Category Archives: Sports

Last Ollie For The Skate Park

Everyone’s talking about the big changes proposed by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee: a new entrance, renovation of the bathhouses, elimination of perimeter parking.

Hardly anyone has mentioned a smaller plan: the end of the skate park.

Eddie Kim knows the stereotypes of skateboarders: “hooligans, drug dealers and delinquents.” He also knows the Compo park attracts a wide variety of people, like a fearless 8-year-old girl who loves riding down ramps.

She loves the park, and would be devastated to see it close.

The Compo Beach skatepark

The Compo Beach skate park.

Kim works at the park. But during the school year he’s a teacher. He practices Bikram yoga daily, and founded his own theater company. He’s a skater too. For him, skating is a creative way to relieve stress.

Kim wants Westporters to see the value of the skate park, and the community that has grown around it. He asked several regulars to offer insights. One of the most eloquent is James Bowles, a Staples freshman.

James knows that many people can’t understand why he’s spent “every free minute” of the past 6 years on a skateboard.

He says that when he was 6, at Long Lots Elementary School, he was diagnosed with OCD. For the next couple of years he hated his life. But the moment he set foot in the Compo skate park — “heading into the great unknown” — he was hooked.

His fears and stresses vanished. He was hooked.

He visited the park every day. He dreamed of skateboarding at night. He met his best friends there. They’re different ages, but they gave him a sense of self-worth, of potential, of community. That’s something every kid needs.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

This summer, James worked as a counselor-in-training at the Compo Beach Skate Camp. “Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they finally roll away from a trick they worked extremely hard to land is mesmerizing,” he says. Some of them may have been going through their own troubles, as he had.

He adds:

Even though I’m still young, I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. Kids my age are swept up into partying, drinking and general idiocy. Most people assume that because I skateboard, I get caught up in that sort of stuff.

I believe that if it weren’t for skateboarding, I would have been more likely to do that. The amount of times I’ve turned down plans to do ludicrous things, because I wanted to go skate, is enough to know I’m doing something right. Skateboarding has been one of the best investments of my time.

James says that the freedom of skateboarding has allowed him to work through his OCD. It has also helped him learn to be polite, pick up after himself, and look after others.

“Compo has always been a safe haven for people to skate legally,” he notes. “It’s a space where parents feel safe leaving their children. Compo has been my favorite place for 6 years, and I can’t imagine what losing the park would be like.”

Plenty of skaters gained confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Plenty of skaters gain confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Others agree. University of Colorado sophomore Casey Hausman made lifelong friends at the Compo park. “It’s a great community,” he says. “Everyone is supportive. Kids don’t need to worry about disappointing teammates or parents. Any progress is encouraged and applauded by everyone, no matter what the skill level.”

Kim Celotto’s 13- and 8-year-old boys have been skateboarding at Compo for years. She calls the instructors “patient, wonderful teachers who all the boarders look up to and admire. They learn skills and confidence, while having fun with friends.”

And, she says, skateboarding’s emphasis on fun and individual growth — not “fierce competition” — appeals to youngsters who may not be interested in team sports.

Parent Debra Newman has seen many kids flocking to the park in 90-degree weather, with no shade. “Would we rather have them sitting in front of the TV, exercising their thumbs?” she wonders.

But the final word belongs to James Bowles, the OCD sufferer who found a haven and a home at the Compo Beach skate park:

“I know that the argument of a 14-year-old high school freshman hardly compares to that of a town representative. But I hope anyone reading this will see my point of view.”

What Do Baseball, The Internet, Grandkids And Oscar’s Have In Common?

That kid-gives-a-foul-ball-to-the-girl-behind-him story has legs.

Alert “06880” reader Tom Orofino follows up with this PS:

His son and son’s wife were in California showing off their new 9-week-old baby Colin to the wife’s family. While there, they took the infant to Dodger Stadium.

Colin had a cute little shirt on, with a sign saying it was his 1st baseball game.

A Dodgers’ PR guy took a picture, and posted it to their Twitter feed. It’s gotten over 53,000 likes.

Tom Orofino grandkid

Yesterday, Tom was in Oscar’s. He proudly showed Colin’s photo to owner Lee Papageorge.

Lee promptly introduced Tom to another set of grandparents: those of the kid who caught the ball at the Red Sox game last week, and gained his own viral following.

What are the odds that 2 grandchildren of Westporters would earn internet fame in the same week — and that both sets of grandparents would be at Oscar’s at the same time?

One more Westporter — Rod Serling — would be proud.

Honoring Greg LaValla

Greg LaValla is a much-loved PAL football coach.

He’s also involved in a tough battle with cancer.

Some of his young players made a video to let him know how much he means to them, and how much they miss him on the field.

They’ll also honor him this Friday night (September 12). At halftime of Staples’ opening game of the 2014 football season, Greg will be added to the distinguished list of names on the Wreckers’ Wall of Fame.

His players will be there, wearing their game uniforms. They’ll sit together.

They’ll be tight and together. Just like all the other teams Greg has coached, so well and for so long.

MLK Meets SHS

For a few years, Martin Jacobson and I have tried to get our soccer teams together.

I coach the Staples High School boys varsity. He coaches Martin Luther King in New York City.

We’re a pretty decent Connecticut team. MLK is the 2-time defending NYC public schools champion. And they’ve won that title 14 of the last 17 years.

This year, our schedules meshed for a pre-season scrimmage.

On Sunday, the King guys and their coaches came to Westport by train. Our parents met them at the station, and drove them to Staples. A large crowd enjoyed a very competitive match. The visitors pulled away for the win, but the play was tough, good and fun.

Staples soccer players, including Nate Argosh (left) and Kenji Goto, played against New York City powerhouse Martin Luther King HS. (Photo/Kim Lake).

Staples soccer players, including Nate Argosh (left) and Kenji Goto, played against New York City powerhouse Martin Luther King HS. (Photo/Kim Lake).

Afterward, the MLK players and staff piled back into parents’ cars. At Compo Beach, Staples’ Barbecue Club — yes, there is such an organization, and they’re great — prepared a feast.

The food was fantastic. The soccer match was tremendous. But the highlight for both teams might have been the impromptu volleyball tournament that sprang up.

Players from both squads — the city school, and the suburban one — divided themselves evenly, into 4 teams. They took over both volleyball courts. And for a solid hour — until a sudden rainstorm — they played, laughed and high-fived together.

Afterward, players from both teams mixed and matched for an impromptu volleyball tournament.

Players from both teams mixed and matched for an impromptu volleyball tournament.

Back at the train station, the MLK coach and I pledged to make this an annual tradition.

I don’t want to make more of this than it is. It was just an afternoon mixing strong competition with holiday weekend relaxation.

But as I drove home — and as more than a dozen Staples soccer players texted me with thanks for an “awesome” day — I had 3 thoughts:

  • Sports are a wonderful way to bring people together.
  • Kids are kids, wherever they live.
  • Westport, Connecticut may not be representative of America. But neither is Ferguson, Missouri.

 

Westport Little Leaguers Make It To Williamsport — Again!

A year ago this weekend Jeb Backus was in Pennsylvania, cheering rabidly as Westport’s team made a storied run to the Little League World Series final.

Jeb was back in Williamsport today. He was less invested in the title game — Chicago won 7-5, over Las Vegas — but was thrilled to see Westport has not been forgotten.

Way-larger-than-life banners outside Lamade Stadium honor Chad Knight, and the rest of the local team.

Little League 1 - Chady Knight by Jeb Backus

Time flies. On Monday, most of those former Little Leaguers begin their freshman year at Staples High School.

Little League 2 - by Jeb Backus

Lifeguard Olympics: Everyone Into The Water!

They save lives. They comfort lost children. They also compete in rescue board relays, 1-mile runs, a jetty-to-jetty swim, beach volleyball and a relay race.

They’re the Compo Beach lifeguards. On Friday night — after stowing their walkie-talkies and zinc oxide — the very fit, very tan guards hosted their Longshore counterparts in a “Lifeguard Olympics.”

Kyle Mikesh of Compo Beach (left) and Will Brant of Longshore fly into the water, at the start of the rescue board relay race. (Photo/Justin Rende)

Kyle Mikesh of Compo Beach (left) and Will Brant of Longshore fly into the water, at the start of the rescue board relay race. (Photo/Justin Rende)

The friendly (I guess) competition — sponsored by Westport Parks and Recreation — was a continuation of a tradition established years ago, when teams from Norwalk and Fairfield competed. (That’s why every night’s we’re-now-off-duty announcement mentions the “award-winning Compo Beach lifeguards”).

Compo guards practice for the volleyball event.

Compo guards practice for the volleyball event.

Friday’s event drew a large, appreciative crowd. They saw one more side to Westport’s superb lifeguards, who truly do it all.

Connor Weiler is very proud to be a Compo Beach lifeguard.

Connor Weiler is very proud to be a Compo Beach lifeguard.

The Compo guards. Front (from left): Emily Harris, Dylan Schattman, Justin Rende, Kaitlyn Mello, Connor Weiler, Emma Mikesh, Kara Millington, Alex Mirabile. Back: Red Siecienski, Kyle Mikesh, Casey Searl. Not pictured: Callie Collins, Hannah Mello.

The Compo guards…

...and their Longshore foes.

…and their Longshore foes. (Photo/Justin Rende)

 

Matt Marriott: Mick Jagger’s New Drummer

So what do you do after you’re a Staples High School and Duke University track star?

You work as a production assistant on “Get On Up,” the new movie about the music and moods of James Brown.

And what do you do in the middle of filming on location in Mississippi?

You play drums, while Mick Jagger dances.

Get On Up posterThat’s the crazy twists Matt Marriott’s life has taken in the year since he graduated from college as an English major (no jokes, please), and moved to Los Angeles.

A friend of his aunt’s hooked him up with the 2 producers of the film. They liked him, and hired him for pre-production back East in October.

“I didn’t have any special qualifications, other than I seemed like a nice person and my aunt’s friend vouched for my work ethic,” Matt admits.

“That’s sort of how the film industry seems to work. In the beginning it’s more about who you know, than what you know.”

Matt learned fast. He kept in constant contact with the producers’ personal assistants back in LA — “even if that meant calling doctors to make a house call at 10:30 on a Saturday night.”

Production assistant Matt Marriott, on the set of "Get On Up."

Production assistant Matt Marriott, on the set of “Get On Up.”

Playing with Mick Jagger was much more fun.

He’s one of the film’s producers — the Stones owe a lot to the Godfather of Soul, after all — and spent a week on set.

One Friday night, Matt was hanging out at a Mississippi bar with some friends from the movie. Mick strolled in, with an entourage and a gaggle of higher-ups.

A DJ was playing random pop songs. Mick joined the crowd on the dance floor. Spying an empty drum set on stage — and figuring you only go around once in life — Matt hopped on stage and banged out some rhythm.

“People were enjoying it, so I turned to Mick,” Matt recalls. “He looked right back, and shot me a smile and nod of approval. That was one of the coolest moments of my life.”

The movie was released August 1. Matt is now working at a running shoe and apparel store in Santa Monica, and looking for his next movie gig. In the meantime, he’s producing music.

And, of course, for the rest of his life he can say, “Yeah, I played drums for Mick Jagger.”

Remembering Buck Iannacone

Alphonse “Buck” Iannacone — the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal, a 61-year PAL volunteer, and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart winner for his military service during the Battle of the Bulge — died Friday. He was 88.

In his 6 decades with PAL, he did just about everything. He was a coach, an organizer, a board member, a field maintenance guy, a fundraiser, and a good friend to thousands of young athletes.

A former US Postal Service worker and local union president, he was also a member of the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel Athletic Club and a dedicated volunteer with both Special Olympics and Star.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal this year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck's 4 great-grandchild had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal that year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck’s 4 great-grandchildren had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck received plenty of honors, including a National PAL Award in 2008. He was cited by the Sportsmen of Westport, Norwalk Old Timers and the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. Three years before leading the Memorial Day parade, he served as grand marshal of Festival Italiano.

But of all the kudos Buck Iannacone got, one was extra special. In 2001 — dressed in caps and gowns, and marching across stage — he and 5 other World War II veterans from Norwalk received high school diplomas.

Like the others, Buck had left school to join the military. The shrapnel he took in the Battle of the Bulge put him in a British hospital for 8 months.

Buck Iannacone served his country well. And — for the last 61 years — he did the same for Westport.

(Services will be held on Wednesday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m. at Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East, and 10 a.m. at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Internment, with full military honors, follows at Assumption Cemetery, Kings Highway North. Friends may visit the family on Tuesday, July 29, from 4-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Buck Iannacone’s name to the Westport PAL Scholarship Fund, c/o Sam Arciola, 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

 

 

 

Steve Wheeler’s 40-Year-Old 4-Minute Mile

On August 1, Raleigh, North Carolina hosts the 1st-ever Sir Walter Miler. It sounds like a great event: parties, fun runs, and a mile race in which the goal is for someone to run a sub-4-minute mile.

It won’t be the 1st time that’s happened there. Forty years ago, former Staples star Steve Wheeler — who went on to a great career at Duke University — blazed to a 3:59.4 in a Raleigh meet. It was the 1st sub-4-minute mile by any Connecticut runner.

That was the exact time Roger Bannister had run 10 years earlier, when he broke the 4-minute barrier.

Steve Wheeler (Duke) sets the pace in a relay race. (Photo/Sir Walter Miler)

Steve Wheeler (Duke) sets the pace in a relay race. (Photo/Sir Walter Miler)

Wheeler remains one of Westport’s most legendary runners ever.

This month, the Sir Walter Miler website interviewed Wheeler about that great race 4 decades ago.

“I remember it well,” he said. “It was special going under 4 minutes, but my goal was to win, not reach a certain time. I was unaware I had broken 4 until after the race, although I knew it would be close.”

Wheeler — behind for much of the race — “kicked really hard with 250 to go on the back straight. I wasn’t challenged at the finish and probably had a little more in reserve if I had been – but not much!”

Wheeler is now the city manager of Hood River, Oregon — perhaps the most famous state for running in the US.

Asked for advice on breaking 4 minutes, Wheeler said: “Work on both speed and strength. Take care of yourself. Try to stay healthy and injury-free, because consistency of training means a lot.

“And move to Eugene, Oregon. It seems like under-4 happens there almost every week! Living in Oregon, I’ve seen some incredible track performances.”

As did racing fans in Raleigh 40 years ago, thanks to a tall track star from Westport.

(Hat tip to Peter Gambaccini)

Andrew’s Army Marches On — To Mini-Golf

Seven years ago, Andrew Accardi had a dream. The 13-year-old wanted to create a foundation to raise money for neuroblastoma.

Andrew had a very personal dog in that fight. He’d been living with the pediatric cancer — for which there is no known cure — for 8 years already.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

He battled it for 7 more, before succumbing last October. Before he died, though, he and his many friends raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause. Much of it came from golf-related events. Andrew was a 4-year member of the Staples team.

Andrew is gone, but his friends — “Andrew’s Army” — still raise money. Andrew’s legacy lives on.

The 1st annual Andrew’s Army Miniature Golf Classic is set for this Sunday (July 27, 4-7 p., Norwalk Cove Marina). The admission price of $20 — payable there — includes a round of mini-golf, food, soft drinks, a raffle and more.

“And more” includes the “36 Challenge.” Two years ago, Andrew shot a fantastic 36 on the course. If you think you can match that, put your money on the line. Pledge to donate an amount of your choice for every stroke over 36. The lowest score by anyone undertaking the challenge can win 2 NY Ranger tickets for next season.

But wait! There’s more! Everyone participating in the “36 Challenge” will also receive a special raffle ticket for each hole-in-one. They’re part of the grand prize item, from Saugatuck Sweets: a basket of candy, plus a coupon for 1 free double-scoop ice cream every week for a year.

How great is Andrew’s Army? Well, this Miniature Golf Classic should vault their fundraising over the $1 million mark.