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For Serkan Elden’s 50th Birthday, A Special Gift

Like many Westport parents, Serkan and Nesko Elden have supported the sports their children, Efe and Deniz, played while growing up here.

Sports, nutrition, wellness and business are all important parts of the couple’s background.

Nesko is a high-level athlete who has her own coaching and consulting business. Serkan works in international finance, and teaches university courses.

Serkan, Deniz, Nesko and Efe Elden.

Serkan’s father Ahmet followed his dream of becoming a national athlete and physical education teacher in his native Turkey, inspired by the nation’s leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who said “healthy minds will only exist in a physically fit young generation.”

For 35 years, Ahmet and his wife Ozgun taught thousands of youngsters. Serkan and his sibling, Sibel, saw the importance of their parents’ work.

On Saturday — in honor of Serkan’s 50th birthday — his family and friends launched the Ahmet-Ozgyn Elden Scholarship for Raising Student Athletes.” It will help student-athletes in his native country pursue their dreams.

The day had another, equally special meaning: It was Teachers’ Day in Turkey.

Donations can be made to the Mohonk Foundation; put “Elden Athletic Students Scholarships” on the memo line, and send to Serkan Alan Elden, Mohonk, 66 Weston Road, Westport, CT 06880. For more information, call 203-451 4727 or email info@capitalinka.com.

100 Cows

Alert “06880” reader Robin Moyer Chung is the editor/writer for Westport Lifestyle magazine, and a lyricist, book writer and blogger. Her musical, “The Top Job,” is produced around the world.

She and her family recently had a profound adventure. She writes:

Crossing Thresholds is an organization that works with local leaders to create 3 schools in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and a high school north of the city. They also organize trips to educate volunteers, who build and maintain these schools and interact with the students.

A school in Kibera.

I was ambivalent about writing about our trip. I knew people might accuse me of virtue-signaling, slum tourism, or voluntourism. But I’m okay with that. Call it whatever you’d like, just please keep reading. These are stories that need to be told no matter how we label them.

My only real hesitation was traveling halfway around the world for philanthropic purposes instead of focusing on vicinal needs. But a story about the Masai tribe reminded me that we’re all citizens of the world, and geography should not dictate our charity.

Robin Chung, reaching out in Kibera.

Kibera is roughly the size of Central Park, yet home to an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million disenfranchised nationals. The government doesn’t “recognize” this rancid bit of land: they provide no electricity, water, sewage or police protection for residents.

Watching my children follow an armed guard down an uneven alley, cautiously stepping over rivulets of trash and sewage, brought the inhumane conditions into sharp focus. I thought images in movies and magazines had inured me to slums; I was wrong. The real brutality of poverty is a slap in the face.

Kibera, Kenya.

Yet within these hellish few miles, punctured with disappointment, clogged with desperation for survival, flickers an inexplicable hope. What tinders this hope is beyond Western reason. But there it is.

As a group we painted classrooms, scrubbed floors, carried firewall bricks, managed art projects, taught students games, and surrounded ourselves with dozens of children who craved our attention and affection. Every evening we returned to the hotel spent, hot and dusty.

Connecting halfway across the world: Robin’s son True.

Visiting a home in which these children live is an important part of the trip, to understand how poverty informs their lives and development. My oldest son requested that, after the visit, I not deliver a parental soliloquy about how lucky we are relative to these Kenyans. How he intuited my plan, I have no idea. But I relented.

This home is the size of 2 parking spots, typical for families of 7 or more. We crammed in. The renter, a woman, held her infant and told us she has 3 more children, but no husband.

Her home was full, with only a sofa nailed from wood planks, a chipped coffee table, and one mattress. Thin floral sheets hung from the ceiling and covered the sofa, masking the rusting metal walls and cheap wood.

Her “kitchen” was a brazier, a pot, and a few plastic dishes on a shelf. When she has money she makes gruel of flour. water and maybe a few vegetables. When she doesn’t have money, they don’t eat.

The dusty town.

It’s not unusual for a single mother to pour alcohol into her baby’s bottle so they sleep all day. Then the mother leaves home to find day work. If she works she can buy food; they may both survive. If she doesn’t, mother and child starve. Statistically, girls sell their bodies at age 14 to earn money.

We left the home quietly, shaken by her life and surroundings. No motherly monologue necessary.

But like I said, they have hope. They believe, despite living among dunes of rotting trash, that life will uptick. Even in the filthiest reaches of the slum, residents keep their clothes clean and fix their hair. They smile, greet us with Christian blessings and name their children Grace, Joy, and Sunshine.

Robin’s son Ty, and friends.

Slum residents are primarily descendants of Kenya’s many tribes. One of the largest is the Masai. Carter related a story of his friend Shani Yusef, a tribe elder:

Masai are famously resistant to modernization. Many live on earth too worn to yield significant vegetation. They work hard, beading jewelry and carving sculpture for tourists while raising herds of thin cows which are their currency.

Given their scant finances and isolation, Shani is one of the few Masai who has access to international news. On September 11, 2001, he was horrified to learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, a place he had only read about.

Shani gathered the Masai elders. After a few days of meetings, to help the people in a city few of them had heard of and none of them had seen, they decided to donate 100 of their cows, or roughly 30% of their wealth.

One hundred cows.

Hail To The Wreckers

Once again, Staples High School’s sports teams had a banner fall.

Field hockey — with another FCIAC championship trophy in hand — shoots for a remarkable 4th straight championship this Saturday. They face archrival Darien at Wethersfield High School, at 2 p.m.

Julia DiConza, Staples field hockey player. (Photo courtesy of John Nash for The Ruden Report)

Girls soccer — straight off its own FCIAC title — lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Glastonbury on Tuesday, in the state semifinals. It was the only defeat of the year for the Wreckers, and only the 8th goal scored on them all year.

Boys cross country capped off its astonishing dual meet season — they’re now at 110 consecutive victories — with their 4th straight FCIAC crown. The runners then placed 2nd at the state LL (extra large schools) meet, 5th in the state open, and 6th at the New England championship.

Boys soccer stunned Glastonbury — top-ranked, two-time defending Connecticut champs, unscored on in state tournament play since 2016 — with 2 goals in the final 7 minutes to win 3-2, then tied Trumbull in the last 6 minutes before falling on penalty kicks in the state quarterfinals.

The girls swim and dive team placed 3rd in the state LL tournament.

Girls cross country and volleyball, and boys water polo, all had successful seasons too. Football battled adversity all year long, and looks to finish strongly on Thanksgiving Day against Greenwich.

Congratulations to all the Wrecker teams.

That’s right: They’re Wreckers.

Not Wreckers and “Lady Wreckers.”

That antiquated name still hangs around, even in 2019.

Despite 47 years of Title IX.

And even though it makes no sense.

What is a “Lady Wrecker”? We don’t call the boys teams “Gentleman Wreckers.”

“Lady Wreckers” is condescending. It’s demeaning. It’s wrong.

Most media outlets realize how strong and powerful female athletes are. They know girls train and compete as hard as boys. They’ve gotten rid of “Lady” Wreckers, just as the athletic world has tossed out hoop skirts for basketball players, and added girls to rosters in sports like football and wrestling.

But the term still pops up, from time to time. It’s even on a mural in the hallway near the girls’ locker room. It’s time to retire it, forever.

The “Lady Wreckers” mural, in the hallway outside the girls’ locker room.

Meanwhile, I hear you asking: What exactly is a “Wrecker”?

The nickname dates to the 1930s. In the last game of the year, the team played undefeated Norwalk High. Staples won — “wrecking” their season.

Some people don’t like it.

I do. There’s only one other Staples High School in America — it’s actually called Staples-Motley, and it’s in north-central Minnesota* — but I’m pretty positive there is no other team in the world named the Wreckers.

The problem comes with a mascot. What is a Wrecker? A tow truck? How un-Westport-y

Instead, decades ago, Tom Wall– a Staples grad who was coaching part-time — created a fierce-looking guy, in a hard hat. In later versions he carried a crowbar and hammer.

The mascot was painted on the gym floor, plastered on walls and decals, and even showed up as a foam rubber mask worn by a student at football games. (He left out in the rain one day, and it turned into a gloppy mess.)

The Staples Wrecker, by the door to the fitness center.

Recently, Inklings — the Staples newspaper — ran a pair of opinion pieces. The topic: “Should the Wreckers’ Mascot Be Gender-Neutral?”

Rachel Suggs argued yes. A male mascot excludes females, she wrote. She noted that professional sports teams like the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are modifying their branding to be more inclusive, adding that only 6 other FCIAC teams have mascots with a male image.

No, countered Remy Teltser. The mascot is our tradition — and a caricature — she said. As a female athlete, she never perceived the Wrecker negatively. In fact, she added, some girls teams embrace the term “Lady Wreckers.”

If you think Remy’s opinion is an outlier in this era of equal rights, think again. 450 students responded to an Inklings survey about changing to a gender-neutral logo.

18% voted to switch. 82% said to keep it.

This is not the first time the question has come up. Every so often, someone suggests going back to the informal nickname of the team, one used before “Wreckers” and occasionally since then.

In a nod to our town symbol and historic past, Staples could be called the Minutemen.

Or, if you prefer, Minutepeople.

*The Staples-Motley teams are the Cardinals. Bor-ing.

Remembering Michael Brockman

Michael Brockman — a longtime Westporter, with unique interests and talents — died recently. He was 74 years old.

In the Army, he was a nuclear weapons specialist. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1975.

Michael Brockman

Michael worked as road test editor at Motor Trend Magazine. He began racing professionally in 1979, and competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans.

He went on to work as a film actor and stuntman in “Harry & Son,” “Fat Man And Little Boy” and “Road to Perdition,” among others.

After moving to Connecticut, Michael lived and worked here until his death. He was, most recently, the owner of Mazda of Milford.

Michael’s friend for 30 years, Ian Warburg, writes:

“Brock” was a legendary character. He came to live here because of his best friend and partner in crime, Paul Newman. He stayed because of his marriage to Westport native, Jennifer O’Reilly, and their children, Keleigh and Spencer. Spencer is now a noted race car driver too.

Brock was a class act through and through. A true southern gentleman with a warm heart, an easy smile and always a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Cooler than cool, this humble Florida boy packed his life with fun and adventure that took him to every corner of the globe, and had him raising jars and rubbing elbows with some of the most notable and interesting people of our times.

Michael Brockman (right) and friend.

His stories, and the telling of them, were legendary. Just ask Jack Nicholson. Or everyone who knew him, and was lucky enough to have called him their friend.

He lived a life most men might well have dreamed of, “working” as a professional race car driver, a writer for Motor Trend, an actor, a stuntman, camp counselor at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, and a businessman, owning and operating Connecticut Volvo and Mazda dealerships for the better part of the last 25 years of his life.

He was a great friend to his friends, and a loving husband to his former wife, Jennifer, with whom he enjoyed a warm and caring relationship that extended beyond their run as a married couple.

More than anything he delighted in his role as the father to Keleigh and Spencer, something we often talked about over a cold Budweiser. He revolved around them with absolute joy, celebrating and supporting their dreams and wishes.

With Keleigh he shared his love of acting, and joined her as a cast member of “Blue Bloods” from time to time.

With Spencer he delighted in celebrating his “gift” for making race cars go fast — very, very fast — besting racers with more money and newer technology, and watching him stand on the podium almost every time he raced.

Michael and Spencer Brockman.

And with both he shared his love of so much, including sushi, enjoying weekly feasts as fixtures at the sushi bar at Sakura.

Brock and I got together late summer with another pal, Ian O’Malley, for what would wind up being our last beer at the Black Duck. We had a heck of a good time, raised a little hell, and traded stories and laughs, toasting to the next time we’d be together.  Turns out, it won’t be at the Duck.

Until we meet again, my friend: This Bud’s for you! Cheers.

(A celebration of Michael’s life is set for Sunday, December 8, from 2 to 6 p.m. at his dealership, 915 Boston Post Road in Milford. If you plan to attend, please email brockmaninfo@gmail.com. In lieu of flowers, friends may consider a contribution in Michael’s memory to the Boggy Creek Gang Camp, 30500 Brantley Branch Rd., Eustis, FL, 32736.)

Mangia! Ignazio’s Opens Monday

The long wait is over.

On Monday, Ignazio’s officially opens for business.

The new pizza place in the old Bertucci’s (and before that, the even older Tanglewoods and Clam Box) features both thin crust and Sicilian pizza, from a wood-fired oven.

Word of mouth already brought in customers. Louis Termini — who owned 7 Luna Pizzas in the Hartford area, and now runs the original (and very popular) Ignazio’s underneath the Brooklyn Bridge — handed out free slices all day today.

One man said, “I hope they’re as good as the hype.”

He wolfed it down. “It is!”

Some folks stopping by today were from Louis’ boyhood neighborhood. One went to high school with him.

“I gave them the Brooklyn treatment,” Louis says. “And they gave it right back to me.”

Ignazio’s shares space with 2 other new arrivals: One River School of Art + Design, and Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters.

Which means that complex now includes 3 of the most important things that make our town go: Art. Coffee. And pizza.

Ignazio’s pizza in Brooklyn, courtesy of TripAdvisor.

(Hat tip: Cara Zimon)

[OPINION] Fatal Accident Fails To Deter Westport Drivers

Gery Grove moved to Westport from Brooklyn 7 years ago. She thought the drivers here were crazy — but they’ve gotten worse. She lives on a street that is a Waze shortcut, and uses the Bayberry Lane/Cross Highway intersection often. Everywhere in town, she says, people speed. 

Paloma Bima has lived in Westport for 16 years — 14 of them on Cross Highway. “I have seen way too many accidents,” she says. “I love walking to Wakeman, but it is dangerous!”

Andi Sklar’s family rented for 4 years on Bayberry Lane. They then built a house on Cross Highway, and have been there for 6. Every day, she sees drivers run the stop sign at the intersection of those 2 roads. She worries about the safety of her daughter, who attends Bedford Middle School and walks to Chef’s Table.

Following this week’s death of 25-year-old pedestrian Peter Greenberg on Bulkley Avenue North, the women write: 

Peter Greenberg

The loss of any life, especially someone young, can be devastating. But why does it resonate here in Westport so much? Because as a community we observe countless near misses – misses that might end up differently the next time due to our pedestrian-unfriendly roads, and our constant battle with speedy or reckless driving.

(Details of that accident have not been revealed, so this is not meant as an accusation of reckless driving against the driver on Bulkley.)

The next day, Gery Grove passed a multi-car accident at the corner of Bayberry and Cross Highway. While waiting for police to wave her through, a dark grey Ford Explorer behind her honked aggressively. The driver stayed on her bumper all the way to Long Lots Road.

Less than a day had passed since a pedestrian was killed nearby. Many children live in this neighborhood. They walk to or from school, and Chef’s Table.

Slow down, Westport. Another serious accident is right around the corner.

The intersection of Cross Highway and Bayberry Lane is just one spot with frequent reckless driving, running stop signs, and near misses. The three of us have been searching for ways to manage the dangers on our roads.

After near misses with her own children at that intersection near her home, Andi worked with Westport police on the visibility of stop signs.

Officer Al D’Amura has been extremely helpful. After riding together, he cut big branches that might have blocked the signs.

He also had an officer sit at the intersection. That provided only temporary relief. Andi said he is requesting that Public Works trim more bushes.

Paloma sought approval for a crosswalk from one side of Cross Highway to the other near Wakeman Fields, in light of the recent creation of a mega-campus at Bedford and Staples. So far, no measures have been enacted.

Gery grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Years ago they installed cameras, to catch speeders. Tickets are sent by mail. The first time she returned home, she wondered why everyone drove so slowly. Clearly. the cameras work.

One loss of life in this town is one too many. The time to consider solutions was before this young man was killed – but it definitely needs to be before another tragedy.

We have fallen victim to Waze, tight schedules, our devices, distraction and carelessness.

We have to ask our town to take real, concrete measures to clamp down on speeding, consider more pedestrian safety measures like sidewalks and crosswalks, and truly make those who believe the rules don’t apply to them rediscover the value of human life.

Or at least, to feel the presence of the laws they seek to violate.

A typical Westport driver.

Let this week be a collective call to action for our town leaders to make sure we give this issue the attention it deserves.

We have to do something. We are told not to be helicopter parents. But it’s hard to let kids roam around Westport these days.

It should not be that way.

Friday Flashback #165

Today is Staples High School’s Homecoming. There’s an afternoon pep rally; all fall teams will be introduced. There’s a football game at night. The stands will be full. Captains of all sports are announced at halftime.

That’s it. No dance. No Homecoming king or queen. No

It’s been that way for a couple of decades. Dances are out of favor. King and queen are not cool. Floats got the kibosh years ago, because the heavy trucks that pulled them damaged the track.

Several years ago, when lights were added to the football field, the Saturday afternoon event moved to Friday night.

So here’s a look back, 50 years ago. In 1969, Leslie Wilker was Homecoming Queen…

… and here’s a typical float. Each class built one (somehow, the seniors always won).

Floats did not always have a G-rated theme. In 1984 — when the drinking age in Connecticut was 18 — the senior class celebrated Homecoming with a bottle, and this slogan:

That decade-plus of 18-year-old drinking made Staples a different place. In 1982, administrators gave a special gift to all seniors, at the prom: a beer mug.

And in 1975, the yearbook included this photo, of the “Trojan Club”:

It’s a different time today, for sure.

See you at Homecoming tonight!

Seawater On Main Street — Or More?

Like a number of buildings on Main Street, #69 is under construction.

Developers are working hard to resuscitate downtown. In addition to the usual retail challenges — online shopping, the opening of the new Norwalk mall, finding the right “mix” — Main Street stores face frequent flooding.

A web of federal, state and local regulations cover building lots near rivers and wetlands.

So when Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix — both members of the Planning & Zoning Commission — noticed excavation work at #69, and saw water being pumped into storm drains in Parker Harding Plaza, they wanted to know more. When they smelled a strong odor in the water, they grew concerned.

The back of 69 Main Street, on Parker Harding Plaza, in an undated photo.

That night, coincidentally, the P&Z met. The developer sent a representative to ask for approval of work they’d already begun.

Stephens asked about the pump, and smell. The representative replied that it was seawater, brought in by high tides. She said the work involved removing slab, replacing a drainpipe and bathing the project.

The next day, Stephens and Gratrix returned. This time, they noticed soil work. Town engineer Peter Ratkiewich told them there were 7 fuel tanks there. Two still contained fuel. He said the smell from the excavation reached Elm Street — and one store in the area had to be closed at one point, due to the strong oil odor.

A number of old oil tanks are located by the river. They date back decades, to the days when the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of stores on the west side of Main Street. Parker Harding Plaza was developed on landfill, in the 1950s.

P&Z staff discovered documents that showed the developer knew back in 2018 that the oil tanks and oil contamination would be a problem. However, at the P&Z meeting the representative simply said that the odorous water — being emptied into storm drains — was “seawater.”

Last night, Stephens and Gratrix requested a new meeting to reconsider the decision; for the developer to explain why the P&Z was not informed of contamination at 69 Main Street, and the remedies required; a timeline of knowledge of contamination, and why excavation and demolition occurred without a permit for new construction — and, most important, an outline of steps going forward for remediation of 69 Main Street, so construction can continue properly under Coastal Area Management code.

Photo Challenge #247

We pass it a million times: the iron statue of a buck, on the Post Road.

But — because it’s a bit hidden by shrubbery — we don’t always notice it. (Click here for the photo.)

Some “06880” readers thought it was at Terrain. Seems like it should be there, with all the other plants and such.

But it’s not.

It’s at Mitchells — the upscale clothing store, diagonally across the street.

I have no idea why it’s there. But Mary Ann Batsell was first with the right answer.

If anyone knows the back story behind the Mitchells buck, click “Comments” below.

Click “Comments” too if you know where in Westport you’d find this week’s Photo Challenge.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Can Capitalism Survive? Westport Students Explore With An Expert.

Back in the day, Staples High School students marveled at the ham radio technology that — thanks to physics teacher Nick Georgis, a ham radio enthusiast — enabled them to talk with luminaries like Senator Barry Goldwater and King Hussein of Jordan.

Imagine what those 20th-century students would think of our 21st-century Westport Library, and teachers like Drew Coyne.

The other day, Advanced Placement Economics classes headed to the transformed library space downtown. There, in the Forum, nearly 175 students teleconferenced with a business and economics writer whose work has enormous relevance for the future of, well, the world.

The project began last spring. AP Economics teacher Rob Shamberg suggested a summer reading text for all incoming students: Steven Pearlstein’s “Can American Capitalism Survive?: Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and George Mason University professor believes that without trust and social capital, democratic capitalism may be doomed.

Coyne worked with Library staffers Alex Giannini and Cody Daigle-Orians to arrange Pearlstein’s virtual (and pro bono) appearance.

Steven Pearlstein, live in the Westport Library Forum.

Eight sections of classes filled the futuristic Forum. They spent a very interactive hour, engaging with the columnist and professor over the merits and logistics of a universal basic income, his theories on American social capital, China’s economic and political rise, income redistribution and the emerging 2020 political field.

When a student asked about the changes Pearlstein has witnessed since his book was published last year, the author noted the recent Business Roundtable redefinition of the purpose of a modern corporation.

Staples student Cassie Lang — who calls herself and her classmates “stakeholders in the American system” — describes the session as “the best introduction to the Economic course I could have asked for.”

Pearlstein’s talk reinforced what she learned from his book: “opportunity is not equal.” She uses this real-life example: “I doubt that Mr. Pearlstein would have been this accessible if we resided in a less affluent school district.”

Because the library Forum is such an open space, library-goers who are not AP Economics students participated too.

Student Owen Dolan saw his grandmother. They hugged, then watched the presentation together.

Capitalism may not survive. But family ties — and interactive education, Westport-style — sure will.