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Middle Country

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Kate Timarky gets double-teamed. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country’s girls lacrosse team was able to hold off visiting Bay Shore twice behind four goals from Emily Diaz, to take a 12-9 win April 24.

“I knew that they were better than their record shows and I warned [our team about that], because they’re going to come in hot,” head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “I saw a lot of watching — we need to at least get the ball on the ground [off the draw] to give us a chance.”

Emily Diaz outruns a defender and breaks toward the goal. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mad Dogs struggled to gain possession and were pressured early behind Marauders draw wins, but still managed to put away three goals before Bay Shore got on the board. Juniors Sophie Alois and Jennifer Barry did all the work in that space, with Alois scoring twice, her second, off a flick from Barry for the 3-0 advantage, and Barry scored unassisted for the 2-0 lead.

As was the case throughout the game, Bay Shore was quick to answer, scoring two goals in just over a minute, and tied the game twice in the first half, at 5-5 and 7-7, which ended the scoring for the first half. Barry, who had a hat trick and added two assists in the opening 25 minutes, said she took her coach’s words to heart.

“Our coaches tell us before every game that you need to play every game as if it’s your biggest game [of the season],” she said. “We did a good job at settling down, spreading out [our offense] and if you have confidence in yourself and your play, then everything else will fall into place.”

Jennifer Barry draws a crowd as she pushes her way up the middle of the zone. Photo by Bill Landon

Youth and experience served up scores in the second half for Middle Country. Seventh-grader Kate Timarky, who had an assist in the first half, scored twice in 30 seconds to help her team regain the lead. Barry found Diaz, a senior, on a cut to the cage to score what would end up being the game-winning goal. She added two more thereafter to Bay Shore’s one to give the game its final score.

“We expected them to be better than what their records told us, our coaches are always good about informing us about other teams,” Diaz said. “We’ve been struggling at the draw control lately, but every game it gets a little bit better — we work on it in practice every day.”

Dolson said despite a less than ideal draw control performance, she said she was pleased with other aspects of her team’s play.

“[We did a good job of] holding the ball there at the end, [because] we’ve struggled keeping possession in the past, but we passed better,” she said. “They were more coachable, and I thought we handled the pressure a lot better.”

Middle Country improves to 7-2 and will be back in action April 27, when the Mad Dogs travel to Patchogue-Medford for a 4 p.m. contest.

By Bill Landon

The Patriots proved they have what it takes to go the distance.

After falling to Longwood 90-60 in the first League I matchup of the season, Ward Melville’s girls track and field team reversed the roles at an April 10 home meet against Middle Country, winning 90-60 with help from long-distance runners.

Junior Kate Cochran led the way in the 3,000-meter run with a winning time of 11 minutes, 39.5 seconds. She was pushed by Middle Country’s Kaitlynn Drennan from the moment the gun sounded, with Drennan finishing just six seconds behind her. Things were different in the 1,500, where it was a one, two finish for Ward Melville. Freshman Emma Rathburn crossed the line first at 5:18.1, and Shannon Ryan clocked in at 5:26.3. Drennan rounded out the top three with a 5:47.6 time.

“We studied the statistics — they’re a young team, they’re rebuilding, they have some very talented sprinters, but I knew that our strong events were going to be the distance events, the throws, along with some of the field events,” Ward Melville head coach J.P. Dion said. “From what they had in the winter and from last spring, I knew that this is where we could gain most of our points.”

Ward Melville senior Allyson Gaedje won at 800 in 2:36, a pace well off her personal best but enough to take the title.

Senior captain Kiera Hughes competed in the 100 hurdles, 100 dash, 4×100 relay and long jump. A returning All-County athlete in the spring and winter, she was ranked first in the winter 55 hurdles.

“I thought I did pretty well,” she said of her performances on the afternoon. “I’m happy, but my long jump was my strongest event, and it’s a good way to get back [into a rhythm].”

Hughes finished second in the long jump behind Ward Melville sophomore Allison D’Angio, who bested the field with a 15 feet 2.5 inches leap. Middle Country freshman Jada Hodge placed third covering 12-11.75.

“Kiera helps me out a lot by working with the younger athletes, helping them,” Dion said.

Ward Melville’s Samantha Sturgess, who also ran the 4×100 and 4×800 relays, won the 400 hurdles in 68 seconds. 

“I had a season-best, but it’s not my personal best,” the senior said. “I don’t have a problem getting over the hurdles, but I have to get faster in between.”

Middle Country head coach Charles Cuzzo said he was pleased with what he saw despite how young this year’s squad is.

“We were strongest in the sprints … the kids did very, very well,” he said, noting Maritza Blanchard, Dana Cerbone and Lexie Roth are players his opponents should watch out for. “It’s early in the season, but they keep on improving.”

Dion said he also saw several bright spots on the afternoon, especially with his jumpers.

D’Angio won the triple and the long jump and notched a personal best clearing 5 feet in the high jump, according to Dion.

The coach added Lauren Moore, a freshman,  increased her personal best in the triple jump by 4 feet. She notched another personal best with a 4-inch increase in the high jump, clearing 4-8.

“That’s huge,” said Dion.

The Patriots are back in action April 19 hosting William Floyd at 4:15 p.m. Middle Country is back on the track April 14 at the Coaches Meet at Bay Shore at 9:30 a.m.

Smithtown West's Reed Greco moves the ball across the field while Middle Country's Tom Stock chases after him. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

In the rainy and windy conditions, junior attacker Marc Cottage and the Smithtown West Bulls dismantled
Middle Country Mad Dogs on  its home turf.

Scoring the first four goals for boys lacrosse team April 3, Cottage sparked the Bulls offense with a team-high eight points in a 15-3 victory at Newfield High School. He helps keep their season perfect so far at 4-0 and gave Middle Country its third loss of the year (1-3).

Smithtown West’s Marc Cottage shoots past a Middle Country defender. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“It felt good,” Cottage said about his performance. “I thought our offense played great in the first quarter. It was a good team win.”

The Bulls got an early first quarter advantage leading 5-1 after a Danny Caddigan goal with 3:15 left. The game was tied at one point after Cottage’s first goal in the first minute. Then, Middle Country’s Tom Stock found the back of the net 43 seconds later to tie at up at 1-1.

Not much scoring happened in the second quarter, but it was Kyle Zawadzki who scored all two of Smithtown West’s goal in the 12 minutes. His first goal gave the Bulls a 6-1 lead, assisted by Christian Lowd with 10:46 left. Middle Country’s Jacob Hyman had an unassisted goal 1 minute, 13 seconds later to cut the deficit back to four, but Zawadzki’s shot in final minute hit its mark to make it 7-2 Bulls at the half.

There was a combined 28 points scored between 12 different players for Smithtown West. The Bulls had 13 assists on 15 goals.

“Everyone was contributing,” Zawadzki said. “It wasn’t just one person, even though Cottage did have seven goals. He was just capitalizing on all the opportunities he had.”

The Bulls put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Mad Dogs 5-1, giving the Bulls a nine-point advantage at 12-3. Matt Caddigan scored 48 seconds into the quarter and was assisted by John Hoffman, who had four assists on the afternoon. Andrew Arce also had a goal and an assist for the Bulls. Three of Cottage’s seven goals came in the third, with one of them finding the back of the net in the final four seconds of the quarter.

Hoffman, Cole Vencak and Troy Riley all had good, unanswered goals in the fourth for the Bulls to win 15-3.

Even though he’s a junior, Cottage sees himself as a captain of the team.

“I always have seen myself as a leader,” Cottage said. “I’m pretty sure all the starters feel that way — to teach the younger kids — just to be the best and play well.”

Smithtown West’s Christian Lowd races up the field. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Stock found the net twice for the Mad Dogs and going up against Smithtown West, he wanted to do exactly just that.

“They’re a pretty good team,” Stock said oft Smithtown West. “They’re ranked pretty high. I was just trying to score some goals.”

Smithtown West played with three different goaltenders in Cameron Young, Kyle Walker and Mike Simone. Adam Hyman stayed in the entire game as the only goalkeeper for Middle Country. He had nine saves on the afternoon. He said the team will bounce back from the loss.

“We just need to work hard in practice and take this loss as a ‘W,’” Hyman said. “We just have to keep on working hard. This loss motivates the whole team to get better because no one likes to lose.”

Middle Country head coach Chris Siragusa said that Smithtown West is the best team they will face all year. Middle Country finished 5-9 in Division I last year, and lost 16 seniors from that squad, boasting a majority
of freshmen and sophomore this year.

“I think it’s just [about gaining] experience for our guys, because of the youth,” Siragusa said. “Stock and [Jacob] Hyman are both sophomores and they’re going to be part of the future. They were part of the team last year when their heads were spinning. I think it’s just about getting older and maturing.”

Smithtown West will look to stay undefeated when it hits the road to face Northport April 5 at 10 a.m. Middle
Country wants to retaliate after the loss with an at-home contest against Sachem North at 4 p.m.

Kids get their heads shaved at the annual St. Baldrick's event at Centereach Fire Department March 16. Photo by Doug Dickerson

By Kyle Barr

On the night before St. Patrick’s Day, hair rained down onto the floor of Centereach Fire Department. People clapped and cheered as blonde, brown and even green-dyed hair fell from amused faces before being swept away during the annual St. Baldrick’s charity event to raise money for childhood cancer research March 16.

Area local Aimee Jackson watched her teenage son Zachary get shaved, the first head of the night to go bald. It was his fourth time participating, and every year the duo has tried to raise more and more money.

“The first time he did it he was little — 5 years old — we both did it,” she said. “He’s shaving in honor of his twin brother, Kendall, who passed away just before their fifth birthday.”

Zachary Jackson has his head shaved in honor of his twin brother, Kendall, who died of cancer at age 4. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Middle Country Youth Civic Association and Centereach Fire Department joined with local sponsors to host the fourth annual event. Before the buzzer even started sounding, the team of brave bald-headed
community members raised close to $30,000. By Monday, the event had raised over $47,000, close to twice the original $25,000 goal, according to event organizer Doug Dickson. The largest donor was 12-year-old Austin Vero, who raised over $15,000 alone.

“Thank God for our barbers — with all the hair on the ground, they bring their own guys, they’re sweeping all the time,” Dickson said, laughingly.

The night was full of Irish flavor with the inclusion of FDNY Emerald Society bagpipers and Irish step dancers from Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance in Lake Ronkonkoma. Attendees were decked in green from head to toe, including Rob “Squid” Wilson, who was one of many prospective head-shavers to dye their hair green.

Wilson has been hosting local St. Baldrick’s events for 16 years. This year, he dressed in a bright green shamrock coat and a green tiara.

“My team is the Squid and the Squires,” Wilson said. “Each team is a bunch of clowns like us who are doing it for the right reasons.”

He and his friend Tom Duffy have been involved and shaved their heads every year since their first rodeo.

“It’s important to show kids it’s not a big deal to get their heads shaved,” Duffy said. “My big thing is I feel if [scientists] can cure cancer with kids — they can cure cancer.”

Members of the Suffolk County Police
Department shave their heads at the event. Photo by Doug Dickerson

Several staff members at the fire department joined in the shaving spirit, including Assistant Chief Joseph Feola.

“It’s a huge event — one of the bigger events we have,” Feola said. “It’s great to see all this support from the community.”

Nine barbers and hairdressers volunteered their time to shave heads, including the owner of Rockabilly Barbers of Stony Brook’s Vinnie Ferrara. He and his crew of barbers have also been involved in the event for 16 years.

“The greatest thing about it is that we’ve been doing it for so long and seen so much money raised,” Ferrara said. “It just goes to a great cause.”

“The people are so into it,” owner of Centereach-based Blondie’s Creations Inc. Mary Beth Mastando said. She and her team have been shaving heads at the event for three years.

“The community gets together, and everybody helps,” Mastando said. “They’re excited to be shaving their head, and I’m the one doing it, so that’s pretty cool.”

The Centereach St. Baldrick’s organizers are accepting donations until next year’s event. To join in the cause, visit www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/10953/2018.

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Team takes Division I title in Syracus, three Middle Country girls place in Top 10 in scoring

Middle Country’s girls bowling team took home its first state title since 2013 March 11 in Syracuse. Photo from Nicole Lettich

With a difficult oil pattern on the lane, the Middle Country girls bowling team knew what it was going to take to win a state title — and it had the talent to spare.

“We knew it would be tough bowling on a more challenging pattern, but we knew spares were going to be so important,” senior Nicole Lettich said. “As most of us say, strikes win games, but spares win tournaments. We are a strong team and knew we could take on whatever was thrown at us. We just needed to focus each game and make good shots. That’s exactly what we did.”

Amanda Scarfogliero leads off for Middle Country’s girls bowling team. Photo from Amanda Scarfogliero

Lettich, noted by head coach Mandy Dominguez as the most consistent bowler on the team, averaged a 191.67 over six games.

“She did great, she’s steady,” Dominguez said of his one of four seniors.

With her team up by just 118 pins heading into a crucial Game 6, she bowled a 223 to help seal the deal and a state title March 11 in Syracuse.

“My parents tell me all the time that I bowl with a poker face and don’t let bad scores phase me,” Lettich said. “I don’t really put any added pressure on myself, I just focus on making my spares and throwing good shots. When I throw a bad shot, I shake it off and get ready for the next frame.”

Lettich, who finished Sunday ranked fourth in New York, was one of three Middle Country bowlers to rank in the Top 10 in scoring. Junior Amanda Scarfogliero (No. 7) and freshman Hannah Skalacki (No. 2) were the others.

“I’ve never had a team improve in the offseason the way that this team did,” Dominguez said. “Last year we only had one 200 bowler, and this year I had five. The girls really stepped it up, and have so much grit and determination. We had a 280-pin lead at one point in the tournament and to lose that lead is hard for any team in any sport, losing a lead late in the game. They gut it out and brought it back. It says so much about their resiliency and willingness to never give up.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling teammates were all smiles on the bus ride home after being crowned state champions. Photo from Nicole Lettich

Middle Country won a state title in 2013 and since lost three battles to East Islip and one to Sachem for a ticket upstate. This year the girls took the league title before overcoming that county hurdle with a 43-pin win, and weren’t going to let an oil pattern stop them from going all the way. Scarfogliero said the team practiced for the 41-foot Tower of Pisa Kegel pattern, asymmetric in design with a shift to the inside, in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After averaging 215 at the county tournament, Middle Country finished with a 180 average upstate, according to Dominguez, proving even with practice how difficult the sport pattern can be.

“It was a whole new atmosphere,” said Scarfogliero, who leads off for her team. “It took us by surprise, but we worked together as a team so the oil pattern wasn’t as hard. We helped each other and with the oil pattern being so hard I didn’t even think I was going to make it up there [in scoring], but that wasn’t even a priority for me. I wanted to put my team in the best position to win states.”

For Skalacki, her freshman status shouldn’t be misunderstood. The three-year varsity team member bowled a 193.83 average, just about three pins under first. As the team’s anchor, she said there’s a lot of pressure when her team needs extra points at the end of each game, but she thrives under it.

Middle Country’s girls bowling team hoists up the state championship banner. Photo from Middle Country school district

“If we need a certain amount of pins to win, I have to get them, but I love the attention and the competition,” said Skalacki, who was strongest in the first three games, bowling a tournament-high 226 for Game 1. “It’s heart-dropping, and I love knowing I play a big part in helping the team come out with a win.”

She said after finally topping East Islip, she knew Middle Country had a lot to prove, and the team wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a perfect finish.

“We had the biggest motivation to win,” she said. “Now people know Middle Country and know how good we are. We wanted to prove people wrong — to show we have what it takes — and we did it.”

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Bowling right up twins’ alley

Bowling is how the Lettich twins roll.

The duo each competed for a state title last weekend in Syracuse, and clean swept their senior season with gold medals in their respective tournaments.

“It’s honestly breathtaking to make it this far and win it all,” Nicole Lettich said, noting that she was on the 2013 state championship winning team, but didn’t yet have the skills to be invited to compete. “Going to the state tournament with my brother who I’ve been so close with was probably the most amazing thing I could have done in my senior year.”

Middle Country twins Nicole and Thomas Lettich took home state gold. Photo from Nicole Lettich

The twins’ mother bowled in high school, and found they had their own itch to compete after competing in a league in second grade.

“Bowling is such an underrated sport in high school, and to finally win it all proves to schools that bowling shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, but actually acknowledged more because it is a very difficult sport,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see it that way.”

Middle Country finished with a grand total 5,332 pins, nearly 200 ahead of second-place finisher Orchard Park (5,157). Her brother Thomas Lettich competed on the Section XI boys All-Star team. He’d averaged 224 during the regular season, and said even though he’d won his team’s MVP awards, and was named an All-Star, All-County and All-League bowler, he was most confident competing because of the last month’s worth of practicing six day a week.

“I have grown so much over the years, improving my physical and mental game,” he said. “Since I am a lefty and had an advantage and disadvantage since I’m the only one on the left side. The lanes were brand new, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but being chosen to compete on this team with a group of boys that I was very close with and were fun to bowl with was a goal of mine.”

He said it was a unique experience competing alongside his sister.

“When I am bowling bad she supports me and helps me, and when she’s bowling bad I support her and help her,” Thomas Lettich said. “She unfortunately didn’t have the ability to watch me, but I was able to cheer her on in her match and it was exciting to have the chance to be together. We had great accomplishments and it’s a great way to go out.”

Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider will be inducted into Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in May

Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May. Photo from Facebook

It was once said kids would run through a brick wall for Bob Burkley, and Harry Schneider would show them how.

Middle Country school district’s dynamic duo co-coached the track and field programs for more than 30 years, leaving behind a legacy of winning streaks, championships and motivated athletes, nearly 100 of whom have gone on to become coaches. As a result of their accolades and achievements, the pair are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May.

“They have very different personalities — the way they interacted with athletes — and somehow they blended,” said 1972 Centereach High School graduate Harold Schwab, owner of Schwab’s 2nd Wind shoe store in East Setauket. “Coach Schneider was very much a one-on-one coach, while coach Burkley was very high energy, and you got caught up in that. As an athlete you sensed there was no limit to how hard they were ready to work, how much they were willing to sacrifice for the team, how important the team’s success was — and the athletes reciprocated that.”

Harry Schneider. Photo from Facebook

Schwab raced for his coaches, who began at Newfield in the late 1960s, and moved with them to Centereach once the new school opened. As a sprinter and jumper, he said he saw firsthand his coaches’ qualifications to lead the team to success in any event.

“Some coaches may not know anything about the high jump or the triple jump, so they don’t compete in those events,” he said. “Every event was coached thoroughly at Centereach High School. There was never an event where we weren’t taught the right technique and supervised so we knew what we were doing.”

According to Bay Shore head coach Steve Borbet, who began a push for more track and field hall of fame inductees, the pair continued to learn.

“They also went to clinics and read up wherever they could get more knowledge of the sport,” said Borbet, who began coaching against the Cougars in 1975. “I watched how they won and I wanted to emulate that. Their winning attitude that they instilled in the
players was huge.”

Strategic thinking was a driver behind the pair’s successes. When Burkley, for instance, saw another team didn’t have a triple jumper, he’d pull his top triple jumpers out, let younger kids compete for the points and then use his standouts in other events. Schwab said every athlete received a performance write-up after meets, pointing to areas that were strong as well as areas in need of improvement.

“Nobody wanted to be pointed out for not living up to expectations,” Schwab said, laughing. “We were always trying to maximize our points, and we’d do whatever we could to help the team. Coach Schneider and Coach Burkley really did run a very hard practice, and there’s something about when you share that kind of sacrifice on a daily basis, when you share pain in practice, it brings the group together. It created a bond, not far from what soldiers feel.”

Harry Schneider, on right, with the 1995 Suffolk County championship-winning cross country team. Photo from Harry Schneider

A team-first mentality is not always preached in track and field, but for Burkley and Schneider, it was first and foremost.

“We were a team in the truest sense,” 1994 graduate Charles Crowley said. “We were an unusually tightly knit group. They had a vision of what we were capable of and they were committed to everything we did. They created a culture where we didn’t want to let them down.”

The year after Schwab graduated was the start of Centereach’s 26-year, 158-match dual meet winning streak. Crowley was on the team when its streaked was snapped, coincidentally, by Borbet’s Bay Shore team. Despite the loss, Borbet said the team was gracious about it, and Crowley said the unit remained resilient.

“That was a hard day, but [our coaches] were so positive and helped us rebound,” Crowley said. “They both have such passion for seeing athletes push themselves further than they thought possible.”

The pair combined for 95 league titles, 25 division titles and 42 county titles. Because they assisted each other in the spring and winter seasons, and Burkley headed the cross-country team, Borbet said that to the hall of fame board, they diluted their success. Previous hall of fame inductees Borbet (2014) and Schwab (1993) felt the pair of coaches should have been inducted long before they were.

“They were who everyone was going after, and you pick up from the best,” Borbet said. “Those guys were successful from the beginning. They were able to really reach their kids — a lot of coaches can’t say that. It’s been a goal of mine and a movement of mine to nominate track coaches every year. These two guys certainly deserve to be in there. They’re the best track coaches around, and two of the best coaches out of any sport in Suffolk history.”

Bob Burkley. Photo from Facebook

Every individual on the team was coached to be the very best that person could be, according to Schwab.

“When you know that the coach cares deeply about your individual success as well as the team success, to know we were all seen as equals, it created this hunger to succeed,” Schwab said. “Everybody on the team saw how being part of the team made them a better person. Whether they were going to be a star or not, they wanted each person to achieve his potential.”

Crowley was one of the athletes coached by Burkley and Schneider to go on to lead his own team. An Ironman triathlete who has raced in 28 marathons, he’s the head coach of the JackRabbit Sports marathon team in New York City. He said Burkley and Schneider taught him how to be a captain and a motivator.

“They taught me that success takes commitment and discipline — that there were no limits to what you can achieve if you are mentally tough and work hard to achieve goals,” he said. “They molded so many athletes both on and off the track. I try very hard to impart these lessons onto the athletes that I coach.”

Schwab remembered Schneider teaching him about being a student of the sport, and said it’s a skill he has applied in every aspect of his life.

“You didn’t just show up to practice and go through the motions,” he said. “If you were in a hurdle event, he encouraged you to read about the hurdles, to dig into it for yourself. We treated the sport just like we did any of the other academic classes we were in. That attitude has followed through in just about anything that I do now. Any time I’m involved in something, rather than just learn enough to get by, I try to be an expert at it. It’s not just about winning competitions. It’s about learning how to succeed in every endeavor.”

Hans Wiederkehr, a former athlete, NFL player and football coach at Babylon and Shoreham-Wading River, is a member of Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame's 2018 induction class. Photo from SSHOF

Seeing coaching as an action, not a title, has yielded great success, and now a prestigious honor for a few local leaders.

Former Babylon head football coach and Shoreham-Wading River assistant Hans Wiederkehr, and Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider were named members of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 induction class, announced by the organization Feb. 13. The three will join eight other selectees at the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“I’d like to thank all the kids that played for me — they’re the main reason I’m here,” Wiederkehr said. “I love the kids. I’d do anything for them.”

Former Middle Country head track and field coach Bob Burkley, currently an assistant at Northport, is one of 11 to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this year. Photo from SSHOF

After a successful career as a lineman at Syracuse University, Wiederkehr spent a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an offensive lineman in 1985-86. From 1986 until 2002 he served as a physical education teacher and director at Babylon, and coached varsity football from 1987 to 2002. The Panthers won 10 league crowns, six Suffolk County titles and two Long Island championships during his tenure. From 2014 to 2016 he was an assistant coach at Shoreham-Wading River. The Wildcats won three Long Island championships and two Rutgers Trophies, given annually to Suffolk’s top football team.

“I had tremendous parents, tremendous support, and then I took the time to coach my own son at Shoreham and dealt with the same type of people,” Wiederkehr said. “I’ve been very lucky to have that support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

The former Division I athlete and NFL player is also one of the longest tenured athletic administrators of any coaches association in Long Island history. He has served as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association since 1999, known for its famed awards dinner that draws more than 900 guests annually. Widerkehr is also an inductee of the East Lyme High School Hall of Fame (2004) and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (2009).

Burkley was the varsity track and field coach at Newfield High School from 1964 to 1970, and at Centereach from 1971 to 1998. He won 28 league championships and 10 county championships. Following his time in Middle Country, he was an assistant at Bayport-Blue, from 1999 to 2004, at Center Moriches from 2005 to 2009, and has been at Northport since 2010. Burkley has coached 60 student-athletes who went on to have their own track and field coaching careers. He coached five national champions, two national record holders and five New York state record holders. Burkley’s teams went 26 years and 158 matches without losing a dual meet. He was also a lifeguard captain at Jones Beach for 42 years and was named New York State Lifeguard of the Year in 2010.

“I’ve been very lucky to have [the parents’] support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“I’d like to thank my wife for letting me spend all this time the last 55 years coaching student-athletes,” Burkley said, smiling. “I still love it, and I love it because of the athletes — their dedication, responsiveness. It’s so rewarding to work with kids that love what they’re doing and stick with it.”

Much like Burkley, Schneider taught physical education in the Middle Country school district for 32 years, coaching boys cross country, boys winter track and boys spring track and field during each of those seasons and beyond. Since retiring from teaching and moving to Sedona, Arizona in 2000, he has continued to coach boys and girls cross country and track and field.

Schneider’s boys cross country teams at Middle Country won 10 division titles, 18 league championships and 11 county titles. His dual meet record was 165-20. In 1995, his team was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Boys winter track teams at Middle Country won seven division titles, 21 league championship and 11 county titles under Schneider’s guidance, which also produced a 103-3 overall record. Burkley coached 85 individual champs, two national champs and 11 state champs. In the spring, he won eight division titles, 28 league championships and 10 county titles. His record was 189-4-1. He coached 78 county champs, four national champs and 15 state champs among his spring track campaigns. He won more than 80 coach of the year awards and more than 65 of his student-athletes went on to coach throughout the United States.

Ed Morris, former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, is being inducted into it this year. Photo from SSHOF

Among other coaches, referees and players to be inducted is Miller Place native Matt Ryan, noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. The 1996 U.S. Olympic captain was a three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year, and his 225 official international matches are an American record. Ryan also played professional handball overseas and starred in multiple world championship tournaments. His athletic prowess, however, began on the basketball court. As a senior in 1984, Ryan was named New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad. In 2013, he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award.

Former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, Ed Morris, is also in this year’s class. He served on the executive board since 1992 prior to taking over the organization in 2000. A Sachem alum, he is also the first recipient of his namesake award, the Edward J. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served on the board of directors of Suffolk County PAL.

Half Hollow Hills graduate Stephen Bowen, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL, and Shannon Smith, a three-time first-team lacrosse All-American who is among the most decorated players in the sport, and is also the head women’s lacrosse coach at Hofstra University, also highlight this year’s class.

“When I found out that I was one of the new members I almost felt guilty, because there are so many wonderful men and women coaches in Suffolk County,” Wiederkehr said. “There so many that work hard, and sometimes don’t achieve some of the success some other coaches have, but that doesn’t bother them, they just keep working and working and working.  I’m very honored and humbled to be a part of this induction class.”

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Centereach's cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

All the girls wanted was to hear Centereach’s name called. When they heard they were going straight through to the Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship finals, they couldn’t have predicted the chain of events that would occur.

The Cougars had never reached the national finals. As the high of hearing they were in wore off, and they had to hit the stage the next day, the nerves started to kick back in.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

“Nobody really talked,” junior Lynda D’Alessandro said. “We weren’t hyping each other up like we were the day before, we weren’t hitting — we weren’t confident in what we were doing.

It was just a different vibe. But as soon as we were getting ready to compete, everyone was saying, ‘C’mon, we’ve got this. Everyone’s been working so hard. It’s only 150 seconds, we can do it.’ At that point, I said to myself: ‘We’ve got it.”’

Centereach nailed its routine, and knowing they were up against three previous nationally-ranked Division II Large Varsity teams from Long Island, the girls weren’t sure where the chips would fall.

“We were shaking,” sophomore Corinne Michalski said as her team waited for the results to come in. “If you were sitting by that semicircle our team was probably the loudest because we were hysterically crying.”

The girls sat uneasy, fingers squeezed between one another as they heard team after team get called before them. Once the judges reached the Top 5, the Cougars couldn’t contain their excitement.

“If you ask me or anyone else, we would say ‘I don’t know how it looks; I don’t know if we’re going to do well,’” D’Alessandro said of her team’s mentality heading down to Florida to compete. “Hearing two national champion team’s names get called before us, I thought, ‘How does Centereach, a team that’s never made it past the preliminary round, go straight through and place ahead of them?”’

With two teams left, Centereach was finally called, and for the first time in school history Feb. 11, the cheer team placed at nationals.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

Naturally, yelling and screaming ensued.

“It was a feeling like no other,” Michalski said. “None of us went down there expecting to do what we did. Every single week at local competitions we never even placed. We [faced] teams we never in our wildest dreams thought we could beat. It still feels like a dream; it doesn’t feel like I’m awake.”

Centereach had several members drop out at the beginning of the season, and pulled up an eighth-grader to fill the squad. Over the course of competition, the team was never at full strength, with a cheerleader or two usually sitting out due to injury or illness. Watching her team compete on the national stage in the preliminary round, head coach Stephani Catalano said she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her team was one of two from the field of 14 to hit a perfect routine.

“The first 26 seconds of our routine are the hardest part of our routine,” she said. “We say the second the arabesques hit, we know the rest of our routine we can hit without even thinking about it. It was amazing to see them use all their energy and finish a flawless routine. It truly left me speechless.”

She said her girls were determined moving into the finals. She said they never rested on their laurels.

Centereach cheerleaders excited after hitting their routine. Photo from Middle Country school district

“We wanted to earn that trophy,” Catalano said. “We didn’t want to rely on making it straight through past semifinals. We had a lot to prove. We didn’t get there by luck — we’re in a hard division, and we proved we deserve to be there. I know now their fire is going to burn brighter and bigger than it ever has.”

D’Alessandro said it’s Catalano who was the catalyst behind Middle Country school district making history. The four-year varsity coach graduated from Centereach. A former cheerleader for the Cougars, Catalano never made it to nationals, and was finally able to take her team the last two seasons. In 2017, the girls didn’t make it past the first round.

“Before her, we never placed at competitions; it was never possible,” the three-year varsity cheerleader said of her coach. “Stephani’s attitude and her heart and her passion for the sport made a complete difference. She has a lot of faith in us doing well, and that we’ll make her proud. She’s helped me not only become a better cheerleader, but a better person with the lessons that she’s taught me and my team.”

With the core of the Cougars returning next season, the girls are confident, despite the added pressure associated with finishing second. Catalano said the girls are already asking to start practicing.

“We can start off with more confidence instead of working up to it,” Michalski said.

Her teammate took it a step further.

“There’s no reason we can’t be national champions,” D’Alessandro said. “People keep coming up to me and congratulating me and all I can say it, ‘Thank you.’ Maybe in a week or two it will hit me — we’re second in the nation. I never expected us to make history for Middle Country, and we did it.”

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

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Girls top East Islip for first time in three years, boys team places fourth

For the first time in three years, Middle Country's girls bowling team bested East Islip for the county crown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The intensity was up and the noise level high as Middle Country and East Islip found themselves in familiar territory — duking it out for the county title for seven hours Feb. 3. Middle Country won by 42 pins after erasing an 43-pin deficit heading into game six to finally overcome East Islip after coming in second to the Redmen the last two years.

With emotional hugs and tears, Middle Country won its final game 1,147 to 1,062 after being up in games one through three. Amanda Scarfogliero finished with a 1,317 series, and saved her best for last, a 256 in Game 6, the team’s second highest score. No one on Middle Country bowled lower than a 202 in the final game. Scarfogliero was in tears as the final scores were being calculated.

Middle Country’s Julie Acosta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“My heart dropped honestly,” Scarfogliero said. “I made a promise to this team and my parents that I’d get Middle Country up to Syracuse. That’s exactly what we did. I needed to get that last game-high, and I did it.”

Middle Country rallied back to win 6,454 to 6,412 in a thriller at Bowlero in Sayville, winning four of the six games.

Middle Country’s 69-year-old head coach Mandy Dominguez announced he will be retiring after coaching for 28 years and in Middle Country for 18.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” Dominguez said. “The girls did not give up. They all had 200s in the final game. They’re resilient, and a tough group of girls.”

East Islip came out on fire in Game 4 and Game 5, out-bowling Middle Country 1,131 to 1,020 in the latter to turn a 248-pin deficit into the 43-pin lead.

“I knew we could come back,” Dominguez said. “We were just hoping that East Islip wouldn’t get hot. The [Middle Country] girls came through and that’s the main thing.”

Freshman Hannah Skalacki came in with the highest average in the county for Middle Country at 223. She said there was a lot of pressure taking down East Islip. She rolled a 255 in Game 1 of a 1,330 series.

“I love competition,” Skalacki said. “When everything was going on, I felt the tension going everywhere.”

Middle Country’s Hannah Skalacki. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior Julie Acosta was the last bowler in starting rotation for Middle Country. She finished the last game with a 225 and had the team’s high game with a 279. Middle Country had mathematically already won before she bowled her final frame.

“I was so nervous,” Acosta said finishing up her game. “Knowing that we won, I just wanted it to be over with and be able to celebrate with my team.”

The last time Acosta went to states, she was in seventh grade, which was her first season with Middle Country.

In Dominguez’s final season coaching, he said going to the states is icing on the cake. The team will compete at The Oncenter March 10 at 9 a.m.

“I’m so happy, especially very happy for the girls,” Dominguez said. “East Islip has beat us every year for the past three or four years. This year, the seniors came through and they worked hard. They’re a great bunch of girls and a great bunch of talented bowlers.”


In other county bowling news:

Middle Country’s boys bowling placed fourth with 6,294 points.

East Islip claimed first by a landslide with 6,829 points to earn back-to-back county titles. In second was West Babylon with 6,353 and Sachem in third with 6,346.

Comsewogue’s. Hannah Manetta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Middle Country junior Noah Axinn bowled a 300 in his second game. He’s never bowled a sanctioned 300 before.

Senior Thomas Lettich finished sixth in the county in with a 223 average for Middle County. He has the fourth highest series in the county at 783. He will go to Syracuse to play in the All-Star game.

Comsewogue girls bowling team placed fifth in the county championship with 5,612 points. The Warriors won three of their six games.

“It’s kinda where I thought we would be,” Comsewogue head coach Bo Frimmer said. “I was hoping that we would somehow come in third, because it’s always tough to beat East Islip and Middle Country.”

Junior Hannah Manetta has the seventh highest average in the county at 216. She bowled an average of 221 in the tournament. Last year, Warriors finished in sixth.

“This year we bowled against a lot of the harder teams, which is when you bowl against harder competitors, it leads you to bowl better,” Manetta said. “It was pretty tough this year.”

This post was updated Feb. 5 to correct the deficit Middle Country overcame for the win.

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By Jim Ferchland

Middle Country All-County seniors Thomas Lettich, Peter Puglia and Tom Hussey led their team to its final win of the season at their home alley Jan. 25, sweeping Harborfields 3-0 to finish 10-2.

Lettich, who has the best Mad Dogs average with a 224, finished with a 630 on the afternoon. Bowling a 209, 225 and 196, he said he was not pleased with his results, adding he wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

“I knew what I had to come in and do today, and wanted to be an all star,” he said. “I was in the fifth spot and I needed a 675, and shot a little lower than that. I’m confident that I can probably still get in.”

Middle Country head coach Mike Messana said he knows how bad Lettich wanted to finish in the Top 5 spot. Lettich needed a 240 in his final game to put himself on pace for his average.

“It was the mental game,” Messana said. “He had a number in his head. Once you get that number in your head, it’s over.”

The Mad Dogs, which handily won 1,045-582, 1,013-660 and 1,035-594, received the best scores from junior Noah Axinn, who finished with a 701 — bowling 258, 217 and 226. His average is 214. Like most bowlers, he’s his own biggest critic.

“I felt I did pretty good,” Axinn said. “I could have done better. Overall, it was a pretty nice series.”

Hussey shot above his 192 average on Thursday (201, 163 and 204) rounding himself a 568 on the afternoon. Puglia finished with a 619 (182, 202 and 234). His average is second best behind Lettich at 212.

“I didn’t bowl good the first game,” Puglia said. “Then, I made adjustments … I bowled really good the third game. I wanted to end on a high note.”

Harborfields senior Ashton Madden had the best score for his team with a 482, rolling well above his 144 average with a 185 in game two. Michael Fellmeth, who has the highest average for Harborfields (161), finished at 460. He bowled at his best, a 163, in game one.

The Mad Dogs lost two matches all season, to Smithtown East and Northport. Messana said the most important part of the season is upon his team with the upcoming county tournament.

Middle Country is scheduled to bowl in the division finals Jan. 30 at Bowl Long Island in Patchogue at 3:30 p.m. The county tournament is Feb. 3 in Sayville at 9 a.m.

“The whole season really from the first practice in November to our last match today is just preparation for countys,” he said. “It just matters that you make the county tournament. If you make it, you have a shot to win. If you don’t make it, you’re out.”

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