Authors Posts by Rich Acritelli

Rich Acritelli

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Photo from Rich Acritelli

“But as the enemy closed in, Michael recognized that the survival of his men depended on calling back to the base for reinforcements. With complete disregard for his own life, he moved into a clearing where his phone would get reception. He made the call, and Michael then fell under heavy fire. Yet his grace and upbringing never deserted him. Though severely wounded, he said thank you before hanging up and returned to the fight before losing his life,” President George W. Bush, Oct. 22, 2007

Bush widely spoke about the heroic abilities and attributes of Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy during a 2005 battle within the mountains of Afghanistan. Bush addressed the unique comradery of this special forces team that fought against the tenacity of the “Mountain Tigers,” who allied themselves with the Taliban, that were situated near the Pakistani border.

Murphy and his men were greatly surrounded, and they were outnumbered in soldiers and guns that targeted them at every turn, but these four SEALs only had one of its members survive in Marcus Luttrell, fought to the bitter end against enemy forces that targeted American troops that operated in this rugged area of Afghanistan.

Almost 14 years after Bush presented Dan and Maureen Murphy with the Medal of Honor for their son Michael, this story was recalled at the Baiting Hollow Country Club on Tuesday, July 20. On that day, 170 golfers that participated in the fourth annual outing to remember this local military figure.

Photo from Rich Acritelli

As the golfers drove up to this course, they saw the American and Navy SEAL flags proudly flown for this event. It was not difficult to see the tremendous pride of the golfers, the police, former rescue workers, and veterans that were on hand to reflect on the tragic memory of “Operation Red Wing,” and the sound leadership of Murphy.

The North Patchogue Fire Department presented the “Murph Truck,” the Suffolk County Police Department flew its helicopter over this course, and Penn State student Daniela Bevas articulated the spirit of her fellow alumnus Michael who graduated from this college through the singing of the National Anthem.

Playing next to Dan was former SEAL Team Six member Robert O’Neill that was present to pay tribute to his friend. O’Neill helped raise needed funds for the Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum that is being built in Sayville and is expected to open on April 28, 2022.

The presence of O’Neill brought about an immense amount of curiosity in meeting the Navy SEAL that shot Bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Like the cheers that were felt by Americans some 10 years ago when baseball fans learned of the death of Bin Laden during the New York Met’s and Philadelphia Phillies game, the same emotions were felt a decade later when O’Neill spoke at this dinner.

After listening to the trumpet playing of Post 6249 member Greg Efermetz “call’s all to order,” this dinner crowd that grew to 350 people, heard O’Neill’s surprising account of this mission. O’Neill’s speech utilized a serious and humorous tone to explain this dangerous mission to fly into the middle of Pakistan.

Many people were on the edge of their seats to learn about the planning, training and final implementation of this risky plan to kill the architect of the 9/11/ and the several terrorist attacks against Americans that were conducted by Bin Laden during the 1990s.

This native of Montana easily connected with the residents of Long Island, especially those from North Shore that listened to O’Neill’s personal description of this top-secret assault, and the History vs. Hollywood analysis of the 2012 film “Zero Dark Thirty” portrayal of finding and killing of Bin Laden.

There was a local understanding by this westerner that realized there were many people at this fundraiser that had personal, family and friends that were killed from this terrorism. On this day, there were 9/11 responders, rescue and salvage workers that spent countless hours at Ground Zero, and local citizens that protected America in the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that were in the presence of O’Neill.

It was an outstanding event that saw O’Neill personally sign copies of his book “The Operator,” that focused on his vast military experiences. Some of these included the rescue Captain Richard Philips from Somalia pirates and a severely wounded Luttrell from “Operation Red Wing’s” that was almost taken by the enemy in Afghanistan.

Next to O’Neill was author Gary Williams who wrote the account of the life of Michael P. Murphy through SEAL of Honor, and CEO of PC Richard and Son, Greg Richard. There was $500,000 that was raised through generous checks that were presented at this dinner from various major businesses, and there were many funds that were donated from the golfers who purchased shirts, hats and raffle tickets.

Photo from Mike Finnican

“What happened on September 11, is something that will be with me for every day of my life yet we know somehow we’ll pass through it. Time goes on. But it reminds us of the sole appreciation that we have always had for our family, our friends, our community and our country. He will be missed forever.” 

These were the words of Helga Curtin on Nov. 20, 2001, to identify the unique character of her late husband, Michael Sean Curtin, who was a sergeant major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and a member of the New York City Emergency Services Unit. 

Photo from the 3256 Foundation

On 9/11, Mike Curtin wished his wife a happy birthday, sent flowers to her job and expected to arrive back at their Medford home where he was planning to make her a special dinner. On this beautiful late summer day, the United States was attacked by terrorists and, like many other rescue workers, he answered the call to help others survive this tragic date.  

As an Emergency Services Unit sergeant, Curtin was no stranger to handling delicate situations. Being a member of a strong city law enforcement agency, it was common for him to deal with a myriad of responsibilities. 

He was well versed in leading hostage negotiations, administering first aid, facing suicide attempts and helping others through challenging rescues of citizens. He had significant experience through the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It was observed that he spent a great deal of time working with law and government officials during this early terrorism attack on the city. 

Always seen as a “squared away” leader through his time in the military, his presence was always felt during every type of incident, including Osama bin Laden’s first attempt to destroy this financial center.

Oklahoma City bombing and Harlem rescue

Two years later, he was ordered after the Oklahoma City bombing to assist within recovery efforts at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in that city. This building was devastated from domestic terrorism, where 168 people were killed, including six members of the Armed Forces. 

During this support, Curtin saw the red “blood stripe” of one of the two members of the Marine Corps that were lost in this debris. 

Randy Guzman was a Marine captain who worked in the recruiting station that was located on the sixth floor of this building. Curtin noticed his remains and right away asked for permission to detach fellow law enforcement and military figures to help him dig through the rubble to properly recover the remains of Guzman.  

For several hours, Curtin led this difficult task of using heavy machinery to reach this deceased Marine. Curtin was a combat veteran of the first Gulf War who was with the American spearhead to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi military. 

Photo from the 3256 Foundation

He still served in the Marine Corps Reserves, where he had the senior leadership rank of first sergeant. Once Curtin and his men reached Guzman, this loud work site, automatically became quiet, as the body was carried out with an American flag placed over the fallen Marine. 

Rarely speaking about his job, Curtin recalled this somber moment and said, “Everyone was watching in silence as we brought our Marine out.” 

The following year, members of the Guzman family and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) took a picture with Curtin to show appreciation for his determination and skills to assist the residents of Oklahoma City impacted by this explosion.

A good friend who worked closely with Curtin to handle the immense tasks of the Emergency Services is retired Lt. Owen McCaffrey of Bay Shore. This officer was Curtin’s supervisor of Truck 2 in Harlem that helped cover nine precincts from 86th Street to Washington Heights within Upper Manhattan. 

Thinking of his good friend, McCaffrey believed that Curtin was one of the finest sergeants within the New York City Police Department to lead his men. To this day, McCaffrey vividly remembers the positive attributes of Curtin as being a “devoted, reliable, and trustworthy cop.” 

He saw the positive influence of the Marine Corps on the presence of Curtin who always stressed the importance of training, drilling his men and getting them to quickly think during all types of situations. 

And while this Marine was a tough, no-nonsense individual, Curtin usually cooked his men a breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausage. McCaffrey recalled that Curtin was a “solid supervisor that always looked after his men that were highly trained for their difficult jobs.” 

The bravery that Curtin demonstrated never subsided, and in 1999 he saved a trapped resident of a Harlem building before the structure collapsed.

September 11, 2001

On 9/11, as Curtin was planning to return home for his wife’s birthday, America was attacked. As our citizens were putting their children on school buses and handling their daily functions, this nation was hit by the sting of terrorism in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and over the farm fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Right away, rescue workers headed toward the World Trade Center to help people escape the earliest moments of bin Laden’s assault on the United States. Curtin was with several other agency personnel who were quickly dispatched to aid others.

Never one to waver under any form of military or law enforcement duress, he was on hand to guide his men with the goal to save as many people as possible. Through this challenging chaos, Curtin and his fellow officers were in the middle of this attack that saw debris crashing around them, and thousands of people trying to flee from this terror. At 9:59 a.m., the South Tower collapsed, and it became apparent that the North Tower, also hit by an aircraft, would face the same the destruction.  

Photo from Mike Finnican

As some of his men were several floors above him to assist others to escape the North Tower, Curtin directed those officers around him to immediately leave this building before it collapsed, and head for safety. He refused to follow them, as according to McCaffrey, he made the “conscious decision” to stay with those remaining men that were still in this building, even as he realized that this building was going to eventually fall. At 10:28 a.m., officers from Truck 2 who were ordered to leave this location, watched in dismay as the North Tower fell to the ground.  They automatically realized that Curtin had passed away. He was one of 14 Emergency Services and Bomb Squad figures killed from these attacks on New York City.  

Whereas the authorities knew where Curtin was buried in the rubble of Ground Zero, it took until March 6, 2002, to finally locate the remains of this 13-year veteran of the NYPD. His body was not fully removed until Helga Curtin and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly arrived at the location. They were met by an army of rescue workers, law enforcement, salvage crews and government officials who were silent as Curtin was taken out of the debris with a flag placed over his body. Within the early morning hours, the motorcade that held Curtin was heading up FDR Drive in Manhattan. The streets were lined with police officers that stopped the traffic and saluted the remains of Curtin, who was escorted by his wife and local law enforcement and military leadership. Four years after Curtin lost his life with other rescue workers, President George W. Bush (R) posthumously awarded public safety officers the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor for those men and women who died in uniform during these attacks.

When speaking to different members of Curtin’s family, the affection that they have for him has never diminished since he died. This Rocky Point High School student was a strong soccer player who worked at the local statuary on Route 25A. After he graduated in 1975, he enlisted into the Marine Corps. His strong, smart and kind presence is still missed by his entire family from Helga, and his daughters Jennifer, Heather and Erika, also younger loved ones who are immensely proud of his honorable achievements to support this country.

Annual golf outing

Over the last 17 years, Curtin’s cousin Mike Finnican has been instrumental in organizing an annual golf outing that has been held at Cherry Creek in Riverhead. This function’s main goal is to remember Curtin and the numerous rescue workers and military members who have supported this country since 9/11. Finnican reflected on the hospitality of Curtin, especially during a July 4, 2001, barbecue that saw his cousin wear his red, white and blue shorts as he cooked for his family and friends. Some 20 years later, Finnican looked over the fairways and greens at Cherry Creek to see more than 300 people attend a golf outing that was held July 12. Finnican, along with his wife, children, grandchildren and members of the Lukasz, Dwyer and Curtin families, all donated their time to support their 20th successful golf outing. During the day, younger family members and friends wore smiles on their faces to sell raffle tickets and T-shirts for the 3256 Foundation. One of these included Michael Sullivan, the 5-year-old grandson named after Curtin, who was present with his parents and his cousins to support this family tradition.

Mike Curtin’s daughter, Jen Sullivan, with her husband Jon and their children, Michael and Grace. Child on the left is McCormack Baker, grandson of Mike Finnican. Photo from Mike Finnican

Curtin’s custom was to be warm to others, and this week his family and friends continued his legacy in making every participant of this outing feel welcome during a special annual event. Most people who read about the heroic exploits that Curtin presented in the military and the NYPD marvel at the abilities of this local graduate to serve at home and abroad. But this highly capable figure rarely addressed his experience and Finnican stated that Curtin “was a good man that never bragged about his experiences that was absolutely loyal to his family.”  

It is safe to say that Curtin’s name will be remembered for some time through this yearly golf outing. With a color guard and the sounds of bagpipes, laughter and stories that brought smiles to a crowd who listened intently about the professional stories of Curtin, it was easy to tell that everyone who played golf and attended the dinner had a grand time in honoring this hero. At the end of the night, there was a major raffle that saw people win televisions, video games, children’s toys, restaurant gift cards and an auction of sports memorabilia and baseball tickets.  

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, there will be noticeable grief to remember the almost 3,000 people killed on that fateful day. But the golf outing had a surplus of smiles from the family members of Curtin and those law enforcement and military veterans who look forward to seeing each other to support this worthy endeavor. 

The 3256 Foundation over the last two decades has created an important sense of comradery amongst its participants to never forget the moment that America was attacked. And this would not be possible if it were not for determination of Finnican and his team who have established one of the finest patriotic events in Suffolk County. Like Curtin, his family members are patriots who seek little fanfare, and they are motivated to reflect on a hero who spent his life defending this country in the Marines and always helping others in the NYPD. 

May we never forget about rescue workers like Michael S. Curtin who were the earliest casualties of bin Laden’s attempt to harm the American way of life.

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Photo from Dave Cook

“Dave Cook is the Salt of the Earth.”

These are the recent words of Rocky Point High School guidance counselor Tammy McPherson to identify the true character of this long-time district employee. 

Cook has been a member of the high school custodial staff for 20 years. Always a figure that is seen with a smile on his face, he works well with Tracy Castellucci, and Chris Mirabille, Cook supports all of the custodial needs of the students and staff members of this high school. 

It is not difficult to spot Cook, as he is usually wearing his trademark Rocky Point baseball hat, or a Met or Giants cap, and talking sports with the teachers around him and always asking others about their families.

Originally, this city boy was a product of Rockaway Beach, where he understood the importance of giving back to his community through the army sacrifices of his father, who was a combat veteran during the Vietnam War.  

Cook enjoyed playing stick ball, being on soft ball teams, and going to the local city beaches as a kid. In 2002, he was hired by this district as a custodian and he moved his family to Rocky Point. Right away he noticed the change from the bustling atmosphere of Queens to the slower pace of our local suburbs and country setting.

This lifestyle was a change for him, as he now saw deer on his property and lives only steps away from the Long Island Sound. It is safe to say, that Cook’s presence in Rocky Point has been a good fit for both this town and his family. Cook represents the backbone of this strong North Shore hamlet of regular, hard-working, dedicated, blue collar, middle class residents that take pride in their homes, jobs and community. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic when the schools closed down last year, the sincerity of Cook was seen on a nightly basis. He hosted nighttime Facebook happy hours that brought together staff members through lively discussions, music and even culinary tips.  

Cook was the DJ that kept everyone smiling during these nightly events that brightened the morale of many people during a dark time period.

On June 10, Cook was going about his daily routine of working in the cafeteria, where he is responsible to maintain a safe and sanitary dining environment. After he learned from another teacher William V. Weinold that 15-year-old Avery Ward was choking on her food, he quickly ascertained the Heimlich Maneuver was needed to help this young lady.  

After five thrusts from behind Ward, a silent cafeteria of on-looking staff and students watched as Cook aided the health and well-being of this student. While he helped a student that he did not know, as a parent of his four children of Thomas, Jacob, Brady, and Lily, Cook thought of his own kids being in a similar desperate situation. 

Always a “team player,” Cook quietly goes about his business on a regular basis, but his job title quickly changed at a moment’s notice in treating this student. 

Jessica Ward was incredibly pleased over the presence of Cook to care for her daughter. She looked at the quick actions of Cook and said, “We are incredibly grateful that Cook was in the right place, at the right time. He never froze and we owe him everything towards the survival of our daughter.” 

Currently Avery is a varsity cheerleader that enjoyed being in Weinold’s 9th Grade Honors World History course, going to the beach and being around her family. She is also a motivated young lady that earns her own money through her previous job at McNaulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, and currently at Power Nursery and Greenhouse on the corner of Radio Avenue and Route 25A.  

And she has also established her own business of dressing up like the “Grinch” and taking holiday, birthday, and special occasion pictures with younger children and families. Like that of Cook, she is a busy member of this school that is a student-athlete, that was quickly treated by her newfound friend, where they will share a life-long bond.

As Cook supremely acted on this day, it was not a surprise to those people in this school that knows him best. He is a valued employee that deeply cares about the people and environment of this high school.  Superintendent Scott O’Brien believed that “Our very own Rocky Point High School custodian, Mr. Dave Cook, is a true hero. It’s one thing to have the training to do this, but it takes a person with courage, confidence and compassion to jump into action like Dave did and we are incredibly grateful for his heroism that day.”  

Principal Jonathan Hart identified this worker as being an “outstanding custodian in this district and an even better person. He takes pride in his job and always goes out of his way to help students and staff alike. His quick response and decisive actions surely saved this student from potentially losing consciousness or perhaps an even more grave fate.”  

Mirabile was proud of his exploits and saw that Cook “quickly took over and protected this student during a chaotic situation.” 

His main peer during the course of the day Castellucci recalled that this student was “already changing colors and acted in the right way. I am friend to be next to him on a regular basis.”

The feelings of O’Brien, Hart and the custodial staff are also consistent amongst the staff members when looking at the wonderful attributes that are demonstrated by Cook. Many of the guidance counselors marveled at the quick thinking of their good friend.  

Michael Conlon observed that it “comes as no surprise that Mr. Cook acted in this way, as he never hesitates to help others on a daily basis. He is a man of true decency.”  

James Jordan saw the drive of Cook to help this student as being his “mantra to go above and beyond to help others in this building, regardless of the situation,” and guidance facilitator Matthew Poole feels that Cook is a “hard working individual that would give you the shirt off his back. He deeply cares about this school and considers this building to be his second family.”  

Holly Rizzi assessed the strengths of Cook as being a “devoted father, that displays the true instincts of a parent to help this student in critical need,” and guidance secretary Kelly White has worked closely with Cook over the last several years. She described him as “one of the most genuine people that’s always smiling and willing to help you out at any time, whether he knows you or not. It didn’t surprise me at all to hear that he jumped into action with a second thought.”

The selfless nature of this Rocky Point employee demonstrates that heroes don’t have to be rich, famous or well-known, but they come in the form of good people like that of Dave Cook. Moments after this accident, staff members from every position within the high school praised Cook to thank him for his quick thinking and attention to detail.  

While it was a perilous situation, many of the people that know Cook the best, were not surprised at his willingness to help other’s. This has always been his nature and Rocky Point is fortunate to have the loyalty of this employee to support others through all types of situations. 

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Photo from Petey LaSalla

Every spring, North Shore residents do not have to look far to watch the best lacrosse players in America oppose each other on the local high school and college levels of competition.  

2018 Rocky Point High School graduate Petey LaSalla is one of the finest face-off men in America. He is currently a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, where he has recently won his second lacrosse National Championship in the last three years.

LaSalla is a hard-nosed young man that is referred as a throwback to many decades ago. Many of his former teachers and coaches marvel at LaSalla’s simplicity of being a grounded young man that resembles the tenacity of boxing champ Rocky Marciano. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

A devoted athlete, LaSalla began playing football when he was five years old where he dominated through his ability to run the ball and to play linebacker. Years later, LaSalla was a two-time all county football player, and placed second in the voting for Joseph Cipp Award for the top running back in Suffolk County. 

At Rocky Point, he holds this school’s offensive records in scoring 43 career touchdowns and 20 alone in 2017. This most valuable player was described by Coach Anthony DiLorenzo as having the “leadership and skills to push everyone to play at another level. If our team needed a big play, we called upon Petey.  The opponent always understood that Petey was the cornerstone of this football team, and he was rarely stopped. Petey had one of the largest hearts ever to play at Rocky Point.”

In fifth grade, he played lacrosse through the Rocky Point Youth Program under John Kistner, where he first learned about this game. After his 7th grade lacrosse year, LaSalla played on the junior varsity team during his 8th and 9th grade seasons. During his sophomore season, LaSalla grew taller, lifted weights and sharpened his own skills. 

During his earlier high school years, LaSalla’s face-off techniques were aided by 2010 Rocky Point High School graduate Tommy Kelly.  Through the expertise of this Division I and professional lacrosse player, these lessons helped make this face-off man into one of the most feared in New York State, and LaSalla appreciated the knowledge of Kelly that taught him this difficult trade.  

LaSalla became one of the best players in New York State, as he won 78% of his face-offs. It was later increased to 81% during his junior year, and as a senior, LaSalla gained 84% of the face-offs.  

While many of these lacrosse specialists usually leave the field after winning a face-off, LaSalla rarely took a break against his opponents. Later, he was recruited by college coaches that watched his ability to be an all-around player, that won the bulk of his face-offs, scored goals, and control the tempo of a game. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

By the time that he graduated, LaSalla excelled as a two-time All-American player, the first in school history, and was an all-state, county and league athlete. This Newsday First Team All Long Island player was heavily touted as the 94th top recruit and the 8th finest high school senior in America by Inside Lacrosse. 

Rocky Point School District Athletic Director Charles Delargy recalled that LaSalla was “the most dominant face-off man that I had ever seen in my career. And most importantly, an even better person, from a wonderful family.”

Being from a long line of dominant lacrosse players that were on the Rocky Point teams since the early 1970s, LaSalla appreciated the guidance of his late coach Michael P. Bowler. It was the guidance of this long-time figure that pushed him into the right direction to reach his ability in high school and later in college. 

Bowler had a unique connection to this family, as he also mentored LaSalla’s father, Peter, and his older brother, Nicholas, in lacrosse. LaSalla recalled that Bowler was “an outstanding coach, that helped me take this sport seriously and gain the work ethic that was necessary to become a dominant player. He supported me through the recruiting process and spoke with my coach at the University of Virginia. But most importantly, he taught me life lessons, that made me into a better person.”  

The wife of this iconic lacrosse coach, Helene Bowler has seen a multitude of games and players from Rocky Point over the last 40 years. She recalled that her late-husband saw LaSalla as a “gifted and a driven player, that was extremely coachable, and motivated to improve his game. He always gives 100% in all of his endeavors and Petey was a capable student-athlete that is a special young man.”  

When Bowler passed away in late November 2019, it was interesting to see LaSalla speak with his grandson John who was a mid-fielder that played for Duke University. These two young men were tied to Bowler through family and lacrosse, has a bond that was seen when John recently texted his grandmother that he was recently pleased to watch LaSalla achieve his second national title.  

After his time at Rocky Point, LaSalla moved onto the University of Virginia. Right away, this was a strong fit for a Division I powerhouse that gained a driven athlete that expects to play against the finest rival teams in this country. It did not take long for this quiet kid from Miller Place to make his mark felt in Charlottesville. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

For a brief time, LaSalla became the starting face-off man, as he took over this responsibility from a senior player that was injured. LaSalla eventually split time with this player and later started at this position during his first college season. And while LaSalla ascended to this notable role, he became good friends with this player that he replaced.  

Even as one of the youngest players on the field, the grit of LaSalla was felt by Virginia and the opposition, as he took 60% of all face-off’s during his first year. At once, LaSalla showed his teammates the work ethic that made him famous at Rocky Point by dominating High Point, taking 73% of the face-offs during the quarterfinals against Maryland, and against John Bowler, he took 64% of the face-offs and scored a goal against Duke University. 

During the National Championship game, LaSalla, faced-off against the formidable TD Irelan, and held his own by taking the ball 46% of the time during this game. In front of his family and friends of Will Smith, Damian Rivera, Jared DeRosa and Christopher Gordon, LaSalla scored two goals, and helped Virginia capture this national title.

The 2020 season quickly cut after three games due to COVID-19. Although Virginia was looking forward to defending its crown, the pandemic shut down sports in this country, and this team would have to wait until 2021. 

During the interlude, LaSalla hit the weights and ran to stay in good shape. Through the second run to gain another National Championship, due to COVID, Virginia players were relaxed in their pursuit of remaining the best team in America.  

LaSalla had his most productive game against the University of North Carolina, as he won 76% of the face-off’s, scored a goal, had an assist, and took every face-off later in the game. He was later recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week and was the face-off representative for a NCAA team of all-stars. 

As a junior, LaSalla emerged as a team leader, where it was his goal to win over 60% of the face-off’s, against teams like North Carolina, Bryant and Georgetown. As LaSalla expects to be an active teammate on the field, he was often injured during this season. At West Point, he pulled his hamstring against Army, and while he dominated North Carolina, LaSalla sprained his ankle, and was unable to walk after this contest.

Photo from Petey LaSalla

And during the second National Championship that LaSalla won, he scored a goal, and took a late face-off to preserve this close Virginia victory over Maryland.  Armed with an immense drive to succeed, the reserved LaSalla was again pictured with the championship trophy. 

Peter LaSalla Sr., marvels at the motivation of his son to succeed at the highest levels and believes that his boy “is always a humble player and the hardest worker on the field. He is prepared for his games and never think’s that he did enough to help his team. Petey has the heart of a lion.”  

This student-athlete is one of the most grounded young men that you will ever meet, even before this interview took place, LaSalla spent the morning moving yards of mulch for his mother. 

LaSalla who is one of the finest face-off men in this country, rarely ever mentions his own accomplishments. In high school, he was a member of the National and History Honors Society, the President of the Varsity Club, and a close son to his family. 

Wearing a big smile and an iron will, LaSalla continues to make the North Shore proud of his amazing athletic accomplishments. You can bet that LaSalla will be at the center of Virginia’s efforts to retain their standing as the most talented team in the country, but his words will always be carried out by his positive character and positive athletic actions on the field during the most serious games.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

The LoRusso brothers at West Point Academy. Photo from family

“Always remember those service members that died on this day. They did not lose their lives, they gave their life to support the freedom of the American people,” John Fernandez, Shoreham resident.                                                                 

These are the words of army veteran, 1996 Rocky Point High School and 2001 United States Military Academy graduate Fernandez on the meaning of this national holiday. A combat veteran that was severely wounded in Iraq, he has the constant reminders of his service to America. This local father of six children, recalls the sacrifices of his grandfathers, who both fought during World War II. The North Shore does not have to look far to understand the importance of Memorial Day through the experiences of our local citizens.

Gary Suzik, a resident of Rocky Point, served in the navy from 1963 to 1967. He has the unique experience of being stationed on naval ships that were off the coast of Vietnam, within the Mediterranean Sea, and during the Dominican Crisis in 1965.

Joseph Cognitore, Post 6249 Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander. Photo from family

Suzik was on the first crew to serve on the USS La Salle, where he operated the landing craft that were launched from this ship. While Suzik is a native of Michigan, the La Salle was built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it was launched for its duty in 1964. This Vietnam and Cold War veteran’s father fought during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, and his three uncles were in the air force, army and marine corps during World War II.

Longtime resident of Miller Place and Wading River veteran Dan Guida was an army lieutenant. This 76-year-old member of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars was drafted into the army in 1966.  Guida had extensive training as an armor officer at Fort Knox, Kentucky and he was deployed to South Vietnam between 1967 and 1968. He was stationed 50 miles south of Da Nang near the former border between these two warring nations.  

Some 54 years ago, Guida vividly identified his time with I Corps in this war, as there were no days off against an enemy that was dangerous and willing to fight at every moment. As a tank platoon leader of tanks and armored personal carriers, Guida is proud of his time in uniform and is always pleased to be with his fellow “brothers in uniform” at Post 6249.

Pat Biglin had a vastly different military job than many of his fellow comrades at this post. From 1963 to 1967, Biglin was in the air force where he was stationed in Turkey, only 60 miles away from the former Soviet Union. As a young man, he spied on this communist Super Power on a base that was located on the Black Sea, that was situated in north eastern portion of this North Atlantic Treaty Organization power. 

Biglin’s position was part of the security service that was made up of 1% of all members of the air force through its ability to analyze communication and intelligence transmissions from this former enemy.  This special unit tracked every plane that took off within the Soviet Union and he broke coded messages that were sent directly to the National Security Agency. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Biglin continues to serve Post 6249 as its military chaplain.

A resident from Middle Island Glenn Ziomek was a finance administrator that was sent to Frankfurt, Germany after the end of the Vietnam War. While this was a difficult period for this country after the loss of Vietnam, Ziomek recalled that the morale was good among American soldiers at this European army base. 

Joseph Cognitore, Post 6249 Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander. Photo from family

He enjoyed the traveling throughout Germany and Austria, the culture of these countries, and personally speaking to these people. But he vividly remembered hostile anarchy that was created by the German terrorist group Baader Meinhof Gang that caused havoc near the American military bases. 

For Ziomek, Memorial Day is a moment where he likes to think of his father who served in the navy during World War II and his uncle who survived the D-Day landings, who was later shot in the arm and wounded.

Since the creation of this republic, there has always been family ties of defense of this country. You do not have to look far to notice the strength of character of patriotism that is still demonstrated today by Tom and Ray Semkow. Like many families, their parents endured many stressful times, as these two sons were involved within continuous fighting over several years in South Vietnam. 

A city boy that grew up on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan, Ray entered the United States Marine Corps in 1965. After he graduated from boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina, he was sent to South Vietnam. Overseas, Ray was a mechanic and a door gunman that was attached to the I Corps out of Phu Bai, that was near the city of Hue. 

Ray flew countless missions in the Quang Tri Province to pick up numerous casualties, where he helped bring them to safety for medical attention. He also conducted classified operations that saw him enter Laos to deter the enemies use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that supplied the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong with soldiers and supplies.  

Before Tom was sent to Vietnam, he spent two weeks with his brother, who returned home from completing his duty in this war-torn country. In 1968, Tom was a combat medic in the army’s 5th Special Forces that was in the Mekong Delta during deadliest year of this war during the Tet Offensive.  

Tom trained South Vietnamese soldiers and he identified the terrible losses amongst the civilians and the many children that were killed and wounded by booby-traps that were used by the Viet Cong. 

On this Memorial Day, he thinks of the losses that were felt by his own men during the extremely dangerous days of Tet against the enemy. Both brothers still serve today through their devoted efforts of Post 6249 into making this community into a better place.

The LoRusso brothers at West Point Academy. Photo from family

Mike Biscardi is a younger member of Post 6249 that served in the army from 2009 to 2018. He was a military police officer that was attached to the 800th Military Police out of Fort Totten, New York, and the 305th that was in Wheeling, West Virginia. 

This local veteran was sent to Bagram, Afghanistan and later to Germany through “Operation of the Atlantic” to monitor the Russian invasion of the Crimea, Ukraine. Most recently, Biscardi has been deployed to Jones Beach to help the New York Department of Health to administer the COVID-19 vaccination shots. On this Memorial Day, he recalls the military service of his good friend from Shoreham who had passed away. To remember this lost service member, he participates in the annual Michael P. Murphy four-mile race around Lake Ronkonkoma to honor his good friend.  

And always next to these veterans from various conflicts and times within every branch of the military is Joseph A. Cognitore. This long-time commander of Post 6249, served in Vietnam as a platoon sergeant, that fought in Cambodia, and was awarded the Bronze Star.  

Ever since the first Gulf War, Cognitore’s has always presented an iron will to help the veterans of this community, state and nation. On Memorial Day, Cognitore thinks of the army soldiers that fought with him at the end of the Vietnam War, and his own son — graduate of Rocky Point High School — Joseph Jr., that is currently serving as a colonel in the army. 

Like that of the Semkow brothers, this part of the North Shore has a multitude of families that have seen their loved ones enter the military. Nicholas, Kevin, Brian and Larry LoRusso were talented athletes and all attended West Point where they played lacrosse. 

Three of the brothers, Kevin, Brian and Larry served as platoon leaders within the field artillery and Nicholas was an engineer that also taught military sciences at this school. Currently, Nicholas is still in the army as a major, and was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2012. 

A former captain of the Army lacrosse team, Kevin served in Afghanistan in 2011. Three of the older brothers are married and they have started families of their own. 

On this Memorial Day, Nicholas said, “I was able to come home, where other service members did not.  On this date, I hug my kids a little tighter and give my wife an extra kiss.”  

Kevin wants to remember his lost classmates and soldiers that he was deployed with overseas. He believed that these soldiers were the “true heroes” that he honors on this holiday.

A graduate of Rocky Point High School in 2013, Matthew N. Amoscato, attended the United States Maritime Academy at Kings Point, New York, graduating in 2018 with a degree in marine engineering.  

Matthew Amoscatto. Photo from family

Right now, Amoscato is training to become a pilot in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas. Currently he lives in Oklahoma, where he is undergoing survival training in Coronado, California. This pilot of E-6 B Mercury Boeing 707 military aircraft would like to thank all those men and women that have “carried the torch of duty” before his time in the navy.

Craig McNabb, a current Suffolk County Corrections Officer, and the son of a veteran that fought in Iraqi Freedom, believes there is more to Memorial Day than “BBQ’s and a shopping holiday.”

 A graduate of Rocky Point High School in 2014, he was trained as a Protection Service Detail that ensured the security of high-ranking officers, and American and foreign political officials at Bagram and Kabul, Afghanistan. He personally escorted former Secretary of Defense leaders of Ash Carter and James Mattis. 

McNabb was stationed in this tumultuous nation during a dangerous period of when the Taliban utilized explosives to strike fear and losses into the American military and the civilian population.  

Rocky Point High School Social Studies Teacher Bill Weinhold spent several years in the United States Coast Guard before entering the classroom. This teacher and coach is the youngest veteran to be serving in this school district.  

Weinhold remembers Memorial Day of 2010, “as my first military holiday in the service. I had been on my ship for several months at this point and was underway on the USCGC Naushon running fisheries enforcement missions. I remember the cool, rainy Southeast Alaskan spring day handling lines for the small boat we would launch to intercept fishing vessels to ensure they were acting in compliance with Alaskan and federal regulations.”  

It is not difficult to see the positive influence of the Coast Guard on the daily routines that Weinhold presents to his students through his teaching and coaching abilities.

Thank you to those veterans that continue to make this nation extremely proud of their on-going service to defend the United States. Especially those graduates from the North Shore that have fought within every branch of the military.  

Rocky Point High School students Madelynn Zarzychi and Sean Hamilton helped write this article.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Our national remembrance of Memorial Day had its roots after this nation fought the Civil War that ended in April of 1865.  

Former veterans remembered their comrades after the terrible fighting of this four-year war in Waterloo, New York, in 1866.  

Almost, a year after the fighting came to an end, the residents of this upstate town used flowers and flags to pay tribute to those citizens that were impacted by this war. 

In 1868, General John A. Logan called for the nation to show unity in honoring the soldiers from both regions, as he stated that the battle scars and losses were felt within every American town.  

“Decoration Day” was loosely recognized by most states until 1971, when “Memorial Day” was established by the government as a federal holiday. Through a three-day weekend, the blooming of flowers paid tribute to those men and women that served to protect this proud nation.  

On this day, Americans take a moment to understand the historic examples of military service that has strengthened this country since the creation of our republic. 

From May 18 to July 4, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant was in position to drive a decisive wedge against the Confederate ability to carry out this war. At this time, Grant was in the midst of a 47-day siege against the mighty fortifications and gun emplacements that hindered the Union transportation on the Mississippi River. 

Since December of 1862, Grant struggled to overtake this southern post that was called the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”  

For several months, Grant sought one scheme after another that failed within his goals of taking control of these powerful guns that proved impossible to overcome. The press turned against Grant, whom they wrote was heavily drinking on duty and should be replaced by Lincoln. Even this president who appreciated the fighting devotion of Grant believed that he was the only friend that Grant had within the government.  

On April 16 and 17, Grant gambled perhaps the entire war, by moving his forces under all of the guns at Vicksburg to operate south of these enemy forces. Even as the Confederates opened fire, Grant who was accompanied by his wife and son, observed that his entire flotilla of ships that held men and materials were practically unscathed by this assault. 

Now, Grant was within the interior of the state of Mississippi, where he successfully fought several battles, took over the capital of Jackson, and pushed General John C. Pemberton back to the gates of Vicksburg. Lincoln was ecstatic over the fighting exploits of Grant, and this was shown when he was visited by several congressional leaders. 

They were alarmed at reports that this general was drinking too much alcohol while he led this massive army. The President listened to the complaints against Grant and firmly stated that whiskey should be allocated to his other generals that have yet to fight and win any significant battles. 

By June of 1863, he established a siege of Vicksburg, where these heavy artillery guns were useless to the southerners, and it was only a matter of time before this position was captured by Grant on Independence Day of 1863. 

Grant was at the cusp of the largest victory of the war, where he proved that Lincoln was correct to stick with this general that was widely criticized after the Battle of Shiloh and during the earliest attempts to take Vicksburg.

Closer to home during World War I, Camp Upton that is now known as Brookhaven Laboratory, played a pivotal role in preparing American soldiers for the rigors of this conflict. 

Once President Woodrow Wilson finally declared war on Germany and the Central Powers on April 2, 1917, the United States compared to the European powers, had a small force of 127,000 soldiers, with 181,000 National Guardsmen. 

While Wilson kept “our boys out of the war” before he was re-elected in 1916, the President was now responsible to prepare our soldiers that were mostly drafted into service to fight against the battle-hardened strength of Germany. 

At once, the government invested three billion dollars to raise, equip, and modernize the armed forces within an extremely brief period of time. Eventually 40,000 soldiers from mostly New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut received their earliest instruction at Camp Upton. 

They were comprised of more than twenty-five national backgrounds that came from different walks of American life. There was musical composer Irvin Berlin and one of the most decorated veterans of this war, Sergeant Alvin York, briefly called this part of Yaphank their home.

This army base that was established at Camp Upton played a vital role in establishing the training that was necessary to fight an experienced German military on the Western Front. 

At this moment, the local towns of Rocky Point, Miller Place, Ridge, Middle Island, Wading River, and Yaphank, watched a huge influx of civilians from around this nation walked into the confines of Camp Upton.  As we remember Memorial Day, it was some-105 years ago, that these soldiers were trained how to march, shine their boots, make a bed, follow orders, fire a weapon and handle explosives at this local base.  

While Camp Upton was across the vast Atlantic Ocean, it provided a vital morale booster for our country that American soldiers that were trained at this installation were sent overseas to help win this war.  General John J. 

Pershing the Expeditionary Commander of all-American forces in France counted on the soldiers that were from Camp Upton that later aided the British and French in finally defeating the Germany Empire.  

Reinforcements from the United States were desperately needed, as the casualty rate for both sides was excessive with an average of 230 soldiers that died during every hour of fighting between these fighting nations.

About 81 years later, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing for the D-Day invasion of France that took place on June 6, 1944.  

Like that of Grant, he was a mid-western officer, that was an easy officer to like, and a figure that believed in his duty to help win the war. Eisenhower was chosen over General George C. Marshall the great “Organizer of Victory,” due to the unwillingness of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow his most trusted general to leave the nation.  

And with this massive buildup of men and materials, Eisenhower with his trademark smile and ability to get along with the other senior leaders of the allies, was determined to establish the best possible plan to pierce Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” in Normandy.  

For several months leading up to this invasion, there were 73,000 American soldiers, and 83,000 British and Canadian men that were preparing to land on five beaches that spanned over fifty miles.  

To support this massive operation that was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, over 7,000,000 tons of resources were shipped from the United States, that included 450,000 tons of ammunition.  Citizens from every part of America prepared for their role in the “Great Crusade” to defeat one of the worst tyrannical leaders in world history.  

While the British were in their fifth year of the war, they were pleased to see American soldiers and to befriend young men that were from places like New York City, Boston, Duluth, Galveston, Phoenix and Seattle.  It was common to read the British slogan about the American presence of being “overpaid, oversexed, and over-here.” 

As the Yanks were never shy to show their wild side, many of these soldiers were barely out of high school, and they were ultimately used to defeat the 50,000 German soldiers that defended these beaches that rested on the English Channel. As one of the most accomplished generals that this nation ever produced, Eisenhower was a simple officer that cared about his men.  

Eisenhower had much in common with the average private, sergeant and officer that was expected to carry out this complex operation. He was from a poor background, that was fortunate to gain an admission for a college education at the United States Military Academy at West Point, was a talented football player and later coach, and he played minor league baseball under an assumed name.  

When meeting with American soldiers, Eisenhower looked for army personnel that was from his hometown of Abilene, Kansas.  

Although he was devoted to win the war, he accepted that casualties were going to be high, Eisenhower identified with some of the parents that were praying for their children that were in uniform.  At the very moment that he prepared to issue the Operation Overlord orders, his son John prepared to graduate from West Point as a second lieutenant. 

By the end of the war, both father and son were serving together within the European Theater to see the collapse of the Third Reich. Over the important history of the United States, Americans have always sacrificed and served for this nation. 

May we always remember the examples of military service by our men and women that have proudly defined the strength and character of this country.

Rocky Point High School students Madelynn Zarzychi and Rosario Orantes helped write this article.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. 

Photo by Brian Miller

This past week, baseball played a huge role in brining the two communities of Mount Sinai and Rocky Point together for a dynamic cause.  

“Home Runs for Easton” was organized between these two baseball teams that played in front of almost 1,000 people at the Town of Brookhaven Diamond in the Pines Park.

The players had a home run derby and a scrimmage in front of fans that also enjoyed a massive raffle, food, refreshments, hat and shirt sales, and plenty of smiles towards a worthy endeavor.  

Long-time Mount Sinai baseball coach Eric Reichenback was proud of the unyielding efforts that were presented to make this fundraiser into a successful function. He wanted to thank his school’s football coach Vinny Amarato, the girl’s basketball coach Mike Popperlotto, Joanne Rentz, and especially his wife for spending so much time to help the family of his middle school baseball coach Dave Clark. 

Easton was treated for this serious spinal cord condition at Stony Brook University Medical Center and at Shriners Hospital for Children.  

Reichenback is no stranger to playing and coaching big games at almost every baseball level, but perhaps this one of the finest moments of his career. He was extremely pleased to help bring some comfort to one of his coaches in one what Reichenback called a “colossal effort” to bring this game together.

Easton’s dad is a physical education teacher and coach at Mount Sinai High School, and he was a talented baseball player that was a catcher at Sachem High School. He later played at New York Tech. 

With family members, friends, baseball players, teachers and parents from both districts, they watched a homerun derby that gained applause from the fans, where they saw Rocky Point Coach Eric Strovink, need only one pitch to hit the ball over the fence at the Diamond at the Pines baseball field.  

Owner of the All-Pro Sports Academy and instructor Scott June tossed batting practice for over 40 players from both teams that tried to take him deep on every swing. He is a good friend and former Sachem teammate of Easton, who delivered many pitches to the young men that dug in at home plate.  

This event that was run by these two teams raised over $25,000, to help this family endure the long and costly road to recovery. 

Rocky Point Assistant Baseball Coach Eric Strovink was elated at the positive response that was demonstrated by fans that traveled from near and far to watch these local boys play for Easton. 

This local baseball hitting figure that once tormented high school and college pitchers, is a “gentle giant” that has helped steer the Rocky Point baseball team towards helping others through numerous visits to a local soup kitchen and homeless shelter. 

One of the numerous people that Strovink identified in helping this event was Eric Fritch.  He is a volunteer at Shriners Hospital, where he has donated money and support in helping families cope with severe medical hardships.  This was no different, as Fritch was a dominant volunteer to help Easton on this day.  

There was no shortage of help, as many members stepped up to the plate to help run this fundraiser. 

Anthony and Eleni Sorice represented one of the many families that gave their time to help make this event possible and they believed that it was a “total team effort between these two towns to bring this event alive.” 

There were gift cards of every kind that were donated by local restaurants, bars, and Tuscany Market from Miller Place. And those that donated money through the massive raffle were able to win sports memorabilia items that were signed by former New York Yankee Greg Nettles, New York Met Todd Zeile, current Yankee Clint Frazier and items from Nascar.  

Rocky Point Senior Nash Thixton, a pitcher, hit one home run in the derby, where he also won a signed jersey of New York Yankee Pitcher Luis Severino. Thixton was pleased to participate in this game and he believed that it was “good for both communities to supremely come together to aid a family in need.”

Over the last several years, these two teams have gained notable experience in working together towards charitable causes to support these North Shore communities. 

They have scrimmaged against each other during the “Live Like Susie” event. 

This baseball tradition remembers the tragic loss of Susie Facini, a graduate of Rocky Point High School, who passed away from a sudden heart attack in 2011. 

The Eagles and Mustang baseball teams established their own “spring classic” to recall the efforts of this kind young lady who positively touched everyone within her school district.  

Whereas both teams always want to do well against each other within the lines of this game, they have exhibited a unique sense of class to bring awareness to local causes that have brought our residents together through the spirit of baseball.

One of the most important aspects, is the experience of goodwill that these young men have learned from their coaches that have partook within this local tradition.

Most importantly, these players someday pass this baseball compassion onto teams that they will coach and to their own children in helping others through athletics.  

This tradition of giving back was established by former Rocky Point High School coach Andrew Aschettino to his successor Anthony Anzalone, and the mighty presence of Strovink, and Reickenbac.  They have utilized our National Pastime to foster the importance of giving back through major fundraisers like that of “Home Runs for Easton.” 

Anzalone was pleased to be a part of this event and he stated, “It was an honor to be a part of such an amazing day.  

We have a long standing relationship with the coaching staff at Mount Sinai and when asked to join forces, it was a no brainer.”  

Although it is never easy to see a child go through a difficult health condition, the warmth of baseball helped brighten a poor situation for this family.  

Again and again, baseball has proven through every type of crisis, to be a pleasant distraction from negative times, to bring our people together, as was demonstrated at the Diamond in the Pines on Thursday, May, 6.

 Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. 

Photo from the Library of Congress

During this month, the sounds of “play ball” have been heard from every baseball stadium in the United States and Canada. 

The smell of hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and the sound of the bat hitting the ball has been for many American baseball fans. Although COVID-19 has been a complete disruption to the American way of life, there have been many troubling military, economic, social and political experiences throughout history. 

The one constant for the source of morale and goodwill has always been the playing of our National Pastime to help Americans cope.

This occurred after the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, as the United States embarked on the ferocity of the Civil War. As the northern and southern states fought against each other in a conflict that lost almost one million men from both sides, baseball was a pivotal role in establishing morale. 

In some military camps, the baseball rules varied, as it was common for large groups of soldiers and local citizens to watch different military units play against each other, before they went into battle. There was the unique situation of Union prisoners of war that were permitted by the Confederate authorities to play baseball during their confinement.  

Within Union bases, the doctors felt that this sport kept the men in good shape, spirits and out of trouble when they were not fighting. While both regions were engaged in one vicious battle after another, baseball was played by the two sides in the winter and spring months. It allowed the men to handle the issues of boredom, as it took their minds off battles like Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Cold Harbor. 

It was believed that baseball evolved into one of the most popular sports of this time, surpassing, boxing, wrestling, football, running races and cricket. 

Before some of these men were in the military, they enjoyed watching the earliest aspects of this game in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Philadelphia and Boston. Military officers from this war did not have to look too far to see who helped create this game. It was believed that Major General Abner Doubleday, a graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1842, was one of the earliest pioneers of this game. 

He fought at Fort Sumter, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. This resident from Cooperstown, NY is buried in Arlington, and he still is tied to baseball at West Point as their field is named after Double Day.

Another national event that tested the will of Americans was the Great Depression. With our citizens barely holding onto their homes and not having enough food to feed their families, baseball almost faltered during this economic crisis. 

It was a miracle that baseball was not a financial casualty, as it was estimated that from 1930 to 1931, this sport lost 70% of ticket sales, where prices were not quickly reduced by owners. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “the only thing that we have to fear, is fear itself.”  

Many Americans openly wondered if baseball teams would have enough money to operate at a moment when a quarter of the population was unemployed. Between the depression and World War II, it took almost two decades for admission into baseball games to recover. Only the Detroit Tigers reached more than a million fans in a single season during this era.

As the Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed out and the depression became felt around the world, baseball barely survived this economic catastrophe. And through these desperate times, Jimmy Foxx, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove and Lou Gehrig, all performed at high levels, in front of fans that needed an emotional boost. 

Photo from the Library of Congress

But players like a younger Yogi Berra, had to tell his manager to buy him lunch or dinner before the games. Most of the players money was spent on rent and there were times that his minor league manager bought Berra hamburgers, so he did not play on an empty stomach. Ever the favorite, local fans made Berra Italian Hero’s, that kept him strong enough to stay in the line-up.

On Sept. 1, 1939, World War II began, the depression came to an end and General George C. Marshall — the “Great Architect of Victory” — was promoted to be the Army Chief of Staff.  And on this busy day, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Red Sox’s 14-10 within a high scoring game. This was the start of a volatile six years that saw Americans oppose the totalitarian powers of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.  

Directly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked if the baseball season would be ended. Roosevelt stated that baseball should be played, as it would boost the spirit of our people to deal with the hardships of a major two front war in the Pacific and Europe.

Baseball icons like Detroit Tiger Hank Greenberg who struck fear into the eyes of opposing pitchers, was a pilot that flew over Himalaya Mountains that led from India into China. Ted Williams with his .406 batting average, had the finest hand-eye coordination in baseball, that also helped him become a fighter pilot that served during World War II and the Korean War.  

New York Yankees Manager Ralph Houk was a two-time World Series champion that was almost killed by a German bullet when he reached Normandy three weeks after the June 6 D-Day landings. This manager that worked with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard survived the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

It was possible that 1968 was one of the most difficult social and political time periods. This decade began under the younger generation of leadership under President John F. Kennedy and ended within several chaotic events. There were the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the refusal of President Lyndon B. Johnson to run for a second full-term, and the emergence of Richard M. Nixon. 

Thousands of miles away, the American military was fighting a tenacious enemy in the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. The Tet Offensive demonstrated that while the North Vietnamese could be defeated in battle, they took heavy losses, and there was no clear victory in sight against this Southeast Asian country.

For baseball, this was the year of the pitcher, as Denny McClain won 30 games, Don Drysdale tossed 58.2 scoreless innings, Luis Tiant held batters to a .168 batting average and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 Earned Run Average. And through these successful moments on the mound, there were serious anti-war and civil rights protests. 

With mayhem engulfing the United States at every turn, near and far baseball fans had a treat during the 1968 World Series. This was a seven-game series, where fans watched the domination of St. Louis Cardinal Bob Gibson struck out thirteen Detroit Tigers within the first game. Through the efforts of Detroit players Al Kaline and Mickey Lolich, the Tigers won a World Series, at a serious crossroads for this nation. The “Boys of Summer” helped navigate the chaotic waters that our people were forced to navigate as it approached the end of the 1960s.

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were perpetrated on a beautiful day, that forever changed the security apparatus of the country. As our people were reeling from this horrific assault on our way of life, it essentially became some of the longest days ever in our history. 

Members of the New York Yankees and Mets visited rescue workers and military personnel that searched through debris for survivors. When baseball came back to America, fans watched as rivals like the Braves and Mets and the Yankees and Red Sox’s hugged before the games. Football teams across America waved the flag to show comradery for the rescue workers that spent numerous days in lower Manhattan, and fans during the 2001 World Series were elated at the sight of President George W. Bush throwing a strike to home plate at Yankee Stadium.  

Bush flashed a thumbs up to the crowd that had tears in their eyes, as they eerily recalled the almost three thousand Americans that were killed by these attacks. 

Through all types of modern issues like that of COVID, war, social, economic and political upheaval, baseball has always been an important source of comfort for Americans.  

Rocky Point students Chloe Fish, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki contributed to this article. 

Photo from Rich Acritelli

Rocky Point High School students helped make over 12,000 flowers this week to help Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars with their Poppy Fundraiser. Here they are pictured with members of the VFW inside the school. 

Helene Bowler, Charles Gerace, Reilly Orlando and Tom Walsh honor Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

“Circumstances the way they were, the ball just didn’t bounce our way today.  I hate to say it but that is the way life is, it isn’t always fair. And it takes a good man to lose and then to come back from it. You guys have your whole lives ahead of you, you have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of — even though we didn’t win everything, in my book we did. Because guys are everything. Not the trophy, not the wins, it’s you guys.” 

On Dec. 6, 2019, Michael Bowler eulogized the special memory of his father Michael P. Bowler who was a noted teacher, coach, club adviser, and administrator at Rocky Point High School since 1973. 

This powerful speech was given at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, in front of a packed crowd of family members, neighbors, teachers, friends, former lacrosse players, coaches and parents.   

 For decades, he spent countless hours in his classroom, administrative office, and on the practice and game fields.  

This week, Rocky Point High School honored Bowler with a large picture frame with his trademark coaching jacket, hat, whistle and pictures that showed his more-than forty 40 years of service to this North Shore community. 

Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was the epitome of commitment toward every type of student and athlete who crossed his path during his life in education. 

Even up to his death, as he fought cancer, Bowler expected to coach his players, where they were never far from his mind.  His life focused on the love of his family, service to his church, , and the devotion to the students and residents of Rocky Point.  

Helene Bowler, Kevan Bowler and Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

Helene Bowler rarely missed a lacrosse game at Rocky Point and was the anchor of support toward the entire Bowler family. Like her husband, she can quickly describe the players, teams, and games that her husband coached, since he established this program.  

 “Mike loved everything about the game of lacrosse — the skill, the speed, the plays and strategies, the physicality,” she said. “He loved the challenge and excitement of being a coach and considered it an honor and a privilege to mentor these young men at Rocky Point.” 

All the Bowler kids played lacrosse on the college level, they all coached their own teams and children, and three of the boys are teachers and administrators. Bowler’s third oldest son, Kevan, connected lacrosse to the makeup of his parents and said, “I know many schools or programs like to think of themselves as a family, but I know that my dad, with the help and patience of my mom, looked after his team as if they were part of the family. Whether that meant trying to keep them on the right path academically, asking my mom to help wash the uniforms so the team looked sharp or trying to find the best possible college fit for them, lacrosse was not just a spring sport to him.” 

Since their earliest days of growing up in Hicksville, Bowler was a beloved brother to his siblings. His younger sister Meg Malangone, of Lake Grove, described her brother as being, “protective, caring and gentle. I could always talk to him and he always had time for me, even if I was being an annoying younger sister. When my husband died suddenly, Mike was there to share the load — helping with my kids, whether talking sports, watching movies and just laughing with them.”  

Stephanie Bowler described her brother as being “an unsung hero who was always in the background, waiting to be of assistance to anyone in need, great or small. No one was beyond his notice or care. Others always came first, be it a family member, student, athlete, community member or even a stranger.” 

A lasting impression was made on his fellow teachers who have long retired from Rocky Point. Vincent Basileo was an American history teacher who vividly remembered Bowler speaking to the students on a class trip to Quebec.  

“We were in a historic church and Mike had the students mesmerized through his description of the religious artifacts that these young men and women were learning about,” Basileo said.  

For 25 years, Bruce Mirabito taught and coached next to Bowler.  He saw his friend as being a “goal-orientated man who always led by example within all of his endeavors.”  

High school guidance facilitator, Matthew Poole, was a young counselor who worked closely with Bowler handling the administrative tasks for the junior high students within the mid-1990s.  Poole watched as “Bowler disciplined and advised students to help them find better decision-making.  

He was also a man who understood the college recruiting process to help his players enroll into the best possible schools.”   

Athletic director, Charles Delargy, often spoke with Bowler, where these two “Irishmen” enjoyed each other’s company.

Delargy believed that “Bowler was a true professional and gentlemen.  I was very lucky to have him as a good friend.”  

Longtime athletic secretary, Rose Monz, had the routine of seeing Bowler and said, “Never has there been a kinder gentleman. A man with old-fashioned values with a faith strong enough for everyone. I think of Mike every day for many different reasons — for the kids who seem lost, for his kindness and generosity to all the secretaries. And most of all,  I miss Mike for just being Mike.” 

It is impossible to put a number on the players who participated on the lacrosse teams since Bowler’s first competitive year in 1978.   

 “As a player of his and then watching as a fan as he coached two of my sons, he never lost the passion or dedication that he had for not only his teams, but all of the kids coming up,” said Peter LaSalla, a 1982 Rocky Point graduate. “He is missed greatly.”   

John Fernandez praised Bowler, too. 

“He treated his players with respect and wanted to get the best out of them,” Fernandez said. “He loved the game and studied it to be the best possible coach.”   

Michael Muller, a 2010 graduate, was a pallbearer for his beloved coach who helped him get him accepted to Dartmouth College.  According to Muller, “The world needs more people like Mike Bowler. He changed the course of my life and countless others for the better.  His legacy will live on forever.” 

For years, entire neighborhoods have been tied to the Rocky Point lacrosse program. Nicky and Vin Loscalzo graduated in 2011 and 2012 and they grew up with several boys living next to their home. Nicky always laughed when Bowler jokingly yelled at the six boys who made up the “Dana Court Crew.”

Kevin Fitzpatrick was a “crew” member who wanted to thank Bowler “for always teaching me to hold myself accountable for my mistakes and to have pride in the things I work hard at.”  

Nicky LoManto, a 2005 graduate, said, “Bowler provided an outstanding environment for student athletes that emphasized teamwork, respect for opponents and personal life skills for life.” 

During the unveiling, Chris Nentwich spoke about the difficulties of leaving Rocky Point to coach his own son and being away from the presence of Bowler. 

Dave Murphy touched on the loyalty of Bowler and thanked his family for allowing all of us to have special moments with him.  

James Jordan addressed the sincere messages that people wrote when they learned Bowler was named a lacrosse national coach of the year.   

Family friend and a lacrosse coach Brian Buckley spoke of Bowler’s knowledge and how he always loved to talk about his sport. Rocky Point lacrosse coach Tom Walsh cherished his moments with Bowler and would like to carry on many of his traditions within this school.   

And Rocky Point lacrosse senior captain, Reilly Orlando, mentioned he is one of three brothers who all played for Coach Bowler.  

 It is not easy to speak about a loved one who has passed away but, when it is about Michael P. Bowler, his legacy is easy to address and will be difficult to duplicate.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.