Sports Feature

Senior captains of the 2023 Rocky Point High School football team. From left, Ryan Meyers, Jeremy Graham and A.J. Aschettino. Photo courtesy Rich Acritelli

The 2023 Rocky Point High School football team hopes for a promising season behind their main senior players, even after an indifferent 0-3 start.

A.J. Aschettino, a team captain, is also one of the finest baseball prospects on Long Island, who will be playing for Northeastern University after graduating from Rocky Point in June 2024.

He will be leading the football team as a safety, running back and possibly even quarterback. Always a quiet team leader, Aschettino leads by example on and off the field.

Last year, Aschettino played well against Islip, scoring a touchdown and rushing for 120 yards on the ground. Against East Hampton, he had four tackles and an interception to help his team to victory.

As the league’s most valuable player for baseball last season, batting an impressive .522, Aschettino will also establish a solid example of hard work and discipline for the younger players on the roster. Longtime head coach Anthony DiLorenzo indicated that Aschettino has “great football knowledge, with speed and agility.”

Jeremy Graham is a senior captain who has played varsity football for the last three seasons. He will be active on the field, leading the team as quarterback while playing cornerback on defense.

Graham had shown flashes of brilliance last season. Against East Hampton, he scored three touchdowns, passed for 60 yards and ran for another 130 yards on the ground. On the defensive side, he had four tackles in last year’s matchup against Eastport-South Manor.

DiLorenzo believes Graham is a “gritty and gutsy” player who fights for every yard. Like Aschettino, he is an exceptional baseball player, having hit .400 in the playoffs last season. He will be on the Hudson Valley Vikings squad after he graduates.

Another excellent football player is senior captain Ryan Meyers. One of the hardest hitting linebackers in the county, Meyers will make his presence felt on the defensive end of the field as well. He will show his versatility in running the ball, where he wants to help the offense gain points against the opposition.

DiLorenzo marvels at Meyers’ physicality, describing the senior linebacker as having the ability “to run through a wall” to help his team win. Last year against Eastport-South Manor, he had five tackles and two sacks to showcase his defensive prowess. After he graduates from Rocky Point, Meyers will play lacrosse at Binghamton University.

DiLorenzo believes that these three senior athletes will help the team attain its goal of establishing “an uncommon effort, with positive energy and a unit that always has support and love for each other.”

The Montoyo Rocks’ album cover. Image from Burton Rocks

When sports agent Burton Rocks got the idea to add Latin rhythms to a traditional baseball song, he called his friend and client Charlie Montoyo, bench coach for the Chicago White Sox.

Burton and Marlene Rocks at the studio. Photo from Burton Rocks

Rocks said he thought it would be interesting to record “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” using congas, which Montoyo plays in his spare time. Rocks said he didn’t think anyone had ever recorded such a version of the classic.

“I said, ‘Charlie, why don’t we do a brand new instrumental, like our own walk-up music, and it will be called ‘El Ritmo de Béisbol,’ and then why don’t we do a conga version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ and keep the English lyrics,” Rocks said.

Montoyo loved the idea. After the bench coach was on board, Rocks asked his friend, professional musician TD William, to join them on the project. The sports agent also wanted the woman who inspired his love for Latin music to collaborate with them — his mother Marlene Rocks.

The group decided to call themselves Montoyo Rocks, and soon the Stony Brook residents and William were in a studio in Massachusetts working on the songs. Montoyo, from his Arizona home, recorded his instrumental parts on his phone.

Joining in on Montoyo’s conga playing, Burton Rocks plays the bongos and cowbells on “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’’ also contributing vocals while his mother sings during the chorus. William was lead vocalist and played the guitar, bass and drums.

During the instrumental single, with Montoyo on congas once again, Burton Rocks plays cowbells with William on cajon and percussion and Marlene Rocks on shakers.

The son said he has loved music since he was younger and remembers his mother playing piano. Burton said he always enjoyed Latin music such as salsa and samba, thanks to his mother.

“It’s one of my favorite genres of music,” he said.

Marlene Rocks, who was a Spanish teacher in New York City and a substitute teacher in Three Village school district, began appreciating Spanish-language music while visiting family in Mexico and studying in the country. The mother said she was glad she passed on the appreciation of the genre to her son. Growing up she would listen to Latin music artists such as ranchera singer and actor Pedro Infante and later would play the records as well as show her son bilingual children’s shows.

 “Burton, when he was little, I had him watch ‘Villa Alegre’ and ‘Carrascolendas’ so that he would get that Spanish and Latin flavor,” she said.

Marlene Rocks added it was nice that she was asked to join in with the Montoyo Rocks group.

“It was a thrill for somebody in my age group to play the shakers to Latin music that I had grown up listening to, but this was an original, so I really had a good time with it.”

Burton Rocks was happy she agreed to join them in the recording studio and hopes others will let their interests inspire them to create music.

“I think music is one of the universal languages of love,” he said. “You can spread a lot of love in this world through music.”

The Montoyo Rocks singles are available on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and YouTube.

All photos by Steven Zaitz

The late Brooklyn Dodger great Jackie Robinson once said that a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.

It was only fitting that the St. James-Smithtown Little League Opening Day parade and celebration coincided with Major League Baseball’s annual day of recognition of Robinson.

Over 1,000 players, coaches, parents, and baseball fans marched and lined the sidewalks of Woodlawn Avenue west to Gaynor Park in St. James on Saturday as the league marks its 66th year of little league competition — and the impact of this celebration of baseball’s return to Smithtown could be measured by the smiles of everyone who was there.

The 11 and Under Girls Softball team, who won the New York State Championship in July of 2022, rode in the Fighting Two Fire Engine of the St. James Fire Department, which led the parade west on Woodlawn to the new artificial turf field at Gaynor. The champs were honored lavishly throughout the day. Five hundred other players and coaches followed them, dressed in full uniforms, all carrying decorative team banners with one hand and waving to adoring onlookers with the other. 

This trip down Smithown’s version of the Canyon of Heroes was the thrill of a lifetime for the girls.

“The fire truck arrived and one of the firefighters asked the girls to enter, the shocked look on their faces said it all,” said Coach Sean Singh, who piloted the team to glory. “As the fire truck slowly drove along the parade route, they quickly realized that the cheering from friends, family and community was all for them! Having so many people come down to personally congratulate the young ladies was such an honor and their success spoke volumes to the quality of programs Smithtown provides such as our Little League program, along with the opportunities we can provide for our younger athletes.”

Singh’s daughter, Jiselle, plays shortstop for the team.

“Riding in that fire truck was so cool,” Jiselle said. “When I heard the cheering and knew it was for us, I almost cried.”

Tears of joy and laughter were de rigueur on this day, as hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn and soft drinks were available to all at no cost. League sponsors pitched tents along the foul line of Gaynor Field 3 to ply their wares and dole out raffle tickets, most to kids who didn’t know or care what the prizes were. Two giant, rainbow-colored bouncy houses rollicked behind the centerfield fence, as the rain that had been predicted earlier in the week for this day, exercised a reasonable restraint.

SJSLL Board Member and Co-Softball Coach Peter Russo welcomed the crowd and then league President and Master of Ceremonies Richard Tomitz introduced the girls individually in his customary carnival barker style.

“This is a great day and great celebration of our league, our town and our State Championship girls,” said Tomitz. “It is the first time we are able to have this party on the new turf field here at Gaynor and I’m happy the rain held off and everyone is able to have a wonderful time and stay mostly dry.”

Tomitz then brought Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim to the podium and he, along with Councilman Tom Lohmann, who played in SJSLL in the late 1960s, threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season to softballers Gabrielle Krayewski and Riley Connelly. Players and coaches formed a semi-circle around the two politicians as parents and fans cheered from the bleachers.

Wehrheim also gave his congratulatory remarks to the softball champs, the league and spoke glowingly about the project team who helped to complete the turf field. This improvement was the clincher that enabled St. James-Smithtown to acquire the hosting rights to the New York State Championship later in the summer.

“This is an amazing group of girls, and they represented this town with class and excellence,” Wehrheim told the crowd. “This new field surface and improved grounds project was truly a team effort with the league, town hall and the community and is a great example of your tax dollars working for Smithtown.”

Lucas Neems, who is six years old, is not yet focused on a championship, but was nevertheless having the time of his life.

“I loved marching with my new baseball friends,” said Lucas, who plays on Pietro’s Sandlot Scrappers. “I also loved the chocolate ice cream and the pretzels.”

When the ceremony was over and most of the crowd took to the free food, it was time to play ball for a select few. On the main diamond, Singh, Russo, Eric Hanson and Mark Sciortino shared coaching duties for a mixture of girls in blue and red, while minor league boys kicked off the baseball season on Gaynor Field Two. Later on, the 12-year-old boys, the oldest group in the league, played a game on the new turf. This ballgame closed out the party, as sponsors, food vendors and face-painters folded up their tents. 

“It was a great time,” Tomitz said. “We had competitive baseball and softball, everybody seemed to have fun, and I’m happy the girls got the recognition and kudos that they deserve.  If they win again this year on our home turf, I hope Supervisor Wehrheim gives them one of those giant keys to the city.”

For more photos, visit

Graphic from NYSPHSAA website

Rocky Point High School sophomore Ava Capogna and junior Alexandra Viera made history during the inaugural NYSPHSAA Girls Invitational Wrestling Tournament in Syracuse Jan. 27. 

In the first-ever New York State championship featuring over 200 female wrestlers, Capogna achieved a fourth-place finish at 120 pounds and Viera won first place at 126 pounds.

Longtime varsity wrestling coach Darren Goldstein has coached some of the finest athletes on Long Island. Over the last several years, he has coached many female wrestlers. 

Goldstein recalled recent developments within Rocky Point’s female wrestling program. “Gianna Amendola, a 2022 graduate of Rocky Point and a current wrestler at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, was a pioneer as a woman in this sport,” he said. “She had a decorated career on the mats and set the stage for Capogna and Viera to excel within the difficulties of wrestling.”

Ava Capogna

‘This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates.’

— Aidan Donohue

Since she was 7 years old, Capogna has enjoyed wrestling. Her father had experience in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he wanted his daughter to be involved in Rocky Point’s wrestling program. 

Beginning in third grade, Capogna began wrestling in tournaments in Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.

She was the first female on Long Island to be classified for the varsity team. As a seasoned veteran, her most effective moves are the double-leg takedown, headlocks, throws and drags.

This Rocky Point Eagle has already earned 40 wins against boys and is one of the captains of her wrestling squad. Capogna’s future is bright and she has already competed in the nation’s largest female tournament at Fargo, North Dakota.

Next year, Capogna is motivated to return to Syracuse again to gain a higher placement in the state competition. 

Alexandra Viera

Viera always wears a big smile with a can-do attitude. Her path to excellence began several years ago as a young girl wrestling in a Brentwood youth club. The only girl in this organization, Viera recalled her earliest moments in this sport with delight. 

Consistently a top-rated wrestler, she has perfected her single- and double-leg takedowns and throws against opponents. After wrestling for Connetquot, Viera quickly emerged as a notable competitor for Rocky Point.

She appreciates her teammates for helping her transition into a new school. She credits her mom and stepfather, who were instrumental in mentally and physically preparing her for the rigors of the sport. She would also like to thank wrestling classmates Nick LaMorte, Jeron’Taye Coffey and Kyle Moore for their continual support.

As a rising senior, she hopes to continue wrestling at the collegiate level.


Coaches and teammates alike are in awe of these two trendsetters who have opened up doors and broken barriers for female athletes locally. Athletic director Jonathon Rufa summarized their achievements. 

Capogna and Viera are “blazing a trail for girls along the North Shore of Long Island to participate in wrestling,” he said. “We look forward to their continued achievements and honor their recent accomplishments.”

Junior Aidan Donohue remarked on the important contributions of his two classmates. “This is an incredible achievement for these two amazing people and teammates,” he said.

With 4.8 million participants nationwide, pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in the United States, says Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball. File photo from Pixabay

Pickleball, a nationwide recreational phenomenon, has made its way to Port Jefferson village.

On Tuesday, May 10, village residents will be offered the opportunity to learn about pickleball and try it out for themselves. Trustee Stan Loucks said the pickleball village initiative is finally materializing. 

“Pickleball has been on my agenda for about four years,” he said in a phone interview. “We have a clinic planned for May 10 at 6 o’clock that we’re advertising, and registration is through the village recreation department.” 

Loucks described pickleball as a combination of several racket sports in one. Unlike tennis, pickleball is played within a much smaller area, which has a lower impact on the body. “It’s also a sport that the elderly can play,” he said.

Loucks was first introduced to pickleball in Florida, where he said he spends a good portion of his time. There, he noticed a surge in pickleball’s popularity and sought to bring this activity to the village. 

 “The reason I picked pickleball is because if we use the area that we have left over at the country club, those upper [tennis] courts, I can put six pickleball courts there,” the trustee said. “We don’t have room for tennis up there right now and we thought we could put a pickleball complex up there.” He added, “It is a sport that has exploded nationwide. It’s a matter of popularity, expense, room, and it’s an advantage that all ages can play.”

History of pickleball

TBR News Media contacted Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball, for an exclusive interview. He shared the history of the sport dating back nearly six decades.

“Pickleball started in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington [state] — just across from Seattle — by three families who were there for the summer,” Upson said in a phone interview. “The kids were antsy and bored, so they created the game of pickleball on their driveway.”

From there, the sport grew throughout the Pacific Northwest, becoming more popular over time. Upson noted it was particularly popular throughout warmer climates.

“Over time, it really grew in the Sun Belt,” he said. “It’s huge in Florida, California and Arizona.” Addressing the demographics that gravitated to the sport initially, Upson added, “It was a more popular sport among seniors who wanted to remain active and probably had played tennis a lot. Tennis was a little difficult for them to continue to play because it’s harder on the body.”

Within the last five years, Upson observed a boom in the number of picklers throughout the country. “It was growing 20% per year before the pandemic, but when COVID shut the world down, the sport really took off because it was so easy to play.” He added, “Even since the pandemic, the sport has continued to skyrocket and is now the country’s fastest growing sport with now 4.8 million people playing it.”

When asked to explain the rise of pickleball, Upson said it was the sport’s relative simplicity that made the difference.

“It’s easy to play, but it’s also easy to learn,” he said. “You can get out on the court and if you have any basic hand-eye coordination, especially if you have experience playing another racket sport, you can go out on a pickleball court and, within an hour or so, be confident and not embarrass yourself.”

Rules and regulations

While pickleball may look similar to other racket sports, it is governed by its own unique set of rules and scoring procedures. “The scoring is different from tennis,” Upson said. “It’s a much smaller court which is about the same size as a paddle-tennis court,” adding, “In fact, you can fit four pickleball courts in the area of one tennis court.”

Also distinguishing pickleball from its racket sport counterparts is the style in which it is played. Unlike tennis, a pickleball is served underhand. Additionally, the game follows a service-scoring format, meaning points can only be earned while one is serving the pickleball. Games are usually played to 11 points, according to Upson.

The mission of USA Pickleball is to grow the sport,” he said. “As the national governing body, we also sanction tournaments, set the rules of the game, approve all the equipment — the paddles and balls — and we hold tournaments around the country.”

Trustee Stan Loucks has been working for over four years to bring pickleball to the village of Port Jefferson. His vision is now becoming reality. Photo from the Village of Port Jefferson website

Future of the sport

Part of Pickleball USA’s efforts include appealing to the International Olympic Committee for formal recognition at the Olympics. Realistically, pickleball will not be recognized for at least another 12 years.

“We want to help grow the sport internationally and would love for it to be recognized by the IOC and be a part of the Olympic Games at some point, but that’s quite a few years down the road,” Upson said. 

At the local level, there is a growing demand for the sport throughout Port Jeff. “We now have a waiting list,” Loucks said. “We have so many people that have enrolled that we can’t accommodate all of them.” He added, “The demand is there. I think we’re going to have more people that want to play than we’re going to have room for.”

Loucks said programs such as the May 10 clinic are designed to introduce prospective picklers. He emphasized the importance of the upcoming clinic, saying, “I’d like to see the local readers show up at our May 10 pickleball clinic at Texaco Park. It’s free and we will have rackets available. For anyone who shows up, we will try to get them on the court. If we can’t accommodate that many people on the courts, they certainly will see the game being played and receive an awful lot of information about the sport.”