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Port Jefferson Station

Joe Rella reflects on his career, his fight over state tests and how music fits into all of it

Retiring Superintendent Joe Rella and incoming Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. Photo by Kyle Barr

Joe Rella, the soon-to-be retired superintendent of the Comsewogue Central School District once, nearly 30 years ago, found himself without a job.

He was in business administration for close to 15 years, saying he had been “on top of the world,” before his company, the last private electric supplier in New York, closed. After he lost his job he did everything he could, from a paper route in the early morning to playing a local church organ, just to add a little extra money into the pot. His late wife, Jackie, went part-time in college and started working at Mercy Hospital. That’s when he saw it, an ad for a part-time job.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

“I couldn’t even say the name,” he said in a sit-down interview less than a month before his final high school graduation ceremony June 26. “Com-sew-ogue,” he said it phonetically. 

He lived in Farmingdale at the time, but he grew up in Flatbush Brooklyn, where they used to call this area of Long Island “East Jesus,” because “only God lived out here”, there were so few people.

The job was part-time music teacher, where he would be accompanist to a middle school music teacher for a salary of $28,000. Over time, this part-time instructor would become a full-time music teacher, the high school principal, and eventually work his way up to superintendent of the entire district.

Jennifer Quinn, the current assistant superintendent and person tapped to become the next head of school starting in September, said in her 13 years of experience with the district, this climb from music teacher to superintendent was rare. She had never seen it or heard of its like since.

Rella said the jump from music teacher to a district leader wasn’t so much of a huge leap, especially considering his more-than-decade- long experience in business administration, yet he likened the practicality of music to running a school, helping one interact with people, and taking mistakes in stride.

“Because one thing you learn, there is no such thing as a mistake, it’s a springboard to your next part of the piece,” he said.

Quinn described herself as following in Rella’s footsteps. When the retiring super moved from high school principal to assistant superintendent, she became principal. When Rella moved into the big chair, he tapped her to be one of his assistant superintendents.

“It’s not a big shift, because all the programs we’ve done over these years, she’s responsible for,” Rella said.

Quinn has been encouraged to lead discussions and programs, with Rella there to offer advice.

“The fact is he always puts other people before his own ego,” she said. “Because in most places it’s close of business one day and then the next person starts. He’s purposely stepped back and given me the opportunity to start to do things and he’s here to guide me.”

They both described several necessary components for a good district leader. One is to communicate back to residents, and not wait days to respond to emails or phone calls. Another is to “be present,” to have your face and name be known not only by teachers but by students.

“They need to know who you are — kids do, parents do, everybody does” he said. “Pope Francis had a good expression, ‘The shepherds have to smell like the sheep.’”

To say the school district has been inspired by Superintendent Joe Rella would be an understatement. Unlike many other districts where one could be hard-pressed to find people who know the name of their head of schools, the name of Rella often brings an immediate impression. Rella has become a rallying cry for supporting student-first initiatives and programs based on a general idea of “kindness.” Just one example is Joe’s Day of Service, designed by special needs teacher Andrew Harris. 

Beyond Comsewogue, Rella became a name on the lips of New York State officials and even beyond, all due to standardized testing initiatives put forward on both the federal and state levels.

In 2013, the superintendent was at the forefront of protests against Common Core State Standards (implemented late in 2012), writing a letter to New York State officials asking them to address concerns or remove him from office. The letter went viral, and later that year Rella was at the head of a rally held at Comsewogue High School decrying Common Core. He said it became apparent immediately after the first standards were released to school districts that there would be no way to test the exams and offer criticism to the state’s program plans, adding letters sent to all New York superintendents suggested the state expected only a third of students would pass this first round of testing.

“We couldn’t accept what was happening to our children,” he said. “If a teacher comes in and says, ‘I’m only expecting a third of my class to pass this year,’ I would say, ‘Why don’t you throw your keys on the desk.’”

“Pope Francis had a good expression, ‘The shepherds have to smell like the sheep.’”

— Joe Rella

Though it’s been several years, the state’s testing standards still put Rella on a rant, though now he sees the district moving beyond it. Comsewogue implemented a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum for groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders. Last year the district relished statistics that said those who were involved in PBL had better overall Regents test scores than their contemporaries, though he said the state was not interested in any kind of replacement for standardized testing with PBL. Instead the district has looked to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools, from which they were granted accreditation in 2017.

The superintendent continued that, since the huge outcry has boiled down into a low simmer, parents have been making the choice for their own children whether they would take the tests. 

“They haven’t budged,” he said.

Rella was diagnosed with stage 4 bile duct cancer in October 2017, though he has told TBR News Media previously a “mango-sized” tumor found on his liver hasn’t grown or spread, and his health played no role in the decision to retire. He said he and his late wife Jackie, who died following a bout with breast cancer in 2016, had long discussed 2018-19 as being his last year, as it would be his 25th in the district and ninth as superintendent.

Now, he’s living with his son and his grandchildren, whose little shoes will soon be running around the Comsewogue school district. He’s looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren while working on his piano and gardening skills. 

But while he will still be close to the district, Quinn said the legacy he left will be attempted to be replicated in the years to come.

“You will never be punished for not being perfect, you will be helped, you will be coached,” she said.

Rella again likened his job to music, and the drive to improve that is always at the forefront of practice, because what is school if not practice for life?

“You’re learning a piece of music — brand- new — you don’t know it, you’re not going to play it perfect right away, but what you do know is with careful practice, you’re going to get better,” he said.

Students got to interact with therapy dogs before the start of their exams. Photo from Andrew Harris

In the Comsewogue High School cafeteria, where the air would usually becomes tense with the anticipation of final exams at the end of the school year, signs were posted on empty chairs during regents week which read, “Come pet me… and chill.”

School Social Worker Taylor Zummo said that the dogs had an incredible impact on the students. Photo from Andrew Harris

Quickly those empty chairs filled up and lines started to form behind them. Sitting in the now filled chair was a student who would be taking their regents within the next few minutes. Opposite them was a therapy dog and it’s handler, both welcoming the student to relieve a little stress with a friendly canine.

“They have a calming effect on people,” said Bill Bodkin, a retired teacher and administrator at the high school. “The animals benefit just as much as the humans do. Medically, it lowers blood pressure and the pulse rate of the person petting them.”

Bodkin’s dog, Corey, was trained with the Smithtown-based nonprofit Guide Dog Foundation, and together they often visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

The idea of bringing in dogs before the regents exams was welcomed by high school Principal Joseph Coniglione. The dogs were an instant hit, with students gravitated to the dogs and some stayed with them up until the instant they went to take their exams.

Several other therapy dogs were sent in from Dog Works in Holtsville, where they go through rigorous training to become certified.

“These dogs are very unique, and not all of them make it through the process.” Said Deb Feliziani, who works for Holbrook-based Dog Works and is the owner and trainer for the hounds Gabby, Bette and Comet, all who levelled their training to aid the high schoolers.

In addition to the therapy dogs, district teachers said students were taught meditation and breathing techniques to help lower stress and anxiety before testing.

“As students waited to take their regents exams, in a room that is typically filled with nervousness and fear, there was a lighthearted energy that took over as they interacted with the therapy dogs,” said Taylor Zummo, a high school social worker. “Between the smiles on their faces and the laughs of excitement, it was clear that these dogs had an incredible impact on the students. There is something quite powerful that happens when dogs are in a room, and it was apparent that the students could feel it too.”

Tom King, a special education teacher, has been taking his own certified therapy dog named Bailey, a Labradoodle, to class for years. King and Bailey walked around to students who had pre-testing jitters and were quickly surrounded by them all wanting to pet Bailey.

From left, retired teacher Bill Bodkin, Teacher Dave Hughes and Principal Joe Coniglione said the dogs lightened the mood for students taking the regents. Photo from Andrew Harris

Overall, the visits were a huge success, said Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher and advocate for therapy and service dogs who helped get the dogs to the high school.

“I saw many of my students light up when a dog comes to visit our class,” he said. “I especially see this for students with Autism and decided to make it a part of my curriculum. You would be amazed if you saw the level of excellence these students rise to when they know a dog is visiting.”

Harris added he has been training dogs for years, though he had taken advice from Feliziani to travel to Canada to find the “perfect dog.” This young hound named Ramsey has learned to alert people with medical emergencies and assist with walking up and down stairs. At only 11 months he can climb ladders, complete obstacle courses and assist people. At home, the dog acts a protector and house pet to him and his family.

“He has been in training since the day he was born and has taken rides on various forms of public transportation and socialized with people and other animals,” Harris said. “I think it helps me be a better teacher because you continually learn positive reinforcement.”

Teachers at the high school said they expect to utilize the dogs in the future in the school district.

Information provided by Andrew Harris

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Suffolk County police car. File photo
Security footage of man who allegedly robbed PJS Family Dollar. Photo from SCPD

An employee of a PJS Family Dollar was assaulted and the store robbed early this May.

A man assaulted an employee of Family Dollar, located at 526 Jefferson Plaza, May 2 at approximately 10:40 a.m. The man fled with a cash register drawer that contained approximately $200.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

Local residents help clean up; from left to right, Donna Denner, Susan Guerin, Debbie Bush, Pete Giery, Danielle Ray, Laura Rizzo, Christina Heaney and Claudia Capie-Friszell. Photo courtesy of Audrey Asaro

For the first time, Comsewogue Public Library participated in helping to clean up Brookhaven town.

As part of the 12th Annual Great Brookhaven Cleanup, staff and patrons from the library started early May 17, on the northern section of Terryville Road, cleaning up garbage along the wooded areas. They collected over eight large bags of garbage, two hub caps and a lot of plastic and glass bottles. 

Firefighter Cliff Lesmeister greets Selden resident Bob Short for the second time at SBU Hospital. Photo by David Luces

“It means everything that he was there — he knew,” Bob Short, a Selden resident said of Cliff Lesmeister, a Port Jefferson Station resident and New York City firefighter. The man had rushed to his aid after he crashed his car and stopped on a lawn in Selden and went into cardiac arrest Feb. 25. 

Lesmeister and Olivia Hoerner were presented with a community award. Photo by David Luces

Four months later, Short and Lesmeister reunited for the first time since the incident at Stony Brook University Hospital May 28. The 28-year veteran of the FDNY and Olivia Hoerner, an EMT from the Selden fire department, were presented with the Stony Brook University Heart Institute’s HeartSaver Community Award. 

Lesmeister was off-duty and was parked on the other side of the road taking a phone call when he witnessed Short’s car crash. He and a bystander ran across a street, called 911, broke the car window to rescue Bob and started performing CPR. In a short time, the Selden EMS/fire department responded, and Bob was taken to the Heart Institute. After 15 days of treatment, which included a protected percutaneous coronary intervention procedure, Short was released March 12. 

When asked if he remembered anything from that day. Short said he doesn’t remember a thing and when he regained consciousness his wife told him he had suffered a heart attack. 

Lesmeister and Short’s wife Dawn embrace. Photo by David Luces

“Something was wrong — I had to act, and I was just happy I was there,” the FDNY firefighter stationed in Astoria said. 

Short stated he didn’t know what he could say to the firefighter and said he didn’t know if he’s supposed to be here or not supposed to be here after all that has happened. 

“You are supposed to be here,” Lesmeister reassured him. 

Recipients of the HeartSaver Community Award are recognized for delivering exemplary cardiac care to the community at large by the Heart Institute’s Chest Pain Center and Door-to- Balloon Committee.

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Members and compatriots of the American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station hosted their annual Memorial Day commemoration at Veterans Memorial Park right in front of Port Jefferson Harbor.

After a presentation of the colors and the wreath laying, veterans moved the flags to half-mast. The group moved onto the Three Village area, where they participated in the unveiling of a newly rejuvenated veterans memorials in Stony Brook Village and the Setauket Village Green. The work is being done with the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and several local veteran groups and has been funded through outside donations. This first phase of the project was completed by Memorial Day, and the second phase is expected to revitalize the Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and the Port Jefferson Veterans Memorial Park by Veterans Day this fall.

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Holding coat hangers and signs high above their heads, nearly 20 protesters stood at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Route 112 shouting “Keep your hands off our bodies,” and “We won’t go back.”

The locals, organized by the North Shore Peace group, came out in protest decrying several states’ moves to severely restrict abortion, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri. In Alabama’s case, abortion will be restricted to only in cases that the woman’s health is in danger. It also restricts abortion for people who are victims of rape, and doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.

The laws have largely been seen as attempts to move abortion to the plate of the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions, would be overturned.

Protesters held coat hangers high above their heads to symbolize the instrument used when abortions were illegal to perform
“backroom” unsanitary abortions, often out of desperation.

“I’m speechless, I just don’t know what to say anymore,” said Myrna Gordon, a protest organizer.

One protester, Janet Sklar, had a charm necklace that she plucked out of her shirt and laid over her sign. One charm, a coat hanger, had been on that necklace for close to 40 years.

“We were marching in the ʼ70s for this, and look how far we haven’t come,” she said. 

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Project part of near-decade-long attempt to revitalize area

New rustic street lights along Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, near Port Jefferson Cinemas. Photo by Kyle Barr

Beginning at the end of April, Port Jefferson Station residents will start to notice new rustic lights being installed along Route 112 near Joline Road as part of the early stages of a long-awaited project. 

New rustic street lights along Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, near Port Jefferson Cinemas. Photo by Kyle Barr

The installation of the rustic lights is part of the main street project, which dates back to a 2008 hamlet study done by Louis Antoniello, a former Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association president and Lee Koppleman, a longtime Suffolk County planner. When the first phase of the project is complete, the lights will be installed at various points throughout Main Street in Terryville on Route 112 between Bicycle Path and Route 347.

Antoniello, who co-chaired the initial hamlet study with Koppleman, said the idea to install these rustic lights came about due to answers from a questionnaire put to residents several years ago. 

“They told us what they liked about the area and what they didn’t,” he said. 

Antoniello, a Terryville resident, said many residents expressed the desire for the preservation of important buildings in Port Jeff Station, more open space and, most importantly, they wanted an identity. That identity would start with improving Main Street. 

The former civic president also said people in the community wanted places to go on Main Street where they could go shopping, eat and enjoy the area. 

“The area [Port Jeff Station] has a lot of history and landmarks,” Antionello said.

Another factor in the project is to repair buildings and get businesses to come that will benefit the community. 

Antoniello said the process to get the funds needed to begin the lights installation took a long time to come about. 

He first spoke with Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about the proposed lights project and with his assistance was able to get  approved a $150,000 grant from New York State in November 2016 to help purchase the lights. 

Despite being approved, Antoniello said the money was not received until almost two years later. 

“I contacted the governor’s office on my own and asked for assistance,” he said “This began the process of getting the money released.”

The former civic president said the state holds on to grant dollars for months, sometimes years. This, he was told, by elected officials is common practice. Once the money was released, he worked with engineers and the Town of Brookhaven Street Lighting Department in preparation for the lighting structures to be installed. 

The $150,000 grant will cover the Nesconset Highway/Joline Road section installation. This comes after the installation of the lights on the eastern side of Route 112 by the new ShopRite center. Antoniello said he plans to try to get another grant from New York State and will be applying to the Downtown Revitalization Grant Program to get additional funding for the Main Street project. 

This won’t be the first time Port Jefferson Station has applied for the downtown revitalization grant. 

“They said we aren’t a true main street, we have too much traffic and we don’t have enough buildings,” Antoniello said. “It’s a lot of excuses — hopefully this time it will be different.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the antique lighting project is a long-standing community project connected to the revitalization of Route 112 and promoting and enhancing the existing “main street corridor.”

“Many current and past members of the civic association were very involved with supporting and championing this project,” Cartright said. “Main street is the heart of any downtown community and the antique light project helps create a sense of place in the community. This in turn helps to attract additional businesses to the area.”  

Some of the lights are already installed near Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace and residents are already taking notice.

“Somebody told me it looks great and are glad that they are finally up,” Antoniello said. 

The Terryville resident also had ideas for other proposed projects in the area, including putting a historic marker on Patchogue Road, as it served as the road for stagecoaches back in the 19th and 20th centuries.   

He also plans on helping with the construction of a community park located at the intersection of Route 112 and Nesconset Highway where the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce-owned train car resides. Antoniello said once funding becomes available they will move forward with constructing the park.

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Addison Azmoun leaps a fence. Photo by David Luces

Horseback riding is a sport that requires full commitment, courage and a particular skill set, one based on mental fortitude and bravery to even get up on the horse. 

For members of the Old Towne Equestrian’s middle school team, they can’t picture their lives without their horses. Now their collective passion, as well as their recent successes in tournaments throughout the season, has propelled them to the Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals taking place April 26-28 in Pennsylvania.   

From left, Addison Azmoun, coach Lauren Sobel, Graney, Ali Treuting and Hairston show off the awards they’ve received this season. Photo by David Luces

Myrna Treuting, head coach of the team, couldn’t be prouder of the girls. 

“We’ve had a pretty strong team this year,” she said. 

To get to nationals, individual and team performances throughout the season are crucial in getting the points necessary to qualify. First, if the team has enough points, it qualifies for regionals, and the top two teams then go to zone finals. The Old Towne team won the IEA Zone 2 Final March 16, securing a spot in nationals and bringing home a trophy back to the Old Towne Equestrian Center barn. Two members of the team: seventh-grader Maggie Graney of Garden City and eighth-grader Ali Treuting, Myrna’s daughter, also qualified individually to compete at nationals.   

“This is the first time that the middle school team has [collectively] qualified for nationals,” the head coach said. 

According to Treuting, the team is the top ranked middle school team in all of New York State. 

Fellow coach Lauren Sobel said the journey has not been easy. 

“They are very dedicated, hardworking and they show great sportsmanship,” she said. “Going to nationals is very exciting for us.”

Sobel said most of the girls have been riding at the barn their whole careers, and started at a very young age, some before they could
even walk. 

In preparation for nationals, the coaches have made sure the riders are securing extra practice and are getting used to riding without stirrups. 

In many of the competitions, riders draw the name of the horse they will ride out of a hat the morning of the event. It is a way of evening the playing field as many riders become comfortable riding with their own horses. 

Treuting said it’s the luck of the draw sometimes, and it doesn’t come down to the horse but to the skill of the rider. She mentioned her team has experience riding many different horses and can easily adapt to a new steed. 

“I think going to nationals is a great opportunity to advance and learn to ride different horses  outside of your comfort zone,” seventh-grader Tess Hairston of Selden said. 

Graney added the season has been pretty good, and it’s really cool to go back to nationals this year. The young girl had qualified individually for nationals last year as well. 

The members of the team are close with one another, and though they don’t go to school together, they relish the time they spend with each other at the barn. 

“It is exciting, you get to learn together and get to grow as friends,” Hairston said.  It’s nice because we get to see each other more often and do things that we love.”

Tess Hairston practices drills. Photo by David Luces

Treuting has owned the Old Towne Equestrian Center for close to 30 years and started a horseback riding team about 15 years ago, just around the time IEA was created. The organization’s mission is to introduce equestrian sports to students grades four through 12. 

In addition to the middle school team, Treuting coaches a high school team and the Stony Brook University Equestrian Team as well.   

“I think we can do quite well at nationals, we have a very good team,” she said. “We are so proud of them, they work hard and they deserve it.”

The Old Towne Equestrian Center is located at 471 Boyle Road in Selden.

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Cottone at Sensationally Sweet in Patchogue which was helping to promote the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk. Photo from Nic Cottone

LI Spidey-Guy shows the real compassion of a hero.

When heroes don their masks, who do they become?

In the main Marvel Comics book series Spider-Man, it’s Peter Parker who’s behind the facade. But as recent films like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” put it, can anybody wear the mask? Can anybody embody those simple ideals of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, helping people because one has the capacity to do so?

Port Jefferson Station native Nic Cottone puts on the mask and becomes Spider-Man, not in the way that he flings webs and swings around New York City, but that he uses the mask to make people’s days a little brighter. He said the mask does something to a person, makes them fit into the person they most want to be.

“It’s because of the mask, nobody sees who you are, even if you’re scared nobody can see it,” Cottone said.

Cottone, 24, is a cosplayer, one who dresses as a fictional character from all sorts of media, from television to movies and, of course, comic books. Cosplaying is often displayed at “nerdy” events like conventions, where those dressed up will sometimes act in character, often to the pleasure of those in attendance. The young man got his start at cosplaying when he was in eighth-grade, though he started focusing on comic book characters in 2011, and 2012 at the tail end of his time in high school.

Nic Cottone during Gaming Night for Autism Awareness hosted by Game On in Miller Place. Photo from Nic Cottone

Since then, along with the nonprofit group of fellow cosplayers, the East Coast Avengers, Cottone has traveled throughout Long Island and far beyond, attending as Spider-Man for charity events and fundraisers. He assisted in events like Kids Comic Con at Bronx Community College, looking to give kids a creative outlet along with others closer to home such as Miller Place video game shop Game On’s annual events that help children with autism. He’s attended functions with hospitals and has even professionally gone to children’s birthday parties, who often can’t contain their excitement in seeing Spider-Man in the flesh.

The Port Jefferson Station resident, who professionally as Spider-Man goes as LI Spider-Guy, is unassuming, a young man who speaks in subdued tones that rise in pitch whenever he has the opportunity to speak about his passions. Most of those passions take the form of helping his fellow man.

“It’s just incredible, I guess,” Cottone said. “It’s the feeling you get when you can make people happy, when you can make people smile.”

Cottone started out in superhero cosplay portraying Captain America sidekick Bucky Barnes, at first likening the character to an almost-parody of American exceptionalism, but as he grew into it, he found that he saw the rational side of the hero, one who embodies the pinnacle of the American dream, one that centers around helping those who can’t help themselves.

But in his heart, he’s always liked the character of Spider-Man, the story of a young man from Queens, an unlikely hero in the first place. He’s a shy young man, smart, but socially awkward. Though even after he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, it takes a tragedy, the death of his father figure, for him to come to terms with the need to help people, simply because he has the power to do so.

“When I started in 2012, I wanted to inspire others to be their own heroes,” he said. “In high school, I struggled with confidence, I struggled with my drive. I struggled with finding a direction. When I realized I had the power, anybody could have the power to inspire others, that’s when I dedicated myself to being the best I could be for myself and for other people.”

It’s become a lifestyle. He’s done extensive online research on the physique of Spider-Man. And though he’s been exercising since high school, he’s tailored his diet to fit the look. For a year, Cottone has been taking his coffee black to excise as much sugar from his diet as he can.

The first spidery outfit Cottone bought came right after the release of the movie “Captain America: Civil War.” Upon first seeing the character, portrayed by Tom Holland, the Port Jeff Station native, and several of his friends, all thought the actor and character resembled him, in more ways than one. But those close to him know the comparison goes beyond the superficial. Fellow East Coast Avenger and friend Rafael “Captain” Pedragon said the Port Jeff Station native is, in many ways, better than the character of Peter Parker ever was.

“Peter Parker took a long time to realize his destiny, but Nic just knows,” Pedragon said. “He believes in his journey, he believes in what he does. Even when things are going rough with him I do see that he just pushes forward. In my eyes I think he’s better. That’s how I see him. Personality-wise he’s stronger mentally than Peter Parker ever was in the comic books.” 

The first suit he bought was from a company called Zentaizone, but when Joshua Darbee, the owner of Red Shirt Comics in Port Jefferson, asked him to attend free comic book day in May 2017, Cottone decided to go all out and buy a suit from RPC Studios, which many in the cosplay community see as some of the highest quality, movie prop level quality spidery suits. He now owns several suits, all different variations of the same character from movies, video games and the comics. It’s a commitment in both time and money, but the 24-year-old said it’s worth it to be the most authentic superhero he can be.

Nic Cottone at Public School 48’s Read Aloud Day in Brooklyn. Photo from Nic Cottone

Since it opened in 2017, Cottone had become a regular in Red Shirt Comics. Darbee bonded with the young man over comics and days of conventions gone by. It’s also how the store owner learned about the young man’s compunction to use superhero costumes to help people.

“The best story I have about Nic, the day he earned his CPR certification, he came in and he just wanted to share it, he was so proud and so happy,” Darbee said. “It was characters like Spider-Man and Captain America who were always so willing to go that extra mile for their fellow man, that he wanted to at least in some small way to be able to be there for somebody else, so he went out of his way to get that CPR certification, so if there was an emergency, he could be there for someone.”

Cottone graduated from Suffolk County Community College with a degree in psychology before moving on to Queens College looking at elementary education. First, he intended to become a high school teacher, but later he moved onto elementary, seeing it as a way to better help people develop in their formative years. He became disillusioned with the larger education system, saying it emphasized learning to the curriculum rather than developing as a person. 

After graduating from Queens College, Cottone returned to Long Island where he spent a year as a teaching assistant at the Maryhaven facility in Port Jeff, where he assisted children with developmental disabilities. Now he’s looking for full-time work while doing tutoring and working with children with autism.

To hear him say it, all the best things that have come to him recently have been because of Spider-Man. He met his girlfriend because of his love of the character and of comics in general. 

Better still, he doesn’t think he will stop any time soon.

“Ultimately we are alive for a very small amount of time, to be able to enjoy the things you’re passionate about is something very important to me,” he said. “It’s another aspect of life imitating art.

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