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Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.

“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”

The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.

“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”

Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.

A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.

Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.

“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”

On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.

“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”

Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.

“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini speaks about new police cameras at each of the seven precincts during a press conference in Greenlawn. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Be careful what actions you take, because the police are watching.

Suffolk County Police Department officials announced the implementation of 12 overt surveillance cameras throughout the county July 10, in an effort to deter crime.

The pilot program began in October 2016 with the implementation of a single camera in both the 1st and 2nd precincts. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that cameras were installed in the five other precincts early June.

Two of these cameras were positioned in Huntington Town, with one displayed on top of a telephone pole outside a small shopping center at the corner of Rockne Street and Broadway in Greenlawn.

“We want people to know about it.” Sini said of the camera program. “Local government is doing everything in their power to increase the quality of life in our communities.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that the town is dealing with the impact of several recent crimes, specifically recent shootings in Greenlawn that are “all too fresh in our minds.”

“These incidents of crime take away the feeling of safety,” Spencer said. “We will not tolerate violence in our community. These cameras put criminals on notice to say, ‘Don’t come here.’”

The cameras are full color and full motion, and can be accessed remotely through any officer or SCPD official that has access to Wi-Fi. The camera equipment was purchased for about $130,000 in a program funded by SCPD asset forfeiture dollars. However, the plan for a new real-time crime center, part of which will be to monitor the overt security cameras, will be created using SCPD’s normal operating budget.

The cameras are additions to a surveillance system that includes a number of license-plate readers along intersections and hidden cameras placed in areas such as local public parks.

“While the discreet cameras catch crime, the overt cameras do the same but they deter crime as well,” Sini said.

SCPD officials said that depending on community feedback, the cameras could be moved into different positions or to different areas.

On the topic of privacy, Sini responded that people should not expect privacy in a public space.

“The message we want to send is think twice before doing something illegal — think twice before doing something that demotes the quality of life for our residents, because we are watching,” Sini said.

Several nearby residents were happy to have the new camera system in their community.

“It’s a blessing,” said Greenlawn resident Earline Robinson about the implementation of the camera. She said she was concerned about crime, including gang activity, in the area and especially those of several shootings that happened in the community just in the past month.

President of Greenlawn Civic Association, Dick Holmes, said he had high expectations for the cameras and the police department.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “We’ll see what it does and I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

The cameras are meant to be hung from telephone poles and are colored bright white and wrapped with a blue stripe that reads “police.” The camera positioned outside the shopping center in Greenlawn looks down at a strip that has been the site of a number of crimes, including several robberies.

One Stop Deli owner Mohammad Afzaal said that in the nine years he’s owned his store, it had been raided four times. Once, robbers broke into the safe behind the counter, and several times he had walked in to find the store in disarray. From those robberies, he estimates he lost about $11,000.

“Sometimes my camera doesn’t work,” Afzaal said, pointing to the camera hanging in the corner of his store. “But the camera out there, it will work.”

Summer kicks off in Shoreham with a scenic stroll through the five senses.

After two years of planning and construction, a new, community-built sensory garden at the Shoreham facility of Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care, a non-profit that assists people with special needs and disabilities, officially opened to the public May 24.

What was once an underdeveloped stretch of woods and concrete is now a vibrant haven where visitors of all ages and abilities can excite their sight, smell, touch, taste and sound through various interactive materials and installations donated and put in by dozens of businesses and organizations. Local Girl and Boy Scout troops also volunteered throughout the past year to make the dream project a reality.

It was a dream that came from a passionate AHRC employee.

Christine Gallo, who serves as a behavior intervention specialist at the organization’s Intermediate Care Facility at 283 Route 25A in Shoreham, said ever since she started working there, she’d dreamt about utilizing the location’s natural resources to help the 96 people living on campus — many of whom deal with sensory-processing disorders, in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to what comes in through the senses.

While a number of AHRC locations are sensory-based, all of them are indoors.

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t that be great to bring all the science and knowledge we’re so good at at AHRC outside?’ because nature impacts the residents greatly,” said Gallo, who went on to research other sensory gardens throughout Long Island and the world and combined the best aspects of them when it came to designing her own.

She brought the idea to the higher-ups, including the facility’s director, Linda Bruno, and director of development, J Andreassi, who started a donation process and reached out to companies, architects, engineers, contractors and suppliers about pitching in. Island Steel & Detailing Corp. in Manorville, Precision Tree Services in Ronkonkoma, Shoreham-Wading River Teacher’s Association, the Riverhead Central Faculty and Reliable Garden & Fence Co. in Middle Island are among the participating companies that donated, cleared the area, set up fences, gardened, mulched and made installations.

The total project cost approximately $315,000, according to Andreassi.

“It was amazing the amount of people that it took to get this job done, but it was so worthwhile and it’s only going to get better,” he said. “Next year, that garden is going to be so lush and beautiful.”

Upon entering the expansive, oval-shaped garden, which is broken into different areas according to the senses, visitors can use a mallet to bang on big plastic drums and rainbow xylophones in the sound section. Along the decorated pathway, visitors pass wheelchair-accessible garden beds filled with vegetables for picking and eating and herbs scientifically-proven to aid with memory and concentration, a large-scale checkerboard on the lawn, a quiet sitting area to accommodate those who might be hyper-sensitive, and a barefoot labyrinth made up of river rocks.

“People can take off their shoes and just walk through, [like reflexology],” Gallo said. “It’s my favorite area.”

Gallo is hoping the new garden can further help with the sensory and developmental process.

“I just want it to become a meaningful, beautiful place for people to go,” she said. “But also where clinicians and specialists and training staff can use these really amazing features.”

Gallo said members of the Girl and Boy Scouts were involved in plant research and even building some of the structures, like the sensory wheel, which is filled with rocks of varying textures people can touch and spin. The wheel, she said, is designed for those in wheelchairs who can’t utilize the sensory input from the labyrinth.

She and Bruno hope to eventually host school and camp field trips, as well as community gatherings, at the garden.

“So far, every individual who we’ve brought through there has loved every aspect of it,” Bruno said. “It’s a peaceful place — it’s really magical. I think it’s exciting to be living and working out here, and to see something positive happening, and people contributing from the community.”

When asked how it felt to be standing in the garden of her dreams, Gallo said, “When I think about this piece of land, although it may seem like a small part of the world, it’s really monumental in how it can change people’s lives and be a place for the community to come.”

The growth Long Island could see in renewable energy resources if the project is approved. Image from Invenergy

By Rebecca Anzel

The largest renewable energy project ever proposed for Long Island has near unanimous support

Clean Energy Link, introduced by Chicago-based private energy developer Invenergy, LLC, would produce 701 megawatts across 55,671 acres — about the size of Long Island’s North Fork.

Four wind farms and two solar farms would be privately funded and built in rural areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, and the power generated would be transferred to a substation in central New Jersey and converted from AC to DC. Then, it would be shipped 80 miles underground and underwater by a transmission line and connect to the Long Island Power Authority’s grid at a 3.5-acre facility on Ruland Road in Melville.

A spokeswoman from Invenergy said the company submitted a proposal to LIPA, and is hoping it will be granted a contract. It is unclear how much money LIPA is willing to pay for the electricity Clean Energy Link will generate, but if the power authority approves the project, it is expected to be operational by the end of 2020.

“I’ve been in this business since 2003 and this is probably one of the most, if not the most exciting project we’ve done,” Mike Polsky, Invenergy’s CEO, said at a press conference on Oct. 24. “It’s a very remarkable, bold and transformational step for New York State, and despite some naysayers, whatever they may say, it will happen.”

Clean Energy Link is a step toward achieving a mandate set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in August that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030. The first checkpoint is a requirement that utilities need to purchase energy from nuclear power plants in the state by April 2017 in an effort to prevent the facilities from closing.

“New York has taken bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy and is taking concrete, cost-effective steps today to safeguard this state’s environment for decades to come,” Cuomo said in a press release. “This Clean Energy Standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combating climate change.”

According to Invenergy, about 9.5 million megawatt hours per year need to be produced by renewable energy sources statewide by 2030, and the Clean Energy Link project would produce about 1.6 megawatt hours per year.

How the wind and solar energy would make its way to Long Island. Image from Invenergy
How the wind and solar energy would make its way to Long Island. Image from Invenergy

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said because Nassau and Suffolk counties have about 3 million residents, it is a “notoriously very difficult place” to build anything. He expressed his support of the renewable energy project at a press conference in part, he said, because Long Island has experienced extreme weather and other impacts from increased carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have to be leaders on this issue — Long Island has to be out front,” he said. “… Part of that leadership means identifying what makes sense and maximizing the potential of the things that make sense. We are more at threat from climate change than just about any other region in the country.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the most important aspect of the project must be its affordability for residents. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York had the seventh highest electricity prices in the country in 2015.

“The residents need to benefit. Period,” Anker said. “Energy costs are too high and we need to come up with a way to make it affordable for Long Island residents.”

One of her other concerns is if local communities are able to give feedback before LIPA officials decide whether to grant Invenergy a contract for the Clean Energy Link project.

For Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Clean Energy Link makes environmental sense because by increasing New York’s use of renewable energy, the state’s reliance on foreign fuel lessens, and therefore its carbon dioxide emissions will decrease. He also said the proposal is economically sound because the project would be constructed in states where land is cheaper and in more abundance than on Long Island, a point echoed by other local politicians.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he’s opposed Invenergy’s other project on Long Island — a 24.9 megawatt solar farm in Shoreham on the former Tallgrass Golf Course. It was approved by LIPA in May and is supported by other Brookhaven officials, who recently passed changes to the solar code prohibiting trees from being cut down for the construction of solar arrays.

“I don’t like the idea of solar farms on Long Island that impinge upon or displace green space,” Englebright said.

He added that transporting the power the Clean Energy Link project would provide underground is smart, because it would not be subject to disruptions due to weather.

“LIPA would be wise to move in the direction that this offers, which is the renewable direction,” Englebright said. “We’re an oceanic island, and putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere ultimately drowns us.”

To Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), the most impressive aspect of Invenergy’s Clean Energy Link proposal is its “multipronged” approach. Renewable energy should not be produced by just wind or solar individually. The project’s potential impact is greater because it would make use of both.

She also said lower energy bills would go a long way toward generating community support. According to Invenergy, the project’s proposed start date was chosen to make full use of federal incentives for solar and wind energy production, a savings that would be passed along to residents.

Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Dick Amper agreed that community support is imperative for the success of the project.

“If the people who produce solar cut down forests for it, or put it in residential neighborhoods or replace farms that produce food for it, the public is going to turn against solar,” he said. “It took 25 years for everybody to come along and agree we need renewables. They’re not going to like them if we put it in bad places, and we can’t afford to have the backlash because we need solar.”

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Nick Messina rushes the ball upfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 4-seeded Ward Melville football team had waited 30 years for another Suffolk County championship appearance, and despite a tough loss to No. 2 William Floyd Nov. 18, 28-21, the Patriots powered the program to new heights.

Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re extremely proud of the boys and how far they’ve come this year,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “Over the last three seasons, we have improved upon the prior year’s record and, for the seniors, Friday was the culmination of their dedication and effort. Hopefully, going forward, our trip to the county championship will encourage student-athletes throughout the district to play football and strengthen the program.”

Ward Melville’s first break of the game came on a fumble recovery when William Floyd was driving into the red zone. The Patriots offense went to work on their own 18-yard line, and senior quarterback Wesley Manning hit classmate Andrew McKenna, a wide receiver, over the middle on a 22-yard pass to move the chains to the middle of the field. Amid the drive, Ward Melville was forced to punt the ball away.

On their next possession, the Patriots also fumbled the ball, but the difference was that the Colonials made the Ward Melville pay for its mistake by finding the end zone four plays later for an early 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff gave Ward Melville good field position following William Floyd drawing three consecutive penalties for an out of bounds kick, delay of game and offsides. Backed up on its own 25-yard line, William Floyd finally got the kick away and the Patriots’ return brought them to the Colonials’ 38-yard line with eight minutes remaining until halftime.

Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville seized the opportunity and Manning found senior wide receiver Eddie Munoz over the middle, to move the chains to the 29-yard line. Manning spread the wealth and dropped the next pass to senior wide receiver Dominic Pryor on the left side for the 35-yard touchdown reception, and with senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s extra-point kick, the team tied the game 7-7.

With just over three minutes left in the half, William Floyd went up 14-7 with a 10-yard touchdown run from James Taitt, but Ward Melville had an answer. The Patriots went deep into the playbook, and Manning hit Pryor on a screen pass who, although running into a wall, flicked the ball to senior wide receiver John Corpac, who raced down the left sideline for the touchdown. LaRosa’s kick made it a new game at 14-14. 

Ward Melville had an opportunity to take a lead into the break, but failed to find the end zone on four consecutive plays from William Floyd’s 5-yard line.

Manning threw an interception to open the second half, and Taitt moved the ball to Ward Melville’s 1-yard line on the next play. Nick Silva finished the drive to put William Floyd out front, 21-14, to open the final quarter.

“Obviously we are very upset we didn’t reach our goal of winning the LIC, but I’m very proud to be able to say I helped lead the team to the county championship [final], which we haven’t been to in 29 years,” Manning said. “It’s been a great season and we all made memories and have a bond that will last a lifetime.”

The Patriots struggled with the Colonials’ defensive line, and with 6:54 left to play, Silva tacked on his third touchdown run of the game, to extend the advantage, 28-14.

Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

On the ensuing kickoff, Ward Melville’s junior running back Nick Messina made a statement, when he returned the ball 74 yards and into the end zone, to pull the Patriots back within one touchdown with 6:32 remaining.

The Patriots’ final push brought them to the Colonials’ red zone with just over a minute left on the clock, but after four chances Ward Melville just couldn’t break through.

“This is a group of kids that are fighters — they don’t quit no matter what was going on,” Boltrek said. “They fought through adversity at all points of the season. They were never out of any game and that’s just the attitude they have. At one point we were 2-4, and for them to show the fortitude and character to believe in one another and believe in the process and keep fighting all the way to the county championship speaks volumes about them as young men. We’re going to miss our seniors, and I hope their Herculean effort has inspired the underclassmen to work even harder for next season — off-season workouts begin after Thanksgiving.”

Ward Melville’s ascent to the finals may have seemed unlikely, needing to win the final two games of the season to make a postseason appearance, and shutting out Connetquot and dethroning previously undefeated No. 1 Lindenhurst. But in his third year leading the team, Boltrek was able to continue the turnaround for the program.

“I have good athletes and I have good coaches, so I give them a lot of credit,” Boltrek said. “And the kids have bought into the idea that Ward Melville could be a football school.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

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By Bill Landon

Lauren Kloos continues to lead the way for Kings Park.

On Nov. 12, the senior outside hitter’s 12 kills put the girls’ volleyball team back in the state semifinal game. The Kingsmen bested Floral Park in straight sets, 25-10, 25-19 and 25-22 for Kings Park’s sixth straight Long Island championship crown.

Kloos said Kings Park (19-0) was ready for Floral Park, practicing defending against the unconventional ways its opponent would end up tipping and dumping the ball.

Junior outside hitter Sam Schultz, who finished with 12 digs and seven kills, and junior middle hitter Kara Haase, who added nine digs and eight kills, were also important contributors.

It’s been familiar stages for the Kings Park, and for the past three years, the Kingsmen have also seen a familiar foe at the county level.

Prior to the Long Island win, the dynasty did it again, as No. 1 Kings Park swept No. 2 Westhampton for the third straight year, 25-10, 25-15 and 25-13 for the Kingsmen’s sixth Suffolk Class A title.

Westhampton was plagued by unforced errors throughout the matchup, committing five of them in the first set alone to fall behind 16-7. Kloos made here presence known early, and spiked a kill shot that put her team out front 18-7, as Westhampton called timeout to try and throw Kings Park off balance.

It didn’t work, and as the team spread the ball around, the powerhouse surged ahead 23-9 looking to end the set early. And it did.

“A lot of hard work goes into it — the amount of practice we have to do to be able to execute [on the court],” Kloos said following the county win. “To be able to win another [championship] for the program is just amazing.”

“As a program, we still have a lot to prove. As time evolves we have a target on our back.”

— Ed Manly

The senior earned her fourth Suffolk and Long Island titles.

Dig after dig the Kingsmen got the ball to the junior Haley Holmes, and the setter spread the wealth. She aided the team in breaking out to a 13-5 advantage in the second set.

“It takes a lot of practice,” said Holmes, who finished with 28 assists and 10 digs against Floral Park. “We come to practice every day and we were ready for this. Our defense was perfect and that made it easy for me; the hitters just killed it.”

Kings Park continued to capitalize on Westhampton’s unforced errors, and surged ahead 23-15. On a bad serve, Westhampton handed Kings Park the break point, and the Kingsmen did what they’ve done all season, and put the set away, 25-15.

“Our energy, our intensive focus — every point we were mentally engaged, we knew where we needed to be, we knew our assignments,” Kings Park head coach Ed Manly said. “It was very hard. Our girls just work tirelessly all year long to play in this game. This is why you play volleyball, and we have the best kids around.”

Junior middle hitter Erika Benson, who had five kills and two blocks in the Long Island championship game, said her group continues to pull through and win as a team.

“Every game is a challenge, ” she said. “Our energy on and off the court never stopped. We never had a dull moment.”

Westhampton managed one last kill shot before Kings Park took the county title.

Having depth and help from all over makes Kings Park a contender for the state title. The team has to get through Glens Falls first, in the state semifinals Nov. 19. The Kingsmen have yet to take home a state title in the last five years.

“As a program, we still have a lot to prove,” Manly said. “As time evolves we have a target on our back. There are times when our kids feel like they’re not given the same credit as other teams around, for one reason or another, so they’re really inspired to play solid volleyball all of the time.”

Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats win Suffolk County Class B title with 11-5 win over Sayville

Just call them the comeback kids.

For the second game in a row, Shoreham-Wading River juniors on the boys’ lacrosse team came up huge for the Wildcats.

At center field was Joe Miller, hunched over at the X under the hot sun Wednesday afternoon. He won 14 of 18 faceoffs, helping spark a huge second-half run that turned a 5-2 halftime deficit into an 11-5 win over Sayville for the Suffolk County Class B title.

“Joe Miller, they had no answer for him,” junior attack Chris Gray said. “He was giving us all those possessions and it was a hell of a game for him.”

According to Miller, he was just doing his job.

“I knew I did pretty well against them the first time and I just needed to do my job so the team could get the win,” he said. “It definitely helped, but everyone had an equal role.”

The two fed off each other — after a Jon Constant goal, Miller’s faceoff helped Gray to a goal of his own at the 9:35 mark of the third quarter, to make it a one-goal game.

Next, it was junior midfielder Kevin Cutinella, who received a pass from Gray to tie the game, like he did against Comsewogue in the semifinals.

“Me and Kevin are neighbors and he’s a great friend of mine,” Gray said. “We’ve been doing that since we were in third grade, so it means a lot to come out here and do this on such a big stage.”

Cutinella spread the credit around.

“There was just all around good passing and it opened up gaps for me to shoot,” Cutinella said. “They slowed us down in the first two quarters and we realized that that’s not how we play. We play fast, so we sped it up in the second half. We weren’t complacent, and we never settled down.”

He said he felt fortunate and was happy he was able to score the tying goal for the second straight game. He connected with his pal two minutes later, to help Gray to his hat trick goal.

What was no doubt the play of the game, though, was Miller’s second score that gave the Wildcats a three-goal lead. Hunched over again, in a familiar position, this time he found himself in front of the cage. Miller made a check that knocked the ball loose, and then, according to Gray, he “did his magic.”

“I made a little check and the ball ended up on the ground,” Miller said. “I had my back to the goal and I knew where it was, and I just flung it toward there and hoped for the best. It helped me out with the way I can position my stick.”

Being honest, Gray said his team was nervous trailing at halftime, but said head coach Mike Taylor kept the Wildcats settled.

“He told us not to get down on ourselves and we know we’ve been there before, just like last game,” Gray said. “We wanted to stick together and we kept the motto of playing together, playing for each other, and we really started to build off each other.”

The defense was solid in the last game, when the Wildcats held Comsewogue scoreless in the second half. The boys did the same against Sayville on Wednesday, with senior goalie Jimmy Puckey making nine saves between the pipes.

Gray pointed out that the team knows how good winning feels, since most of the guys are on the football squad and went undefeated in back-to-back seasons there. But he said that winning in lacrosse felt unreal, especially coming off a season a year prior, when the team went undefeated and were the favorite to go all the way until Sayville sent them home in the semifinals.

The win means a lot to Gray, because he was able to do it with all his brothers, and Cutinella felt the same.

“It’s one of a kind,” he said of the sensation, laughing. “It feels better than football. Don’t tell coach I said that.”

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Kayla Kosubinsky races to the ground ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse team walked onto the Dowling Sports Complex field Tuesday donning shirts that said “one team, one fight.”

Although senior midfielder Natalia Lynch stole the show by scoring six goals, it’s what her team had been through all season that made the season special.

Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Natalia Lynch grabs possession off the draw. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Bulls never made it to the Suffolk County finals, and although they were the No. 1 seed with a near perfect record, they were overlooked. Smithtown West battled a tough No. 3-seed West Islip team — the only opponent the Bulls lost to in the regular season — and remained neck-and-neck to the end, when the more experienced team battled back to come out on top, 9-8.

“It was amazing — they played phenomenal all season,” Smithtown West head coach Carie Bodo said of the run her girls had. “We played them much better than we did the first time we beat them. We knew, as much as we were the No. 1 seed, that we were the underdogs because they’ve already been here four years in a row. They know how to play this game.”

Lynch tallied a hat trick in the first half with her second goal off an assist from her best friend and longtime teammate Mackenzie Heldberg.

Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jessica English defends against a West Islip attack. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been unreal since first grade, playing with someone as amazing as she is — it definitely made the game easier,” Heldberg said of Lynch. “We just had a special connection on the field that not everyone else has and she’s made me so successful and brings out the best lacrosse player in me.”

Also scoring for the Bulls in the first half were junior midfielder Kayla Kosubinsky and junior attack Chelsea Witteck. Senior converted-goalkeeper Marissa D’Amico made big stops between the pipes to keep the score 5-5 at the end of the first half.

“We did what we thought we needed to do,” Bodo said. “We covered certain people. We knew that if we played them tight, they’d be forced to make tough shots and miss the cage because we swarm them so good, so the defense did an amazing job. We had opportunities at the end to come up with the goal, but we just didn’t come up with it.”

Lynch gained possession off the draw, like she had done all night, to open the second half, and after passing it to Heldberg, received a feed from her friend in front of the cage and dumped in her fourth goal of the game.

Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Chelsea Witteck leads the team in celebration of her goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

D’Amico made back-to-back saves after a West Islip goal to maintain the stalemate, and on a diving play, Lynch fired her fifth goal of the game. She won possession off the next draw, but wouldn’t impact the play again after being sidelined for two minutes, with 2:21 left to play.

“She played an amazing game,” Bodo said of Lynch. “It was a killer, she got that penalty at the end. She played a great game.”

Witteck netted her second goal of the game off an assist from Heldberg, for the only other score of the second half, to put the team up 8-6 with 7:03 left in the game, but West Islip rallied back with three unanswered goals for the 9-8 lead with 1:24 left to play. The Lions raced up and down the field until time expired to seal the victory.

“I’m super proud of them,” Bodo said of her team. “For us it was a win. We were ranked No. 3 in the preseason and Newsday didn’t even rank us, MSG Varsity doesn’t ever give us anything, so no one thought we would do anything. For us, we did it for ourselves. We didn’t do it for Newsday’s publicity or MSG Varsity’s publicity; we worked hard all season to prove it to ourselves.”

The players said they were proud of how far they’ve come.

Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mackenzie Heldberg charges toward the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The loss hurt a lot, but for a team who never got much credit for anything we did — just making it to counties and playing a hell of a game against a team as talented as West Islip, there is nothing to hold our heads down for,” Heldberg said. “Coming here and experiencing this for the first time in Smithtown West girls lacrosse history was truly something amazing and something to be proud of.”

Although she, Lynch and D’Amico, along with three other senior nonstarters will be leaving the team, Bodo is excited for the future now that the Bulls are starting to move in the right direction and continues to make playoff strides each season. Kosubinsky said that after all of the doubt, Smithtown West lacrosse showed what it’s really made of.

“I know I’ve never seen Smithtown West girls lacrosse play with so much heart, and even with a loss, I’ve never been so proud of my team,” Kosubinsky said. “We had an amazing season and every single person contributed to that. Tonight we walked off the field with our heads held high because we know we played our hearts out.”

Long Islanders came together on Memorial Day to remember all the people throughout American history who gave their lives for their country. Events were held on May 30 across Suffolk County, with neighbors using wreaths, flags and rifle shots to pay tribute to the fallen heroes.

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.