Category Archives: Sports

$1 Million Hoop Dreams

There are a few ways to make $1 million in basketball.

You can be an NBA star, which pretty much means planning before birth to have 7-foot parents.

You can win your NCAA bracket, which pretty much means having as much luck as having 7-foot parents.

Or you can win The Tournament. That’s the path a pair of Westporters hope plan to take.

The Tournament is a 5-on-5, winner-take-all event. There is no entry free. 18 teams, in each of 4 US regions, are selected by fan votes. Another 6 in each region get at-large bids.

The winning team earns $950,000. The other 5% goes to its fans — including $5,000 to the fan who recruits the most other fans.

Jordan Schur

Jordan Schur

Jordan Schur was in the Tournament stands last year, in Philadelphia. The 2001 Staples graduate — a former Wrecker basketball (and soccer) star, who went on to an impressive hoops career at Union College — was impressed by the level of play, and the professional uniforms, refereeing and organization.

For the past year, he’s plotted how to get in. He knew he could put together a team of guys he plays with, in his regular 5:30-7 a.m. game.

But he graduated from college 10 years ago. The more he thought about it, the more Schur realized that, as general manager, he could form a much better squad.

That is not an idle idea. Schur became a FIBA-certified international basketball agent in 2011. It was a hobby — in real life he’s a lawyer — but he enjoyed placing American players with overseas teams.

John DiBartolomeo, in Spain.

John DiBartolomeo, in Spain.

One of the players he knew of was John DiBartolomeo. In 2009, Schur tried to recruit the Staples standout for Union. DiBartolomeo ended up at the University of Rochester — where he earned 1st team All-America honors, and was named Division III National Player of the Year.

After graduating, he signed a professional contract in Spain — and in his 1st season was named MVP of the 3rd Division league. This year’s he’s in the 2nd Division.

In February, Schur sent out feelers to a few players. DiBartolomeo leaped at the idea. He sent Schur a list of top players from overseas. Schur has signed up 7 so far, including guys from Japan, Israel and Egypt.

He’ll find 3 more players. It’s unlikely any others will have a Staples connection.

But “06880” readers can still be involved. The more fans Schur’s team has, the more chance they’ll have of being able to compete for that $1 million.

And remember: fans share in the prize money. There’s up to $5,000 in it for you.

Just click this link:  https://www.thetournament.com/teams/team-krossover

It’s a far easier way to make money than playing in the NBA. Or even filling out a bracket.

Birthday Ball

Today is opening day for the Staples baseball team.

Who better to sing the national anthem than senior pitcher Jack Baylis?

Jack Baylis

Jack Baylis

It’s quite a day for him. After the game, he’ll hustle over to Southport’s Trinity Episcopal Church, to sing with Orphenians.

Plus, it’s Jack’s 18th birthday.

Play ball!

1st inning action: Newtown (at bat) against Staples.

1st inning action: Newtown (at bat) against Staples.

Ready To Renovate Longshore?

The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee is fading away, in our rear view mirrors.

Up ahead: renovating Longshore.

The Parks and Recreation Commission — and plenty of Longshore users — have talked for a while about improving the 169-acre park. The crowded area around the 1st tee — with its ramshackle golf pro shop, landfill driving range, helter-skelter parking and dumpster near the Inn — is one area ripe for improvement.

Marina parking, and the maintenance shed sitting smack in the center of things, are other places worthy of examination.

Longshore -- one of Westport's crown jewels -- includes a golf course, tennis courts, marina, pools, and much, much more.

Longshore — one of Westport’s crown jewels — includes a golf course, tennis courts, marina, pools, and much, much more.

Then there are usage questions. Do we need more paddle courts? Do the pool and skating rink work well? You get the idea.

The 2015-16 town budget includes money for a study of Longshore — something similar to what the town did with Compo, says Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.

He hopes to organize a committee later this year. “It probably won’t be quite as comprehensive as Compo,” he says. “We’re not talking about building a clubhouse in the middle of the golf course. But we should start the planning process now.”

Several constituent groups are already gearing up to be heard. In an email to current and former members, the Longshore Men’s Golf Association board floated the idea of a small new clubhouse — with locker rooms, a pro shop, and an upstairs grill room — taking advantage of water views.

There will be plenty more discussion ahead. That’s a given — this is Westport.

The Inn at Longshore is a major attraction at the park. It sublets space to a restaurant -- but right now that space is empty.

The Inn at Longshore is a major attraction at the park. It sublets space to a restaurant — but right now that space is empty.

Meanwhile, a more pressing Parks and Rec concern — as well as for many diners and drinkers — is the status of Longshore’s restaurant/bar.

 Splash closed several months ago. Though Inn at Longshore lessee Rory Tagert’s lease requires him to run a restaurant, time is running out for this summer. The Inn is reported to be close to an agreement with a new sub-tenant. But permits — including liquor licenses — take time to obtain. A new operator would most likely want to make renovations too.

Bottom line: You may be bringing your own food and drinks to Longshore for a while.

And when you do, you’ll have time to chew over the Next Big Issue in town: Longshore 2.0.

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.)

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.