Category Archives: Education

Luis Cruz Dreams Big — And Makes Us All Proud

Every March, the A Better Chance “Dream Event” is one of the greatest feel-good galas of the year.

Each time, the graduating seniors’ speeches are the highlights of the entire evening.

But Luis Cruz’s speech Saturday night to an overflow crowd ranks among the best ever.

The only senior among this year’s 8 ABC scholars, he wowed the crowd with his insights, passion and compassion. Here is an edited version of his remarks:

This program has meant a lot to me and my family. It is because of people like you that I was given this opportunity — to live in one of the best communities in the entire country.

The 2014-15 A Better Chance scholars. Luis Cruz is 2nd from right.

The 2014-15 A Better Chance scholars. Luis Cruz is 2nd from right.

Leaving Newark to see the A Better Chance program for the 1st time, I was filled with mixed emotions. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave the life I knew — the ice cream trucks marking the rhythm of the day as they repeatedly passed my apartment; seeing and hearing kids playing in the open fire hydrants, and watching the sea of kids riding their bicycles toward the park, which I used to do every Friday with my friends, until my mom took away my bike because she didn’t want me to get hit by a car.

Pulling into Westport I saw big homes, with big yards, with big cars, parked in front of their big homes. There was grass everywhere — green and perfectly trimmed. Instead of crowds of people, there was a parade of SUVs. Joggers and deer shared the roads.

I remembered my middle school, with its security guards in every hallway. In Newark there were fist fights, food fights and paper fights. My classmates cared only about their reputation and looking fresh. No one really cared about school.

In Westport, it’s pretty funny to me that the richest kids come to school looking so ruffled. Kids in Newark wouldn’t be caught dead looking that poor.

When the principal visited a class in Newark, that meant another lecture. In Westport, it means that Mr. Dodig wants to know how I’m fitting in and what I did last weekend.

A Better ChanceThe A Better Chance program has allowed me to take advantage of many opportunities in Westport. I have grown a lot from all of these experiences, especially from joining the great athletic programs at Staples.

Luis explained how — although he was “a bad soccer player and a terrible runner,” and had a very difficult time with the fitness demands — freshman coach Chris O’Dell took him aside.

He asked me the most important question of my teen life: “Do you want to keep going? It won’t get any easier from here.”

I hesitated, as I was in such pain and agony.

I just went with my gut.

“Yes, Coach O’Dell. I’ll take that challenge.” From that day on, I never looked back.

Luis fell in love with running. He joined the indoor and outdoor track teams. He worked hard, and improved steadily. The next fall he ran cross country. To laughter, he said, “I didn’t even know that was a sport.”

Luis Cruz: cross country star.

Luis Cruz: cross country star.

At the New England Outdoor Championship, in spring of sophomore year, Luis earned  All-New England status.

I was so proud of myself. I wanted to tell everyone what I had just accomplished. The only sad part was that my parents weren’t there to see it. All I could do was send them a video and show them my medal. But what really counted is that they knew I had worked hard for this.

That day marked my growth as a runner, from the slowest to the fastest. That is the physical evidence of the powerful impact of A Better Chance. I learned something these past 4 years: “If no one else sees it for you, you must see it for yourself.”

Luis Cruz at the A Better Chance Dream Event, flanked by his teammate and great friend Oliver Hickson, and his track coach Laddie Lawrence.

Luis Cruz at the A Better Chance Dream Event, flanked by his teammate and great friend Oliver Hickson, and his track coach Laddie Lawrence. (Photo/Jessica Sochol)

Luis traveled to Costa Rica, for a summer program. It opened his eyes to even more possibilities.

I realized that humans have the power to make a difference. This is why I am considering becoming an engineer. Solving real-world problems, using my talents in mathematics, is how I want to effect positive change in the world.

On the surface, it was an easy decision to join A Better Chance, to go to a school with all the resources a student could possibly need. My mother and father were proud of me for making the decision to explore a different way of life, yet they were silent on the car ride to Connecticut. We all knew that the next 4 years were ones we wouldn’t get back in terms of being a family.

My parents never got to see me pick my first pumpkin. They missed the chance to see me break the 5-minute-mile barrier. They never got to see me play soccer on a team with uniforms and real cleats. They weren’t there to comfort me when I lost a race for my team because I dropped the baton.

But they will be there when I graduate high school. And I know they will be there when I graduate college!

A proud Luis Cruz, and his equally proud family.

A proud Luis Cruz, and his equally proud family. (Photo/Jessica Sochol)

It has been difficult at times, living between 2 very different communities and cultures. But the sacrifice has paid off in my achievements, both academically and socially.

I will have more choices than my parents had. I marvel now that my parents have survived in a country where they barely speak the languages. I am also amazed and thankful that they realized that education is the key to a better life.

After thanking his parents emotionally — “Te amo Mami y Papi. Gracias para todo” — Luis concluded:

My parents and I talk nearly every day. They are nothing like typical teen conversations. I have so much to say to them, because all of my experiences are new to all of us. I remember buying my 1st pair of Sperry Topsiders. While that is not an event worth discussing for some, for me it was a milestone. My parents and I talked about it forever — once I told them that they were shoes.

Now, in less than 3 months I will become the 1st person in my immediate family to go to college. Just like Forrest Gump, I went from being average to being a winner.

I am Luis Cruz, aka Papi, your friend. Thank you!

(To learn more about A Better Chance, click here.)

Frank Bruni: “A Generation Of High School Kids Throws Darts At The College Dartboard”

An overflow crowd filled the Westport Library yesterday, to hear Frank Bruni talk about college admissions.

Go figure.

The award-winning New York Times journalist — who has covered presidents and popes, served as chief restaurant critic, and now writes a wildly popular Sunday column — was here to talk about his new book.

Frank Bruni bookIt’s called Where You’ll Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania. On this topic, of course, Westport is one of the most manic places on the planet.

Bruni, who is 50, grew up in an area similar to Westport — a place that could give us a run for our (college-leads-to-Wall Street) money.

But even though there was an implied competition back then, based on college stickers on the backs of cars — and even though Bruni joked about going to a school (the University of North Carolina) supposedly less prestigious than those of his siblings — he said things today are far, far worse.

Which is why he wrote his book.

Bruni said that as he realized he knew so many contented and accomplished people — and that they’d gone to an enormous range of colleges — he understood that all the admissions talk has been focused on the wrong thing.

“We should focus much more on how students choose and use college, than on how to get in,” he said. “‘Success’ comes not from where you go, but from figuring out a school’s landscape, and how to till it.”

Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni

Citing examples from his book, Bruni talked about schools like Rhode Island School of Design (where the founders of Airbnb went), and the University of Waterloo (which produced the most number of graduates with successful Y Combinator venture capital pitches).

Last year, Bruni taught a course at Princeton. Though he was “in some way in awe” of the school, he realized that many students were tone deaf about their place in it, and the world.

One eating club tradition is “State Night.” Students dress, and act, “as if they went to a state school,” he said.

Part of the reason is that high school students in places like Westport hear messages about the perceived differences between private and state schools (and see “rankings” of every private school too).

College pennantsPart of the reason too is that some students spend so much time trying to “get in” that they don’t care much about what happens once they do.

“We have a generation of kids applying to 18 or 20 different college. They’re throwing darts at a dartboard. They can’t understand what all those schools offer. So once they get there, they don’t know what to do,” Bruni said.

Audience members had plenty of questions.

They wanted to know what Bruni thought about the importance of “making connections” at highly competitive schools. (He thinks that students at those college are already on the path to success. “If you’re someone who reaches far, it doesn’t matter which school gave you its imprimatur. You’ll get there.”)

There are plenty of reasons for this admissions mania, Bruni noted — and it’s not only parents who share the blame. Colleges “cynically” take measures to drive down their acceptance rates — like not requiring SATs, or sending information to students who are clearly not qualified — so their yields will look more impressive in the US News & World Report rankings.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

Bruni says it’s important for “influencers” — teachers, counselors, anyone talking with students — to change the tone of conversations.

Of course, those conversations often begin at home. “Kids should not feel that where they go to college is a validation — or repudiation — of their parents.”

The crowd was large and appreciative. Bruni’s message was especially important for teenagers to hear. But there were very few of them in the audience.

I guess the sophomores and juniors were at SAT courses.

And the seniors were home, waiting to hear from 18 or 20 colleges.

Pedro Da Silva’s Legacy

Two years ago — as a Central High School sophomore — Pedro Da Silva heard an announcement about Open Choice.

“I think I was the only one who listened,” he says, referring to the lottery that brings Bridgeport students to Westport.

Though he was in Central’s magnet school program, Pedro wanted more. “It was a tough environment to learn in,” he explains.

He was accepted. Even before his 1st day as a Staples High School junior, he noticed a difference.

Staples sealWhile registering for classes, guidance counselor Deb Slocum  “ran over the entire building, looking for an AP US History textbook for me,” Pedro says. “She went to such a huge extent to help.”

When school began, he noticed a great academic difference. He had to drop a couple of AP and Honors classes. Even so, he struggled to keep up.

“In Contemporary World Issues they were talking about the Ottoman Empire,” Pedro recalls. “I had no idea what that was.”

He wrote down everything that was unfamiliar. At home each night, he researched what he did not know.

The first month was tough. Fortunately, Pedro found his new classmates very friendly. “I thought they might be snobby,” he says. “But everyone was so nice. I noticed the atmosphere immediately. It’s so warm and inviting. Mr. Dodig (the principal) has built such an accepting school.”

Joining Staples Players and Choir helped too. “At Staples you’re not judged for liking the arts,” he says with relief.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro acted in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and last year’s One-Act Festival. Next month, he’s directing a One-Act. In the winter he’s on the swim team. He’s vice president of the St. Jude’s Charity Club.

Now — as he prepares to graduate in June — Pedro wants to do one more thing.

He wants to leave a legacy.

Through a college application Facebook group, he met a boy in Kansas. “He lives in an area like Fairfield County, where some communities are much more affluent than others,” Pedro says. His friend created an inter-district student government. Each school sends 2 representatives. They meet monthly, sharing ideas about connecting their schools while breaking down barriers and social stereotypes.

Pedro would love to do the same thing with Westport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

“Stereotypes are not real,” he notes. “There are really nice people everywhere.”

Central HSWhen Pedro announced he was leaving Central, his Bridgeport friends warned him that Westport kids could be snobs. Staples students have their own ideas about Bridgeport students.

“We’re all just teenagers going through the same issues,” Pedro says. “We should be able to advocate together, and learn from each other.”

Pedro has already made a start. He’s brought Central friends here, to see Players shows. Now, he’s talking to Dodig and the Student Assembly to move his idea forward.

Meanwhile, he’s waiting to hear back from colleges. And he’s gearing up for his senior internship, at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

Pedro will leave Staples with many good friends, wonderful memories, and an important lesson.

“No matter who you are, or what your background is, you can excel,” he says. “At Staples, I’ve been able to set my sights high, and learn how to accomplish as much as I can.”

Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

Remembering Bob Genualdi

Robert Genualdi — known to generations of Westporters as Staples’ superb orchestra conductor, who went on to further careers and renown as headmaster at Fairfield High School, then director of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras — died yesterday morning in Bridgeport. He was 84.

Genualdi was part of Staples’ legendary 1960s music department, teaching and leading with John Ohanian, George Weigle (who turned 87 on Friday) and John Hanulik. A string bass player, he received degrees from the University of Miami, Northwestern and Bridgeport. He played under the baton of Arthur Fiedler.

Robert Genualdi

Robert Genualdi

Genualdi’s love for music led him to play in symphonies and chamber music ensembles; judge competitions in many states; conduct at festivals; and compose several music compositions, and 2 works for full orchestras.

Genualdi moved into administration, serving as Staples’ vice principal in 1971-72, then acting principal twice (1972-73, and 1975).

In 2004, I interviewed Genualdi for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. He said:

When I came to Staples in 1960 I had already spent 8 years teaching in northwestern Illinois, so I was not a novice. But Staples was by far the biggest school I had ever worked in.

It was such an exciting place, in many ways. The students were bright and ready to learn. There was a decent amount of diversity, with old-line Westporters and people who had recently moved in from other places.

And then – the icing on the cake for me – there were the arts. You had parents who were professional musicians, artists and actors, and they were so involved in making Staples a place that supported the arts. It was a very exciting time for me.

The campus was volatile, in a largely positive way. There was something wonderful about the way people interacted with each other. And the teachers very much cared about students, and the school.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

I had terrific opportunities there, in the classroom and then as an administrator. (Assistant superintendent of schools) Frank Graff got me out of the classroom. I’d been the Westport Education Association president, and he berated me – kindly. He said if I really wanted change to happen, I could do it from the inside. It was easy to criticize from the outside, but he wanted me inside.

When I was acting principal, there was a lot going on: modernization, a reduction in staff because of declining enrollment, and the Staples Governing Board was being challenged by the Board of Education for taking too much power. I was in the middle on a lot of those issues.

It was a special school – a wonderful, unique place. It started with the staff, then the students, and of course the community. And not just parents of kids in the school – you had alumni, and people like Alan Parsell and Ed Mitchell. Plenty of people had a lot of pride in Staples, because it was the only high school in town.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

After Staples, Genualdi became a high school administrator in Fairfield. The 1976 Andrew Warde yearbook called him a “truly sincere, honest, and open human being (with) a real concern for others.”

His 3rd career was as music director and conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras. He spent more than 25 years there, before retiring in 2007.

With his wife, violist Dorothy Straub, Genualdi helped organize and produce the national Jenny Lind Competition, for years a staple of Bridgeport’s Barnum Festival.

Funeral arrangements will be announced Monday, by the Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield.

 

Caela McCann And Alexis Teixeira Own It!

Though both graduated from Staples High School — Caela McCann in 2011, Alexis Teixeira 2 years later — and now attend Boston College, they did not know each other. They finally met last year, at a meeting of BC Women in Business.

Caela McCann

Caela McCann

Caela was vice president. She loved Alexis’ enthusiasm, and became her mentor. The friendship grew as they worked together on major projects, including a leadership retreat and networking events. Caela became president. Alexis — who is also director of female and gender affairs for the BC’s undergraduate government — was secretary.

Both women had big plans. Over the summer, they hatched a huge one: a women’s summit, called Own It!

The idea — based on a similar event at Georgetown University — was to celebrate women’s leadership. They’d bring together students looking to gain knowledge and skills, while providing plenty of interaction between speakers and attendees. Twenty campus organizations quickly signed on to help.

It was an enormous undertaking. Alexis — the conference chair — built an organizing team of 34 students. She oversees everything from alumni and speakers to police, food and marketing.

Caela — the conference’s executive director — handles contracts, finances and university liaison.

Caela McCann and Alexis Teixeira, taking a rare break from planning.

Caela McCann and Alexis Teixeira, taking a rare break from planning.

On Sunday, March 29, the 8-hour “Own It!” summit will feature workshops, breakout sessions, lectures, interviews, and social events with BC alumni, students, faculty and guests. The “day of celebration, learning and empowerment” is highlighted by 2 keynote addresses, from Kate White (former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan) and Carrie Rich (founder and CEO of the Global Good Fund).

Tickets sold out in 1 day. And yes. men are invited.

Alexis Teixeira

Alexis Teixeira

The 2 organizers have long been leaders. At Staples, Caela was president of the Teen Awareness Group. Alexis captained both the swimming and tennis teams, and was a co-founder and president of Teen Vital Voices, a club that empowers women leaders in developing nations.

Now, Caela is a Hispanic studies major, and management and leadership minor. Alexis is double majoring in finance, and management and leadership.

They lead busy lives. But whenever they’re home on breaks, the 2 women — who graduated from the same school, without knowing each other — hang out together.

And plan their next empowering moves.

Westport’s Budget: Reason Reigns

Washington may be dysfunctional.

Westport is not.

As we chug through the budget season, we’ve seen lots of things:

  • Clear, honest presentations
  • Tight finances, with logical — but hardly alarming — increases
  • Insightful questions, and fact-filled answers

Here is what we have not seen:

  • Partisanship
  • Gamesmanship
  • Rancor

There is still a ways to go. The Board of Finance must hold formal hearings on the town and education budgets, before a final vote. Then the RTM weighs in.

But so far, so good. Initial presentations by First Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Ed chair Michael Gordon were met with praise from Finance members.

Town seal collage

“Thank you for the countless hours you put into this,” said Michael Rea. “You both put in fine budgets.”

“I feel so good about the budget numbers before us,” added Jennifer Tooker.

Westport’s budget process has not always been smooth. Past springs — though none recently — were filled with venom, personal attacks, and referendums.

Reasonable people can have reasonable differences, of course. But it seems that in Westport — if not in Washington — reason reigns.

 

ABC House Now Offers “A Better Connection”

In less than a decade and a half, A Better Chance of Westport has impacted the lives of dozens of young men. It’s helped provide excellent education, a chance at college, a boost up in life. (It’s also benefited many Westporters, who have learned plenty from the ABC scholars. But that’s another story.)

Though still in their 20s, ABC graduates are making their mark in business, finance and the arts.

And — as young as they are — they’ve already decided it’s time to give back.

A Better ChanceCharles Winslow leads the charge. Raised by his father in Brooklyn, he first heard of the national ABC program from his 8th grade guidance counselor. His initial reaction — “No way! I want to be cool in high school” — slowly gave way to the realization that it might open some doors.

He went through the process — SSATs, recommendation letters, interviews, a visit to Westport — and in 2005 arrived at Glendarcy House on North Avenue.

“I was a 13-year-old African American boy from Brooklym, in an affluent town of Caucasians,” Charles recalls.

“It was a culture shock. The academics at Staples were rigorous. I didn’t know what I got myself into. I called my dad every day.”

Charles Winslow, as an ABC scholar in 2008.

Charles Winslow, as an ABC scholar in 2008…

Like the other ABC scholars, he studied 3 to 4 hours a day. He did chores. Gradually — with help from older boys in the house, the house parents, and a cadre of ABC volunteers — he made his way.

Then he made his mark.

Charles became a 3-year volleyball starter, and senior captain (and won state and FCIAC championships every year he was on the team). He was co-vice-president of Junior Achievement, made money for the club, and traveled to Canada for a conference.

ABC graduate Savion Agard encouraged Charles to apply to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Charles was hesitant, but — with the help of Freudingman & Billings — he got in.

Charles continued to thrive at Cornell. He played club volleyball, tutored children, and spent a “life-changing” Semester at Sea, visiting the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Vietnam, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and Panama Canal.

He’s now an analyst in the real estate division of Goldman Sachs. During lunch breaks, he volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

But he wants to do even more.

and in 2013, beginning his career at Goldman Sachs.

…and in 2013, beginning his career at Goldman Sachs.

When he was at ABC House, Charles realizes, there were not yet any graduates making it in the working world. He had no professional role models from the program; no one to ask questions only a former ABC scholar would know how to answer.

Now there are.

Charles spoke with Steve Daniels — a Westporter, African American and corporate executive who’s been a great mentor to many ABC scholars. They devised an idea for an informal mentorship program, matching young ABC graduates with current scholars. ABC vice president Lori Sochol helped Charles refine the plan.

“There are so many things to talk about: grades, being away from home, assimilating, careers.” Charles says. “Every year we come back for the Dream Event [annual fundraiser], but we don’t really know the guys who are in the house now. This is a way to enhance that, so we can use the networks and relationships we’ve formed to help them.”

This month, the program — called A Better Connection (get it?) — begins. Charles has recruited a group of mentors. Each is assigned a mentee. They’ll talk for a minimum of 30 minutes every 2 weeks. Hopefully, deeper relationships will follow.

Charles envisions more, too: social events, a listserv to share ideas and information.

The 2014-15 ABC House scholars.

The 2014-15 ABC House scholars.

“As students of color, we got a great education in Westport,” Charles says. “But it’s important for those of us who are doing great things now, thanks to that, to help and network with younger students of color.”

This year’s Dream Event is Saturday, March 28 (7 p.m., Birchwood Country Club). Charles will be there, speaking about A Better Connection. He and other ABC grads will meet the current scholars — and their individual mentees.

One of Westport’s most valuable and meaningful programs is about to get even “better.”

(For more information on the Dream Event, click here.)

Jessica Gelman, Tom Haberstroh Star In Special “Super Bowl”

When Jessica Gelman starred on the Staples High School basketball court in the early 1990s, Tom Haberstroh was just entering elementary school.

As he grew up — and became a Wrecker hoops player himself — their paths crossed occasionally. Tom says, “She was the first athlete to teach me that girls could kick guys’ butts.”

Jessica Gelman, at work. (Photo/Sports Business Journal)

Jessica Gelman, at work. (Photo/Sports Business Journal)

Jessica went on to star at Harvard, play professionally in Europe and enter the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. After earning an MBA at Harvard, she’s now a high-powered vice president with the Kraft Sports Group, handling marketing strategy for the New England Patriots and Revolution. Last year, Sports Business Journal named her to their “Forty Under 40” team.

Tom’s path took him to Wake Forest. He’s been an ESPN NBA analyst since 2010.

Jessica Gelman fights for a rebound, as a Staples junior.

Jessica Gelman fights for a rebound, as a Staples junior in 1992.

Both Jessica and Tom are numbers guys people. She took high-level math classes at Staples, learned to use data as a pyschology major in Harvard, and became an early leader in the field of sports analytics. (Her database of 3.4 million names makes Kraft the envy of the sports world.)

A decade ago, she taught a course on sports analytics at MIT Sloan School of Management with Daryl Morey. When he got a new job — general manager of the Houston Rockets — they turned the class into a conference.

The initial event, in 2006, drew 150 people. (“Half of them were my friends,” Jessica jokes.) Nine years later, she’s still the chair.

This year’s conference — tomorrow and Saturday (February 27-28) — will draw over 3,000 industry leaders. Michael (“Moneyball”) Lewis, statistician Nate Silver, US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, and league commissioners Adam Silver and Rob Manfred are among the presenters.

So is Tom Haberstroh.

Tom Haberstroh, as a Staples senior in 2004.

Tom Haberstroh, as a Staples senior in 2004.

Like Jessica, he’s a sports industry leader in the field of analytics. He parlayed his background — which included Jen Giudice’s AP Statistics course at Staples, and the strong influence of math teacher Rich Rollins — into a highly respected specialty.

(In a small-world coincidence, Jessica’s former colleague Daryl Morey used an ESPN statistical segment of Tom’s to promote Dwight Howard for the NBA All-Star game.)

A few years ago, Tom introduced himself to Jessica at the Sports Analytics Conference. They kept in touch. This year, Jessica asked Tom to moderate a panel on the growth of sports science and data collection.

The 2 former Staples basketball players are huge fans of each other.

“Jess just won the Super Bowl with the Patriots,” Tom says. “Now she’s running a Super Bowl conference of her own.”

Tom Haberstroh

Tom Haberstroh

“Tom’s stuff is great!” Jessica replies.

Both look forward to this weekend’s conference. Tom jokingly calls it “the Super Bowl for sports nerds.”

Don’t be fooled. If the conference adds a 2-v-2 basketball game to the agenda, Jessica Gelman and Tom Haberstroh will kick everyone’s butts.

 

Honoring John Dodig: The Best Way Possible

The other day, John Dodig bought a lottery ticket. If he won, he thought to himself, his first act would be donating $20 million to Staples Tuition Grants.

Odds are, he won’t win. But I bet he’s thrilled at this news: The organization is naming an award in his honor.

Now it’s up to the Dodig’s many fans to get the scholarship as close to $20 million as we can.

John Dodig -- a Superfan of Staples -- has many fans throughout the community.

John Dodig — a Superfan of Staples — has many fans throughout the community. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

When the Staples High School principal announced he will retire in June, Lee Saveliff and Kate Andrews had the same reaction as many Westporters: great sadness.

But as former PTA presidents, now Tuition Grants donor co-chairs, they knew of Dodig’s great fondness for, and support of, the organization.

They asked if he’d be comfortable with a new award, named in his honor. The criteria: 1 boy and 1 girl each year, who are outstanding citizens, active in Staples activities and volunteerism, known to be caring, open-minded and willing to accept others.

Dodig was honored to be honored.

“There is no better investment than in education,” Dodig says.

“But not everyone — even in Westport — can afford it. Staples Tuition Grants does a fantastic job. Every June, at the awards ceremony, we hear from a speaker whose life was changed by a grant.

“Now, every year when this award is announced, it will be a way for people to remember that education is so important to me.”

Each year, Staples Tuition Grants helps dozens of Staples seniors and graduates attend college.

Each year, Staples Tuition Grants helps dozens of Staples seniors and graduates attend college.

Saveliff and Andrews agree. “This grant will represent John for years to come. It reflects the kind of person he is, and the legacy he leaves behind. It’s one way to recognize him for his years of service, and thank him for all he has done for our Staples students, families, faculty and staff.”

Funding the John M. Dodig Award is harder than simply buying a lottery ticket. Fortunately, it’s easier than actually winning the lottery.

It takes donations. You have to click on the website, or mail a check to Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.

But that’s all it takes — a minute or two, max.

Staples Tuition Grants new logoThink how much John Dodig has given this community — and us, individually. Think how important Staples Tuition Grants is to him. To the awardees. To all of us.

So let’s do what we can to make the John M. Dodig Award the biggest of all 100-plus grants each year.

We may not be able to hit a Powerball-winning figure. But what about setting a goal for 2 full scholarships each year?

That’s very ambitious. Then again, John Dodig has always encouraged all of us to aim high, and reach our potential. This is the least we can do, to honor him.

(To contribute to the John M. Dodig Award, click here or mail a check to Staples Tuition Grants, Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.)