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Ward Melville High School

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Former Ward Melville girls basketball head coach Samantha Prahalis coaches the Patriots from the sidelines at a January 2018 game. Photo by Jm Ferchland

Ward Melville High School girls varsity basketball players, parents and residents lent their voices in support for former coach Samantha Prahalis at a district board of education meeting Aug. 21.

The speakers during the board’s public session hoped that they could convince the board to reconsider the decision to dismiss the varsity girls’ basketball coach, which was made earlier this month. But after nearly a one-hour public comment session, the board ultimately sealed the coach’s fate. It would not reevaluate their initial decision to sever ties with Prahalis, a former WNBA player, and she would not be returning to the sidelines.

William Connors, Three Village board of education president, delivered the news to the crowd through a prepared statement.

“While the district does not comment on matters of personnel, I can say the coaching position for the Ward Melville [girls] high school varsity team currently remains open for the 2019-20 school year,” the board of education president said. “The district will not be filling this annual appointment with the individual who served in that role for the past two years. As such, we are in the process of selecting the most qualified individual to lead our team next year.”

Supporters of Prahalis questioned the board’s reasons for the dismissal and argued they acted too harshly. Some also felt that the district ignored and chose not to meet with students during the board’s investigation of the former coach.

“They have been trying to reach out to you from May 19,” said parent Gina Agostino. “We sent out a letter that day because players wanted to share their feelings on coach. Emails have been ignored, phone calls were not returned, request for meetings were blown off. You chose not to hear their voices … and treated them like adversaries the entire time.”

District officials disputed those claims saying they had reached out to parents.

Chris Agostino said the fact that the district would have their own agenda is embarrassing.

“I’ll tell you something, if I had students like this standing up for a coach the way these young ladies are, its powerful,” he said. “… What I don’t understand is that you get one complaint, maybe two complaints from parents or players and as a board you acted. You never listened to these students. You’re not looking out for them. If you were, you would understand how they feel.”

A parent of a former varsity girls basketball player said he supported the decision to release the coach. He detailed how in May he received a phone call from the district asking for permission for his daughter to be surveyed by the district’s athletic department regarding Prahalis and the basketball team.

He said he told his daughter to tell the truth and others did too and added that it was more than two complaints.

“My daughter for three years was treated terribly and was abused verbally and mentally without the board knowing, she wanted it that way and I stood by her,” he said. “Sammy’s [Prahalis] abusive record speaks for itself and anyone that asked about her knew about her reputation.”

Six former players of Prahalis were present at the meeting. Many of them spoke of how their coach was the best mentor they ever had and how they had learned and grown so much as a player during that time.

“Coach has transformed me not only as a better basketball player but also as a better person,” said Katherine Kelly, a rising senior on the varsity team. “She helped me gain the confidence I’ve been lacking on and off the court. She helped recognize my potential … She has made this team a family.”

This summer the team won in their league during the Brookhaven Town recreation program playoffs and credited their former coach for the strong summer season.

Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, spoke toward the end of the meeting to clarify some things parents brought up, including that she had said to Prahalis in a meeting that the district had failed her.

“I said the district had failed her in not giving her the proper mentorship, that I think every coach deserves, every new coach deserves,” she said. “For new coaches that don’t have that opportunity to know how to work with students is a travesty. That was something incumbent on the district and the former athletic director to make sure that happened for all new coaches. Moving forward every coach that is new will be mentored in an appropriate way.”

Post was updated Aug. 30 to include a statement from Three Village district officials. 

Port Jefferson Country Club hosted a sectional qualifying round July 15 for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Championship, featuring local talent with the hope of making the cut to compete in the final round at Pinehurst (North Carolina) Resort and Country Club Aug 12-18.

The qualifier was one of 96 tournaments held across the country, and with 84 golfers vying for the top three spots to make the cut, Brent Ito of Ann Arbor, Michigan tied with Ethan Ng of New York City to finish at 7-under. Andrew Chambers of Boca Raton, Florida finished 5-under, to round out the top three.

Ward Melville alum and Port Jeff resident Gerald Mackedon, a junior at St. John’s University, shot a 68 in the first round followed by a 72 in the second, coming in at 4-under for the tournament to secure the first alternate position for the championship in Pinehurst.

Port Jeff resident Jon Sherman survived the first round with a 75 and shot a 79 in the second to finish at 10-over.

Port Jefferson resident and 2019 graduate Shane DeVincenzo, who earlier this season won his second consecutive Suffolk championship, went on to place second in the New York State championship round June 3 at Cornell University. DeVincenzo shot a 77.

Matthew Mirocco, another Ward Melville graduate, finished the day shooting 80.

Complete results can be found here.

Ward Melville High School valedictorian Elizabeth Wang, second from right, salutatorian Kelsey Ge, second from left, with Maya Pena-Lobel,left, and Megan Specht, right, were named Scholars in the 2019 Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science and the Public. Photo from Three Village Central School District

One team captain and one integral member of the student-led nonprofit Mission Toothbrush graduated at the top of their class June 30.

Elizabeth Wang and Kelsey Ge are Ward Melville High School Class of 2019’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Wang in front of Ward Melville High School. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Elizabeth Wang

Wang, who graduated with a 105.91 grade point average, has attended school in the Three Village Central School District since kindergarten. She attended both Setauket and W.S. Mount elementary schools and P.J. Gelinas Junior High School.

The valedictorian was a member of the girls varsity lacrosse team, and she was the captain of both the varsity field hockey and varsity girls fencing team. Off the playing field, she was president of DECA, editor-in-chief of the school literary magazine Cinnabar, head news editor of the school newspaper Kaleidoscope and confirmation teacher at St. James Lutheran Church.

Wang, who took 12 AP classes in Ward Melville, said the school prepared her well for her future.

“Ward Melville High School offers a variety of different courses, electives and extracurriculars,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to try new things and learn what interests you, what you enjoy and what you may be good at. I think I learned a lot about myself by experimenting with different things at Melville.”

This fall, Wang will be attending Harvard University, where she will major in neuroscience.

“My dream career would be something that combines medical research, patient care and teaching,” Wang said. “I like the analysis in the research setting, the practical application in the clinical setting and the interactive aspect of teaching.”

Salutatorian Kelsey Ge in front of Ward Melville High School. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Kelsey Ge

Ge graduated Ward Melville with a weighted GPA of 105.40. While she started in the Three Village Central School District at Arrowhead Elementary School, in fourth grade, she switched to W.S. Mount elementary for the Intellectually Gifted program. During her high school years, she took on 12 AP classes, two of which were college-level math courses.

She was involved in Model U.N., DECA, the math team and International Cultures Club. Outside of school, she has been the president of Mission Toothbrush since 2017. The student-led nonprofit organization collects hygiene supplies to donate to local charities and shelters. She also teaches an origami class for children at Stony Brook Chinese School.

Like Wang, Ge said she feels her years in the Three Village school district have prepared her for her future endeavors.

“The teachers and staff at Ward Melville are incredibly supportive and work hard to ensure that students are granted every opportunity to succeed, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “They help students improve not just academically, but also as individuals prepared to face challenges in the future.”

The salutatorian is planning to attend Harvard University. While she hopes to major in economics, she said she is also interested in psychology, statistics and computer science.

The future looks wide open for Ge.

“Although I’m not sure exactly what my dream career looks like, I hope to work together with people with diverse interests,” she said.

By Andrea Paldy

The Harry Potter-themed façade in front of Ward Melville High School proclaimed, “Let the Magic Begin.” And at 11 a.m. on June 30 it did.

Led by valedictorian Elizabeth Wang and salutatorian Kelsey Ge, 546 seniors in green and gold emerged from the high school as students for the last time.

Sunday’s commencement exercises for Three Village’s 50th anniversary class were punctuated by a series of firsts.

William Bernhard, who gave his first commencement address as Ward Melville principal, officially recognized the district’s first graduating class — known as the “forgotten class” because it didn’t graduate on Ward Melville grounds. Bernhard awarded proclamations and honorary diplomas to class of 1969 graduates Joellen Fehrs McNamara, Cathy Haenlein and Elizabeth Toye Aktas.

The class of 2019 also left its mark on the festivities. By bestowing bells for Ward Melville’s iconic clock tower, the graduating class gave a gift that would be “heard loud and clear” and that said, “We were here. We were important,” student government president Lauren Walters said during the presentation. The bells chimed for the first (and second) time during the graduation ceremony, bridging the past, the present and the future.

Bernhard’s wish for the graduating seniors was a touching one. He said that he hopes that after going on to the military or to college and eventually into the workforce that the graduates will someday rejoin the Three Village community and raise their families here.

And when they hear the bells again, Bernhard hopes they’ll say, “That’s Ward Melville High School. That’s where my roots are. That’s where I made my lifelong friends. That’s where I got my wings — ready to soar and succeed in life.”

With a Harry Potter theme, Let the Magic Begin, Ward Melville High School’s senior prom was filled with whimsy June 27.

Students found various decorated rooms in the high school featuring the Hogwarts Express and rooms inspired by the fictional school’s houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.

Before the prom, students rolled up to the school in various vehicles including vintage cars and fire trucks.

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.

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By Bill Landon

The Sachem North boys lacrosse team retied the game at 4 to 4 late in the third quarter but the Ward Melville Patriots shut the door in the final 12 minutes, scoring four goals to put the game away, 8-5, at home April 5.

Ward Melville remains unbeaten, and the win put the Patriots atop the Division I leader-board at 6-0 as of April 5. The loss dropped the Flaming Arrows to 4-2.

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville boys basketball lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds of a League I matchup against Central Islip on the road Jan. 4 despite leading by nine points earlier in the game. The Musketeers battled their way back to tie the game at 66 when Central Islip junior guard Ty-Shon Pannell drained a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with 2.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Patriots in-bounded the ball and took the Hail Mary shot without success, dropping the league game, 69-66.

Robert Soto led the way for the Patriots with three field goals, a trey and nine free throws for 18 points. Ray Grabowski followed with two triples, two field goals and four points from the charity stripe netting 14 points.

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville squared off against the Newfield Wolverines out on the strip Dec. 8 in a three-way bout with Brentwood. The Patriots had their hands full with a surging Newfield squad but edged the Wolverines 16-11 to remain unbeaten 3-0 in Suffolk League II.

The Patriots are back out on the strip Dec. 13 where they’ll host Centereach starting at 5 p.m. at Ward Melville High School. The Patriots and Wolverines will also compete in a holiday tournament invitational Dec. 15 at Brentwood High School. First bout scheduled for 9 a.m.

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Suffolk County high school golf champions Palmer Van Tuyl, Gavin Girard, Alex Korkuc, Andrew Petraco, Nick Stoecker, Mike Petraco and coach Bob Spira. Photo from Bob Spira

The Ward Melville High School golf team closed the season with a feeling that could probably be compared to a hole in one.

The team walked off the Rock Hill Golf Course in first place after the Suffolk County high school golf championships Oct. 31. In addition to the team win, senior Alexander Korkuc finished third in the individual tournament with a score of 154. The team will go on to the Long Island championship, and Korkuc qualified for the state tournament. Both will take place in the spring.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent.'”

— Bob Spira

Bob Spira, who has coached the team for some 12 years, said the golfers are looking forward to the Long Island championship. The last time the Patriots took the title was in 2016.

“This year we’re back on the map again, so it’s really nice to be back on top,” Spira said.

The coach said the six team members work well together, and he considers all top players. He said they worked hard this season and didn’t hesitate to keep practicing shots that they missed in a match, even if it meant hitting 200 balls.

“I told them right from the beginning, ‘You guys have the talent,’” the coach said. “‘It’s just putting in the time and just everything working out. Even the best golfers can have a bad round. So, don’t let it get in your head, keep moving forward.’”

Korkuc said he wouldn’t want any other coach than Spira.

“He’s a great coach,” he said. “He’s been there for me four years, and he’s always told me to keep working and it will eventually work out.”

Ward Melville junior, Palmer Van Tuyl, said he’s been playing with the team since eighth grade, and he has witnessed how the team and he have grown as players. A highlight for him this year was successfully shooting two rounds under par in matches.

“That was really big in my development to know I have the ability to have really good scores in addition to solid play all season long,” Van Tuyl said.

He said his teammates who, in addition to Korkuc and himself, include eighth-graders Gavin Girard and Nick Stoecker with eleventh-grader Andrew Petraco and ninth-grader Mike Petraco, are strong players. Van Tuyl said having skilled younger players is important for the future of team.

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength.”

— Palmer Van Tuyl

“To have that much depth that early is, I think, a big key to our strength,” he said.

When it came to the team win after the Suffolk County championship and Korkuc’s qualification, Van Tuyl said it made him forget his disappointment coming in 11th place on the second day.

“The self-pity or the self-sadness was completely overshadowed by the great feeling I had for the team, and the happiness I had for my friend,” he said.

Korkuc and Van Tuyl said their teammates are like a second family. Korkuc, who hopes to take a year off from college to attend a golf academy next academic year, has advice for his fellow teammates.

“Keep working hard and everything will fall in place like it did for me,” he said.