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Long Island

 

Elected officials, religious leaders, volunteers and residents gathered at the Long Island State Veterans Home on the campus of Stony Brook University May 26 to give thanks to a roomful of United States military veterans. The annual ceremony, which includes a color guard, firing detail and wreath laying, honors the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — whose brothers and sisters in arms reside at the home on campus.

The Long Island State Veterans Home is dedicated to serving the more than 250,000 veterans who live on Long Island. Opened 26 years ago, the facility’s relationship with Stony Brook University’s medical department has been a winning combination for the care of veterans — providing skilled nursing services that many veterans wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Veterans who fought in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II sat together in the home’s Multipurpose Room, some of them tearful as singer Lee Ann Brill performed moving renditions of “Amazing Grace” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Marine Corps veteran Edward Kiernan read “In Flanders Fields,” a famous war memorial poem written during World War I. Korean War veteran Richard Seybold was honorary bearer of the wreath.

“Every minute, of every hour, of every day, Americans enjoy the blessings of a peace-loving nation — blessings protected by the selfless service of men and women in uniform,” Fred Sganga, executive director of the veterans home, said to the crowd. “The America we know would not be the same were it not for the men and women we honor on Memorial Day … a single day during which we honor the spirit of all those who died in service to our nation, but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts.”

Stressing the holiday means much more than a three-day weekend, Sganga recognized the collective shift in thinking when it comes to Memorial Day.

“In recent years,” he said, “a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making is emerging, becoming an ingrained part of our American experience.”

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who delivered the keynote address, read excerpts from President Ronald Reagan’s (R) 1984 address commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. LaValle prefaced by saying, “Whether you served in the second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War or Gulf War, these words apply to you.”

“President Reagan said, ‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here … you were young the day you took these cliffs, some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? … It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. All of you loved liberty, all of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew people of your countries were behind you.’”

LaValle ended his address by thanking the veterans in attendance for their service.

“On behalf of the Senate and majority leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), we really appreciate what you do and we try each and every day to make sure this veterans home is everything that you would want it to be,” LaValle said. “We all say thank you.”

To learn more about the Long Island State Veterans Home, visit www.listateveteranshome.org.

A scene from a recent plane crash in Setauket. File photo

Following a spike in small plane crashes over the last few years, U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called for an investigation, and he got answers.

On March 3, Schumer sent a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board asking for an in-depth analysis of recent U.S.-registered civil aircraft accidents on Long Island to help develop recommendations to prevent future incidents.

“I strongly urge you not just to conduct yet another investigation … but to also undertake a comprehensive and system-wide review to understand why these accidents are happening, and what can be done in order to decrease the occurrences,” he wrote in the letter. “The number of airplane crashes across the system must be reduced.”

This request came after a recent crash in Southampton, though others have also occurred in Shoreham, Port Jefferson, Setauket, Kings Park and Hauppauge in recent years.

The board, in a letter of response to Schumer, said it examined data from accidents in New York over the last five years, including the number of accidents, types of injuries, types of operations, causes of accidents and locations.

Since 2012, 156 aviation accidents have occurred, with 140 of these aircraft operating as flights under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — small noncommercial aircraft. The causes have been similar in nature for the incidents with completed investigations. Most included safety-related issues, like loss of control, which occurred in one-third of aviation accidents. An in-flight loss of control accident involves an unintended departure from controlled flight, which could be caused by an engine stall, pilot distraction, loss of situational awareness or weather. According to the letter, the board said that preventing loss of control in flight in general aviation is currently on its 2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Other causes of aviation accidents included loss of engine power, controlled flight into terrain and hard landings.

Moving forward, the board plans to reach out to the general aviation community and host a safety seminar later this year.

“We consider Long Island a suitable venue for this safety seminar because a number of general aviation accidents have occurred in that area and because we believe the robust general aviation community there will be receptive to our safety outreach,” the letter stated. “We anticipate that this seminar will help raise awareness about these recent accidents in New York and around the country and about specific issues affecting the general aviation community.”

Beetles, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are threatening pine trees

Residents from Cutchogue work together to place sand bags at the edge of the Salt Air Farm before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo by Prudence Heston

While surrounded by salt water, Long Island is in the midst of a drought that is heading into its third year. Amid a trend towards global warming, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to water district superintendents throughout Suffolk and Nassau County to ask them to lower their water consumption by 15 percent in the next three to four years.

“The primary area that is ripe for reduction is summertime watering,” said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The department has asked the water districts to reduce consumption, but it’s up to the districts to determine how they will reach those goals, he said.

The letter, written by Tony Leung, the regional water engineer, indicated that “results for 2015 show both Nassau and Suffolk County have exceeded the safe yield as cited in the 1986 Long Island Groundwater Management Program,” and that “a concerted effort is needed to reduce peak season water demand.”

The letter, which doesn’t cite global warming, indicates that salt water intrusion, contaminant plumes migration, salt water upconing and competing demand have raised concerns about a need to reduce peak season water demand.

Observers suggested the demand was likely rising for a host of reasons, including increased use of underground irrigation systems and a rise in the population of Long Island.

Water experts welcomed the DEC’s initiative, which is one of many steps Long Islanders can and are taking to respond to a changing environment.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use…They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

— Sarah Meyland

Sarah Meyland, the director of the Center for Water Resources Management and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology, commended the DEC for asserting control over water withdrawals.

“Most people have no clue how much water they use,” Meyland said. “They get their water bill, it is what it is, and then they write a check and send it in.”

She admitted changing consumer behavior will be challenging.

The first step in ensuring water suppliers meet this request, Meyland suggested, is to inform the public about the need for less water use, particularly during the summer months. One possible solution is for irrigation systems that turn off automatically after a rainstorm.

The change in climate has posed a threat to trees that commonly grow on Long Island.

Pine trees have faced an invasion from the southern pine beetle, which extended its range onto Long Island in 2014 and is now a pest that requires routine managing and monitoring.

Long the scourge of pine trees in southern states, the pine beetle, which is about the size of a grain of rice, has found Long Island’s warmer climate to its liking.

“We’re assuming either [Hurricane] Irene or Sandy brought it in,” said John Wernet, a supervising forester at the DEC. “Because it’s getting warmer, the beetle has been able to survive farther north than they have historically.”

Forestry professionals in the south have waged a battle against the beetle for years, trying to reduce the economic damage to the timber market. On Long Island, Wernet said, they threaten to reduce or destroy the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem.

The beetle can have three or four generations in a year and each generation can produce thousands of young.

The first step relies on surveying trees to find evidence of an infestation. Where they discover these unwanted pests, they cut down trees and score the bark, which creates an inhospitable environment for the beetle.

“If left alone, the beetle is like a wildfire and will keep going,” Wernet said. Without direct action, that would be bad news for the pine warbler, a yellow bird that lives near the tops of pine trees, he said.

Wernet added Long Island’s drought also increases the risk of
wildfires.

Farmers, meanwhile, have had to contend with warmer winters that trick their crops into growing too soon while also handling the curveballs created by unexpected cold snaps, frosts, and the occasional nor’easter.

Dan Heston and Tom Wickham survey waters that entered Salt Air Farm after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Prudence Heston

Last year, the colored hydrangeas of Salt Air Farm in Cutchogue budded early amid warmer temperatures in March, only to perish amid two eight-degree nights.

“We lost [thousands of dollars] worth of hydrangeas in two nights,” said Dan Heston, who works on the farm with his wife Prudence, whose family has been farming on Long Island for 11 generations. “Our whole colored hydrangea season was done.”

Heston said he’s been a skeptic of climate change, but suggested he can see that there’s something happening with the climate on Long Island, including the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, which flooded areas that were never flooded during large storms before.

“I think the climate is shifting on Long Island,” Prudence Heston explained in an email. “Farmers are constantly having to adapt to protect their crops. In the end, pretty much every adaptation a farmer makes boils down to climate.”

Changes on Long Island, however, haven’t all been for the worse. Warmer weather has allowed some residents to grow crops people don’t typically associate with Long Island, such as apricots and figs. For three generations, Heston’s family has grown apricots.

Other Long Islanders have attempted to grow figs, which are even more sensitive to Long Island winters, Heston said. This was not an economically viable option, as each plant required individual wrapping to survive. That hasn’t stopped some from trying.

“People are now finding our winters to be warm enough to make [figs] a fun back yard plant,” Prudence Heston said.

In other positive developments, the Long Island Sound has had a reduction in hypoxia — low oxygen conditions — over the last decade, according to Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

“The state and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a nitrogen reduction program,” Swanson said. “It appears that the decline in nitrogen may be having a positive effect.”

Brookhaven Town took a similar step in 2016.

The town board approved a local law proposed by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) last summer that established nitrogen protection zones within 500 feet of any body of water on or around Long Island. The zones prohibit new structures or dwellings being built in that range from installing cesspools or septic systems.

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham:

Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham is a prime example of erosion due to storm events, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “When you harden the shoreline by constructing hundreds of linear feet of vertical retaining walls or bulkheads, you create a condition where the energy stored in the waves caused by tidal surge and storm events hits up against the hardening structure and reflects back to the Sound,” Bonner said. “These reflected waves cause scour at the base of the bulkhead and a loss of sand from the beach. To minimize this impact, both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the town require armor stone, big rocks, in front of any bulkhead to dissipate the reflected wave surge, reducing the impact that bulkheads have on the beaches.” According to the councilwoman, bulkheads that were constructed in the past “increased the rate of erosion but also separated the beach from its natural sand source.” The practice led to either a narrow or non-existing beach during high tide. With recent changes of bulkheads being moved landward or reducing their elevations, plus the installation of armor stones, erosive impacts have been reduced, and “the beaches tend to be wider and more resilient to storm events.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Port Jefferson Village:

Port Jefferson was originally known as Drowned Meadow because the area that now comprises most of the commercial district was a marsh that flooded every high tide, according to the book “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by Port Jefferson library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare. They wrote, “That flooding, and the steep hills and deep ravines that surrounded the marsh, made farming difficult, and the village grew slowly. In fact, by 1800, there were only a handful of houses.”

 

Photo by Maria Hoffman

Setauket Harbor:

In the last decade, Shore Road along Setauket Harbor has flooded approximately a half a dozen times a year, which is more than in the past due to astronomical tides. “All coastal communities will be increasingly impacted by rising sea level, and sea level rise goes hand in hand with climate change,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said. “One way to identify the areas that will be impacted is to look at the areas that are now impacted by storms and astronomical tides. All the low-level shore areas in the Three Village community are the most vulnerable. And, they tend to be the areas that we like to go down to, along the shore, such as beaches and docks and harbor areas. It is projected that in the next hundred years as sea level continues to rise that we will see portions of Route 25A flooding during storm events that we haven’t seen before.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Nissequogue River, Smithtown:

According to Jan Porinchak, educator and naturalist, the Nissequogue River watershed would be threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. The river consists of two main branches that start near the southern boundaries of the town in Hauppauge, and then the water flows into the Sound. “Rising sea levels will drown out the native marsh grasses which dissipate wave action and anchor the sediments comprising the shoreline,” Porinchak said. “With the marsh grasses such as Spartina removed, areas further inland would be threatened with shoreline loss from erosion.” Erosion can also have a negative impact on marine species. “With rising sea levels compromising marsh land vegetation, salt water can reach the roots of non-salt-tolerant woody plants further inland, which kills those plant species,” he said. “This creates a domino effect, resulting in yet more erosion when the roots of those plants are eliminated. Increased sediment from these eroded areas will wash into the Nissequogue and similar ecosystems. This sediment can negatively impact shellfish and other marine species, and fuel algae blooms to the widespread detriment of the marine food web.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Beach, Smithtown:

Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.”

 

Photo by Rita J. Egan

Asharoken, Huntington:

The incorporated village of Asharoken in the Town of Huntington provides the only essential land access way contacting the Eaton’s Neck peninsula to Northport, with its Asharoken Avenue. Due to hurricanes and nor’easters, the Long Island Sound side of the peninsula has experienced moderate to severe beach erosion. In 2015 the Asharoken village board took into consideration a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches. The plan consisted of creating a berm and dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. The area includes properties on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue. However, in January Asharoken officials voted to bring an end to the restoration project after many residents rejected part of the plan that included creating public access points at certain private properties, which would leave residents liable for any injuries or mishaps that happened when the public was on the shoreline of the property.

 

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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Mustangs will play Elmont in Class A Long Island championship March 11

Mount Sinai girls' basketball team captains Victoria Johnson, Veronica Venezia and Olivia Williams, along with their coaches, are presented the Section XI runner-up plaque. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Win or lose, Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team earned the right to represent Suffolk County in the Class A Long Island championship game. But first, Section XI bragging rights were on the line, and although the Mustangs led by as much as 12 points against Class AA winner Central Islip, the Buccaneers floored it in the final two minutes to come away with a 51-42 win.

Mount Sinai’s Gabriella Sartori battles in the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

“This is a game where we said to ourselves this is a good look for us,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “[Central Islip] plays a similar style of basketball to [Nassau County’s] Elmont, with great defense. So we’ll go back to work, we’ll focus on getting back on defense and eliminating scoring the easy layups in transition. But I couldn’t be more proud of my girls and what they’ve accomplished this season.”

Central Islip jumped out to a 12-4 lead after five minutes of play at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus March 5, but the Mustangs scored four unanswered points to close the gap to four points, 12-8, at the end of the first quarter.

Senior center Veronica Venezia continued to do what she’s done all season, battling in the paint to score another putback, to pull within two before junior Olivia Williams followed with a putback of her own to tie the game, 12-12, with 2:46 left in the first half.

Mount Sinai sophomore Gabriella Sartori drove the lane and wasn’t taking no for an answer as she fought her way to the rim for the score that gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game. Despite Central Islip answering with a 3-pointer, Sartori followed it up with a baseline drive where she was fouled while scoring, and completed the three-point play. At halftime, Mount Sinai was up by three points,18-15.

Mount Sinai’s Vernoica Venezia and Olivia Williams reach for possession. Photo by Bill Landon

Sartori opened the second half like she finished the first, driving to the basket for back-to-back scores. Senior Victoria Johnson banked two points and Venezia also added a bucket from the paint. The referees called a tight game, and both teams traded points from the charity stripe. At the end of the eight minutes, Mount Sinai was still protecting a three-point lead, 36-33.

Central Islip scored back-to-back field goals to retake the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, but Venezia found the rim from down low to pull within one point, 42-41, but Mount Sinai would come no closer.

Central Islip edged ahead slowly, leaning on the shot clock, which forced Mount Sinai to foul. The Buccaneers continued to make each opportunity count, edging ahead point by point until time expired.

“Although we could’ve not fouled and lost by three or four, we were trying to go for the win and I’m proud of my girls,” Pappalardo said. “We can play with anybody and you can see that.”

Who goes home with the Long Island championship title will be decided March 11, when Mount Sinai takes on Elmont at SUNY Old Westbury at noon.

Kiddie Academy hosts second annual Hop-A-Thon to raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphona Society

On Feb. 17, kids between the ages 5 and 12 turned the music up and busted a move for good reason: they helped to raise $575 for those with leukemia and those working to find a cure.

For the second year in a row, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in Wading River sponsored a fun-filled and awareness-driven Hop-a-thon for the Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and providing treatment access for blood cancer patients.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro speaks to kids at Kiddie Academy of Wading River. Photo by Kevin Redding

As part of the organization’s Student Series, which aims to involve young people in the fight against cancer through service learning and character education programs, the event is a dance celebration for kids who, along with their parents, contributed money to the important cause. As leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, the program lets kids help kids while having fun.

But before the academy’s school age kids took to the lobby to hop and bop to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” they sat down for a brief presentation about what they donated money towards, engaging in true-or-false questionnaires about blood cancers and learning about the “honored heroes” on Long Island — students from local school districts who have beaten cancer.

“Thanks to each and every one of you helping to raise money, kids like these are 100 percent better today and happy and healthy,” Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro told the energetic kids. “You’re dancing for them and I can’t thank you enough.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River students danced during its second annual Hop-A-Thon Feb. 17 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Socoety. Photo by Kevin Redding

Samantha Wooley, a Kiddie Academy staff member, said the Hop-A-Thon is a reflection of the values of compassion and community contribution the students work on every month.

“In dancing, and just having fun, they’re working as a team and doing this all together,” Wooley said. “It’s broken up into different ages and levels, some of them are more shy while others are outgoing, and we’re just mixing them all together to have one big dance off.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River reached out to the society last year to participate in the program to support one of its students who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and is currently in remission.

Christina St. Nicholas, the director of Kiddie Academy of Wading River, said in a press statement that the Hop-A-Thon was “exactly in line with our curriculum” and the child care’s “strong emphasis on character education.”

“[It’s] an exciting program that will engage our preschoolers and school-age children to help others in a fun, educational way,” St. Nicholas said. “Joining in this program to fight leukemia is one of the many ways we strive to model the values of community, compassion and cooperation each and every day.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River staff member Michele Boccia, on left, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro, on right, talk to students about the lives they’re helping save. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nearly all 35 students in the school-age department of Kiddie Academy participated, with each classroom collecting bags of loose change. The childcare center also reached out to parents, who had the option to pay through a website or submit a check. Donations ranged from $25 to $75.

Kristin Lievre, a mother of two Kiddie Academy students from Wading River, said it’s important that the kids learn at an early age to give back to the community.

“I think it’s good to see there are ways we can help people through things like this,” she said. “This makes them feel good about what they can do for others.”

Sophia, 10, one of the star dancers of the day, echoed Lievre.

“It feels good because we can raise money for the people who are sick so they can get better,” she said, “and don’t have to deal with the sickness anymore.”

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Jackie Brown sends the ball up the field. Photo by Carla Sciara

By Desirée Keegan

The relationship between a star player and a coach can sometimes be complicated, but when they’re immediate family members, a special bond is needed to achieve success.

Jackie Brown’s athletic career has been unique — her mother Deb Brown has been coaching her for five years in both field hockey and softball at Port Jefferson high school, and was her basketball coach for two years. Despite having her mother as coach, playing time and accolades were never handed to her.

Jackie Brown was Long Island's leading goal scorer, and led in overall points this season. Photo by Carla Sciara
Jackie Brown was Long Island’s leading goal scorer, and led in overall points this season. Photo by Carla Sciara

“If anything, she’s probably had to work even harder with me being her coach,” Deb Brown said. “I hold her to a higher standard, and I put more pressure on her than anyone else. For instance, in practice, she does the most push-ups.”

Brown recalled a game when her daughter had a one-on-one with a goalkeeper and she told her daughter to do one move, but she did another. “I’m yelling at her, and that’s when the parent in me comes out,” she said. “As beautiful as it was, the ball did not go in.”

Jackie Brown said the constant push has aided her success in sports, especially field hockey.

“It’s definitely interesting,” she said of their relationship, laughing. “Sometimes I tried to step over her and she puts me in my place, but what’s great is we got to talk about all of the games afterward whether it’s me saying something bad or her giving me something to work on. She teaches me new things every year.”

Brown first picked up a field hockey stick at 6 years old. From there, she became involved in clinics and played for East End Field Hockey travel team. She decided to try clinics in basketball and softball, too, and joined the Long Island Bandits fast-pitch travel softball team.

“Believe it or not I thought she would gear toward softball,” Deb Brown said. “But she just loved field hockey so much. It’s been fun watching her grow as a player.”

Jackie Brown said field hockey ran in her blood thanks to regular visits as a young girl to the field with her mother, who has been coaching at Port Jefferson for 27 years. She said the style of the sport felt like a fit for her.

“It wasn’t the sport everyone else was playing, and I liked how you had to move the ball a certain way and work with your teammates,” Jackie Brown said. “A lot I learned from field hockey, like field position and power, also helped me play softball and basketball.”

Speaking of power, the midfielder and forward has a strong shot, along with the knowledge of nuances needed to score, which helped her become Long Island’s leading goal scorer and leader in overall points this season.

Jackie Brown is hoisted up by the 2007 Royals field hockey team following the Long Island championship. Photo from Nancy Gallagher
Jackie Brown is hoisted up by the 2007 Royals field hockey team following the Long Island championship. Photo from Nancy Gallagher

“Besides just having a good shot — a hard hit and accurate — her ability to read the defense and the goalkeeper makes it much easier for her to get around them and beat them,” Port Jefferson assistant coach Nancy Gallagher said.

Gallagher is also in a special position. She played for Deb Brown and graduated from Port Jefferson in 2010. She first met Jackie when the coach’s daughter would come to games when Gallagher was a player. The assistant coach remembered the team hoisting her up on their shoulders following big wins, and the girls would teach her the tricks of the trade.

“She’d practice, and I’d tell her to do it 100 times in a row if she wanted to get better, and she was so eager to learn that she’d sit there on the sidelines doing it 100 times in a row,” Gallagher said. “She’s the ideal player to coach because not only does she have the athletic ability to pick up skills quickly, but she’s also willing to put in the time and energy to make it an instinctive part of her play.”

Gallagher said the athlete not only knows the skills, but she understands what skills are used when and why, and then how to put them to use.

Adelphi University field hockey head coach Gloria O’Connor saw each attribute Jackie Brown possesses — even the field hockey standout’s recent 6-inch growth spurt.

“Jackie has great size and feel for the game,” O’Connor said. “She is a daughter of a coach, and therefore knows the game of field hockey from a whole different perspective. She competes hard, has passion and desire and is always putting in extra practice time. She demonstrates the ability of taking care of business both on and off the field.”

The feeling of knowing the team wanted her, and the fact that Adelphi felt like a “home away from home,” led Brown to sign a letter of intent this November to play with the Panthers.

As a member of three high school teams, vice president of the Student Organization, co-president of the Varsity Club and a member of the Yearbook Club and National Honor Society, Brown knows what it means to put in the time to improve.

Jackie Brown is surrounded by her family as she signs her letter of intent to play field hockey for Adelphi University. Photo from Port Jefferson school district
Jackie Brown is surrounded by her family as she signs her letter of intent to play field hockey for Adelphi University. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

“It’s a lot to juggle when I go from one practice to the other, and then come home and do homework before going to another practice, but it’s manageable,” she said. “I learned how to be a leader on the field, work with my teammates and develop a strong work ethic.”

As Brown departs for college in 2017, her mother said she too may be hanging up her whistle at Port Jefferson. The head coach will receive a coach of the year award during the Suffolk County awards dinner, while her daughter will receive her second All-State honor and an All-Tournament nod following the No. 2-seeded Royals’ appearance in the Class C county finals.

Gallagher said the recognitions are well deserved, especially for her former coach.

“She’s very humble,” Gallagher said of Deb Brown. “No one can argue about how much she cares and dedicates herself to these girls and to this program. The success not only during these past couple of season but over her whole tenure shows it.”

Despite a hesitancy to talk about her daughter, Brown is even more proud of the success her daughter has had over the years than her own accolades.

“When I have to get the job done I do rely on her heavily to get the job done for Port Jeff,” Brown said. “I kind of downplay what she has accomplished over the years, but she’s worked very hard for this, and she deserves recognition. I’m probably retiring this year, so it’s bittersweet, but it’s great to go out with her after how well she’s done. I’m very proud of her. It’s been a heck of a ride.”

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Chris Gray's cutbacks, three touchdowns steal the show

Shoreham-Wading River's football team raises the Long Island championship trophy for the third straight season following a 20-10 win over Seaford Nov. 27. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

What is Shoreham-Wading River’s recipe for success? A rapid running game and domineering defense.

Chris Gray cuts back as he moves the ball downfield. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Gray cuts back as he moves the ball downfield. Photo by Bill Landon

So it was no surprise that as the football team’s star running back Chris Gray swiveled around Seaford defenders to find the end zone three times on Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium field, the Wildcats would make history, becoming the fourth team to win a third straight Long Island title with a 20-10 win over the previously unbeaten Vikings.

“I give all the credit to my line,” Gray said. “I do the easy part — just running — so it’s great teamwork. Having [Ethan Wiederkehr] on the end of the line is just a blessing. It makes my job a hundred times easier, and he’s just a hell of a player and a hell of a competitor.”

Wiederkehr was a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as the senior tight end’s blocks led to holes for his classmate up and down the field. He also tackled Seaford’s quarterback for a 13-yard loss, and was involved in nine tackles.

Despite compiling a 34-2 record over the past three years, Shoreham did face its share of adversity, and dropped two of its first five games this season. And the team found itself behind early in the first quarter of the Long Island game.

After a dip-and-dunk passing attack, Seaford drove the ball to Shoreham’s 6-yard line, but couldn’t penetrate the Wildcats’ defense. Facing 4th and three, Seaford chose to kick the field goal with7:42 left, and split the uprights for an early lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Seaford attempted an onside kick, which caught the Wildcats by surprise. The Vikings recovered a short kick and went back to work at the Shoreham-Wading River 47-yard line. Despite the successful move, Shoreham-Wading River’s defensive unit stood its ground, denying Seaford any points.

Kevin Cutinella leaps up and tips the ball before Joe Miller grabs it for the touchback. Photo by Bill Landon
Kevin Cutinella leaps up and tips the ball before Joe Miller grabs it for the touchback. Photo by Bill Landon

During a sustained drive in which the Vikings went to the air to try to move the ball over Shoreham’s defense, senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella proved he’s just as effective defensively as he is offensively, when the safety tipped the ball, and senior cornerback Joe Miller recovered it for a touchback. Miller briefly thought about running the ball out of the end zone, but took a knee, and the Wildcats’ offense went back to work at their own 20-yard line.

“I told them that we have a chance at our third consecutive Long Island Championship, we’ve got a shot at the Rutgers Cup and we have a chance to make Long Island football history,” assistant coach Hans Wiederkehr said he told the team prior to the game. “Other teams try year after year, and don’t make it. This is a once in a life time opportunity.”

It was only a matter of time before Gray broke through the line with a spin-and-run move, and he did so just before being forced out of bounds at the 11-yard line. Gray finished the five-play, 78-yard drive two downs later when he bulled his way straight up the middle six yards. With junior Noah Block on the hold, junior kicker Tyler McAuley drove his kick through the middle of the posts to help Shoreham to a 7-3 lead at halftime.

It was a defensive struggle early in the third, and Shoreham forced Seaford to punt from deep in their own end zone, and the Wildcats returned the ball to the Seaford 46-yard line. From there, Cutinella went back to work under center, handing the ball off to Gray play after play. The running back broke free on a 17-yard run for his second touchdown of the day. Seaford got a piece of the point-after attempt ball that was kicked just wide, giving Shoreham a 13-3 lead.

Chris Sheehan and Kyle Boden tackle Seaford's star running back Danny Roell. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Sheehan and Kyle Boden tackle Seaford’s star running back Danny Roell. Photo by Bill Landon

Again, the Wildcats’ defense made a statement with a block, and took over on downs at the Seaford 34-yard line. Gray struck again, this time, on a 21-yard run where he executed three swift cutbacks through traffic, seeming to magically appear on the other side of a swarm of players with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.. McAuley’s extra-point kick was good, and Shoreham took a 20-3 advantage.

With eight minutes left in the game, Shoreham Wading River junior corner back Kyle Lutz out-jumped an intended Seaford receiver for an interception on his team’s own 6-yard line.

Cutinella, looking to take time off the clock, huddled and handed the ball off to Gray, and the Wildcats were unable to convert for points. Seaford wouldn’t go down quietly, and scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass.

With the yardage from the game — 205 on 30 carries — Gray has over 2,000 rushing yards on the season. He finished with a total 2,179 on 217 attempts, and is one of six Wildcats to play in all three Long Island wins. Cutinella, Wiederkehr, senior fullbacks Chris Sheehan and Dean Stalzer, and senior tight end Daniel Cassidy were the others.

Head coach Matt Millheiser was presented the championship trophy, and handed it over to Cutinella, who raised it high in the air.

“I just played the last football game of my life,” Cutinella said. “And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this.”

Shoreham-Wading River is one of just four teams, second in League IV, to win three straight Long Island titles. Photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River is one of four schools, the second in League IV, to win three straight Long Island championship titles. Photo by Bill Landon

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