Category Archives: Sports

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.”

Katie Orlin’s Croatian Skating Adventure

As a rule, “06880” does not run sports stories. For one thing, “sports pages” in all the local papers do this well. For another, once I report on one team’s 6th grade YMCA basketball championship, I’ll have to do it for every other team, in every other league and sport.

But rules are made to be broken. Some sports stories are definitely “06880”-worthy.

Like Katie Orlin representing the US at the World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships in Croatia.

Katie Orlin

Katie Orlin

The Staples High School sophomore recently returned from Zagreb. She was there as a member of the Skyliners, a tri-state area team that competes in the very difficult sport formerly called “precision skating.”

Sixteen skaters flow as one tight unit at high speeds, while completing difficult maneuvers. Judging is based on teamwork, precision, speed, difficulty and performance. Katie calls it “Rockettes on ice.”

The Skyliners placed 6th out of 24 teams, from 19 nations. They were beaten only by teams from the synchronized skating-mad countries of Finland, Russia and Canada.

Katie has been skating since 1st grade. Her mother signed her and her siblings up for lessons at the Stamford Twin Rinks so they’d gain a skill needed for birthday parties.

Katie flourished. She competed in freestyle the next year, then moved on to “synchro.” She loved the team aspect, and her coach.

But it’s a time-consuming, exhausting sport. Katie skates at Stamford Chelsea Piers, and in Westchester and Monsey, New York. Saturday practices can last all day. “Shorter” sessions during the week are still long: 1 hour off the ice, 2 hours on.

Katie loves the girls, and the competition. She’s traveled all around the East Coast, to France, and now Croatia.

Katie Orlin (left) in action.

Katie Orlin (left) in action.

Her Staples friends “kind of” understand what she does. When they ask about an event, she finds it easier to show a video than explain.

Her Staples teachers have been very interested and cooperative, she says. She gets work before she leaves on a trip, and does plenty of independent and online studying.

Synchronized skating is just one of Katie’s activities. She’s also on Student Assembly, and is a member of the Circle of Women club.

What’s next, now that she’s seen Zagreb?

Katie is not sure. But, she says, in June a decision will be made about adding synchronized skating as an Olympic sport.

So — if everything falls into place — Katie may be headed a lot farther than Croatia.

The 2018 Winter Games are in Pyeonchang, South Korea.

 

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.

 

UPDATE — UVA Lax Player Missing — Staples Basketball Connection?

UPDATE:  The lacrosse player in the story below has been found safe.

A large search has been organized for a freshman lacrosse player from the University of Virginia.

And everyone looking has seen him wearing a Staples basketball shirt.

Mike D'Amario missing

The 2-time high school All-American and Lacrosse Magazine Northeast Player of the Year is from Niskayuna, New York. Somewhere, though, he befriended a Staples hoops player.

(Hat tip: Sarah Petrino)

Remembering Paul Emmett

At Staples, Paul Emmett was one of the best-known and most popular members of the Class of 1970. He was involved in a host of activities, and was honored in the yearbook for “Most School Service.”

Paul Emmett, as MC of the 1969 Homecoming festivities.

Paul Emmett, as MC of the 1969 Homecoming festivities.

Paul went on to entertain and charm countless customers, in his 25 years as president of New York-based Restaurant Associates’ sports and entertainment division, and president of its Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse chain.

Paul moved to Florida in 1999, and led Duffy’s Sports Grill’s expansion to nearly 30 restaurants. His focus on customer service, and providing a great sports environment, was legendary.

Nearly everyone in South Florida knew Paul. He was a ubiquitous presence among employees and customers, and represented the chain on TV ads.

A dedicated community volunteer, he served on the board of directors for the Palm Beach County Economics Council, and the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Paul died Tuesday, of complications from cancer. He was 62.

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Geri; 3 children, Heather, Jason and Alexander; his father, Jay, and 2 brothers, Steven and Andrew.

A large crowd celebrated Paul’s life on Saturday. A video tribute included many scenes from Paul’s joyful days at Compo, Staples, and growing up on Prospect Road.

Click here to view highlights from the service. Click here to read a Sun-Sentinel news report of his death. Donations in his name may be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Paul Emmett, in one of the nearly 30 Duffy Sports Grills he owned in South Florida. (Photo/Sun-Sentinel)

Paul Emmett, in one of the nearly 30 Duffy Sports Grills he owned in South Florida. (Photo/Sun-Sentinel)

 

Remembering Gene Pelletier

I did not know Gene Pelletier well. He was highly regarded as a youth baseball and football coach, but ours was a nodding, so-how-are-your-teams-doing? type of acquaintance.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz send me his obituary today. It’s worth sharing with all “06880” readers — whether you knew him or not. I wish I’d known earlier about the adversity he overcame, and more about the life he led. 

Gene Pelletier died Monday, January 26, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was 74, and lived in Byfield, Massachusetts.

Gene Pelletier

Gene Pelletier

Growing up in Minneapolis, Gene was stricken at age 10 with osteomyelitis in his left leg. It was feared he might never be able to walk, let alone run. After many operations to save his leg and several years wearing a brace, he became one of the top sprinters in Minnesota. He set many records in the 100 and 220 yard dashes, and anchored his high school state championship 880 relay team. At the University of Minnesota he was an M Club Letterman in track, and studied in the College of Education.

His 30-plus year career in college textbook publishing and sales brought him to Westport. He also worked for 2 years as a Paine Webber broker.

For many years Gene was a mainstay of Westport youth baseball. Active first in Little League, he went on to develop powerhouse Babe Ruth League teams. As commissioner, he was a founder of the Senior Babe Ruth team expansion and Fairfield County play.

He then became manager for an American Legion squad. He soon turned it into a perennial contender.

Bob Jones, who coached for many years with Gene, says his laid-back coaching style had a profound effect on his players – and his coaches. Bob calls Gene “as competitive as they come – but he didn’t believe that yelling would get you anywhere. He believed you play as you practice. So he kept his cool even in high-pressure situations. Over time his players adopted that approach to competition. It paid off, on the field and off.”

Gene also coached Westport’s Pop Warner midget and junior football teams. At Staples he was head coach of the sophomore football team, and an assistant varsity coach. Former player Ed Utz cited Gene’s “wealth of football knowledge. He coached the game for all the right reasons.”

Gene is survived by wife, Mary Beth; children Michael (Stephanie), Christopher (Louyi) and Elisabeth Jones; 3 grandchildren; his brother Len (Barbara), sister Barbara Edwards, and numerous nieces and nephews.

A celebration of Gene’s life will be held in Minnesota in June. Donations in his memory will be used to establish a scholarship for a Staples High School athlete, and can be sent to: Gene Pelletier Scholarship Fund, 12 Colby Lane, Byfield, MA 01922.

 

Superfans Seek Support

Here at “06880,” there are 2 things I avoid like the plague:

  • Clichés
  • Requests to publicize a “vote for ….” contest.

But it’s my blog, and rules are made to be broken. So here’s a blatant plug for WWPT, and Staples’ Superfans.

For the 4th year in a row, the Ruden Report — Fairfield County’s go-to site for high school sports — is sponsoring a contest to find the “best fans.” Students could submit videos showing off their spirit. There are 2 components: a public vote, and a selection by the Ruden Report’s sponsors. The winner gets $500, for its athletic department.

WWPT-FM — which, with its affiliated TV station, broadcasts many Wrecker sports contests — created a video highlighting the school’s Superfans.

Here’s a link to the video:

Click here to vote.

It sounds like a cliché. But may the best team win.

 

 

 

Staples Soccer Players Offer Shoveling Help

The snow is light and fluffy. There’s less of it than everyone expected. But it’s still a lot to contend with — particularly if you’re elderly or disabled.

Members of the Staples High School boys soccer team have volunteered to help. With school canceled, they’re available to shovel out folks who can’t do it themselves (or have no able-bodied kids of their own).

Because many of them can’t drive — or their parents don’t want them to — the offer is limited to neighborhoods where players live. So there are no promises that a match can be made.

But if you’d like a soccer player to help, email dwoog@optonline.net. I’ll do the best I can to send a strong teenager.

NOTE: Any other Westport youngsters (or older!) willing to volunteer are welcome to join in this community effort too. Just email dwoog@optonline.net, and tell me where you live. I’ll add you to the list of volunteer shovelers!

After Hurricane Sandy, Staples soccer players helped clean up sand from front yards on Soundview Drive.

After Hurricane Sandy, Staples soccer players helped clean up sand from front yards on Soundview Drive.

Alan Jolley’s Ultimate Adventure

In his 49 years as a Staples math teacher, Alan Jolley has earned tremendous respect and admiration. Future engineers and mathphobes alike look forward to his “Jolley calls” — phone messages to parents saying their kids have done well.

At last, he’s been inducted into a Hall of Fame.

For Frisbee.

Ultimate Frisbee is Jolley’s 2nd love. He founded Staples’ team — the 2nd in the nation — and coached it to national renown. Now he, and 1974 graduates Ed Davis, Ron Kaufman and Dan Buckley, have been recognized for their contributions, as members of the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame. They’re honored as “Johnny Appleseeds,” for helping grow the sport following its founding at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion in 2009.

Columbia High was Jolley’s alma mater, in 1960. Six years later, he arrived at Staples. In 1970 his sister sent him rules for a new sport being played at Columbia.

Some of Jolley’s students — and other teenagers he knew from his work with Boy Scouts and a church youth group — loved tossing Frisbees. He told them about this new “Ultimate Frisbee.”

The group played on an unkempt field behind the old 9 Building, at the east end of Staples. (Field hockey players chased them away, with sticks.) With no other teams in the area, they scrimmaged themselves.

Back then, he was Jon Steinberg. Today this same guy is State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

Back then, he was Jon Steinberg. Today this same guy is State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

They created a “uniform” of blue jeans and a light blue turtleneck, with a Staples monogram on the front and “FriSbee” on the back (get it?). Many guys — and girls — wore red bandannas.

They encouraged Weston High to form a team, and played them on April 5, 1973. Staples won 24-9, in the 1st interscholastic Frisbee game in Connecticut. It was also the 1st known coed interscholastic sports event.

On April 14, Staples hosted Columbia High, in the 1st known interstate coed match. Staples beat the sport’s inventors, 18-8. (To be fair, the guests were missing several players.)

But Staples — in fun — declared themselves “National Champions.” The National Observer sent a reporter from Washington to write about the team. His article appeared on May 12, 1973.

Ron Kaufman today.

Ron Kaufman today.

After graduation, the 3 players inducted recently with Jolley continued to evangelize for the sport.

Kaufman has been particularly active. He founded the Ultimate team at Brown University, then sold “flying disc” equipment by mail, through a California store and online.

Kaufman organized a national series of Frisbee festivals (with Wham-O sponsorship), and created World Peace Tours to China and the Soviet Union featuring Frisbee demonstrations, festivals and tournaments.

He asked, “How can you drop a bomb on somebody you’ve played Frisbee with in Red Square?”

By that time, though, Staples’ Ultimate Frisbee team was just a memory. Jolley disbanded it in the late 1970s, after issues with school administrators over issues like insurance.

What a buzzkill.

1973 frisbee team

Staples’ 1973 Ultimate Frisbee team. Alan Jolley is at far left.

 

Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

Four years ago in Tel Aviv, Vadim Mejerson looked out his hotel window. He saw what looked like a child’s playground — but it was filled with adults. They were all exercising, on equipment you’d find in a gym but adapted for outdoors.

You or I might think, “Hmmm … interesting.” Meyerson — a longtime Weston resident with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, who helped Exxon and many other companies develop fitness centers for executives — thought: “Wow … opportunity!”

He and his son Adam — who’d seen the same sight, independently, on that trip to Israel — did some research. They learned the parks were open 24/7. Some were roofed. Some were linked by bike trails.

A fitlot park by the sea in Israel...

A Fitlot park by the sea in Israel…

Vadim and Adam found that outdoor fitness parks were exploding in popularity around the world. England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada — everywhere, it seemed, governments and private sources were developing 1,000-square-foot areas where people could work out, get fit and socialize.

Everywhere — except the U.S.

Believing that every individual should enjoy the health benefits of parks like these, they formed a 501(c)(3) organization called FitLot. Partnering with neighborhood associations, and with funding from corporations, foundations and governments, it’s developing outdoor fitness parks throughout New Orleans.

That’s a perfect place for them. The city is burdened with obesity, diabetes and other health-related problems — but it’s also rebuilding itself, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

...and one in Europe.

…and one in Europe.

Now Mejerson wants to build facilities closer to home.

The other day he and 2 fellow enthusiasts — Steven Lewine and Rick Jaffe — talked about their vision for Westport.

“It’s free. It’s easy to access. It’s not an intimidating ‘gym environment,’ so it appeals to everyone,” Lewine said.

They ticked off potential spots for outdoor fitness parks: Compo Beach. Luciano Park, near the train station. The Y. The library. The Senior Center. Winslow Park. Baron’s South. The front lawn of Town Hall. Mini-parks, like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue.

They also like Sherwood Island. Connected by bike trails, they say, the fitness parks would be a way of tying the town together with the state park in our midst.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

They know there are obstacles. Compo Beach is in the early stages of a renovation project. Winslow Park has been deemed “open space.” Bike paths are tough to build and maintain.

Still, the 3 men have had preliminary discussions with town officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Stuart McCarthy, and Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh. The talks were “constructive and productive,” Lewine says.

The cost of an outdoor fitness center is no more than $100,000 — 10% of the cost of an indoor facility, Jaffe says.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s public, it’s a beautiful concept,” notes Mejerson. “There’s no downside.”

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

“We think the community would welcome this gift with open arms,” Lewine adds. (It would be a “gift” thanks to corporate or private sponsorship.) “Westport is an enlightened town that considers physical fitness to be an important value.”

The big problem, the outdoor parks advocates know, is finding the right space(s), then gaining public support.

In Israel, Mejerson says, outdoor fitness parks are everywhere: hospitals, schools, prisons, gas stations, eldercare facilities.

Will one or more rise in Westport? If so, where? Click “Comments” to weigh in.