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Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.

By Rich Acritelli

In honor of Black History Month, Errol Toulon Jr. (D), of Lake Grove, is the first African American Suffolk County sheriff. Ever since his youth through the lessons that he learned from his father, Toulon has been motivated to achieve his duty and responsibilities.  

As a kid, he asked his father, a longtime correction officer, what he did for a living. His dad replied, “We rehabilitate individuals that are incarcerated, we never throw away the key and we try to help these people safely return back to society.” 

The story of Toulon Jr. began in the Bronx, where he was born in 1962, and he lived in the city until 1990. 

Yankee batboy

Errol Toulon Jr. as a Yankee batboy. Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

A talented baseball player who excelled as a center fielder and a leadoff hitter during his high school and college years, Toulon had the unique chance of being a batboy for the New York Yankees in 1979 through 1980.  

He was in the locker room to observe the impressive leadership skills and character of the late Yankee great catcher Thurman Munson. In the Bronx, Toulon watched Billy Martin manage the baseball stars of Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, and he also met boxing champ Roberto Durán.  

As a young man in the Yankee Clubhouse, Toulon encountered a young boy, and asked him his name. It was Hal Steinbrenner, who now owns the team after his father George. 

The former batboy ended up becoming the first African American sheriff of Suffolk County, and had a wonderful time being welcomed back by senior management of the Yankees. Players like Ron Blomberg and Mickey Rivers were pleased to see their former batboy who has always worked to protect his community. Still to this day, Toulon is an avid baseball fan who glowingly recalls his special time in pinstripes around the “Boys of Summer.”

City correction officer

Errol Toulon Jr., left, with Hal Steinbrenner, general partner of the New York Yankees.
Photo from Errol Toulon Jr.

During those earlier years, Toulon took the city correction officer exam, after he completed an associate’s degree in business.  As a 20-year-old, he became one of the youngest recruits within the New York City Department of Correction.  

He observed the older jails that were built from the 1930s through 1960s, were cold, secured with steel, and lacking any of the advancements of the penitentiaries of today. Early in his career, Toulon was impacted by watching inmates hold few liberties and living in poor conditions. 

There were dangerous moments during fights, riots and emergencies, that saw officers isolated and unable to see each other where their own safety was compromised. Over the years, Toulon has learned from these lessons to ensure the constant support of the current officers of his department.

As a lifelong officer, a captain and official, Toulon always follow the examples that were established by his father. Toulon Sr. was employed by the NYC Department of Correction for 36 years in positions ranging from officer to a warden at Rikers Island. 

From his dad, he learned the value of attention to detail and always treating his staff with the utmost amount of respect. Whether it was his junior years as a correction officer or as the present Suffolk County sheriff, Toulon never loses focus on the evolving complexities of operating the county system of imprisonment. Over the past decades, he has been involved in hostage crisis, handling drug abuse, attempted escapes, and seizure of guns and contraband that were smuggled into jails by prisoners.

Suffolk County sheriff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo administers the oath of office to Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. during his inauguration ceremony in 2018. Toulon was joined by his wife Tina. File photo by Kevin Redding

Toulon has always believed in the necessity in analyzing the complexity of criminal justice problems that are always evolving. There was recently a major riot in St. Louis, where the inmates broke windows and set debris on fire. Always understanding the usefulness of information, Toulon’s Sheriff’s Office examines these situations by calling different corrections agencies around the country. They try to determine the root of local or national incidents and utilize these resources to be prepared to sufficiently handle these concerns in Suffolk County.  

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has worked with him through their tenures in office.

“Sheriff Toulon leads a proud department of men and women dedicated to upholding the law and running the Suffolk County Correctional Facility,” she said. 

There is always the major process of investigating prisoner grievances over health care, food, communication with family members, religious services and more. Toulon tries to improve these concerns before they materialize into a major crisis. 

During his career, he has dealt with the Ebola and swine flu outbreaks and the health implications within the jail environment. Through the determination to always contain the strength of these sicknesses, protective measures were already established within the county jails before the first COVID-19 case hit New York in last March.  

Due to the pandemic, new ways had to be developed to handle the services that were needed for the prisoners. Toulon’s office made a goal in always sharing current information on the threats and changes that COVID-19 presented to both the outside world and the jails. The virus prevented family visits, but prisoners were allocated two extra calls a week, pictures of loved ones were printed for inmates, and there were virtual substance and psychological programs. 

Professional and educational experiences

Errol Toulon Jr. with Yankees Mickey Rivers and Ron Bloomberg

Education has always been an important part of Toulon’s life which he has incorporated into his many correctional positions. He has a doctorate in educational administration, an advanced certificate in Homeland Security Management and an MBA.  

Since his election as sheriff, Toulon has spoken to many educational programs with local school districts to address the daily concerns that his department handles, always with a positive demeanor. 

VFW Post 6249 Rocky Point Comdr. Joe Cognitore has always viewed Toulon “as an upstanding and an energetic people person that has always protected our residents, worked well with community leaders, aided veterans that have fallen on criminal times in jail, and he has helped create local 9/11 memorials.”

For two years, Toulon taught at Dowling College as an adjunct faculty member. He planned to instruct students at St. John’s University, but was unable to do so due to his present position.  

Harvard University has invited Toulon to address its student body on his professional and educational experiences. While he enjoys his current position and is hopeful that he will be reelected to another term, Toulon enjoys teaching, and he would like to teach again. A leader with a tremendous amount of energy, there have been some personal battles that he has had to endure as a survivor of pancreatic cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Whereas Toulon is determined to have a secure prison system within the county, provide resources and support for his officers, he also wants to ensure that prisoners do not return. Through the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team, known as the START program, correction officers help inmates find housing, jobs, medical services and food, and to become productive and safe citizens. 

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

Dana Cavalea, Mount Sinai native, is passionate about coaching. For 12 years he spent time as the New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach, and along the way got to pick the brains of some all-time
great athletes.  

Former Yankees professional Dana Cavalea came to the Barnes & Noble in Lake Grove to promote his book to a full crowd. The Mount Sinai native has had a long career in both professional baseball and in books. Photo by David Luces

He didn’t think he would eventually become an author, but he views his book, “Habits of a Champion: Nobody Becomes a Champion by Accident,” as an extension of coaching. 

“I never had the intention of writing a book, but I was reading these self-help books and I felt there was a gap from what I was reading and what I was seeing on the baseball field working with these athletes,” he said. “That’s what drove me toward writing this book, I wanted to write a handbook, that people can use as a utility as they navigate life.”

Interactions with Yankees fans also inspired him. 

“It also came about being at the stadium and fans coming up to me asking me questions about their own lives, about how they could improve their performance in a certain area,” Cavalea said. “I’d give them an answer, and then they would come back to another game during the season and they would ask another question.”

The Mount Sinai native pointed to a family friend, coach Billy King as a big reason why he chose to pursue his career path and started his training journey. 

“He was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool,” he said. 

Cavalea was 19 years old attending the University of South Florida and working as a strength and conditioning intern for the school’s football team when he was offered an unexpected opportunity. 

A professor at the university told him that the Yankees, who were in the midst of spring training at nearby Legends Field in Tampa, were looking for an intern to help out. 

Cavalea, who just so happened to have visited the ballpark as a fan the previous day, drove over the next day and was put into Yankee gear and was on the same field stretching with pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The Mount Sinai native worked as an intern for three years, then became an assistant, before becoming a coach at 23 years old. 

“The Bronx is only about 60 to 70 miles away from here but I had to go 1,800 miles away in order to get there,” he said.  

The performance coach said he took those experiences and wanted to write something in his own style, so people could tell it was written by him and it was authentic. 

“[Coach Billy King] was a big influence on me, when I learned what he was doing, he was in the gym training, watching what he eats, and I was like wow that’s pretty cool.”

— Dana Cavalea

“Habits of a Champion” is split into 15 lessons designed to help the reader succeed in different aspects of life. Cavalea shared some of those lessons at a Feb. 8 book-signing event at the Smithaven Mall in Lake Grove. 

Those included: “If someone doesn’t respect your time, they don’t respect you,” something Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter would say, stressing the importance of being on time. Another was “never get too high and never get too low.” Cavalea mentioned that a person’s attitude or mood can determine their daily success. 

“It all comes down to how you control your own emotions,” he said. “Whether you are an Olympic athlete or a high schooler that has a big test or presentation.”  

In addition to writing books, Cavalea now works as a life coach and motivational speaker. Some of the clients he coaches are business executives, athletes and CEOs of companies. He has been asked to speak at a number of big corporations, nonprofit organizations and schools. 

“The messages and lessons are very universal,” he said. “When you’re a coach you are trying to learn as much as you can, and how you can maximize human potential.”

Despite the busy schedule, Cavalea said he enjoys writing books and has plans to release a children’s book sometime in April. He has already written two children’s books: “Champion Kids: Johnny ‘The Jet’ Saves the Day” and “Girls on the Run: Starring
Mighty Melina.” 

“It’s fun for me, It’s great being able to share these lessons with others,” he said. “If the best of the best need help, so does everyone else.” 

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The current World Series baseball matchup features two teams that haven’t won a championship in decades. The Cleveland Indians’ last title came in 1948, while the Chicago Cubs, in case anyone hasn’t heard, previously claimed baseball’s top prize in 1908. Let’s take a look at the way things were the last time each of these teams won the World Series.

In 1948, the Indians’ Leroy “Satchel” Paige made his debut on July 9, becoming the first African-American pitcher in the American League. He went 6-1 for the Indians that season, although he pitched to only two batters in the World Series, retiring them both.

The cost of everything was considerably lower, before inflation kicked in. The price for a grandstand ticket at Braves Field, Boston, for the clinching sixth game when the Indians beat the local Braves, 4-2, was $6. The Braves moved later to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.

The cost of a gallon of gas to drive to Braves Field, which is now Nickerson Field on the campus of Boston University, was about 16 cents.

Also in the world of sports, the Olympics returned to the world stage after the 1940 and 1944 games were canceled during World War II. Remarkably, London — the target of repeated bombings during the war, which had ended only three years earlier — hosted the 1948 Olympics.

In other international events, Israel was created, with David Ben-Gurion serving as the first prime minister. In Berlin, after the Soviet Union blocked all ground traffic into West Berlin, the airlift started on June 26, 1948, and didn’t end until Sept. 30, 1949, providing enough supplies to enable West Berlin to remain under the control of the British, French and American governments.

Back on the home front, President Harry Truman dedicated New York International Airport, commonly known as Idlewild Airport and, now, JFK. He hailed the new airport as “the front door” of the United Nations, which was under construction in Manhattan and would be completed in 1952.

Truman, who had become president after FDR died, ran for election against Republican Thomas Dewey. The day after the election, the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a banner headline that read, “Dewey defeats Truman.” A beaming Truman held up the paper after he won the election.

Back in 1908, the last year the Cubs won the World Series, the Olympics were held in London for the first time. The games were originally scheduled for Rome, but a Mount Vesuvius eruption in 1906 made a new venue necessary.

The cost of a grandstand ticket at West Side Park, where the Cubs played, was $1.50. The Chicago team wouldn’t move to Wrigley Field until 1916.

A loaf of bread cost about 5 cents, while a gallon of gas, for those who had cars, was some 20 cents. Ford started producing the Model T car that year. The average worker made $200 to $400 per year.

In Europe, Wilbur Wright was dazzling French spectators with demonstrations of his ability to bank turns and fly in circles in an airplane.

The president of the United States was Theodore Roosevelt. He had already indicated he wouldn’t run for re-election after two terms. His successor, William Taft, defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan to win the 1908 election. Women would still have to wait to vote until the 19th Amendment passed on Aug. 18, 1920.

In 1908, the country celebrated its first Mother’s Day on May 10, and in early November the Brooklyn Academy of Music opened.

And those are just some of the highlights of the last years the Cubs and Indians won the World Series.

Dana Cavalea inside his Inspired training facility on Main Street in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Work was too far away for one North Shore native, so he decided to bring his work home.

After interning as a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Yankees during college, Dana Cavalea found himself taking the 4 a.m. train into Manhattan each morning to work at Sports Club/LA in New York City, where Derek Jeter’s trainer told him he could get all celebrity clients.

“I had to take a train out of Ronkonkoma to get to work, and it wasn’t for me,” Cavalea said.

So the Mount Sinai graduate and former ballplayer got down to business, and built one.

In 2014, Cavalea opened ML Strength in Huntington and Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson to try to mimic the success of his first location, which opened in White Plains in 2011, as a training facility that originally catered to professional athletes. It was very exclusive, but Cavalea decided to open the business’s doors once he realized he had a pretty cool concept going.

Photos of Dana Cavalea and the Yankees hang on the walls inside Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Photos of Dana Cavalea and the Yankees hang on the walls inside Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Our proprietary mix, what makes it so special that people can’t really get anywhere else, is I basically looked at what I used to do with [professional] athletes: the sports medicine, athletic training department and physical therapy, and the nutrition and recovery part — and I basically extracted that department, and created a consumer model out of it,” he said. “Someone that is not Derek Jeter can go get that level of care in a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.”

Cavalea was never judged during his rise in the world of training professional athletes, he said.

While attending the University of South Florida to earn a degree in exercise science, at just 19 years old he found himself working as an assistant for the Yankees during spring training.

“I ended up weaving myself into the fabric of the organization,” Cavalea said.

Once an assistant position opened up, Cavalea was brought on board permanently, and just three months into the season, after a pattern of hamstring injuries for players, the head strength coach was fired and Cavalea was moved up.

“When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”

— Dana Cavalea

“You’re in your early 20s and it’s like hanging out with the Rolling Stones,” he said. “My Mick Jagger was Derek Jeter and the backup artists were Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, so it was really cool to have that opportunity to work alongside that caliber of talent at such a young age. It showed that age doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean qualified or not qualified.”

Cavalea held that position from 2007-13, when he was not brought back to the team after management said it wanted to go in a different direction. That’s when he took the opportunity to expand his brand, opening up two new locations within a year of each other. The training location in Huntington, at 310 New York Ave., and Inspired in Port Jefferson, at 156 E. Main Street, which focuses more on rehabilitation, weight loss, strength improvement and pain relief, instead of just catering to training athletes.

“Unfortunately the fitness world can be misleading,” Inspired manager Caroline Silva said in an interview. “The educational part of it is huge. Athletes want to go far but don’t have a good foundation, or so many adults that want to keep active but give up because their knee hurts, so the educational part is huge and that’s how Inspired has inspired me. And Dana wants every little town to have that.”

That’s the bigger picture for Cavalea: To continue to bring on more physical therapy and exercise science professionals, like Silva, who played European handball and danced contemporary and jazz in Brazil, and expand the brand profile coast to coast, so that each town can have its own ML Strength or Inspired.

“We get a lot of athletes from Mount Sinai that come here injured, and it’s fun to be able to help them achieve their goals and create a place that I didn’t have,” Cavalea said of giving back to his community. “I didn’t have this and I needed something like this when I tore my hamstring as a high school athlete. It hindered my play through high school and through college, so if I had something like this, it would’ve truly helped me.”

The experience at Inspired can be described as “full service.”

Clients walk are greeted by name when they enter, put on a table to be stretched, massaged and to receive acupuncture. Next comes strength, conditioning and weight training, followed by more stretching and a visit to the complimentary sauna before leaving. The program is also tailored to the individual. Inspired offers yoga classes, and all training is done with a maximum of 15 people, because Cavalea wants to keep it personal.

Inspired by ML Strength features private personal training and rehabilitation programs tailored to each client. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Inspired by ML Strength features private personal training and rehabilitation programs tailored to each client. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“You lose the why behind what you’re doing,” he said of a larger group setting. “What I did with these guys for so many years was so personal. You had to know everything about them, learn every nuance and issue that they have and when you miss something, that’s when risk creeps up and you can really hurt somebody. When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”

Silva said clients are treated like they’re the pros, too.

“We have things that athletes use like the recovery boot, they come and they use and feel like the pros, and get treated like them too,” she said. “It makes them feel special and gives them motivation to keep going.”

Cavalea has helped patients at Inspired regain mobility in their arms, gain strength to walk up and down stairs again, and said just recently he helped a foot-and-ankle doctor regain mobility after a total right knee replacement. He said the doctor just hiked the Alps in Europe for eight consecutive days.

“I always wanted to create a brand that stands for something,” he said. “This has allowed me to train in health, wellness and fitness in a way that all people can benefit from.”

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.