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Joseph Wolkin

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Michael Larson was appointed the new assistant principal of Commack High School. Photo from Brenda Lentsch

By Joseph Wolkin

A new administrator will be walking the halls of Commack High School next week.
Michael Larson was appointed assistant principal of Commack High School this week, after working at the school since 2007.

Larson said he has been set on being an educator since he graduated high school.

Growing up, Larson wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life. Over time, his love for American history developed into a greater passion for social studies, and eventually it led to him wanting to share his knowledge with others.

Working through the rankings at Commack High School since 2007, Larson went from serving as a secondary social studies teacher, to teaching history, economics and government to being named the school’s newest assistant principal.

Effective Aug. 15, Larson took over the position previously held by Commack High School’s newest principal, Leslie Boritz.

“I’m honored and humbled and honored to serve Commack in this capacity,” Larson said. “One of the things I’ve learned about working in this district for the past few years is that the leaders work very closely together.”

Last year, Larson was promoted to coordinator of student affairs, a position he says helped develop his friendship with Boritz. The job consisted of overseeing discipline and attendance, working with students who have conduct or attendance issues, along with any potential problems with student life at the high school.

“His experience working one-on-one as both a class and student council advisor and as coordinator of student affairs and attendance has provided insight into the culture and views of our children at the high school.”

—Donald James

No longer in the classroom when he was given the new role, Larson admittedly missed developing relationships with kids, which he worked with for 180 days out of the year. However, he said he was able to find a way to still connect with Commack students, even if he was no longer in the classroom with them.

“Having those experiences last year really helped advance my development as an administrator,” Larson said. “The fact that I’m now working as an assistant principal with some of the people who played an instrumental role in my development is truly a blessing.”

The Stony Brook native attended Stony Brook University for his undergraduate degree in 2004, and received a graduate degree from Plymouth State University in special education in 2006.

Superintendent Donald James said Larson will do great things for Commack.

“Michael is a dynamic educator, who is compassionate and committed to our students,” he said in an email. “His experience working one-on-one as both a class and student council advisor and as coordinator of student affairs and attendance has provided insight into the culture and views of our children at the high school. Michael’s commitment to the students, their parents and his fellow staff members is evident in his many accomplishments at Commack High.”

The decision to make Larson the school’s newest assistant principal, along with naming Boritz as the principal, was part of a ripple effect caused by the retirement news of Commack’s last principal, Catherine Nolan.

In June, Boritz was named as the school’s new principal, replacing Nolan, who retired after holding the position for the last five years. She was the assistant principal at the school since July 2011, in addition to serving as the assistant principal of Commack Middle School for 11 years.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Commack High School is ranked as the 87th best high school in New York out of over 1,200 listed.

Larson lives in Stony Brook and will continue making the approximately 20-minute commute daily to the school that has given him the opportunity to advance in the education world. For that, he said he is indeed thankful.

“The priority for me this year is the continuation of the excellence that has come to represent the Commack School District,” he said. “I want to make efforts to continue an excellent program that’s great in athletics, academics, extracurricular and co-curricular, and expand on the opportunities we’re presenting our students and enhance them as we move forward.”

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MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness staffers cut the ribbon to launch Mondays at MAIA in Smithtown, a program to benefit cancer patients. Photo from Facebook

By Joseph Wolkin

One Smithtown spa and salon is going above and beyond to make sure cancer patients beat the Monday blues.

Mondays at Racine, a cancer care program created in 2003 by Racine Spa and Salon owner Rachel DeMolfetto and co-founder Cynthia Sansone has begun a new journey in conjunction with MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness in Smithtown.

Designed to give free salon care to cancer patients, Mondays at Racine’s services vary based on what the salon usually offers. In the case of MAIA — a full service salon and spa — they said they will do anything from shaving someone’s head to manicures and pedicures, along with yoga and reiki, a technique used to help the natural healing process in the patient’s body and restore physical and emotional well-being.

Karla Waldron, executive director for Mondays at Racine, said the salon reached out to them about being a part of the program.

“This woman that owns this salon is very well-known on Long Island, and she expressed interest in taking on the program,”, Waldron said. “Once that happened, we went into action to develop her program.”

The spa, owned by Agata Gajewski-Sathi, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the new cancer care program on June 6, with approximately 50 people in attendance.

“The staff and I at MAIA Salon Spa and Wellness are honored to participate in the Mondays at Racine program,” Gajewski-Sathi said at the opening. “We look forward to making a positive difference in the lives of people going through a very challenging time. As a strong believer in the mind-body connection and an advocate of integrative and holistic healing modalities, I strongly believe that incorporating these alternative options will have many beneficial effects on the day-to-day quality of life of our clients who are fighting cancer.”

In addition to debuting the new program, the spa held a special screening of Mondays at Racine, an Academy Award nominated documentary created by HBO. The 2010 short film showcased how two sisters enabled women diagnosed with cancer to receive treatment at their spa every third Monday of the month.

“It follows some cancer patients around through their chemotherapy,” Waldron said. “It goes through their home life, their relationship with their husbands. The backdrop is our program. You can see them receiving the different services and it’s quite moving.”

The film was released in 2012, and after that, the group’s popularity increased dramatically.

The original Mondays at Racine started in Islip at Racine Spa and Salon, and now there are charter locations in Port Jefferson, Greenvale, and beyond.

Waldron said the mission of Mondays at Racine is to show support for community members who are struggling with cancer.

“We needed to do something for the people in our community that were dealing with the devastating side effects of cancers,” Waldron explained. “We were seeing more and more of them. They were our patrons and friends. We decided that as a part of giving back, let’s open up our doors and give complimentary services. We wanted to just treat them to something nice.”

Julianne Soviero is a Ward Melville High School graduate. Photo from Julianne Soviero

By Joseph Wolkin

Julianne Soviero is focused on developing young softball pitchers throughout Long Island. The 1998 Ward Melville High School grad and 2002 valedictorian at Manhattan College is attempting to make a difference for young athletes, searching for ways to educate them about the recruiting process and keep them savvy of the sharks swimming through the competitive waters.

Julianne Soviero is a Ward Melville High School graduate. Photo from Julianne Soviero
Julianne Soviero is a Ward Melville High School graduate. Photo from Julianne Soviero

In May, Soviero self-published her second book, “Empowered Recruiting: The Student Athlete’s College Selection Guide.” In her latest work, the now Ronkonkoma resident said she attempts to convey multiple messages to student athletes, with chapters about knowing one’s options, eligibility, signing and more.

“I have been working with elite athletes in my business for well over a decade,” Soviero said. “What I was finding that was very challenging is that, by the time they decided they wanted to play competitively, it was like there was way too much information for them to acquire to do that because it’s become too complicated to do that. Usually, to get this kind of information and to sit down with them — the amount of time it would take to do it thoroughly — is astronomically expensive. I wanted to create a way to make all of this information accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Soviero is president of Flawless Fastpitch, an organization dedicated to instructing how to pitch in softball, along with learning the anatomy and physiology of properly delivering the ball. Guiding numerous athletes to successful Division I and II collegiate careers, she said she wants to continue expanding her influence with the book.

“I don’t get any joy in telling people that consult with me that if they want to play in Division I, they have to start super young,” Soviero said. “But it’s just the truth. When you’re in seventh or eighth grade, you don’t know what you want to do. Some people don’t even know what they want to do until after they graduate college. At least if you begin the education process at that time, you can say that maybe Division I is too much for me, and you can go to Division II. A lot of people assume that Division III offers athletic scholarships and they do not.”

Growing up, Soviero went to Setauket Elementary School, P.J. Gelinas Jr. High and pitched for four years for the Patriots varsity softball team, graduating from Ward Melville High School in 1998. Her pitching success led her to become the recipient of the 2001 NIT Student/Athlete Award. Come 2010, she became a consultant for LIU Post’s softball team, staying with the team through 2013.

Among those who stand out in Soviero’s eyes include Seaford’s Lindsay Montemarano, who completed her junior year with the Michigan Wolverines, and Brightwaters’ Liz Weber, who attended LIU Post.

Compared to Soviero’s other book, “Unleash Your True Athletic Potential,” she said she hopes student athletes and parents will not only come out with a better knowledge of the recruiting process, but also have a better understanding of what the process of being scouted by colleges is like.

Soviero said she makes occasional appearances on Fox and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, preaching her company’s work along with athletes that have signed with major teams.

“This book [was written] specifically because I was seeing how many athletes are struggling through this very complicated process to be noticed by colleges and things like that,” Soviero said. “It’s become very difficult for them, and it’s become enormously expensive.”

Her book is available on Amazon.com.

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Quarterback Matt O’Hea looks to make a pass downfield. Photo from Chris Boltrek

By Joseph Wolkin

Quarterback Matt O’Hea looks to make a pass downfield. Photo from Chris Boltrek
Quarterback Matt O’Hea looks to make a pass downfield. Photo from Chris Boltrek

Ward Melville has recently made headlines for having another pitcher drafted to the New York Mets, following in the footsteps of Steven Matz.

But for the second year in a row, the high school is sending multiple football players to the collegiate level. In 2015, five Patriots were sent to either Division II or III schools, highlighted by former All-County quarterback Jeff Towle, who set the standard by making the jump to Pace University.

Quarterback Matt O’Hea, linebacker Patrick Morelli, defensive end Tom Lorusso and running back Nick Cervone will each be playing college football come this fall.

Led by second-year head coach Chris Boltrek, the Patriots finished the year 5-3, sixth out of 14 teams in Division I Section 11, ending with a playoff loss at Connetquot.

While the team usually makes headlines for baseball or lacrosse, Boltrek hopes to continue the recent trend of sending football players to that next level.

“I think it’s a reflection of their hard work and dedication to the sport, the team and the program,” Boltrek said. “You can see what football does for student-athletes. It provides them with opportunities. We’re talking about helping students get into a Division III school with great academics, and it helps them get into that school they might not have gotten into before. When you have that, it really gives you the ability to have more options when high school is over.”

And that was one of Boltrek’s main goals when he took over the program.

“It’s about continuing this process and hopefully getting them into larger schools,” he said. “One kid has been in Division II, and the other eight are all Division III. There’s a difference in competitiveness and the level of competition as you go from division to division. There is definitely more Long Island football out there in recent memory, and I’m trying to get the Ward Melville guys to be a part of that as well.”

With each of this year’s recruits being sent to Division III teams, Boltrek feels there will be more opportunities for future players, and he wants to get the attention of the bigger schools.

“I think it just comes with success, and hopefully, the work the coaches and kids put in turns into success on the field,” he said. “We’ve been trending in the right direction. The longer you can keep that up, the better chance you have at becoming [like] the lacrosse program or the baseball program because they’ve been consistently successful for years.”

O’Hea threw for 1,933 yards in nine games his last season, giving him the 11th most passing yards in New York. With a 119.2 passer rating, he was named to the second team All-Long Island, along with the first team All-Division, offensive MVP, and was Ward Melville’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Running back Nick Cervone moves the ball. Photo from Chris Boltrek
Running back Nick Cervone moves the ball. Photo from Chris Boltrek

O’Hea is heading off to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he will fight to become a starter. Looking to continue his success off the field, he plans on majoring in mechanical engineering.

“I’m going to have to go there and work for it,” O’Hea said. “My high mechanics throughout high school haven’t been up to par, so I need to work more on my mechanics when I go to college.”

Playing quarterback his whole life, O’Hea made the transition to wide receiver last year. However, he returned to his original position during the 2015-16 season, tossing 20 touchdowns in his final year with the Patriots. He grew up playing basketball and baseball, but evidently decided football was his focus because of what he calls “a college year.”

“A lot of it is about attracting kids to come out for football,” Boltrek said, using O’Hea as an example. “The good lacrosse athletes do not specialize. We have to get them to play football and make them recognize that playing football will actually help them with their other sports.”

Morelli will be going to Hamilton College in the fall, and Lorusso is traveling to Endicott College in Massachusetts.

Named one of the captains of the Patriots, Lorusso emerged as a team leader in his sophomore year, and started every year after, at defensive end and tackle, along with playing fullback and offensive tackle. Leading Ward Melville with three sacks, Lorusso also had a team-high nine quarterback hurries. He became a second team All-Division honoree this year, and was named the team MVP.

Cervone is joining the Allegheny College Gators in Pennsylvania this fall. Serving as one of the team’s captains this past season, he received the team leadership MVP, along with leading the team with 680 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

As a result of Boltrek’s dedication and drive to push his players, his athletes are now off to college, attempting to build on what they started with the Patriots.

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Garret Warren, left, celebrates the largest fish ever captured at the tournament. Photo from Carole Paquette

By Joseph Wolkin

The bait came out and so did smiles across the faces of 43 children on Saturday, June 11.

The 14th annual Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve’s Junior Angler Fishing Tournament was a big catch for Smithtown’s youth. As the bait flew into the water, the kids battled one another to see who would catch the most fish, the largest pan one, along with the biggest “other” fish.

One of two natural preserves on Long Island, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve sits amidst 543 acres in Smithtown. Named after Caleb Smith, who was a judge for the Court of Common Pleas of Suffolk County, along with being a member of the state assembly in the 18th century, the property was dedicated in his name when it was acquired by the state in 1963.

At the end of the tournament, Garrett Warren, 11, came home with the largest fish of the day. Warren set a record for the largest fish caught in the tournament’s 14-year history, catching a 19.5-inch bass and shattering the previous record of approximately 15 inches.

“The fish cooperated and nearly every child caught a fish,” Tom Tokosh, president of the tournament, said. “Last year, we were in the neighborhood of maybe 32 [kids]. It goes year-to-year. I think we did better with marketing this year. I went to some trade shows and put flyers out and stuff.

“We also had a high participation rate. Last year, we had 25 people sign up for the afternoon session, but only 18 showed up. It depends on the weekend I think.”

10-year-old Erik Trovitch ended the day with the most fish caught, reeling in 17 creatures during the afternoon session for kids 9 to 12.

Parents were not allowed to help their children during the afternoon session. However, during the morning round, parents could cast the line, but the children needed to reel the fish in and bring them to shore.

During the morning session, which featured children from ages 5 to 8, 6-year-old Anderson Martinez won first prize for catching a morning-high 12 fish. Additionally, Veronica Leitner, 5, caught the largest “other” fish, bringing home a 14-inch bass.

“All of the fish were released,” Tokosh explained. “We might have hurt a few getting the hooks out, but basically, all of the fish were released. The kids had a great time, and it’s a good experience for them with their parents to bond and do stuff together.”

At the completion of the tournament, 204 fish were caught, measured and released, breaking the previous record of just under 200 fish caught during the tournament, according to Tokosh.

Among those also winning trophies were 9-year-old Gianna Valenti in the largest pan fish category and Brendan Lee-McGraw, 6, in the same section but during the morning round.

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Tori Reid in stride during a previous meet. Photo from Reid

By Joseph Wolkin

Comsewogue senior Tori Reid headed to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association girls’ track and field championship looking to make history.

Reid set her sights on the prize, focused on winning as the lone member of the Warriors to head to Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Finishing runner-up in the Section XI division championship in the triple jump with a leap of 36 feet, 8 inches, and in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.43 seconds, the athlete advanced to states, attempting to become the third pentathlon champion in the school’s history. Previously, her best finish in any event during the tournament was fifth, which came in the hurdles last year. Although she didn’t become a champion, she placed ninth overall, and is happy with how far she’s come.

“I was proud of myself because I was seeded 13th going into the competition,” Reid said.

She placed fourth in hurdles in 15.36, 19th in 100-meter run in 2 minutes 2:44.07, and fifth in shot put with a throw of 27 feet, 2 inches.

“I definitely could have run better. I definitely could have thrown better,” she said. “It wasn’t my best, but I did the best I could in the two days, especially since it was raining on the second day. I think I did pretty well overall.”

With two 100 hurdles victories in the spring — one on April 30 during the Westhampton Beach Invitational and the other at the St. Anthony’s Invitational on May 6 — Reid emerged as a leader entering her final months with the Warriors.

Tori Reid leaps over a hurdle during the St. Anthony’s Invitational. Photo from Reid
Tori Reid leaps over a hurdle during the St. Anthony’s Invitational. Photo from Reid

She earned six wins during the winter, with four of them coming in the 55 hurdles, and a pair in the triple jump. Her work ethic propelled her to break the school record for the triple jump, reaching 37 feet, 7.75 inches on Jan. 31 during the Section XI Small School Championships at Suffolk County Community College.

According to head coach J.P. Dion, who joined the team at the start of this season, Reid’s emergence as a team leader is spreading positivity among her peers. She helps get everything organized, and showed up to all but two of the approximately 80 practices this season.

“She’s definitely the captain of the team,” Dion said. “She comes to practice every day and is a leader. I think when the kids see her doing really well — see her at practice everyday, putting the time and effort in to become better — I think her dedication rubs off on kids.”

And he said she took that role on herself.

“I didn’t have to designate her as that person,” he said. “She is very good with communication. It’s through her dedication that something like that came about.”

Dion took over for longtime coach Matt Brown, who worked with Reid during her first three years at Comsewogue.

“Matt Brown would kid a lot and joke around, but Dion is kind of hands-on,” Reid said. “Usually, there was no captain and the seniors just took control, but I knew that with a new coach coming in, I didn’t want my girls thinking anything was going to be different. I stepped up to make them feel comfortable.”

This year, Reid set a personal record of 15.23 in the 100 hurdles en route to her St. Anthony’s Invitational victory. The 2015-16 season was her strongest since joining the Warriors, earning eight wins in 30 contests, compared to four in her previous seasons with the team.

Reid will be attending Winthrop University in South Carolina in the fall, joining her sister Sabrena, who will be a junior. Although she only worked with her new coach for a short period of time, she will take with her some invaluable lessons she’s learned along the way.

“[Dion] taught me that in the end, he can’t do anything for me,” she said. “I’ve learned to be more independent while competing. It comes down to me.”