Category Archives: Staples HS

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!

The Big Five-Oh

“06880” is fair game for just about every story — so long as there’s a Westport angle. 

I try to avoid missing-pet posts — though I did cover the expensive, long-running search for Andy, the lost corgi — and I turn down nearly every request about a Staples High School reunion. Trust me, I say to myself: No one cares about your little get-together. (My official response is more tactful.)

But Staples’ Class of 1964 reunion last weekend merits a mention. For one thing, the 50th is a Big Deal.

For another, it was a kick-ass class that came of age at an important time in Staples — and world — history.

For a 3rd, I gave a tour of the new Staples building to nearly 100 reunees. They truly loved what they saw, and appreciated the school they’d attended. They returned to Westport with the wisdom of adulthood, and the enthusiasm of teenagers. I had a blast, but they had an even better time. 

The Staples Class of 1964  included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members -- Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

The Staples Class of 1964 included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members — Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

So here — thanks to Barbara Range Szepesi, Arline Gertzoff and Bill Martin — is their report.

Many of them more than 100 members of the Class of ’64 who gathered last weekend were reunion first-timers who faced the experience with trepidation, deferring registration until the last possible moment. Others came only because another class member promised to be there. While many members of the class live locally, others came from all over the country: California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee.

What happened was nothing short of amazing: the rekindling of friendships and more after 50 years of separation, the mixing of a vast cross-section of class members who might never have interacted during a normal school day, the bonding power of shared experience then and 3 days now.

The celebration kicked off Friday night, August 8, at SoNo Brewhouse. Gordon Hall, a beloved history teacher at Staples, reminisced with students he fondly remembered and just had to see.  Jack White, a pillar of education in Weston, shared memories with pupils who once were bused to Staples (there was no high school in the then-small town).

On Saturday morning, a large cohort toured the new Staples, so very different from the California-style campus of 50 years ago. Astonishment at how much the school has changed mixed with the realization of the great education we received there. We were the class that started senior year traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and seeing the “Ask not…” plaque from our class in the new courtyard only heightened our remembrances.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

The gala reunion dinner was held at the Red Barn on Saturday night. Classmates feasted and were entertained by members of their own class. Eric Multhaup, Melody James, Sylvia Robinson Corrigan and Bettina Walton updated songs of the ’60s for today. Mike Haydn played both Mozart and an original piano piece, accompanied by Bill Reardon on the drums. Bill Briggs and Linda Clifford performed a duet. Holly Kimball Tashian and husband Barry Tashian (’63) played selections from their Nashville repertoire.

As memorialized in a poem written for the occasion by Josh Markel, it was a time for reflection and celebration. So much changed in the course of 50 years, not the least of which was hair color (or lack thereof). We had married or not, had children and grandchildren, sometimes divorced and started over again.  Careers spanned law, medicine and teaching; drama, art and music; business, social work, and beyond.

On Sunday classmates socialized at Compo Beach, a favorite haunt of 50 years ago. There, before a final class picture, quietly singing “Amazing Grace,” we approached the water and tossed 43 red roses into the Sound for the classmates we have lost and still hold dear.

Everyone stayed until the day ended with handshakes, hugs, and the hope to meet again in 5 years.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

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.”

Jahari Dodd’s Strong Huffington Post Voice

From his 1st days at Staples High School, Jahari Dodd was a force of nature.

The very tall, very striking A Better Chance scholar took his new school by storm. He danced like a tornado — that was his role — in Players’ production of “The Wiz.” He befriended everyone, and smiled constantly. But he also spoke up and out, about social justice issues. Race and sexuality were particularly important to him.

Jay Dodd

Jay Dodd

He continued his activism at Tufts University. Jahari (now called Jay) majored in sociology, minored in English, and — starting sophomore year — blogged about college life.

Gradually, his writing became more political. This winter he wrote a cultural critique of feminism, in defense of Beyoncé.

Reposted on feminist and other blogs, it went viral. Almost immediately, a Huffington Post editor called. He asked Dodd to contribute to the site’s “College” pages.

Dodd wrote one story. But, he realized, Huffington contributors can write for any of the platforms. He branched out, covering race, gender, sexuality and politics.

Dodd’s most noteworthy piece so far was “Why I Will Never Want the ‘Same Love.'” Published under “Gay Voices” in January following the rapper’s Grammy Award, it examined how “whiteness” has come to represent “queerness.”

Jay Dodd's photo on the Huffington Post.

Jay Dodd’s photo on the Huffington Post.

The scathing critique earned Dodd hate mail, death threats, and both notoriety and fame. His own music professor — who taught the history of African American music and queer pop — sent it to Dodd to read, not realizing who had written it.

Dodd has written about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for young black men (he thinks it is unhelpful), as well as gay black athletes Michael Sam and Jason Collins; the plight of liberal arts conservatives, and being a millennial.

He writes, he says, “whenever I see some ‘cultural moment’ that needs to be questioned, or pushed back.”

Though Dodd’s tone can be strident, he does not want to be perceived as angry.

Jay Dodd and his mother, at Tufts University graduation.

Jay Dodd and his mother, at Tufts University graduation.

“I’ve been blessed to have many educational advantages,” the Los Angeles native says. “I don’t want anyone to read me, and think I’m ungrateful. Westport has gotten me here in many ways. It had a big effect on me.”

His 4 years at Staples — and in the Westport community — were important. However, he notes, “I was not as aware of cultural institutions then as I am now.”

He adds, “I’ve learned to make room in my life for questions, for new information, for conversations. I am open to growth. I hope others are too.”

Writing for the Huffington Post is not his full-time job. After graduating this spring, he works as a “community engagement fellow” at a healthcare and non-profit in Cambridge. He focuses his attention on lower-income schools.

In that job — as with his writing — Dodd’s eyes are wide open. His mind is clear. And his voice is very, very strong.

Courtney Kemp Has “Starz Power”

According to the New York TimesCourtney Kemp was “a bookish child, obsessed with presidential politics and learning Yiddish.” She’s still like that: She wears a t-shirt reading “Black Nerds Unite.”

But the 1994 Staples High School graduate — who went on to Brown University, and earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia — is a highly regarded writer in the very mainstream medium of TV. Her credits include “The Good Wife” (for which she received an Emmy nomination), and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Now she’s branched out even further from bookish nerddom. She’s the creator and show runner of “Power,” a Starz series that premiered last month. In the first few episodes alone, there are shootings and fights. One man is set on fire.

Oy gevalt.

Courtney Kemp Agboh

Courtney Kemp Agboh

Known today as Courtney Kemp Agboh, she’s one of the few African American female show runners in the industry, the Times says. “Power” is the first series she ever pitched — or sold.

She was “called the N-word a lot” growing up in Westport, she says. (Her father, Herb Kemp, was a noted advertising executive.) She read college textbooks at age 8, Shakespeare at 10. She made up stories about the pieces on her chess set.

It’s a long way from the nearly-all-white Westport of the 1980s and ’90s to Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles, where she works today.

And where her executive producer is Curtis Jackson — better known as the rapper 50 Cent.

Courtney Kemp Agboh with her "Power" producer 50 Cent.

Courtney Kemp Agboh with her “Power” producer 50 Cent.

The Times says that Courtney came up with the idea of the show’s lead role: a man “so good at being bad that nobody in his world would really want him to be good.” That character draws both from 50 Cent and her father.

“Power” — called “a lively premium-cable riff on ‘Law & Order'” by the Times’ Alessandra Stanley — concludes its 1st season tonight. It’s been renewed for the fall.

(For the full New York Times story, click here.)

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)

Hannah Bukzin Has Some Chops

Hannah  Bukzin is a busy girl.

When she’s not volunteering as an EMT or interning with a catering company, the rising Staples sophomore can be found cooking. Her style is “classic dishes with a modern twist.” Her favorite creation is hanger steak marinated with chimichurri sauce, and a side of roasted potatoes.

But in April, Hannah found time to head to the Food Network studios in New York. There, she spent a full day filming a segment for “Chopped Teen Tournament.” The show airs Tuesday, July 29 (10 p.m.).

What makes her story particularly noteworthy — besides the fact that she is a local girl who may or may not make good (Hannah is sworn to secrecy) — is that she’s completely self-taught.

Hannah Bukzin, on the "Chopped" set)

Hannah Bukzin, on the “Chopped” set)

Hannah has been interested in cooking ever since age 6, when she saw her first — surprise! — Food Network show. The mystery and variety of ingredients drew her in.

Almost a decade later, she applied to the “Chopped” teen show. After interviews, a camera crew came to film her at EMS headquarters — and watch her cook. (That dish was pan-roasted bronzino with quinoa salad.)

She made the cut, and joined 15 other teenagers. They competed in 3 30-minute rounds, creating dishes with 4 ingredients that (a press release says) “could stump even top professionals.”

Did I mention that Hannah was the only one of the 16 who does not attend a culinary program in a specialized high school? In fact, she has not even taken one of Staples’ highly regarded culinary classes yet.

“Everything I know is in my head,” she says.

food network logoBut like any well-trained cook, Hannah knew she had to prepare. A chef friend of her parents trained her, using his own “mystery ingredients.” She is “not much of a baker,” Hannah says, so she practiced a few desserts just in case.

Filming took an entire, long day. As in any kitchen, there were surprises — and not just at the stove.

“I was amazed that the judges judged us like we were adults,” Hannah reports. “They told us the truth as if we were 30 or 40 years old, not 14 to 17.”

But in some ways, Hannah is closer to 30 or 40 than 15.

As soon as our interview was over, she was out the door.

Work beckoned. The catering company she’s interning with had a wedding.

On the Vineyard.

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.


Rick Eason Flies Under The Radar

Rick Eason graduated from Bedford Middle School in June. But the teenager knows aircraft technology, FAA regulations — and Westport skies — like a pro.

Rick has always been interested in electronics. Not long ago, the rising Staples freshman got a drone. His DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter is amazing. Equipped with a GoPro camera providing very high quality 2.6K resolution still photographs and video at 30 fps, plus 4 rotors, it tilts, spins and zooms its way over beaches, homes and fields.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Thanks to GPS it holds its position in wind, moves around a center point, and can even return to the exact spot it was launched if contact is lost.

“It’s so much fun to fly,” he says. “It’s so easy and intuitive to control.

“You can get views no one has ever seen before,” Rick adds with pride. “This is not like Google Earth. You can see your house from 20 feet above.”

Or the Westport Library. Here’s a view from Rick’s website that I’m pretty sure is the 1st of its kind:

Library - Rick Eason's drone

Rick’s dad, Tony Eason, installs solar panels. Rick’s drone helps him inspect roofs.

Drones are still pretty new. Rick saw another Phantom at Winslow Park. “06880” has posted amazing videos, taken by another owner, of Compo Beach and Sherwood Mill Pond. But right now they’re rare, and Rick gets plenty of admiring stares — and questions — when he launches his.

Drones are so new, in fact, that federal regulations can’t keep up. Though drones can rise 2000 feet high, the FAA classifies them as “remote controlled aircraft,” with a limit of 400 feet.

Technically, they can’t fly beyond the owner’s “line of sight.” But, Rick says, he can watch and control his drone through the GoPro camera, using goggles or a laptop.

Rick Eason's drone hovers over his front lawn.

Rick Eason’s drone hovers over his front lawn.

Owners need a license to make money off drones. So legally, Rick can’t charge for his photographs and videos. (That hasn’t stopped others from doing so.)

Rick has learned about privacy laws too. “When you’re 30 feet up with a fisheye lens, you might catch someone’s private home,” he says. “If they ask me, I’ll delete it.” But, he notes, “it’s really no different from taking a photograph of someone’s house from the beach with an iPhone.”

Drones are here to stay. Just a couple of years ago, they cost thousands of dollars each — and did not fly particularly well. Now, Rick says, “you can buy one for $300 at Barnes & Noble.”

Rick's drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick’s drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick loves his drone — but he’s already looking ahead. He’s saving up for a gyroscopic gimbal, to keep the camera even steadier than it is now.

Meanwhile, he’s thinking up clever new uses for his drone. At Staples, he might contribute aerial photograph to Inklings, the school newspaper.

And last Thursday Rick was at Compo, for the 2nd annual “06880” party. While the rest of us were eating, drinking and chatting, he was hard at work.

So here’s the “06880” community — 2014-style: