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Port Jefferson

Randall Woodard, 97, reflects on meeting Roosevelt, a life and roots in the village, military service

Then 12-year-old Randall Woodard, Gilbert Kinner and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt in Port Jeff in 1932. Photo from Warren Woodard

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in one case, a picture is worth almost 100 years of history.

On Dec. 8, 1941, 76 years ago to the day, then president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered his “day which will live in infamy” speech during a joint session of Congress in response to Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Dec. 7. The address served as the precursor to the U.S. finally joining World War II and taking up the fight against the Axis powers. He went on to serve as president until his death in 1945, preventing him from completing his fourth term in office, a feat in itself, as no other American president has served more than two terms.

In the summer of 1932 just before his first presidential campaign, Roosevelt, an avid sailor, made a recreational stop in Port Jefferson Harbor.

Woodard and son Warren during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Warren Woodard

At the time, Roosevelt was the governor of New York and the Democratic Party nominee for the general presidential election that fall. He defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover to win the highest office in the land in November 1932. During the visit, Roosevelt took a photo aboard a sailboat with two youngsters from Port Jeff, one of whom is still alive residing in the village.

Randall Woodard was born Sept. 3, 1920, in his home on Prospect Street. His family has deep roots in Port Jefferson, though his ancestors can be traced back even further to Southold in 1664.

“I wasn’t there that day,” Woodard quipped during a November visit to the Times Beacon Record News Media office in Setauket, accompanied by his youngest son, Warren, and Richard Olson, a longtime Port Jefferson School District history teacher who has since retired.

Woodard’s father Grover was the school district manager in Port Jeff, and actually hired Earl L. Vandermeulen, who the high school was eventually named after. His wife Barbara worked in the elementary school under Edna Louise Spear, the eventual namesake of the same school. Though he said he didn’t meet any other presidents in his life, Woodard met Albert Einstein once, and his grandmother heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech in New York. Woodard went on to have two sons and a daughter, who were all raised in Port Jeff in a house on the corner of High Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The photo of Woodard, his childhood friend Gilbert Kinner and the soon-to-be president of the United States is a cherished possession of the Woodard family. Warren joked there’s a framed copy hanging in every room of his house.

Woodard said on the day he met Roosevelt that he and Kinner were sailing his family’s 12-foot mahogany vessel around Port Jefferson Harbor on a warm summer morning in June or July.

At about 10 a.m., two or three seaplanes landed in the harbor and taxied over to the beach near the east end of the waterfront near the famous Bayles Dock. Woodard, who was 12 years old at the time, said he and Kinner noticed a large crowd gathering near the dock, so they decided to sail over and see what the commotion was all about.

“I think I could take you.”

— Randall Woodard

They approached the black yawl sailing craft tied to the dock with a man wearing a white sun hat seated in the cockpit. Woodard said he still remembers noticing the metal braces on Roosevelt’s legs and a pack of cigarettes on the seat next to him.

“The whole waterfront of Port Jeff was people,” Woodard said. Roosevelt was waiting for his four sons, who were running late, to arrive to begin a vacation cruise.

The Democratic National Convention had just selected him as the party’s nominee for the presidential election that fall, and it was too early to begin campaigning. While he waited for his sons to arrive, Roosevelt and the reporters milling in the vicinity suggested the candidate should be in a photo with the two boys. Woodard and Kinner boarded, and “Vote for Roosevelt” hats were placed on their heads to wear in the photo. Woodard recalled that Kinner took the hat off, tossed it in the cockpit and calmly said, “My father is a Republican.”

Woodard said there was an even more memorable interaction from the meeting when Roosevelt asked him, “How does the boat sail?” Young Randall responded, “I think I could take you.”

He referred to the then-governor’s vessel as “badly designed,” with a laugh during the interview. He said eventually Roosevelt and the others took off sailing in the Long Island Sound. Woodard and his friend tried to keep up with Roosevelt for as long as they could until the soon-to-be president was out of sight.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies,” Woodard wrote in a 2004 account of the day.

Woodard and his son Warren shared a story about seeing by chance a clip of 12-year-old Randall dancing on Roosevelt’s boat in a documentary about past presidents decades later. Warren said they purchased multiple copies of the documentary on DVD.

“We kids went to the movies for a week straight just to see ourselves on the Pathé News movies.”

— Randall Woodard

Woodard’s life and interests would intersect with Roosevelt’s in other ways later in life. His daughter Tracy was diagnosed with polio in 1949, which also famously afflicted Roosevelt. Woodard’s affinity for boating only grew after 1932, and he eventually went on to serve in the U.S. Navy, where Roosevelt had previously served as the assistant secretary prior to his years as governor.

The Woodards owned several sailboats and fishing boats through the years. In 1936, Randall and his older brothers, twins Martin and Merwin, finished tied for first among 2,000 other competitors worldwide for the Snipe Class International championship. Through the years he often competed in races and experienced more-than-modest levels of success.

After graduating from Port Jefferson High School in 1938, Woodard attended The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time,” he wrote in 2004. He joked he and a high school friend went to Citadel because their grades were not good enough to attend the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard academies.

“I was not a hero,” Woodard said. “If we didn’t have a Marine Corps we’d still be over there. I was in enough tight spots to know.”

After graduating from The Citadel with a degree in civil engineering, he became a Seabee officer in the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees, as they were called — a play on “CB” for Construction Battalion — were deployed to Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the Japanese attack to reconstruct damaged bulkheads, dredge the ocean floor to allow ships passage and assemble barges and causeways in preparation for an amphibious attack, according to Woodard. During his training prior to deployment while stationed in Rhode Island, Woodard was aboard the world’s largest sea tow, which was an experimental floating airfield slated for assembly in Alaska. The airfield was not needed, and broken-up pieces were used during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day.

“The war was on the horizon in Europe and a military college made sense at that time.”

— Randall Woodard

He was part of a mission headed to a series of islands in the Pacific near Japan in May 1944, weeks before the beaches were stormed in Normandy. Nine days after D-Day, aboard a craft carrying four barges Woodard was responsible for overseeing, the U.S. Marine Corps invaded Saipan, a Japanese-held island. Woodard and the Seabees contributed to the mission by using the barges to unload ammunition, gasoline and other supplies.

One day a Japanese Zero aircraft flew low and attacked his flat steel barge with little options in the way of hiding places. He said he pulled out his handgun and fired two rounds at the aircraft, which eventually went down.

“I probably missed, but the plane crashed into the side of a freighter,” he wrote in 2004. He said his barges survived for five weeks until the island was secure. After the victory over Japan, he spent six months at Navy Department Bureau of Yards and Docks in Washington, D.C., where he met Barbara Brown, whom he later married. Woodard said he remained in the Navy reserves for about 15 years.

When he returned home, Woodard worked for years as a civil engineer. In the 1950s he was the resident engineer overseeing a series of contracts to construct the Northern State and Sunken Meadow parkways, and said he was responsible for the construction of all of the parkway overpasses in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

This post was updated Dec. 8 to correct the date of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 speech.

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Port Jeff Royals set the bar high this wrestling season

Vin Miceli controls his opponent during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon
Matt Murphy breaks free from his challenger during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

For Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli, grabbing gold was a nice way to kick off the individual season. The 132-pounder placed first at the 47th annual Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2, and was also voted Most Outstanding Wrestler by all of the coaches in attendance.

Miceli, who has committed to wrestle for Division I Bloomsburg University next year, said there’s no secret to competing at the level he does. He said the sacrifices he makes pay off on the mat.

“It takes a lot of hard work — there’s no stopping and there’s no offseason for me — I’m always in the wrestling room,” said Miceli, who will start the season competing in the 126-pound weight class, hoping to transition to 120 by midseason. “I have my brother and good friends to train with, so it’s nonstop. I have about 90 matches in the offseason.”

Despite its size, Port Jefferson has a rich tradition of cultivating wrestling talent year in and year out, and according to first-year assistant coach Jesse Meaney, the sport is unique in several ways.

“Wrestling isn’t like other sports where you need 100 kids coming out to have a successful team — the work that they put in is the success they will come away with,” Meaney said. “And repetition is the key. You have to drill things 1,000 times in order for it to become muscle memory, so at the end of the week, the kids have drilled things to where they’re technically perfect.”

Port Jefferson faced off against the best of Huntington, Kings Park, Farmingdale, Patchogue-Medford, Comsewogue and Grand Street Campus (Brooklyn).

Brendan Rogers attempts to turn his opponent onto his back during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

Junior Rick D’Elia placed second at 113 pounds, as did senior Joe Evangelista at 152 pounds.

Meaney reiterated that being a large school with a larger talent pool isn’t the same type of advantage it is in other sports.

“Wrestling isn’t a sport that discriminates, if you have kids that are willing to put in the work and that are willing to listen to the coaches, you can have a successful program,” he said.

Junior Brendan Rogers placed third at 120 pounds, as did classmate Ryan Robertson and sophomore Jack Neiderberger at 138 and 195 pounds. Placing fourth were seniors Joe Longo and Chris Lepore and junior Harry Cona in 152, 182 and 220 pounds, respectively.

When asked what his goals were for his senior season, Miceli didn’t hesitate.

“I’m a senior on a mission — my goal is to win states,” Miceli said. “That’s been my goal since I’ve joined the team.”

The Royals compete in two more invitationals — Harborfields’ Steven J. Mally Memorial and their own Bob Armstrong Cup — before opening the league season on the road against Mattituck Dec. 21.

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First Royal Division IV MVP break school records this season

The Port Jefferson Royals’ outgoing quarterback is officially royalty.

Jack Collins is the first Port Jefferson football player to be named MVP of Division IV. But if he had his way when he was young, the Royals senior wouldn’t even be a quarterback.

“I was a wide receiver,” he said, explaining how he played the position for almost two years before being told the middle school team was in need of a field general. “We had a little contest, and I ended up getting the job.”

Port Jefferson quarterback Jack Collins broke three school records this year and became the first Royals football player to be named the most valuable player in Division IV, an honor bestowed by the results of a vote by the division coaches. File photo by Bill Landon

Collins didn’t want to be a quarterback because being the center of attention seemed like too much for him. He said he was quiet and reserved by nature, qualities not normally associated with successful quarterbacks. But as the years passed he grew to love it, and others respected the way he played the position, too.

In his senior season, Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). Being the first Division IV MVP from the Royals squad, which is voted on by division coaches, also qualifies him for the Hansen Award, which goes to the most outstanding high school football player in Suffolk County, and the Boomer Award, which is awarded to the top quarterback in the county. The winners will be announced at a Section XI dinner Dec. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge.

“We knew Jack had all the capabilities to handle the physical part of the position,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “What stood out even more was his maturity mentally. We knew he could handle anything we threw at him, and his work ethic early on was just one of those un-coachable things.”

Collins was called up to the varsity team his sophomore year and played in a handful of games toward the end of the season before being named the starter as a junior. He said the honor was unexpected, but felt encouraged after being recognized.

“I worked hard in the offseason — put my heart and soul into it — and getting called up made me feel more comfortable and prepared to be the leader of a team,” he said. “I think my coach made the right decision. It was a good learning experience.”

Cosci said the coaches immediately began tailoring routines and strategies so that the offense revolved around Collins. The quarterback had worked with an outside coach to enhance his accuracy, power and consistency, but also learned about leadership. The changes were noticed immediately.

As a result of the MVP nod, Jack Collins is automatically in the running for the Hansen Award and the Boomer Award, which will be given out at the Section XI football dinner Dec. 4. File photo by Bill Landon

“Jack is like no other quarterback I’ve played with,” senior wide receiver Marquis Feldman said. “He knows everything that’s happening on the field before it happens. It’s honestly like playing with a college quarterback.”

The senior’s head coach went one step further in his praise of Collins.

“He watches tons of film, tries to understand things better and fully, he never rests on his laurels — he thinks about what he has to do to get better and he continues to get better because of that,” Cosci said. “As a true leader and a true great player does, he made everyone around him better.”

Marquis said he saw his teammate develop on the field firsthand.

“Everyone on my team gave 110 percent every snap of every game — we were relentless,” he said, adding that he only just moved to the district in August. “To see Jack get recognized for his efforts is phenomenal, because we all knew he was an MVP. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my quarterback and already a very close friend on and off the field.”

To Collins, success is not about him, but more a reflection on his coaches and teammates, he said.

“At first, I didn’t see the good in it as much as I was afraid of the bad,” he said of taking on the quarterback role. “My teammates made me see it’s not that bad. It’s awesome to see the other coaches respected what we were doing, but honestly, we’re all putting in the work together and our coaches are putting game plans out that work. I’m the one that gets a lot of the credit for it, but it was definitely a team effort.”

Collins’ successes have also served to shine a light on the program.

Jack Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). File photo by Bill Landon

“You can always look at the bigger schools and shake your finger and say ‘We’re too small, we’re never going to win anything,’” Collins said. “But we’re proving everyone wrong. We played with the big boys and it was a really good time. I just really hope this helps the program grow.”

While the extra attention could add pressure for any high school student, Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said nothing ever seemed to phase Collins.

“I’ve watched Jack from afar for two years now — on the field, in the hallways — and for as great of a football player he is, he’s an even better person,” Turner said. “He doesn’t say much, but his work ethic and the way he carries himself speaks volumes as to the type of person Jack is.”

Another important aspect of being a varsity football player is having young kids on the sidelines at games, according to Collins. They reminded him of himself when he first watched the Royals, wishing to one day emulate what he saw.

“I wanted to be like them in every single way,” he said. “I hope when the kids look at me they think that and that I set a good example.”

It’s a mentality he has already instilled in all facets of the program, according to Cosci.

“Jack has been the cornerstone for us in taking the next step,” he said. “He’s definitely more of a lead by example, but when Jack opens his mouth everyone listens. He never really talks about himself, he’s grounded, and it’s refreshing. The first thing out of other coaches’ mouths was ‘What a quarterback you have.’”

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Kyra Sommerstad placed in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke at the state championship meet. Photos from Kyra Sommerstad

Kyra Sommerstad continues to bask in success.

The Port Jefferson sophomore swimmer made her third straight trip to the state championship meet Nov. 18 and 19 at Ithaca College, and far surpassed her finishes last season of 13th in the 200-yard individual medley and 15th in the 100 backstroke. Despite Top 10 finishes this time around, she said there’s still more work to be done.

“I was happy with how I placed,” said Sommerstad, who placed fourth in the individual medley in 2 minutes, 5.43 seconds and sixth in the backstroke in 56.59. “But I wish I swam a little faster.”

The sophomore said she felt more confident having competed at the state event the last two years, but said nerves did kick in once she got into the pool. She said she wasn’t happy with how she swam in the preliminaries, and used that to fuel her fire. As she always does, she stretched before each race; listened to music to keep her energy high; and ended up finishing the backstroke in a new personal-best time.

“I knew I had to swim fast,” Sommerstad said. “Because I wasn’t where I wanted to be coming out of preliminaries, I was nervous heading into finals, but I was trying as hard as I could — focusing on the little things.”

Her Three Village Swim Club coach Mark Anderson said her underwater work continues to make her more competitive at higher-level meets.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said of watching her compete. “I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having a meet to rest and taper for. I’m really excited to see her success continue.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner, who was not at the meet, said she was gripping her phone all day waiting to hear how Sommerstad did.

“It was really exciting seeing Kyra’s name up on the board representing little Port Jeff on a big-time stage … not small school-large school, but all schools,” Turner said. “She has proven that she is one of the best in the state.”

Now Sommerstad will prepare for the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, before going to a travel team meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Anderson said he has high hopes for his swimmer in the future.

“There’s a lot of fine-tuning that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race, and the last two years have been very rewarding for myself and for Kyra,” he said of the dedication and hard work his young swimmer has already put into training. “I would love to see her compete and contend at national-level meets, whether it be junior nationals and make Top 8 or make it to nationals and place Top 16. Our ultimate goal is to get her to the 2020 Olympic trials, and have her do great there. Regardless, getting to see her grow up and mature and become what’s going to be a very good collegiate swimmer has been a real enjoyment for me. Wherever she ends up swimming in two years, she’s going to be a coach’s dream.”

Nearly 250 Port Jeff residents support a pool somewhere in the village. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

A group of nearly 250 Port Jefferson residents have a dream, but it is unlikely they will have any help from the village in trying to make it come to fruition.

Todd Pittinsky, a four-year village resident and Stony Brook University professor, has spearheaded and galvanized a movement that has nearly doubled in size since the beginning of 2017. The professor created a Facebook group more than a year ago to gauge community interest in constructing a pool for village residents.

In meetings that have taken place both online and in person, Pittinsky has organized a group that now has 243 supporters behind the idea of building a pool somewhere in the village and has even gotten one modest bite from a potential partner who might be able to supply a location: the Port Jefferson Yacht Club. Pittinsky formally presented some of the findings and brainstorming that have emerged from the meetings to the Port Jeff village board during a public meeting Nov. 6 in the hopes of gaining its support.

“We just realized we’ve been meeting and talking but at some point there’s only so far we can go as an outside group,” he said. “One of the issues that we talked about is this looming specter of the power plant closing and what that might mean for the tax base. One of the things that emerged from our group is we would just encourage the board and the mayor, as you think about that prospect and you think about that scenario, we can be pretty much guaranteed that property values will go down if there’s nothing to replace it. So you could imagine a race to the bottom where the village stops investing in education, stops investing in recreation and then the question becomes ‘Why should I move to Port Jefferson?’ Unfortunately being on the water is just not enough.”

Pittinsky’s pitch concluded with a request to the village to commission a study to determine the feasibility of a village pool and to examine the landscape of state grants available to municipalities constructing new recreational facilities.

“The village has no plans to actively pursue a pool at this time,” Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement since the meeting. “However, we are agreeable to working with the committee to assess the need and community support. We agree the country club would be the most suitable location, but under the current circumstances cannot foresee this as a village priority.”

Joe Yorizzo, commodore of the Port Jefferson Yacht Club, confirmed in a phone interview Pittinsky’s group has approached the club and although the conversations thus far have been preliminary, he said the club is interested in further discussing the possibility of building a pool. The group has also floated Danfords Hotel & Marina and the Port Jefferson Country Club as possible locations.

During the presentation, Pittinsky cited the health benefits of swimming, the safe and supervised environment for recreational activity that a public pool would create, revenue generated through memberships, a boost to property value and community cohesion across a wide array of age groups as some of the possible benefits. He said the cost of construction and finding a suitable location are the obvious hurdles that will need to be cleared in order for the proposal to truly get off the ground.

“At the end of the day, we ran a bunch of revenue models and the memberships do have to be expensive for at least the first 10 years to cover the construction, but we think that even if it is expensive we could balance it with access through something like once-a-week open community days where someone could buy one-day passes,” he said. “Then you’re kind of achieving the best of both worlds, where the people are particularly passionate about it and are willing and have the resources to contribute, but you also allow others to have access.”

In February Pittinsky said a place for his 3-year-old son to learn to swim was one of the few elements the village is currently lacking, though creating a place where the community can gather and enjoy together has also long been one of his goals. Part of the group’s work has included an informal study to try to determine how many people in the village have their own private pools. Using Google Maps, they concluded only about one in 17 homes currently have pools in Port Jeff. Pittinsky also stressed during the presentation that a wide range of demographics are represented in the group, and even those with their own pools see the value in a public pool.

He concluded his pitch with what he called the group’s tagline: “Let’s make a splash together.”

For more information about the group visit www.facebook.com/portpluspool/.

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Port Jefferson sophomore grabs gold in 100-yard backstroke, 200 individual medley for second season

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Coach Mark Anderson asked Port Jefferson swimmer Kyra Sommerstad what her goal was heading into the 200 individual medley race at the Suffolk County championships Nov. 4.

“I want to go 2:04,” she answered, which would be a career best for the sophomore.

By the time she touched the wall, Kyra had completed the 200 yards in 2 minutes, 4 seconds, which also earned her a first-place finish.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Watching her swim, she looked great,” said Anderson, her Three Village Swim Club coach for the last two years. “She had gone a 2:04, and I thought that spoke to the kind of person she is. She’s incredibly driven, very positive and she goes into every race knowing what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. It makes me proud to see someone grow the way she has over the last couple of years to someone that is capable of setting a goal in her mind and achieving it.”

On top of placing first in the individual medley, Kyra also grabbed gold in the 100 backstroke.

“I knew from last year that I could win,” said Kyra of the county meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. “I really went into it determined and I really wanted to win the same events that I won the year before.”

Being the top seed gave her confidence going in that she could reclaim the county crown in both races, she said. She said Anderson and Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein helped her work on her technique and mentality to get her ready to race. Prior to getting into the water, she stretched and listened to pop music to get in the zone.

“I swam some fast times before counties so I knew where I was going into it,” she said. “I get myself pumped up by listening to music. I just didn’t want to drop my spot.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said seeing all that the swimmer has been able to accomplish at such a young age is inspiring.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Kyra is an outstanding student and an overall great person,” Turner said. “She never looks for recognition or praise, however her accomplishments and incredible ability should absolutely be highlighted. She has represented Port Jefferson in the most positive of ways and on many stages.  We could not be more proud of Kyra, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this young talent.”

Fleckenstein shared a similar sentiment, adding that she’s been a joy to work with.

“She’s very impressive,” the coach said of Kyra. “She’s such a sweet girl. She’s gracious, she’s easy to work with. She doesn’t go in with an ‘I’m going to win because I’m the best’ attitude. She gets in the pool and does her job.”

Anderson and Fleckenstein have seen the sophomore mature over the last year, and said they think bigger and better accomplishments are ahead.

“She challenges herself every day,” Fleckenstein said. “She doesn’t like to miss practice. They’re all signs she’s headed in the right direction. There’s some untapped talent in there, and her club coach has been doing a great job bringing her along. By the time she graduates she’ll be sought after by many colleges.”

Kyra Sommerstad placed first in the 100-yard breastroke and 200 individual medley at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her Three Village Swim Club coach has been focusing on underwater work with his swimmer, including off-the-block movements, hand speed, tempo and turns.

“I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having time to rest,” Anderson said. “In the next couple of weeks she has the state championship, the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then she’s going to have our team’s travel meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of fine-tuning this week that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race this weekend and it’s going to be a real test to see how she’s prepared over the last couple of months.”

He added, with her attitude, he knows she’ll succeed.

“She is incredibly positive, incredibly hard-working, dedicated, she’s a great student in the classroom and just getting to know her and getting to see her grow up and mature has been a real enjoyment for me,” he said. “She is a coaches dream.”

Kyra validated Anderson’s comments, saying she’s ready for what lies ahead.

“I’ll be working really hard in the pool and perfecting my technique,” she said. “I’m getting ready to swim fast.”

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Handful of cross country runners compete at state meet

Port Jefferson's cross country team finished first in Suffolk County's Class C. Photo by Dick Olson

By Jim Ferchland

Coach Rod Cawley called runner Sam Walker a “take-charge kind of guy,” and at the Suffolk County Class C championship Nov. 3, the senior raced his team to its second straight title.

The Port Jefferson cross-country competitor finished first at the 5,000-meter Sunken Meadow State Park course, crossing the finish line in 17 minutes, 48 seconds.

Sam Walker, who placed first at the Suffolk County meet, rounds a corner before punching his state qualifying ticket. Photo by Dick Olson

Walker has claimed gold his junior and senior season and said placing first two years in a row to cap off his final county cross-country meet was icing on the cake. He also was quick to point toward it being more about the team than himself this time around.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good,” Walker said. “This year didn’t entirely go as I wanted it to, but I was proud of myself because my main concern was if the team was going to qualify.”

The Royals finished 5-1 in League VIII, winning all but the final meet of the season with a loss to Shelter Island by a single point, 27-28. In all other meets, Port Jefferson dominated its opponents by 30 or more points.

“They worked very hard all season,” Cawley said of his athletes. “They did what they had to do.”

The head coach has led the Royals to 13 county crowns in his 25-year tenure. He said he gives all of the credit to his runners, especially Walker, who he said he’s had the privilege of coaching for four of them.

“He leads by example,” Cawley said. “He works hard and does what he has to do. He continued to improve each year.”

Walker said his focus this time around was on the underclassmen because of the fact the team hasn’t had many state qualifiers over his last four years.

“That whole race was trying to get the younger guys to the state meet and get that experience,” he said. “I know those guys have got a lot of talent and a lot of promise. And I know they’ll do the same for their younger guys.”

Grant Samara finished right behind teammate Sam Walker for second place. Photo by Dick Olson

The Port Jefferson team ran an average of 18:48.21, and had three runners place in the Top 5, with freshman Grant Samara placing second in 18:41 and freshman Cooper Schoch rounding out the fifth spot with a 19:05 finish. Right behind Schoch was Mike Ruggiero with a time of 19:06, and three others placed in the Top 15 — Brian Veit finished in eighth, Alex Rebic placed 11th and Owen Okst finished 15th.

“It’s amazing to see,” Walker said of the talented underclassmen. “I know when I go off to college, I’m going to be coming back to watch these guys. I know they have so much promise in this sport, especially since we are such a small school compared to the bigger Class A schools. We got so lucky with these freshmen that have such a future. I wasn’t even that driven when I first participated in the sport.”

Cawley said he too is liking what he’s seeing from his young guys.

“Samara’s an outstanding freshman,” Cawley said. “He came along quite a bit. He was the fourth guy in the beginning of the season and he ended up being the second. He improved considerably over the course of the season. For Schoch, he’s very talented and right there with Grant. Both of them ran as eighth-graders.”

Cawley said there were some challenges this year, but they were primarily a result of mother nature.

“It was a warm season — it was difficult to train sometimes and difficult to compete,” he said. “One meet got canceled because they ran out of ambulances, so I would say the weather was a difficult challenge for us this year. Cross-country is designed for the 50s and maybe the 60s, not the 70s.”

Cooper Schoch placed fifth at the Suffolk County meet. Photo by Dick Olson

With this, the weather once again became a colossal obstacle for Port Jefferson in the state meet at Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center just east of Rochester. The conditions were in the 20s with snow and wind, according to Cawley, a drastic change from what the Royals were getting used to. Port Jefferson finished the meet in ninth place.

“The ground was frozen,” Cawley said. “It wasn’t pleasant, and everyone had the same conditions, but the upstate schools are a little better handling that than us Long Islanders.”

Walker hit a major setback in the state meet as he suffered an injury in the tough conditions, costing him a Top 20 finish.

“I was feeling good,” Walker said of his confidence before his injury. “I tried catching up with the lead pack, but it was so muddy and there were foot tracks from the previous day that had frozen over. There were a bunch of holes and I rolled my ankle, fell, and it took a while to get back up. I knew that race was over. I couldn’t run as well as I wanted to, but it’s something to learn from.”

Despite the rough upstate experience, Cawley continues to remain optimistic about the future with his young, talented team.

“I’m very excited,” Cawley said. “I have very high expectations for the next few years.”

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Port Jefferson allows parents to track the location of school buses thanks to the implementation of mobile app Here Comes the Bus. File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

Redeems last season’s one-hole playoff loss for runner-up status

Port Jefferson's Shane DeVincenzo bested his last season runner-up record by placing first in the Suffolk County championship Nov. 4. Photo from Port Jefferson athletics

By Jim Ferchland

For Shane DeVincezo, the mental game of golf has always been his focus. The Port Jefferson junior came into the Nov. 3 Suffolk County championship hoping to place in the Top 9, as is his goal every season, and after finishing with a 69, 2-under par, on the first day of the tournament Nov. 2, he knew he was in a good place to keep pushing toward his target position.

“I thought, if I try to go out there and win, the Top 9 will just automatically happen,” he said. “If I try to go for Top 9 and just worry about that and not push for the lead, I think I’ve got a good chance. I thought, with the position I’m in right now, there’s no doubt I can make states.”

With his first place Suffolk County finish, Port Jefferson golfer Shane DeVincenzo qualified to compete in the state tournament. Photo by Jim Ferchland

DeVincenzo followed up his day one performance with an even-par 71 Friday to capture the county title with a 36-hole total of 140, good for 2-under-par at Manorville’s Rock Hill Golf and Country Club.

The Port Jefferson golfer avenged his second-place finish from last year’s tournament in capturing the top spot. In 2016 he lost to East Hampton’s Turner Foster on a one-hole playoff. Foster finished tied for second in Suffolk Nov. 3.

Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff said he is proud of what his athlete has accomplished.

“He wasn’t going to let last year define him,” Ruoff said. “I know that in his heart last year gave him a lot of motivation. For two days he just went out and played his best.”

DeVincenzo overcame a rocky front nine in the first round by his standards, shooting one over to start his tournament. He rallied after that and finished three under on the back nine for the best score of the day.

“I felt I did really good,” DeVincenzo said on his performance on that back nine. “I wouldn’t say it was really a bad front nine — the front nine is a lot harder here and you just gotta get through it. On the back nine, my putter got rolling and I made a lot of good putts which saved me. Three under par is pretty good.”

He said there was something familiar about the Manorville course that he thought gave him an advantage.

“These greens are kind of like Port Jeff,” DeVincenzo said. “They’re just a little more sloped, but distance-wise and yardage-wise, they’re practically the same. Playing at Port Jeff definitely helps playing at Rock Hill.”

Port Jefferson junior Shane DeVincenzo swings away during the first of the two-day Suffolk County championship tournament. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Ruoff has been by DeVincenzo’s side since he starting golding in eighth grade, and said he’s in awe of the 16-year-old’s abilities.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Ruoff said of DeVincenzo’s talent. “He picked up the game somewhat late for someone who’s got to this ability level. Just between how hard he works and the instruction he’s given, it’s just really hard to explain. Year to year he’s made huge jumps in his game.”

Although DeVincenzo also trains at Port Jefferson Country Club under head professional Bill Mackedon, he said he looks at Ruoff like his best friend, adding that his coach makes the game a lot easier.

“We bond very well — I really like him as a coach,” he said. “Ever since I started in eighth grade, he’s been there as a supporter. Even when I’m struggling he’s there to help me. I have him to back me up and he helps me boost up my confidence.”

DeVincenzo golfed in a foursome Nov. 3 along with Pierson’s Henry Brooks, Eastport-South Manor’s Andrea Ternavasio and Sayville’s Sean Haselton. DeVincenzo has played with his Sayville opponent before.

“Me and Shane have been playing together for a long time,” Haselton said. “He got hot with the putter today and that’s what did it for him. I feel we feed off each other — he makes a good putt, then I make a good putt. We both played really solid. It’s fun to play with people playing well.”

Haselton finished the first day with a 73, one over par, and ended day two tied for second with

Foster and Habrorfields’ Pat Healy. In the team competition, he helped Sayville win its first county title since 2013 with an 813, ahead of Harborfields (826) and Smithtown West (831).

Port Jefferson’s Shane DeVincenzo eyes his target. Photo by Jim Ferchland

DeVincenzo, the second-place trio, Huntington’s Tyler Gerbavsits (148), Sayville’s Brendan Smith (152) and Smithtown West’s John Pawlowski (153) all qualified to compete in the state tournament, along with Connetquot’s Kyle Zere and Huntington’s Matt Giamo, who finished tied for eighth at 154. They earned the final two spots by besting Harborfields’ Andre Chi in a one-hole playoff.

Pierson’s Brooks also said he enjoyed playing alongside top competitors, saying he was fascinated seeing DeVincenzo play for the first time.

“He played great today,” Brooks said of DeVincenzo. “He was hitting every drive straight — drilling long putts. He was really dialed in.”

Even before DeVincenzo’s performance at Rock Hill, Ruoff said his athlete is the greatest player he’s ever coached.

“Without a doubt in my mind he is,” Ruoff said. “There have been some great players that we’ve had the privilege of seeing at Ward Melville, who is our closest competitor, through the years. As far as Port Jeff goes, he’s been the best player I’ve been around by far.”

Ruoff said he sees DeVincenzo finishing Top 5 in the state.

“I feel that anything can happen on a given day in a round of golf, but he’s certainly right at the top,” Ruoff said of DeVincenzo. “Every year he has slightly exceeded his high expectations, and I have high expectations for him. He just blessed with a lot of talent.”

According to medium Lisa McGarrity, Port Jefferson is a hotbed for paranormal activity. Image by TBR News Media

Along East Main Street in Port Jefferson, tucked between a plumbing company and a parking lot, sits a tiny, two-story shop where Lisa McGarrity communicates with the deceased.

A new age store stocked with spell and magic books, a variety of incense and herbs, and a private space for tarot card readings, Envision Crystal has provided a spiritual avenue for residents from Port Jeff Village and beyond since 1987 as both a place for healing and closure, as well as exploration of macabre curiosities. McGarrity, a psychic medium who first discovered her necromantical gift as a child when she witnessed spirits roaming around her house, is the shop’s third owner and said there’s a reason why there’s no shortage of customers coming to her for advice on how to handle and interact with members of the afterlife.

Lisa McGarrity is the owner of Envision Crystal magic shop, and works as a medium in Port Jefferson Village. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Port Jefferson is so filled with spirits,” said McGarrity, who recalled several encounters with former, deceased village residents over the years. “I feel that wonderful energy of sea captains, people who grew up and worked here, musicians, merchants. There are a lot of psychics in the village because the energy here is conducive. I think spirits want to be here because it’s home. They want to visit and hang out.”

In fact, the medium said, as the occupant of a historic home in town, she “has had friendly conversations” and sometimes shares her morning coffee with the gentleman who built her house long ago. While she used to be able to see these spectral visitors crystal clear as a child, McGarrity said now it’s more of an impression, a feeling, a sense. She described the sightings as  being “a little sharper and clearer than a mind-wandering daydream.”

Coming from a family of psychics and intuition-driven people, McGarrity, who studied psychology at Stony Brook University, said she’s never found this field all that unusual, but, growing up, thought it best to keep her interests in it hidden from people.

“When I was young, I learned to separate it and talk about regular world things with people and leave that other world alone,” she explained. “Things have changed now and we live in a world that’s much more open now. I was born with this curiosity and a desire to explore. I mean, I think what I do is super normal and something anyone can do if they want to pay attention to it. Some folks can sing. I’ve cultivated, developed and expanded what was a natural gift.”

St. James resident Andrea Giordano, a longtime customer of McGarrity’s shop, who developed a strong bond with the medium during a reading session, spoke highly of her friend’s gift.

“What she does is get people connected,” Giordano said. “It’s not about money here. It’s about spirit, love, compassion and open mindedness. It’s universal humanity at its best. If you have faith in anything beyond this world, she helps reinforce that faith. If you don’t have faith when you walk in here, you leave here with faith.”

‘I think spirits want to be [in Port Jeff] because it’s home. They want to visit and hang out.’

— Lisa McGarrity

McGarrity said, especially around this time of year, people often come into the shop on a mission to encounter ghosts in and around the area. For the budding paranormal investigators, the medium offers tips and advice — she stresses the importance of exploring in groups and with an experienced guide, equipping one’s self with protective stones and sage, which work to cleanse negative energy and drive away darker entities, and, most importantly, displaying respectful decorum.

“The same rules with any human interaction applies when interacting with spirits,” she said. “Start out nice, introduce yourself. That works well. Don’t go to a haunted location and shout out derogatory and inflammatory things.”

Only a few minutes away, on Barnum Avenue, is the site of McGarrity’s occasional spiritual seminars: an 1890s-built, gothic-style home full of “incredible, wonderful energy,” according to its owner, L.L. Cartin. During one particular seminar, a few Halloweens ago, McGarrity said she led a group of spiritually-minded participants with electronic voice phenomenon equipment through the house. The EVP, which picks up sounds caused by ghosts, went off when they stepped into the basement.

“I remember in that particular moment, I was a little scared to sleep here,” laughed Cartin, who identified herself as a spiritual person who met McGarrity as a customer. “She’s a very gentle soul, she’s not pushy, and she definitely has a gift. She’s one to be admired and her delivery is very gentle so you can receive her information the right way. I love Lisa and I think she’s an asset to the community.”

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