Category Archives: Children

CAST Reels In Special Kids

Ben and Josh Marcus love to fish. Every day after school, the Westport brothers — honor students at the Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford — cast their lines, relaxing before starting homework.

Fishing is social, recreational — and outdoors.

That makes it perfect for children with special needs. Thanks to a national organization — and the Marcus brothers — this past weekend, over 20 local kids discovered the joy of fishing.

And caught their own fish.

Success! Charlie Sanderson lands one!

Catch A Special Thrill– called CAST (get it?!) — is a national non-profit that enriches the lives of special needs kids through fishing. The organization provides them with their own rod and tackle box. 

This weekend marked CAST’s first Westport event. Benjamin and Josh helped bring it here.

Their parents, Bonnie and Andrew Marcus, opened their Saugatuck River home. It was a day of fun, food — and fishing.

Sam and Louis Parks

Local fishermen served as one-on-one coaches. CAST director Jeff Barnes — a retired bass pro fisherman — came from Alabama to help Ben and Josh.

Every youngster caught a fish. All were returned to the water.

But they will always keep the photos and memories.

(Sponsors include Iridian Asset Management, Goldberg & Marcus Dental Associates and the Bonnie Marcus Collection. If you love fishing — or know a child who would like to attend next year — email benscuba18@gmaio.com.)

Dylan Curran and friend. (All photos/Bonnie Marcus)

Pic Of The Day #797

The transformed Westport Library opened today. One key feature: a new entrance on Jesup Green. Moments before the ribbon-cutting, youngsters enjoy the once-overlooked sculpture nearby. (Photo/Dan Woog)

PAL Fireworks And Parking Passes: The Back Story Many People Miss

Since 2003, Westport PAL has awarded over $400,000 in college scholarships.

In the past few years they’ve donated $153,000 to the Field of Dreams turf field project, $49,000 to Westport Baseball and Softball, $23,000 to Special Olympics, $15,000 to the Compo Beach playground, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to many worthy, kid-related causes.

Each year, they help sponsor the 4th of July* fireworks. They are allowed to sell a maximum of 2,000 Compo Beach parking passes. The cost — $35 per vehicle — has not risen in years.

Last year, they sold fewer than 1,900. Yet an estimated 15,000 party-goers thronged the beach, for the best community event of the year.

You do the math.

A small portion of the very large crowd.

Westport PAL was organized in 1948. A few years later, they started the fireworks tradition.

It takes a ton of work. The volunteer organization partners with the Westport Police, Fire and Parks and Recreation Departments; EMS; Fireworks by Grucci — and many others — to make the event a smash.

About 20 years ago, PAL offered to hand it over to the town. First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said thanks, but no thanks.

Everyone — including out-of-towners — pitches in to make the fireworks a success.

The fireworks is PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help run programs in football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, rugby and track. They impact thousands of boys and girls each year.

In addition to the recipients of PAL money listed earlier, recent donations include $24,000 for health and wellness programs, $20,000 for lights at Staples High School, $5,000 for wrestling mats, $2,000 for a WWPT-FM Wrecker Radio tent, thousands to Staples’ Gridiron Club — the list goes on and on.

The fireworks is a true community effort. Melissa & Doug — the internationally highly regarded, locally owned children’s toy company — generously covers the cost of the actual pyrotechnics each year. (Grucci offers 3 levels. Westport’s is the top-tier.)

Happy birthday, America! (Photo/Suzanne Sherman Propp)

But PAL picks up other costs: the barge ($15,000 a day). The Cobra marching band, with Sapphire dancers. The Nassau County bomb squad. Food and drinks for police, fire and Parks and Rec workers (beyond what Jersey Mike’s provides). This year, PAL is even springing for a new barge mooring.

PAL president Ned Batlin, and past president/current vice president Sam Arciola, are both Staples grads. They grew up going to the fireworks — and playing PAL sports.

They want Westporters to know: Those $35 parking passes are not a ripoff.

They’re a bargain.

Parks and Rec operations supervisor Dan DeVito helps collect tickets. The process is quick and easy.

Last year’s non-sellout — despite the packed beach — was part of a trend. Some fireworks-goers arrive by Uber. Others park — as far away as the Children’s Community Development Center on Hillspoint Road — and walk in.

Of course, there are people like the homeowner on Soundview Drive. Like many neighbors, he throws a huge fireworks bash every year.

But he also buys 30 parking passes, and gives them to guests. He wants to support PAL; he doesn’t want friends to freeload.

Party on Soundview!

“One of our longtime executive directors, PJ Romano, used to say, ‘It’s all about the kids,'” Batlin says.

“PAL — and the fireworks — is all about local police and citizens who really care about the town, and everyone in it. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. But if we don’t sell out, it really handcuffs our ability to help.”

That’s the back story too few people know. So pony up, Westporters. PAL needs you to buy those fireworks parking passes.

They’re available at the Parks & Rec office in Longshore (opposite the golf pro shop) during business hours, and 24/7 at police headquarters (50 Jesup Road). You can pay by cash or check (“Westport PAL”).

If — er, when — they sell out, you can buy a pass to park at Longshore. Dattco donates buses, which shuttle back and forth to the beach from 5:45 to 11 p.m.

With a police escort.

*Okay, the 3rd of July. You know what I mean.

Westport’s fireworks are timeless. This shot is from 2016. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pic Of The Day #794

Charlie Sanderson (center) strikes a classic Little League baseball pose, with his Challenger Division buddies Haran Eiger (left) and Alan Fiore. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Pics Of The Day #793

On Monday, 5th graders from Greens Farms Elementary School had an “after-graduation party” at Compo Beach.They just hung out, enjoying the setting sun away from their parents, close to friends who will disappear for the summer. They’ll return as middle school students in late August. Meanwhile … (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

Here’s the flip side of life at Compo. Too many people don’t pick up after themselves. This was the scene yesterday morning: a Parks & Rec employee doing what all of us should do ourselves whenever we are at the beach. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Unsung Hero: Special Bus Driver Edition

A few hours ago, I posted this week’s Unsung Heroes story. Kudos to the traffic agents, who put up with all kinds of weather (and all kinds of drivers) to make sure our kids (and teachers) arrive at school safe and sound.

I just found out about another person who makes school special. Like the traffic cops, he’s not a Board of Education employee. But he’s as important as any educator.

Mario Viola drives bus routes for Coleytown and Saugatuck Elementary Schools. He truly goes “the extra mile.”

Grateful parent Lisa Newman says, “He tirelessly loves and cares for our children. He decorates his bus for holidays, shows up for their concerts, and keeps everyone excited for school.”

One day, Lisa’s son had an as-yet-undiscovered fever. He arrived home wearing Mario’s hat. The driver had given it to him to make him feel better. (“It worked!” she says).

Mario Viola, and Lisa Newman’s son.

School ended yesterday. But today, the kids on his routes enjoyed one last day with Mario.

He invited them all to Carvel for ice cream — and treated every one!

Mario Viola and his happy kids, at Carvel today.

Thanks, Mario Viola, for doing so many little things, for so long, for so many. Long after these youngsters forget most of what went on this year, they will remember your kindness, and you.

(Hat tip: Heather Sinclair)

David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

Pics Of The Day #789

The Yankee Doodle Fair was packed last night. It runs till 10 p.m. tonight, at the Westport Woman’s Club (44 Imperial Avenue). Tomorrow is the last day: 1 to 5 p.m. Don’t miss it!

(Photo/Lee Scharfstein)

(Photo/Kristina Bory)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.

Pic Of The Day #785

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story on High Point Road. In the midst of highlighting all the joys of the longest dead-end street in town — the road I grew up on — I complained that kids there no longer rode bikes to school, the way my friends and I did.

Maybe — because I regularly pass so many parents waiting for their kids’ buses on nearby North Avenue (and don’t get me that they drive to the beginning of roads like Adams Farm and Greystone Farm Roads to pick them up, aaaargh!) — I just assumed that High Point parents did the same.

My bad.

Biking to school from High Point is alive and well. Here’s a shot of Long Lots Elementary the other day:

(Photo/Tally Jacobs)

When they’re older, many youngsters walk from High Point to Bedford Middle School too.

“This time outdoors is an important part of the kids’ day,” says High Point parent Tally Jacobs.

“It says so much about Westport that kids take advantage of their proximity to the schools, the fresh air, the independence and community feeling that results from walking and biking.”

Of course, walking to Staples — directly behind homes on the west side of the road — is a different story. Most High Point kids with their licenses drive to high school — even though it takes longer.

I’m can’t make fun of them for that.

I did the same thing, waaaaay back in the day.

(Hat tip: Amy Hochhauser)