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Kings Park High School

By Steven Zaitz

On most days, it is hard to wipe the smile off the face of Commack junior Jeremy Weiss.

After his dazzling performance against the best quarterbacks on Long Island this past Sunday, it now might well be pretty darn impossible.

Commack quarterback Jeremy Weiss wins the 2022 National Football Federation Long Island QB Challenge. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Weiss bested 11 of the finest high school signal callers in both Nassau and Suffolk to win the inaugural National Football Foundation’s Long Island Quarterback Challenge — slinging and smiling his way to the top of the leaderboard in the first-ever event of its kind. As an added kicker, the straight A student also outsmarted the rest of the pack to take the award for highest Football IQ. 

It was quite a haul for Weiss, who is just weeks away from taking his first snap as QB1 for the Cougars when they open the season at home against Sachem North on Sept. 10.

“When I’m out there, in any type of competition, I give it everything I have and leave everything on that field,” said the wispy gunslinger Weiss. “I prepared for this competition to the best of my ability, and I feel that I made the most of this unique opportunity.”

On a perfect summer morning with a few puffy, cumulus clouds occasionally floating past the sun, the event kicked off at 10 a.m. sharp at Kings Park High School. Former NFL QB Matt Simms was the only judge, and he was generous with advice to all the players throughout the day. Long Island University quarterback coach Jonathan Gill ran the players through their drills, and the whole thing was organized by Suffolk County National Football Foundation Chapter president Len Genova.

“We have great high school football here on Long Island,” Genova said. “Events like this go a long way in honoring scholar athletes and promoting these great players and this great game of football.”

Weiss was not the only quarterback from northwestern Suffolk to impress Judge Simms. Senior Dante Torres from St. Anthony’s High School, one of the highest rated players at any position on Long Island, won the award for Best QB Anticipation. Junior Brayden Stahl of Smithtown West was crowned the Most Accurate Passer. 

“It’s all in the fundamentals,” Stahl said. “Consistent work with the same form for five years will make every throw the same and accuracy more attainable.”

Northport’s quarterback Owen Johansen compete in the challenge. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Northport’s Owen Johansen threw the longest ball of the afternoon — a 64-yard missile, despite participating with an injured thumb on his throwing hand. Tommy Azzara of Smithtown East also acquitted himself well, showing good agility and a nice touch on many of his corner route throws. The other quarterbacks in the competition were Devin Page from Kellenberg Memorial in Uniondale, Michael Wheat from St. John’s the Baptist in West Islip, Matt Metzger of Carey High School in Franklin Square, Brady Clark of Bayport-Blue Point High School, Matt Cargiulo of Manhasset High School, Zion Woodhull Trippett of Holy Trinity in Hicksville, and Peter Liotta of North Shore High School in Glen Head.

But this day belonged to Weiss, who in a few short weeks, will be given the keys to the Commack offense, replacing graduated star QB Matthew McGurk, who led the Cougars to a 6-2 record in 2021. 

Weiss performed well in the grueling battery of quarterback drills which included tests of accuracy, touch, agility, arm strength, x’s and o’s, mobility, and pocket presence. The boys were always on the move, sprinting from drill to drill, only breaking for water while receiving instructions from Gill on the rules of each exercise. 

It was an exhausting day, but well worth it for Weiss, as he looks to use this performance as a springboard to success for not only himself, but for all his guys back in Commack.

Brayden Stahl of Smithtown West competes in the challenge. Photo by Steven Zaitz

“Winning this award and competing with these great players definitely gives me confidence going into the season,” Weiss said. “Not necessarily in the form of personal confidence, but rather in the way that having a great quarterback makes the team and everyone around him better. One of my main goals this year is to create a ‘community’ on our team in which we all help one another.”

In that spirit of helping, legendary Long Island Quarterback Coach James Brady has worked with Weiss and many of the other contestants who participated in Sunday’s event.  He was not surprised by how well the Cougar quarterback performed.

“Jeremy embodies a beautiful recipe for the making of a great quarterback,” said Brady, who starred at St. Anthony’s a decade and a half ago and has coached hundreds of young quarterbacks at his Suffolk-based Elite QB Academy. “He has a load of natural talent, is incredibly smart and a sponge for knowledge. Every time we hit the field together, I can see that he is working to master his craft. That kid’s work ethic is off the charts and my heart is so full seeing him receive those trophies with that great smile on his face. I hope he remembers this day forever.”

Ah yes, that smile.  On or off the field, running, throwing, or evading giant defenders, it never disappears.  Is it simply because Mr. Weiss is such a happy guy?

“I call it my focus face,” he joked. “I’ve been smiling on the playing field ever since I can remember.”

Walking out of Kings Park stadium after a full day of focus face, Weiss, as well as his parents, were ear-to-ear as they struggled to cart out all the new additions to the Weiss family trophy case.

“It was an amazing experience to be here and to compete with this group of outstanding players,” he said. “I learned a ton from this competition, and I think it will help me become a better player and thus make us a better team.”

That would, for the next four months, certainly make him, and all of Cougar Nation, all smiles.

Kings Park High School students walked out of school May 26 in response to the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Photo from Isabella Lenarduzzi

Students are scared, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Students Demand Action, an organization affiliated with Everytown/Moms Demand Action, planned a national school walkout for May 26 in response to the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers lost their lives.

More than two dozen Kings Park High School students and over 200 Northport High School students joined in on the national event.

The local walkouts included speeches about the gun violence prevention movement, and the reading of the names of the Texas victims. A moment of silence followed the speeches.

The Kings Park students circulated a petition in 2018 when they were in William T. Rogers Middle School in response to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, according to a statement from the group of students.

“We were angry that this didn’t end with Parkland,” the statement read. “That this didn’t end with Sandy Hook. That this didn’t end with Columbine. That children still have to fear going to school and that we still need to have national walkout events to protest the epidemic of gun violence in our country.”

Among the Kings Park students was senior Isabella Lenarduzzi. During a phone interview, she said she was angry after hearing about the Texas shooting and felt as if she needed to do something. When she saw the post from Students Demand Action, she reached out to her friend Jesse Gunnell, and they created a group chat with fellow students to come up with ideas about what they could do.

“People are really angry about it,” Lenarduzzi said, “Angry and passionate about it, too.”

She said parents, teachers and administrators were supportive of the students’ decisions, and they weren’t reprimanded by school personnel. She added that the teenagers stayed within the school’s courtyard to remain safe.

Hallie Schorr, a junior at Northport High School, said Northport parents, teachers and administrators were also supportive, and the students were outside for about 20 minutes.

She said she decided to participate because she’s scared for the country, herself and her father who works in a different school.

“It’s just terrifying,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to show my support and to let my school know that there are people in school who are really, really scared and want to make change.”

Schorr said she feels fortunate that she lives in a school district that is able to incorporate several security measures to protect students and staff members.

 

“I do feel safe in school, but it’s, I don’t know, it’s scary,” she said. “What if this happens?”

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Kings Park High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Karen Lessler

On April 5, Kings Park Central School District Superintendent of Schools Timothy Eagen notified students, parents and guardians that earlier in the day the district was informed of the passing of Karen Lessler, Kings Park High School’s principal.

“This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns and questions for our entire school, especially our students,” he wrote in a letter posted to the district’s website.

The high school made its Crisis Intervention Team available to students, parents and school personnel Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We are tremendously saddened by the loss to our school community and will make every effort to help you and your child as needed” Eagen wrote.

According to her obituary on the St. James Funeral Home website, Lessler passed away on April 4  after a battle with pancreatic cancer, just a few days after her 65th birthday.

She recently retired as the board of education president in the Middle Country Central School District.

“She was a dynamic leader and friend to all,” according to a post on the district’s website.

In a May 2021 TBR News Media article, Lessler said she lived in the Middle Country school district for almost 40 years, leaving Northport to settle with her family in Centereach. She has two adult sons with children of their own. 

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Win or lose, both Southampton and Kings Park would live to fight another day but the bragging rights for the Section XI small school championship was at stake. Kings Park with 23 wins without a loss this season had their hands full with the 20-2 Mariners, where both teams were deadlocked at 34 all in the closing seconds of the third quarter. 

Senior Jon Borkowski provided the spark in the final eight minutes of play leading his team with 16 points to put the game away, 54-45. and with it advance to the Section XI championship title round where they’ll face the winner of the Hills East/Northport game.

Borkowski hit six field goals and four from the charity stripe of 16 points. Teammates AJ Petraitis banked 13 points and Andrew Plate netted eight.

The win propels the Kingsmen to the Section XI championship title round Monday Mar. 7 at Longwood High School. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here at https://gofan.co/app/school/NYSPHSAAXI.

It was all Kings Park in their homecoming game against Harborfields, where the Kingsmen dominated from the opening kickoff to blow out the Tornadoes, 34-7, Oct 9.

Senior quarterback Jonathan Borkowski teamed up with John Matthew for two touchdown throws a 14 yarder and a 26-yard pass and run play. Nico Laviano grounded out the yardage with a pair of touchdowns of his own a short yardage score and a 15-yard run. Kings Park’s James O’Melia punched in from short yardage in the win.  

Kings Park enters their bye-week and are back in action Oct. 23 with a road game against Comsewogue at 3 p.m. The Tornadoes retake the field with a home game against Eastport South Manor Oct. 15. Game time is 6:30 p.m.  

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with Kings Park Central School District and Rite Aid, successfully hosted the second and final round of COVID-19 Booster vaccines for 160 school employees and residents ages 50 and up, over the weekend. On Saturday, May 15, a temporary COVID-19 Vaccine Site was implemented at Kings Park High School. Rite Aid facilitated and administered 160 Moderna vaccines to those individuals who previously received their first dose, four weeks prior.

Kings Park Fire Department was on standby protocol in the event of an adverse reaction. Six KPHS National Honor Society students volunteered to assist with logistics and registration during the event, alongside staff from the Smithtown Senior Center and Supervisor Wehrheim’s Office.

“The entire event was smooth sailing thanks to an incredible partnership with Kings Park School District and Rite Aid. I am especially grateful to the team at our Smithtown Senior Center, as well as some incredible high school students, all who volunteered their Saturdays to serve the people of our community,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

Approximately 160 Moderna vaccines were supplied and administered to Smithtown residents and surrounding school district employees courtesy of Rite Aid Pharmacy. Vaccines were administered by healthcare professionals from Rite Aid. Residents were then monitored during the required 20 minute observation period. The average appointment took a total of 30 minutes, with the bulk of time going towards monitoring. The Moderna booster vaccines were administered exactly four weeks from the date of each first vaccine appointment, held on Saturday, April 17th..

By Steven Zaitz

The Kings Park defense did something of a rarity on March 20 against Half Hollow Hills East.

They scored four points on two safeties. That’s a pretty neat trick.

Unfortunately for the Kingsmen, Hills East superstar Quarterback Leisaan Hibbert rushed for four touchdowns, as the Thunderbirds cruised to a 35-4 victory in this non-league matchup in Kings Park on Senior Appreciation Day.  Touchdowns are much better than safeties.

The Kingsmen, having drawn two tough matchups to start the season, are now 0-2 and have been outscored by a combined 93-10. They lost this year’s opener to Sayville in a rematch of the 2019 Suffolk County Division III semifinal playoff game. In so many ways, that playoff game seems like it was a 100 years ago.

As for Hills East, in their two games, Hibbert has rushed for seven touchdowns with three against Malverne and four on this day against Kings Park. He rambled for 195 yards against the Kingsmen, running around, through, and over the K.P. defense in a variety of ways.  The Kingsmen had no answer for running backs Jared Gallub and Kris Tillis either, as the Thunderbirds rolled up over 300 rushing yards on the afternoon. Tillis took the second play from scrimmage 45 yards for a touchdown and Hills East never looked back.

On this spring-like Saturday, the artificial turf and the sun might have been a factor in conditioning, but both teams had to play on the same field. The Kingsman simply got their crowns handed to them.

Kings Park starting quarterback Jonathan Borkowski was harried and hassled all day, with defensive linemen Obiri and Konadu Boadu setting up shop in the Kingsmen backfield from the opening gun — both of whom refusing to leave. Hills East had six sacks and Middle Linebacker Josh Isaacs had one of those sacks. The leading tackler on Hills East Team was Gallub with 11 tackles. James O’Melia replaced Borkowski in the 4th Quarter but fared no better.

It doesn’t get any easier for Kings Park, as they host Westhampton Beach Friday, March 26. The Hurricanes blew away Centereach 48-0 on Saturday, have won both their games and are ranked fourth in Newsday’s Top Ten Small School poll for all of Long Island.

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Kings Park High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Leah Chiappino

Kings Park High School graduating seniors Celina Ma and Taryn O’Connor have earned the title of valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Celina Ma

With the coronavirus, Ma and O’Connor have had to make the best of celebrating the conclusion of their senior year of high school in the face of a pandemic. Ma says that she has found positivity through the darkness.

“Losing my senior year to the COVID-19 pandemic was heartbreaking and disappointing, to say the least,” she said. “But through adversity, comes growth. While we have all experienced a great loss, I think the Class of 2020 has also gained a new resilience and strength that will serve us well for the rest of our lives.”

O’Connor added that while the restrictions have been disappointing, she has hope for
the future.

“I was definitely disappointed over losing the end of my senior year due to COVID-19, she said. “I found it difficult to transition to online classes, as I find that I work best in a classroom environment. I was also looking forward to all the events for the seniors that happen in the final months, whether it be prom or the Senior Countdown on the field. However, I’m happy that the school is trying to arrange an in-person graduation ceremony, and I’m hopeful that restrictions will eventually loosen so that the class can get to graduate together.”

Ma earned a final grade point average of 108.42 and will attend Duke University in the fall to study in their pre-med program. Well on her way to a career in medicine, Ma has conducted biochemical research at Peter Tonge’s laboratory at Stony Brook University on the “development of novel, boron-based bivalent inhibitors against Staphylococcus aureus” over the past few summers.

“It really opened my eyes to what the science research field was like, and I learned so much during those 10 weeks,” she said. “It was also super fun being able to get hands-on doing different chemical reactions and laboratory procedures.”

She has won multiple awards for her research. Ma is also a National AP Scholar and a National Merit Scholar. She is the captain of the varsity tennis team and is a co-president of Independent Science Research, Model UN and Science Olympiad, as well as the vice president of Mock Trial. She volunteered as the entertainment chair of the Kings Park Relay for Life and at her local food pantry. A dedicated piano player, she was an all-state qualifier, playing as both a soloist and an accompanist.

Despite all of these accomplishments, Ma said her favorite high school memory has simply been relaxing with her friends during junior prom. “[It] was a rollercoaster of a day,” she said. “I had two AP exams back to back, going from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. I was super stressed after I finished because I was already late to prom pictures and still had to get ready, but I think the anxiety of the day ended up making the fun of the night all the more memorable. I made a fashionably late entrance to prom pictures and had a blast dancing with my friends all night.”

In line with her favorite memory, she advises next year’s seniors to “make the most of every moment. After the stress of applying to college is over, enjoy your final days of being a high schooler, and don’t forget to thank all the teachers/faculty you’re leaving behind.”

Ma credits those around her for helping her achieve her success.

“There are so many people who have helped me get to where I am today,” she said. “I’d like to thank my family first and foremost, my friends, my teachers and administration for their endless support. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Taryn O’Connor

O’Connor finished high school with a final GPA of 106.59 and will attend Harvard University in the fall where she is set to study applied mathematics.

A daughter of Irish immigrants, her family settled in Kings Park a few years before she was born. O’Connor said she loved growing up in Kings Park’s tight-knit community. “Throughout my time in Kings Park, I have spent a lot of time with friends, and have made many memories along the way, whether it be from walking on the beach or getting a slice of pizza,” she said. “In school, I made invaluable connections with my teachers that I will never forget.”

The salutatorian cited the school’s annual Relay for Life event as her favorite high school memory.

“Each year, it was a fun-filled day with friends, whether it be at my team’s tent, on the field, or walking around the track,” she said. “Plus, the event sheds light on the importance of supporting the fight against cancer, and I believe that it is a great way to get the community together.”

O’Connor was also the captain of the Math Team and Trivia Team, the co-president of Model UN and Independent Science Research, the vice president of Science Olympiad, the treasurer of the Mock Trial team and a member of the Relay for Life committee. She was a member of the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and ran in the cross country, winter track and spring track teams.

When asked to give advice for next year’s seniors, O’Connor stressed the importance of setting goals and sticking to them. She added her teachers and parents have helped her to do so in her own life.

“Their guidance ultimately helped me to achieve the goals that I set for myself,”
she said.

It was the best of the best competing in the Long Island Elite Meet at St. Anthony’s High School Saturday, Feb. 29.

Ward Melville senior Megan Wood shined in the final event before states. Wood tossed a pair of throws 43 feet, 6 inches along with 42’11” good enough for third in the weight throw event but was the class of the field in the shot put throwing 42’3” and a pair of 41’4” for the top spot in the event against competitors from all over Long Island.

Wood has her sights set for her next competition at the New York State Championships at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island.

“The next step is to show up to states and be a competitor next Saturday,” Wood said. “I’ll try to get in some higher reps in the beginning of the week but then we’ll tone it down so I’m well rested for the day”.

Teammate Allison D’Angio, a senior, clocked at 9.44 in the 55-meter hurdle event, and sophomore Arianna Gilbride placed fourth in the 300 dash in the Frosh/Soph event with 43.70.

Kings Park senior Richard Mangogna cleared 13 feet 3 inches in the pole vault event, placing him seventh overall in the Long Island Elite Meet at St. Anthony’s High School Feb. 29.

Teammate Sam Estherson, a junior, competed in the 55m hurdle event with a time of 8.17 seconds and clocked in at 8.98 at the 60m distance.

 

 

 

 

By Lisa Scott

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has a longstanding non-partisan role in organizing, managing and moderating candidate debates in Suffolk County. On Oct. 21 we expanded that role by creating an alliance with the Kings Park Central School District (KPCSD) for a Suffolk County Executive debate.

In the summer we were given permission to use Kings Park High School (KPHS) auditorium, chosen for  its convenient location near the Sunken Meadow Parkway, thus appealing to both Smithtown and Huntington township voters. As the campaigns heated up in late September, LWV engaged with KPCSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Timothy Eagen, who was most enthusiastic about establishing a true partnership between LWV and KPHS. Dr. Karen Lessler, KPHS Assistant Principal and Jack Bishop, KPHS Student Council Advisor, immediately followed up with LWV and a plan was developed that was innovative and educational for the school and the community. 

With LWV guidance on debate structure and rules, KPHS students in the National Honor Society and the Student Council worked diligently to organize the program and materials for the night of the debate. They spread word about the debate to the greater Kings Park community (including parents) and organizations, and letters were sent to local elected officials inviting them to be honored guests at the debate. They collaborated on banners both for the candidate dais as well as a welcome banner in the KPHS lobby. They created informative name cards for each of the candidates, as well as a program for all attendees with debate rules, candidate names, and details of all students speakers/topics. They also developed questions for the candidates (on index cards) which dealt with issues of importance to students. 

On the night of the debate, the students welcomed over 300 attendees. They introduced administrators, spoke about the importance of voting and read each candidate’s biography. Other students mixed with the attendees prior to the debate in the lobby, giving out programs and question cards, which were also distributed and collected in the auditorium. 

The debate itself was videotaped by Kings Park Productions, and is posted on the LWV website, www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org on the events page. Local media were present and did extensive reporting the following day. Questions asked of candidates Bellone, Fischer and Kennedy during the two hour debate covered many issues including young peoples’ challenges in finding jobs and affordable housing, vaping and the opioid crisis, school safety, the environment, especially water issues and creating more vibrant sustainable downtowns. 

A week after the debate, LWV members met with about 15 students who were involved in the debate to “de-brief.” Most students admitted that they didn’t really know much about the office, the candidates, or debates in general. Only a few considered themselves up to date on current issues or “political.” A few spoke about the importance of getting news from legitimate sources. 

Interestingly, the students were surprised that so few people showed up in a county with  1.5 million people. They also commented on how the candidates “interacted with each other” and that the “candidates didn’t directly answer the questions.” When asked whether they were surprised by the results of the election, they said no.

The KPHS students were committed to involving students from all grades so that there would be continuity. They looked forward to future debates, and thanked KPHS for their “excellent support.” It takes a village — actually a school district — to set an example of youth empowerment and engagement. 

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.