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Mount Sinai High School

Black Team wins Battle of the Educators for third straight year

By Bill Landon

Third time was also a charm for Mount Sinai Middle School’s faculty.

Brandon Loomis, a 6-7 physical education teacher and four-year starter in Mount Sinai School District’s faculty game, ignited the crowd with dunk after dunk to help lead his Black Team to a 73-72 win over Mount Sinai High School staff March. 2.

“[I do it for] all of these kids here that cheer us on,” Loomis said. “We hype it up in the elementary school — they get so excited.”

There was time for one last play after the Gray Team scored on a free-throw to break a 71-71 tie, and the middle school team made it count. Elementary school principal Rob Catlin brought the ball down the court and passed to fifth-grade teacher Melissa Drewisis at the baseline, who found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded to win the game, and with it, bragging rights for another year.

High school team captain and floor general Matt Dyroff said the nor’easter howling outside made him think about postponing the Battle of the Educators, and was glad he didn’t.

“We contemplated whether to call it off, but we said, ‘Let’s go with it,’” Dyroff said. “We crossed our fingers, and it worked out well — it’s a great crowd. The excitement that it brings to the kids … it’s always all about the kids.”

The game is organized and sponsored by Mount Sinai Booster Club, and funds raised from ticket sales, concessions and the halftime shooting contest go toward six $1,000 athletic scholarships awarded in June. Booster club President Diane Tabile said if money is needed to fund other projects or events throughout the district, the club is more than happy to share the wealth. Tabile said she loves how the faculty game is different from anything else her club partakes in throughout the year.

“The kids come out and watch their favorite teacher, especially the younger kids, they idolize these teachers,” Tabile said. “I appreciate the faculty coming out giving up their own time so the kids can come and watch, it’s just a great night. If there’s a program maybe they’re lacking funds for, or if a student may need a little help financially, we’re always willing to help out and we’re lucky that we can.”

Tabile’s daughter Alexa, a senior varsity cheerleader who worked the souvenir and snack stand, said the event gave herself and her classmates a unique perspective of their teachers.

“It’s fun to see the teachers,” she said. “You always see them on such a composed level, but to see them differently — letting their hair down — is fun.”

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Mike Ruggieri grabs hold of his opponent’s leg to try and send him to the ground. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Mustangs took pinning down their opponents quite literally Tuesday.

Mount Sinai’s wrestling team made short work of visiting Southampton Jan. 9, scoring almost as many points from forfeits as it did wins in a 90-0 win, with all nine of the grapplers matchups resulting in pins in the first or second period.

Joe Sabella controls his unable-to-move opponent by wrapping his legs around him. Photo by Bill Landon

The fastest victory of the evening was from 160-pounder Joe Goodrich, a sophomore who had his hand raised just 28 seconds into his match. Junior Mike Ruggieri’s challenger at 285 didn’t fare much better, falling
victim to the Mustang in 33 seconds.

“We knew that [Southampton is] very young, and we had a pretty good chance to win with a good team this year, but we wanted to make sure that we’re still wrestling well,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong said. “We kept a couple of kids out of the match tonight because they’re not 100 percent, and we want to be at full strength for the start of the dual meet championships.”

Mount Sinai will compete in the Suffolk County individual championships Jan. 12 before the dual meet championships, which begin Jan. 17.

“The strength of our team is how close we all are — if one kid’s over[weight] we’ll all go in the gym, we’ll all run,” said senior Jake Croston, who won his 220-pound matchup due to a forfeit. “And if a kid wants to work on something that beat him in practice, we all stay after to help him work on that.”

Brendan Goodrich grabs his guy from behind to toss him to the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

Michael Zarif, who won his match by forfeit at 138 pounds, agreed with Croston about Mount Sinai’s ingredients for success.

“We’re working hard every day in practice — we just keep going, we never stop working toward the county title,” the senior said. “And that’s our goal, that’s what we’re working for this year. This is kind of a warm-up.”

Matt Campo, a 126-pound sophomore who eclipsed the 100-match win mark this season and placed third in the state last season, spent little time in the ring, but still topped his opponent with a pin at the 1:32 mark.

“[This win] gives me a lot of confidence going into the county competition — I feel I should have a good tournament,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some good competition, get a win and go back to the states this year.”

Armstrong pointed to eighth-grader Joe Sabella as a standout in the gym for his level of dedication and unparalleled work ethic despite being the youngest in the group.

Antonio Palmiotto prepares to escape from his challenger. Photo by Bill Landon

“Joe has come up and helped fill the lineup and has been seeing success more lately due the fact of how hard he works every day,” the coach said. “I’m very proud of him sticking this out and finally seeing some success.”

The 113-pounder wasted no time pinning his challenger at 1:26 to bank six more points for his team.

“[I have to] just attack — I can’t play it safe when I don’t have the advantage,” the young competitor said. “When I had my legs [around him], that’s when I knew I had the advantage and he couldn’t get up.”

Junior Vin Valente came away with another fast pin at 152 pounds, winning in 1:06. According to Armstrong, Valente has made tremendous progress over last year and, as with all of his Mustangs, has high expectations for him this postseason.

“Vin has also improved so much from last season,” Armstrong said. “I hope to see him and the rest of my guys place high this year in the Division II county tournament.”

Uniqua holds her two new teddy bears tightly. She received the gifts from members of Mount Sinai's Students Against Destructive Decisions club. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just one night at Mount Sinai High School helped to make the season bright for local families in need.

For Christmas, all 6-year-old Uniqua really wanted was an Elf on the Shelf toy, a gift her mom struggled to afford. But Moniqua McGee, who lives with her daughter at Concern for Independent Living in Medford, knew she had nothing to worry about. She had Mount Sinai high schoolers to rely on.

A family from Concern for Independent Living receive gifts from Mount Sinai children through Hauppuage-based nonprofit Christmas Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Dec. 6, during the Students Against Destructive Decisions club’s Christmas Magic dinner in the high school’s cafeteria, a beaming Uniqua not only got her wish, but two new teddy bears and holiday-themed face paint, too. She even met Santa Claus and Rudolph.

“I’m grateful they’re doing this for the families and putting smiles on the kid’s faces,” said Moniqua McGee, who has been coming to the event the past five years. “It works every time.”

The McGees were just one of dozens of families from the Medford nonprofit enjoying the holiday spirit in the room. An 18-year partnership between the Hauppauge-based organization Christmas Magic and the SADD club, the Christmas soiree served as the ultimate payoff of a shopping spree by the students Dec. 1. Under the supervision of SADD club advisors John Wilson and John McHugh, they spent that day rushing around Smith Haven Mall and Walmart to buy gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, which provides housing and employment help for struggling families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa. The school district also raised $8,000 for Christmas Magic.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club watch children open up presents. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I’m happy and proud to be part of a program and district that not only encourages, but fosters this type of activity,” McHugh said. “The students involved display the best we have to offer … we have grown our program every year and that makes me feel great.”

With all the gifts wrapped and labeled, every kid left the dinner with at least three presents given to them by Santa, played by rosy red cheeked wrestling icon Mick Foley, who also posed for pictures. Christmas tunes blared through the cafeteria’s speakers as families ate chicken, pasta and desserts, and SADD club members — some dressed up in costume — went around the room with little gift bags of extra toys for attendees. SADD club members also played games and watched “Elf” with the kids.

“It’s so nice to be able to see all the kids here and see them get the gifts we got for them,” said Allie Garrant, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up a lacrosse stick and Rubik’s Cube for a 13-year-old boy. “Just seeing their faces — it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, ‘Wow, these are real people I’m helping’ and you get to see firsthand the difference you’re making.”

Renato Lugo, whose four children were ecstatic over their gifts, expressed his gratitude to those involved in the event.

Students dressed up to entertain children during a Christmas Magic dinner at Mount Sinai High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s a beautiful thing to have organizations like these that help out and take care of people in need,” said Lugo, who has been aided by Concern for Independent Living for six years. “The students bring joy and cheer and they make my kids very happy.”

His 12-year-old daughter, Elena, was ecstatic receiving a long-sleeve Unicorn pajama shirt from Santa.

“I think it’s really amazing I got the present I wanted,” Elena said. “And the food is amazing and everyone’s so happy. I love SADD. They’re really like another Santa.”

Kim Dellamura, who’s been at the nonprofit agency for six months, said the event allowed her 4-year-old daughter MacKenzie to have a Christmas.

“It feels good because I don’t know how much I would’ve been able to give her this year,” Dellamura said. “So this really helps out a lot. She loves it.”

For Lawrence Aurigemma, the event is a perfect reflection of what this time of year means.

“This season is all about peace and generosity,” said Aurigemma, a military veteran whose 14-year-old son received Pokemon cards. “These students are just fantastic. They go out of their way to help out the less fortunate people here. It’s a wonderful thing. They knew exactly what to get my son … he’s so happy.”

Smithtown resident and former WWE wrestler Mick Foley dishes out gifts to children. Photo by Kevin Redding

Also at the event was Christmas Magic founder Charlie Russo and representatives of Concern for Independent Living, including case managers Ella Cantave and Julio Villarman, who were excited to see their clients enjoying the holidays.

“It’s a very special day for them,” Cantave said. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen and to make it nice for them.”

As everybody in the room sang “Jingle Bells,” Santa arrived and joined in. Each kid’s name was called out to sit down with the big man in the red suit.

Foley, who has been a volunteer with Christmas Magic since 2000 and officially assumed the role of Santa for the organization in 2014, said he looks forward to the event all year round.

“It’s a great organization — they spread joy and happiness to so many of the less fortunate in the community, and it’s an honor to wear the red suit and represent Christmas Magic,” Foley said before turning his attention to the SADD club. “I make it a point to thank all of them because I think it’s wonderful that they get involved in volunteer work at a young age. They do a great job and it’s really easy for me to show up and get a lot of the credit from children, but the truth is, without them, absolutely none of this is possible.”

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Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

With the yearly rise in the number of Mount Sinai students who refuse to take standardized tests — in relation to a statewide movement against Common Core — district administrators have rolled out new ways to assess and strengthen learning skills. So far, three months into the school year, school leaders believe students are reaping the benefits.

“We’re doing things differently than we’ve ever done before,” said Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal during a Nov. 15 board of education meeting.

Brosdal said the district has implemented new literacy-based assessment programs to fill a great need to measure the academic abilities of elementary and middle school students. Since the 2012-13 school year, more and more students have opted out of the state’s English Language Arts and Math standardized exams, which are administered to evaluate those in grades three through eight, Brosdal said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

— Gordon Brosdal

“We went from a participation rate of 97 percent down to 40 percent,” he said, pointing to the uproar among members of the community over the adoption of Common Core as the main cause. Those against the tests criticize the pressures it places on students and teachers. “I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

Joined by district principals — Peter Pramataris of the middle school and Rob Catlin of the elementary school — Brosdal showcased the growth of students at both schools as a result of the newly implemented programs. Fountas & Pinnell, which started in September, gauges the reading and comprehension level of individual
students by having them read a book with their teacher three times a year. It’s a more relaxed form of testing that serves to measure a student’s progression throughout the year while also encouraging them to find the fun in reading.

When the student demonstrates overall reading ability and understanding of the text, he or she graduates to more challenging books. Books are organized into letter-based levels, “A” books being Dr. Suess and “Z” books being “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In a demonstration of the district’s Columbia Writing Program, which was put in place three years ago as a
result of weakness in the subject across the elementary and middle schools, Pramataris compared a middle school student’s writing assignment from the second day of school to a writing assignment in October. As he pointed out, the second assignment was lengthier, and the student’s narrative skills were punchier.

Academic Intervention Services — help offered by the state at schools to help  students achieve the learning standards, monitors and helps those falling behind.

“We see weaknesses and we want to make them stronger and really work at it,” Brosdal said. “I believe our students have become better writers and readers and they will only get stronger. We’re going to see a lot of good things.”

Catlin, who was hired as principal of the elementary school over the summer, came to the district already well versed in the new programs and was determined to help initiate them.

“We’ve really developed a district wide action plan this year,” Catlin said. “The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

— Rob Catlin

Catlin said in the first Fountas & Pinnell session performed by the district, teachers observed that 45 percent of students in lower elementary grades (first and second) performed at or above grade level. In the upper elementary grades (third and fourth) 22 percent of students performed at or above grade level.

“There are many reasons for this,” Catlin said. “As they say, data doesn’t answer questions, it just opens up questions and makes you think more about why things are happening.”

He explained that while students at these grade levels may have understood the books they were reading, they aren’t used to answering the high level of questions about it, and aren’t engaging in enough independent reading to practice these skills.

Now that teachers have that information about the student, they will be able to directly address their needs before the second session, which takes place in January. In the meantime, the elementary school librarian has started leveling books in the library and Scholastic money from the PTO, totaling $4,000, is being used to purchase more leveled books, Catlin said.

“Now we can use resources to really target their needs,” Catlin said. “And we’re able to see progress quickly, which is nice, and not have to wait until April when the state tests are taken.”

Deena Timo, executive director of educational services and another integral player in bringing the programs to the school, said of the state tests: “We’ve always viewed them as just a little snapshot in time and not the be all, end all to assess a child. It’s that, taken with a lot of things done in the classroom throughout the year that give you a good picture of a student.”

While Brosdal said he wishes more students took the Common Core tests in order to prepare for Regents exams once they reach the high school, he agreed.

“When you have to push the state stuff aside you ask, ‘Now what do we have to measure our kids?’” Brosdal said. “In the classroom, are we seeing growth? Are they engaged now where they weren’t earlier in the year? We are reacting to what we’re seeing, trying to put better things in place. I believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Gary Kulik, an educator and coach for the last 30 years at Mount Sinai High School, has been named a “Distinguished Teacher of 2017” by the Harvard Club of Long Island.

“This award honors teachers who transform lives,” said Dr. Judith Esterquest, the Harvard Club of Long Island’s chair of the distinguished teachers selection committee. “Devoted teachers like Gary Kulik offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention. By capturing the minds and imaginations of our children and preparing them for challenges that were unknown even a few decades ago, these teachers shape the future of our country.”

Gary Kulik, a calculus teacher at Mount Sinai High School, earned the Harvard Club of Long Island’s distinguished teacher award. Photo from Michael Voltz

Kulik, the first from the district to be honored with the award, has been teaching calculus classes at Mount Sinai High School for the past 26 years. Prior to, he taught in the middle school for a few years. A graduate of Stony Brook University with a BS in applied math, he enjoys coaching the high school and middle school math teams.

Kulik also did graduate work at Stony Brook, earning a Master’s Degree in Coaching and Athletics. He is known for having coached the middle school football team since joining the district, and for coaching the basketball team for 15 years. Whether in academics or on the field, he is always there to coach students. He speculates he has written over 1,000 letters of recommendation for his students.

Kulik has a son who is a land surveyor specializing in laser scanning and a daughter who is a high school biology teacher. He was an actuary for a short while before starting his teaching career.

“Mr. Kulik is a beloved figure throughout Mount Sinai; his room is full even when he is not teaching” said Patrick Hanaj, a Mount Sinai High School alum who is expected to graduate from Harvard College in 2020.

“He consistently has the most alumni visit him each year,” Hanaj added. “Kulik forms lifelong connections to his students through programs like the 10-Year Letter, in which he personally mails letters to alumni from their 12th grade selves.”

When Superintendent of Schools Gordan Brosdal learned of this award, he described Kulik as “taking great pride in his work and the Mount Sinai school district.”

“Gary Kulik consistently establishes a culture of respect and trust in his classroom, while he maintains high expectations for all of his students.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“He believes the role of the teacher is the single greatest factor on maximizing student achievement,” Brosdal said. “Gary Kulik consistently establishes a culture of respect and trust in his classroom, while he maintains high expectations for all of his students. Gary’s classroom is engaging and exciting. Because he empowers his students to develop the ability to ‘think about their thinking’ and to learn independently. I enjoy visiting his classroom to watch him work his magic.”

Mount Sinai’s High School Principal, Robert Grable calls Kulik a consummate professional, adding the teacher plans and facilitates instructional designs that reflect a confidence in his students’ learning abilities.

“His students are active participants in the process, thus motivated to assume ownership of their learning,” he said. “Whether it be to receive extra help or simply to chat about life, Mr. Kulik is available for his students.”

Kulik will be one of 12  Long Island teachers honored at the Harvard Club of Long Island’s annual University Relations Luncheon on April 30. At the ceremony, the Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the Distinguished Teacher of 2017 who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Past winners of the scholarships have enhanced their teaching by sampling the resources available to Harvard students — meeting with faculty, visiting research laboratories, rare book archives, and specialty museums.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior student. Photo from Ben May.

It doesn’t take much to start helping the environment.

Eight-year-old me was exploring a stream with my brother and our friends. As we began heading home, I spotted a large plastic container sitting on the bank. Everyone else seemed to ignore it, but I wandered over to examine its contents. After a quick examination, I decided it contained nothing of interest and threw it back to the ground. My brother yelled up at me to ask why I was not recycling it.

I responded, “No one else is going to do that, why do I have to clean it up?”

With a stern face, he said, “For exactly that reason.”

From this quick conversation, my outlook on the world was forever changed. Humanity faces many challenges, but not everyone chooses to help confront them. The environment is in danger of destruction; it is our obligation to save it.

I began my environmental activism at Mount Sinai High School. As a sophomore, I founded the Environmental Outreach Club. This club implemented a recycling program and facilitated annual beach cleanups each year with a turnout of more than 70 students. It amazed me how many people were ready to help. Even a small group of passionate youth can make an observable difference. Then, last fall, I found myself one of three high school students on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Ocean Conservation Summit. This event, where participants heard from environmentalists such as Fabien Cousteau, was meant to bring about youth-driven conservation efforts. Since earning a minigrant from the summit, the Environmental Outreach Club has been pressing for the elimination of one-use bottles and cans from the cafeteria of Mount Sinai High School.

Thus far, we have installed three water bottle refill stations throughout the school and plan on selling reusable bottles at the cafeteria. We hope to later replace the vending machines with beverage fountains to eliminate the need for one-use cans and bottles. Local projects usually have the most powerful impact to someone’s community with small-scale actions creating large-scale changes; however, national endeavors bring a far-reaching aspect to environmentalism.

Last year, I had the honor to be a member of the seven-person Sea Youth Rise Up delegation to lobby President Barack Obama (D) to establish a new marine protected area off the coast of Cape Cod. We met with the Environmental Quality Council at the White House, ran a live international broadcast on World Oceans Day, filmed a documentary and visited the United Nations in New York City to bring attention to the cause. As a teenager, it is difficult to enact change at the federal level, but this opportunity enabled me to engage in debates that directly affected legislation. When Obama heard our collective voices and established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, which protects large sections of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Cod, I realized change can be created by anyone — no matter their age. After returning from the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, I was appointed communications coordinator for the national Youth Ocean Conservation Summit organization, was a guest speaker at this year’s Long Island YOCS, and have been invited to speak at an upcoming TEDx event in London this June.

From my limited personal experience so far, the world of environmentalism is composed of smart, passionate people. Today — even when temperatures and sea level are rising, fish stocks are being depleted, water is becoming scarce, petrochemicals are being added to the oceans at an exponentially increasing rate and a mass extinction is occurring — I am still extremely hopeful. After meeting other people who help mitigate these ailments of our society,  both by small-scale and large-scale actions, I am confident in our collective ability to save our world.

Over my few years of being an environmental advocate, I have learned two things: the opportunities to get involved are endless, and an open door foreshadows more doors to come. Every opportunity that presented itself to me has been the product of some previous action I had taken — all tracing back to my brother yelling at me to throw out a piece of plastic.

Ben May is a Mount Sinai High School senior and is the founder of the Environmental Outreach Club at the school.

School district staff fight for bragging rights while raising money for booster club

By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai school district faculty members were pitted against each other March 3 in the Battle of the Educators. Teachers laced up their sneakers and grabbed a ball, donning black shirts on the middle school side, and gray on the elementary/high school team, for the 16th annual basketball game that raises money for the Mount Sinai Booster Club.

Mount Sinai High School Assistant Principal and Director of Guidance Matt Dyroff, who is the event’s organizer, said the week of practice each team had leading up to the game paid off. In the first quarter, each team traded points until the black team hit a triple to retake the lead, 28-27, before going on a scoring frenzy to take a 10-point lead, 37-27, into the halftime break.

“We do it for our booster club because they do so many things not only for our sports teams, but any other thing we ask their help with they’re more than willing to donate for the cause.”

—Matt Dyroff

“We’ve been practicing hard,” Dyroff said. “A couple of outdoor practices in the cold, but the teams got down to work — they buckled down and it was evident in the score tonight.”

Dyroff had a lot of help with the event from Mount Sinai Booster Club member Terese Lumley, the student council members who volunteered their time to help out, and Mount Sinai High School earth science teacher Roger Cardo, who took care of the play-by-play commentary.

With a $5 admission fee and $1 charge to compete in the halftime shooting contest, Dyroff said he hoped the event cold exceed last year’s $3,000 raised, and as students lined both sides of the court to take part in the shooting contest, it seemed the goal may very well be met.

“Each year we’re hoping to improve on the previous year, and preliminary amounts suggest that we’ve approached $4,000 tonight,” Dyroff said. “We do it for our booster club because they do so many things not only for our sports teams, but any other thing we ask their help with they’re more than willing to donate for the cause. No matter what it is.”

Celebrity spectators, in the form of the first-time county championship girls’ basketball team, had fun watching their teachers take the court.

“It’s a fun time, and everyone comes together to watch the game,” senior point guard Victoria Johnson. “Everyone can joke around take trick shots. It’s all for fun, and that’s the best part of it.”

“Everyone comes together to watch the game. … It’s all for fun, and that’s the best part of it.”

—Victoria Johnson

There were no trick shots down the stretch though, as both teams battled through the final 25 minutes of play. The gray team shook off the first-half jitters and chipped away at the deficit to retake the lead, 62-61, with less than two minutes left in the game. The black team battled back to take a three-point lead in the final 10 seconds of the game, but the gray team had one last possession.

With the ball in hand, Mount Sinai boys’ basketball head coach Ryan McNeely took matters into his own hands when Dyroff inbounded him the ball, and McNelly let a three-point shot fly with 2.3 seconds on the clock. The ball rimmed out as the buzzer sounded, and with that, the middle school held on for a 67-64 win, to claim the championship trophy for the second year in a row.

Senior center Veronica Venezia said the event was a much-needed respite while she and her Mustangs team prepares for the Long Island championship against Nassau County’s Elmont March 11 at SUNY Old Westbury.

“It’s definitely a fun night watching everyone come out and play — all of the teachers and their families and a lot of people coming out to join our community,” she said. “It’s a good breather — especially because it’s a basketball game — it’s a great night watching our coaches play against each other.”

After the game, Dyroff weighed in on the girls’ unprecedented success this season.

“Going to the Long Island championship is tremendous,” he said. “The district and the community have been so supportive of it. The girls have put in so much time and it’s come to fruition. The off-season workouts, the summer leagues, the spring leagues, getting out to play — this group has progressed each year and to see it culminate in a county championship is huge.”

Debbie Carpinone and her son Anthony Forte. Photo from Debbie Carpinone

By Kevin Redding

On what would have been Anthony Michael Forte’s 25th birthday Oct. 8, Debbie Carpinone stood over a cake decorated with a photo of her son and icing that spelled out “Happy Birthday In Heaven Anthony There’s A Light That Will Never Go Out” and led family and friends in singing to him before taking a brief moment to reflect and pray to herself.

All were gathered at VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point to honor and celebrate her son’s memory with live music, catered treats, a Chinese auction and raffle prizes for the 2nd annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser.

For Carpinone — who lost Forte to a heroin overdose on May 2, 2015 — getting through this particular day without him is still a new challenge, but one that’s led her down a path of keeping active, doing good things for others and providing hope and charity to her community.

Local band Remedy plays old hits like ‘Fame’ by David Bowie during the second annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Local band Remedy plays old hits like ‘Fame’ by David Bowie during the second annual Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Last year, in the wake of Anthony’s death, she set up Anthony’s Angels to help raise money for Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, various treatment programs, as well as establish a scholarship in his name at Mount Sinai High School, which is geared toward someone who has overcome a personal obstacle. Carpinone, who works as a teaching assistant for the Mount Sinai Elementary School, was able to give $1,000 to Matthew Kirby this past June and help him pay for college in Rhode Island.

“Anthony always wanted to go to school, but due to his addiction, he never got the chance to go,” Carpinone said. “He just was always in and out of rehabs, and sober houses.”

Now, she continues to keep herself busy in different ways, by striving to do something good in his memory, like the scholarship.

“Matthew [Kirby] was pretty much one of the only kids who really wrote from the heart, about losing his grandparents, and he has suffered a lot of loss as far as family members … and I felt connected to his family just by reading his essay,” she said. “I’m glad I went with my gut and chose him, because he’s just a wonderful kid.”

She wanted this year’s fundraiser to benefit the next scholarship and hopes that she’ll be able to give it out to two students in 2017. Because the event happened to fall on his birthday this year, she also wanted to throw a party he would’ve appreciated.

“Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”

—Kelly Amantea

“He loved all the old Hollywood legends,” said Carpinone, who filled the room with huge cutout standees of Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn, and stocked the tables with photos of icons like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. She said that caterer Crazy Crepe Café even provided an Elvis-themed peanut butter and banana crepe.

“Everybody just came together, and it’s so nice to know that there’s still good people out there, and people that still want to do good things,” the mother said.

Long tables were covered with over 100 prizes from local businesses and attendees, including a $25 gift card to Setauket Pastaria, a glam girl Marilyn basket, a Mercedes Benz donation and a kid’s pedal car.

As local band Remedy played high-energy covers of David Bowie, The Knack and Weezer, pictures of Forte in what appeared to be his happiest days adorned the tables and walls, and had many reminiscing about him.

“He was a very special person,” said Dolores Franklin, Forte’s aunt. “He was very charismatic, talented. I can’t say enough. He loved to act, liked to do skits … he brought us a lot of laughter. And no matter how awful you looked, he’d always tell you you were beautiful. He made you feel good.”

She said that there was certainly a big hole in the family’s hearts, having lost such a huge presence.

“I just wish that one of us could’ve gotten through to him, and could’ve let him know how special he really was,” she said, “because I don’t think he knew how great he was.”

Debbie Carpinone reads off raffle winners at the Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Debbie Carpinone reads off raffle winners at the Anthony’s Angels fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Carpinone wants to get rid of the stigma around heroin and those who get hooked on it, because her son didn’t look like a drug addict, didn’t come from a terrible family and wasn’t a bad person. As overdoses become more and more common across Long Island, it’s become very clear that drugs don’t know who you are, and addiction can latch itself onto anybody — a fact that more and more people are becoming aware of.

“Debbie’s son’s death was my first eye-opening experience to heroin,” said Kelly Amantea, Carpinone’s friend. “It never touched my life, my family, or my heart prior to that. It just never affected me. I knew nothing about it. I lived in my own little drug-free bubble.”

She said for her, a lot of awareness came out of the tragic event.

“I do find that the community as a whole is starting to wrap its arms around this,” she said. “I’m hoping that there’s more attention paid to this because it’s affecting more and more families — more and more lives — and I want the cure and the remedy to catch up with the epidemic … they’re so far apart right now.”

Amantea added she’d never been to a funeral like Forte’s before and believes every middle school kid should be dragged to a funeral of someone who died this way, to open children’s eyes to the harsh reality.

“It rocked me to my core and I don’t think these kids really understand what it’s like for the families that have to carry this,” she said. “That drug is Russian roulette. Debbie is channeling her grief in such a positive way, and I just find everything she’s doing to be so good for her body, mind and soul. Her situation touched my heart.”

The fundraiser raised $220 for Hope House Ministries and $1,500 for the scholarship.

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Mount Sinai’s Caiya Schuster makes a save against Shoreham-Wading River’s Nicky Constant. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

All Lydia Kessel was thinking in the final seconds of overtime is that she couldn’t let Mount Sinai score.

The Shoreham-Wading River junior goalkeeper wanted action, but received almost more than she could handle. A cluster of frenzied girls squeezed between the six and 18-yard line, and that made it difficult to get a hand on the ball.

Mount Sinai's Victoria Johnson and Shoreham-Wading River's Haley Rose battle for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Victoria Johnson and Shoreham-Wading River’s Haley Rose battle for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It was like a game of Pong,” she said of the final frantic moments of the Sept. 27 match. “It was just touches — the ball was going back and forth and the only thing going through my head is that I had to get the ball. If I could get the ball, I could get it out and we can get through the last 10 seconds. I did not want to lose in the last 10 seconds.”

Kessel eventually muscled her way to the ball, although she missed it on the first grab and left a Mount Sinai player with an open net. She threw herself on top of the loose ball, scooped it up and tossed it away to escape with the 0-0 draw for her Wildcats and the Mustangs after two 10-minute overtime sessions.

“They’re a much more physical team,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adrian Gilmore said of Mount Sinai. “But we played a hard game. [Mount Sinai] plays a lot in the air, which is different from the way we play, since we play more to feet. I feel like any time we play them, anything could happen, because they’re so physical.”

Mount Sinai controlled the game for the first few minutes and showed that toughness, but Shoreham-Wading River pushed right back, and came up with back-to-back chances at a goal, the first of which went off the right post.

After the two teams tied 2-2 Sept. 8, Mount Sinai head coach Courtney Leonard expected much of the same the second time around.

“I thought something like this would occur,” she said. “Shoreham — their personnel, our personnel are very evenly matched. They had chances and we had them. They had an unfortunate post in the beginning of the game that could’ve gone in and we had some opportunities in the middle of the net with nobody there that we should’ve gotten. But I thought we did a great job.”

Lydia Kessel sends the ball into play after making a stop. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Lydia Kessel sends the ball into play after making a stop. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Shoreham-Wading River senior outside midfielder Alex Kuhnle had several opportunities to help her team put one away in the second half. First, she attempted a fake from 25 yards out, but Mount Sinai’s junior goalkeeper Caiya Schuster saved her shot. Later, sophomore striker Nicky Constant, took a pass from senior midfielder Sarah Stietzle, but the touch was too soft. Kuhnle also tried to set up Constant twice, but Schuster saved the first, and although the second attempt went in, an offside call waved off the goal. Another shot went in within a five-minute span, but offside was called again. Schuster made 10 big saves on the evening to keep her team in the game.

“Mount Sinai is always a tough team to go up against,” Kuhnle said. “They always come out strong, and I think that we reacted well. We were just unlucky with our shots. We had a lot of opportunities, so that’s a good thing, but moving on, we need to work on finishing.”

Despite junior sweeper Samantha Higgins being forced to leave the game with a foot injury, Shoreham-Wading River’s defense held its own. Kessel made a save with 5:54 left in regulation, one of her five for the game.

“It was a tough battle, but we all helped,” Mount Sinai sophomore midfielder and forward Brooke Cergol said. “We focused on covering their top players, attacking and looking outside; we just really wanted to score and win this game.”

Mount Sinai’s Brooke Cergol and Shoreham-Wading River’s Alex Kuhnle race for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Brooke Cergol and Shoreham-Wading River’s Alex Kuhnle race for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gilmore said having Kessel, a three-year varsity starter, in goal helped her feel more comfortable about the matchup.

“I think having her in the back is such a dangerous weapon,” she said. “My assistant coach [Brian Ferguson] thinks it was one of the best games he’s seen her play. I expect her to do what she does, and it’s a nice feeling.”

With the draw, both teams move to 4-1-2 in League VI. It is the last time the two rivals — that are just miles from each other down Route 25A — are scheduled to battle this season, but it certainly may not be the last time they face off.

Kuhnle said if they see each other again in the postseason, her team will be ready.

“There’s a ton of talent on this team and we can go as far as we want to go if everyone comes together and plays hard,” she said. “This will help fuel a fire for playoffs and show us what we have to work on, so maybe we’ll focus a little more in practice to improve. I’m not disappointed with our performance though; we just got unlucky.”

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