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Rocky Point

Athletic Director Charlie Delargey charges down court. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

On Feb. 28, at Rocky Point High School, administrators, teachers, coaches, support staff and even district groundskeepers participated in the 2nd annual Swooping and Hooping basketball game. It was a night filled with cheers, laughs and comradery to raise money for the school’s Kids in Need Fund and VFW Post 6249 program to aid our local Wounded Warriors. Since the early fall, the game and fundraiser were led by the creative efforts of math teachers Jenessa Eilers and Carly Tribby. Through their efforts, the school raised $3,400 this year.

Guidance counselor Jimmy Jordan, also the boys basketball coach, passes to an open player. Photo by Kyle Barr

At the start of this year, the two younger educators took control of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club after social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi retired last year. From looking at their ability to handle this lively night, a new torch has certainly been passed and accepted by Eilers and Tribby to continue making the school a “better place.” While the activity was flawlessly guided, these two educators put in countless hours in planning the fundraiser. They were present to guide the student-based process of organizing teams, general managers, coaches and entertainment for the night. Like that of Bonomi, it was the goal of Eilers and Tribby to give the students the responsibility in establishing the roots of success that will allow Swooping and Hooping to be a strong tradition for the high school.

Several weeks before this game, students organized a draft to pick the players for the night. With an assortment of background music, every participant was chosen by the leadership of groups named Hoops We Did It Again, Strawberry Thunder, the Dunkin Dino’s and the Flipping Mandalorians.  Up until the game, the students were expected to organize their rosters, make trades and sign free agents. For several mornings of the past week, Eilers and Tribby were surrounded by their club members to sell early tickets and team shirts which were worn by staff and alumni. Every part of the school district was represented within these four teams, from Principal Jonathan Hart and Athletic Director Charlie Delargey to the girls basketball coach Reagan Lynch and the athletic groundskeeper Aaron Lipsky. Armed with big smiles, the players arrived early, where they practiced shooting, stretched and organized some lay-up drills. Bonomi, a familiar face, wore a huge smile over the positive actions of Eilers and Tribby to build on a the event that he help create.

After a rousing national anthem performed by senior Molly Lambert and the presentation of the colors by Post 6249, its commander, Joe Cognitore, started the game with the tip-off. First-year assistant principal Lauren Neckin started the evening off on a high point by hitting a 3-pointer.  Right away, the students chanted for their fan favorites and intently watched the staff members who drove to the net and dove for loose balls. As longtime guidance counselor Tammy McPherson was bringing the ball up the court, she heard the warm gestures of her family including her baby granddaughter that came out to see her play.  This energy was repeated with math teacher Jason Rand hitting a jump shot in the last seconds of the first half. With over 400 tickets sold, the smiles were easy to detect among both fans and players.

Halftime entertainment of Rocky Point student dribbling blindfolded. Photo by Kyle Barr

After a rousing victory by Hoops We Did It Again, there was a musical halftime show performed by guidance counselor Michael Conlon and his Sound Choice club.  They brought the fans to their feet through their electric playing of Queens “We Will Rock You” and White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.”  To keep the people entertained, students and faculty tossed shirts into the stands, along with shooting contests, and many basket raffles. For the second time, Cognitore was the grand marshal for the game and he marveled over the wonderful job that Eilers and Tribby did to bring the staff and students together.

The second game demonstrated the athletic prowess of Strawberry Thunder and the Dunkin Dino’s.  While it was expected that the Dino’s would have a difficult game, this team hit their shots and kept the game close. Through the leadership of Delargey and guidance counselors Jimmy Jordan and Matt Poole, the Dino’s advanced to the finals where the crowd was at the edge of their seats. Science teacher Mark Brienza energized the fans through his superb shooting and the chants from the student body who said he should earn the most valuable player award for this evening. Opposing him was the point scoring strength of physical education teacher Kelly Calamita and Joseph A. Edgar special education teacher Lauren Boyle.

Again, the fans were into this game from the championship tip off to the final moments which saw Hoops We Did It Again named the 2020 victor. After the final moments of this game, the fans rushed the court and showed their appreciation for a wonderful night. It was a chance for the players to dust a little rust from their basketball skills and raise much needed funds through the kindness of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. Looking at the energy of this night, high school principal Hart said these, “ladies went above and beyond to ensure this year’s event was as successful as last year’s.”  

Through the efforts of Eilers and Tribby, they certainly have made strides to fill the major shoes left behind after Bonomi retired last year. Through his mentorship, these two young educators have proven themselves to be up to the task in organizing and running major programs that have turned into traditions for the district.

Holocaust Survivor Werner Reich's passport with a large red “J” for Jew. File photo by Victoria Espinoza.

By Rich Acritelli

This past January marked the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz Extermination Camp in Poland. Like that of the horrific surprise of the American and British military forces that freed the western and central European camps in the spring of 1945, the average Soviet soldier who entered this camp never knew what its main purpose was before they walked into Auschwitz. They unknowingly freed the largest extermination camp that the Germans built some five months before the war ended.  

‘Here heaven and earth are on fire

I speak to you as a man, who 50 years and nine days ago had no name, no hope, no future and was known only by his number, A7713

I speak as a Jew who has seen what humanity has done to itself by trying to exterminate an entire people and inflict suffering and humiliation and death on so many others.’

—Auschwitz Survivor and Writer Elie Wiesel 

As Auschwitz was not known by most of the Allied combat soldiers, it was understood to be the final stop for many Jews, gypsies, political opposition, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. In 1941, Hitler began to authorize the deportation of the Jews to Poland. While Germany had its own concentration camp system, the later killings of Jews and other “enemies of the state,” took place mostly in the east. As the German military continued to show its dominance against every nation that it fought against, more Jews came under their control. Although the Nazis always needed additional workers, they did not provide any decency to those groups that were deemed to be “inferior” populations against the German Reich.

The SS, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, was determined to capture and kill every Jew in Europe. Most of these plans were to be carried out at Auschwitz, which was located 50 miles southwest of Krakow. This western area of Poland was originally known as Oswiecim, a sparsely populated town that had 12,000 citizens and included some 5,000 Jews. At first, this camp was created to handle the flow of Polish prisoners of war and partisans who opposed this German occupation. During the Jan. 20, 1942, Wannsee Conference that was chaired by SS leader Reinhard Heydrich and representatives of 15 departments of the German government, they met to decide the final fate of the “Jewish Question,” which resided within their conquered territories.

Heydrich, who was later killed by Czechoslovakian-British commandos, was the driving force to carry out the orders of Hitler and Himmler to transport and kill the estimated 11 million Jews in Europe. He worked with the bureaucracy of his government to ensure that there would be enough resources and logistics to follow Hitler’s directives to destroy these self-proclaimed enemies of the regime. 

Auschwitz was established for this exact purpose. Even through the massive fighting that Germans had to wage on every front, Hitler demanded that his orders of the “Final Solution” were to be followed through the creation of other smaller centers at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. The first victims at Auschwitz were 850 Soviet military political prisoners of war that were killed by Zyklon B gas. This chemical was primarily used to deter rodents and it later was utilized by the SS to kill almost one million people at Auschwitz.  

This massive area constructed by Germany was broken into two separate places for the prisoners. Birkenau held most of the gas chambers and crematoriums for those people that were selected right away for death. The other portions of Auschwitz were built for massive slave labor where their prisoners worked within factories established inside and outside of this camp. As some were chosen to live, the Germans calculated the minimum number of calories that were needed to survive. These people were expected to eventually die from the spring of 1942 to the fall of 1944. People from all over the German-occupied land, ranging from France on the Atlantic Ocean to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, were deported to Auschwitz.  

By the end of the war, when Hitler was all but assured that the Allies would defeat his armies, the killing continued at a faster rate against the Hungarian Jews. This was one of the few Jewish populations that were still protected by their own government. But after a regime change that supported the Nazis, many Jews were deported right away to Auschwitz. Adolph Eichmann, who was later captured by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1961, was driven to capture as many Hungarian Jews and deport them to their death. Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg was sent to Hungary through the indirect support of the United States. When it became apparent that the Germans would not stop, this was a last-ditch attempt to save these Eastern European Jews who were not yet targeted by the Nazis.

Wallenberg bribed Hungarian officials and issued Swedish passes that made these Jews citizens of his nation. Even as he was engaged within this vital humanitarian mission, Wallenberg met with the Soviet military after they liberated Hungary. The diplomat, who regularly risked his own life, was believed to be an American spy by the Soviet KGB. Wallenberg was taken by the Soviets and never seen again.

A main question that people have pondered since 1945 is why the Allies did not do more to limit the extent of the Holocaust. Around the clock, American and British bombers targeted every military and industrial location in Germany. Auschwitz was located near the eastern part of Germany and it was within the range of Allied aircraft that operated from English, Italian and later French military bases. Early in the war, when evidence was sent to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, they initially refused to believe that the Germans were committing wide-scale mass murder. But as the war continued, increased stories emerged from the people who escaped from the death camps looked to identify to the world the true intentions of Hitler.  

Werner Hess shows students the passport Germans required he carry around as a young boy. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

When it was completely proven to Roosevelt and Churchill that the Germans would never halt this policy, the Western Allied leaders did little to stop this genocidal policy. Since 1945, many of the inmates of Auschwitz openly stated that they would rather have died from aerial bombs seeking to destroy this factory of death than by being personally led to the gas chambers. Information was smuggled out of Auschwitz that described the location of the railroad lines, gas chambers and crematoriums that were later analyzed by Allied leaders. Both Roosevelt and Churchill believed that the only way to end the Holocaust was not to divert any major resources from quickly winning the war. The issue with this policy was that there was not even a limited effort to thwart the carrying out of the Holocaust.

Captain Witold Pilecki was a Catholic Polish cavalry officer who gathered intelligence for his government. The Polish were in hiding after their country was taken over by the Germans. When rumors continued to circulate about the true intentions of Auschwitz, he volunteered to purposely get arrested and be sent to the camp. He spent almost two years at Auschwitz, where he smuggled out reports that were read by western leaders. Pilecki organized the under-ground resistance efforts to possibly take over the camp. He believed that if this facility was attacked from the outside by either the Polish resistance or the Allies, that his men were able to control the interior from the Germans. When he realized that help was not coming, Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz. He later fought against the Nazis and was again taken as a prisoner, but he survived the war. After Poland was liberated, he returned home to oppose the communists, and he was later killed by his own government as being an accused spy that supported the democratic government that was in exile in England.

At the end of the war, as American forces were destroying the German army on the Western Front, additional camps were discovered by the U.S. military. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with generals Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton, were sickened at the sight of Hitler’s “Final Solution” in Western Europe. Under the orders of Eisenhower, he directed large parts of his army to personally observe camps like Berga, Dachau, Mauthausen and Ohrdruf. It was his belief that current and future people would deny the existence and purpose of this organized terror. Today, as many Holocaust survivors are well into their 90s, they fear that resentment is at heightened levels toward many different religious and ethnic groups. And like the concerns that Eisenhower presented some 75 years ago, many of these survivors believe that the lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten, and that there are more Holocaust deniers around the world who seek to suppress the knowledge of these crimes against humanity.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. 

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The Rocky Point Middle School’s Robo Eagles, from left, coach Mark Moorman, Kristian Hald, Alex Grundmann, Matteo Gravinese, Neyo Alabi and Cooper Peterson, practice for the March 1 LEGO tournament. Photo by Kyle Barr

Alex Grundmann presses the button on the LEGO robotics piece, and he and his five teammates stare with held breath at the small four-wheeled device as it rolls down the table. The little machine, programmed and built by them from LEGOs, moves and pushes a tower to the correct position a few feet from its start. It’s just one task the students programmed it to do. 

The Rocky Point Robo Eagles, a middle school LEGO robotics team, placed in last month’s qualifiers, and will be competing March 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

Alex, 14, is just below eye height with his fellows on the Rocky Point Middle School Robotics team, but normally, that’s not the case. As he’s bound to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, he’s often a good foot lower to the ground and unable to reach the table at competitions that are about 3 feet up. 

But despite their ages, the students on the team had an engineering mind-set, and their first thought when Alex wanted to join the team in the eighth grade was, simply, why not a ramp?

Alex had participated in the club in sixth grade, which is a beginners course where students do not compete, unlike the other teams for later grades at both the middle and high schools. When it came time for seventh grade, Alex did not compete, saying he was originally daunted, knowing he couldn’t reach up to the tables.

His longtime friend at school, Cooper Peterson, asked him to come join the team.

“When I didn’t come back, you said you should come back and see what we can do,” Alex said of his friend. The coach initially told the student that, if he couldn’t reach the table, he could help in designing and programming, but that easily wasn’t enough for either Alex or anyone else on his team. 

The crew first made a ramp prototype out of pallet wood, and then later, Alex’s father, Richard, who works at Riverhead Building Supply, constructed the modern ramp out of varnished plywood. The ramp is made to fold up and roll around on caster wheels. 

“Honestly, I’m just happy,” Alex said and looked around at his teammates and coach. “I was a bit discouraged at first, but now I’m happy to meet fantastic people like you guys, to be able to compete and have fun doing it.” 

The robotics team also designed a lip for the top portion of the ramp to stop Alex or any other wheelchair-bound participant from accidentally rolling off.

Alex Grundmann has taken part in designing a ramp that allows him to participate in robotics competitions. Photo by Kyle Barr

For this year’s FIRST LEGO League qualifiers, the theme of the event was City Shaper, and students were asked to identify a problem in their community and resolve it. Interestingly for team coach Mark Moorman, the parameters of the contest were vague on just what community it was talking about.

“It could be your neighborhood, could be New York,” he said. “In this case, it was the robotics community — the problem with the robotics community is that it wasn’t accessible to kids in wheelchairs.”

The Rocky Point Robo Eagles placed fifth in the “table” section of the competition, which is the technical part of the robotics portion, but came in first for the project research award at the FLL qualifiers at Huntington High School Jan. 25. The team did their research project presentation on Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and their display board included information about the ADA, details about their ramp and also an interview with FLL co-director Janet Anderson, with a quote saying, “We will try to implement this in our administration and possibly put online instructions to building a ramp on the FLL website,” with an additional promise to perhaps make such a ramp standard throughout the competition in the U.S.

The team got most of its points when Alex was up on the ramp, and with their efforts, the team has qualified for the Long Island championship March 1 at Longwood High School. Teams that place well in that punch tickets to either the nationals or the world tournament. 

Anderson declined to comment for the article on the project, saying it would not be fair to the other teams competing in early March.

Alex’s family was amazed at how their young family member and his team pulled this off. 

“I’m happy he’s allowed to be included and has something that he likes to do,” his younger sister Ava said. “Because he likes a lot of things, but he really likes robotics.”

Christine Vay, his grandmother, was even amazed at the innovation the students had pulled off.

“It’s such a simple idea, I’m surprised nobody had thought of it before,” she said.

Alex Grundmann uses the ramp for the first time at the Jan. 25 LEGO qualifiers.

Alex’s mother, Aisha Grundmann, said she has long tried to advocate for her son to never balk at any activity, whether it’s traveling internationally or even driving a boat or BMX riding. Not only is Alex making strides for himself in doing what he wants to do, but he’s also paving the way for others with disabilities to participate.

Moorman echoed the mother’s thoughts, saying this project goes beyond a simple middle school class presentation.

“STEM is absolutely super important, but how many students like Alex are out there and aren’t participating because they physically can’t?” he said. “My guess is the league was just never faced with this.”

Though this may be the first time a young person in a wheelchair showed he could compete in the LEGO competition, Alex’s mother said she doubted it was the first time anyone with such a disability has been discouraged from participating. Parents, she said, should never feel like their child can’t participate.

“It’s about making lives better for everyone else too,” she said.

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The Rocky Point cheerleading squad shows just who is number 1 after their victory at the UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship. Photo from Anna Spallina

By Julianne Mosher

Rocky Point’s varsity cheerleading squad won the national title earlier this month after an intense and successful season of victories. 

The Rocky Point Cheerleading squad during the homecoming game September 2019. Photo by Bill Landon

The team has won all five of its competitions this year and then made its way to Orlando, Florida, to participate in the 2020 UCA National High School Cheerleading Championship at Walt Disney World held last week. 

“The girls executed a flawless routine and hit everything in sync,” said Anna Spallina, team coach. “It’s what every coach dreams of.”

Since 2011, the school has been in the top three at the national cheerleading championships and held this highest ranking three times prior to this win: 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Competing in the medium varsity Division II category, the girls knew how important it was to hit every movement and tumble. “We were going to have some tough competition,” Spallina said. 

“That’s what makes cheerleading so exciting and amazing,” she added. “It’s the biggest stage of the year and they were totally prepared to take the mat.”

Training all summer, the team of 19 was ecstatic to hear that they were the new national champions again. 

“I can’t even explain the feeling… they were so happy and were crying happy tears,” Spallina said. “The parents too, they made a lot of sacrifices this year for the team and they were thrilled.”

But what was especially exciting was that the graduating seniors were able to receive several different titles after some were brought onto the team in the seventh grade. 

“The one thing they needed was a national title before they leave,” she said. “And they got it. I’m so happy for them.”

Rocky Point’s Matt Caggiano battles in the paint as Kings Park junior Nicholas Svolos defends Feb. 5. Bill Landon photo

It was a must win for the Rocky Point boys basketball team in order to make post season play, but Kings Park had other ideas, defeating the Eagles in the final game of the regular season 77-27 Feb. 5.

Kings Park Co-Captain Jack Garside topped the scoring chart for the Kingsmen with six field goals, four triples and seven free throws for a team high of 31 points. Nicholas Svolos followed with 12 while Jon Borkowski banked 10.

Gavin Davanzo led the way for the Eagles with 18 points and teammate Will Platt netted 7 in the League V season finale.

The win lifts Kings Park to 15-1 in their division, 18-2 overall and look to carry the momentum into the opening round of the playoffs Feb. 12.

Rob Bentivegna, center, helped build the Rocky Point EMS building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rob Bentivegna, a former firefighter and general handyman for Rocky Point Fire District often goes unnoticed. 

Usually a cheerful and magnanimous guy, Bentivegna allows other people to sit in the limelight, but firefighters, according to fire district and department officials, would be at a huge loss if it weren’t for their go-to maintenance man. 

Rocky Point’s Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He’s got a work ethic you don’t see in a lot of people anymore — it’s something to see,” said RPFD fire commissioner Kirk Johnson. “Anything he does do, he doesn’t do the minimum. If there’s a job out there, Rob takes care of it, he’s right on top of everything.”

Bentivegna, a Shoreham resident, has gone far beyond the scope of what his job entails. When RPFD bought a section of property at the corner Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, Bentivegna rolled up his sleeves to help reconfigure a new EMS vehicle garage out of what were two rundown buildings. Many thought the buildings were beyond repair. 

Bentivegna also set himself apart on another project: Repairing and revitalizing the old Parish Resource Center, a historical building that has been neglected for years. 

To hear the maintenance man speak of the building, one would think he designed and built it himself back when it was originally constructed in 1849. Bentivegna kept an eye on the details of everything from the molding in the building’s interior, to the hand-blown glass windows, which he stressed needed to remain intact. He built shutters, based off of old pictures, by hand. The constantly flooded basement was reconfigured into a space where volunteers could wash their equipment after a job, and the maintenance man has plans to turn it into a training space. What had once been derelict has been transformed into a useful community center. 

It was two years worth of work, and much of the effort he completed on his own time. 

Tony Gallino, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said Rob goes far above and beyond, noting that he has saved the district and the taxpayers thousands of dollars by doing work they would otherwise have to contract out. Bentivegna is a perfectionist, he said, who will do anything for the department and its volunteer members. 

When the fire department company 2 needed to move out of their space into a neighboring yard during construction, Bentivegna was instrumental in getting the new space on Prince Road ready to receive all the department’s equipment, trucks and personnel. He even went in to collect pictures and other items at the company 2 house to make sure they were preserved, Gallino said.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He doesn’t miss a day’s work, and he comes in on his own time, doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas day,” the board chairman said. 

Kristen D’Andrea, a Shoreham resident and spokesperson for Brookhaven town highways superintendent, said Bentivegna offers help to anybody who needs it. He had come by her house to offer landscaping support.

“We had a groundhog in our front yard we couldn’t get rid of,” she said. “He came over, set a trap and removed it. He wouldn’t take money. … He’s just a genuinely good guy.”

Bentivegna had been a contractor for more than 30 years and had joined the fire department as a volunteer around 15 years ago. Unfortunately, life had thrown him a curve ball. What coworkers and friends called an “illness” had left the Rocky Point volunteer in large amounts of pain. Johnson said the longtime firefighter was “crushed” to have to step down from active duty, but even as a paid employee he said the man cannot stop giving his time to make sure things are done well. The Shoreham 9/11 responders memorial had taken years of planning, but Bentivegna’s expertise in contracting and landscaping lent itself toward constructing both the wall of names and the fountain in the center of the grounds.

“For those few who know what he’s going through, actually being able to work and do what he gets to do every day gets him through it,” Johnson said.

Adam DeLumen, chief of Rocky Point Fire Department, has known Bentivegna for around 15 years. He said that Bentivegna has also renovated each company’s back rooms and created a training room at the Shoreham firehouse. He even helped with renovations to DeLumen’s own house several times. 

“Most people don’t know what they have with Rob,” DeLumen said. “He’s just one of those guys, he’ll do anything for anybody.” 

Locals Look Back on RP Teacher, Coach, Administrator and Icon

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

Just recently, Rocky Point Union Free School District lost the wonderful presence of longtime teacher, coach, advisor and administrator Michael Bowler, who passed away Dec. 1.  This legendary coach of 47 years had accumulated 447 wins as the only lacrosse coach Rocky Point had ever known. While Bowler was always a notable figure who taught, coached and mentored the students of the school, his unique background of honor, service, kindness and loyalty was established some 72 years ago.

Michael Bowler in his early days. Photo from Rich Acritelli.

Bowler was born Feb. 14, 1947, to Paul and Marie Bowler. He was raised in Hicksville with his brother Kevin and his two sisters Meg and Stephanie. During World War II, his dad was a Marine Corps fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific, where he was able to fly near one of the greatest baseball hitters of all time, Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams. After the war, the senior Bowler was involved in business and his mother was an elementary school teacher. As a kid, Bowler attended Catholic school, where he loved playing football and basketball. Since religion has been a cornerstone of this family, Bowler served as an alter boy at St. Ignatius Elementary School. Later, Bowler attended St. Dominic’s High School in Oyster Bay. He was a four-year honor student, a featured running back on the football team and a major leader on the golf squad. His most crowning achievement was meeting his high school sweetheart and later wife, Helene, at the age of 16. Just recently, they renewed their wedding vows for their 50th wedding anniversary.

In 1965, Bowler graduated from high school and moved on to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He studied history and education and was later a vice president of the student council and the president of the senior class. Shortly after graduating, he married Helene on Aug. 23, 1969, and was quickly hired as a social studies teacher at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip where he taught history and theology. It was there Bowler began his lifelong passion of coaching, starting with the  junior varsity football team. In this rather busy time, Bowler enlisted in the New York Army National Guard for six years. Since his youth he was always in leadership positions, so it was no surprise that Bowler became a heavy truck operator and a platoon sergeant within a motor company. It was at this time Bowler and his wife welcomed their oldest son Brendan into the family Aug. 19, 1972.

In 1973, Bowler was hired at Rocky Point High School,where he continued teaching social studies and was offered a coaching position in lacrosse, a position that would shape the rest of his life. While Bowler was a well-rounded athlete, lacrosse was a new game for him. For the rest of his life, Bowler was always a student of a sport that saw him evolve into one of the finest high school coaches in New York. Bowler grew into a major faculty member that was in charge of the social studies department and was a senior class adviser who organized major trips to Montreal, Canada, and to Walt Disney World in Florida. He ran school dances, the battle of the classes, the senior picnic, prom and dinner from 1976 to 1995 and 2002 to 2003. For a decade, he also coached the varsity girls cross-country team. Bowler ran with his team and demonstrated a strong flair for pushing his students to do well at long-distance running. Like that of lacrosse, he was a devoted leader that had won several league titles and a coach of the year award from 1978 to 1988.

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By 1985, the Bowler family grew to three more boys through the addition of Sean, Kevan and Michael All of them attended school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson before moving onto St. Anthony’s in Huntington. On top of his busy teaching and coaching schedule, to earn extra money for his family Bowler delivered beer, moved people’s homes and even transported libraries within the city and Long Island to different locations. At night, Bowler went back to school at C.W. Post to earn his administrative degree. He was quickly promoted as an assistant principal at Rocky Point middle and high schools. Armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was responsible for discipline, hiring teachers, scheduling staff and students and being a constant presence at all school functions.  He mentored teachers like Brooke Bonomi to constantly support the students around him within every imaginable task and activity.  Often, when one observed Bowler’s desk, it was often messy and full of papers dealing with every possible concern that can occur within a school. Even as he held an administration position, Bowler continued to coach the lacrosse team, where he had a positive impact inside and outside of this school.  

After several years of working with younger athletes, establishing intramural programs, and coaching the junior varsity team, by 1978 his squad had its first full varsity season. With an energetic demeanor, Bowler instructed a green group of athletes toward attaining an 11-8 record. This was the start of many outstanding decades that saw the Rocky Point Eagles be one of the finest programs within their league, county and on Long Island. In 1985, after several years of hard work, the Eagles captured their first county title. Bowler reached the pinnacle of success within the sport, as he eventually guided his players to a 2008 New York State Championship. For all of his devotion, Bowler was awarded numerous coaches of the year awards through his league and county and he was honored with being the Man of the Year in sports through Times Beacon Record and the local Rotary Club. 

In 2014, Rocky Point lost a hard fought game to Lynbrook, where the team came extremely close to making it to the state tournament. Ever the master communicator, Bowler made a detailed speech about the strengths of this group and the importance of giving their all to a contest and still being proud of themselves, even when some goals are not achieved. John Fernandez was a 1996 graduate of Rocky Point, a member of the West Point lacrosse team and close confidant of Bowler. He was severely wounded during the Second Gulf War in Iraq. This talented player openly recalled Bowler “never screamed or belittled a player, lost his cool or uttered profanity on the field. His success in coaching has come from his ability to encourage and get players to ask the most from themselves, not from others.”

Over the years the incredibly personable man established solid relationships with college coaches all over this nation. His “boys” played on every athletic college level at schools like Albany, Adelphi, Brown, Colgate, Dartmouth, Delaware, Hofstra, Manhattan, Stony Brook, Towson, Trinity, Wagner and Wesleyan. In larger numbers, his players served in the armed forces as they played within every service academy team. It is said Rocky Point has more captains that lead the West Point team than any other high school in America. Rocky Point guidance counselors Matt Poole and Jimmy Jordan always marveled at Bowler’s ability to fully understand the college recruiting and admissions process. For decades, Bowler drove his students on numerous trips in New England and the East Coast. Often the case, he quietly took money out of his own pocket for the sake of his players. Just this past year alone, former Rocky Point standout Peter LaSalla was a freshman and faceoff man on the University of Virginia lacrosse team. This local kid that just played for Bowler was a key member of a team that recently won the 2019 National Championship.

It is with a heavy heart that Rocky Point school district mourns the difficult loss of an individual that always made time for his family, friends, students and players. Even as he retired from his administrative position in 2004, Bowler continued to coach lacrosse until his declining health conditions forced him to retire from this position. Bowler leaves behind the love of his best friend Helene who spent countless hours at the school rooting for his teams, along with his three boys Brendan, Kevan and Michael. There is undoubtedly a special place in heaven for Bowler who is surely united with his second oldest son Sean, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2005. The family loved Sean’s girlfriend Adena Herskovitz, who as she was attending Yale Law School had taken care of him after he was diagnosed with ALS. While the Bowler’s are dominated by all boys, Adena truly represented the lone daughter of this family. As with Sean, Adena was recently at the bedside of Bowler to ensure that he was properly receiving the correct medical attention at Sloan Kettering in Manhattan.

Like that of Brooklyn native and Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who was a devout Catholic, teacher, coach, mentor and loyal member of his church, Bowler truly resembled the traits of this historic figure, of living his life for the love of his family, God and the Rocky Point Eagles. For decades, Bowler was a major member of the Infant Jesus Parish in Port Jefferson where he could be seen assisting with the weekly and Sunday Masses. At times, it is my custom to speak with Father Francis Pizzarelli of Hope House and Infant Jesus. With a big smile, Father Frank always described the devotion of Bowler who always enhanced others within his church and team. The priest recalled how Bowler even coached his family members. Always with a hectic schedule, Bowler and his wife took care of a special needs young man and his home over the last several years. Never did the Bowlers ever seek any type of attention for always putting others first — it was not their way. From his youngest moments, Bowler and his family “selflessly” aided others with a tremendous smile, kindness and heart.

Up until his death, Bowler dearly loved his family, team, community and church. He leaves behind a “tribe” of six grandsons, who he was immensely proud of seeing during his visits to Massachusetts and Colorado. Like that of his players, he followed their every lacrosse movements and was happy that they were all well-rounded student-athletes. In the summers, the family vacationed on Block Island where they looked forward to being together. While lacrosse was always a passion for Bowler, the athletic tradition has been passed onto all of his sons, who were all tough college players that later became high school coaches. His two older grandsons are devoted students who are currently playing for Duke University and Marist College. At a gathering that was held at the Bowler home after the cemetery services, the younger grandsons were running around the house with their football helmets on. They were catching passes from Bowler’s brother Kevin in the backyard of his home.  Like their grandfather, they flashed a brilliant smile as they were running around and tackling each other.  

At this sad time, as the Bowler family came together and at several points during this trying week, they could be heard laughing at colorful memories of this unique man.  At the church service at Infant Jesus Church in Port Jeffeson, his younger son, Michael, soundly recalled the dynamic ways and “quirks” of his father that had given so much to all those around him. It was hard to find a seat or place to stand as family members, neighbors, friends, current and former teachers, players and coaches all gave a final goodbye to a person that garnered so much affection. And these accounts that were creatively stated by Michael produced a large roar of laughter from the crowd. Each in turn  easily recalled the genuine ways of this former husband, parent, family member, educator, coach, church member, neighbor and veteran.

At the final wake services, where there were close to a thousand people that stood on line to share the numerous positive qualities of Bowler, 2010 high school graduate Michael Muller addressed the true meaning of this man. In front of a packed house, Muller, a graduate and a lacrosse player from Dartmouth College, said his life would have been vastly differently if it was not for the constant presence and guidance of “Coach Bowler.” Muller echoed the sentiments of this North Shore community that truly appreciated the dedication of Michael P. Bowler, who always looked to enhance the school district. 

The life of this “Renaissance man” could be summed up through the words of Lombardi who told his own players, “Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him.  It’s something we call heart power.  Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop short of success.”  

Through all of his amazing deeds to his family and school, Bowler has surely lived up to a high benchmark of excellence on and off the field.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

This year, fire commissioners from the Wading River through the Mount Sinai fire districts are running unopposed, but despite that fact, these small municipal entities have several issues and boons on their plates, and now is a good time to find out just what’s happening with your local fire personnel.

Commissioners are unpaid elected board members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. They determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

All districts have set the date of Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots.

Here is a rundown of those seeking another term at their respective districts.

Wading River Fire Department headquarters. Photo from Google maps

Wading River

Commissioner Joe Marino has been serving through the year 2019, having been elected in 2018 to fill out the term of a commissioner who left before the end of his term. Marino is seeking another five-year term.

Marino did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents can vote Dec. 10 at the fire district headquarters located at 1503 North Country Road from 2 to 9 p.m.

Rocky Point

Kirk Johnson has been with the Rocky Point Fire Department since 2006 but had been involved in fire companies previous to that when he lived in West Babylon. By day he’s also a Suffolk County police officer and has worked in the 7th Precinct for 23 years.

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

Having been with the department for over 20 years, he originally ran to contribute his experience to upper management, and now he is running again to continue ongoing projects, such as construction of the new Station 2 firehouse, while trying to keep taxes down.

Johnson, a Shoreham resident, said ongoing work on the Station 2 firehouse is “rolling along very well,” and they are currently staying within their $7,250,000 budget. The foundation is currently in, and residents will soon see more of the skeleton of the building going up.

He added that the five commissioners are working on getting a New York State grant to help them replace breathing apparatus that have reached their life span. Johnson said they hope to receive news of that grant later in
December. 

The district has finalized another grant for a fire prevention training trailer, one with different rooms that can simulate a fire with fake smoke. The trailer, he said, can also be used to teach schoolchildren what to do in case of a fire in a classroom or at home.

Rocky Point residents can cast ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse on Hallock Landing Road from 3 to 9 p.m.

Sound Beach

James McLoughlin Sr. has been involved with the Sound Beach Fire Department since 1973, but it was only five years ago, after a spot opened up, that the veteran department head and former chief decided to throw his name in for commissioner. Five years since, he’s running again unopposed. 

“I had been toying with the idea for years, but most of our commissioners were doing a good job, so I saw no reason to run,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to run, I went for it.”

McLoughlin, a retired Suffolk County fire marshal, said he has “been involved with fire my entire life.” 

Sound Beach Fire District headquarters at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. Photo from Google Maps

Sound Beach residents recently passed a $2 million bond that department and district officials said was necessary for much needed repairs to the main firehouse. This includes replacing windows and adding sprinklers in the building. It also includes drainage repairs to the parking lots in the front and rear of the building, which will also even out the pavement. 

The commissioner said it has been several years since they asked residents to pass a bond, adding he and the other commissioners know the issue with taxes on Long Island.

A growing problem for Sound Beach and other departments, he said, is the diminishing number of volunteers as people work more jobs and for longer hours. State mandates and training requirements require more hours of training from prospective volunteers, which has only exacerbated the problem, especially for as small a district as Sound Beach. 

“The first EMT course I took in 1974 was about 70 hours,” McLoughlin said. “Now it takes over 120 hours for the course. It’s hard to find people to commit to that training.”

While he said the district is not currently looking for full-time fire personnel, the district has hired a full-time EMT ambulance driver. Other districts, like Setauket, have hired a few full-time firefighters to deal with declining volunteers. 

Sound Beach residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. between 2 and 9 p.m.

Miller Place

Commissioner Jeffrey Kinkaid has served three five-year terms as commissioner and is seeking a fourth term. However, he was with the department for many years, joining in 1989 after moving to the area in 1988. Overall, he said he has spent 40 years with fire departments both on the North Shore and in New Hyde Park.

“I went through the ranks, became chief for two years and in watching how the commissioners interacted with the chief, I thought I could help with that,” he said.

Miller Place Fire Department. File photo by Kevin Redding

Kinkaid said he has been able to interact with volunteers in the department, adding he has been out on more than half the calls that have come through to see what goes on. 

In the past 15 years, Kinkaid said the district has been busy renovating facilities and updating equipment, including upgrading the headquarters located at 12 Miller Place Road, updating equipment and the construction of a new Station 2 building on Miller Place-Yaphank Road, which was completed by a bond. Kinkaid said this has been done while at the same time trying to keep taxes low.

“I also live in the district,” he said. “I’m in touch with what’s going on, you’ve got to be.”

For the future, the commissioner said they plan to purchase a new rescue truck after decommissioning another one several years ago. The district went out for a New York State grant, but not getting it the district has decided to use budget funds to purchase another, albeit smaller truck at the tune of around $200,000 to $300,000. Kinkaid said they are also working on replacing volunteers’ breathing apparatus packs with budget funds, which could be another $350,000 bulk item. 

“My goal is to maintain equipment and keep the tax burden low,” he said. 

Miller Place residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the main firehouse, 12 Miller Place Road, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Mount Sinai

Peter Van Middelem is running again for his third term as commissioner of the Mount Sinai Fire District unopposed. He has been with the department since 1984 but has been in fire rescue for longer than that as a retired member of the New York City Fire Department. As a third-generation area resident, he also serves as trustee on the Mount Sinai board of education. He also volunteers as a coach with the girls varsity lacrosse team.

“We’re just focused on trying to serve the community and make sure our members are safe,” he said. “It’s about what we can do and what we can do without adding burden to the taxpayers.”

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Like many fire departments on Long Island, Van Middelem said Mount Sinai is suffering from a lack of volunteers, whether it’s from residents working multiple jobs, a lack of interest or young people leaving Long Island. The commissioner said his department in particular has been aging, and at age 53, he himself is one of the younger members in the department.

The district has looked at some ways to mitigate the lack of membership. One has been shared services with the Miller Place Fire Department, where they respond to calls in part with Mount Sinai and vice versa. 

Though he added they may look into additional sharedcall agreements with neighboring departments, another idea on the books is paying firefighters. Setauket recently hired a few paid members, and while Van Middelem said it has been discussed, the district is not currently looking for paid members.

“We have no idea how things will look in another five years,” he said. “A great portion of the district’s costs come from personnel — it’s something we’ll have to think about.”

Otherwise, the district, he said, is looking to get a handle of New York State insurance regulations, specifically covering cancer. It is a major turn from when he started in fire rescue several decades ago, he said, adding the district has been performing comprehensive medical screenings for members. 

“I’m very appreciative of serving,” he said. “I take this job very seriously.”

Mount Sinai residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road.

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From left, Kevin Mann of the Rotary Club of Rocky Point; Pam, Lewin Farms farm manager and Keith Owens of KO Cares. Photo from Mann

For over two decades, on the day before Thanksgiving, the Rotary Club of Rocky Point, along with a local farm, has facilitated over 300,000 pounds of produce to get into the hands of people who need it.

The Calverton-based Lewin Farms, which Rocky Point Rotarian Kevin Mann called “the big farm with an even bigger heart,” has hosted volunteers from soup kitchens and food pantries looking for fresh produce. On Thanksgiving Eve 23 volunteers from seven soup kitchens and food pantries converged on Lewin’s to gather around 20,000 pounds of produce and fruit. 

The seven groups that came are Long Island Cares, which gathered 8,896 pounds of food, Island Heart Food Pantry in Middle Island, The Friendship Kitchen in Middle Island, Mount Sinai Congregational Church, Friend’s Kitchen in Rocky Point, North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River, the Medford-based KO Cares and the Gordon Heights SDA Church.

Mann said the project will continue next year and thanked Lewin Farms for its consistent help. 

Rocky Point senior Gavin Davanzo drives by a defender in a non-league matchup Nov. 29. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point struck first and often in their 2nd non-league game of the pre-season against visiting Centereach, besting the Cougars 56-41 at home Nov. 29. The Eagles hit the road for another non-League contest against Comsewogue Dec. 4 with a 5:45 p.m. start, before their home opening league debut against Hauppauge Dec. 6. Game time is 6 p.m.

Centereach will play Ward Melville at home Dec. 3 and travel to Commack two days later for a pair of non-league starts, with both game tip off at 5:45 p.m. They will conclude its pre-season when it travels to Sachem East Dec. 10 for a 6:15 p.m. start. League play for the Cougars begins on Dec. 17 with their home opener against Smithtown West. Game time is 6 p.m.