Category Archives: Staples HS

Help Pours In For Vera Mercer

On August 27, Vera Mercer was a passenger in a car. A friend from childhood — Gwendolyn Buskie — was driving Vera to Bridgeport Hospital for a C-section.

On I-95 in New Haven, they were struck by a tractor trailer, and pushed into the back of another truck. Gwendolyn was killed. Vera — a 1991 graduate of Staples High School — sustained major injuries to her brain and other internal organs.

She survived 3 surgeries that day. One was an emergency delivery of 7 pound, 4 ounce Camryn Faith.

Nearly a month later, Vera remains in the ICU. She is improving, but faces a long road to recovery. She still cannot speak.

Vera Mercer

Vera Mercer

Vera’s mother lives with the family. She suffers from dementia and other ailments requiring round-the-clock supervision. Vera had been her primary caretaker.

Vera’s friends — including many Staples classmates — are raising funds for Vera, via GoFundMe. They’ll help pay rent and utilities, and child and daycare for her 11-year-old son Christian and newborn Camryn (who has yet to meet her mother).

In the 1st 2 days since the fund started, over $7,000 was raised. Staples’ Class of ’91 is helping pass the word.

“06880” is proud to do the same.

(For more information, and to donate money to Vera Mercer, click GoFundMe.com.)

Claudine Brantley: A Filmmaker To Watch

In the wake of Westport’s selection as Connecticut’s “Fan Favorite Town of the Year,” plenty of praise was heaped on 3 elementary school girls. They conceived the idea for a promotional video touting the contest, then starred in what ultimately pushed our town to the top.

No one’s talking about Claudine Brantley, who filmed and edited the video.

That’s fine with her. Claudine, who graduated from Staples last June, calls her young colleagues “enthusiastic, adorable and very easy to work with.” They came up with the locations highlighted in the video, and “starred” in it.

But Claudine’s very professional work should not go unnoticed. And her back story deserves to be told.

Born in Georgia and raised in New London, Connecticut, Claudine came to Westport in the middle of sophomore year. Her mother wanted to provide better opportunities for Claudine and her brother Malik, and made considerable sacrifices to get here.

Claudine Brantly

Claudine Brantley

Claudine quickly got involved in the school. She joined the literary magazine Soundings, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. She found a job shelving books at the Westport Library.

And — through a Staples course called Narrative Film — she discovered a passion for video.

“I really like being able to tell stories visually,” Claudine says. “You have so many interactions, and ways to create a vision of something.”

Instructor Jim Honeycutt ranks Claudine with “Staples Hall of Fame filmmakers” like Adam Marcus, Luke Greenfield and Daryl Wein. “The only difference is that she is not in Hollywood — yet,” he says.

He calls her work “unlike most student films. They are intensely personal and profound.”

Claudine cajoles Staples Players into acting in her films. She scours the internet to find people to do voiceovers. Her sound tracks are “ethereal and haunting,” Honeycutt says.

She finds extraordinary royalty-free music to use legally. It sounds like it was written just for her, Honeycutt adds.

Her films “An Interloping Dream” and “Abraham” have been selected for the 2014 All American High School Film Festival.

“Claudine works incredibly hard at developing her craft,” Honeycutt says. “She is very devoted and serious. She has a wonderful heart, and a willingness to fight.”

That heart was on display when she agreed to help 3 Westport girls fulfill their “fan favorite” dream.

“I’m impressed with how involved those kids were, and how at a young age they had such love for their town,” Claudine says.

She credits them with helping her learn more about Westport.

Clearly, Claudine has learned plenty on her own. Now a freshman film and photography major at Parsons The New School for Design, she hopes to focus on documentaries.

In the years to come, she’ll no doubt make films far more important than the one that earned Westport its “fan favorite” honor.

And, no doubt, they’ll make Claudine Brantley a “fan favorite” in the video world.

(A collection of films by Claudine Brantley is available on YouTube.)

 

 

After Nearly 50 Years, The Remains Come Home

The last time the Remains played in Fairfield County was 1966. The legendary rock group was a few months away from opening for the Beatles, on that legendary band’s final tour. Now they were at Staples High School, the alma mater of half their members: guitarist/vocalist Barry Tashian and keyboardist Billy Briggs.

Rock critic Jon Landau had already described the Remains as “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

That 1966 gig was to raise money for the Orphenians’ — Staples’ select choral group — upcoming tour of the Virgin Islands.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

After that Beatles tour, the Remains broke up. Rolling Stone magazine later called them “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

They reunited a decade later, for a few dates. But Tashian joined Emmy Lou Harris’ band, and moved to California. In the 1990s, he and his wife — 1964 Staples grad Holly Kimball — formed a Nashville-based duo.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a promoter invited them to play in Spain. They were up for it — and so were their rabid European fans. They played a couple of dates every year since.

In June 2013 they rocked the Bell House in Brooklyn. They were excited about their half-century return to this area: a gig in Fairfield this past April.

But in February, drummer Chip Damiani died of a brain hemorrhage.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum's opening reception for its rock 'n' roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum’s opening reception for its rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

The loss of their “brother” — whose pounding drums helped drive the group to cult status in the 1960s, and who still played as energetically 5 decades later — stunned the 3 remaining Remains.

But the show must go on. In August — the day after Holly’s 50th Staples reunion, where she and Barry (SHS ’63) played and sang — the band auditioned new drummers. They chose George Correia, who played with Clarence Clemmons and, Tashian says, “locked right in to what we do.”

On Friday, September 26, the Remains return to Fairfield County for the 1st time since 1966. They venue is the Fairfield Theatre Company (7:45 p.m.), and they are as amped as when they played with the Beatles (and Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes).

The Remains, back in the day.

The Remains, back in the day.

“When Chip died, we really understood the saying ‘You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry,” Tashian says.

“Losing Chip makes us appreciate what we have even more. We look at each other and say, ‘How could it be 50 years?’ But it is. And we’re committed to each other — to our brothers — totally. We’re spread across Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nashville, but we really are a family.”

In just a few days, they’ll see plenty of Westport fans who for years have been part of that Remains family too.

(For information and tickets to the Remains’ September 26 show, click here.)

Staples Players Earn Broadway.Com Buzz

With school back in session, Broadway.com has scoured YouTube for its Top 5 high school musical performances.

Among the “A+” shows is Staples Players’ 2011 production of “West Side Story.”

The website says:

In a high school musical, finding a bunch of guys willing to even try on a pair of jazz shoes is a rarity. But bafflingly, Staples High School in Westport, CT has assembled a whole team of hoofing high school dudes who pirouette and leap around the stage with ease. Wow, check out those Shark high-kicks!

Very cool — except for the “bafflingly” part.

At Staples, “hoofing high school dudes” are everywhere.

 

Ode To Jordan’s Joe: The Sequel

Last December, “06880” reported on Jordan Teske’s blog, “365 Days With Joe.” For a full year, the 1999 Staples graduate promised daily posts about Trader Joe’s: her favorite store thing in the world.

She’s nearing the home stretch, with less than 50 days to go. As the year winds down, Jordan’s ardor for all things Joe has not waned.

If anything, it’s increased dramatically.

Last Valentine’s Day, Jordan’s home store — on 72nd and Broadway in New York — held a “Love Letter to Joe. contest” She won. The lovely prize: a love letter from Joe, flowers and chocolate.

Jordan Teske, outside her New York City Trader Joe's.

Jordan Teske, outside her New York City Trader Joe’s.

Waiting in line last month, she saw a sign for another contest. This was called “Kingdomwide King Joseph Fairy Tale.”

Crazy! Jordan writes children’s fairy tales or a living, and for the past year has been working on a documentary about royalty.

So she wrote a fairy tale called “King Joseph’s Magical Carrot Cake of Many Colors.” The moral of the story was that children should eat Trader Joe’s vegetables. The idea came from overhearing parents in line sharing secrets on how to disguise vegetables in their kids’ food.

Trader Joes logoThe fairy tale incorporated (of course) Trader Joe’s food throughout. She included a carrot cake recipe — all with TJ ingredients.

And even though the contest was technically for children — Jordan won. Again.

Also last month, Trader Joe’s Biggest Fan had her very own storytelling hour in “her” New York store.

Perched on (ahem) beer boxes, toddlers listened raptly to Jordan’s stories. The staff presented her with flowers, a card, and a Trader Joe’s gift card they labeled “manna.”

Employees called her their “Favorite Customer of All Time,” and named her the store’s “Official VIP Customer.” A flyer thanked Jordan for her commitment to the 72nd and Broadway store — which she walks to every day, a 3.2-mile round trip, from her Upper East Side apartment — and advertised her blog.

Jordan Teske with her carrot cake fairy tale, and a Trader Joe's flyer promoting her blog.

Jordan Teske with her carrot cake fairy tale, and a Trader Joe’s flyer promoting her blog.

“It was the best way to finish this year-long Trader Joe’s fete,” Jordan says.

“I’ve taught myself how to cook and eat. I’ve lost a bit of weight, and survived in the most expensive city on earth without a full-time job, solely on Trader Joe’s.”

Sounds like a good reason to celebrate.

Perhaps with a little King Joseph of Struedlburg’s plumcot pudding?

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.

Phoebe And Her Phantastic Phriends

A Westport girl named Phoebe was 11 years old — just finishing 6th grade — when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The malignant bone tumor is usually seen in teenagers.

At Sloan Kettering she was treated wonderfully. But it was tough: grueling chemotherapy, plus numerous surgeries on her leg.

In September of 2011, she underwent a groundbreaking surgery. She was the 1st patient in New York to try a new device that uses magnetic force. After 2 years on crutches, she could walk again.

Phoebe’s positive spirit was unwavering. She and her family went on a vacation that included scuba diving.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

She worked hard in 8th grade to prepare for Staples. Always an avid athlete, she found a new sport — archery — in which to compete.

Phoebe also became involved in volunteer organizations. Knowing how much support and love she had received, she wanted to give back.

On March 1, 2013, during her 2-year anniversary checkup for being cancer-free from osteosarcoma, Phoebe was diagnosed with secondary acute myeloid leukemia.

She endured more terrible chemo, and 8 days in intensive care.

On May 23, 2013, Phoebe received a bone marrow transplant. Her sister Hallie — a perfect match — was the donor.

Phoebe’s intelligence, kindness and inner strength kept herself, her family and friends going. Now post-transplant, she is getting back to “normal” life.

 

She appreciates every second of it. And that is why she was inspired to start “Phoebe’s Phriends”: to help find a cure for pediatric cancers.

The xxx is a colorful event, for sure.

The Colorflash 5K run promises to be a colorful event, for sure.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, the Phriends group — now a 501(c)3 — sponsors a “Colorflash 5K” run. It’s a great distance to run (or walk) — and fun. Participants will be splashed with color dust at 4 stations. Post-race festivities include food trucks.

All proceeds will be donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Pediatric Cancer Research.

“06880” gets 10 to 15 requests a day to publicize worthwhile events. Westport is filled with them, and it’s tough to say no. But “06880” is a blog, not a community calendar.

Every so often, though, a fundraiser comes through that is so special — with such a compelling back story — that I gladly say “sure!”

No matter what else you are doing on Sunday, September 21, Phoebe and her Phriends deserve our support.

(Registration is $25 pre-race; $35 the day of the race. Of course, larger donations are accepted too. For details, click here.) 

Phoebe's Phriends logo

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

Qdoba, SHS And ALS

Qdoba — the new Mexican restaurant that will enliven/add to the traffic chaos of Playhouse Square — had a special pre-opening tonight.

Everything was on the house. Diners were asked to make a donation — 100% of which went to Staples High School athletics.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

Qdoba opens for real on Monday. From 5-9 p.m., pay whatever you want. 100% of the proceeds will go to the local ALS Association.

That’s a far better deal than pouring an ice bucket on your head.

Welcome to Westport, Qdoba.

And ¡muchas gracias!