Staples Squash Team’s Growth May Be Walled In

For years, the Southport Athletic Club — originally, the Southport Racquet Club — was one of the only places around here to play squash. Its 4 courts became even more precious when the Westport Y built its facility at Mahackeno. The old building downtown had 3 courts. The new one has none.

But the game has enjoyed steady local growth. And that growth is spurred by young players.

They like its fast pace, tactical complexity and physical challenge. It doesn’t hurt that colleges are adding teams — and look favorably upon applicants who play squash.

This year, Staples High School formed boys and girls squads. The athletic department pays for buses. Students and parents raised money for a coach (Atilla Agh), and court time. They joined nearby teams like Fairfield Ludlowe High and Greens Farms Academy that also train there.

Playing against those schools, and others including Darien, New Canaan, Rye, St. Luke’s and Hopkins, the Wreckers have done well.

Staples' girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

Staples’ girls squash team. (Photo/Stacy Bass)

But word on the Post Road is that Southport Athletic Club may be removing its courts, to add space for other activities. That would leave Staples’ program out in the cold.

Though the Y is the obvious choice as a site for new courts, it won’t happen soon — if ever. Any decision about what to do with its newly purchased Red Barn property is far off.

Parents and players have worked hard to grow their sport. But they fear for its future.

The ball may soon be out of their court.

 

My Singing Valentine

Blair Satter’s love of music started in 9th grade.

He still remembers his Long Lots Junior High teachers — Mrs. Gauger and Miss Puk — and singing a “Music Man” medley in a barber chair.

At Staples he sang with George Weigle and John Hanulik. He even took summer school chorus.

Eleven years ago, Satter became friends with a freelance artist. Her boyfriend sang in a barbershop chorus in Trumbull, where Satter lived. Before he could say “Sweet Adeline,” he was assigned a riser position.

Coastal Chordsmen serenede a surprised woman.

Coastal Chordsmen serenede a surprised woman.

His group — Coastal Chordsmen — have sung pro bono for groups like Habitat for Harmony and Swim Across the Sound; for the swearing-in ceremony of new citizens in Hartford, and at local hospitals and churches.

From Friday, February 12 through Sunday, February 14, they offer “Singing Valentines.” Tuxedo-clad gentlemen will sing a song, and present a card, chocolate lollipop, rose (or a dozen) and $25 Restaurant.com gift card to a loved one.

Singing Valentines can be delivered to homes, businesses, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals — almost any place in Fairfield or New Haven Counties.

If you’re ready to pop the question, a Singing Valentine makes a memorable marriage proposal (and story to be told for generations).

Prices start at $65. Proceeds support worthy causes like the American Red Cross, Merton House, Project Hope, Connecticut Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.

To order a Singing Valentine, call 203-816-0462.

Satter’s story — which started in Westport — does not end with Valentine’s Day. His son Daniel — who learned to harmonize by listening to Coastal Chordsmen — is now a sophomore at Western Connecticut State University, majoring in music education.

Like his dad, he’s a bass.

Blair Satter and his son.

Blair Satter and his son Daniel.

Julia Marino Gets Fenway Air

It’s one thing to win a World Series game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have done it several times.

But to conquer a 140-foot-tall, 430-foot long snowboard jump to win the women’s Big Air competition at Fenway — well, only Julia Marino has done that.

The 18-year-old Westporter wowed the Boston crowd last night — and a national NBC Sports audience — with her very impressive 3-jump, 169.25-point performance.

Julia Marino, on NBC Sports last night.

Julia Marino, on NBC Sports last night.

NBC’s announcers were gushing in their praise. Male or female — Marino was very impressive, they said.

It was her 1st time ever in Fenway. She arrived late, not knowing until the night before that she’d be competing.

“I was so stoked,’’ she said. “I was so happy actually to be able to put down my runs and win. This is an amazing place to have a snowboarding contest. It’s definitely the coolest, most creative place to have a contest because it’s so unique. There’s never been anything like this. It’s just a big jump in the middle of a baseball stadium and that’s pretty cool to say.’’

Julia Marino soars high above Fenway Park.

Julia Marino soars high above Fenway Park.

Next up: Quebec Big Air.

And after that: Perhaps the 2018 Winter Olympics, in Korea.

(Click here for an NBC Sports video of Marino’s performance. Click here for the Boston Globe story.)

Virtually Real Real Estate

If you’ve seen “Ice Age,” “Rio,” “Epic” — even “Horton Hears a Who” — you know Inna Agujen’s work.

As senior technical director for Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich, she created computer-generated environments — forests, jungles, ice worlds — for those animated films.

Inna Agujen

Inna Agujen

When her 3rd child was born, Inna became a freelancer. She and her husband formed a software business.

In 2014 — fed up with ever-rising property taxes and declining schools in Westchester — Inna and her husband moved to Westport. They’d visited Compo Beach a couple of years earlier, and said, “This is the place to be!”

It’s been a good move. “People work hard here,” Inna says. “But they also enjoy life. We’re glad we made the jump.”

It did not take long for Inna to discover the Westport Library’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. “It’s a new way to look at space,” she says.

Inna was hooked. But she wanted to do more with the cutting-edge technology.

She has a real estate license. She saw her colleagues photographing multimillion-dollar homes with cellphones.

Bingo!

Inna’s new company — Procyon 7 Studios — uses a Matterport camera to scan a house’s interiors. After a bit of editing, Inna uploads a 3D “virtual tour” of homes for sale. Think of it as an indoor version of Google Street View. You decide where you want to walk, which stairs to take, what rooms to peek into — and wherever you go, you’ve got 360-degree vision.

The start of a tour using 3D technology. From here, you can go anywhere in the house.

The start of a tour using 3D technology. From here, you can go anywhere in the house.

Procyon 7 lets you measure any room or part of the house. It’s easy to visualize additions, renovations and more.

Buyers love the technology, Inna says. They can fall in love with a home — or hate it — long before setting foot inside. One realtor likened it to “playing with a dollhouse.” Clients became obsessed with it, “almost like a kid playing Minecraft.”

3D rendering tours have potential far beyond real estate. Inna says they’re great for museums, art galleries — any interior space that people wander through. She thinks architects, builders, designers and insurance companies will love the concept.

Intrigued? Not sure what this is all about? Click here to see one of Inna Agujen’s virtual tours. (Once the site loads, click, hold and move anywhere on the kitchen image to begin.)

The 3D technology also offers a "dollhouse" view inside a home.

The 3D technology also offers a “dollhouse” view inside a home.

Remembering Kevin Gray — 3 Years On

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died 3 years ago today of a heart attack. He was 55.

His wife — Dodie Pettit — cherishes his memory. She helped put together a video called “Acts of Faith,” incorporating one of his concerts. It shows Kevin as he was: funny, inspiring, and immensely talented.

He left us far too young.

 

Mighty Clouds Of Joy

If you were not at Compo Beach today, you missed this spectacular cloud formation. Fortunately, Patricia McMahon captured it for us:

(Photo/Matthew Levine)

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

It was quite a day there for photographers. This morning, Betsy P. Kahn saw a gorgeous sunrise:

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Click on or hover over photos to enlarge. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

 

Chocolates And Community

When Aarti Khosla opened Le Rouge a little over a year ago, she followed her dream.

She wanted to turn her new spot under the old Sally’s Place into a fantastic chocolate shop. And she did.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

But the creative Westonite wanted to do more. Driven by a strong belief that women need a place to regain the confidence they lose when they give up rewarding careers to raise a family and support a spouse climbing the corporate ladder, she is offering her space to “all the supermoms in our community who also happen to be entrepreneurs. Or plan to be one soon.”

Now, Le Rouge is more than a spot to enjoy artisanal chocolate. It’s also a meeting place to share ideas.

Once a week, women entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their plans, products or services to prospective clients. Aarti calls it “your own open house. Invite your own audience.” There is no cost.

Aarti has already been contacted by a woman selling jewelry for a trunk show, a travel agent and a therapist. Word is spreading quickly.

Le Rouge is a tiny space — seating only a dozen or so people. But it has a very big heart.

(To reserve space, email lerouge.aarti@gmail.com. For a calendar of weekly events, click here.)

Mike And Kathy McGovern Are Totally Baked And Sauced

It may be the best business name in town.

It may also be the best business idea ever.

“Baked and Sauced” is a converted Airstream trailer. It comes to your home or business, parks, serving scrumptious desserts and fantastic craft cocktails for your wedding, neighborhood party or corporate event.

“Baked and Sauced” — get it?!

Baked and Sauced - logoThe clever concept — rolling bakery and bar — and ingenious execution come courtesy of Mike and Kathy McGovern.

He’s a Westport native (Kings Highway, Bedford Middle School, Fairfield Prep ’89) who started out as a newspaper reporter, spent 8 years with Priceline.com, and now works in online marketing for a New York travel company. (He’s also been a bartender, which is kind of key to this whole story.)

She’s from New Hampshire, but spent the past 25 years in Connecticut. Kathy owned a Fairfield bakery called “Muffin But the Best” — memorable business names are a McGovern family trait — and now works for a small family newspaper chain in Wilton.

They got married 3 years ago. Kathy wanted to take her baking talents to the next level. But it’s a competitive field, and she needed a hook.

Pina colada cupcakes: Pineapple rum cake with coconut buttercream frosting. Yummmmm!

Pina colada cupcakes: Pineapple rum cake with coconut buttercream frosting. Yummmmm!

One of her specialties is alcohol-fused desserts. Most bakers put liquor in the cake itself; you get the flavor, but not the “pop.” Kathy put it in the filling and frosting, so it didn’t bake off.

Her desserts — including cupcakes and brownies — tasted like cocktails.

Kathy’s sister lives in Austin, Texas. While visiting, the McGoverns saw the legendary Gourdough’s food truck. The owners specialize in doughnuts. (Mike calls the “Fat Elvis” — grilled bananas and bacon with peanut butter icing and honey — “unbelievable”).

But it’s not your ordinary, street-style food truck. Gourdough’s’ is an Airstream trailer — an attraction almost as big as the “Fat Elvis.”

A light bulb went on in the McGoverns’ heads.

Vintage Airstreams are as rare as trucks selling “Heavenly Hash” doughnuts, though (marshmallow with chocolate fudge icing, topped with brownie bites).

Finally, a year ago, the couple found a 1968 model in Indiana. It was in rough shape, so they got a good deal.

The dealer spent 15 minutes showing them what they needed to know. Then — though neither had ever towed anything before — they headed back to Westport.

The trailer sat in Mike’s mother’s driveway on Jennie Lane for several months. Whenever they could, the McGoverns worked on it. Guided by YouTube convert-your-Airstream videos, they put in a new floor, built shelves, and gave it a clean, sleek, modern interior, while keeping the rustic exterior.

Mike and Kathy McGovern, with their converted Airstream trailer.

Mike and Kathy McGovern, with their converted Airstream trailer.

The neutral tones inside can match up with any wedding color scheme. The McGoverns know which side their bread is buttered on.

Mike and Kathy trademarked the “Baked and Sauced” name, designed a logo and put up a Facebook page. Then they — and their business — took off.

Last summer, they did weddings (one in a backyard, one at the beach, one rehearsal dinner) and several parties.

The Airstream boasts 3 refrigerators, and a full bar. Kathy makes the cupcakes (like Raspberry Bubbly: Champagne cake with Chambord buttercream frosting), push pops (Irish Car Bomb: Guinness cake, Jameson chocolate ganache and Baileys buttercream frosting) and brownies (with Thimble Island porter beer and pretzels). They’re served at tables with retro cake stands and cupcake towers. (They offer non-alcoholic desserts too.)

Mike tends bar.

The interior of the trailer. Come on in and party!

The interior of the trailer. Come on in and party!

The McGoverns have a catering/liquor license. “Baked and Sauced” is not a food truck — otherwise they’d be called “Baked, Sauced and Toasted” — so they cannot ride around like the Good Humor Man, searching for business.

That’s fine. When it comes to food and drink, there’s plenty of room for everyone here.

Unless the Good Humor Man starts offering pumpkin-spiced vodka Creamsicles.

(To learn more — or get the party “rolling” — click here.)

Serving hungry, thirsty guests. (Photos/Erik Trautmann)

Serving hungry, thirsty guests. (Photos/Erik Trautmann)

 

“You Are All Loved”

Nearly every day for the past few years, students arriving at Staples High and Westport’s 2 middle schools have been welcomed by “Happy Birthday” signs. Parents rent them — and choose an appropriate character or theme — on their kids’ big days.

This week, the messages are different. At Staples, a Valentine’s heart tells students: “You Are All Loved.”

“You All Matter” greets Coleytowners. At Bedford, it’s “You Are All Important.”

Bedford Middle School sign

(Photo/Lily Bloomingdale)

The idea came from a group of parents. At a tough time — following the suicides of a Staples teacher and student — they want our kids to know how much they are cared for.

They didn’t have to pay. Critter Cards — the company that supplies the birthday billboards — donated them.

It’s a small gesture. But the smiles this week — from students and staff members alike — have been big.

Doggone!

The other night, Louie ran away.

It was around 10:15. The Mombellos have an invisible fence, but somehow Louie — a 10-month-old puppy — escaped.

Julie Mombello was about to pick up her husband Michael at the train station. She left a frantic voicemail: Find a ride home. She was looking for Louie.

The doors didn’t open at the Green’s Farms platform. Several people missed the stop. Amy Harris and Michael Cohen, who live around the corner from the Mombellos, gave Michael Mombello a ride home. He told them the puppy was missing.

They dropped Michael at his home, on the corner of Long Lots Road and Turkey Hill. Quickly, they returned. They said they thought they’d just seen Louie, running up Linda Lane.

Louie

Louie

Amy dropped her husband at home, then drove back. She wanted to keep looking.

Julie and her husband searched the streets off Long Lots: Linda Lane, Elmwood, Moss Ledge.

Amy — now accompanied by her son — kept looking too.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Around 11;45 p.m., Julie’s cell phone rang. A woman on High Point Road thought she had Louie.

As Julie pulled into that street, a car came down. It was Amy and her son — still searching for Louie.

Julie told Amy she thought they’d found him. Amy pulled over to wait.

When Julie walked out of the High Point house, holding Louie in her arms, Amy and her son came over. They told her how happy and thankful they were he’d been found.

By then it was midnight. Amy — a stranger to Julie a couple of hours earlier — had been out with friends in New York. Julie is sure the last thing Amy wanted to do was look for a lost puppy that wasn’t even hers.

But she did.

Louie and George, the Mombellos' other dog. They're best friends.

Louie and George, the Mombellos’ other dog. They’re best friends.

Julie was overwhelmed by her perseverance, and the kindness of the woman on High Point who got up to see why a dog was barking in her yard at 11:45.

It was cold last week. Louie is little. Julie shudders to think what might have happened.

“This whole experience made us feel like we were living in a small town again, where people actually care about their neighbors,” Julie says.

The next day, she dropped thank-you notes in both families’ mailboxes.

But it was such a feel-good story, she wants to share it with the “06880” world.

PS: A couple of days later, Julie received a note in the mail. The woman on High Point Road thanked Julie for her note, adding that as a life-long dog person, she knows “all about the feelings enmeshed with our canine family members.”

She signed the note “Baba and family.”

Baba Ganoush is her dog.