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Shoreham-Wading River

In just its first year, debate team members qualify for state competition

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new debate team sees three members qualify to compete in the state championship at Hofstra University this April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

There’s no arguing that Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new, student-formed debate team is already a huge success. Just ask juniors Andrew Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada.

The two students, along with freshman Jalal Sawas, won the majority of their debates during a qualifying competition at Jericho High School Feb. 10 to advance to the New York State Forensic League championship tournament at Hofstra University in April.

“It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

— Andrew Honold

Among the roughly 20 teams represented within the league, Shoreham-Wading River will be one of only three school districts from Suffolk County.

“Going in, I was terrified — I didn’t know what to expect,” said Honold, who ended up in first place in the junior varsity division by winning all four of his debate sat Jericho, each on the topic of plea bargaining. “That was actually my first debate, too. It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

Rashidzada, who won three of four debates, said the club has been a great asset to him and his eight teammates.

“It gives us kids an outlet to really understand the world around us,” said Rashidzada, whose prior experience in debate outside of the district has helped steer the team. “It allows us to express ourselves and our views, to research and to improve our speaking skills. It’s just been a great experience and I’m really excited to be going to states this year with my friends.”

It was about a year ago, in March 2017, that two then-sophomores — club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick — proposed the idea of a debate team to the board of education. It was quickly and unanimously approved for the 2017-18 school year based on their presentation, where they outlined a plan for their first “pilot” year: They would assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy, compete in practice debates and prepare for competition with other schools “by their senior year.” All but the last portion of their plan has been consistent, having gotten a head start on the competing part.

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team.”

— Declan Beran

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team,” said Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, who added he’s wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year. “Just seeing members of our team compete is really
special. It’s our first year and we’re going to states — it’s exciting. We encourage every grade level of our high school to get involved.”

Beran said the club typically meets two days a week and members review different points for each side of a topic, practice counterarguments, and in the week leading up to a debate, face off against each other. Based on that practice run, other students will evaluate their presentation and suggest ways to improve it. The students said they learn analytical and public-speaking skills, hone their speech-writing abilities and have a chance to regularly practice teamwork and collaboration.

In December, the team’s topic was on whether developing countries should provide developmental assistance to other developing countries. The teams get one to two months to fully research topics before debating. For the state competition, the students will research and discuss universal basic income, typically described as a new kind of welfare regime in which all citizens of a country receive a regular, livable and unconditional sum of money, from the government.

“That was something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Honold said. “And I’m still learning, but it’s a really interesting topic. It’s great to know about and debate, because it’s something that’s probably going to affect us in the future.”

Parents also speak of concerns of notification of recent school threat

Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education meeting March 6, 11th grader Sarah Acerra took to the podium and spoke up in light of the recent Florida tragedy.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Sarah Acerra took to the podium during a recent board of education meeting to voice her concerns over school safety. Photo by Kevin Redding

“What is being done to make us students feel more safe?” Acerra asked board members.

The junior said she recalled a threat made by a student last year — Thursday, March 16, 2017 — via text message that “something might occur” at the high school. The student who sent the text was quickly identified and dealt with by the district and plans were put in place for locker and school bag searches the following school day. But Acerra, who said many of her peers stayed home upon hearing about the threat, did not feel safe when she arrived back at the high school the next day.

“I walked into school a little before 7 that morning — I remember it perfectly because nobody checked my bag and none of my friends’ bags were checked either,” she said. “So the rest of the day was very uneasy for all of us because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Even though the kid had been caught, there was no guarantee that there wasn’t anybody else involved with the threat.”

Another high school junior, Kathleen Loscalzo, spoke of her anxiety when it comes to who is able to enter the buildings. Loscalzo said she saw a former student, who moved to another state in seventh grade, in one of her classes this year. When asked if she recently moved back to Shoreham, the former student said, “No, I was visiting and they just let me in.”

“If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

— Kathleen Loscalzo

Loscalzo raised concerns over the student’s identification cards, which she said are not especially needed for anything except buying lunch in the cafeteria.

“I know many other schools have IDs they have to wear like a lanyard,” Loscalzo said. “If someone my age who doesn’t go to school here just put on a backpack and walked in with everybody else, there would be no way [of knowing].”

On the subject of social media threats, Jennifer Donnelly, a mother of a ninth-grader in the district, addressed a vague email sent out to parents by Poole on March 4 regarding a threat, which, according to the letter, was “investigated with the support of law enforcement who deemed the threat to not be criminal” and appropriate disciplinary actions were made.

“A lot of people, myself included, were really uncomfortable sending my kids to school after that,” Donnelly said asking for more clarification in these emergency emails. “There was nothing about who this threat was from, what the threat was, what the level of the threat was, what was done … And, with security being put in place, I feel like, ‘Well, what’s going to happen immediately tomorrow if someone comes through the door?’”

Superintendent Gerard Poole thanked both students and Donnelly for weighing in and assured them that the district has been reviewing and working toward strengthening its security and safety measures since before the Parkland, Florida shooting.

Shoreham-Wading River high school junior Kathleen Loscalzo said a former student was able to enter the building and visit a class of hers without being asked who she was upon entering the highs school. Photo by Kevin Redding

Frequent evacuation, lockdown and lockout drills currently take place throughout the year, and a combined $2 million investment over the past few has included security hardware additions and infrastructure improvements, like burglar alarm systems, enhanced video monitoring, elementary vestibules and School Active Violence Emergency (SAVE) hotlines installed in each building. Poole outlined to parents and students in attendance future projects to beef up security. These include:

  • Adding security guards in the high school; the district’s security supervisor said of arming them, “I think there’s a long laundry list of items that should be discussed in detail surrounding that — a legal piece, a training piece, a tactical piece. I know there’s an urgency to do something, but there’s a lot that needs to be done first.”
  • The construction of a high school vestibule to begin this spring with projected completion in summer 2020; the middle school vestibule will be completed this summer.
  • The installation of a Raptor Visitor Management System in all buildings this spring, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases.
  • The implementation of ballistic security film designed to prevent glass from shattering on impact and delay an intruder’s entry.
  • The consideration of metal detectors in the schools.

The district also recently completed a security audit and developed a “multi-pronged plan” for strong enhancement and has in place a recently-hired security consultant firm — Covert Operations — to enhance its plans, drills and overall preparedness in an emergency situation. The firm regularly reviews and improves security and safety measures.

“We are certainly in a strong position to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors,” Poole said.

Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School students will be able to leave the building for 17 minutes and head to the athletic field to reflect on the Florida school shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

Ward Melville's relay team comes in first place in 200 medley

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser pushes his way through the 100-yard breaststroke. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Junior Jason Louser has a reason to love his home pool a little more these days. The Shoreham-Wading River swimmer took home two first-place finishes in the state championships at Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow March 3. Louser was one of three two-time individual state champions, earning co-most outstanding swimmer award honors and All-American nods in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser (black trunks) start the 200-yard individual medley just ahead of Ward Melville’s David He (in front on left). Photo by Bill Landon

“He has so much potential, and what we’ve seen today is just the tip of the iceberg,” Louser’s coach Kate Canard said. “He’s very humble and he’s very kind, so that speaks volumes. When he wins, he’s a nice person.”

Louser touched the wall in the 100 breaststroke in 55.07 seconds, just ahead of Hauppauge’s Casey Jackson, who finished in 55.19. Ward Melville’s David He, Louser’s to challenger throughout the weekend, came in third in 56.59.

Trailing the majority of the 200 individual medley, Louser made a strong push in the final 25 yard to stop the clock in a personal best 1:48.20 to finish just shy of breaking Just Plaschka of Hauppauge’s 2014 record (1:47.83). Ward Melville’s David He was second in 1:51.13.

“I wasn’t expecting to set a state record, but I knew that to win that event I had to go out faster, because [Ward Melvill’e David] He is a better backstroker than I am,” Louser said. “I’m a breaststroker, and that definitely helps, but I could feel [He] on my feet.”

Ward Melville’s Luka Zuric competes in the 100-yard butterfly. Photo by Bill Landon

He redeemed his second and third-place finishes by racing in the first-place 200 medley relay with Ryan Kaplan, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubik. The quartet tripped the timer at 1:33.79. Their performance just missed the state record by 37 hundredths of a second set last year by St. Anthony’s.

“It wasn’t a great split,” said He, who raced the second leg, or breaststroke. “I wasn’t really thinking, because there was such an adrenaline rush running through me. So I kept on moving my hands trying to get to the wall as soon as possible.”

Zuric, who swam the third leg, got a little off pace after forgetting to breathe on his first lap. Kubik, the team’s anchor, made up for lost time to finish just ahead of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (1:34.03), even though he too forgot to breathe.

“I was a little off my split [time] from yesterday, but I still felt,” Kubik said. “I had to catch up from third, and I didn’t take a single breath becuase I was so excited.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was confident in his relay team, knowing its second-half abilities. He was happy to see his seniors pull out a win in their final meet.

Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan races in his leg of the 200-yard medley relay. Photo by Bill Landon

“I knew a couple of the other schools had a stronger backstroker and breaststroker combination, Hauppauge in particular, but I knew our second half was really, really strong,” Gordon said. “Luca and Cameron swam unbelievable. I was happy because we were ahead of our pace yesterday. I had so much faith in these guys.”

Zuric finished third in the 100 butterfly (50.26) and Comsewogue sophomore Jake Vecchio ended the race in fifth (51.15). Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr made it to third in the 100 backstroke (50.49) and Zuric placed sixth (51.55). The Northport 300 freestyle reay team of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey, Ethan Greenfield and Dylan Karpf claimed sixth place in 1:27.33. These points helped Section XI finish the meet with 764.5 overall points, well ahead of second-place Section VIII, which had 572.5

Louser has his sights set a little higher for his senior sesaon, especially in individual medley, being he was so close to breaking the state record.

“I have another year to go for that,” he said, laughing.

The junior is one of three Top 5 returnees in his two events combined. His head coach is looking forward to seeing what her swimmer can do next.

“He’s so dedicated to the sport, and so are his parents — he comes here to East Meadow every day for practice,” Canard said. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser stands atop the 200-yard individual medley podium. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan, David He, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubic stand at the top of the podium as the 200-yard medley relay champions. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser swims his way to a first-place Suffolk County finish in the 200-yard individual medley. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Because there’s no pool at Shoreham-Wading River, junior Jason Louser commutes over an hour to his practice pool in Eisenhower Park. That level of commitment paid off Saturday where the swimmer took a photo first in the 200-yard individual medley at the county championship, stopping the clock at 1 minute, 50.63 seconds, just two seconds ahead of second-place finisher David He of Ward Melville.

Northport’s Ethan Greenfield upset Ward Melville when he finished first in the 50-yard freestyle. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s definitely good to see that all of the hard work has paid off — it gives me more confidence and a little less stress,” said Louser, who shaved nearly six seconds off his personal best at Hauppauge High School’s pool Feb. 15. “The pool in Eisenhower Park is an hour drive from where I live, so it’s a big commitment. Trying to get to practice and all of the meets at the same time it can be a little challenging.”

An upset came in the 50 freestyle, which pitted Northport’s Ethan Greenfield against Ward Melville’s Nick Bogush, who holds the fastest time in the county at this distance. Greenfield tripped the timer at 21.89, thirteen one hundredths of a second ahead of Bogush.

Northport head coach Drew Modrov said he wasn’t expecting that kind of performance from Greenfield.

“I was surprised,” he said. “Ethan came in as the underdog, and I think he was a little surprised [knowing the time differences between them]. He just showed up on race day and won it.”

Bogush said he felt fatigued going in, but credited his challenger’s changes.

“He was very swift,” Bogush said of Greenfield. “But I’m going to come back to states and do even better. I’ll give it my best. so we’ll see what happens.”

Ward Melville’s David He helped the Patriots take gold in the 400 and 200 relays. Photo by Bill Landon

Bogush came back with a vengeance though, earning a first-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay with teammates Kevin Xu, David He and Cameron Kubik. The team finished 31 hundreths of a second ahead of Northport’s relay, led by Greenfield. The Patriots finished the event in 1:27.03. Northport’s quartet also consisted of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey and Dylan Karpf.

“Every day in practice, I try to race other people who are specialist in their event, against freestylers and backstrokers, it gives me better reach,” He said. “I’m a 400 individual medley competitor in club swimming, so I have to train in every event every day.”

Ward Melville’s foursome also held off Northport in the 400 freestyle relay, with a best time of 3:11.87, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. The Patriot’s 200 medley team was edged out by Half Hollow Hills by 0.14 seconds.

Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr (100 backstroke, 51.26) and Jack Casey (100 breaststroke, 55.34) also came in first. Casey’s time was an All-American automatic standard.

The swimmers will compete in the state championships at a familiar venue for Louser, at Nassau County Aquatic Center March 2-3.

Northport's Isaiah Claiborne leads the 1,000-meter run pack. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just when Kiera Hughes thought she couldn’t get any better, she did.

The Ward Melville condnior hurdler raced 55 meters in a blazing 8.5 seconds, finishing in the top spot at the state qualifier Feb. 12. Her time on the Suffolk County Community College Brentwood track marked her third personal best of the season and the second time she’s beaten her own school record.

Ward Melville hurdler Kiera Hughes beaming with joy following her new personal record and first-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s a huge improvement,” she said, unable to control her excitement and glee. “I’m over the moon. I just wanted to go to states, that’s my main goal. I wanted to be the best I can be, and I was.”

She had knocked down the 2003 record (8.74) with a time of 8.63 and shaved that down to 8.6 at the league championship last month.

Her Patriots teammates finished second in 4×800 relay with a time of 9:33.38.

Ward Melville seniors Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rutt and Sam Sturgess, and sophomore Elizabeth Radke joined Hughes in qualifying to compete in the state championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island March 3.

Although the quartet competed in the 4×400 at the Millrose Games on Feb. 3 and Suffolk County championship Feb. 4, Ward Melville stretched the distance because head coach Tom Youngs said the group is strong at running longer distances, being that all four runners take part in the cross country season.

“We feel that we have a better chance of going after a state title in the 4×800 as opposed the 4×400,” Youngs said. “Last year we did the double at Millrose Games, but that spread our kids a little too thin, so we want to focus more on just a single event, which is what we did.”

Gaedje who runs the final leg in both relays, said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Northport’s Dan O’Connor and Sean Ryan finish behind one another in the 3,200-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

“I felt a little heavy throughout,” she said. “It wasn’t my best, but I’m happy that we made states and hopefully we can do better there.”

Northport swept the top two positions in the boy’s 3,200 run, where Dan O’Connor edged teammate Sean Ryan by just over a second, clocking in at 9:37.28. The Tigers placed first in the 4×800 relay led by seniors O’Connor, Claiborne brothers Isaiah and Elijah, and sophomore Thomas Fodor, who tripped the clock at 8:08.99. Elijah Claiborne finished first in the 1,600 with a time of 4:20.78, while his brother finished in the top spot in the 1,000 with a time of 2:32.45. Ward Melville’s Danny Ryan came in third in 2:36.31 in the 1,000, and his Patriots teammate Eric Zulkofske placed second in the 1,600 just hundredths of a second behind Claiborn with a 4:20.95 finish.

Untouchable in the boys high jump was Babylon’s Vladislav Cullinane, who cleared the bar at 6 feet, 9 inches, but Shoreham-Wading River senior Richard Casazza qualified for states with a second-place jump of 6 feet, 6 inches, as did Kings Park’s Michael Perez, who cleanly cleared 6 feet, 2 inches.

Hauppauge’s Nick Crociata, the fastest returner from last season’s state championship 600 race, qualified with a 1:22.39 second victory at the event. Huntington’s Jonathan Smith finished the event in third place with a time of 1:23.08. Mount Sinai’s Kenneth Wei came in a close second in three events. He competed the 55 hurdles two hundredths of a second behind the first-place runner, crossing the line in 7.58, and .25 inches behind first in the long jump, with a leap of 21 feet, 9 inches. Wei finished the triple jump tied with Riverhead’s Kian martelli for second, with 43 feet, 10 inches.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee competes in the 1,000-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River phenom Katherine Lee was at the top of her field in the 1,000, finishing with ease. The senior dashed across the finish line in 2:52.58, the fastest time on Long Island this season, according to milesplit.com. Seven seconds behind her was freshman Kaitlyn Chandrika of Mount Sinai, who finished in 2:59.41, just getting past Gabby Schneider of Smithtown East, who crossed the finish line in 2:59.95.

Lee, who has yet to win an indoor state title, said the accolades are great, but to her, it’s all about getting ready for making a collegiate debut at Georgetown University.

“I’m looking for personal records — I just want to better myself, and if a state title comes with that it’s great,” she said. “I’m so excited about attending school in the fall that I have a countdown clock on my phone marked for Aug. 19.”

In her last appearance on the Suffolk indoor track, Lee reflected on all the memories she made over the last five years.

“Probably my fondest memory here is when we won the small school county championship,” she said. “So competing here is a bittersweet goodbye. The plan for this race was to go out hard and see what happens, and although I didn’t quite run the time I wanted in every sector, I’m in good shape. With someone on my back … I can go a little faster.”

This version corrects the spelling of the Claiborn brothers’ last name.

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Albert G. Prodell Middle School students study abroad with Madrid 2017 classmates. Photo from Marc Dinowitz

By Kevin Redding

A total 3,521 miles separates Shoreham-Wading River and Madrid, Spain, but thanks to a long-running school program, the two regions couldn’t be closer.

Every February since 1983, a pack of eighth-graders studying Spanish at Albert G. Prodell Middle School travel to Madrid for an immersive and unforgettable exchange program. Nineteen students will embark on the 35th annual trip Feb. 9, during which they will be matched with host families, attend school at IES Santamarca and tour the expansive city for two weeks — relying on and strengthening their foreign language skills along the way. In April, following tradition, the school will welcome students from the Madrid school, who stay with their corresponding host families in Shoreham and absorb American culture through the lens of Long Island. Although the program’s locations have remained the same for nearly four decades, the itineraries of the trips are always unique — being based on the parents and students involved.

Shoreham, the only public school district in the nation with this kind of program, has held onto it against several odds. Even in 1991, in the midst of the Gulf War when people were afraid to travel, enough support for the program existed to send four students abroad.

“It’s so deeply rooted in the community — I’m so proud,” said Barbara Gaias, who started the program after being hired as a Spanish teacher at the middle school in 1981, and maintains her involvement even in retirement. “Now we have students going whose parents went when they were younger. People say they want to take Spanish instead of French because they know they have the chance to go to Spain. Their Spanish skills are just unbelievable upon returning.”

Throughout the trip, Gaias said Shoreham students are expected to make orders while in restaurants and regularly communicate with strangers.

“We try to put them in uncomfortable situations — we want them to be able to use their language ability,” she said. “When they come back, the kids are so much better, particularly in listening skills. As a result of the trip, they really serve as leaders not just in Spanish class, but in the school. They’re junior ambassadors.”

Marc Dinowitz, whose daughter Jillian went on the trip in 2014, volunteered as coordinator of the exchange program in June 2017. Together, with a band of parents, he spearheaded fundraising efforts to pay for the events that take place during the two weeks in April. This year, 20 Madrid students will be visiting Shoreham. In past years, Shoreham’s fundraising efforts have gone toward providing the visiting students with a tour of the Montauk Lighthouse and museum, a ride on a water taxi around the Statue of Liberty and tickets to a New York Yankees baseball game.

The trip to Spain is paid for by each individual participant. Dinowitz and four chaperones will be joining the Shoreham students this year.

“It’s all worth it for me to watch the kids’ transformation by the end of the program,” Dinowitz said. “And getting to see them integrate into those families and then having the other kids come back and become part of our families — these are lifelong bonds and friendships.”

Kim DiPaola, a 1993 Shoreham graduate, said she had an incredible experience when she took part in the program, and was immediately supportive when her daughter, Isabella, expressed interest in going this year.

“I hope that she more or less experiences what I did,” DiPaola said. “I learned so much about Madrid’s culture, and just got to experience such a different way of life.”

Isabella said she’s been geared up to go to Madrid for a while now, between her mother’s experience there and seeing some friends’ pictures of their trip from previous years on social media.

“I’ve been looking forward to it since I was in sixth grade,” Isabella said. “I’ve honestly never been more excited for something in my life.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club members get excited about positivity week. Photo from Rose Honold

A student-run club at Shoreham-Wading River High School that aims to create a safe space for LGBT students and supporters recently got funds to expand its mission.

The Gay-Straight Alliance, launched in the 2014-15 school year as a localized version of a nationwide
program, received a $500 grant from the Long Island Language Arts Council (LILAC) to purchase books promoting awareness and compassion for people who are different. The yet-to-be-selected books will address challenges that gay and transgender youths face in the educational system and will be used by club members for group discussions and a large project during the club’s annual Positivity Week events in April. During the week, the club, which is made up of 20 members with a 50/50 balance of gay and straight students, extends its reach to educate other students in an effort to help others be more inclusive.

“We can expose our members to diverse experiences to bridge the empathy gap and foster acceptance and understanding for diverse individuals.”

— Alana Philcox

The club’s co-advisors — English teachers Alana Philcox and Edward Storck — developed the idea for the books and wrote a proposal to LILAC to be considered for its annual grant.

“As English teachers, we understand the critical role that literature can have in starting a dialogue,” Philcox said. “By integrating bibliotherapeutic strategies into instruction and selecting texts with authentic depictions, we can expose our members to diverse experiences to bridge the empathy gap and foster acceptance and understanding for diverse individuals.”

Philcox and Storck said they are still in the process of choosing books depending on the students’ interests, as the texts will be matched to the needs of individual club members. The teachers said they hope the books provide students with protagonists and characters that help he or she better understand themselves.

“We’re hopeful that this will give students empathy as it relates to all diversity,” Philcox and Storck said in an email.

The district’s Gay-Straight Alliance was formed after LGBT students and their friends said they felt there wasn’t an outlet to express themselves in school. When the club was established in Shoreham-Wading River, it had already been successful in multiple districts across the county, including Riverhead and Mattituck.

Wherever you look, there will be opposition, but also, there’s a lot of beauty and acceptance among people.”

— Rose Honold

“Generally, we talk about ways to better our school in the ways of acceptance of the LGBT community,” said Rose Honold, a Shoreham senior who became president of the club as a sophomore. As a lesbian, Honold said she was searching for her place in the school, and found it immediately upon joining the club. “In Shoreham, it’s very mixed. Wherever you look, there will be opposition, but also, there’s a lot of beauty and acceptance among people. The administration especially has been wonderful in terms of acceptance towards the students. The only thing that I hope to change is the way some of the other students treat students in the club.”

Honald said she would like the inclusive books to one day be part of the school’s regular English curriculum.

Her friend Alyssa Hernandez, who was a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance as a junior in 2016, said after Honold came out to her, she joined the club to “learn more about how to be a good, supportive friend.”

“I had other friends in the group that were gay too, and I just wanted to be able to understand them more, because I didn’t know a lot,” she said. “In high school, you only know what you see on TV. For the most part, Shoreham-Wading River is a really good district when it comes to being accepted for who you are.”

On the Gay-Straight Alliance and its recent grant, district Superintendent Gerard Poole said he likes how the club supports a well-rounded education.

“[The club] prepares students for the world around them,” he said. “[It teaches] tolerance, perspective, advocacy and collaboration. I hope it promotes peace in their lives and in our schools and communities.”

The majority of Shoreham-Wading River residents at the Feb. 13 meeting leaned toward preserving the historic Briarcliff Elementary School building. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”