Category Archives: Sports

New York Sports Club Lives On

When the Westport branch of New York Sports Club closed in July, they left behind a number of disappointed clients.

They also did something wonderful for a 16-year-old boy.

new-york-sports-clubMorgaine Pauker was one of those customers. Her husband Mark works with a man from Easton whose son Zach had just been paralyzed from the waist down, in a car accident.

Mark and Morgaine wondered if NYSC would donate some upper body strength equipment.

The club usually distributes excess machines to other NYSC locations. But they considered the request, and said they were happy to help

Then they went the extra mile. The other day, a machine was delivered to Zach’s house — and installed.

New York Sports Club is gone from Westport. But in one nearby home, it will never be forgotten.

(Click here to contribute to Zach’s medical fund.) 

Delivering the strength machine to Zach's home.

Delivering the strength machine to Zach’s home.

60 Years Later, Elmo Morales Can’t Forget Westport

Earlier this month, Greg Wolfe and Nancy Lewis dropped their daughter Emily off for her 2nd year at the University of Michigan.

After dinner, the couple passed a tiny t-shirt shop near campus. As they looked at merchandise set on the street, the owner came out to chat.

Elmo Morales designed this t-shirt for Jim Harbaugh's return as Michigan football coach.

Elmo Morales designed this slogan for Jim Harbaugh’s return as Michigan football coach. (Photo/Ryan Stanton for The Ann Arbor News)

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Westport, Connecticut,” they said.

He was stunned. “You’re the first people I’ve ever met here from Westport!” he said.

And then Elmo Morales told his story.

In 1957 he was an 11-year-old living in Washington Heights. The Fresh Air Fund arranged a week in Westport. He stayed with the Petrucci family. They owned a liquor store, and had a son around Elmo’s age.

His eyes welled up as he told Greg and Nancy his story.

On the way home after picking Elmo up at the train station — with his clothes in a shopping bag — the Petruccis took him to a toy store. They told him to pick out anything he wanted.

He chose a Mattel 6-shooter. “I never got anything, except at Christmas,” he says. “And then it was pajamas.”

It was the first time Elmo had seen carpeting in a house, or a TV in a bedroom. There was orange juice every morning. Every day, they went to the beach.

Most importantly, Mr. Petrucci talked with Elmo about college, and what he wanted to do with his life. It was the first time the boy had thought about his future.

“They broadened my horizons,” Elmo says. “I was able to see the rest of the world. Everything grew from that little seed.”

Elmo went back to Washington Heights. A shared love of jazz cemented a friendship with a youngster named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Elmo earned a track scholarship to Michigan. He stayed in Ann Arbor, and became a teacher.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

After graduating from Michigan, Elmo Morales continued to run.

About 40 years ago, he opened Elmo’s T-Shirts as a sideline. For years it was on Main Street. Not long ago, he moved to East Liberty Street.

This is one of those great “Westport meets the world” stories I love so well.

But don’t just read it and smile.

Every year, Staples sends at least a dozen graduates to the University of Michigan. So, students and parents: Head to 404 E. Liberty Street.

Buy a t-shirt or souvenir.

And then tell Elmo you’re from Westport.

Charlotte Rossi Cycles Through America

Most Staples High School athletes prepared for this fall season by running, working out and attending camps.

Charlotte Rossi biked 3,250 miles — and over 3 mountain ranges — from Charleston, South Carolina to Santa Monica, California.

It was the 3rd bike trip she took with Overland Summers. But compared to this, her others — a 250-mile, 2-week journey Vermont journey and a 1,000-mile, 4-week trek from Seattle to San Francisco — were strolls in the park.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte — a Staples soccer captain who attributes her love of biking to her parents, Paul and Marguerite (and who also serves as Staples Players senior manager for the front of the house, plays French horn in the band and volunteers with the National Charity League) — wanted to do the cross-country “American Challenge” last year. She spent it instead going to soccer recruitment camps for college.

Last February — the day after she committed to Fordham University — she called Overland Summers.

The organization sends out training regimens. But at the end of April Charlotte sprained her ankle — playing soccer, of course — and for the next 5 weeks wore a boot.

It came off a week before the trip. Charlotte did only 5 20-mile rides. “I thought the South was flat, and I’d be fine,” she laughs.

The biking on this trip was far more intense than her previous 2. To beat the heat, the group rose every morning at 4 a.m. They covered 70 to 120 miles a day. There was no support van, so each person carried 50 pounds of gear.

The dozen teenagers and 2 leaders camped out often. Other times they slept in churches, rec centers and private homes.

With no cell phones, everyone spent time actually talking as they rode. Charlotte discovered “the importance of conversation. We didn’t check each other out on Facebook. We actually got to learn who each person was.”

The American Challenge riders, en route.

The American Challenge riders, en route.

She also learned how to talk to strangers — the many folks they met who took time to ask the riders what they were doing, and why.

But some parts of the trip were unexplainable. As one leader said, “This is the only group of people who will ever really understand what you’ve been through.”

Charlotte adds, “I could not have gotten through the trip without this group. Whenever someone didn’t want to get on their bike, someone else said, ‘You can do it!'”

That encouragement meant everything. Riding across America, Charlotte saw places she’d never otherwise see — like the tourist town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas and the very friendly stopover in Scott City, Kansas.

The hardest days were the ones crossing the Ozarks, Rockies and San Gabriel Mountains. But the views — particularly from Durango, Colorado — were “unreal,” Charlotte says.

Only 2 states to go!

Only 2 states to go!

The California range was especially memorable. The group spent their last night at a campground, reflecting on the previous 6 weeks.

The next morning, they still had 20 miles to climb. After all they’d been through, it was a snap.

Then came a long 10-mile descent. Suddenly they saw Los Angeles: civilization!

When they reached Ocean Boulevard, most sobbed with emotion. There were banners and flags — and, waiting at the bottom, the Overland support team and the bikers’ parents.

A large crowd had no idea what they were cheering for, but they urged the group on.

At the beach they threw their bikes down, took off their front wheels, and sprinted to dip them in the Pacific.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Back in Westport, Charlotte found herself in great physical condition for the new soccer season.

She was in even better mental shape.

“Whenever I had to do something hard in training, I told myself I’ve just done something much harder,” she says.

As a captain, she’s learned the importance of supporting teammates. “Just a little high 5 or word of encouragement means so much,” she explains. “I know how much it meant to me this summer.”

So — as she looks forward to a great season, and then Fordham — does she plan any more bike trips?

“I hope so,” Charlotte says. “I really want to be a leader for a bike company. The ride is a real challenge for them — plus they’re responsible for 12 kids.”

Saugatuck Rowers Represent

International rowing is no day at the beach.

As soon as Staples High School ended in June, 3 Saugatuck Rowing Club racers left for junior national team training camps.

After intense workouts, they were selected to represent the US at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The next competition began immediately: for seats in the boat. That continued almost until the starting gun, for what was billed as the largest world rowing championship ever.

Their hard work paid off. Harrison Burke and Kelsey McGinley took bronzes in the men’s and women’s junior 4+ and 4-, respectively. Grace McGinley placed 5th in the grand final of the women’s 8+ event. All are Staples students.

Kelsey McGinley (center) hugs her teammates after earning the women's junior 4+ bronze medal.

Kelsey McGinley (center) hugs her teammates after earning the women’s junior 4- bronze medal.

Then the fun began.

As soon as they secured their boats, rowers from the many competing countries converged in a “mosh pit” near the finish line grandstand, to trade gear.

The Westporters returned home with uniforms and more from Holland, Britain, Germany, Chile, South Africa and more.

Rowers who had just battled head to head — at the highest level — smiled at each other, happily negotiating trades. Fortunately for our kids, US gear was hot.

Harrison Burke (left) snapped selfies with other national rowing teams.

Harrison Burke (left) snapped selfies with other national rowing teams.

Saugatuck rowers rise before dawn and train on the icy river — then go back to hit the gym after school — for many reasons.

Earning a place on the national team is one.

Becoming friends with competitors from all over the world — earning respect, and sharing their uniforms — is another.

Congratulations, Harrison, Kelsey and Grace. You’ve done us — and yourselves — proud!

Custodians’ Kudos

Thousands of Westport students return to school this week. They’ll be greeted by hundreds of administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals who work hard to help our youngsters grow into wise, empathetic and confident adults.

Those students and staff work every day in buildings that are maintained with skill and care by men and women we always see, but seldom acknowledge. Often, we look right past — or through — our custodians.

David Johnson did not. A retired administrator from upstate Connecticut, he has spent the past 7 summers traveling to Westport to run a certification coach for area middle and high school coaches.

The other day, he wrote to Staples principal James D’Amico:

I have come to enjoy my journey to Westport. I am also enriched by being able to share important knowledge and information with those working with our student-athletes. What I have come to look forward to the most, however, is my interaction with your custodial staff directed by Horace Lewis.

Staples' popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

Staples’ popular head custodian Horace Lewis leads a great staff.

I travel to numerous high school facilities to teach these classes throughout the year. Nowhere is there a custodial staff as professional and welcoming as the one at Staples. I am always greeted with a smile, which makes me feel like I am visiting family.

Horace is there to meet my needs, making sure I have whatever is necessary. Then he asks what more he can do. He and/or one of his staff check and make sure we are ready to go. He checks with us during the class, and also at the end.

It is not easy to go into someone else’s facility and use unfamiliar equipment. But I never have a concern at Staples. I always know I have the support of Horace, Tom Cataudo and their staff.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet the staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

Shift supervisor Tom Cataudo and maintenance head Horace Lewis greet staff and students during the 2015 graduation processional.

We have no problem complaining when something is not right or does not go well. Therefore I feel we have an obligation to recognize work that goes “above and beyond” the  call of duty. After 35 years in public education, I know that these individuals (especially a custodial staff like yours) are the lifeblood of the school community. You are most fortunate.

Thank you again for not only sharing your facility with us, but also for sharing such professional staff as well. Best wishes for a great school opening, and an even better school year.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Remembering Jim Soroka

It’s been a long time since Jim Soroka left Westport.

But the death of the 1965 Staples High School graduate earlier this month — in a cycling accident in the White Mountain National Forest, while on a 100-mile training ride for his next Ironman — hit his adopted and beloved community of North Conway, New Hampshire hard. He was 69.

Jim Soroka, competing in one of his many races.

Jim Soroka, competing in one of his many events.

Soroka moved north 35 years ago. A graduate of the University of Miami and president of his own construction firm, he built over 30 custom homes, and many more additions and remodeling projects, around the Mount Washington Valley. He also built surfboards, for sale and to use on his own trips throughout the Caribbean and Central America.

But he was best known as a sports enthusiast. A noted baseball player, surfer and nationally ranked Masters swimmer, Soroka became a passionate triathlete at age 58. In 2012 he competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

He also helped develop the White Mountain Aquatic and Fitness Foundation. The organization is planning a complex with 2 swimming pools, a weight room, childcare room, fireplace, lounge, basketball court, walking track, and rooms for yoga, exercise, Pilates and spinning.

Soroka donated time and money for many Conway-area projects, including playgrounds and baseball dugouts. He coached baseball, basketball and football.

A column in the Conway Daily Sun said:

Jim Soroka

Jim Soroka at a triathlon.

“Jim embodied everything great in sports and life, and he amazingly intertwined both into his world. When you spent a minute with Jim it was a quality minute….

“[He was] humble, always upbeat and loved life. He loved his fellow competitors as much as he loved to compete.”

Friend Paul Kirsch thought Soroka would “live forever. He seemed to be getting stronger with age, his muscles bigger, his drive a little stronger.”

Soroka is survived by his wife of 39 years, Margie; his daughter Jessi and son David. His brother Stuart, a well-known Boston meteorologist, predeceased him.

Donations may be made to the White Mountain Aquatic and Fitness Foundation, PO Box 767, North Conway, NH 03860. For more information or to leave an online condolence message, click here.

The Briggs Cunningham Watch

More than once, “06880” has honored Briggs Cunningham.

The polymathic Westporter skippered Columbia to the America’s Cup title in 1958. He invented “the Cunningham,” a device to increase the speed of racing sailboats. He competed in the 24 hour auto race at LeMans, developed and built the Chrysler C-4R racing car, owned the 1st Ferrari in America, and made the cover of Time magazine.

Briggs Cunningham II, on the cover of Time.

Briggs Cunningham, on the cover of Time.

He also married Lucy Bedford, daughter of Standard Oil heir F.T. Bedford — not a bad career move. (Cunningham’s father, Briggs Sr., was an early investor in the company that became Procter and Gamble. So the son did not exactly pull  himself out of poverty.)

But “06880” has never mentioned Cunningham’s watches.

According to a long story in Hodinkee — a website devoted to all you’d ever want to know about luxury watches — the Westporter was an American hero.

“His name means little to those outside the highest echelons of motorsport and aquatic racing,” Benjamin Clymer writes.

“But to those in the know, Briggs Cunningham and his collection of bespoke wristwatches are downright legendary.”

Cunningham’s place in horology (the art of making clocks and watches — yeah, I looked it up) is secured by his ownership of 3 Patek Philippe watches.

Briggs Cunningham's least expensive watch.

Briggs Cunningham’s least expensive watch.

All are stainless steel. (He chose that design over gold because he was a “highly active, top-tier athlete.”)

Two are unique commissions designed especially for him.

The other — created in 1949 — is still in mint condition. It sold last year for about $100,000.

The 1463 chronograph.

The 1463 chronograph.

That’s chump change compared to Cunningham’s 1463 chronograph. Made unique by its black dial with luminous markers and hands, it has achieved “mythical status since first appearing on the market,” Clymer writes.

Cunningham wore it in a photo with driver Phil Hill. They’re examining the Westporter’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing — the 1st one ever delivered commercially.

That combination of watch and automobile “has long made him an icon to me,” says Clymer.

That watch is on the market now. It can be yours for $1.5 million.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

But even that is a drugstore Timex compared to Cunningham’s 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

“It is just one of just two perpetual calendars to be made in steel, and the Arabic markers are covered in black lacquer. How incredible is that?” Clymer asks.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

Apparently, quite incredible. One of the most beautiful watches ever made by Patek Philippe, it sold for $3,956,159 in 2008.

The buyer: Patek Philippe itself.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write another “06880” post about watches.

But something tells me I’ll keep discovering interesting tidbits about Briggs Cunningham, for years to come.

(Hat tip: Peter Tulupman)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Rummaging Through A New Sports Attic

If you’re like many Westport families, your house is filled with things your kids have grown out of, moved on from or otherwise discarded: Clothes. Toys. Sports equipment.

Greg DiLenge can’t unclutter your home of clothes or toys. But those too-small skates, extra lacrosse sticks and unused skis?

Take ’em from the basement to the attic. The Sports Attic.

Sports AtticThat’s the name of his new business, across from the train station at 26 Railroad Place.

He’s still buying “quality secondhand sporting equipment.” He’s in the midst of a soft opening — but he offers cash on the spot.

Or you can check out the amply stocked shelves, and buy gear — inexpensively — for your kid who may (or may not) end up loving a sport.

Growing up, Greg did. “To me, sports have always evoked a sense of responsibility,” the Philadelphia native says.

“They taught me the value of working with others. Sports encouraged a sense of self. I love the camaraderie of playing sports, and am in awe of the discipline required to be an elite athlete.”

But he knows not everyone will reach that goal, or wants to.

He knows too that not everyone can afford sports equipment.

As a kid, Greg loved hockey. But there was not enough money for both him and his brother to play. So they flipped a coin. Greg lost, and got basketball. His brother went on to play hockey at Penn State.

Greg cheered him on. But he always wondered, “What if…?”

For many years, Greg worked traded commodities in New York — while looking for a lifestyle change. His uncle started a new and quality pre-owned sporting goods store in Westchester over 15 years ago. The business model attracted Greg.

Now — with his 1st child due later this month —  Greg is ready to make that leap. It’s the perfect time to launch a new business aimed at helping kids.

Greg DiLenge, in his Sports Attic.

Greg DiLenge, in his Sports Attic.

“We want to be more than a store,” Greg says. “We want to connect with families, schools, camps and local sports organizations, to collaborate and help each other.”

His goal is to provide “an interesting alternative for acquiring sports equipment.”

Though Greg loves all sports, he has a soft spot for hockey and lacrosse. Both are expensive — and can be daunting for parents who don’t know if their children will follow through.

Greg has reached out to major vendors, amassing “starter” kits to help soften the sting on wallets.

His narrow shop is rapidly filling with sports gear. His goal is to turn it over rapidly — buying good-quality equipment from parents whose kids have outgrown or discarded it, then selling it to others whose kids are just starting out.

And when those youngsters move up or on — well, Sports Attic will be there for them too.

 

Cole Dickinson’s Baseball Career Is A Cakewalk

Three years ago, Westport’s all-stars electrified the town with a great run to the Little League World Series championship game.

Among their many fans was Rick Dickinson. A huge baseball fan himself (and former high school state champion), as the owner of Great Cakes Rick knew many of the players. Their parents bought Rick’s great cakes to celebrate birthdays, and Rick chatted with them about their sons’ achievements.

Many of those players and their families — all of Rick’s customers, really — knew his son Cole too. The little kid was there behind the counter during busy times, helping his dad.

Great Cakes closed just a few months after Westport’s World Series thrill.

But Rick is still baking locally — and Cole has turned into a baseball star himself.

Rick Dickinson stands proudly with his son Cole.

Rick Dickinson stands proudly with his son Cole.

The 12-year-old is a 3rd baseman on the New Milford Pride. His team recently won the New England regional championship, and is headed to the Cal Ripken World Series.

It’s set for July 29-August 6, in Aberdeen, Maryland. Cole’s first game is Saturday, July 30 against the Pacific Southwest team, from Hawaii.

(It’s worth noting that in the final inning of the regional final, the score was 9-9. The bases were loaded, with 2 outs. Cole’s hit won it.)

All of Westport — especially those former Little Leaguers — wish Cole and the New Milford Pride good luck at the Cal Ripken World Series.

Win or lose, we’re sure they’ll celebrate their week with plenty of great cakes.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Guess Who Came To Dinner At Bridgewater Tonight?

A) Donald Trump
B) Hillary Clinton
C) Barack Obama
D) The Chinese Olympic swim team

Answer: