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Clayton Collier

Vincent DeMarco, center, poses for a photo with some members of the Youth Re-entry Task Force during a regular bi-monthly meeting. Photo from Kristin MacKay

By Clayton Collier

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has worked diligently over the last nine years, going above and beyond what’s asked of his position.

His creation and development of the Youth Re-Entry Task Force, a program created to rehabilitate youth inmates, among his other initiatives, has earned him the distinction of a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“The sheriff has truly changed the culture of corrections in Suffolk County, and has put particular emphasis on rehabilitation of incarcerated youth,” said Kristin MacKay, director of public relations for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. “He has been at the forefront of the fight to eliminate state mandates for new county jail construction, which saved the county’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”    

Though you wouldn’t know it from speaking with him, DeMarco did not initially intend to go into law enforcement. A Ronkonkoma native, DeMarco went to St. John’s University, graduating with a degree in economics in 1991.

“I always had an interest in law enforcement,” DeMarco said. “But I didn’t think it was going to be my career.”

After two years working in the financial industry in New York City, DeMarco transitioned into law enforcement, becoming a deputy sheriff for Suffolk County in 1994. He took to the job quickly.

Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is reducing the rate of recidivism in county jails. Photo from Kristin MacKay
Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is reducing the rate of recidivism in county jails. Photo from Kristin MacKay

“I think I have the best job in the world, I really do,” he said. “I love coming to work every day. I love what I do.”

DeMarco became Suffolk County sheriff in 2006, the first uniformed member of the office to be elected sheriff, and one of the youngest sheriffs ever elected in Suffolk County. From the beginning of his tenure, DeMarco said he has made working with youth inmates a priority. In 2011, DeMarco began assembling the partners needed for an undertaking like the Youth Re-Entry Task Force.

“We needed partners on the outside in order to make this a success,” DeMarco said. “We needed housing. … We also had to find not-for-profits that were willing to come into the correctional facilities and do some counseling: drug counseling, anger management, life skill counseling, vocational counseling, all types of stuff to fill our program, so when they leave the facilities they actually have the tools to succeed instead of just warehousing them in a correctional facility where you’re not giving them any tools and they’re going to fail.”

Among the most essential resources DeMarco and his administration found was housing for youths at Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson and Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead.

Thaddaeus Hill, executive director of Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch — created and named in memory of his older brother — said the program has seen great success, highlighted by the 50 percent drop in recidivism among youths who go through.

“Sheriff DeMarco has pioneered programs that few in this country have had the courage to take on,” Hill said. “He looks at the big picture beyond the walls of his jail and that has allowed him to make a significant impact on the lives of many young people on Long Island.”

Another key component was Eastern Suffolk BOCES to incorporate education into the program. Barbara Egloff, divisional administrator for Eastern Suffolk BOCES and Oversight of the Jail Education Program and Career, Technical and Adult Education, said DeMarco has effectively used the strengths of all of his partnerships to make the program a success.

“It is inspiring to work with Sheriff DeMarco,” Egloff said. “He has instilled the importance of effective collaboration to all who have the opportunity to work with him.”

Suffolk County Court Judge Fernando Camacho, who heads the County’s Felony Youth Part, a program created in conjunction with Sheriff DeMarco, said it is rare to come across a sheriff so dedicated to creating better lives for his inmates after they have served their time.

“I’ve worked in criminal justice my entire professional career, over 30 years, and I’ve worked with a lot of individuals running correctional facilities, and I can honestly say I’ve run across somebody who’s actually bringing in social workers and service providers into his jail to help young people to identify what the issues are, and to try to come up with solutions,” Camacho said.

Camacho said it is important to work with youth inmates to improve their situations upon leaving the jail.

“Rather than putting them upstate for three years and forgetting about them, we’re actually thinking about it in a different way,” Camacho said. “Let’s see if we can figure out why this kid got in trouble, and let’s see if we can put a plan in place that’s going to give this kid an opportunity to break out of the cycle and get back on track.”

As DeMarco explains, the program’s numbers speak for themselves.

“Nationally, the average inmate has an 83 percent chance of returning,” DeMarco said. “The kids that come through our program have a 23 percent chance of coming back; that’s a big difference.”

Overall, the program contributes to lowering the number of inmates in county jails, allowing DeMarco to prevent the costly undertaking of additional facilities.

“It doesn’t cost us any more to provide these services to the youth in this facility, but the return we get is that they don’t come back to the facility and we lower the jail population.”

In the future, DeMarco hopes to expand for additional age groups. The more people he can help, he said, the better.

“If someone winds up touching the criminal justice system and they wind up in this facility, and we can find out the underlying reason why this crime was committed,” he said, “we can change that and change their behavior when they get out, we’ve increased public safety, and that’s the goal.”

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Lisa Lally, above, hands out Miller Place sports T-shirts. Photo from Lally

By Clayton Collier

Before Lisa Lally retired last month, the longtime Miller Place athletic director had some parting words of advice for her successor.

“She said to remember to find time for family and make time for myself along the way,” said Ron Petrie, current Miller Place athletic director and head football coach. “It’s a very easy job to get lost in.”

Lisa Lally, above, hands out Miller Place sports T-shirts. Photo from Lally
Lisa Lally, above, hands out Miller Place sports T-shirts. Photo from Lally

The 2010 Section XI Athletic Director of the Year said it was for a similar reason that she decided to retire from the position she held for 13 years.

“You are problem solving constantly,” Lally said. “I enjoy that, but I think it requires a tremendous amount of focus and a tremendous amount of time away from other aspects of your life, and I think I was ready to focus in on other things.”

Deputy Superintendent Seth Lipshie, who has known Lally for more than 25 years, said his longtime co-worker’s efforts did not go unnoticed at Miller Place.

“In athletics, Lisa has incorporated a strong emphasis on sportsmanship while striving to be successful in competition,” he said. “The thing that drove Lisa the most was her priority she placed on what is in the best interest of the student-athlete. She derived as much pleasure in the success of her coaches and players as anyone in Miller Place.”

Nearly 150 people attended Lally’s retirement reception on October 27 at Willow Creek in Mount Sinai. Petrie said attendees included a wide variety of current and former colleagues from her more than 30 years with the district.

“It was a really nice event to celebrate not just her time here working, but also the life that she leads and the respect that she has gained over that period of time,” Petrie said.

Lally grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, playing basketball and softball in high school, after the passage of Title IX before her freshman year, and won the 1978 female athlete of the year at Greenwich High School.

Lally graduated from Southern Connecticut State College in May 1982, with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. That summer, Lally moved to Long Island and soon began working as a substitute teacher and the junior varsity girls’ basketball coach at Miller Place. By September 1983, Lally had earned a full-time physical education teaching position.

She also coached field hockey, softball and volleyball in her career with Miller Place, but she indisputably had the most success coaching basketball, being named coach of the year five times — three times with the JV team and twice with varsity, winning the league championship in each of her last two years as coach.

In July 2002, Lally was named an assistant principal at Miller Place High School, a position she said did not suit her well.

“I was out of my comfort area in a lot of respects,” she said. “I was being asked to oversee a lot of areas that I did not feel I had working knowledge about.”

So when the position of athletic director became available just two months later, Lally saw an opportunity to move to a field she felt more comfortable in. Still, Lally said she had her hesitations in making such a “big leap” to athletic director, or the “right leap” as she describes it looking back.

“I was afraid of the job itself, initially,” Lally said. “Like wow, this is big. But I also knew it was part of my bloodline; it was who I was; it was something I knew.”

Every job comes with its own challenges, and an athletic director certainly is no exception. Lally said the most difficult part of her job early on was having to cut costs.

“Athletics, while it’s a very vital part of our school community, it’s also one of those areas that can be cut, because it’s not mandated,” she said. “So learning how to cut lots and lots of money out of a program without annihilating an entire program; it was very, very difficult.”

Petrie, who had the opportunity to observe Lally’s work in his roles as both the football coach and the assistant athletic director, said she was balanced to all athletic programs, both large and small.

“If we couldn’t afford to go out and get a high-end piece of equipment or put off getting new jerseys for a year or so, it was understood because nobody else was getting it,” he said. “It was pretty flat across the board and she was fair with it. I never felt we were being overlooked or not prioritized.”

It was that approach that Petrie said earned Lally respect amongst her peers in the district.

“Fairness was something that was always associated with how Lisa handled things,” he said. “She made sure that all kids were considered in any decision she was making.”

Lally’s involvement in high school athletics has not just been limited to Miller Place school district. Lally served on the Section XI executive board from 2003 until this past fall, and was president from 2006 to 2008. Lipshie said Lally’s service on the Section XI board provided a great benefit to the advancement of the Miller Place athletic department.

“She has been deeply involved in athletics on both the county and the state level, serving as the section president and the section representative on the state level,” he said. “Through Lisa, Miller Place has had a voice on legislation and has provided Miller Place with the most current information that impacts our student-athletes.”

With several construction projects and new facilities being put in place at the time of her retirement, Miller Place school district had Lally and Petrie work alongside one another beginning in July. It was through this time, as well as Petrie’s tenure as the football coach, that Lally said makes her confident in Petrie as her successor.

“We’ve been together through some really high points and some real low points, and I think you learn about a person’s character during those low points,” she said. “Frankly, his stock has only gone up over these past four months. Watching him making decisions and dealing with staff and students, I think he is going to be terrific, and I think he is going to bring the program to a level I hadn’t even thought about.”

Though retired, Lally hasn’t completely separated herself from involvement in athletic administration, regularly teaching a required course on Section XI. In doing so, Lally says she can enjoy her time with family, while also still making an impact.

“I’m keeping my feet in the game, but not quite as actively as I had in the past,” she said. “I’m not looking to just wither on the vine. I can pick and choose what I’m involved with; we’ll see how this retirement thing works out.”

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Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Coming off a year in which they boasted a 32-2-5 record and took home a Long Island Championship, the Kings Park girls’ volleyball program has kicked off their 2015 season with a number of new faces.

The most recent addition to the Kingsmen family came on Sept. 7 — Labor Day — when head coach Lizz Manly gave birth to her second son, Braden. Manly’s husband and the team’s assistant coach, Ed, has taken over the head coaching duties for this season in her absence.

Though she said the team misses Lizz, senior middle/right side Lauren Kehoe said she and her teammates have not had to adjust to Ed, who in addition to being an assistant, is also the junior varsity coach.

Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“We really haven’t had to adjust much at all,” she said. “We know what he expects from us, which is just giving it everything we have at all times on the court. He pushes us to be better athletes and people; always asking us how our days are and making sure we’re staying on top of our school work.”

Lizz Manly said it isn’t easy not to be coaching this season, but has full confidence in her husband’s abilities.

“It is sad for me not to be there,” she said. “Luckily, my husband took over for me, so I can still feel a little involved, and he is doing a great job so far. I think with confidence and determination, they will continue the Kings Park volleyball tradition.”

Ed Manly said his players and their families have helped make for an easy transition.

“It’s been a bit crazy, but the team and families have actually been very supportive — sending food home and stuff, asking to babysit my older guy,” he said. “It’s been crazy, but so much fun, too.”

In addition to their coach, Kings Park is also without several of their key cogs from last season, including Amanda Gannon, the program’s all-time kills leader and reigning Long Island Player of the Year.

“Any time you graduate a player like Amanda, there is an adjustment period,” Ed Manly said. “We also lost another All Long Island player in Kat Benson, who is now at Pace, and Emily Stephens, who was a four-year starter and a Second-Team All-Long Island player.”

Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Seven of the 16 on this year’s squad are first-year members, while another seven are seniors.

Leading this transitional time for the Kingsmen will be senior captains Kehoe, Jaclyn Wilton and Steph Cornwell. Manly said each of his captains will play a vital role in all aspects of the game.

“Steph will be the leader on the court,” he said of the setter. “As a senior setter and two-year starter, she knows the expectations and the way we want to run things offensively.”

He believes Wilton will be key in his team’s success this year.

“She steps into the role as one of our main hitters, alongside junior Lauren Kloos,” Manly said. “Kehoe in the middle and junior Tara Carlin on the right side will anchor our front line.”

Wilton, an outside hitter, said while there is still room for improvement, she is pleased by the progress that has been made thus far.

Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston
Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston

“This season is definitely an adjustment, because we have a lot of young and new faces on the team,” she said. “Luckily, we all get along very well and are starting to understand better how to play with each other. It’s still early in the season and we still need a lot of work, but I definitely see us going far.”

Other key contributors include senior libero Lauren Baxter, sophomore defensive specialist Meagan Murphy and sophomore middle Erika Benson.

Kings Park lost its opening match to Westhampton Beach, but have since responded with four straight wins against Comsewogue, Sayville, Islip and Rocky Point.

While there is plenty of turnover from last season, Manly said the expectations remain high for his squad.

“We are confident that we have a great group of girls that will continue to get better and do great things,” he said. “There is a great sense of team chemistry already and the play on the court will only continue to get better.”


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Jimmy Puckey and Kevin Cutinella carry Tom Cutinella’s jersey onto the Stony Brook University field for the Long Island Championship game. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Following a 2014 season that began in tragedy and ended with the program’s first Long Island Championship, the Shoreham-Wading River football program returns to the field well-prepared to contend for another title.

The Wildcats persevered to complete a perfect 12-0 season while coping with the loss of teammate Tom Cutinella, who died following a collision during a game at John Glenn High School on Oct. 1.

“It is an incredible story, but one I’d never want to live through again,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “In the end, we lost Tom, and although the season ended miraculously and kind of storybook, it’s something we wish we didn’t have to go through.”

Millheiser said it was difficult for everyone following the loss of Cutinella, but from a coaching perspective, it was particularly hard to handle.

A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon
A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s not something that you can even find anybody to ask advice on how to handle that as a coach or as a person or a friend,” he said. “So we kind of did our best to be there for each other and get through it.”

To keep his memory alive, Shoreham-Wading River will name its new multipurpose athletic field after Cutinella. While construction takes place, the Wildcats will play home games at Rocky Point High School. Millheiser said he wants future Shoreham-Wading River athletes to know who Cutinella was.

“He lived his life in a certain way that we want our players and our team to live up to that and remember that always,” he said. “And naming the field after him is a constant reminder of how we want to do things and how we want to act. His name and his legacy will carry on.”

The Wildcats picked up right where they left off last year in their season opener Friday night in Riverhead against McGann-Mercy, besting the Monarchs in a 35-0 rout. Cutinella’s brother, Kevin, scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

“They play with a lot of enthusiasm and our kids matched that and were able to make some big plays early then stay in the lead,” Millheiser said. “It was a good game between two good teams, and fortunately we made a few more plays than they did.”

Millheiser said his team’s hard play was a positive but would like to see some improvement on blocking.

The game was also the first test for new quarterback Jason Curran, who replaces All-County quarterback Danny Hughes. Though Hughes was a special player, according to Millheiser, he has the utmost confidence in Curran’s abilities.

“I think he has the ability to do the things that Danny did, but he’s gaining experience,” he said. “He’s still going to have to learn the football side of it. You don’t just walk into a huddle and have the kids follow you. You got to kind of earn that from them. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

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Girls’ lacrosse players will compete at the Division I level next year

Northport's Katie Cook defends against a Bay Shore player. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Clayton Collier

It’s not often that an individual high school team gets multiple athletes to commit to college programs.

The fact that Northport girls’ lacrosse will send seven athletes to play at the collegiate level this fall is impressive enough, but longtime head coach Carol Rose said this isn’t out of the norm.

“Typically almost all my seniors go on to play lacrosse in college at the next level; very few do not,” Rose said. “Six girls is about the average per year, and we already have five other kids committed.”

Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

This year, the team exceeded the average.

Kristen Brunoforte, Heather Engellis, Victoria D’Amato, Gabbi Labuskes, Emily Yoo, Amy Breitfeller and Katie Cook will be playing at Jacksonville University, the University of Oregon, the State University of New York at Cortland, The Naval Academy, Binghamton University, Wesleyan University and SUNY Geneseo, respectively.

Five rising seniors have also already committed, as Courtney Orella, Ryan Columbus and Noelle Peragine who have verbally committed to Villanova University, Fairfield University, and Georgetown University, respectively, and Kelly Jacobsen and Natalie Langella will attend Bryant University.

Labuskes, an All-County attack who has already started with the Naval Academy, said Northport gave her the skills necessary both as an athlete and as a leader.

“Overall, I think it pushed me to better myself as an athlete, a friend and a person,” she said. “I have taken all the lessons learned and carried them with me. Many of which I have been able to use here at the Naval Academy, and will continue to use and be grateful for for the rest of my life.”

Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Heather Engellis competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Engellis, an All-League attack, said she didn’t start playing lacrosse until the past few years, and wasn’t sure the sport was for her until being convinced by Rose.

“I improved significantly thanks to Coach Rose,” she said. “She actually was the one who persuaded me to play, and looking back, I cannot thank her enough. She’s taught me everything from the basics to all the technical stick work and beyond.”

Rose, who also coaches the Long Island Yellow Jackets, started the Northport program in 1990 with her husband, Alton. Throughout the entirety of the program’s history, the couple has coached together.

“We are best friends and love watching film together and discussing all aspects of the team together,” Rose said of working with her husband. “He is great defensively and we complement each other well, since I am more offensive orientated.”

Brunoforte, an All-League goalie, said she enjoys the husband-and-wife coaching dynamic. Though entirely coincidental, her new coaching staff at Jacksonville is also a married couple.

Gabbi Labuskes competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Gabbi Labuskes competes for Northport in a game against North Babylon last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“I feel like when coaches and assistant coaches are close it makes teaching the game a lot easier,” she said. “They complement each other, especially in the sense that they usually teach two different sides to the game.”

In addition to Brunoforte, Engellis and Labuskes, the loss of an All-County midfielder in D’Amato, All-League attack in Yoo and key defenders in Cook and Breitfeller to graduation, would be quite the hit for any program to immediately recover from on paper. At Northport, however, it’s next woman up.

“There is a lot of potential for next year,” D’Amato said. “They have a lot of talented girls.”

Despite all the comments and kind words for Rose, she said it’s due to her athletes’ own hard work.

“They dedicate a lot of time to their sport year-round and showcase themselves to college coaches throughout the country,” Rose said. “We give them a lot of opportunities for exposure and they take advantage of it.”

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Comsewogue players Trevor Kennedy and Mike Stiles swarm around a Rocky Point player in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Clayton Collier

As the Comsewogue boys’ soccer team gears up for another season, they welcome a crop of new faces, headlined by a new head coach.

The reigning league champion Warriors have hired longtime Westhampton Beach varsity coach Don O’Brien to take over the program following the retirement of the now former head coach Dan Costello.

Comsewogue's Jake Muller heads the ball. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue’s Jake Muller heads the ball. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Comsewogue athletic director Matteo DeVincenzo said O’Brien was brought in because of his experience and track record for success. DeVincenzo said his expectations for the soccer program remain the same despite the coaching change.

“Our boys’ soccer teams always play hard and I expect this year to be no different,” he said.

Trevor Kennedy, an All-League defender, said the team had made a smooth transition with their new coach.

“Coach O’Brien has been a great fit,” he said. “Coach Costello picked him out, so I knew he was going to be a good. The whole team gets along with him and he wants to win, just like the rest of us.”

O’Brien, who coached against Comsewogue for more than two decades, said the environment has been positive in his first summer with the Warriors thus far.

“The kids have been awesome,” he said. “We worked together all summer, so I knew most of them. The kids have been very polite, they’re hardworking; they’re great.”

O’Brien is joined by first-year assistant Will Casey, an All-State player at Ward Melville, who went on to play soccer at Stony Brook University.

In addition to a new coaching staff, the Warriors also have the challenge of replacing a talented core lost to graduation. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the loss of forward James Thristino, who will play for Adelphi University this fall. Thristino finished his high school career third all-time in Suffolk County history with 78 goals, 41 of them coming in his senior year.

Returning for Comsewogue, however, will be All-County center midfielder Jimmy Contino. Finishing last season with 14 goals and 19 assists, Contino will be looked to as a primary offensive force for the Warriors.

“He’s one of the best players I’ve coached in a long time,” O’Brien said of Contino. “It’s not too often you get a junior All-County player unless they’re extremely special; and he is special.”

Comsewogue's Jimmy Contino holds back a Rocky Point player as he gains possession of the ball. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue’s Jimmy Contino holds back a Rocky Point player as he gains possession of the ball. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Unlike last year, O’Brien said there will be a number of his players looking to score.

“I have six capable goal scorers, which is more dangerous than one,” he said. “I think the kids are ready, and they’re good enough to win.”

O’Brien said having multiple scoring options will relieve some of the pressure off of sophomore Luis Hernandez, who will be seeing much of the time at forward in place of Thristino. Other scoring options include seniors Jake Muller and Nick Towler, among others.

Also taking over a starting role for the first time is senior goalkeeper Steven Towler, Nick’s twin brother. Towler, who replaces a goalie who made 111 saves in Chris Pedone, said watching his predecessor last season has helped prepare him to take over this fall.

“I learned a lot from him, but most of all, [he taught me] how to keep calm in stressful situations,” Towler said. “Composure is key in big games.”

Perhaps easing some of the pressure on Towler will be the predominantly returning defense, including seniors Trevor Kennedy, Mike Stiles, Henry Garcia and Cameron Patricio. O’Brien said Stiles, in particular, should have received some sort of recognition for his work from the league last season.

“Not to take anything away from the defense or the goalie last year, but they didn’t let up many goals last year and [Stiles] was a big part of it,” the head coach said. “The center defender sees a lot of action and he’s extremely physical. No one gets around him.”

Comsewogue's Trevor Kennedy dribbles up the field. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Comsewogue’s Trevor Kennedy dribbles up the field. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Between Contino, Kennedy, Stiles, the Towler brothers, Garcia, Muller and Patricio, O’Brien has a veteran crew behind him this season.

“They’re already seasoned; they’re playoff proven,” he said. “Many of these kids started last season or came off the bench. There is a reason why they’re so good this season, and it is because of the players that are returning.”

Contino said, as a leader this season, his goal is to have a positive impact on the rest of the team.

“The main thing I am trying to do is just give every single player confidence and help every player play to their best of their abilities,” he said. “Not only am I trying to help them play as a team, but I do my best to make the players realize this is a family, a brotherhood, and by that, the kids will know someone always has their back, which will help boost confidence.”

Last season, in the Suffolk County Championship, the Warriors fell to East Hampton, 1-0. Though the postseason loss certainly stung, Contino said the game isn’t necessarily circled on the calendar for his team; they’ll just play it like any other match.

“We are going to go into each game with the right mindset,” he said. “We will take it one game at a time, and when we get to East Hampton, we will deal with them then.”

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Ryan Bray dives and shoots for Shoreham. Photo from Rob Bray

By Clayton Collier

Having the opportunity to participate in college athletics is a rare opportunity all its own. Having your pick of some of your sport’s best collegiate programs in the country? That’s a chance few athletes ever get.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Ryan Bray, who will attend Cornell University this fall, had such an opportunity, with nearly half of the lacrosse programs on this season’s Warrior Division I Men’s Lacrosse Top 20 Poll giving him looks.

“I’m really excited to start at such a prestigious school that has a great lacrosse program,” Bray said. “I chose Cornell because it’s a beautiful area and had everything I wanted in a college, and more.”

Shoreham's Ryan Bray races around a Mount Sinai defender in a previous contest. Photo from Rob Bray
Shoreham’s Ryan Bray races around a Mount Sinai defender in a previous contest. Photo from Rob Bray

His father, Rob, said his family is proud of his son’s accomplishment.

“As a parent, you never expect this from your kid,” he said. “But when it happens, it’s so surreal. It’s remarkable. He got himself into [Cornell] through his work ethic.”

The U.S. Lacrosse and Under Armour All-American attack saw interest from schools such as Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Duke University, the University of Notre Dame and Yale University, among others.

Bray had initially verbally committed to Ohio State University as a sophomore, but once his SAT scores reached Ivy League standards, Bray reneged on the Buckeyes’ offer a year later in favor of the Big Red. Bray’s father said the situation was a “growing experience” for his son.

“It was a very stressful time for Ryan,” he said. “But it’s kind of a no-brainer when you go from an Ohio State to an Ivy League school, and he handled it as maturely as possible.”

Cornell head coach Matt Kerwick said his program goes through the recruiting process somewhat slower in comparison to other schools, as he tends to research athletes more in-depth to see who is right for his team.

Although Kerwick said Bray will have a great opportunity to get playing time early, nothing is guaranteed. The two-time All-County selectee will have to earn his minutes; nonetheless, Kerwick said he is pleased to have Bray aboard.

Ryan Bray will be trading in his Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats uniform when he heads to Cornell University this fall. Photo from Rob Bray
Ryan Bray will be trading in his Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats uniform when he heads to Cornell University this fall. Photo from Rob Bray

“We thought he was a heck of a player,” he said. “We liked the way he played, he fit with the way we do things here at Cornell in terms of his intensity level and the way he looks at the game.”

Bray credits much of his development to former Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz, who he said helped him immensely as an athlete. Rotanz, who Rob Bray described as a phenomenal coach, was at the helm during the 2012 Suffolk County Rookie of the Year’s freshman and sophomore seasons, bringing Bray up to varsity as a ninth grader.

“He just held me to extremely high expectations, which helped me develop,” Bray said. “He stressed teamwork a lot.”

Bray also said his current coach, Mike Taylor, was helpful in understanding different offenses, which he believes will benefit him at the NCAA level.

Bray’s final high school game was a 12-11 overtime loss to Sayville in the Suffolk County B semifinals. Although an upsetting way to end it, Bray said he can look back and appreciate his career as a Wildcat, as he moves on to the next stage of his career.

“It was a little depressing, coming to realization that an era had come to an end,” he said. “But it also made me realize how close-knit I was with the kids I’ve played lacrosse with for so long.”

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Paul Fick, center, poses for a group photo after the coin flip for the Major League Soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Photo from Liz Zarins

By Clayton Collier

Kings Park native Paul Fick has helped hundreds get “back in the game.”

This past Saturday, Fick had the opportunity to help 22 Major League Soccer soccer players get their game started with the coin flip at Yankee Stadium prior to the match between the New York City Football Club and the Montreal Impact.

Before a crowd of more than 27,000, Fick was selected for the honor by Coco Joy in recognition for his work with Back in the Game, an organization he co-founded that helps young cancer patients regain strength, balance, flexibility, and confidence in an effort to return the children to a condition where they can participate in sports and physical activities again.

“It’s really not about me at all,” he said. “I just have been the beneficiary of working with these children and getting to watch them progress through their treatment. It’s about the program; it’s not about one individual. I was the representative, but it was great to see Back in the Game get more awareness so we can help more kids throughout the area.”

Fick was also recently nominated as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year. Gilbert Salon, a volunteer for Back in the Game for the last five years, said the recognition is well-deserved.

“He’s been running that program for nearly 10 years,” he said. “His dedication, year after year, all the work he puts in, it’s really amazing.”

The program is run through Professional Physical Therapy in Garden City and is funded by the Miracle Foundation.

The idea for Back in the Game was started by Rob Panariello, a Professional Physical Therapy founding partner, and his friend Peter Menges. The inspiration for the program began when Menges’ son, Bobby, broke his leg on a relatively mild slope while skiing after doctors deemed him to be in remission from cancer. It wasn’t until after the fact that they realized that, while his son had responded to the treatment in getting rid of the cancer, his body had not fully recovered.

“His body wasn’t ready to go back to physical activities yet,” Fick said.

Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients. Photo from Fick
Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients.
Photo from Fick

Menges said at the time of his son’s injury, he realized that there needed to be a heightened focus on post-treatment life for children like Bobby.

“I think the disconnect was that the physicians were encouraged because the kids were responding favorably to the treatment and wasn’t that great, but what they weren’t seeing was a kid that used to participate in soccer or lacrosse or football, can’t even participate in gym class,” Menges said of his experiences following his son’s cancer treatment. “So yeah, they’re doing fine from a treatment standpoint, but they’re not doing well from a physical participation life standpoint.”

Menges said once the concept was organized, Fick was brought in to structure the program into what it is today.

“He was a real catalyst for taking the idea, figuring out how to make it work and bringing it to life,” he said.

To make the idea of Back in the Game a successful reality, the men presented the idea to Dr. Mark Weinblatt at Winthrop-University Hospital. Weinblatt’s endorsement was crucial to the program getting off the ground.

“Doctor Weinblatt was very supportive in recognizing the need for the program and referring the kids to us,” Fick said. “The trust that he had in Rob and myself enabled us to work with the kids. If we didn’t have that, it would have been very difficult.”

Nine years later, Weinblatt said the program is a terrific success.

“A lot of our patients, who really had a lot of difficulty in getting back to their usual routine, found it an immense help, not just in sports but in feeling good about themselves in day-to-day activities,” he said. “Walking around, going up stairs; the things we take for granted have been helped a lot by the program. They really do a terrific job with our patients.”

Through their work with the Miracle Foundation, the services provided by Back in the Game come at no cost to the families of the children recovering from cancer.

Though Fick doesn’t like to take any credit, Menges said the program, like Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium, couldn’t have occurred without Fick getting things started.

“Paul has embraced the concept and program from the beginning, and transformed it from an idea into a highly organized and professional program,” he said. “He is great with the kids and parents, and has continuously worked to grow and improve the program. His dedication and passion is incredible.”

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Ward Melville fencers pose for a group photo. Photo from Jeff Salmon

By Clayton Collier

Ward Melville fencing, long-established as the powerhouse program of Long Island, is evidently a fast track to some of the nation’s best colleges as well.

Five members of the Patriots’ fencing programs will continue their playing careers at the collegiate level this fall.

Angela Zhang, Carly Weber-Levine, Michael Skolnick, Ilana Solomon and Michael Antipas will attend Cornell University, Stanford University, Vassar College, Columbia University and the University of Notre Dame, respectively, as members of their schools’ fencing programs.

Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon, who has brought the program to eight-straight undefeated seasons, County and Long Island Championships, said the five were the most he’s had recruited in an individual year since he started the program in 1999.

“Athletes come in waves and we happened to have a number of stars graduate this year,” he said. “But I am very proud of how the program has developed and extremely proud of the commitment we’ve seen from our athletes.”

Solomon, who will join the 2015 NCAA Champion Columbia fencing squad, said the winning culture of Ward Melville has prepared her for the challenge ahead, come this winter at Columbia.

“The fencing team provides a unique athletic experience, as it is an individual sport, but we need to win as a team,” said Solomon, a two-time All Long Island sabreuse. “This fosters great support from our peers on the fencing team who get to know how each athlete works under pressure, and the best way to help each individual person do the best she or he can in order to win as a team.”

Antipas, a two-time County Champion foiler, who sports a career 117-1 record, said Salmon, as well as his wife Jennie, who recently retired from coaching, have been instrumental in helping him reach this point.

“They’ve pushed me every step of the way, and made sure at practice I made myself better and gave me advice whenever I wanted it and needed it,” he said. “We have worked on technique together and strategies together and even mental toughness and sharpness.”

Saying goodbye to this bunch will be no easy task for Salmon or girl’s coach Alyssa Lombardi. In addition to Antipas and Solomon. Skolnick, Zhang and Weber-Levine also had plenty on their high-school résumés worth writing home about. Zhang, a foiler, sported a career 128-14 record — a program record — while picking up four First Team All-Long Island selections. Weber-Levine, a saber competitor, was 94-4 in her high school career, a two-time All-County selectee and a 2014 Division 1A National Champion. Skolnick, a foiler, described by Salmon as “clutch” and “strategic,” was All-County his senior year and sported a 27-25 record.

Moving forward without these five will be tough for Salmon, but he said there is still plenty of talent left to fill in the gaps.

“I have a few stars, but they’re younger — some of my best fencers aren’t even my seniors,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a rebuilding year next year because we’re prepared, but we’re definitely young next year.”

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After placing at nationals, Port Jefferson residents Garrett Thibodeau and Sandi Woodhead earn spots on Team USA

Sandi Woodhead with her Smith Point teammates. Photo by Steven Sobel

By Clayton Collier

Smith Point lifeguards are known as some of the nation’s best. The beach has not had a drowning within the protected area since the beach officially opened in 1959.

Now two of their squad have a chance to prove they are among the best in the world, competing in the International Surf Rescue Challenge in Australia. Lifeguards Sandi Woodhead and Garrett Thibodeau, both Port Jefferson residents, will be among the competitors representing Team USA at the games in September.

“It means everything,” Thibodeau said. “I’m so honored to be able to represent the United States and compete against the best competitors in the world.”

Garrett Thibodeau, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel
Garrett Thibodeau, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel

Both Woodhead and Thibodeau will compete in the beach sprint, taplin relay, rescue race and beach flags events. The pair qualified for the international contest after participating on Smith Point’s team in the 2015 Nautica/Brown and Brown USLA National Lifeguard Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla., this past weekend.

Smith Point, an eight-time national champion, finished second at the national games for small beaches. Individually, Woodhead finished second in beach flags, while Thibodeau came in fifth. Woodhead also came in first place in the landline rescue event.

She was pleased with how she finished.

“I would have liked to have done better, because I always challenge myself,” Woodhead said. “But I am happy with how I performed and I am definitely proud of how well my team did.”

Their coach and longtime teammate, Mike Barrows, said the Port Jefferson pair both performed well but he expects an even better performance from Thibodeau in the future.

“Garrett was a bit disappointed in his performance,” he said. “However, he did not rest [before] USLA nationals and trained right through it. With proper rest, I’m
assured he could have won a national beach flags title. They will both be ready and race really well in Australia.”

Making it to nationals is no easy task. Woodhead said that out of the 98 lifeguards employed at Smith Point, about two dozen are chosen for the competition. Each morning, the lifeguards must run a 5K in soft sand and perform workouts when they are off the tower.

Sandi Woodhead, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel
Sandi Woodhead, of Port Jefferson, will compete for Team USA in the international lifeguard games. Photo by Steven Sobel

“If you show that you are excelling in these workouts, the captains and chiefs will take notice, and bring you if they believe you will do well on a national level against thousands of other ocean lifeguards,” Woodhead said.

Thibodeau, who is in his 13th year competing, said he has noticed an increase in attention to the games. The beach flags finals occurred at 8 p.m. under floodlights before a large crowd and was streamed live online. Thibodeau said the growing interest helps to pump him up before his events.

“While I always take my events seriously, knowing that there’s going to be more people watching heightens the energy level, and I feed off of that,” he said. “Imagine playing any sport in an empty stadium compared to a packed stadium with fans cheering. The level of play is going to rise.”

Open and Youth National teams coordinator Skip Prosser said the growing attention to the sport is the result of the hard work and effort of a number of people.

“Any excitement or progression in the level of popularity of the sport is surely the work of all those who have ever been involved, specifically those individuals who have worked for many years on the promotion of the sport and continue to do so, without any official USLA title,” he said. “It is with great hope that when my appointment ends, that I can look back and say that I made a difference.”

As a result of the increased interest, Thibodeau has noticed a higher level of competition at the events. As he heads off to Australia with Team USA next month, however, he said the international games have always been a monster all their own.

“You don’t have the luxury of warming up and getting into your groove,” he said. “You’re going against the best from the very first run. You need to be on point out of the gate, or you could be out.”