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Sports

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.”

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Donald Trump and now Aaron Boone? What’s going on?

A well-known businessman, who spent considerable time on TV after he had made his money, was elected president — in case you’ve been living in a hole somewhere for the last year or so — despite not having any experience whatsoever as a politician.

Then, recently, the New York Yankees, who expect a championship every year and aren’t fond of learning curves, went out and hired someone whose playing claim to fame as a Yankee came with one swing 14 years ago. After his playing career ended, Boone entered the broadcast booth where he talked about the game.

Like Trump, Boone was beamed into the leaving rooms of those who paused to watch the program that featured him.

And now, like Trump, Boone must do some quick on-the-job training, becoming a modern-day manager.

Now, I don’t expect Boone to attack other players, managers or umpires on Twitter, the way the president has done when he unloads written salvos against anyone who dares to defy or annoy him.

What I’m wondering, though, is how did these men get their jobs? Since when is experience doing a high profile job no longer necessary? What made Trump and Boone the choice of the Electoral College and the best candidate to make the Yankees greater again, respectively? These Yankees, after all, were surprisingly great this year, falling one game short of the fall classic.

One word may answer that question: television. Somehow we have gone from the comical notion, years ago that “I’m not a doctor, I play one on TV,” to the reality of “I know better because I seem that way on TV.”

Long ago, in 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were running for president, TV helped sway voters, particularly those who watched an important debate. So, I suppose, it seems like a logical extension to imagine that TV helped fast track the careers of people who spent time sharing their thoughts, tag lines and observations with us through that same medium.

Sports and reality TV have commonalities. A sport is the ultimate live, unscripted event, where people offer off-the-cuff thoughts and analyses on fluid action. Each game and each moment can bring the unexpected — a triple play, an inside-the-park home run or a hidden-ball trick — that requires an instant reaction.

Similarly, albeit in a different way, the reality TV that brought Trump to the top of the political heap gave him a chance to respond to changing situations, offering a cutting analysis of the potential, or lack thereof, for people on his show.

While viewers watch these familiar faces and hear their voices, people can become convinced of the wisdom and abilities of these TV stars who become spokespersons and champions for their own brands.

So, does Trump offer any insight into Boone? The new Yankees manager may find that second-guessing other people is much easier than making decisions himself and working as a part, or a leader, of a team.

Trump has bristled at all the second-guessers. While he’s familiar with the media scrutiny, Boone, too, may find it irritating that so many other New Yorkers are absolutely sure they know better when it comes to in-game decisions that affect the outcome of a Yankees contest.

Perhaps what Boone and Trump teach us is that selling your ideas or yourself on TV has become a replacement for experience. TV experience has become a training ground for those selling their ideas to the huddled masses yearning for a chance to cheer.

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I wanted Dustin Fowler to succeed next year. In case you missed it, he’s the kid who came up from the New York Yankees minor league baseball system who ran into a low wall at Chicago White Sox and hurt his knee, ending his season and, as it turns out, his Yankees career before it began.

Fowler was slated to lead off the second inning of his first major league game, but, instead, was carted from the field to receive emergency medical attention.

It’s somewhere between incredibly difficult and impossible to make the major leagues and yet Fowler was good enough to be on the field.

And then, like the real person Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who was featured in the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams,” Fowler got within inches of holding a bat and facing major league pitching, when the season ended for him.

Fowler hasn’t left baseball but, as of this week, he’s no longer on the team he imagined joining. In need of starting pitching for this stretch run from now until October, the Yankees traded him as a part of a package to get Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s.

Now, I want the Yankees to win and Fowler was a chip the team could trade to get a talent who could pitch more than five innings, and who might win important games in October.

And yet when Fowler left the Chicago field, I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan who hoped to support him a second time if and when he got another opportunity — and the Yankees needed him.

He still may get his chance with Oakland. After all, if he was good enough before his injury, he may ride the same determination and skill on the long road back to the majors.

Over before it started, Fowler’s Yankee career will feel like an unopened or undelivered present, shipped somewhere else.

Fowler was our boy. He was drafted in the 18th round in 2013 and had worked his way up to the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. In the statistics for his career, there is a “1” next to the number of games he played in 2017 with the Yankees, along with “zeros” all the way through every other column. No doubles, triples, home runs or runs batted in for this Yankee apparition.

This is the time of year when baseball general managers have to decide between the present and the future. What are they willing to give up in an uncertain future for a present that may be less of an unknown?

Will the A’s and now Yankees pitcher Gray be worth the price of sentiment if he wins important games down the stretch and into the playoffs?

Derek Jeter used to remain unflappable as teammates wandered on and off his team, often shrugging off questions while indicating he knew it was a business.

If that business does well, do we care that some kid who may or may not have amounted to much for our team is now playing for someone else after bouncing back from adversity?

Fowler will be the one who made it to the team, only to have a freak type of baseball interference prevent him from fulfilling his rise from Yankees prospect to Yankees player.

The A’s and their fans will now pick up the Fowler narrative, making him a part of their lore and history. No matter how things pan out, Yankee fans can wish him the best even as we wonder what that might have been as a part of the New York narrative.

The Port Jefferson girls' basketball team experiences the thrill of winning the school's first-ever Class C Long Island championship title. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

A special class of seniors is leaving behind an unprecedented run of success at Port Jefferson High School.

Jackie Brown, Courtney Lewis, Jillian Colucci, Brian Mark and Corinne Scannell are just some of the athletes that have helped put the school back on the map in a variety of sports over their respective high school careers.

Jackie Brown. File photo by Bill Landon

“These seniors would be starting players at larger schools and on larger teams,” Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said. “They’re just great athletic talents in their sports regardless of the size of a school. They’d play anywhere.”

Brown, who played field hockey, softball and basketball at Port Jeff, is committed to play field hockey at Adelphi University. She was All-Conference as a freshman, All-County as a sophomore, and All-State and All-Tournament as well as a captain her junior and senior seasons. She helped lead the Royals to the county finals in 2016, and graduated as Long Island’s all-time leading scorer in field hockey. She was also a four-time New York State Public High School Athletic Association scholar athlete in all three sports.

“Most of us seniors are two-sport or three-sport athletes, which makes us so diverse,” Brown said. “We all use skills from one sport to be successful in another. I, for instance, use my field hockey vision to better see the basketball court. We’re also passionate, and give 100 percent and work hard.”

Lewis reached the 2,000 career point plateau last basketball season, and led the team to Suffolk County and Long Island titles, as well as the program’s first regional win and state finals appearance. She became the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach the career milestone. She will be playing for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this winter.

Courtney Lewis. File photo by Bill Landon

Colucci was a standout soccer player, and also competed on the basketball team. She led Long Island in goals scored her junior year and propelled the soccer team to the state finals the last three years. The Royals brought home back-to-back Class C state championships in 2015 and 2016. She also holds the record at Port Jefferson for career goals (105) and assists (62). She will be taking her talents to Marist College this fall.

“There is nothing better than finding success in doing something you love,” Colucci said. “The best part is that it was all so unexpected. It felt really special to bring attention to the school, and the community supported us every step of the way.”

She said while she was always humbled by the attention, at times she felt embarrassed, because to her, it was about the team.

“We all experienced success because we’re all talented athletes with the same drive and passion,” she said. “Since Port Jeff is so small, we’re not just teammates, we’re friends.”

Her brothers, parents, aunts and uncles were all Royals, and Colucci said she’s proud to be able to carry on their legacy.

Mark, another three-sport standout — in football, lacrosse and basketball — helped each of his teams reach new heights. Despite the lacrosse program being just three years old, it’s made the playoffs every year, and the football team achieved its best record in the last six years during his senior season.

Jillian Colucci. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“While the program still isn’t on the same level as some of the other top schools, I’m confident that the program is heading in the right direction,” he said, reinforcing the fact that the bond and community support played a big part in the rise. “Our group of seniors — both boys and girls — has always been really ambitious in the goals we’ve set for ourselves athletically.”

Turner saw it, too.

“He was constantly putting himself out there, he was always in the wight room and going above and beyond to do something to improve his game,” she said.

Mark said he hopes he and the other seniors made an impact on the younger generations of athletes.

“I know that a lot of us took pride in representing our school well and providing a good example for the younger kids in our community,” he said. “We know that we were once those kids and remember how we idolized the varsity players so seeing younger kids in the stands watching us always gave us a little extra motivation.”

Brian Mark. File photo by Bill Landon

Scannell, who is headed to Wake Forest University in North Carolina, has not committed to playing a sport. She was a defender for the state championship-winning soccer team and helped the basketball squad to the state finals. Her family was also instrumental in paving the way for the first varsity lacrosse team. After several failed attempts to launch a program at Port Jeff, the team competed for the first time this year, narrowly missing the playoffs by one win.

“My dad was a big proponent — it started in my backyard,” she said of her dad who coached youth lacrosse. “The fact that we can pave the way, it’s nice we can give others the opportunity to play. They can color in the lines we drew this season.”

Turner lauded the athletes not only for their skills, but also because “they’re just great kids.”

“They have such good values and I think those values they hold are what make them great athletes,” Turner said. “They come from great families, they’re committed, they put the team first, they’re always willing to sacrifice, they’re dedicated, and that’s in all facets of their life.”

One instance in particular Turner recalled was when the girls’ basketball team was upstate competing for the state championship. She said, although Scannell didn’t want everyone to know about it, if the team had lost in the semifinals, the 2017 class president was going to travel home to compete in a half marathon to raise funds for children with cancer on the day of the finals. She was frequently caught with Brown, the vice president, hosting bake sales or raising money for a charity or school event.

Corinne Scannell. File photo by Andrew Wakefield

The athletic director said Colucci was always in her office asking how she could earn more community service hours. Colucci won the Butch Dellecave award for her dedication to athletics and academics, coupled with completing 160 hours of community service. Mark won the Golden Eleven Award, which is presented to the top 11 academic scholars in Suffolk County, and the LaBue Award, which is presented to the top scholar-athlete is Suffolk County football.

“They put everybody else before themselves, they’re all going to great schools, and they’re mature, great kids,” Turner said. “And most of all, they grew with the kids in their class. They learned from each other and acted as role models to each other. Those values and bonds became stronger, and there’s nothing I would change about them. I feel I got so lucky to step in when I did [as athletic director] even just to know these kids.”

Scannell said she agreed the bond the girls created playing together for so long was crucial to achieving every milestone.

“Playing together at such a young age, especially with soccer, we knew how someone was going to touch the ball, who was going to send a long ball, when someone would pass, and it’s not just knowing the soccer or basketball style, but knowing each other’s personality and how their thinking goes,” she said. “It takes a history to understand. Our relationships made it so strong, but we all also wanted it. As long as you love what you’re doing that’s the most important thing.”

Cougars celebrate a three run standup double to tie the game at four

Athletic success was contagious on the North Shore this spring.

We boasted 13 boys lacrosse, 11 baseball, eight boys tennis, 13 girls lacrosse and 11 softball squads in the playoffs this season. Local teams like Comsewogue boys lacrosse, Ward Melville baseball, Ward Melville boys tennis, Smithtown East girls lacrosse and Walt Whitman softball reached the semifinals. Seven of those 56 postseason qualifiers went on to be crowned Suffolk County champions, including the Commack baseball team, which grabbed the program’s first title in 20 years, and Mount Sinai’s softball team, which won its third straight county final.

Ward Melville boys lacrosse and the girls lacrosse teams from Mount Sinai and Middle Country all nabbed Long Island championship titles, and all three won their state semifinal games. The Patriots and Mustangs won state titles. And after the Middle Country Mad Dogs won the program’s first county, Long Island and state semifinal games, the girls narrowly lost in overtime, after the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse recruit and New York’s new all-time leading scorer Jamie Ortega netted the equalizer with just 1:37 left in regulation.

Districts like Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River and Ward Melville have been dominating team and individual sports, creating powerhouse programs. Besides posting playoff teams in nearly every sport, Shoreham-Wading River junior Katherine Lee won a myriad of titles across the track and field season. She became a part of history when she and three other teammates swept the top three spots in the 3,000-meter state qualifier run, and placed second in the state with a new personal best.

Port Jefferson sophomore Shane DeVincenzo placed sixth overall and fifth in the Federation at the state golf tournament. Northport track and field’s 4×800 relay team placed first in the state and Federation finals, and Huntington’s Lawrence Leake placed third in the state track and field finals in the 400 high hurdles. His teammate Kyree Johnson won a state title in the 400 dash and third in the long jump, and led the Blue Devils to win the Federation team title, toppling every public, private and parochial high school in New York.

A load of other talented track and field standouts across our schools placed in the county finals and state qualifier meets. We’ve seen more and more talent across every team and individual sport with each season, and our schools continue to sneak into national rankings, perhaps creating budding dynasties for years to come.

With the end of another successful season, we want to recognize all the hard work and dedication put in by our student-athletes, many of whom excel to a similar level inside the classroom, and their coaches who help lead the way. Every student needs some guidance, and it’s clear guidance from coaches this season helped bring these athletes great success.

To overcome any kind of competition, students spend years learning their chosen sport or sports, practicing skills and developing their physical fitness. It takes a lot of patience and positive thinking to not give up at one loss or the next, and trust that the years of sacrifice will pay off. We’re proud to have covered those wrapping up their high school careers who have represented our six paper’s various coverage areas with class and pride, and we look forward to seeing what the returners can do next year. Congratulations, and keep up the good work.

Heirloom tomatoes are grown from the seed of the previous generation. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Sometimes when we buy seeds or plants there will be terms listed on the label or packaging that tell us that plants are raised in a certain way or have certain characteristics. Many gardeners will seek out special types of plants, such as heirloom or hybrid. What do these terms mean and how can the gardener use them to his or her best advantage?

Heirloom plants

Virtually all veggies are available in the form of heirloom seeds including green beans. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Each autumn when I was a kid, my father used to select the best tomatoes he had grown the past summer and save the seeds. He’d remove them from the tomato and dry them on a paper towel. Come spring, he’d plant the seeds to get the new generation of tomatoes. He didn’t use the term then, but they were what was known as heirloom plants. Heirloom plants are ones grown from seed openly pollinated and produced by the parent plant. In general, heirloom plants breed true to the parent. We generally think of heirloom plants in terms of tomatoes, but the term refers to any older varieties of plants, generally passed down through the generations.

Hybrids

Hybrids are crosses between two different varieties of a plant in an attempt to get the best qualities of both. Seeds from hybrid plants do not breed true, so saving them for future generations is not really an option. Gardeners therefore must buy the hybrid seeds (or plants grown from them by plant breeders) each year.

Sports

Sports are unexpected mutations of a plant. Saving the seeds from sports is iffy at best. The seeds might not be viable, could produce the new characteristics or could produce the original plant. Generally, if a sport has desirable qualities, like an apple tree with a branch that produces larger, sweeter apples, the plant is reproduced vegetatively by cuttings since cuttings will breed true.

GMOs

GMOs are genetically modified organisms. A scientist in a laboratory has taken genes from one organism and added it to another. The foreign genes could come from any type of organism, other plants or even animals. Supporters of GMOs say that the resulting product is safe and has superior qualities, such as it may be more disease resistant, have a longer shelf life or the plant may produce a heavier crop. Opponents are concerned about unexpected consequences — is the product safe? What are the long-term results? You may see products in the supermarket marked non-GMO because of these concerns. Legislation passed last summer in the U.S. will require foods with GMOs to be labeled. Some foods that have been genetically modified include soybeans, corn and tomatoes.

Organic gardening

Organic gardening refers to any plant — heirloom, hybrid, sport or GMO — raised without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic gardeners use compost or other nonchemical fertilizers like compost tea, bone meal, holly tone, etc. To avoid pesticides, organic gardeners will sometimes hand pick pests like slugs, encourage birds to nest in the garden (to eat insects) and use companion planting, for example, surround tulips with daffodils, to keep the squirrels away. For farms to be certified organic, chemical pesticides and fertilizers cannot be used on the land for a number of years before the beginning of organic gardening.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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We have spent the better part of the last two weeks glued to the television watching extraordinary people perform incredible acts under unimaginable pressure. Maybe we should come up with an Olympic Games for the ordinary person. To enter these games, contestants will have to go through a speed round of sports clichés, to see who can come up with the most trite phrases for any circumstance.

“Yes, I just lost, but I learned a great deal and was proud to be here. I’m going to refocus and redouble my efforts, and come back that much stronger.”

“We just take it one game at a time.”

“I know I’m only 8, but this is what I wanted my whole entire life.”

We can add a contest for would-be reporters. Ordinary people can sit down with athletes and see who can ask either the most inane questions or share superlatives.

“You just won your 18th Olympic gold medal. What’s next? Oh, right, your 19th?”

“That was sensational, spectacular and unbelievable. I’m just wondering what it must be like to be you.”

How about a remote-control Olympics? Let’s see who can change from channel to channel — without switching to movie stations — the longest without hitting a commercial. I pride myself on my ability to watch three shows without seeing too many advertisements, but every so often I flip from one station that’s cut to a commercial to another that’s still in commercial. That’s a remote control error.

How about if we put teenagers in a room and push their endurance? We can have their parents talking to them while they are sending texts, updating their Instagram accounts and using Snapchat. In fact, not only will their parents be talking to them, but they also will have to answer questions about their days. The first one-word answer — “good” for example — disqualifies the contestant.

Teenagers might want to turn that contest around, requiring instead that they only answer in one syllable. The problem with that, though, is that the game might not end until they hit their 20s.

We could also bring in couples who have been together for more than 40 years. We can ask a question and see how long it takes before they finish each other’s sentences. Or, perhaps, we can ask them to tell a story about something that happened early in their relationship and see how long it takes before they argue about the details.

“No, I wasn’t wearing the blue dress. I was wearing the green dress and we weren’t in Philadelphia, we were in Boston; and we weren’t at a park, we were at a movie theater.”

We can invite a group of people who have made an art form out of noticing absolutely everything wrong with others around them. A person can stroll by and the contestants can try to one-up each other’s observations.

“Oh, seriously? She didn’t make eye contact with anyone.”

“Did you notice how she breathed with her mouth open?”

“She wore those shoes? What is she trying to sell, know what I’m saying?”

We could also set up a movie competition, where people quote the most lines from sports movies.

Borrowing from one of my favorite films, “Bull Durham”:

“You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!”

“Lollygaggers!”

This 19th-century word has various meanings, including fooling around, wasting time, dawdling or dallying.

Yes, there’s exceptional speed and there are talented people pushing themselves to extreme levels to defy gravity, each other and the clock. And then there are the rest of  us and maybe, just maybe, there’s the

Lollygagger Olympics.

Chances are the day of this publication, July 7, i.e., 7/7, is your lucky day. Why? Many people believe seven brings them luck, whether it’s because of the seven days of the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven continents or even the “7” Mickey Mantle wore on his back.

If you believe in lucky numbers, seven might give you the kind of confidence you need to say exactly the right thing in a job interview, to seek a date with a long-term love interest, or to swing at a fastball at just the right moment, sending the ball deep into the night.

Practically speaking, all those people who share that lucky No. 7 can’t be winners at the same time. What if a pitcher in a tight game, who is the seventh child in a family of seven and might have been born at 7:07, is pitching to a hitter, who grew up on 77 Main Street and who always bats seventh? Who would win?

Taking a step back from the “7” sports quagmire, what is it about numbers that can make or break our confidence, that can inspire or deflate us? Even for those indifferent to theorems and patterns, numbers can be beautiful and comforting. They can create order in a chaotic world, offering support and structure in their patterns and predictability.

There’s the alternating odds and evens. That’s a pattern that’s like looking at a checkerboard, with its alternating tiles. According to some news reports, zero presents a problem for some people because they are not sure whether it is odd or even and most odd/even discussions begin with “1” while evens begin with “2.” (Zero is an even number under the standard mathematical definition.)

Then there are those rules of numbers that can help in the prime versus non-prime consideration. If you’re looking at an odd number, how do you know whether it’s divisible by three? You add up the digits in the number and see if the sum is divisible by three. Take, for example, 4,197. The sum of four, one, nine and seven is 21, which means it’s divisible by three.

But then there are those well-known irrational numbers that provide memory challenges for schools. Some schools, on March 14 each year, hold a contest about the famous constant, pi, which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Students commit as many digits of pi as they can to memory. Most people recall the 3.14 part of pi, which is why those competitions are held on March 14, but some push themselves to memorize more than a hundred digits.

Then there are those numbers that signal the beginning or the end of something. The famous countdown to a rocket launch that carries with it the hope of finding something new, of taking humans somewhere we’ve never gone, or of exploring or seeing the Earth from a different perspective. Parents know the famous mantra, “I’m going to count to three,” before a potential liftoff of another kind.

For the sports fanatics out there, numbers are the game within a game. For example:

How fast did he throw that pitch?

How many goals did he score in the World Cup?

How great was this player compared with another player?

Numbers are sliced and diced to make predictions, reconsider greatness or understand a player’s potential.

Perhaps the corollary to the question, “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” should be, “Would a superstar with a different uniform number play as well?” The answer might depend on the date of the game.

The 2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame induction class was honored at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Greatness in the world of athletics was on display to be celebrated Friday night. Members of the 27th class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. They will join past inductees like Boomer Esiason and Craig Biggio in the pantheon of impactful Suffolk sports figures.

“Each year we induct the very best of Suffolk County,” Master of Ceremonies and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee David Weiss said to kick off the evening. “These are men and women on and off the playing field who had a positive and lasting impact, and have left a legacy for all of Suffolk County.”

Among the inductees were Northport star lacrosse player Jill Byers; Setauket resident and 27-year New York Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini; legendary Harborfields football coach and Smithtown football star, Tom Combs; the first varsity boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue, Frank Romeo; and Deer Park three-sport standout and football All-American at Stony Brook University, Chuck Downey. Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, which has been open since 1973, was also honored with a special recognition award.

Byers graduated from Northport in 2005. She is the only athlete to be named All-Long Island team in three sports during her high school career, playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a two-time All-American in lacrosse during high school, and also received the distinction four times during her career at the University of Notre Dame. She also competed on the United States women’s lacrosse national team.

“African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child,” Byers said during the ceremony Friday. She credited, among others, her three older brothers for her success, stating that they never let her win at anything. “Thank you to my village for giving me the opportunity to represent you here tonight.”

Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski
Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cimini is the longest tenured Jets beat reporter in team history, working for the Daily News, Newsday and for the past six years, ESPN. He has received awards from the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America for his work over the years.

He joked that he didn’t feel like he belonged in a class with people who accomplished so much on the field, being that his accomplishments took place entirely in the press box.

“I feel like the nerd who got invited to the cool kids party,” Cimini said.

He mentioned his supportive parents and his understanding wife of 25 years, who is okay with planning their lives yearly around the NFL schedule.

“She’s the real hall of famer in our family,” Cimini said of his wife Michelle, who is actually a lifelong New York Giants season ticket holder.

Tom Combs has been the athletic director in the Patchogue-Medford school district since 2003. Before that, he played Division II football at Ashland University in Ohio following his four years at Smithtown. He became the head football coach at Harborfields in 1990, where he won five county championships and two Long Island Championships over a 13-year run.

“I am humbled by the talent and accomplishments of this class,” Combs said. “I’m just very honored and blessed to be up here.”

Combs has two daughters who followed in his footsteps and became teachers and coaches.. He thanked his family, friends and players for helping him to achieve the successes that led to his induction.

“Being a football coach is always something I wanted to do,” he said, adding that his players earning scholarships to attend college and play football was always important to him. “That’s what I’m always proud of as a coach.”

In 1968, Frank Romeo became the first varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue. During a 24-year span, Romeo led Comsewogue to eight league titles, one large school Section XI title and 15 straight playoff appearances. From 1987 to 1990, Romeo’s record was 62-5. He left Comsewogue to become the head basketball coach at Suffolk County Community College in 1992, where he made the playoffs in all of his seven seasons there.

Romeo used the word “we” repeatedly about his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“For all of my former players at Comsewogue and at Suffolk Community College — they were the main ingredient in the term ‘we,’” he said. “They did the playing and they made the sacrifices. Some years we were good enough to win championships and other years we played just as hard and we didn’t win championships. They can now be assured that they made their mark in Suffolk County. They got us to the Hall of Fame.”

Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski
Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski

Chuck Downey was a standout wrestler, football player and lacrosse player during his years at Deer Park. He was a part of Stony Brook University’s first football team in 1984, where he still holds nearly 30 school records and 12 NCAA records. He was a three-time All-American while at Stony Brook, which earned him a professional contract with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. That marked the first time a Stony Brook athlete signed a professional sports contract. Downey has since followed in the footsteps of his father Raymond, an FDNY Battalion Chief. His father died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

Weiss gave Downey a memorable introduction.

“What a great way to end a wonderful evening with an inductee who epitomizes the word hero from a family of heroes,” Weiss said of the last member to be announced.

Downey joked that he’d rather be in a burning building then standing in front of a room full of people to speak.

“I’m truly honored and deeply grateful to be up here tonight along with these other amazing athletes,” he said.

Many of Richie LoNigro’s 12 children, 25 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were present to honor the man who has become a fixture in Port Jefferson.

“I own a business that makes trophies and trophies are things that we’re all very proud of. I brought my trophies with me tonight and they’re all sitting out there in the audience,” he said, talking about his family. “These are my trophies and awards, and I take them with me wherever I go.”

To learn more about the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame visit www.suffolksportshof.com.

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Sean O’Shea moves the basketball around the paint. Photo by Joe Galotti

By Joe Galotti

After suffering its first loss of the season on Saturday, the Northport boys’ basketball team wasted little time in getting back to its winning ways. On Tuesday night, the Tigers jumped out to an early 17-2 lead on visiting Lindenhurst, and never looked back, as they came away with a 55-41 victory.

The win improved the Tigers’ record to 15-1 on the year, and clinched a League II regular season championship for the program. While Northport’s players realize they have plenty of work ahead of them still this winter, the achievement was certainly not lost on the club.

Lukas Jarrett holds possession while looking to make a pass. Photo by Joe Galotti
Lukas Jarrett holds possession while looking to make a pass. Photo by Joe Galotti

“This is a really great accomplishment for us, because we play in probably the best league on Long Island,” Northport senior guard Brennan Whelan said.

Northport senior guard Sean O’Shea echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“This is huge for us,” O’Shea said. “It’s great knowing that we’ll have a banner up on the wall, and that it will hang there forever.”

O’Shea finished with a game-high 15 points in his team’s win over the Bulldogs, while Whelan dished out 10 assists. The club also got nine points apiece from junior guard Kevin Cryer-Hassett and senior guard Rory Schynder.

In total, 11 different players scored for the Tigers in the contest. Ball movement has been a key for Northport all season long, and on Tuesday the team’s passing and court vision was once again on point.

“We’re an unselfish team by nature, and we also work a lot on passing,” Northport’s head coach Andrew D’Eloia said. “Our guys really do understand that if they move the ball, they get an open shot, and they enjoy playing that way.”

Northport’s veteran group seems to have fully bought into this philosophy.

“We’ve all been playing with each other for a couple of years now, and we always look to make the extra pass, because that’s what makes our offense work so well,” Whelan said.

The Tigers also put together a strong night on their own end of the court, giving up just four points in the opening quarter and 12 points in the first half. This allowed Northport to take a commanding 22-point advantage into halftime, and give rest to its starters down the stretch.

Ryan Magnuson makes a play. Photo by Joe Galotti
Ryan Magnuson makes a play. Photo by Joe Galotti

Senior forward Lukas Jarrett was a major catalyst on the defensive end, registering five blocks on the night.

“Our defense started everything tonight,” D’Eloia said. “We just really committed to helping each other, and trying to stay in front of them. We made them take tough shots, and that helped generate our offense early on.”

Lindenhurst outscored the Tigers 29-21 in the game’s final 16 minutes, but was never able to draw within single-digits again. Manny Oyakhilome led the Bulldogs with 14 points in a losing effort.

With a league title now in hand, Northport looks to have a strong finish to what has been a memorable regular season campaign to this point.

“We definitely want to go undefeated [in league play],” O’Shea said. “But we also know that we have to take it one game at a time.”

The Tigers, now 10-0 in League II, will next travel to face off against Walt Whitman on Friday, Feb. 5, at 6:30 p.m. The Wildcats have struggled of late, but D’Eloia is not overlooking the league rival.

“They’re a very well coached and disciplined team, and they would like nothing more than to knock us off,” D’Eloia said. “So we’re going to prepare for that game the same way we’ve prepared for all the other games.”

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