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Port Jefferson High School

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Vin Miceli wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Panic could have set in for Port Jefferson, but its wrestlers remained calm under pressure.

With sole possession of the League VIII title on the line in a 24-24 meet against Center Moriches Jan. 9, the core of the Royals lineup came through, as it always has, to help Port Jefferson to a 41-34 away victory and first conference crown since 2012.

“It was an awesome feeling being able to win the league title, and seeing how excited my team and coaches are to achieve this,” 132-pounder Vin Miceli said. “I think we wrestled tough, but there were some matches where we could use some work.”

At 126 pounds, senior Robbie Williams sparked the turnaround. He had lost to his Center Moriches opponent, Dustin Dunkirk, twice before in close matches, and Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he thought maybe psychologically Williams felt he couldn’t beat him. The coach said he considered matching his grappler up against someone else, but at a tournament in New Rochelle, where Williams went 2-2 and was one match away from placing, Maletta saw him wrestle through adversity.

Rick D’Elia wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

“When he was coming off the mat I said, ‘You did a good job today,’ and he said, ‘No, coach, if I did a good job today I’d be placing,’” Maletta said of the conversation between he and Williams Jan. 6. “My mentality changed, and I told him he’s going to face his opponent head-to-head.”

Williams started off 2-0, scoring back points early, and earned three more on a near pin to end the scoring for the first period. He score two more points with 44 seconds left in the third to go up 7-0, before surrendering a point when letting his opponent loose with the hope of taking him down again for a major decision, which he couldn’t get before time expired.

“He ended up a takedown away from bonus points,” Maletta said. “That’s not only flipping the score, that’s making a statement — and he’s wrestling up a weight class because he’s really a 120-pounder. He’s wrestling well at the right time, and I felt pretty confident where we were going to go from there.”

Miceli, who is undefeated, and 19-3 Joe Evangelista followed up Williams and backed up the head coach’s confidence.

The five-year grapplers took to the circle with Miceli also coming away with a 5-0 lead heading into the second period of his match. At 1:06, he got two takedown points and worked for a cradle, but couldn’t complete it, though grabbing three points for his effort and a 10-0 lead going into the final two minutes. He earned two back points to start the third, and let his opponent loose to try to get the pin or a final takedown for a technical fall. At the buzzer, he cradled his opponent once following his fourth takedown to earn the 17-1 major decision.

“I felt I didn’t wrestle to my full potential during my match, and realize there is still more I need to improve on,” Miceli said. “I felt worried and frustrated at first that I was not able to get those bonus points, but I knew my teammates after me would give their opponents a good fight.”

Joe Evangelista wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

Ryan Robertson, a 138-pounder, went up against a Top 8 state wrestler in Donald Wood and was pinned at the 1:21 mark to help Center Moriches close within five points overall, 35-30, but the 145-pound Evangelista pinned his opponent in 4:06 to seal the deal.

“He does what is expected of him, he pins his guy and the match is out of Center Moriches’ hands,” Maletta said. “It’s great — it’s kind of tough to celebrate on a Monday, but they’re true wrestlers anyway because they’re right back at it ready to get to practice tomorrow and fix their mistakes.”

Conrad Sund and brothers Anthony and Rick D’Elia came away with pins for Port Jefferson. Harry Cona and Brendan Rogers earned one-point victories, 1-0 and 4-3. Maletta said it was those matches that meant all the difference in the win.

“If either one of those went the other way we wouldn’t have won the title,” Maletta said. “They all came to wrestle; they all showed up to compete, which was great to see. The coaching is done at this point and they have to respond to situations, and they did.”

Chris Lepore, a senior who battled his challenger to a 2-0 finish for the second win of the night, said he sees things only escalating for Port Jefferson from this point.

“I’m loving where we’re going,” he said. “Getting a league title [in] my senior year is special, and we’ve all been working hard to get there, but what makes us so successful is we don’t focus on the bigger picture. We psyche ourselves up to win our match, push ourselves to the limit and put ourselves in the best position to support our team.”

File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jeff Prom Committee is seeking volunteers to assist with the construction of the 2017 Senior Prom at the Port Jefferson High School this weekend starting on Saturday morning, June 24, at 6:30 am and continuing through Monday afternoon, June 26. The high school is located at 350 Post Ave., Port Jefferson. This is a true “community event” and is now in it’s 59th year! All skill levels are needed and everyone is encouraged to attend. If you cannot make it on the weekend, volunteers are also needed for deconstruction/tear-down starting Tuesday morning at 7 am. Call 631-851-4466 for more information.

Port Jeff school district’s facilities administrator Fred Koelbel shows off the high school’s green roof during a workshop for other districts, municipalities and members of the public interested in the technology. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson school district recently installed a bed of vegetation on the roof of the high school as a way to curb its impact on Port Jefferson Harbor and the Long Island Sound by reducing and filtering stormwater, and now other municipalities and districts are taking notice.

The district’s facilities administrator Fred Koelbel spearheaded the mission to obtain a grant from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund as a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Projects program in 2016. As a result, the district received money to cover all but $68,000 of the $275,000 total cost to install a 3,400-square-foot bed of pre-grown sedum, a large perennial plant, on a portion of the school’s roof. The district also has an educational element planned for the new roof, to allow students to take a hands-on approach to tracking how much stormwater the roof helped to treat and prevent from entering the harbor and Sound.

Port Jeff’s green roof at the high school provides environmental and educational benefits. Photo by Alex Petroski

The project was overseen by Siplast, a commercial roofing manufacturer who specializes in installing green roofs in New York and across the country. John A. Grillo Architects of Port Jefferson installed the roof. Siplast’s district manager for New York Michael Balaban and field sales representative Colby Devereux were at Port Jefferson high school Jan. 26, to host an informational workshop for administrators from other school districts, members of the public, a representative from Port Jefferson’s board of trustees and building department, among others who might be interested in installing a green roof on their school, home or municipal building. Balaban said most of the company’s work has been done in New York City, and he isn’t aware of any other school district on Long Island with a green roof, currently.

The representatives from the company presented the many public and private benefits to the attendees, and held up the district as an example for what is possible if others were to follow Koelbel’s lead.

“For our kids, now this is something that we do — we made it normal,” Koelbel said to the workshop attendees.

The concept of installing green roofs in the United States began in 2005, according to Balaban, and there are numerous environmental benefits. The vegetation catches rainwater, filters it and slows down its progression through municipal drains, and thus reduces the dangerous impact stormwater can have on Long Island’s water supply. According to the presentation, green roofs also increase a building’s energy efficiency and work as insulation for noise from within a building.

With green roofs, according to the presentation, water is stored at the surface and taken by the plants, where it is returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. Green roofs not only retain rainwater, but moderate the temperature of the water and act as natural filters for any of the water that happens to run off.

Devereux praised Koelbel’s vision and the multifaceted benefits of installing a green roof on a school. Balaban had kind words about the actual execution of the project at Port Jefferson.

“We look at a lot of roofing every day … this is just really, really, really well done,” he said. “The roofer deserves a little applause here as well.”

Bruce D’Abramo, a member of the village board of trustees and liaison to the building and planning department, attended the workshop on behalf of the village.

“The reason we brought the planning board here is so that we can encourage, especially with our redevelopment, the use of this kind of roof,” he said. He added that the village will encourage business owners to venture to the school to take a look at the roof and gain an understanding of its benefits, to possibly add vegetation when they are in need of a new roof.

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Celina Wilson, left, of Bridge of Hope Resource Center, and Zachary Jacobs, right, of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, address community members who attended an educational forum at Port Jefferson high school Oct. 19. Photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson high school played host to an educational forum on the ongoing addiction problem facing the community Oct. 19.

The forum, entitled The Adolescent Brain: Preventing High-Risk Behaviors, was presented by Bridge of Hope Resource Center, a Port Jefferson Station nonprofit created in 1998 with the goal of improving the lives of individuals in the community and is a strong advocate in the fight against addiction. Speakers featured a former Brookhaven National Lab scientist who specializes in addiction and the human brain, a doctor in the field of adolescent medicine at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the founder and president of the nonprofit.

Suffolk County has statistically been one of the greatest areas of concern in New York for heroin and opioid deaths in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the county has had more than 100 opioid-related overdoses for several consecutive years.

The issue is not just in New York. According to the CDC, from 2005 to 2014, drug overdose deaths have risen by 144 percent to 2,300 deaths in New York and 58 percent to 47,055 deaths in the nation.

Dr. Joanne Fowler has studied how the human brain changes as a result of drug use since the late 1980s at stops including Brookhaven National Lab. She shared some of her decades of findings with those in attendance.

“When you think about addiction, it’s a really complex problem, and you have many, many factors that play into it,” she said. “Addiction, I would call, the loss of control of a behavior even though it’s causing a lot of problems to the individual. It’s a very destructive behavior that the individual can’t stop even though they want to stop.”

Fowler said the age in which an individual begins a behavior, like using drugs, can play a large roll in addiction because the part of the brain susceptible to addiction takes time to mature.

“The frontal cortex is a very important part of the brain,” she said. “It matures very slowly, so you really don’t have a mature frontal cortex until your early twenties.”

Dr. Zachary Jacobs, who works as a counselor for children at Stony Brook, discussed some risk factors for children and adolescents that could lead down a path of addiction, and some are out of a parent’s control.

“We’ve heard a lot about what parents and family can do, and I’m here to say despite your best efforts, it still might not be enough,” he said. “Despite a strong family, great, open communication, sometimes adolescents are just going to become their own individuals that disagree with family and societal norms … peers become so much more important than family, I’m sorry to say that.”

He recommended open communication and education as a means to combat potentially addictive, hazardous behaviors in children and adolescents to at least avoid issues with addiction, but total prevention is not that simple, he said.

Celina Wilson started Bridge of Hope Resource Center. She is the mother of three children, and she identified several risk factors parents should look for as potential signs of addiction. Insecurity pertaining to body image or loneliness, stress, life-changing events such as a divorce or death in the family, bullying, failure or rejection, depression, academic challenges, failure in competitive sports, a need for acceptance and several others were the factors Wilson suggested parents should be wary of and could be the root of later addiction.

“We have to help our teens better understand the world,” Wilson said. “We have to explain and review risks with them as much as possible.”

Honor Gracey Kopcienski 1932-2016. Photo from Kopcienski family

By Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz

Honor Gracey Kopcienski bestowed grace and kindness on every person she met throughout her 84 years. She left this world Sept. 17 at her Mount Sinai home with lifelong partner, Johnny (Alfred) Kopcienski by her side.

Honor was born July 2, 1932, to Ruth Jaynes Gracey, a much-loved Port Jefferson high school teacher, and Stuart Gracey, an internationally acclaimed singer and conductor. Honor and her sisters, Louise Hawley and Anne Hedstrom, attended the one-room schoolhouse on North Country Road in Mount Sinai. She and her childhood friend, Jane Carter, often reminisced about their wonderful early years freely roaming the woods and beaches of Miller Place.

“Honor and Johnny’s greatest gifts, and source of greatest pride, are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild.”

— Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz 

Later, at Port Jefferson High School, Honor met Johnny. Their courting included a contest where they kissed all the way from Patchogue to Port Jefferson in the rumble seat of a Ford Model A. One particular Friday, after high school graduation and a semester at Mannes School of Music in New York, Honor went to Tinker National Bank and withdrew $89 from Johnny’s bank account. She had him drive her to Rose Jewelers in Patchogue where she informed him that he was buying her an engagement ring. They were wed May 25, 1952, and their love produced eight children, 24 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The values that defined Honor as a person are seen in her family: compassion, integrity and a love of music.

Honor’s devotion to music began early. At 12, she accompanied her father and his choruses. Early on she studied piano at a studio in the Old Field lighthouse. Later she participated in the Juilliard preparatory program. She was an accomplished pianist, organist and accompanist. Her passion led her to Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson where she and Johnny were wed, and where she served as parish organist for more than 50 years. Parishioners would often stand in the pews, marveling at her playing until the final note. Honor’s gift was an integral part of hundreds of weddings, funerals and masses. She and her musical partner and dear friend, Dolores Butera, were honored by The Port Times on behalf of Infant Jesus Choir as People of the Year for the Arts in 1991.

Honor taught and accompanied numerous children and performers, her own children and grandchildren included. She played for Manhasset Glee Club, Port Jefferson Choral Society, Southold Town Choral Society, Choral Society of Moriches, SUNY Stony Brook, and at master classes given by opera singer Eleanor Steber in her Belle Terre home. Later she was accompanist and mentor for the New Century Singers. Honor always maintained her own musical studies and in 2000 studied and passed the rigorous test to attain the prestigious Associateship of the American Guild of Organists.

Instead of retiring, Honor continued to play the organ at many local churches including Mount Sinai Congregational, Setauket’s Presbyterian with director Mark Orton, Port Jefferson’s First United Methodist and, most recently, St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach.

While busy raising children along with her musical career, Honor was also active in community service. She was instrumental in organizing Polish Fest at Infant Jesus Church, cooking kielbasa sausage side by side with Johnny; was active in supporting Port Jefferson Rotary charitable efforts including the Gift of Life; and was a contributing member of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society.

When the new Infant Jesus Parish Center was built, Honor and Johnny donated a piano so that there would be music for all events there. They supported funding for a new piano for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

Honor and Johnny’s years of giving to the people and spirit of Infant Jesus Parish were recognized by the Diocese of Rockville Centre with the St. Agnes Medal of Service award. The couple were early advocates and strong supporters of Father Frank Pizzarelli in his efforts to minister to troubled youth in the community. The mission of Hope House Ministries matched Honor’s passion for personal, ongoing and daily commitment to the spirit of giving.

Honor and Johnny’s greatest gifts, and source of greatest pride, are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild: Charlaine and Ira, Emma (Sean) and Abbie; Beth and Joseph, Kate (Dan), Caralyn (Johnny) and David; Mark and Rebecca, Andrew, Julia, Christian and Lauren; Therese and Clark, John (Shannon and baby Clark), Christen (Ryan), Mary Liz (Adam) and Luke; Ann Marie and Chip, Sergei and Daniel; John Paul and Martha, Jake and Mary Claire; Jennie and Peter, Gracey (Jamie), Peter and Annie; Matthew and Becky, Gregory, Benjamin, Margaret and Sam.

Their 24 grandchildren include five addressed as doctor, an Olympian, teachers, musicians, business people and enthusiastic students. Honor was proud of the legacy of hard work, service and compassion she instilled in her family. She will always be remembered by both her name and key trait: Honor.

Honor’s final days were blessed to end in peace, comfort and love through the assistance of the staff at Good Shepherd Hospice. Her family prefers that memorial donations be sent to Good Shepherd Hospice or the giver’s local hospice organization.

Arrangements were entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. Please visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guestbook.

Elizabeth Kopcienski Schwartz is the daughter of Honor Gracey Kopcienski.

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Alex Petroski & Victoria Espinoza

The world changed Sept. 11, 2001. For those who were alive and old enough to grasp the enormity of the event, what happened that day is very complicated and difficult to comprehend, even 15 years later. For those who weren’t born yet or were too young to remember the events, it’s even more challenging to comprehend. That is the task facing North Shore global and American history teachers welcoming eighth- and ninth-graders into their classrooms for the 2016 school year.

Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Student artwork done after a 9/11 lesson. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Wendy Blair-Braxton, an eighth-grade history teacher at Elwood Middle School, planned several days worth of lessons to help her students get an in-depth understanding of the events that transpired on 9/11.

Blair-Braxton started her lesson Sept. 9 by showing her students photos of 9/11, without telling students what the photos depicted.

“They had different reactions, some students said terrorism, some didn’t even realize we were talking about 9/11,” she said in a phone interview.

Blair-Braxton said after the students realized what the subject was, she showed videos about 9/11, to help put the students in the shoes of those at Ground Zero.

“I tried to teach the emotional aspects of 9/11,” she said. “It really did hit home for a lot of the students. I also explained to the kids, once you live through this type of history, all the emotions come back every time you revisit it. You get the chills, and the goosebumps down your spine.”

She said many of her students became emotional after seeing the video and photos of the Twin Towers falling, and the classroom became “dead silent.”

The eighth-grade teacher said many students didn’t realize just how many aspects of their lives were affected by the attacks.

“They didn’t realize added security now at airports was because of this,” she said.

The Elwood students’ lessons eventually went into further detail about the Patriot Act, terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security, as Blair-Braxton said she tried to show the students how 9/11 was a turning point in the United States.

Students were asked to write reflections on index cards, as Blair-Braxton played songs like “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen, a popular ballad that took on new meaning after 9/11 and helped raised funds for first responders.

After the lesson, students wrote down their thoughts on reflection cards.

“We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue.”

— Erica Alemaghides

“I feel like I shouldn’t be that affected by what happened on 9/11, since I had no personal connection to anything that happened,” one student wrote. “Then why do I feel like it does affect me? It’s probably because of a mixture of shock and sadness realizing that it affected our country and everyone inside of the country is the country.”

Grasping the subject wasn’t any easier for a classmate.

“I feel that I can’t describe 9/11 in detail,” the student wrote. “I know all the videos, and people’s stories of how they reacted, but I wasn’t there. I don’t have any personal experience with the incident. I think 9/11 had the largest negative impact in the history of the U.S. New York City is known as the city that never sleeps, but for long after the incident the city slept. The whole city was silent. I feel horrible for all the people who lost their lives, and the people who lived on, carrying the crestfallen emotions of the deceased. 9/11 will never be lost in history.”

Erica Alemaghides, a social studies teacher at Rocky Point Middle School, said she tried to approach the lesson from a different perspective this year compared to years past.

“I feel it’s important to teach them about everything, all the facts having to do with it, because they really don’t know anything,” she said. “We had a child who was actually questioning if there were people in the building when it went down. So a lot of them really don’t have any clue. They’ve heard of it, but a lot of them didn’t even really know what terrorism is, or they just don’t understand it.”

She said some students didn’t realize how many planes were hijacked that day, and weren’t aware of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.

Alemaghides’ new lesson plan required students to choose an artifact that might have been found in the rubble, which they then replicated and explained in a personal reflection.

She said she wanted students to understand how the nation changed after the deadly attacks, and what was done to make America safe.

“You don’t want everyone thinking every time you go into a building you have to worry about that happening,” she said.

A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A Rocky Point Middle School student draws symbols associated with 9/11 during class. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Port Jefferson high school global history teacher Jesse Rosen, who teaches ninth grade, said in a phone interview that his goal in teaching about 9/11 hasn’t changed much over the years. He prefers to approach the subject from a humanistic point of view, with minimal discussion of the global implications.

“I feel like it’s still so close and people still know someone who was affected that the humanistic aspect of it is where I want to stick,” he said in a phone interview.

Rosen teaches the lesson around a story originally revealed in an ESPN piece for the show “Outside the Lines” about “the man in the red bandana.” The piece tells the story of Welles Crowther, a former lacrosse player at Boston College, who carried a red bandana with him everywhere he went. Crowther died in the attacks, and his family later learned of his heroism on that day when they heard stories about a man with a red bandana helping to save people trapped in the building.

“I feel strongly that positive can come out of negative,” he said.

Rosen shared student responses following the lesson.

“Everything we have learned about Welles shares a common theme: he was a hero,” ninth-grader Katelynn Righi wrote. “For someone to risk their life to help other people shows a lot about that person. It shows their courage, bravery and that they will do anything to make sure others are alright. He decided to be a hero because that’s who he was.”

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Port Jefferson school district held their annual senior prom at the high school Monday. The outside of the school and the gymnasium were decorated in a classic rock motif, with decorations and memorabilia harkening back to the days of the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. In keeping up with tradition, prom goers arrived in various creative modes of transportation, including a bulldozer, to step out onto the red carpet and head into the school.

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