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Cedar Beach

Long Islanders flocked to Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach Nov. 18 to take a dip into freezing
water with purpose.

The 8th annual Polar Plunge raises money for Special Olympics New York athletes as plungers take a dip or slow crawl into the chilly waters of the Long Island Sound. Special Olympics New York has 71,889 athletes training and competing year-round in 22 Olympics-style sports. Athletes and their families or caregivers are never charged to participate.

It costs $400 to support training and competition for one athlete for one sports season. This year’s Town of Brookhaven event has raised more than $110,000. Team Extraordinary has accumulated the most to date, with funds totaling almost $11,000.

TriCrosse creators Bill Kidd and Andy Matthews demonstrate how their game works at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Back in the 1980s, Setauket natives Bill Kidd and Andy Matthews would often spend their summer days fishing and clamming on the Long Island Sound.

But when they returned to shore, the best friends were the only ones playing TriCrosse — a then-brand new toss-and-catch game in which two players with scoop rackets throw a ball back and forth trying to score into goal nets set up in front of their opponent.

That’s because Kidd and Matthews made it up in their backyards.

A man plays TriCrosse during Town of Brookhaven Tournament Aug. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We started off tossing and catching a ball with some lacrosse-like rackets, and then got some fishing and crab nets from the shed to stick in the ground so we could be a little competitive with each other,” said Kidd, 48, laughing. “We thought, ‘This is kind of fun, it’s neat to aim this thing and try to get a goal.’ It kind of grew from there.”

On Aug. 12, more than 30 years after its creation, TriCrosse was played by kids, teens, moms, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents along Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai during the first Town of Brookhaven-sponsored Fight Breast Cancer TriCrosse Tournament.

The fun-filled event, made up of 28 registered locals and dozens of spectators, pit players against each other in a double-elimination style and marked the game’s first public tournament since it was officially rolled out into several small stores and made available online in April.

Even though most of the tournament participants had never played TriCrosse before, it didn’t take long for them to get into it.

“It’s borderline addicting,” said Kevin McElhone, 25, of Huntington. “As soon as you get the racket in your hand, you can stand out here and do this for hours.”

So far, the portable game — which contains two goals with three different sized nets on each, two bases for indoor and outdoor play, two plastic rackets, two balls and a large carry bag — is on shelves at Amity Harbor Sports in Amityville as well as toy stores in Lake Placid and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

“It’s very fun, it’s great exercise, just a great outdoor game,” said Richard Kryjak, 13, of East Setauket. “It’s definitely perfect to play on the beach.”

A girls tosses her TriCrosse ball during a Town of Brookhaven Tournament Aug. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

The TriCrosse team, which consists of Kidd, Matthews and Bill Strobel of Setauket, said they plan to meet with multiple retailers in the fall, as well as many physical education and camp conferences later this year to discuss expanding the game’s reach.

“I think I’m going to be a TriCrosse person in retirement,” said John Gentilcore, the former principal at Mount Sinai Elementary School. “It’s important I have a good self-esteem
because I’m probably going to be beaten by a 10-year-old. That’s OK, though.”

Matthews, the director of math, science and technology in the Mount Sinai School District, said the school recently bought four TriCrosse sets to bring into the gym curriculum.

“We want to be the ultimate outdoor game for people at beaches, in parking lots, tailgating, gymnasiums,” Matthews said.

Kidd said he likes to also think it can work in a variety of settings.

“The best part about it is it’s like old school baseball and mitts with the family, but in an environment where it can be very competitive or as leisurely as just hanging out in the backyard and having some fun,” Kidd said.

Although it has been a popular game in Kidd and Matthews’ close circles for years, TriCrosse was tucked away as jobs and families took priority.

That was until recently, when backyard games like Spikeball and KanJam made a splash on the market, encouraging the team to turn TriCrosse into a family-friendly product.

TriCrosse team of Bill Kidd, Andy Matthews and Bill Strobel take their game TriCrosse to Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding

“The three things we’ve always heard from people is ‘What is that?’ ‘Where can I get it?’ and ‘You should be on Shark Tank’,” Strobel said. “It’s such a great family activity, which people really enjoy. Our big thing is also getting kids off the couch, getting them off of their phones and getting them out playing. I know there’s a bunch of backyard games out there, but there’s nothing like this, which is cool.”

After it was released in April, Strobel brought TriCrosse and videos of game play to Brookhaven’s superintendent of recreation Kurt Leuffen in an effort to bring it to residents in a friendly, competitive setting.

Fifty percent of the proceeds that were raised during the event, $200 total, will be donated to the Stony Brook Foundation, which supports research, prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

“We’re not trying to make any money at this tournament,” Matthews said. “We just want to show people what it is and try to get the word out.”

Not much of the game has changed since Kidd and Matthews developed it, they said. The rule is that each player stands behind the goals, which are about 50 feet apart, while throwing and receiving a foam ball with plastic rackets to try and score into any of the three nets for varying points. The first player to reach seven points in 10 minutes wins.

Fittingly, one of the last matches of the  night was between the game’s two creators. Kidd and Matthews struck the ball back and forth with glee as if they were teenagers in the backyard again.

File photo by Erika Karp

On April 29, volunteers are welcomed to come down to the Mount Sinai Yacht Club, at 200 Harbor Beach Road, Mount Sinai, to help give the Mount Sinai Harbor and Cedar Beach a proper spring cleaning.

The cleanup, sponsored by the Mount Sinai Harbor Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Town of Brookhaven, Mount Sinai Yacht Club, Tuscany Gourmet Market, Ralph’s Fishing Station, Old Man’s Boatyard and the Waltz family, will begin at 9 a.m. and go until the afternoon. Refreshments and lunch will be provided at the Mount Sinai Yacht Club.

Upon arrival at the yacht club, volunteers will be provided with bags, gloves and pickers, and assigned to a specific area of the harbor/beach complex.

Students and scouts may use the cleanup for community service hours.

As the number of drug-related overdoses on the Long Island grows, one parent refuses to bury his head in the sand.

On the one-year anniversary of his son’s fatal heroin overdose, William Reitzig wasn’t in bed grieving. Instead, the Miller Place parent was on stage at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai asking hundreds of community members to hug one another.

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

—Michael Reitzig

“Hug your loved ones like I hugged my son every day … don’t let a minute go by without saying ‘I love you,’” Reitzig said to a crowd of emotional parents, extended family members, friends and strangers. “My hope is that you leave here today with the same mission as my wife and I — that with love and compassion, we have the power to overcome the perils of drug addiction.”

That mission resonated throughout Hope Walk for Addiction, an April 22 fundraising event created by Reitzig and co-sponsored by Brookhaven Town and Hope House Ministries — a nonprofit based in Port Jefferson that supports people suffering the disease of addiction.

Reitzig, whose 25-year-old son Billy struggled for years with opioid pills and ultimately died after a one-time use of heroin last April, kickstarted “a war on addiction” by raising awareness, educating about addiction, raising money to help those struggling and unite the community.

“This is [really] for the community — it’s not about me, it’s not about my son, it’s to try and make a difference moving forward,” Reitzig said. “I can’t do anything about the past at this point, but going forward we can all chip in … we’re all in the same boat. Today is about all the families that struggle every day with this disease getting together because this is no longer acceptable and we need to do something.”

The large crowd, mostly loved ones of those battling addiction or those who died from it, collectively walked Cedar Beach’s Nature Pathway in memory of those who overdosed. About a dozen names could be seen on signs along the scenic trail.

“I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable.”

—Francis Pizzarelli

Local leaders, self-help experts and bands occupied the stage to address the issue that brought everyone together. Various sponsors, including WALK 97.5 and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, were set up at tables taking donations and educating others, and representatives from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office gave seminars on how to use Narcan, a life-saving nasal spray that can revert the effects of an overdose.

More than 500 people registered for the event, and all proceeds — totaling more than $34,000 at the end of the day — went to Hope House, which currently doesn’t have enough space for the overwhelming amount of people who need its services.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder of Hope House, counseled Billy while he was rehabilitating in the facility’s outpatient treatment program for a few months, and ultimately presided over his funeral.

Reitzig worked closely with Pizzarelli, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), to make the Hope Walk a reality.

“Billy was a loving and caring guy, but like a lot of people today, he had his demons and struggled with that,” Pizzarelli said. “I don’t think people realize how many people are depressed and they don’t know how to handle that and so people self-medicate and that’s part of the issue. Ninety-one young people die every day [from this] and that’s unconscionable. [William] elected to say ‘we’re not going to let this continue, we’re going to do something about it and we’re going to protect the quality of life of all our younger and older people addicted to heroin.’”

This is a time to come together as a community, Pizzarelli added, and celebrate the hope Reitzig embodies.

“We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision.”

—Sue Meyers

“I don’t think I’ve met more resilient, strong, dedicated and passionate people in my whole life as I have in William and his family,” Bonner said. “He’s changing the future of so many people by doing this. We’re losing a generation to addiction and this is an opportunity to lift each other up and strip the layers of shame back. It’s all around us and no community is safe from it.”

Patty Eiserman, of Sound Beach, wore a shirt bearing the face of her nephew David Smallwood, who died in 2013 when he was just 22. She said her goal is to educate children as young as possible so they don’t start using.

“I don’t want to say it’s impossible to get them clean,” she said, “but it’s very, very hard.”

Manorville resident Melanie Ross, whose brother died last year after a 10-year battle with addiction, said the situation ravaged the family. It was the first time she’d attended an even like this.

Sue Meyers, a Setauket resident, said she was walking for her son, Michael Moschetto, a Ward Melville graduate who died in December at 28.

“It’s in his name, but I’m also here to help show support for other people and donate as much money as I have in my pockets,” Meyers said. “We need to help stop the stigmatized feeling that comes with addiction. The users feel alone as it is, they don’t feel proud of themselves. They are good people that made one bad decision. I think events like this really give people hope and a sense of direction.”

Snow and sleet notwithstanding, spring will soon be here, and it’s time to ask the question: Will environmental education programming return to West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook and Cedar Beach in MountSinai?

When queried last year, Brookhaven Town spokesman Jack Krieger responded in an email, “At this time the position [environmental educator] is occupied and budgeted in the 2017 town budget.” When he wrote that, the person holding the title, Molly Hastings,  had been suspended since September pending the outcome of a hearing process that has yet to be concluded nearly five months later.

The 1996 New York State legislation that decreed the removal of the cottages being used by private individuals, and returned the beach to its natural state, also contained a provision that there be an environmental educator hired to provide programming to add an informational component to the newly reclaimed preserve.

The cottages were razed in 2004 and, following a multi-year civil service process to establish the position, Eileen Gerle became the first environmental educator in March 2009. Upon her retirement in October 2014, Hastings became the second to hold the position the following December. 

Stony Brook civic leader Herb Mones said he dedicated a decade and a half to seeing that the town complied with the legislation.

“I spent 15 years of my life on this issue, to move the town to fulfill its obligation to make the public park public, fulfilling the vision of local industrialists Ward Melville and Eversley Childs,” he said.

Mones said the town has done some very good things at West Meadow, remodeling the main building, adding a lifeguard station and providing new playground equipment.

“If the town never did another thing, it would still be a remarkable resource,” he said. “It’s a little slice of heaven. I think there are a lot of things that are very positive. West Meadow really defines the Three Villages.”

Still, he said he’d like to see refurbishment of the remaining cottages, addition of a nature trail and installation of security lighting near the Gamecock Cottage. And, of course, restoration of educational programming.      

When Nick Sicurelli, a 17-year-old Hauppauge High School senior, learned all the fall environmental education programs at West Meadow Beach — as well as at Cedar Beach — had been cancelled this year, he said he felt bad for all the students and scouts who had missed out.

“It’s important to reach out, to inform people [about the environment], to let them know the scale of what’s going on — and the small things they can do [to improve the planet],” he said, adding he believed the cancellations were unfortunate.

Sicurelli first came to West Meadow Beach to complete an environmental science merit badge with his Boy Scout Troop 343. He returned happily and often to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and do more including search for turtles and turtle eggs, help with beach cleanup, remove invasive plants and replant a beach garden for which he raised funds to purchase trees and plants.

In all, 19 programs open to the public and 22 public school programs were canceled in September and October at the two sites, according to a Sept. 27 email sent from Tom Carrano, supervisor of the environmental educator, to Molly Hastings.

In addition, a variety of tours, field trips, school assemblies, citizen scientist projects and volunteer opportunities were unavailable this fall.

Elyas Masrour of Setauket, a student at P. J. Gelinas Junior High School, saw a film years ago that engendered in him a passion for birds.

“I watched ‘The Big Year,’ a funny movie about birders who go on a trip and try to outdo each other sighting birds,” he said. “It lit a spark for me and I signed up for bird walks at West Meadow Beach.”

He said he met other birders and they did a ‘Big Year’ together — right in the Three Village area — identifying more than 100 bird species. Taking the next step, Masrour started photographing birds he spotted, until he realized taking videos made it easier to capture a good shot in an individual frame. That led to wildlife filmmaking.

He asked permission of Hastings to film the piping plovers at West Meadow last summer. She worked with him so he could create a five-minute documentary.

Catherine Masrour, Elyas’ mother, would like to see the educational programming resume.

“It’s such an important thing,” she said. “Kids don’t get outside enough as it is. There are all these opportunities at West Meadow that make it so special and wonderful. If we are going to combat climate change, we need to start locally — and with the young. We need an informed future generation.”

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Whether you plunged or supported a plunger, Long Islanders flocked to Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach Nov. 19, dressing up and gathering together with teams to jump in and out of the cold waters as part of the Town of Brookhaven’s seventh annual Polar Plunge.

By registering to plunge, applicants raised money for the athletes of Special Olympics New York.

Special Olympics New York has 67,162 athletes training and competing year-round in 22 Olympics-style sports. Athletes and their families or caregivers are never charged to participate. It costs $400 to support training and competition for one athlete for one sports season.

Cedar Beach file photo

To help residents keep cool during the extreme heat wave, Brookhaven Town will extend hours at municipal pools and beaches on Friday, Aug. 12 and Saturday, Aug. 13.

The town’s Centereach and Holtsville pools will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook, Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai and Corey Beach in Blue Point will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Normal operating hours at all facilities will resume on Sunday, Aug. 14.

For more information, call 451-TOWN or visit www.Brookhaven.org.

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Geoff, Bob, Karen and Patrick Engel hosted the Hoops for Hope event in memory of their family member. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the face of tragedy, there’s one of two directions you can go. You can react to it optimistically and see what good can come out of it, or you can let it control your life and pin you down. The Engel family, of Miller Place, refuses to be pinned down. In fact, they’re well on their way to making great strides in their community.

Tuesday marked the 2nd Annual Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai — a day of competitive basketball all in the memory of a wonderful student and athlete taken too soon.

After Engel’s passing from a heroin overdose last year, his younger brother Patrick acted quickly and — with the help of his family and friends — put the event together in just a few short days, raising more than $5,000 for Hope House Ministries, a center in Port Jefferson where Jake Engel lived for two years, which provides care to young people and families in crisis.

Friends take to the court for some 3-on-3 basketball action in support of Jake Engel, a Miller Place resident who died of a heroin overdose last year, during the second annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Friends take to the court for some 3-on-3 basketball action in support of Jake Engel, a Miller Place resident who died of a heroin overdose last year, during the second annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Knowing that they wanted to expand on what they accomplished last year, the Engel family — Bob, Karen, Geoff and Patrick — set out to raise money this time around not just for Hope House but for the development of a scholarship at Miller Place High School and nonprofit organization in their son and brother’s name.

“We wanted something that was actually about Jake — In his name, dedicated to him,” said Patrick Engel. “Hope House is wonderful and we love Hope House … but we want something separate from it to remember him more personally.”

Both programs-to-be are in the beginning stages, but even though the qualifiers for the scholarship are not set in stone quite yet, the core mission certainly is. The Engel family is determined to raise awareness about the all-too prevalent drug problem sweeping Long Island and wants to do everything they can to prevent any drug-related tragedies in the future.

“The idea behind the scholarship and nonprofit is to be educating kids in the school district about these types of things,” said Geoff Engel, Jake Engel’s brother. “So we thought that setting up a scholarship would be a good way to promote that. The nonprofit could also hopefully provide housing for kids who are not able to get into rehabs or other types of organizations.”

Bob Engel, Jake Engel’s father, is especially determined to zero in on youth.

“Kids have to be educated,” he said. “It’s out of control out there, and I really want to gear everything toward the younger kids. They gotta get it in their head. Start in 5th grade with lectures every month and a half. The drug dealers aren’t going away no matter what, so at this point it’s about the education of younger people. The community needs to know what’s going on. [Hoops for Hope] is a good thing. This money is going toward educating these kids.”

Karen Engel, Jake Engel’s mother, said the family is still finalizing the details of the scholarship but are thinking of awarding it to someone who has overcome adversity and who does well academically because “that was Jake.”

“He was a very good student and loved his academics, and school and learning,” she said. “So that’s kind of the direction we’re going in.”

She hopes that both the scholarship and organization will encourage more people to become actively involved.

Geoff Engel plays some hoops in support of his brother Jake, who died last year of a heroin overdose. Photo by Kevin Redding
Geoff Engel plays some hoops in support of his brother Jake, who died last year of a heroin overdose. Photo by Kevin Redding

If this year’s fundraiser was any indication, people are ready to turn their attention to this issue.

Geoff Engel said that while last year’s fundraiser was very spontaneous and slapped together quickly, this year’s was a lot more organized.

“We’ve done a much better job promoting the event,” said Geoff Engel, who recently appeared on 103.9 WRCN-FM to spread the word. “We’re really hoping to raise at least twice as much as last year. It’s a much bigger event.”

For starters, last year’s basketball tournament had about 15 teams of 3, and this year boasted 26, with a donation of $15 per team to participate. But the event’s biggest source of income came with the addition of event T-shirts at $10 each, provided by the company Inkterprise, and a raffle.

Some of the donated items included a 32-inch flat-screen TV, a 3-month membership to Planet Fitness and a car care basket with three auto inspections provided by Rapid Inc. The Town of Brookhaven also supported the fundraiser and donated four box seat tickets to the Yankee game this upcoming Saturday, a $100 Modell’s gift card and the basketball court at Cedar Beach, waiving the standard $400 fee to rent it.

“I live right next door in Rocky Point and so many communities on the North Shore have been devastated with overdoses,” said Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “We decided to take a stronger role this year … we all collectively decided to roll up our sleeves and become more involved and bring more awareness.”

For the Engel family, whose constant strength and selflessness has perpetuated this call for awareness, the focus is making sure the scholarship and nonprofit organizations get off the ground. If things go as planned, that should be the case by graduation next year.

“We’re trying to do anything we can just so people will talk about it,” Karen Engel said. “We want people to be aware that they can reach out to get help.”

This version corrects the spelling of the company name Inkterprise.