussions today. For what were the Patriots fighting, putting their lives and possessions on the line, bleeding and dying? And what are we doing with that heritage?

History makes for great storytelling, as the producers of “TURN” on AMC discovered over the last four years. Their version of history was inspired by fact but strung together by fiction. So on the anniversary of the Setauket Spy Ring last year, we  filmed a dramatic narrative of the Culper Spies wholly based on fact. To our great delight, that short film, which is on our website and YouTube, Facebook and other places, won first prize from the New York Press Association for video made by a newspaper.

Encouraged by our success and entranced by the many triumphant and also heart-wrenching stories that happened right here on Long Island some 240 years ago, we are making a full-length film this year, and we begin shooting locally this weekend. This time we are going all the way, with a cast of professional producers, directors, actors and first-rate equipment. The set is a work of art in itself, a recreation of the fort in the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn Heights. We have 135 re-enactors coming from distant parts — Saratoga, New York; members of our own Long Island Third New York regiment; Murrysville, Pennsylvania; and Fairfield, Connecticut — to stage the battle that almost lost the Revolutionary War before it even truly began. They will be carrying authentic muskets, shooting gunpowder, spilling blood and gore profusely (thanks to our famous special effects person) and otherwise re-creating history. Best of all about this film, we are delving into the lives and personalities of the historic figures whose actions made victory possible. Be assured that we are characterizing them authentically, both colonists and British, fleshing out what details have come down to us from historians and corroborated by our local historical societies.

Several local organizations, institutions and residents are helping to support and underwrite this ambitious production: The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society, The State University at Stony Brook, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA), Theatre Three and the law firm of Glynn Mercep & Purcell. Some support is not so local, perhaps including the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and the Nathan Hale Homestead Museum in Coventry, Connecticut. Many places have indicated their interest in showing the film, including some local teachers and administrators. What a painless way to teach local history.

As we have been reaching out to the many people involved in this venture, we have come across many enriching details. For example, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, where some of the action takes place, has original planking from Founding Spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s home, the Brewster House was a tavern and home of a cousin of fellow Culper Spy, Caleb Brewster, historic Benner’s Farm where we are doing some of the filming, comes down to us over the centuries, and the 1709 Thompson House, home of a local doctor, is one the beautiful preservations of the WMHO. And by the way, the Caroline Church on the Green in Setauket has a musket ball lodged in its steeple.

History is the glue that holds a community together, and our particular history is the platform on which our nation was built. We are proud to bring these stories to you on film, as well as in print, and we invite any organizations, businesses and residents who might like to be credited with making this production a reality to contact us directly. Call me at 631-751-7744 and become a part of the history of our hometowns.

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Mount Sinai falls in the Long Island championship game for a third straight season. Photo by Alex Petroski

It took 23 games, but the undefeated 2017 Mount Sinai Mustangs softball team finally met its match in the Long Island championship game. The Mustangs fell to MacArthur, 7-0, June 2 at St. Joseph’s College for its first loss of the season. Sophomore starting pitcher Julia Golino allowed five earned runs, 10 hits and two walks over 3.1 innings to blemish her was-perfect record.

Mount Sinai prays for a rally in the seventh. Photo by Alex Petroski

Mount Sinai’s powerful offense managed just four hits in the final after scoring at least six runs in 11 out of their last 12 games. For a third consecutive season, the Mustangs reached the high of a county championship, only to fall short of a Long Island crown.

MacArthur’s Jessica Budrewicz shut down Mount Sinai with a complete game shutout, seven strikeout performance. She allowed three Mustang hits in the first two innings, but just one more over the final five. Mount Sinai head coach Thomas Tilton applauded her performance in the circle.

“She’s good man — she moves it, she’s got a rise ball, a nice changeup, she hit her spots and she didn’t miss much,” he said. “   Tip your hat to her, she’s a good pitcher. That kid can throw.”

MacArthur celebrates defeating Mount Sinai in the Long Island championship game. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Generals put Golino in a hole early, scoring the first five runs on two-out hits. Golino couldn’t escape trouble in the fourth frame, and junior Emma Wimmer had to come into the game in relief to stop the bleeding. Even a 40-minute weather delay due to thunder and lightning couldn’t cool off Budrewicz and the MacArthur bats.

The Mustangs’ head coach reflected on the impact the team’s three seniors had on the season.

“They left a great mark, a great mark,” Tilton said of the departing group of 12th-graders who helped deliver the first three Suffolk County championships in program history during their tenure. “They’re the foundation of what we’ve built here and hopefully we can continue to do it.”

The Mustangs will be returning all but one starter in 2018, as left fielder Angela Bukofsky is the only regular graduating.

Hailey LaGuidice swings at a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It definitely means a lot — it’s great,” an emotional Bukofsky said after the game of the three county crowns she’ll be leaving behind at Mount Sinai. She said her teammates were what she will miss most about playing for the Mustangs. “We definitely deserve it. We worked really hard to get here. Going from a record that was about even in wins and losses to being 22-0 is just amazing.”

Though the loss stung in the present, Tilton said he still has a hopeful eye on the future.

“I think we’ve got a really strong team again next year — we’ll be back at it,” he said. Golino and fellow starting pitcher Wimmer dominated all season in 2017 for the Mustangs, and both will be back to try to get over the hump in 2018. Standout shortstop Lové Drumgole, who Tilton called “the real deal,” and one of the best players on the Island earlier in the playoffs, will also be returning for her senior season to give a run at a Long Island title another shot. “We won’t be quitting,” Tilton said. “I can tell you that.”

It was hammer time for Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega, as the sideline sang her goal-scoring song five times in the girls’ lacrosse team’s 13-3 win over Northport May 30.

“You can’t touch this,” they screamed louder and louder with each goal.

Ortega stepped out on the field Tuesday ready to finish what her older sister Nikki had started more than five years ago — win the program’s first Class A Suffolk County championship. Nikki Ortega had led the Mad Dogs further and further into the postseason over her six-year varsity career until she graduated two years ago, and her younger sister has been steering the wheel ever since.

“I wanted to do this for her,” Jamie Ortega said. “And I wanted to play for all those seniors that didn’t have the opportunity to. We finished it for them. We didn’t want that feeling again.”

That feeling she referred to was the devastation after each loss at the hands of West Islip over the last three seasons — twice in the semis and once in the finals.

This time, although the foe wasn’t as familiar, Middle Country knew it couldn’t take its opponent lightly. No. 5 Northport was fresh off an 8-7 upset over nationally ranked No. 1 Ward Melville.

“We were nervous,” said senior Ava Barry, who scored a goal and had five assists. “It’s hard to beat a team twice. Any team can win on any given day.”

Middle Country is also ranked nationally, featuring the top lacrosse recruit in the nation in Ortega. The senior pulled out a similar showing to when the Mad Dogs completed a 14-5 win over the Tigers May 8. Ortega finished that game with four goals and two assists.

She scored three goals and had one assist at the end of the first half in the final. She completed her hat trick when, after passing to Barry who couldn’t find a clear lane near the circle, sent a pass back to Ortega and who fired her shot home for a five-goal lead, 6-1.

“It’s my last year and I knew that this was the time to step up and play ‘all in,’” the University of North Carolina-bound midfielder said. “I’m so proud of this team.”

The team was “all in” from one end of the field to the other. The defense held Northport to 12 shots, and senior goalie Emily Walsh made nine saves. Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, led Middle Country to a 13-5 draw advantage, with Ortega also pulling away with some draw wins. The offense had nine assists on its 13 goals.

“Our defense was great, we came up so big on so many stops in goal and had so many extra possessions that we took advantage of,” Ortega said. “We knew if we got the extra possession and made them turn over the ball that we could calm down and make a good play out of it.”

Barry had passed to Ortega for her second goal and dished the ball to senior Rachel Masullo for a 7-1 lead. Ortega and Barry made another pass-back move on the opening goal of the second half, after Ortega forced a turnover behind Northport’s goal.

“My teammates were making great cuts, got open really well and helped me be able to make the passes to them,” Barry said.  “When the sidelines get involved in the game it’s fun, it’s exciting. You always want your sideline to be cheering your team on.”

After a brief second-half hiccup, with Northport’s Emerson Cabrera putting her team’s first goal on the scoreboard since the 11-minute mark of the first half, Middle Country got right back to work. Head coach Lindsay Dolson never slowed down her team, saying the girls like to use their speed, and the team racked up three more goals before Northport scored its final goal of the game. She also said the win gave the team some needed confidence. But Ortega said she told her team they were capable all along.

“I told my teammates we shouldn’t be nervous,” Ortega said. “This was our game, our time. I told them we’re not losing today, everyone believed it and we proved it.”

Twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo added three goals apiece and Jennifer Barry assisted on two goals.

Middle Country will face the winner of the June 1 Massapequa-Port Washington game for the Long Island championship at Adelphi University June 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“Our mentality has been just putting in every ounce of effort and not stopping until we seal the deal,” Rachel Masullo said. “So many of our seasons got cut short. Now, we’re ready to barrel through anybody that gets in front of us.”

Former Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. Photo on left from National Endowment for the Humanities website, photo on right from American Legion website

By Rich Acritelli

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945.”

It was at this moment 72 years ago that General Dwight Eisenhower flashed the victory sign to the free people of the world to signal the end of World War II against the Nazis in Europe. During the war, he was often criticized by other American generals as being too “pro-British,” or by the English as not having enough experience to run the war effort. But it was Eisenhower who was credited for seeing the big picture of the war effort to put aside the military differences of the British and Americans to achieve victory.

Some 152 years ago, General Ulysses S. Grant proudly watched his army completely defeat the Confederacy. Almost a year after President Abraham Lincoln made him the commanding general of all Union armies, he was at the cusp of a monumental victory. Grant was often criticized as a “butcher” who accepted extreme losses under his command, but he wrote a letter to Robert E. Lee expressing the need for his army to surrender. Grant told his adversary that all was lost and that peace must be restored to the divided nation. At Appomattox Court House, Grant offered Lee generous terms to prevent any further loss of life, to the surprise of the enemy. When northern artillery guns opened fire to celebrate the victory, Grant ordered them to stop because the Confederates were countrymen of the Union.

There are many similarities between Eisenhower and Grant. Both men were born in the Midwest — Eisenhower was from Kansas and Grant from Ohio. They both utilized West Point to leave a small town. Eisenhower was an outstanding football and baseball player. Grant was a superior horseman, who made one of the highest jumps ever recorded at the academy. They were both well-liked by their peers, as Eisenhower flashed a well-known grin and it was said at West Point, if you had a problem, Grant was seen as the fairest cadet to find a solution.

By the start of their respective wars, both men had not reached their professional goals. Grant earlier resigned his commission and he was later forced to work at his family store as a clerk in Galena, Illinois amid speculation about issues with alcohol. His first job for the Civil War was mustering soldiers into service for the Illinois government. Eisenhower always believed that he was cursed for not serving in France during World War I and he expected to retire as a colonel. But their senior officers and government officials found that these men could be counted on to carry out their military responsibilities.

These two officers were different politically than their commanders in chief. Grant voted as a Democrat before the war, but he openly wept at Lincoln’s funeral. Eisenhower was a Republican who did not support the New Deal. Perhaps due to the immense expectations that were placed on them, Eisenhower smoked five packs of cigarettes a day and Grant was believed to puff on thousands of cigars from 1861 to 1865.

Both men were known for their calm demeanors. During the Wilderness Campaign in 1864, Grant told his officers to stop thinking about the exploits of Lee and for them to create plans to hurt the southerners. At the height of Hitler’s failed attempt to overcome the Allies during the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower reorganized his armies and told his commanding generals that he expected to see only positive faces. He understood that the enemy had come out of their fortifications and they were now in the open where they could be destroyed. 

At the end of the war, Grant was concerned that Lee would move his army into the Appalachian Mountains where his men would conduct guerilla operations. Eisenhower had no interest in attacking Berlin. He refused to take a city that would have to be partially given back to the Soviet Union. Instead, he pushed his army southeast towards Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Alps. Like Grant, he did not want any German forces prolonging the war in the mountains. Eisenhower and Grant were both from regular backgrounds. They evolved into two epic military figures in American history, and they were only interested in successfully carrying out their duties for the nation.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. Research for this story was contributed by the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society.

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The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team following its Class C state semifinal win over South Seneca. Photo by Danielle Turner

Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the 2016-17 Port Jefferson girls’ basketball season won’t soon be forgotten.

It wasn’t securing the final win that mattered. As the dust settled after Watkins Glen scored a buzzer-beating layup to edge out the Royals, 65-63, in the Class C state finals, the legacy the five senior starters will leave behind and their incredible run, will remain on everyone’s mind.

Every win since the Royals’ 46-43 nail-biter over Pierson-Bridgehampton has been historic. With that victory, Port Jefferson brought home the first Suffolk County championship crown in 90 years. The team then outscored East Rockaway, 67-49, for the Long Island title in school history. The Royals have continued to improve on a 6-9 2013-14 record over the last three seasons, but made a giant leap this year. Port Jefferson won a regional title in the school’s first appearance in the state tournament March 9 and followed it up with a state semifinal victory March 18, to reach the finals.

The Royals were coming off a high heading into the state finals matchup March 19 against Watkins Glen. Port Jefferson had crushed South Seneca 71-53, which senior standout Courtney Lewis said was a big boost of confidence for the team.

“We had never played a team outside of Suffolk before this season, and I think winning by such a large margin on Saturday made us realize we could win,” she said. “We belonged upstate.”

After scoring 31 points in the semifinal game, Lewis tallied 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points to help the Royals to a 15-10 lead in the finals. By halftime, the advantage diminished just slightly, to 29-24, with the 2,000-point scorer adding five more points.

“I felt great going into the game,” she said. “I really felt like I could attack their man defense and our offensive plays worked well.”

Freshman Sam Ayotte filled in for Lewis in the third when she was in foul trouble, and she and senior Corinne Scannell came up big in Lewis’ absence. Ayotte capped off a 20-4 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending Port Jefferson’s lead to 53-37 entering the fourth. She scored 12 points in the game, and Scannell added 11.

“Corinne Scannell was making her layups and foul shots, and freshman Sam Ayotte stepped up her game and was driving to the basket,” senior Jackie Brown said. “It gave us the energy we needed.”

But that energy came to a sudden halt, as Watkins Glen’s 28-10 fourth quarter was the difference.

“Our defense was most intense in the third quarter, and our foul situation really hurt us in the fourth,” Lewis said.

She returned to action 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with her team leading 56-42. By the 1:24 mark, Watkins Glen had pulled within two. Watkins Glen added a free throw, but senior Jillian Colucci hit one of two free-throw attempts with 33.1 seconds left to push the lead back to two points, 63-61. With 13.7 seconds on the clock, the game was tied 63-63. Port Jefferson had the ball but couldn’t take the lead. Watkins Glen gained control and Hannah Morse hit a layup at the buzzer, ending the Royals’ 20-5 season just short of a state championship.

“I feel great knowing that even though we didn’t win, we still will go down in history at our high school,” said Lewis, who knocked down a game-high 23 points. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and just playing with these girls and getting this far in the playoffs is the best way I could have imagined ending my high school career.”

Lewis, who first started on the team as a seventh-grader, was part of three losing season before the Royals started experiencing success.

“Playing on the team since seventh grade has been such a positive influence in my life, and a shaping one, too,” she said. “Basketball means so much to me and playing for Port Jeff was nothing short of a perfect experience, especially my senior season.”

Brown reflected on her time with her teammates.

The Royals game plan before the start of the fourth quarter in the state finals matchup against Watkins Glen. Photo by Danielle Turner

Senior Gillian Kenah is a threat on the boards, Brown said, always below the basket to “clean up the trash,” grab rebounds and score putbacks. Brown said Scannell’s bubbly spirit and positive attitude puts a smile on everyone on the team. The All-Tournament basketball selectee and recipient of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Award has a strong shot from all over the court.

Colucci, an All-Long Island and All-State soccer player who was named Suffolk County Player of the Year is quick on her feet, with a determination to win that, according to Brown, gets the girls fired up.

“She’s a game changer,” Brown said.

Lewis, as one of the only starters who focuses solely on basketball, has a great sense of the game.

“She is truly an amazing basketball player,” Brown said. “From CYO to senior year, she’s a talent. I could always count on her to get things done.”

The many multisport athletes on the team  only enhanced its winning attitude, with Colucci and Scannell bringing the soccer team’s state-championship mentality to the court the last two seasons. Brown, a field hockey standout, further added to the team’s athleticism.

The Royals have not only made an impression on the district, but also left newcomers like athletic director Danielle Turner in awe.

“I have been involved with countless teams in my career as a player, coach and observer; I can’t remember a team that I am more proud of,” she said. “Right before our eyes, these girls have changed basketball in Port Jefferson. Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a cultural perspective. Their unwavering commitment to each other, their mental toughness and their maturity were evident throughout the season, and especially throughout their playoff run. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come.”

Brown hopes making history will inspire future teams to come.

“I’ve never been part of a championship team, so I’m honored to be a part of it with this group of girls,” she said. “This has been an incredible experience and I’m so proud of what this team has done over the past five months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also excited for the younger girls. It gives them motivation to go get it next year.”

 

By Bill Landon

In his book The Precious Present, Spencer Johnson wrote: “I can chose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when, or if.”

The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team chose to live in the moment during their March 6 Long Island championship title game, stepping onto a court no Royal had walked on before. Senior Jillian Colucci was no stranger to the limelight, though. The soccer standout, used to throwing the ball inbounds during the fall season, swished a long distance shot that was just three feet inside half court to close out the first half. The buzzer-beater before halftime that capped a 9-0 run sent the crowd into frenzy, and the Royals dancing into the locker room. That happiness carried through the second half, as Port Jefferson outscored East Rockaway 67-49 for the school’s first Class C crown.

“We’re just soaking it in,” senior Corinne Scannell said of the win. “Precious Present … it’s all about living in the moment, so I guess we’ll enjoy the moment and take it from here.”

East Rockaway’s defense focused on shutting down senior Courtney Lewis all across the SUNY Old Westbury court, but it didn’t matter. Lewis fought through double-teams most of the way to score a game-high 30 points. She drove the lane over and over, and even if she didn’t score, she drew fouls to find points from the free-throw line instead. The senior went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team.”

—Corinne Scannell

“We knew they were going to key on Courtney, and we needed our other shooters to be willing to step up and take their shots,” Port Jefferson head coach Jessie Rosen said. “They gained confidence throughout the course of the week, and today when the opportunity was there for them. They did what they needed to do.”

Jackie Brown was first to step up, hitting long distance shots seemingly at will. The senior banked four of them in the first half. Then, it was Colucci’s shining moment. With Lewis cornered, sophomore Jocelyn Lebron passed Colucci the ball. As Colucci sprinted just beyond half court, she let the ball go as the buzzer sounded, and hit nothing but net, giving her team a 36-22 advantage heading into the break.

“There was time for one more, and I heaved it up and it just went in,” Colucci said. “I’m just absolutely speechless. To make it this far with these girls is absolutely amazing.”

Defensively, the Royals hands were everywhere. And they made their steals count. Scannell intercepted a pass, and dished it off to Colucci, who went coast to coast for the score that helped the Royals break out to 43-27 lead with 4:41 left in the third.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team,” Scannell said. “The things we worked on in practice were tailored to this game. It’s nice to see it all come together.”

For Brown, who chipped in 14 points, the magnitude of her team’s accomplishment hasn’t set in yet.

“I hoped we would be here at the beginning of the season — it’s awesome that we won it,” she said. “It’s really cool that we’ll have that 2017 LIC banner to hang in the gym.”

Senior Gillian Kenah echoed Brown’s sentiment.

“At the beginning of the season it was definitely a dream — I imagined us at the counties, but I wasn’t sure about this,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true.”

I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

—Jesse Rosen

Lewis credited the success to her team’s daily preparation.

“I knew we’d come out with intensity,” she said. “But I didn’t think we’d win by this margin.”

Rosen said he could see the team’s determination early on when he took over mid-season as the team’s head coach.

“This is an exciting group of girls — they work their absolute hardest every day,” he said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

When the buzzer sounded, the Royals erupted in celebration as they experienced the taste of a Long Island championship for the first time. Thinking back to the short story they read prior to the game, they realized they attained that precious present.

“It is wise for me to think about the past, and to learn from my past, but it is not wise for me to be in the past for that is how I lose myself,” Johnson wrote. “It is also wise to think about the future and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future for that too is how I lose myself, and when I lose myself, I lose what is most precious to me.”

Kenah said her team will savor the moment , and get back to work preparing for the next game. The Royals will face the winner of the Section I Haldane vs. Section VIIII Pine Plains in the regional finals March 9 at SUNY Old Westbury at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re going to condition tomorrow,” she said. “We have another game on Thursday, so we’ll enjoy tonight, but we’re right back at it tomorrow.”

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