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Mount Sinai

Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

File photo

Suffolk County police arrested a man for allegedly driving while intoxicated following a crash during which officers had to rescue him from a burning vehicle in Mount Sinai March 9.

Jose Nunez was driving a 1999 Honda CRV westbound on Route 25A at Hallock Avenue when he allegedly lost control of the vehicle, crossed over the median, went over a front lawn and into the 7-Eleven parking lot, located at 1 Route 25A, where the vehicle side-swiped a light pole and crashed into a parked tractor trailer at approximately 2 a.m., according to police. The Honda was stuck in full throttle, and the engine of the SUV caught fire near the fuel cells of the tractor trailer.

Sixth Precinct officers, Port Jefferson EMS members, Mount Sinai Fire Department and Terryville Fire Department responded and found the driver trapped and unconscious. Sergeant Richard Grice used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire near the engine, while officers Jamie Treadwell and Brian Cann used another fire extinguisher to put out the fire near the rear of the vehicle, police said. Officer Chris Weiner, with assistance from fire department members, kept the driver’s airway open until rescuers, including officer Anthony Buonagurio, officer Fred Crasa and officer Thomas Wassmer, were able to use the Jaws of Life tool to cut the vehicle and pull Nunez to safety.

Nunez, who regained consciousness during the rescue, was transported with serious injuries to Stony Brook University Hospital. There was one person in the tractor trailer who was not injured.

Nunez, 25, of Port Jefferson Station, was arrested and charged with allegedly driving while intoxicated. Sixth Squad detectives are continuing the investigation. Anyone with information about the crash can call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

Attorney information for Nunez was not immediately available.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education voted unanimously to hire armed guards during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Students in Mount Sinai will come back to school after this weekend greeted by new armed security guards.

The Mount Sinai board of education voted unanimously March 8 to hire four armed guards to patrol the school campus. Three of the armed guards will be stationed in and around the three main buildings on the campus, where the elementary, middle and high schools sit, while the fourth will be used to patrol the grounds and surrounding fences. The board said the guards will not be involved in normal disciplinary activities.

“My concern is based on response time. The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

— Gordon Brosdal

“My concern is based on response time,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “The 6th Precinct gave it a shot, and their best estimate was an eight-minute response time.”

Brosdal also said he was also fearful that Mount Sinai is the type of nice area that would attract a shooting.
“We fit the profile of a school that gets hit,” he said.

As the national discussion over guns in schools lingers with no true federal legislation in sight, local school districts are spending budgetary funds to hire armed guards to protect children. Mount Sinai joins Miller Place School District and other districts across Long Island in hiring armed security personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14.

While Mount Sinai school board President Lynn Capobianco said that the district is currently looking for a risk assessment to be conducted, many residents at the meeting expressed disappointment that the district did not conduct one before hiring the armed guards.

“I believe we do need to take a look at what we are doing with school security — assessing our own risk after sort of seems like auditing our own taxes and then telling the IRS we don’t mean to pay,” resident Joe Latini said. “To me, it’ really is important that we have a third party risk assessment team come in here and tell us what we should do to secure the schools.”

School board Vice President Michael Riggio said the board wanted to get the armed guards in as soon as possible.

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent.”

— Michael Riggio

“I believe there is a threat, and armed security guards checks that box of deterrent,” Riggio said.

The board is buying the services of Retail Security Services Inc. based out of Medford. The guards will be paid $40 per hour. The board said a future meeting will show where the guards will be placed in the budget.

Some parents in the meeting expressed that they wanted the guards to have military or prison guard backgrounds, but Brosdal said that when working as superintendent in William Floyd School District, that employs a number of security personnel, the most problems he had between security and the students were with those who used to work in Rikers penitentiary.

“Picture a guy whose done 20 years or more in Rikers with high school kids,” he said, pausing. “Not a good mix.”

Mount Sinai residents were split on whether they thought armed guards would truly protect the school’s children.

“I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place.”

— Therese Blanton

“Regardless of what your stance is, I don’t think there would be enough people in the community to voice against it, because God forbid there is ever a school shooting, and the campus has no security in place,” Mount Sinai resident Chris Hart said. “These are open grounds — this is a large facility.”

Therese Blanton said she did not think the four armed guards would be enough to protect the campus.

“I still don’t understand how letting one armed guard in each building will protect this entire campus, including our perimeter,” Blanton said. “There’s no hard structure around and you have soft targets when they are out playing on the playground. I think a lot of people who are in my position are intimidated by guns in schools.”

Henry Dreyer said he too would prefer a full risk assessment done first, and that more parents would come to each and every meeting to help the district improve on a regular basis.

“I don’t like it, it’s unfortunate that they took this route,” he said of the board. “I would like if there were more mental health care in here. I have kids in the school — second grade and kindergarten — I attend the board of education meetings regularly, and there’s usually seven or eight of us here. Last week there were about 100 people here, and this time there’s more than 50. If they’d come down here every week, it would be better.”

Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School students will be able to leave the building for 17 minutes and head to the athletic field to reflect on the Florida school shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

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.”

James Snider earned 33 merit badges and built a memorial garden at Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Service to earn his Eagle Scout award. Photo from Kim Snider

Within Boy Scout Troop 1776, adults and Scouts alike have always turned to Mount Sinai High School senior James Snider to lead the way. Whether it’s making sure his fellow Scouts have their tents set up and food prepared before monthly camping trips or energizing the troop with a rousing speech in meetings, the 17-year-old, who started as a Cub Scout in first grade, has served as an exemplary take-charge member.

“He’s always been very mature and served as a great teacher,” troop Scoutmaster Greg Muroff said. “His peers naturally gravitate toward him and he has the respect of everybody in the group.”

Mount Sinai Troop 1776 member James Snider became the first of his group to become an Eagle Scout. Photo from James Snider

So it makes sense that Snider recently became the first member of Troop 1776, which formed in 2013, to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award, the highest rank a Scout can receive, which has been achieved by a small percentage of Scouts since 1912, according to the National Eagle Scout Associations. To become Eagle Scout, not only did he have to earn 21 merit badges — Snider collected a total of 33, including a bronze and gold Eagle palm — but also complete a year-long community service project. After the death of two members of Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Services on Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai in 2016, Snider committed himself to creating a memorial garden and sitting area on the department’s property. Between September 2016 and October 2017, when the garden was made official during a dedication ceremony, he installed a stepping stone path, tables, chairs and rose bushes, and built two wooden benches around a small tree on a stretch of empty open space through a donation provided by one of his troop leaders.

“It feels really good, and was definitely worth the time,” Snider said of his project’s impact. “I’m glad I made it to the end of the journey without giving up. I hope to be the example for future troop members.”

His mother, Kim Snider, a Suffolk County correction officer, said her son has already done that.

“A fire has been ignited by James — he’s definitely motivated others through this,” she said. “He’s probably the most determined human being I can possibly imagine. He always wants to do what’s right for the community and prides himself in leadership. He’s a very quiet boy, but has the ability to change an atmosphere. That’s just him — he naturally has good in his heart.”

Matthew Callen, a Mount Sinai junior and Snider’s scouting peer since fourth grade, said he is among those inspired.

“I really think it has impacted everybody in the troop,” said Callen, of his friend being named the first Eagle Scout from the troop. “Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

“Seeing him achieve Eagle opened my eyes to something I really wanted and gave me a lot of initiative to get focused and achieve this rank myself.”

— Matthew Callen

Brian Callen, the Scout’s father, who is a committee chair member within Troop 1776, said when the idea came up to found the group, designed as a boy-led program that started with 20 members, it was decided to make Snider the second senior patrol leader at just 13. A year later, he was promoted.

“He quickly became comfortable speaking in front of large groups and conducting awards distributions,” Callen said. “The adults are really only there as supervisors. The boys do the planning, run the meetings and the camping trips, and he fell right into the role of leader. He’s never been the type of kid you ever had to correct.”

Snider has participated in the Great Brookhaven Cleanup, placed flags at Calverton Cemetery leading up to Memorial Day and, for the past four years, volunteered at a local veterans home.

During a ceremony held in honor of Snider’s accomplishment at Mount Sinai High School last month, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) called his persistence  a “vital asset to the community.”

“Through his hard work, dedication and commitment to scouting, James has proven himself to be an extraordinary leader,” Anker said. “His Eagle Scout accomplishment will set an example for the younger scouts in Troop 1776. I congratulate him and wish him continued success in his future endeavors.”

Snider will be attending Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in the fall in pursuit of a degree in business finance.

“In the future I’d like to be head of a company, and Boy Scouts has helped me become a leader,” Snider said. “I’ve learned to treat others with respect, make sure everyone around me is happy and everything is dealt with correctly.”

Wins 138-pound Division II state championship in sudden victory

Mount Sinai 138-pounder Mike Zarif leaps into head coach Matt Armstrong's arms after winning his state championship finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

Mike Zarif treated his final appearance on a high school mat like he would any other. He completed his pre-match ritual of splashing cold water on his face and praying before stepping out under the state championship finals lights. He was confident in his abilities, and didn’t need a saving grace.

“I told myself, whatever happens, happens, but I knew I was ready,” the Mount Sinai wrestler said. “All the work I’ve put in was going to pay off.”

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif stands atop the Division II 138-pound championship podium. Photo from Matt Armstrong

The fifth seed at 138 pounds in Division II, Zarif won his first state title in dazzling sudden victory fashion, 6-4, when he used a Merkle, or a side headlock, to get takedown points against No. 3-seeded Riley Gerber of Camden. The maneuver was completed with seconds left in overtime inside Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. The referee blew the whistle, and after a long pause, raised two fingers up in the air to signal the back points the senior earned, and ultimately, the win.

Realizing he had just become his coaches’ first state champion, he rushed over to Matt Armstrong and Kurt Wagner, embracing them with open arms.

“Mike lost it,” said Armstrong, the head coach. “We were all so excited for him — so incredibly proud — because we know how hard he’s worked and how in the past year alone his skills have really sharpened. New York boasts top-notch wrestling, and his title was well deserved. He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning. He wasn’t just happy enough with making it to the finals, he took it to an extreme at a very competitive weight class.”

The senior has come a long way in a short time. Zarif started on the varsity team as a sophomore, and said back then, he never thought this day would come.

“He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning.”

— Matt Armstrong

“If you told me as a sophomore I was going to be a state champ my senior year, I would’ve laughed and said ‘I wish,’” Zarif said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started this journey, and this shows that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

He said he took wrestling seriously from the moment he joined the team, dedicating himself to the sport by competing in the offseason, heading to extra practices at Ascend Wrestling Club three days a week after team ones, and entered major tournaments against the cream of the crop.

“He put everything out there and proved it’s not when you start, it’s how you finish,” Zarif’s mother Nissy said. “He wrote in his college essay back in September that he was going to win counties and states. I told him, ‘Wait, don’t write that yet. Don’t’ jump the gun.’ But I’m so glad he did because he made his goals and dreams come true.”

The 138-pounder also learned from his mistakes, noticing the bad positions he’d put himself in that led to giving away points or getting pinned. Knowing this, Zarif was able to take advantage of a mistake in a critical point in the state tournament. Down 3-0 in the quarterfinal against Section I’s Jack Wrobel, the Prawling High School athlete grabbed Zarif’s leg while he was riding him on top, and the Mount Sinai senior worked it to his advantage. He cross-faced Wrobel to his back and pinned him with three second left in the second period.

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif with his Mustangs coaches after winning his state finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

“While losing, I looked over at coach Wagner and he told me the kid was getting tired, and to keep shooting,” said Zarif, who wins most matches by a technical fall, scoring 15 more points than his opponents. “That’s exactly what I did. I just stayed calm — knew that no one in the state can go a full six minutes with me — kept pushing the pace and working for my takedowns. No one in my bracket was unbeatable, and my coaches kept telling me this was my title.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds, was taken down twice early and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title. Division I Rocky Point’s 120-pounder Anthony Sciotto, the No. 1 seed, fell in the finals in a 9-6 decision to No. 6 Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor. Sciotto’s teammate Corey Connolly lost 10-4 in the semifinals to top-ranked Jacori Teemer of Long Beach, who made history by becoming the first New York wrestler to win five straight state titles. Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano lost a close bout, 9-6, in the semifinals at 132 pounds to the eventual state champion, and Smithtown West’s Tim Nagosky lost 6-0 in the 285-pound semis to state champion Deonte Wilson from Amityville. Section XI dominated Division I with 245 points and came in fourth in Division II with 158.5.

Zarif completes his wrestling career with Mount Sinai after the team won the county and first state dual meet team title. He becomes the district’s second ever state champion.

“Mike has helped open the doors — he had a chance to show the kids what can happen when you work hard and dedicate yourself,” Armstrong said. “I can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s someone we can point to in the future. Nothing comes easy, you must work for everything that you get. You have to make sacrifices — that’s been our motto this year and on all our gear — and that’s a kid that’s sacrificed so much. That’s what it takes to be a champion.”

Mount Sinai and Miller Place also come in first, Northport and Ward Melville second

Rocky Point's cheerleading team placed first in the county for the third straight season. Photo by Jim Ferchland
Miller Place’s cheerleading team rocks the house. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Eagles’ consistency and dominance is second to none when it comes to high school varsity cheerleading.

Rocky Point claimed its third cheerleading county championship in Division I medium varsity Feb. 24 at West Islip High School in front of a boisterous crowd shouting out Rocky Point’s name. The Eagles finished with 94.6 points, the highest overall score of the day.

“It feels amazing,” head coach Anna Spallina said. “There’s so much pressure on me to always compete and be on top. I think it’s just my personality. Climbing to the top is always good but once you’re up there, it’s harder to stay at the top.”

A Mount Sinai cheerleader atop a pyramid. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Before the meet on Saturday, Rocky Point was down in Orlando, Florida for nationals. After earning a pass straight to the finals, the Eagles’ performance put them in a disappointing seventh place.

“It’s a sport,” Spallina said. “Like any other sport, you’re going to have a good day and a bad day. It’s just the way it is.”

Northport finished second (81.2), Newfield third (67.3) and Kings Park fourth (65.9).

Mount Sinai was the only Division II large school in the competition. They finished with a score of 87.7. Mustangs head coach Kara Bochicchio said there still was competition — themselves.

“It was really just about going out there and trying to perform the best routine they could,” Bochicchio said. “Throughout the whole routine, there was fight. It might not have been the most perfect routine of the day, but they fought for everything tooth and nail. I’m really proud of them.”

Mount Sinai senior Charlotte Fiordalisi said there’s no way better to finalize the season with a county championship, especially after the Mustangs also finished nationals in fourth place.

Northport’s cheerleading team brings the excitement. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I’m just really proud of my team,” Fiordalisi said. “My first ever competition six years ago was here and my last competition being here is bittersweet. It was a great way to finish the season. I’m just living in the moment.”

Miller Place finished first in Division II Medium varsity. The Panthers had 68.5 points to Hampton Bays’ 45.2. The pair are the only two teams in the division.

To wrap up the day was the Division I large school, Sachem North (88.7) earned first place over Ward Melville by one point.

“They really amaze me,” Ward Melville head coach Christine Perretta said of her team. “They never let anything defeat them. We pushed through every routine and they’ve definitely gone further than they’ve ever gone for Ward Melville. They don’t stop until the end.”

A Newfield cheerleader shouts a chant. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Ward Melville senior Kara Manuud has been with the team since her sophomore year. She said she was confident in the Patriots’ routine.

“Just being on that mat one final time, I knew nothing could go wrong,” Manuud said. “We have the skill, we’ve had all the practice we could have and it was just the matter of perfecting that and showing it on the mat.”

The Patriots took eighth place in nationals this year, and senior Courtney Cardillo said it feels good to finish her high school career on a higher note.

“After getting eighth, we worked really hard this past week,” Cardillo said. “We came in stronger than we’ve ever been. We hit a bunch of routines. We showed them what we deserved and who we are.”



Ward Melville’s cheerleading team. Photo by Jim Ferchland

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Mustangs fall short of back-to-back county titles with loss to Hauppauge

Brooke Cergol never counted her team out. With her Mount Sinai girls basketball team down from opening tipoff, the junior continued to let shots fly, scoring five of her team-high 13 points in the first half to try to keep her Mustangs in it. She went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line to end the first half, turning a 15-9 deficit into a one-possession game, but Mount Sinai couldn’t come any closer. The Mustangs’ undefeated season came to an end in a 51-40 Class A county final loss to No. 6 Hauppauge Feb. 23 at Farmingdale State College.

“Hitting those three free throws to get us back into the game felt amazing — it gave us hope, and we started playing more like how we usually play,” Cergol said. “Our strategy going in was to have a strong defensive position, get out on shooters and rebound. We tried to stay with that game plan as much as possible — sometimes it didn’t work the way we wanted to, but we definitely gave it everything we had.”

Cergol broke up another Hauppauge scoring streak to start the third and cut the deficit to 10, but the Eagles were soon at it again. Junior Gabby Sartori (11 points) was next to break up a scoring spurt, hitting her second 3-pointer of the game and two free throws. She continued to try drawing fouls while driving the lane, but was denied the opportunity in most cases. Lone senior starter Olivia Williams (eight points) capped off the eight minutes with a 3-point play to give her No.1-seeded team another shot in the arm.

“We knew we were still in it,” Cergol said. “We never got down on ourselves, and knew we just needed to play in the moment. We all pushed ourselves. Obviously, the game did not turn out the way we wanted, but each player left everything on the court, and that’s what I love about this team.”

Cergol scored on a layup and Sartori on an offensive rebound to trim Hauppauge’s lead to four, 32-28, but the Mustangs fell behind the rest of the way.

“I think the game was a good challenge for us,” Williams said, noting the loss of Margaret Kopcienski to injury in the third had a direct impact on the team. “I don’t think going down early got in our heads because we had been in similar situations before, but it took a while for us to get into the swing of things.”

Mount Sinai comes short of completing back-to-back county title-winning seasons, claiming the program’s first last year, but finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history. Williams is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of momentous seasons.

“Being out on the court as a senior was surreal to me because I have been a part of this program for so long,” she said. “I was motivated to give it my all every game knowing it was my last season, and being on this journey with my team has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Being a Mustang has taught me so much about not only athletics, but the importance of having good character and leadership. I’ve had the chance to develop great relationships with my teammates and coaches over the years and have made memories that I will cherish forever.”

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Olivia Williams fights for possession under the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The number 20 must be lucky for Olivia Williams.

In her senior year, still donning her number 20 jersey, the forward helped her team to a perfect, 20-0 regular season.

Holly McNair reaches for the rebound. Photo by Desirée Keegan

On Feb. 20, she had the game of her life, scoring a double-double on 11 points and 20 rebounds in a 69-52 Class A semifinal win over Sayville. The No. 1 seeded Mustangs will face No. 6 Hauppauge
Feb. 23 at Farmingdale State College at 5 p.m. to defend its Suffolk County crown after nabbing the first one in school history last year.

“I wanted to lay it all on the line, make sure we got back to the finals,” Williams said. “I couldn’t stop going. I didn’t even feel tired because I knew I had to keep fighting until the end.”

Five Mustangs fought for Mount Sinai’s first-quarter lead. While Sayville might have been expecting leading scorer Gabby Sartori to drive to the basket, Williams was first on the board on a free throw after a Sayville 3-pointer. Down 5-1, Sartori sent a long pass over to Brooke Cergol for the score, and Williams tied things at 5-5.
Margaret Kopcienski assisted next on junior Holly McNair’s field goal, to give the Mustangs a lead they’d never relinquish.

“We got into the paint really, we drove to the basket and passed the ball out to get the shot when we needed to,” McNair said. “We had so many good passes, and when we play together as a team, I think we’re unstoppable.”

Gabby Sartori leaps up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Sartori did turn it on though, scoring eight of Mount Sinai’s 11 points in the second quarter and 11 of her team’s 14 in the third. Of her game-high 29 points, she scored 13 on free throws, going 7-for-8 from the charity stripe in the third quarter.

“I saw they were playing off me, and driving is my main purpose when I play,” said Sartori, who also had 10 assists and 10 rebounds to complete a triple-double. “When I see the foul coming I take it, because I know I’ve been working hard from that free-throw line to get the easy buckets.”

She said the crowd definitely got the team going.

“The energy, the fantastic atmosphere, I think we fed off that,” Sartori said. “That feeling from last year, I’ve never forgotten it, and I just can’t wait to feel it again.”

Margaret Kopcienski looks for the open girl. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Defense was the focus, and the game plan was to be aggressive as the Mustangs keyed in on Jenna Harclerode and Devin Dolan. Mount Sinai held the girls to 12 and eight points, respectively.

“We had to shut down those two girls because they really pick their team up,” McNair said.

Williams’ job was to defend against Dolan, and Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou thought his number 20 exceeded expectations.

“Olivia Williams was outstanding,” he said. “She took on an All-County player and she played the game of her life tonight — she out-rebounded her, she played her tough. She really did a great job. Without her strength, we might not have been as successful.”

Six Mustangs found themselves on the scoreboard, with Cergol adding the third double-double for her team on 11 points and 10 rebounds. McNair finished with eight points, Kopcienski added six and Casey Campo rounded out the scoring with four.

“We’re all really hyped up,” Williams said. “We knew we wanted to come out strong, we weren’t selfish, and we’re going to do it again. We’ve been wanting to take it game by game, but I’ve really been hoping for the chance to repeat history.”