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Christopher O’Shea races to the finish line in the U.S. Open. Photo from Kelley O’Shea

By Kevin Redding

When he was 9 years old, recent Rocky Point High School graduate Christopher O’Shea was encouraged by a friend to try out for the Three Village Swim Club team in East Setauket.

His mom was surprised at his newfound interest in swimming, because, as she recalled, he was deathly afraid of the water not too long before.

“We could never figure out why he hated the water so much, he just always cried,” Kelley O’Shea said.

Whatever it was disappeared quickly.

Jason Louser swims the breaststroke. Photo from Jason Louser

“He tried out for the team and made it,” she said. “He really loved it. And the rest, as they say, is history. Now it’s his life.”

O’Shea, 18, a two-time All-America swimmer who graduated in the spring, was one of just two Suffolk County high school competitors in the 2017 U.S. Open Swimming Championships at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, held Aug. 2-6.

He and Shoreham-Wading River junior Jason Louser joined the best swimmers in the country, including 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte, in the largest single-tank pool in the country for the biggest event of their athletic careers.

O’Shea, who swam the 100-meter long course butterfly Friday and 100 long course backstroke Saturday, placed 68th with a time of 57.38 seconds and 58th in 58.71, respectively. Lochte placed fifth in the same backstroke event.

The Rocky Point grad, who considered this event “the baby steps” toward the Olympic trials, said he couldn’t believe his luck upon entering the massive Nassau facility.

“Oh, I was completely ecstatic,” O’Shea said of the experience. “Typically when you go to a swim meet you’re with people on your level, but when you’re going to this worldwide meet and there’s not only the French national team and a bunch of guys from Australia, but then Ryan Lochte and other Olympians, it was surreal. I didn’t believe I would ever be able to see these people in person let alone swim in the same pool as them.”

He had previously qualified to compete, based on his time, in the Senior Metropolitan Long Course Summer Championships July 22.

Christopher O’Shea swims the backstroke in the U.S. Open. Photo from Kelley O’Shea

Louser, 16, who represented his Long Island Aquatic Club in Garden City, competed in the 200 long course breaststroke, 100 long course breaststroke, 400 long course individual medley and 200 long course individual medley during the meet. He echoed O’Shea’s awe, especially when it came to seeing Lochte.

“The first time I saw him was astonishing,” Louser said. “I was just thinking, ‘I’m swimming in the same meet as him and this is kind of crazy.’ Everyone’s crazy good at the U.S. Open and it’s also very intimidating because there are college coaches around.”

O’Shea was also nervous as he warmed up for his first race, competing alongside top swimmers from around the country.

“Being such a small fish in a giant pond, it was a lot to take in,” he said. “The aquatic center was covered with posters and flags and signs, so it made it all the more better. It made it seem all the more official that we were actually there. It was intense and I had to get into a mental focus.”

But O’Shea has gone above and beyond to earn his spot among the best.

He won the 100 butterfly at the state championship and placed second in the 100 backstroke in March, and won the county championship in the backstroke and 200 freestyle last winter.

Rounding out his ninth and final year on the Three Village Swim Club team, as he’ll be attending Eastern Michigan University on a swimming scholarship this fall, O’Shea has maintained a rigorous schedule to prepare for the U.S. Open.

Christopher O’Shea smiles in his Three Village Swim Club team uniform. Photo from Kelley O’Shea

This summer, the daily process has been waking up at 5 a.m., eating breakfast and driving 25 minutes to train at the Aquatic Center for two hours from 6 to 8 a.m. After practice, he’d go to work at the summer buddies program at the North Shore Youth Council and give private half-hour swimming lessons to kids between the ages 4 and 12 at home. Then, he heads to the gym, go back home, and repeat.

“This is a sport you can’t give up on because once you do, it’s over,” he said. “A lot of people do give up and I don’t want to be one of those people. That keeps pushing me along.”

Both O’Shea and Louser beat the odds in becoming successful. Neither Rocky Point nor Shoreham school districts have a pool or official swim team, so the two had to work extra hard and go the distance to practice.

Despite an apparent lack of interest, O’Shea said the tide is starting to turn. Some of his friends came out to watch him compete over the weekend, which was a big deal to him as they’d never come to a meet before. Even younger members of the Three Village Swim Club arrived with signs and cheers.

“Now that they’ve heard that Chris is swimming with Ryan Lochte, they’re thinking, ‘Wow, he must be really good,’” his mom said, laughing. “It’s pretty cool to see how everyone’s changing their attitude, and I couldn’t ask for anything better in a son. We are continually surprised and thrilled with his achievements.”

Reflecting on how far he’s come, O’Shea said, “When I started swimming it was just a ‘Let’s see how it goes’ kind of thing, and now a few years down the line, I find myself competing against the world’s best … it’s really something else.”

Smithtown East lax player scores three goals, SWR's Chris Gray adds two

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone hoists up his Under Armour All-America MVP trophy. He scored three goals and added two asssits in North's win. Photo from Connor DeSimone

By Desirée Keegan

In a game that was likely to feature a potent offense — with 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — it was Smithtown East’s own Connor DeSimone that led the way.

He tallied a hat trick and two assists, and was among 11 scorers that were part of an aggressive North attack that beat South, 18-16, in the Under Armour All-America senior boys all-star game at Towson University July 1. The victory snapped the South’s six-game win streak.

Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone looks for an open lane. Photo from Connor DeSimone

“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”

North went on a 9-1 run in the first half to go into halftime up by six, and the Johns Hopkins University commit helped pace that burst. After  North withstood a man-down situation four minutes into the second quarter, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6-6.

Soon after, DeSimone gave North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at the University at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantage to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell University commit, for a score.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” DeSimone said. “Competing against the best in the country was something special. Being there was such a great experience.”

Navy commit Nate Buller later powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but South, which opened the second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray races into South’s zone with the ball. Photo from Chris Gray

Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of  North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray and teammate Jackson Reid followed DeSimone with one apiece in the span of about a minute.

After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team congregated in South’s defensive territory, even the bench players, and played duck-duck-goose with the Boston University-bound attackman. It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations North rolled out during the win.

“It was on the fly,” Gray said of the celebration. “My teammates did a great job all game passing me the ball and every time I shot the ball I tried to use the best angle I had, wether it was a regular shot or a backhand shot. The celebrations play a big part in the UA game because its all about having fun.”

The attackman said he also liked practicing and competing with, and against the top talents in the nation.

“Practice was awesome because everyone was so talented drills were very fast paced and the ball rarely hit the floor, which was very cool to see,” Gray said. “During the game I felt our team did really well sharing the ball and hustling. Everyone was giving it 110 percent and looking for the open man, which made the game so much fun.”

DeSimone made the underclassmen rosters as a sophomore and a junior. The midfielder capped off his high school career being selected as a senior and bringing home the MVP trophy tied for a game-high five points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray plays duck-duck-gooose with his teammates following a goal. Photo from Chris Gray

“It was a life-changing, incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a little taste of what college lacrosse will be like and I just loved being out there. There’s no better way to end my high school career.”

The stands were packed with people from all over the country, including every underclassmen group competing during the weekend. Seeing the younger fans there brought back memories for DeSimone, who was in the stands in 2011 when his older brother was on the team.

“Growing up you look at the kids in the senior game, and say, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” DeSimone said. “We’re the best players from our class, from our schools, so seeing a bunch of kids there and knowing I was once in the same shoes, it’s inspiring.”

He said being so passionate about the sport, earning the selection, competing and contributing during the winning game was a humbling experience.

“This event is the best event I’ve ever been at, and knowing I got selected to play with the best players in the country, it means the hard work has finally paid off,” DeSimone said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

By Desirée Keegan

Although North came out on the losing side, falling 16-15 to South July 1, Long Island athletes helped propel North to the first overtime game in Under Armour All-America girls’ lacrosse tournament history. The all-star game pits the best graduating high school lacrosse players in the country against each other every year.

Local lacrosse players Kelsey Huff, Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Jamie Ortega, Shannon Kavanagh, Molly Carter and Hannah Van Middelem. Photo from Emily Vengilio

Mount Sinai’s Emily Vengilio and Hannah Van Middelem, Shoreham-Wading River’s Sophia Triandafils, Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega and Smithtown East’s Shannon Kavanagh were all local leaders chosen to play in the senior game.

“I was so excited when I got the call from Under Armour,” Triandafils said. “Long Island is one of the best areas for lacrosse. Everyone was so skilled and we all meshed together. This game was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve done involving lacrosse.”

The girls were treated like celebrities, being provided gear and getting their photos taken all weekend. Kavanagh was just excited to get out on the field one more time before traveling to the University of Florida.

“To have one last hoo-rah before heading off to college was the cherry on top of a great high school career,” she said.

University of North Carolina-bound Ortega and soon-to-be teammate Alli Mastroianni from New Jersey led North, which never trailed in the game, with three goals each. Kavanagh added a goal in the loss.

“We came out strong and really played fast and competitive, and didn’t stop fighting,” Ortega said. “I was happy with how I played and was even happier to add points to help our team compete against the South.”

Smithtown Easts Shannon Kavanagh carries the ball for North. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

Mastroianni opened the scoring and positioned herself for game MVP honors, finishing with three goals, two assists and four draw controls. North built its early lead, going on a 4-1 run and upping its cushion to 9-5 with six minutes left. The lead, however, was thanks in large part to goalie Riley Hertford’s nine saves in the first 30 minutes — one shy of the record for most in the girls’ Under Armour All-America game.

South twice had to come back from significant deficits; they trailed 11-7 at halftime but came out of the gates strong, scoring five of the first six goals in the second period to knot things at 12-12. North again built a significant lead, going up 15-12 with 10:19 remaining after a pair of free position shots and an unassisted goal.

North had two opportunities for a late game-winning goal after Mastroianni won the last draw of regulation. Kavanagh shot high with one minute remaining, then Vengilio, who is headed to Pennsylvania State University, picked up a ground ball with six seconds remaining, but the team couldn’t get a look at the cage.

“We moved the ball in transition nicely and everyone was looking for that one more pass — we had some pretty nice defensive stops,” Kavanagh said. “But everyone was so good, so it was so much fun to be able to play against such good competition. If I could do the whole thing over again I would in a heartbeat.”

Van Middelem made five stops for North in the second half.

Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Kelsey Huff and Shannon Kavanagh lisen up during halftime. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

“We really got after it in the little time we had together,” she said. The team had three practices Friday before playing the game on Saturday. “It’s not hard to come together though when you have such talented lacrosse players playing together. I felt confident between the pipes knowing I had the top defenders in the country in front of me. It was an honor to be selected for such a prestigious event.”

Her Mount Sinai teammate was one of them, and Vengilio said she was glad to have shared the experience with her.

“It was really amazing to represent Long Island with all the girls I played Yellow Jackets with, and it was awesome that Hannah and I got to represent our hometown,” Vengilio said. “You’re out there playing with 44 of the best players in the country so obviously people are going to score goals and people are going to get stopped on defense. It was a great experience.”

Mount Sinai was the only school to have two players competing on the same team.

“With Mount Sinai being such a small spot on the map it’s great to be out there,” Vengilio said.

The win is just South’s fourth in the 12-year history of the game, and vengeance for North’s win last season.

“Lacrosse has meant the world to me since the day I picked up a stick for the first time,” Van Middelem said. “I have made lifelong friendships and memories from this sport.  It has helped me grow into the person I am today and has taught me so many life lessons. I couldn’t picture my life without lacrosse.”

The Under Armour 2017 senior girls lacrosse team representing the North contained a large amount of Long Island lacrosse players. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is located at 5 Randall Road in Shoreham. File photo by Wenhao Ma

Shoreham’s Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is hosting the Electric Dream Expo Saturday, July 8 — a community event honoring science innovator Nikola Tesla’s 161st birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of the dismantling of Tesla’s famous wireless transmitting tower. The Electric Dream Expo is comprised of an afternoon Science & Innovation Expo from 2 to 6 p.m. on the site of Tesla’s last existing laboratory in Shoreham, with exhibits, demonstrations, food and entertainment.

There will also be an evening of Tesla entertainment, called Summer Electrified!, from 8 to 10 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School, 250A Route 25A, Shoreham, featuring Tesla-inspired performances.

Technological innovation of the past, present and future is the expo’s theme, and attendees at the daytime Science & Innovation Expo will experience Tesla-themed exhibits and activities for all ages, including a HAM radio presentation, displays by The Museum of Interesting Things and Long Island Radio & TV Historical Society, Tesla coil exhibit, 3-D printer and robotics demos, interactive exhibits of Tesla inventions and a Tesla car display.

Tours and a special presentation of innovation will feature the history of Tesla’s 187-foot wireless transmitter tower, built on the Shoreham site in 1907 and dismantled 100 years ago. The tower’s base remains as a focal point, along with Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Laboratory, built from 1901 to 1905 by renowned architect Stanford White, and now being renovated into an immersive science and education center.

The Summer Electrified! an evening of Tesla entertainment, features ArcAttack!, a musical light show using Tesla coil technology, as well as a unique lineup of performances and readings focused on Tesla’s life and legacies.

Admission to the Science & Innovation Expo is $15 for ages 13 and over, $5 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. Tickets for the Summer Electrified! performances are $25 per person 13 and over, $12 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. Admission to both events is $35 for 13 and over, $15 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. A special price of $25 per car covers admission to the daytime Science Innovation Expo for all passengers, and is limited to the first 50 car tickets purchased. Tickets can be purchased at www.teslasciencecenter.org.

By Desirée Keegan

Local school districts took pride in their highly accomplished students at the top of the class this year. Last weekend, valedictorians and salutatorians from Miller Place, Mount Sinai,
Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River took to the stage to address their peers during the Class of 2017 commencement ceremonies.

Miller Place

William Sussman and David Argento were the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

William SussmanSussman, who graduated with a 101.4 GPA, was a National Merit Scholar and Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor.  He was president of the Future Business Leaders of America and received U.S. State Sen. Kenneth LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson Station) Youth Leadership Recognition Award. Enrolled in nine AP courses throughout his years at Miller Place, including AP Chemistry and college computer application, he served as the Mathletes team captain, and was a member of the National Honor Society and the Foreign Language National Honor Society.

He will attend Yale University in the fall to major in electrical engineering.

“I think the best way to put it is gratification,” Sussman said about being named valedictorian. “After years of putting in hours of work — staying up late to do all the homework and projects in addition to extracurriculars — it felt good to be recognized.

Sussman followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Howard Sussman, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and valedictorian of his own high school in 1988.

“It’s kind of exciting and poetic,” Dr. Sussman said. “He values education incredibly highly and he’s really gone above and beyond to learn all he can.”

David Argento

Argento, who is heading to Providence College in the fall to study finance on the school’s St. Thomas Aquinas scholarship, was named salutatorian with a 99.1 GPA. With a loaded schedule, he was a National Honor Society parliamentarian, co-captain of the varsity tennis team, an Eagle Scout, and was also a member of Mathletes, orchestra and a jazz combo musical group. Like the valedictorian, he has taken nine AP courses at Miller Place. Argento said he hopes to have the opportunity to run his own business someday.

Argento’s older brother Chris was valedictorian at the school in 2012. He said he never expected to be in the position he is now.

“It feels great, but I didn’t really have it as a goal to be salutatorian,” Argento said. “I just tried my best and it seemed to work out.”

He said he chose his college because of its similarity to Miller Place, which he called a very positive environment.

“Both schools are rather small, and I just felt very comfortable there right from the start,” he said.

Mount Sinai

At the top of Mount Sinai’s class are Ben May and Helene Marinello.

May, the school’s valedictorian, graduated with a 103.97 GPA, and is known for his environmental work. He was the founder of Mount Sinai’s Model United Nations and environmental outreach club, was on the Matheltes team, and was captain of the Ocean Bowl team, which won a national title this year. He took three AP classes as a sophomore, four as a junior and six his senior year.

Benjamin May

“The school was very receptive to me wanting to challenge myself academically,” he said. “Over the past three years we’ve made the school very sustainable [through the environmental outreach club]. We started a recycling program, we do annual cleanups with about 70 students cleaning up Cedar Beach.”

Outside of school, the valedictorian was also on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Conservation Summit and is the group’s current national communications coordinator, writing the emailed newsletter. Through the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, he won a video contest last spring, was selected to travel to NYC and Washington D.C., where he participated in a live internet broadcast, met with the president of the United Nation’s general assembly and met with former President Barack Obama’s (D) environmental quality council.

“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, because with that meeting, we were pressing them to found a new national monument at the marine protection area called Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument,” May said of the new marine protected area Obama established last fall.

His passion is meeting with politicians and pressing for environmental changes. He plans to double major in international relations and economics at Pennsylvania State University this fall and plans to become proficient in six different languages.

“I could use that for international diplomacy through political advocacy when it comes to the environment, which is what I hope to do in the long run,” he said.

When he thinks about his time spent in Mount Sinai, and when asked how and why he’s striven for success for so long, May recalls the instant he knew he was chasing the No. 1 spot he’s in now.

Helene Marinello

In his AP World History class, for every chapter read, students needed to create an outline. Grades would be given from 1 to 5, depending on how much work seemed to be put in. May’s friend would spend half an hour on his assignment and get a 4, and May put in two hours with each assignment, and received at 5.

“Almost every single time we’d get the grades back, he’d ask me why I put in so much work — What matters getting that extra point?’” May recalled. “I just wanted it. I felt I knew I could get that extra point if I put in a little extra effort, and I kept that mindset throughout high school and put in that extra bit of time to get the better grade. It’s super fulfilling. It shows it pays to put in the extra work.”

Marinello graduated with a 102.04 GPA. She said high school has left her with many
memorable moments, but enjoyed a trip to Disney World this past March the most.

“I felt as though our whole school bonded as one large group, instead of the usual cliques,” she said. “I got to become closer with people I normally would not have talked to.”

She said she felt honored to be at the top of her class.

“The competition between class rank was very vigorous, so it is truly a privilege to be recognized for what I was able to accomplish,” she said. “Seeing all my hard work finally pay off, in a way other than just good grades, brought me great pride. These past 13 years at Mount Sinai have been an all-around learning experience that I don’t think any other school district could have given me. Between the amazing faculty at this district and the community that surrounds the school, I will never be able to forget the memories I have made.”

Rocky Point

At the top of Rocky Point’s Class of 2017 were Pooja Deshpande and Nicholas LoCastro.

Pooja Deshpande

Deshpande graduated with a 105.38 GPA and was a member of the National Honor Society,
vice president of the Math Honor Society, president of the Human Rights Club, the Interact Club and Thespian Society, was a mentor of the North Shore Youth Council’s Big Buddy Little Buddy program, which pairs high school students with younger ones, and tutored students in subjects ranging from mathematics to French.

Taking 10 AP courses, the valedictorian won the Principal’s Leadership Award, became an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor, received the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in writing and won numerous awards at the Long Island Science Congress. She’s also been involved in the school musical every year.

“I have grown so much over these past years, and I am so thankful to have been raised by such a community,” Deshpande said. “The Rocky Point School district has taught me that not only is being unique accepted, it is celebrated, and the differences that everyone has should be used to bring us closer together, as a strong community.”

Through the Interact Club, she  assisted in a Camp Pa Qau Tuck cleanup in Center Moriches, the school blood drive, fundraised for various organizations and was a mentor to students with various disabilities.

Nicholas LoCastro

“I have learned through these experiences that although I may not be able to change the world, I have the power to change a life, and to someone, that can mean a world of difference,” she said.

She will be attending Stony Brook University’s Honors College in the fall, majoring in neuroscience with a minor in mathematics, on the pre-medicine track.

Close behind was LoCastro, with a 105.13 GPA. Taking seven AP courses, he was also a National Merit Scholar, AP Scholar, was president of the Science Club, member of the honor society, math honor society and thespian society. He played Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound Of Music”, was in the tech crew for spring pocket theater, was a member of guitar club, participated in New York State Council of Administrators of Music Education festival mixed choir and Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival choir.

“Rocky Point has an excellent music and theater program,” he said. “It also let me broaden my horizons and perform in school musicals, something I had never done before high school but am glad I did.”

Natalie Bazata

Rocky Point also had an exhortation speaker in Natalie Bazata, who graduated with a 104.64 GPA.

For all four years, she participated in chamber orchestra and pit orchestra, ran the variety show, a demonstration of the immense musical and artistic talents of Rocky Point students, during her junior and senior year, and also dabbled in school organizations like human rights club, Be A Nicer Neighbor club and Big Buddy Little Buddy.

“The teachers and other staff of the Rocky Point district are caring, passionate and knowledgeable in their fields, and I am incredibly thankful to have crossed paths with them,” she said. “I usually have a huge fear of public speaking, but for some reason, I felt more proud and excited than scared in that moment. Words mean very much to me, so it was an honor to craft a speech that said things exactly how I wanted to say them in a
moment of celebration.”

Shoreham-Wading River

Anthony Peraza and Kyle Higgins finished at the top of the Class of 2017.

Anthony Peraza

Peraza, who continues a string of family success in the district, graduated with a 102.45 GPA.

He took 10 AP courses to be named an AP Scholar with Distinction, ran cross-country all four years, and was named captain, competed in winter  and spring track and played alto sax in jazz band.

“When I first got named, it felt surreal and didn’t really hit me for a while,” Peraza said. “I’ve kept expectations low — I knew I was high in my class, it wasn’t a focus during school.”

He will be majoring in biological engineering at Cornell University in the fall.

“I know academics are great and it will challenge me, which is what I want,” he said.

Higgins graduated with a 102.17 GPA. He took eight AP courses, to be named an AP Scholar with Honor, was vice president of the National Honor Society, a member of Natural Helpers Club,  a varsity lacrosse player,  a community program’s lacrosse coach, and was named academic All-County for varsity basketball and named second team All-Division in football.

Kyle Higgins

“I worked hard in school,” he said. “It was never really my aim to get to salutatorian, I just wanted to do the best that I could, so it was an added bonus just to be named that.”

He will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, majoring in aerospace engineering and will play lacrosse for the school. He was also the recipient of the  Thomas Cutinella Memorial Scholarship.

“There were definitely a lot of nights I stayed up way past when I should have because I had to get work done, but it’s just about being able to stay focused on what I was doing at the time and get done what I need to get done,” he said.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

Michelle, Cari and Katelyn Gostic are sisters who were each named valedictorian or salutatorian at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Gostics

By Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River High School, siblings share more than genes.

When Advanced Placement student and track star Anthony Peraza graduated at the top of his class, he wasn’t just following in the footsteps of his older brother, Matthew, who was named salutatorian in 2014.

The soon-to-be Cornell University engineering student was also carrying on an ongoing tradition in the district, which, since 2006, has seen a total of five sets of siblings graduate in the top percent of their classes, as valedictorian or salutatorian.

Those on the list, which now includes the Perazas, are William Throwe, named valedictorian in 2006, and his sister, Emily, salutatorian in 2009; Katelyn Gostic, valedictorian of her graduating class in 2009, whose drive to succeed from an early age set the bar for her sisters, Michelle, salutatorian in 2011, and Cari, valedictorian in 2013; Iris Yu, 2010 salutatorian, and her sister, Spring, the 2015 valedictorian; and Maxwell Maritato, who was named valedictorian in 2014, two years before his brother, Nicholas, who gave his salutatorian speech in 2016.

“For any student to become a valedictorian is an amazing achievement, but to have several sets of siblings be at the top of their classes really is a testament to the families,” Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Dan Holtzman said in an email.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that.’”

— Rosemary Peraza

In the Peraza household, education was always priority No. 1.

Raised by two high school chemistry teachers, Anthony and his older brothers — Matthew, 20, entering his senior year at Cornell University this fall, and Michael, 24, a Cornell graduate working for the county as an environmental engineer — were taught the importance of structure and academics from the moment they could breathe, according to their father, Tony, a retired teacher and coach at Longwood Senior High School.

“When Anthony was about four, my wife and I used to run with him while [also] working on vocabulary and times tables,” his father said, laughing that he was the “drill sergeant” parent while his wife was the more affectionate one. “He knew what was expected of him as the youngest.”

Anthony’s mother Rosemary, a teacher at West Babylon High School, said the brothers are close, support one another and each have a strong work ethic.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that,’” she said.

But while Matthew and Michael had to be pushed sometimes to get in gear, their father said that was never needed for Anthony.

“He was self-motivated — he would get up on time, would get most of his work done before he got home, [and] always gave us perfect report cards since grammar school, A-plus’s all the way down,” Tony Peraza said. “He just seemed to get it.”

Aside from running cross country and playing alto sax in the jazz band throughout high school, Anthony Peraza  took several AP classes, in physics, chemistry, calculus, music theory, U.S. history, literature and even scored a high grade on an AP biology exam his freshman year even though he did not take the class.

Michael, Anthony and Matthew Peraza have added to a sibling trend of valedictorians and salutatorians at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Perazas

“My brother’s grades set pretty high standards, so I felt I needed to do that too, and not let anyone down,” he said. “Early on, it was drilled into my brain ‘do homework first, get it done.’”

On his younger brother’s achievements, Matthew Peraza said, “Anthony really got what he deserved. He’s worked hard and he had it figured out. I’m really proud.”

That same inherent motivation also drove the Gostic sisters in high school, where each of them excelled as three-season athletes, AP students and extracurricular leaders.

But as far as sisterly competition goes, Katelyn Gostic, 26, who was student government president, said there wasn’t much of it.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did,” said the oldest sister, a Princeton University graduate currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We were all so busy.”

Michelle Gostic, 24, currently at the Delft University of Technology Dutch in the Netherlands to get her coastal engineering degree, said having Katelyn as an older sister served as inspiration.

“I always admired her and had it in my head that she was in another league, so I never compared myself to her,” Michelle said with a laugh. “Any motivation we had was definitely from within.”

She said both her parents — Rich Gostic, a science teacher at Hampton Bays High School, and Sherry Gostic, a physical therapy instructor at Stony Brook University — instilled in them an appreciation for learning without putting pressure on them.

“My husband and I are proud parents, but I have to say the girls were very much self-disciplined and driven, and we really did not play a big role in what they have accomplished,” their mother said. “It just turned out the way it did without anybody really trying to accomplish any kind of goal.”

As the youngest, Cari Gostic, 22, said working hard was a habit that I grew up with and modeled.

“I came home and did my work because that’s what Michelle and Katelyn did, and it has worked out really well for me,” said the recent Cornell graduate, who finished a semester early with a degree in atmospheric science.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did.”

— Katelyn Gostic

When Maxwell Maritato, 20, was in seventh grade, the engineer-in-training at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recalls coming home and asked his mother Dorothy, “What would you say if I got an 85 on my science test?” to which she responded, “That wouldn’t be too bad.”

But when he told her that was the grade he got on his science test, she said, “Aw come on, you can do better than that.”

“I was like, ‘alright, let me see if I can do better,’ so it started out as wanting to please my parents a bit and it took off from there,” said Maritato, whose father, Peter, is the chair of the engineering department at Suffolk County Community College.

His mother said family always came first but stressed the importance of school.

“We encouraged them to get their work done before they played,” the physical therapy instructor said. “They were both bright from the get-go, and mature for their age. We consider ourselves lucky they were such good kids.”

By high school, Maxwell Maritato was student government president, a member of the National Honors Society, a volleyball and track standout and leagues above his classmates when it came to academics.

But younger brother Nicholas, currently pursuing a biomedical engineering degree at Johns Hopkins University, said he never felt pressured to achieve anything his brother did.

“It was definitely more inspiring to see the work he did pay off the way like it did, and it pushed me to strive to do my best,” he said, adding that any competition between the two was in good fun. “We were really good friends growing up.”

When Nicholas, an AP student, varsity volleyball and track athlete and Eagle Scout, was named salutatorian, his brother Maxwell had just a few words to say: “I saw it coming from miles away.”

Vice President of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce Donna Boeckel, on left, and Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright, on right, with the scholarship recipients. Photo by Kevin Redding

The North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce last week awarded $1,000 scholarships to local high school graduates heading to college to pursue their dreams this fall.

Each of the seven students, Benjamin May, Kira Gresser and Mathew Yonks from Mount Sinai; Alexa Tammone from Comsewogue; Angela Bonafede from Rocky Point; Emma Dell’Aquilla from Miller Place; and John McCarrick from Shoreham-Wading River were winners of the chamber’s highly competitive, districts-wide essay contest. Each was recognized for his or her academic achievements and community service.

“I think sometimes we as a community — the parents and the chambers — need to sit down and stop for a moment to let each and every one of you know that you’re doing a great job,” Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said during an awards ceremony at Don Quijote restaurant in Miller Place June 19. “While you’re in college, know that you have the entire community supporting you as you move forward. You guys soared — you’re shining stars and we look forward to having you as a continued part of the Town of Brookhaven.”

May, who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania to study economics and international relations, wrote in his essay about his experience as an environmental advocate at Mount Sinai High School — where he founded the Environmental Outreach Club. He said he was thrilled to accept the scholarship.

“I knew the competition was really strong for this one, so when I heard back about it, I was very humbled and honored,” May said. “I know the money is going to help me get a college education, so I’m very happy.”

Tammone, who has led several variety shows and programs at Comsewogue to benefit charities, will pursue a degree in music education at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

“[Music] is something I’m very passionate about and I want to share my passion with others — I’m very honored to be recognized,” she said.

Rocky Point’s Bonafede, who will be studying baking and pastry arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island after years in the BOCES culinary arts program, said it was a big relief to hear she’d been chosen.

“Everything I’ve been working toward is finally paying off,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of community service events, like giving food to people in need, car washes, fundraising — I’m excited to be making my big dream come true.”

Dell’Aquilla, a volunteer at Mather Hospital, said, in her essay, taking care of her epileptic brother growing up helped her realize she wanted to study nursing at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

McCarrick, an honors student, athlete, Eagle Scout member, and junior firefighter in the Shoreham-Wading River district, said he will be using his scholarship money to pay for school supplies at SUNY New Paltz, where he will major in mechanical engineering.

While a senior at Mount Sinai, Gresser, who will study human-based law at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, held several fundraisers to help build a water well in Africa for the organization Strides for Africa.

“It’s really nice that there’s something like this because a lot of people do a lot of good and hard work and don’t really get much for it,” Gresser said of the scholarship.

Yonks, who plans to pursue nursing at the University of Buffalo, has been a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and the Eagle Scouts. As a senior, he built garden boxes and planted vegetables that were donated to needy families in local areas.

“I’m just proud to be a member of the community, and I always like to help whenever and wherever needed,” he said.

Donna Boeckel, vice president of the chamber, along with chamber corresponding secretary Carol Genua, sifted through the dozens of essays that poured in from each district. Boeckel said the chamber has spearheaded this contest every year for the last 20 years and raises the money through town fundraisers.

“These recipients had submissions that outshined all the others,” Boeckel said. “We’re very proud of them — they really took it to the next level.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Class of 2017 seniors celebrated graduation day June 25.

Students lined up across the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field to receive their diplomas and toss their caps in celebration of the completion of high school.

Valedictorian Anthony Peraza and salutatorian Kyle Higgins addressed their peers, and other local officials and board of education members bid farewell. Special speaker Tim Sini, Suffolk County’s police commissioner, also shared some words of wisdom with the parting seniors.

Ward Melville's Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

When Ben Brown was 2 years old he’d break windows throwing baseballs, dreaming of being drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Now, the 6-foot, 6-inch Ward Melville pitcher is living that dream. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round on the third and final day of the MLB Amateur Draft.

He watched and waited as the names rolled by. He wasn’t shocked, but the suspense was killing him.

“When I found out, it was such a relief,” Brown said. “I jumped up really high and I gave my mom a big hug. It’s such an incredible blessing.”

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown hurls a pitch from the mound in the Patriots’ 6-0 game three loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on June 4. Photo by Bill Landon

The stress of waiting was almost too much for his mother. She contemplated going to visit her father to take her mind off the stress.

“I’ve been watching this pot too long,” Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown said as she got ready to walk out the door.

Urged to stay, she decided to pull laundry off the line instead, and sat down with her iPad to watch the draft ticker. Moments later, she heard him scream.

“I heard him screaming before I even saw his name pop up,” she said, laughing. “Luckily I was still here. It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball. He did it, and I never doubted he could.”

Brown amassed a 15-3 record over his career as a Patriot, tied for second on the school’s all-time wins list. He went 7-0 during the regular season in his sophomore year, and after a loss in the playoffs, went 3-0 to start his junior year.

He hadn’t given up a single run, but then an unexpected challenge put his resolve to the test.

Brown’s appendix burst, and he needed emergency surgery. He lost 20 pounds during his setback.

“He was very, very sick,” Wilson-Brown said. “He thought he had struggles before that, and to come out even stronger and more determined, I think that’s why we’re here today.”

During his time away from the mound, the strength Wilson-Brown saw in her son is why she said she knows he has what it takes to climb the ranks and make it to the big leagues.

“It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball.”

—Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown

“Dreams do come true,” she said. “This kid has been holding onto that dream for dear life, all of his life, and someone watching as closely as I could, as a parent — he’s a good boy with a good heart and this is so much-deserved.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci saw it, too.

“It was a long road for him and he had to work hard,” he said. “Everybody roots for Ben. He’s just a good kid and he’s done a good job.”

The sight of scouts is nothing new at Ward Melville, so when they came to see Brown, he relished it.

“I think every game I pitch in is a big game, but with the scouts there it made everything intensified,” he said. “Every little mistake was a big mistake, and I had to be on my best all the time. I really liked that.”

Petrucci said he liked how it lit up the rest of the team.

“Ben’s a gamer,” he said, laughing. “Ben’s a competitor. Would he get excited when the scouts were there? Sure. But I think the people that were most excited about having the scouts there were his teammates, because they love Ben.”

The two-year captain follows in the footsteps of Ward Melville draftees Anthony Kay in 2016 and Steve Matz in 2009. He pitched in front of Matz during a training session with Petrucci in seventh grade, before Matz was called up to pitch for the New York Mets. He was 6 feet tall then.

“I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

— Ben Brown

“They’re two really great people, and it’s really cool to be in the same ranks as Anthony Kay and Steven Matz,” Brown said. “We have a phenomenal program, and it’s no surprise guys are getting drafted. Lou has been through it all and he really guided me through this process.”

Petrucci actually first met Brown when he was in his class at Minnesauke Elementary School. After seeing him go 7-0 in his sophomore season, he knew his pitcher was on his way to a standout high school career. He watched Brown top out at 92 mph his senior season and have a strong showing in front of the Phillies brass two weeks before the draft, and he knew success was only a few picks away.

“We knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”

Now it’s only a matter of time before Brown is in the major leagues, the head coach said. As the youngest player picked by the Phillies — born Sept. 9, 1999 — Petrucci noted Brown could pitch three years in the minor leagues and still be a teenager.

“I think his determination and dedication to baseball is what sets him apart from the average high school pitcher,” Petrucci said. “If he signs and forgoes college, he’ll be in the big leagues in five years. No question in my mind.”

Commack’s Jesse Berardi and Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell were also selected by the Phillies this year. Morrell, the second player to win back-to-back Yasterzemski Awards — given to the best player in Suffolk County — was picked in the 35th round. Morrell trained with Brown at Infiniti Performance in Port Jefferson Station.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

“Brian and I are really close,” he said. “He’s such a great kid. We actually joked about getting drafted to the same team, and we didn’t think it would happen.”

Brown has committed to play baseball at Siena College in Albany, but after being drafted, he’s more determined than ever.

“It makes me more motivated to become a better baseball player,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

His mother said she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“This is his dream — How do you take that away from a kid?” Wilson-Brown said. “We couldn’t even consider. The joy in this house that day was something I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that moment.”

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contract. If a player opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years. But Petrucci is already dreaming up Matz or Kay versus Brown scenarios.

“They’re making baseball relevant—it’s nice to see Long Island baseball get the recognition it deserves,” Petrucci said. “To see these kids pursue their dreams and have their dreams unfold right before our very eyes, that’s what you want to see. We all work to see kids realize their dreams, and Ben Brown was the next in line.”

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a 24-2 record and Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. Last week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

“An absolute honor to be drafted by the Phillies today,” Morrell posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of the people who have supported me over my baseball career.”

The feared slugger batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs while scoring 37 runs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. His first loss didn’t come until the Long Island championship game against Wantagh. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Willi had his iPad close by at all times once the draft was underway. He cleaned out his coach’s office at the high school, did chores around the house, and finally, his young sensation’s name came across the screen. He gasped.

“This is awesome,” he shouted.

Willi was supposed to be having a birthday dinner with his family, after foregoing a birthday celebration the night before to attend the player awards dinner, but it had to be put off for at least another night. He immediately picked up the phone to call all the coaches he knew.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

“It was a good birthday present,” Willi said of the back-to-back historic days for Shoreham-Wading River and for his 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander. “With each name that was posted I was keeping tabs. It’s exciting for him and it’s exciting for the program.”

Although Willi said it was expected, he added how interesting it was to see how the draft process works with a Notre Dame University-commit like Morrell, who has almost a full scholarship valued at nearly $300,000, according to Willi. Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

After seeing about five scouts at each game, Willi was waiting with anticipation for that special moment for his senior, but he didn’t expect that to be the case for Morrell, since the hurler has always stayed cool under pressure.

“Brian works his tail off, and he does the right thing,” Willi said. “The first couple times the scouts were out, the guys were a little awestruck, but Brian has always been team-first.”

Morrell had one of his biggest showings in a no-hitter against Bayport-Blue Point April 27. At least five scouts were in the stands to see him nail down 15 strikeouts with three walks while tossing the seven scoreless frames. He topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun. A scout who came from Massachusetts and got caught in traffic, according to Willi, only caught the last inning, though he still got to see Morrell comfortably throwing each pitch at 92 mph late in the game.

“It was good for the scouts to be there and see some of his best stuff,” Willi said. “[Being drafted had] been on his mind all season, but he never let it reflect on his performance or how he treated anyone. He didn’t try to throw 100 mph and not care if he wins the game — he never had that attitude. He always did what he needed to do to win the game. He was never selfish. He never tried to impress. He just wanted to win.”

Scouts were also impressed with his body of work.

Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round. Photo from St. John’s University athletics

Jarred Carrier, New York’s scouting director for Prep Baseball Report, dubbed Morrell New York’s Baseball Player of the Year.

“The 2017 high school season yielded many stellar individual performances across all corners of New York, but one player stood above the rest,” he said. “He delivered a statistically dominant season.”

Despite Morrell’s success, the 10-year coach and three-year varsity leader in no way takes credit for what his player has become.

“One of my coaching philosophies is that a player should be coached by many coaches,” Willi said. “One guy doesn’t have all the answers. There’s different strokes for different folks. Everybody had different body types, different talents, different skills in the game, and I think they should be exposed to many coaches. There’s a couple of things I taught Brian that he can take to the next level, and that makes me proud as a coach.”

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

“It’s sweet,” Willi said immediately upon hearing the news. “It’s really cool. To have coached six years total of varsity including assistant and head coach, I’ve had three players during that time get drafted that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell shows excitement following his two-run home run during a WIldcats win. Photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted by the Pirates and Julio Vega by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a leader on the field,” Willi said of Tyler Osik, who played third base for the Wildcats. “He switched to catcher, which is interesting, because he’s followed the run of his father. He’s one of the Shoreham die-hard baseball kids. He loves the game, puts tons of effort into being the best and he did a good job listening to his coaches. I’m really happy to see his success.”

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft included Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, who was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact, but Morrell is already settling in as part of the Fighting Irish.

“To have that kind of recognition, us coaches are proud of any kind of professional looks that we get,” Willi said. “Brian got the opportunities that many kids dream of. It’s a big decision on what path you’re going to take, but I reassured him whatever path he takes, it’s going to be a fun one. If he keeps working hard he’s going to be successful.”

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