Category Archives: Sports

Drew Cohen Skates Through Life

Drew Cohen appreciated people who are unappreciated.

There are few folks less appreciated than ice hockey referees. For the past 6 years, he’s been one himself.

Remarkably, Drew is just a high school junior.

He plays alto sax in Staples’ jazz band, and gives music lessons to Bridgeport students. But it’s on the ice where his true passion lies. And that’s where he’s made his biggest mark so far.

From age 7 to 14 Drew played hockey in the Greater Bridgeport Junior Hockey League. But even as an 8-year-old he watched the officials. He saw how they skated, made calls and interacted with players and coaches.

“I wanted to get to know them, even if they didn’t want to know me,” Drew says.

USA Hockey logoAt 11, he earned his first certification from USA Hockey. The exam was online. He didn’t have to prove he could skate.

Now — several tests later — he’s a member of the Hockey Referees Association of Connecticut. Though USA Hockey recommends not officiating your own age or higher, he has whistled a collegiate women’s pre-season game.

“I always like things to be fair,” Drew says. “As a referee, you have to be fair. By being fair, you can make the game better.” He’s a strong advocate of mutual respect between players, coaches and officials, and tries to develop that without yelling.

Refereeing is a big responsibility. “You have to act like an adult, and be professional. A 16-year-old can be lazy in some parts of life. But you can’t do that on the ice. You have to make judgments, make calls, and sell them — whether you’re right or wrong.”

Drew Cohen

Drew Cohen

Among Drew’s challenges: explaining calls to coaches and players. Asserting himself when things get personal. Controlling a game when it threatens to get out of hand. Earning respect from colleagues who are 2 or 3 times his age.

It doesn’t always work. Drew shakes his head as he recalls a game in Shelton. A coach would not stop yelling at him.

“I froze,” Drew says. “My partner — across the rink — screamed at the coach. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to someone much older.” He pauses. “This season I will, though.”

He explains the key qualities of a good referee: consistency in calls, confidence and communication (verbal and non-verbal). Of course, a hockey official must also skate well. And he has to really, really know the rules.

Every year, Drew heads to Canada for a referee camp. A number of National Hockey League officials are there. He has gotten to know many of them. He emails them with questions, and after a recent preseason game in Bridgeport an NHL ref gave him a game puck.

The hockey referee fraternity is “like a family,” Drew says. “It goes from the NHL down to me. We all look out for each other. We know everyone puts up with a lot of stuff.”

Drew Cohen gets ready for action.

Drew Cohen gets ready for action.

When he calls a game well, Drew feels a sense of satisfaction. His confidence grows — and not just on the ice.

“Most of the times when you’re young, you’re not in a position of power. You can’t affect things,” he says. “Doing this makes the rest of life seem easy.”

Yet Drew knows that — even before a game begins — people have judged him by his age and size. “Sometimes I’ve been reffing longer than my 24-year-old partner. I just have to accept that I’ll be judged. If I get a complex about it, I’ll be refereeing for someone, and not for the game.”

The best compliment he gets is rare, but meaningful: “We didn’t even notice you out there.”

The money is good. Last season, Drew earned more than $2,000. This year he’s aiming for $3,000.

His goal is to be an NCAA Division I official within 10 years. At one point, that seemed far off. Now — working at the highest level possible for his age — he thinks he can do it.

So what advice does he have for anyone else thinking of becoming a hockey referee?

“Don’t try to prove yourself,” he says. “Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Pete Aitkin Buys A New Black Duck

If you know the Black Duck — and who doesn’t? — you know the popular riverfront barge/bar/restaurant/hangout shares a name with the Black Duck racing boat.

Owner Pete Aitkin just received his latest toy: a custom-built 30-foot twin 300-horse Merc speedboat.

Last night, the Duck docked at the Duck.

This morning, Pete pulled it out of the water at Compo. He’ll store it till next year.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitken at the helm.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitkin at the helm.

The Black Duck — food version — put Westport on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” map.

The maritime Black Duck did the same for offshore boat racing.

Tutti’s, Tarantino’s, Tarry Lodge: Top that!

(Hat tip: Randy Chiristophersen)

Arjun Dhindsa: Black Belt Busts Boards

Not long ago, while teaching materials study in his applied engineering class at Staples High School, instructor Humphrey Wong tried to break a board.

Arjun Dhindsa told Dr. Wong the board was curved the wrong way.

If students had been allowed to take a whack, Arjun would have stepped right up. He’d have given an impressive demonstration.

This summer, the Staples junior won a gold medal at the national tae kwan do black belt championship in San Jose. He shattered 30 boards in 2 minutes, earning the most points for style, accuracy and difficulty of breaks.

Arjun Dhindsa

Arjun Dhindsa

Arjun’s road to the board-breaking title began in 3rd grade, at Kings Highway Elementary School. A friend was taking classes at World Champion Tae Kwan Do, near the train station. Arjun thought that was pretty cool.

In the years since, he became a 2nd degree black belt (and is working on his 3rd).

Tae kwan do has changed his life, Arjun says. He’s learned to “respect everything,” which in turn has made him a better person.

“The core values are courtesy, respect, integrity, self-control and perseverance,” Arjun explains. “That drives me now.”

When he was younger, Arjun was targeted by bullies. Tae kwan do gave him confidence in who he was, and that he could stand up to anyone. However, that does not mean he busts up bullies as easily as he breaks boards.

His martial art should not be used against other people “unless absolutely necessary,” Arjun says. The point of the activity is “to make yourself better.”

Arjun Dhindsa shatters boards one way...

Arjun Dhindsa shatters boards one way…

Getting to nationals required 2 types of discipline: mental and physical. He trained constantly on technique, and developed his core, legs and arms. “If a normal, super-strong person tried this, it would be tough,” Arjun says in the same way you or I would talk about the ability to walk to the planet Zork.

The black belt competitor also prepared himself psychologically to break 4 boards — each an inch thick — at once.

“It’s important to visualize yourself doing it,” notes Arjun. “Otherwise it can be daunting and scary.”

In San Jose, Arjun broke boards with his palm, elbow, a punch and a triple front kick.

He knew if he “decimated” them, he’d have a good shot at the title.

...and another.

…and another.

The feeling after successfully breaking boards is “exhilarating.” The pain goes away soon. Arjun’s hand was swollen — he even went for X-rays — but it was fine.

Winning a gold medal at a national tae kwan do competition made Arjun proud. It also reinforced his desire to work even harder in the future. He wants to repeat as champion next year.

Not many Staples students know about Arjun’s U.S. title, though. “I’m not the type of person to talk about it,” he says.

Dr. Wong may not even know. After all, school rules did not allow his black belt pupil to show the class how to break boards like they were twigs.

Though that would have made for a very interesting science class demonstration indeed.

 

 

 

Shooting In The 80s

Every Tuesday morning, from April through October, members of the Longshore Women’s Golf Association play some very competitive rounds.

What makes this “06880”-worthy is this number: 80.

That’s not the average score. It’s the low end of the age range of several of the most ardent golfers.

Caryl Beatus shows up rain or shine. A founder of the LWGA in 1960, she’s been a stalwart player for the past 54 years.

She’s not the only octogenarian. At 89, Anne Krygier still pushes her cart nearly every Tuesday.

Anne Krygier (left) and Caryl Beatus, enjoying another day on the links.

Anne Krygier (left) and Caryl Beatus, enjoying another day on the links.

Dee Andrian — like Anne a lefty and push-cart devotee — is there too. So is Joan Moen, the 1st to volunteer for any task; Barbara Rose, the founder of the Sea Squirts summer program, and Dottie Myers.

They don’t shoot their age — but then again, who does?

The women enjoy the competition and camaraderie of the LWGA, They join younger members in weekly tournaments, and 4 major championships. They have particularly enjoyed this year, when the Longshore course has been rejuvenated under ValleyCrest Landscape and superintendent Ryan Segrue.

The LWGA ends its season with a banquet this month at the Red Barn. After which the 80-something golfers will immediately begin planning for next year.

(Hat tip to Topsy Siderowf, LWGA vice president.)

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)