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Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

By Aramis Khosronejad

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson hosted its sewcond annual St. Baldrick’s event on March 15. During the event, students and faculty volunteered to shave their hair in solidarity with all those who are struggling with or have already gone into remission from a childhood cancer. 

In addition to those who “brave the shave” during this event, Port Jefferson high school helped fundraise by selling merchandise or simply accepting donations. All the money raised was donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. 

According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, there are more than 300,000 children diagnosed globally with cancer each year. In the U.S. alone, more children die due to cancer than any other disease. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is an international organization dedicated to funding research for different kinds of childhood cancer to help accelerate and improve this type of research. 

The principal of the high school, John Ruggero, is passionate about hosting St. Baldrick’s events annually and exposing the high school to these kinds of events. 

“I want to get it so it occurs every year, so that lots of students and faculty and families, and people off the streets, come to donate,” he said.

Ruggero has been hosting St. Baldrick events for “over a decade,” he said. The principal is a firm believer that the most important education “takes place outside of the four walls” of a classroom. 

“When you have a philanthropic mindset, it really opens your mind out to what’s happening around us,” he said. Ruggero pointed out that these events can show students the most important lesson: If possible, doing things for others “should come first.”

“What happens is that kids who start to see that people rally behind these [events] become a little more confident in sharing their stories and want to get the word out,” Ruggero explained. He elaborated on how he wanted students to learn “the impact their actions have on others’ lives.”

The event was also supported and promoted by a 16-year-old student, Kyle Martin. When he was a child, Martin was fighting cancer and has been in remission for almost been eight years. 

Martin approached Ruggero and expressed his own desire for the school to host such an event, and the two worked together to bring the dream alive. Ruggero expressed his admiration for Martin’s mindset and ideas, explaining how because of his remission, Martin has been inspired to help other kids who are battling cancer. It’s safe to say that St. Baldrick’s will become a powerful tradition that Port Jefferson will adopt in future years. 

Loose ball. Bill Landon photo

Being one of the smallest schools in Suffolk County, when the Lady Royals of Port Jeff play an early season nonleague game, they always face a team from a larger school district. This was the case Friday afternoon with a home game against Miller Place. 

Having lost perennial scoring threats to graduation, Port Jeff’s roster features only one senior as the Lady Royals had their hands full, falling to the Panthers 47-22 in the Dec. 8 matchup.

Returning starter Ava Zicchinelli for Miller Place was the offensive spark for the Panthers, leading her team with 14 points followed by Brooke Callaghan, who banked nine. Sophia Ingenito netted seven.

Rose Meliker-Hammock scored three from the floor and three from the free throw line for nine points for the Royals.

Port Jeff (0-2) retakes the court with another nonleague matchup Saturday, Dec. 16, with a road game against West Islip. Game time is scheduled for 10 a.m.

The Panthers (2-4) face one more nonleague matchup at home to Pierson/Bridgehampton Dec. 20 before league play begins with a home game against Harborfields Thursday, Jan. 4, with tipoff at 5:30 p.m.

Students in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s AP Environmental Science class and the Environmental Club with teacher Jonathan Maletta, left. Photo courtesy PJSD

Students in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s AP Environmental Science class and the Environmental Club took a trip to Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson on Thursday, Nov. 16, as part of a collaborative beautification project between Port Jefferson School District and the Village of Port Jefferson Parks Department.

The district’s athletic director, Adam Sherrard, and the village’s superintendent of parks, Dave Melious, had discussed how Port Jefferson students could give back to the community and promote Port Jefferson pride within the village.

The duo came up with a plan to plant 200 purple and white tulips in front of the basketball courts at Rocketship Park. They were joined by science teacher Jonathan Maletta.

Students in attendance were Olivia Bianco, Anneliese Byrne, Katie Chambers, Eric Chen, Thalia Dorsett, Kyle Erickson, Savannah Florio, Jadie Hernandez, Michael Lipskiy, Madeline Matvya, Noah Mimarbasi, Myeda Nawaz, Gavin Onghai, Alyssa Passarella, Ottilie Philbrick, Brielle Procaccini, Cooper Reale, Mia Savino, Nicholas Smirnov, Carman Stanton, Charlotte Tishim and Julia Weinstein.

Suffolk County residents can call 311 to report an antisemitic incident. File photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

By Sabrina Artusa

Just last week, schools across the North Shore — including Smithtown East, Commack and Port Jefferson high schools — all reported antisemitic language in their buildings.

‘It’s such a cruel way of being made to feel better or superior.’

— Renée Silver

Last week, swastikas were found in the boys bathroom at Commack High School and on a desk at Smithtown High School East. This is the second swastika reported at Commack this month — racist graffiti was also found on the bathroom stalls.

Two swastikas were also found on a desk at Smithtown East.

“This news is greatly upsetting, but it is important for our school community to be made aware of such incidents and work collaboratively to oppose hate whenever it occurs,” Smithtown Central School District Superintendent Mark Secaur wrote in a letter.

Jordan Cox, superintendent of the Commack School District, wrote in a letter to families, “Once the responsible individual is found, I am committed to pursuing legal action to the fullest extent,” adding, “Given the current conflict in the Middle East and the many families in our community who are hurting, it is a travesty that something like this occurred.”

Cox plans to take students to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and invited Holocaust survivors to speak to the students. Survivor Renée Silver, 92, told News 12 that she hopes “giving a little background” will help teach the students the harm of their actions.

“It’s such a cruel way of being made to feel better or superior,” Silver said.

In Port Jefferson high school, a swastika was found on a desk alongside the Star of David and the word “fight.” The Star of David can be a source of pride for many Jewish people or as a connection to their shared culture and past. It can also be seen as a symbol of support for Israel.

Police reports were filed for each of the incidents at the three high schools, and the county Hate Crimes Unit is involved.

Antisemitism and racist language are spreading at both high schools and middle schools across Long Island. Three swastikas were found in a bathroom at South Woods Middle School in Syosset. A swastika and antisemitic language was written on a whiteboard at the Harry B. Thompson Middle School, also in Syosset. A student was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. 

These incidents occur alongside the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked the Israeli towns neighboring Gaza. Over 11,000 Palestinians and about 1,200 Israelis have died, according to reports.

Antisemitism in Long Island schools mirrors a broader national trend. Since Oct. 7, incendiary language regarding the conflict has increased on social media. 

In addition, antisemitism and other hate crimes across the United States, including college campuses, have left students feeling scared and unsafe. The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism recorded nearly a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents for the same Oct. 7-23 period from last year.

President Joe Biden (D) has addressed the uptick in antisemitism in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. “We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens,” he said. “We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.”

Port Jefferson, fresh off their Long Island championship sweep of East Rockaway two days earlier, looked to build on that momentum in the Southeast Regional final Saturday, Nov. 11, with home court advantage against Section IX winner Millbrook. The Royals hoped to make the trip back to Glens Falls for the NYS Class C championship final. It would have been the second year in a row, but it wasn’t to be as Port Jeff fell to Millbrook 25-23, 25-17, 25-15.

During the season, seniors Olivia Sherman and Erin Henry were the one-two punch for the Royals with Henry charting 13th in the county with 169 kills and Sherman placing 15th with 161 kills, as reported by Newsday. Sherman clocked in at No. 4 in the county with 57 service aces; Thea Mangels, a freshman, was No. 8 with 51; and sophomore McKayla Pollard No. 12 with 48.

The Royals conclude their 2023 campaign with a 17-3 record and will be a force to be reckoned with next season as they lose just three seniors to graduation.

— Photos by Bill Landon

Embark on a journey with our reporter to Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket, capturing the intensity of protesters rallying against Preservation Long Island’s plan to remove its farm animals. Then, delve into municipal land-use policy as we dissect the Brookhaven Town Board’s consideration of a zone change for the Jefferson Plaza shopping center in Port Jefferson Station.

But that’s not all — dive into the excitement of Ward Melville and Earl L. Vandermeulen high schools’ postseason volleyball runs with our sportswriter. Then, join us in reflecting on the crucial role of local election inspectors and the urgent need for more volunteers to uphold our democratic process.

Several Port Jeff runners participate in the Suffolk County cross-country championships held at Sunken Meadow State Park on Friday, Nov. 3. Photo by Bob O’Rourk

By Samantha Rutt

Each year, the Suffolk County cross-country championships are held at Sunken Meadow State Park, where the county’s best teams toe the line. Runners race a full 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles, around the park, winding meandering trails and climbing daunting hills.

Parents, friends and spectators alike lined the course on a sunny, brisk November afternoon. With a chorus of voices cheering, signs flaunting and cowbells ringing — a cross-country staple — a spectacle emerged as the races unfolded.

For the third straight year, the Northport Lady Tigers emerged victorious at the Suffolk County championships on Friday afternoon, Nov. 3.

Led by freshman phenom Mia Wickard, the Tigers earned 57 points over Ward Melville’s 104. Northport’s commanding win earned the team a spot at the New York State meet start line next Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Suffolk County championship meet is the state qualifier, sending the winning team and the top-five finishers — not from the first-place team, but from each class — to the statewide championship.

“Not sure if I could be prouder of this group of kids,” said Northport head coach Gregg Cantwell. “The girls’ dedication and the depth of our team was key for us on Friday.”

Wickard, Northport’s top finisher, placed third in the Class A race at 19:24.51. Rounding out the scorers were seventh graders Fiona King and Jane Tucker with juniors Kayla Forsch and Maggie Taylor, each running a personal best time.

“Our top six girls [including Cate Coronato] ran their best times on the course — a few by a lot,” Cantwell emphasized of his team’s clutch performance. “We now have six all-county ranking girls, which is the most of any boys or girls team, and I am extremely happy about that.”

Joining Northport’s Lady Tigers next week, the Cougar boys of Commack High School bested their Class A rivals, collecting only 64 points and extending their postseason journey.

“Our goal every season is to try and win a league, division and county championship,” Commack coach Paul Sleavensky said. “This is the first time in program history that we were the Section XI [Suffolk County] champions,” adding, “I’m extremely proud of their performance at the state-qualifier meet.”

The Port Jefferson Royals won the boys Class C race, tallying 19 points over Mattituck’s 62. Junior Colin Veit paced the Royals, earning the individual title, as all five of the high school’s scorers placed within the top six, marking an impressive victory for the team.

“I’m very proud of our team,” said Port Jeff’s coach Andy Cosci. “We have a nice tradition here in Port Jeff, being a very successful program over the years.”

He added, “It’s not easy to win counties, and the team has worked very hard since August to accomplish that goal.”

Smithtown West’s Douglas Antaky and Rocky Point’s Trevor Green, individual champions of Class A and Class B, respectively, will make the trip to the New York State meet. Antaky, a senior, outran his opponents, completing the course in 16:09.53. Green, only a sophomore, earned his first county cross-country title, defeating his competition while running a 16:31.01.

“My goal going into this meet was to break 17 minutes and place in the top five,” Green said. “I definitely was not expecting to win with the great competition in Class B this year.”

For runners advancing into the postseason, this week will involve preparation for the meets ahead.

“The focus for the next week and beyond is going to be that our toughest races are ahead of us and that we have a chance to do something special,” Northport’s coach Cantwell said of his team.

The NYS cross-country championship meet will be held Saturday, Nov. 11, at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School in Verona.

Students from Earl L. Vandermeulen High School visit the LongHouse Reserve. Photo courtesy PJSD

Students from Port Jefferson School District’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School recently visited the LongHouse Reserve, a 16-acre reserve and sculpture garden in East Hampton, featuring works by Buckminster Fuller, Dale Chihuly, Yoko Ono and Willem de Kooning. Coordinated by high school art teacher Nancy Randazzo, the student-artists explored the marvelous creativity on the spectacular grounds across the site.

It rained on Port Jefferson’s Homecoming football game Saturday afternoon in more ways than one, as a steady downpour fell on the grass field in the matchup against Center Moriches. 

The visitors broke the ice in the opening quarter, finding the end zone on short yardage and finishing it with a 2-point conversion for the early lead. Port Jeff quarterback Ryan Filippi answered back when he punched into the end zone on a keeper from 7 yards out, but the point after kick struck the left upright. Center Moriches found the end zone again with two minutes left in the half to make it a two-score game. 

Neither team was able to gain traction in the second half as Port Jeff fell 16-6 as time ran out in the Oct. 14 Division IV clash.

The Royals (2-4) will look to put another “W” in the win column with a road game against Mattituck/Greenport/Southold Friday Oct. 20. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Nasrin Zahed

Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10, covering student achievements, recognizing the board’s local impact, discussing upcoming volunteer efforts, and continuing conversations over proposed bleacher costs.

To kick off the night on a high note, the board recognized students receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award. This award aims to highlight the importance of how an individual’s service positively impacts the community. The awards are broken down by age group, with the ability to earn at the bronze, silver or gold levels, depending on the number of hours students have spent in service to others.

Oct. 16 through 20 is School Board Recognition Week. Several members of the school district came forward to express their gratitude for BOE members’ public service, emphasizing the volunteer time and effort required for the role.

Kirsten, the student representative for the district, covered the upcoming spirit week festivities that will be observed districtwide, culminating in the homecoming game this Saturday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m.

The meeting went on to discuss how the Royal Education Fund will hold also Oct. 14 its 7th annual Jill Nees-Russell Power of One Family Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. The run/walk event will begin at the Port Jefferson Village Center, continuing through the village and ending at the high school.

Brian Walker, principal of Port Jefferson Middle School, came forward to discuss how they are furthering community service efforts in students.

He noted how the students are encouraged to participate in school-led efforts, such as the beach cleanup initiatives, fundraisers for ASL, letter and card writing for the elderly and veterans, senior citizen luncheons, as well as food and coat drives.

Discussion later moved to the district’s bleacher project, with the board presenting the public with new facts on the matter.

Randi DeWitt, member of the BOE, informed that the project has been put out for bid once again, with six different bid proposals all including variations of the project. This is in the hope of receiving a lower cost estimate than was initially received last spring.

Stressing the importance of following the bid process in order to most effectively find the appropriate licensed vendor for the job, she encouraged community members to attend the upcoming public workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 24, where they will review all of the plans for each bid. An architect will be in attendance for questions.

The BOE will reconvene on Monday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m.