Tags Posts tagged with "Mount Sinai"

Mount Sinai

by -
0 537
Mount Sinai's girls lacrosse team won its first indoor national championship after besting the No. 1 and No. 7 teams in close games. Photo from Al Bertolone

The Mustangs will remain in good hands this spring.

The Mount Sinai indoor girls lacrosse team — led by sister sets Meaghan and Emma Tyrrell on offense and Meaghan and Kristen Scutaro on defense — claimed the school’s first national title this month. The Mustangs outlasted Bishop Ireton, Virginia’s BigLax 13-12 in a sudden-death victory in the final Jan. 7 to grab gold at the second annual high school IL Women Indoor Lacrosse National Championship.

“My girls played six games in two days and were warriors,” head coach Al Bertolone said. “They played hard and never wavered — came back from being behind in the final — it was great to see them win because they are the first Long Island team to win this tournament and to beat No. 1 McDonogh.”

Mount Sinai, the tournament’s No. 5 seed, was one of eight teams to advance out of pool play, going 3-0 to get to the quarterfinals. Over that stretch, the Mustangs scored 59 goals and let up 36. The team advanced to the semifinals with a 17-11 win over North Fork and beat McDonogh, Maryland’s Orange Crush, last year’s finalist, 13-12, to advance to the championship game.

“This really tested our team offensively and defensively, and our team definitely rose to the occasion, which is huge for us so early in the season,” senior Meaghan Scutaro said. “To beat the No. 1 team, McDonogh, has always been a goal of our team since I was in eighth grade. To finally have the chance to play such an outstanding team was surreal, and then to win it all was the cherry on top. We were all tired from playing such amazing teams, but we were excited, and knew that we wouldn’t come this far to not win.”

Bertolone pointed to the sister bonds as the glue that holds his team together. The competition had an added dose of intrigue as in the Mustangs’ first game of the tournament, against Run n’ Gun, five future Syracuse University teammates toed the line against one another.

“Playing with them shows you how it’s going to be in college,” junior Emma Tyrrell said of competing against future Orange teammates. “It’s great to play with them.”

Senior Meaghan Tyrrell’s lefty finish shined at attack, and her sister was consistently found unmarked at eight meters. Guarding by the University of Notre Dame-bound Scutaro twins, and blocking in goal by Sienna Massullo (2018, Pace University) and Emily Lamparter (2021, University of Maryland) also impressed.

“You know exactly how your sister plays, and you can depend on her to help you finish plays, which works in our favor having sisters on the offense and defense,” Scutaro said.

Seeing the chemistry continue to build now is just a taste of what’s to come this season when the Mustangs head outdoors, and, at the collegiate level.

“The culture we have established combined with the friendships they have has created a bond that is family-based,” Bertolone said. “It’s unreal how connected we are.”

Mount Sinai resident Kevin Foley fulfilled a lifelong dream of being on ‘Jeopardy!,’ posing with Alex Trebek to commemorate the experience. Photo from Kevin Foley

Since he was 10 years old, Kevin Foley dreamed of going on his favorite television show, standing behind a podium and giving answers in the form of a question. Last month, the 58-year-old Suffolk County police captain from Mount Sinai finally got his wish as a contestant on “Jeopardy!” where he won a total of $18,000.

“It was the culmination of a lifelong effort,” Foley said of his appearances on two “Jeopardy!” episodes, which aired Dec. 27 and 28. He won his first appearance, raking in $16,000, and fell short of victory in the second, taking home a $2,000 consolation prize for second place. Although he “kicks himself” for the minute error that cost him a win in the second game, failing to risk enough in the final Jeopardy round, Foley said it was an experience he’ll always cherish.

“It was definitely something to check off my bucket list,” he said. “It took me 30-something years to get on there, but I never stopped trying. It’s very satisfying.”

In the late 1960s, Foley, a student in the Plainedge school district at the time, came home for lunch every day and watched “Jeopardy!” with his mother, transfixed by the high-stakes quiz competition then hosted by Art Fleming. The two would bounce the show’s clues off one another, trying to decode them before the contestants did — a routine that continued into the next decade. He said early days with his mother, Dolores Foley, fed right into his already voracious appetite for trivia and knowledge.

“I was the kid that the librarian had to keep telling, ‘No, you can’t take that book out, it’s too advanced for you,’” he said, laughing. “I’ve always read a heck of a lot and retained what I read. My mom was the same way.”

In between the show’s initial cancellation in 1975 and reemergence in 1984 with its new host Alex Trebek, Foley applied to the Suffolk County Police Department, trained in the academy and became an
officer within the 3rd Precinct, officially starting in 1983 when he was 23.

Throughout his career, Foley has served in multiple precincts and was involved in the rescue of a 2-year-old girl who had fallen to the bottom of an in-ground pool. For the past year, Foley has been a precinct delegate for a group called Brotherhood for the Fallen, which sends members of the police department across the country to funerals for law enforcement officers who have been killed. It also provides funds to family members to help with immediate financial needs.

But his desire to be on “Jeopardy!” never went away.

After the show returned to airwaves in 1984, he and his mother would drive to Resorts International in Atlantic City where contestant tryouts were held throughout the year.

“But we never made it past the initial stages,” Foley said of passing the preliminary 50-question written test.

Since the ’80s, he said he swam in the contestant pool for “Jeopardy!” roughly 10 different times — always close but ultimately never chosen. In December 2000, he was one of eight people in the preliminary rounds on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but never hit the hot seat.

This past May, Foley, like clockwork, took the show’s annual timed, 50-question qualifying exam online, covering the wide range of categories found on the show, with 35 being a passing score. In July, he was called in for an appointment in the show’s Manhattan offices for further tests; mock rounds of the game for evaluation of on-air stage presence and interviews with producers and members of the production staff. In August, he was asked if he was available for tapings in Los Angeles in September.

Foley, who said he reads two or three books a week and “knows a little bit about a lot,” had amassed a collection of “Jeopardy!” books, filled with facts, and studied them every night leading to September.

“He also watched the show every day, he bought a physical at-home version of the game and I constantly quizzed him,” said his wife Joan Foley, who was in the audience during the taping. “It was nerve-wracking to sit there among all these other people and everybody else on the show was so smart. I was so proud of him.”

She said that her husband’s mother, who passed away three summers ago, would have been too.

“His mom is definitely smiling down on him now,” she said.

On Foley’s first night, despite trailing behind in third place with $4,400 to the other contestants’ $5,000 and $7,600 after the first round, he quickly bounced back as champion by the end of the Double Jeopardy! Round, finishing with $16,000 to the others’ $8,799 and $0. He said he most surprised himself during the game by correctly answering with “Drake” to a question in the category of Hip Hop and R&B 2017. “Everyone was like, what is this 58-year-old doing answering this one?” he said laughing. He said it was difficult to process what Trebek said to him during the commercial break as he was too concentrated on the game.

“You kind of get engrossed in it all,” Foley said, adding that the show’s host is not as intense and standoffish as he assumed. “He’s very polite and good-natured — much more personable than I expected him to be.”

While in the lead in his second game against a new batch of contestants, Foley got caught in the show’s strict “to the letter” rules. The category was “Only The Lonely” with the clue reading: “This 12-letter word often followed ‘Miss’ in romantic advice column titles.” Foley answered, “What is Lonelyheart?” to which Trebek responded “yes,” which he retracted seconds later.

“No, sorry,” Trebek said on the heels of the judges’ reevaluation. “We have to rule against you. It’s Miss Lonelyhearts, not Miss Lonelyheart.”

While that one-letter difference cost him $1,600 and a potential second win, his take-home money is making possible a trip in the spring to Yellowstone National Park, a longtime dream destination for he and his wife.

Not to mention Foley’s “Jeopardy!” success has made him a celebrity among friends and co-workers, many of whom were unaware of his appearances until they were about to air. Nearly 100 people attended a viewing party for the episodes, held at Tommy’s Place in Port Jefferson.

“It was so exciting,” said Foley’s longtime friend Roger Rutherford, general manager of Roger’s Frigate, of seeing his 10-year friend’s face up on the big screen. “The place was packed and the second ‘Jeopardy!’ announced who was on the show, the crowd went wild. And every time Kevin’s name was mentioned, the crowd roared with cheers and claps and booing the other competitors. Because of the environment, you would think there was a football game on.”

Jack Catalina, Foley’s best friend and former partner on the force, said he wasn’t surprised by how well he did.

“He’s always looking to show everybody how smart he is,” Catalina said, jokingly. “I was so happy for him, and I think he did very well. He’s always been very good at these types of trivia games.”

So much so, Joan Foley said, that he serves as designated host during family game nights, as it would be too unfair to have him compete.

Foley himself laughed at this, before quoting Herman Edwards, the former head coach of the New York Jets.

“You play to win the game,” he said.

Freddy Rivera and Matthew Hu face off at Mission Fencing. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

After devastation struck Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria in September, members of Puerto Rico’s national fencing team reached out to anyone willing to lend a hand.

Hearing of Team Puerto Rico’s plight, Rocky Point’s Mission Fencing Center owners Jeff and Jennie Salmon quickly opened their doors so the team could train for an upcoming international competition, and many of the fencers were more than thankful.

“As my family and a lot of my friends said it was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train],” said 17-year-old épéeist Freddie Rivera, who calls Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico home. “Ever since I got the news that we had this opportunity, I wanted to meet them. They gave us their house too, and to take us to this place [Mission Fencing] — that takes a lot of effort.”

Members of Mission Fencing Center helped host members of Team Puerto Rico, on podium at back row, who had no place to train in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Photo by Bill Landon

Salmon, a Comsewogue High School graduate and varsity boys fencing coach for Ward Melville, said housing and feeding the fencers, as well as providing transportation to his 30,000-square-foot subterranean training facility on Route 25A, which he said is the largest in the country,
wasn’t as difficult as it might sound.

Mission Fencing Center owns a bus that already transports athletes from across Long Island to and from the center, and the Salmons have plenty of space in their old mission church home in Mount Sinai, from where the center got its name. He said this, along with local contributions, made accommodations for the four-week stay accommodations simple. Karina Del Mar Pagan, a 19-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico, said each member of her eight-person group paid for his or her plane ticket, and the Salmons took care of the rest.

“Fifteen years ago Jennie and I bought our home and ran a fencing clinic out of the extra space,” Salmon said. “We didn’t have the finances to support [Team Puerto Rico], but we live in an old church, which we still run camps out of in the summer, so we have a bunch of beds and have plenty of room. We have some pretty nice housing for them.”

The fencing community demonstrated its generosity by holding food drives and 50/50 raffles since the guests landed Dec. 11, as well as by donating hats, gloves and other cold-weather items to help the Caribbean team adjust to the temperature. The group also received home items like paper towels and laundry detergent.

“It was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train].”

—Freddie Rivera

“Today we went to the laundromat and the minute one of the girls stepped outside she said, ‘Oh my God, here we go again,’” Jeff Salmon said, laughing. “The team doesn’t like the cold, but they all have coats and gloves because everyone really stepped [up]. Everyone is so excited that they’re here and the whole Long Island fencing community has been great.”

His wife heard of Team Puerto Rico’s predicament through Iris Zimmermann, who co-owns the Rochester Fencing Club, and said she immediately knew she wanted to get involved in any way she could.

“I guess I just took the bull by the horns,” Jennie Salmon said. “And now USA Fencing federation is even involved in helping them.”

Carlos Quiles, a 24-year-old Carolina, Puerto Rico, resident chaperoning his group of eight fencers, said he was connected with the Salmons after pleading to his fencing federation president that they needed a place to train after seeing his club’s flooded headquarters.

“When we saw that our club was completely destroyed, the head of our fencing federation went to a meeting to make a plan as to what we were going to do,” Quiles said, adding that the organization reached out to anyone in the United States and beyond. “That’s when Mission Fencing found us and [Jeff Salmon] told us he wanted us to come here. We couldn’t be more grateful.”

Team Puerto Rico took to the strips of Mission Fencing Center Dec. 15, where its members showed off their international flare while competing against local Long Island fencers like Ward Melville épéeist Ben Rogak.

Rivera said he was excited to challenge himself and partake in a unique experience, one that provided a first for the young athlete.

The group’s chaperone, Carlos Quiles, trains against fencing center member and Ward Melville junior Cat Cao to secure his position on the Puerto Rico national team. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’m so thankful for this opportunity,” he said while fencing inside the center as snow began to fall. “This is my third trip to the United States — [having previously visited] Mexico and Costa Rica — and this time, I’m a proud member of the junior national team. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen snow.”

Rogak said he also enjoyed competing against fencers he’s never seen before, and said that he admired their dedication. Jennie Salmon agreed.

“They’ve been awesome guests,” she said. “We’ve had press based on our success as high school coaches, and at some level we’re very proud of that, but that isn’t even close to our biggest success. What we’re doing here is so meaningful.”

Before returning home, the Mission Fencing Center bus will take the team to Virginia, where it will be joined by its other members from around the country to compete.

Rivera reiterated how happy he was to learn from Long Island’s established athletes, adding it’s been helpful as programs at home begin to take flight.

“In Puerto Rico we are starting to have leagues in high school — we are taking baby steps,” he said. “This is a super club, [Mission Fencing]. It’s complete with a gym, trainers, and I’m thankful for this opportunity. Jeff and Jennie like to help people, and there are not a lot of good people that open their homes like that in the world. I have to say that they have big hearts and they’re full of love.”

by -
0 866
Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team, a county, state and national champion, bounced back after having its seven-year streak of first-place Empire Regional finishes snapped, to win the first meet of the regular season. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

For the first time in seven years, Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team fell short of a first-place finish at the Empire Regional championship. The girls could have sulked, hung their heads and given up the idea of maintaining their national prowess. Instead, the Mustangs used the slip to second place to fuel their fire.

“We put out an amazing routine that we were very proud of,” senior captain Alexa Tabile said of Mount Sinai’s 88.1 score Dec. 2 at Nassau County Community College that still earned the team a bid to nationals. “We took a step back and saw we need to be better, because the team that beat us was better. It’s just as simple as that.”

The girls went into the next practice asking what they could do to get back on top, and worked at it.

Mount Sinai sticks a routine. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

“I try to motivate my teammates before practice and tell them we need to be supporting each other,” Tabile said, adding that the team takes everything in stride. “It’s something I felt we did, and it led to our next first-place finish. We focus on what’s coming up next, but always have the big picture in mind.”

The Mustangs ended up in the No. 1 spot Dec. 11 at Longwood, redeeming themselves from a bobble in the pyramid at the regional competition and a fall at the  meet.

Tabile said she was still afraid of once again coming in second, because more points are deducted for a fall.

“There was a little bit of doubt,” she said. “We thought maybe the fall really put us back, but we knew we put out a routine that was clean, and everything else in the routine we hit beautifully. We kept going.”

Mount Sinai placed fifth in the state championship earlier this year after taking first in the inaugural state competition in 2016. The Mustangs won the county title last season and have a history of placing at nationals, coming in third in February and in 2015, and first in 2016 and 2014.

“They feel a great amount of pressure knowing that we have a long tradition of winning,” said first-year head coach Megan Wesolowski, who coached the district’s middle school team for the last five years and took over for long-standing leader Samantha Melella following the birth of her child. “They want to make the people that made this program proud. They’re proving that one fall or one mishap never carries through an entire routine, and Alexa Tabile is leading the team through everything. She’s one of our best back spots with great tumbling skills. Cheer-related or not, she’s there for every girl that needs her.”

Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team earned a bid to nationals next yea.r Photo from Megan Wesolowski

Mount Sinai, as Suffolk County’s only Division II Large team, competed against Division I Large schools, which made the win this time around even sweeter. Wesolowski petitioned for her team’s step up in competition.

“It’s great to have teams to compete against, and especially to be able to compete against schools with a bigger pool of girls to choose from,” she said. “Competing against yourself you kind of lose that competitive edge. We didn’t want to end up going down to nationals next year with a false sense of security.”

Tabile said the jump has not only forced her team to improve its skills and routine, but it has also been more fun.

“Now, we go to competitions and we know we have to be on point,” she said. “Going out there last year, it didn’t matter if we were doing forward rolls on the mat for two-and-half minutes, we were still getting first place. Now, we’re driven to put in the extra work because we’re competing against other teams with national titles.”

After new and old players quit the team, and through injuries and adjusting to a new coach, Mount Sinai worked to remain competitive, and Tabile said this learning experience is only making the Mustangs stronger.

“We’ve clicked very well,” she said. “Coach Wesolowski motivates us in every way and we want to do better for her. It hasn’t been the easiest season for us — we’ve had our fair share of challenges throughout the season — but I feel like we’ve never had a team with this kind of bond, where we pick each other up and say, ‘Hey, things haven’t been going as we’ve planned, and we’ve had our hardships, but we can move on from this.’”

by -
0 756

Junior's 22 points leads Mustangs to sixth straight win

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou meets Gabby Sartori at halfcourt after she scored her 1,000th career point a the start of thes second quarter. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gabby Sartori shines no matter the stage.

The Mount Sinai junior and three-sport standout scored her 1,000th career point Dec. 12 in a 45-21 nonleague win over Shoreham-Wading River. She finished with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and basketball isn’t even her primary sport of choice. Sartori started her athletic career playing soccer but has committed to play lacrosse at Brown University.

Brooke Cergol passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“When it’s soccer season, I focus on soccer, when it’s basketball, basketball, and when it’s lacrosse season, it’s crunch time,” Sartori said, laughing. “But I treat them all the same. It keeps me more versatile.”

The junior’s dedication to each sport is the key to her success, according to one of her biggest fans.

“She’s often the last one to leave, staying after practice to take extra shots; always doing
the extra,” her father Jim Sartori said. “This has been going on since she was a varsity player in seventh grade. She understands nothing worth achieving is easy.”

Sartori needed five points to reach the career milestone heading into the contest against the Wildcats. She started the first quarter slowly, scoring on the back end of two free-throws at the 4:27 mark, and adding a field goal a minute later for a 5-2 Mustangs lead. She was fouled on her next drive to the basket with less than a minute left in the quarter and again scored on her second shot to pull within one point of 1,000 and put Mount Sinai up 11-2 heading into the second quarter.

Throughout the first eight minutes of the contest, she said achieving the feat was all she could think about.

“I tried not to pay attention to it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said, adding that she looked up at her parents in the stands once during that span.

Sartori cashed in a layup to open the scoring just seconds into the next stanza, and looked up at her parents once more and smiled.

Olivia Williams battles under the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It hit me once coach called timeout and I got the ball,” she said of being handed over a special Spalding to recognize the achievement. “It shows my hard work. I make sure I’m the first one shooting and the last one at practice, until they’re annoyed I’m still there.”

Her father smiled back at who he calls a “fantastic kid and special athlete.”

“It’s a proud moment,” he said of seeing his daughter’s success. “It’s plenty of hours of practice and training to get to the point that she’s at. It didn’t come easy, clearly, but by way of hard work. I told her to do whatever it takes to help the team win and stay humble.”

Although Sartori stood out with her aggressiveness on both sides of the ball, she was quick to credit her teammates for making her look good.

“The chemistry on this team is very, very good this year,” she said. “We all love each other, and it’s great to see that, especially on the court. I’m glad I can always lean on them — they have my back, and I have theirs.
Without a doubt, any one of us are always willing to give up the ball without flinching.”

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou had plenty to say postgame about his star player, though he didn’t focus just on her ability to score points.

“She did a great job getting to the basket, she did a nice job incorporating everybody and defensively she had six steals and eight rebounds, so she had a great all-around game,” he said of Sartori. “She was a little under pressure because she was worried about the 1,000 points, but she really settled in.”

Holly McNair races toward the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The guard led a balanced attack the rest of the way, scoring six more points in the second and six in the third to help Mount Sinai to a 39-14 lead before sitting most of the fourth quarter.

Juniors Holly McNair and Margaret Kopceinski finished with eight points each, and classmate Brooke Cergol added four. All three played strong defense, stealing some passes and forcing the Wildcats to make sloppy ones that led to more turnovers.

Losing key starters Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia wasn’t easy for Mount Sinai, which won its first county crown last season, but Koutsantanou said the girls are filling in the holes nicely. The Mustangs have a perfect 6-0 record so far to show for it.

“I thought Holly McNair did a nice job on the boards, she played great defense, was strong rebounding,” he said. “But I thought on the whole the girls did exceptionally well and played great as a team, especially on
defense. I really loved Margaret and Holly’s effort, I thought Brooke was outstanding with her passes and her choices. As a group they all played well together, and I think that’s a compliment to them — how they look out for each other, help each other on defense. They really do a great job together.”

Mount Sinai opens league play today, Dec. 14, at Amityville at 4 p.m. Sartori said the milestone is only the start of what she hopes she and her team can achieve this season.

“We want to prove we can do it again,” she said of winning the county title. “We have to repeat history.”

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.”

Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park held its annual breakfast with Santa Sunday.

A buffet breakfast complete with eggs, Belgian waffles, bacon, sausage, bagels, fresh fruit, juice and hot beverages was served inside the Heritage Center as families waited to take a photo with Santa Claus. Each child also received a favor for attending one of the three sessions Dec. 10.

Following the full buffet breakfast, Johnny Whimple and the kids in attendance filled the room with Christmas spirit with a holiday music sing-along.

Non-perishable food donations were also collected during the event for a local food pantry.

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.

Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”


4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”

Mount Sinai Students Against Destructive Decisions club members organize gifts that will be donated to children at Concern for Independent Living in Medford through the Hauppauge-based nonprofit Holiday Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai High School students took on the roles of Santa and his elves to make sure local children in need have gifts to open this Christmas.

In a continued collaboration with Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic, 43 members of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club embarked on shopping sprees at Smith Haven Mall and Walmart Dec. 1 to bring holiday cheer to underprivileged children. They set out to find gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, a nonprofit agency in Medford that provides permanent housing for homeless families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa.

With $4,500 supplied by Christmas Magic, SADD club members bought more than 100 gifts — each child receives about three — from wireless headphones to action figures and dolls, to sweatshirts and diapers.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club unpack gifts to be donated after going shopping. Photo by Kevin Redding

Back at the high school, the students turned the cafeteria into a makeshift Santa’s workshop. They organized the gifts, piled them into garbage bags and sent them off on a big truck to be wrapped and delivered back to the school Dec. 6, where the district hosts a dinner for the children and their families, where club members join Santa Claus himself in presenting the wrapped gifts.

“I think this teaches the students compassion,” said John Wilson,  a special education teacher and the SADD Club’s co-advisor who said the district is in its 18th year of involvement with the program. “When they see some of the lists — and there’s a jacket or something they take for granted — I think it humbles them and makes them appreciate what they have.”

In one letter, which included a drawing of a smiling snowman and a Christmas tree, a young boy asked Santa for a tech watch and a lightsaber. In another, a girl asked for a pair of boots and a unicorn onesie.

“I love getting the lists,” said Julie Pfeiffer, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up wrestling action figures and Roblox toys for a 7-year-old boy. “We get these lists from them, in their own handwriting, and it’s so sweet. We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

High school senior Ruchi Thaker bought a sports kit and learning toys for a 1-year-old boy as well as a My Little Pony toy and a bracelet making gift set for a little girl. Junior Rebecca Muroff tracked down a specific brand of hoodie and phone case for a 15-year-old girl.

“You just feel good about doing this,” said Emma Wimmer, a senior who bought a Nike sweatshirt, a pair of sneakers and pants for two teenage boys.

Margaret Kopcienski, a junior and president of SADD Club, said this is her favorite event of the year and said prior to the Dec. 6 dinner that she looked forward to meeting the children at the high school.

“We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

— Margaret Kopcienski

“It’s really magical seeing how happy they are,” Kopcienski said. “It’s a great time and really cool to see the result of all our hard work and how much joy the presents bring to them.”

The school district will also be reimbursing Christmas Magic more than $7,500 raised during its Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run Nov. 25, an annual fundraising event run by SADD co-advisor and history teacher John McHugh. Last year, upwards of 11,000 kids across Long Island were gifted through the nonprofit.

“It’s an amazing feat that the students and staff at Mount Sinai make this happen every year,” said Charlie Russo, who founded Christmas Magic in 1990 out of a lifelong passion to give back to those less fortunate. “It just speaks volumes as to where the district is and where their community service efforts are. I can’t praise them enough.”

Russo said Christmas Magic has been working alongside Concern for Independent Living, one of about 70 agencies involved, since the nonprofit was formed.

Concern for Independent Living was formed in 1972 and has been recognized as the largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for individuals and families in need on Long Island. Ralph Fasano, the organization’s executive director, said Mount Sinai students have helped families and kids get through the holidays for years.

“All the families come from low-economic brackets and oftentimes there’s not enough money to buy kids gifts,” Fasano said. “When these kids get things they’ve wanted for years — gifts they never thought they’d ever have — it restores some hope for them.”

by -
0 504
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.”