Category Archives: Sports

Classic Connecticut, Says The New York Times

Today, the New York Times published a photo quiz.

They posted one archival image from each state. Readers were given a clue, and invited to guess which state was represented.

Here’s Connecticut’s image:

The caption says:

The 1993 Thistle Atlantic Coast Championships, seen here, kicked off at the Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, Conn. Fifty Thistle sailboats — 17-foot-long, single-masted, centerboard crafts, normally crewed by three people at a time — participated. Thistles are well suited to the light-air sailing encountered on calm summer days along the Constitution State’s shore.

It’s great that Times editors chose this photo to showcase our state.

Personally, I would have chosen a throwback tollbooth.

(Click here to see the entire Times piece. Hat tip: Jeff Manchester)

Over 40. But Not Over The Hill.

There are certain sports you can do all your life: Golf. Tennis. Swimming. Running.

At some point, baseball players move on to softball. Football players trade their helmets for flags.

Soccer — a game of constant running, tough physical contact and diving* all over the place — seems to be a young person’s game.

Don’t tell that to the Fairfield Gaelic-American Club team. With a roster filled with Westport and Westport-related players, they made the finals of the national Over-40 Cup tournament, in Maryland.

In the semifinal, they edged the Florida Kickers — the defending champions national champions — 1-0.

Unfortunately, they fell in the finals to a team from Chicago. “They were fitter, better organized and had a few former MLS [pro] players,” says Todd Coleman.

By day, he’s an investment banker. In his spare time, he’s co-president of the Westport Soccer Association. And — as a former Staples High School captain — he’s representative of his team that is not very Gaelic, but quite Westport-oriented.

The Gaelic-American team. Front row (from left): Anton Camaj, Mauro Rodrigues-Costa, Tim Yates, Sebastian Wojdeska, Michael Hennessey, Tyler Ricks, Edwin Leon, Sofronis Vlahos. Rear: Jamie Poff, Brian Thomas, Larry Piturro, Javier Oritz, Edik Eskandarian, Andy Hoffmann, Omar tork, Xavi Egurbide, Todd Coleman, Matt Lawlor, Seth Cohen, Frank Surace.

Todd’s teammates this weekend included Westporter Tyler Ricks, plus Edwin Leon, Steve Halloran, Tim Yates and Andy Hoffmann. All have played on many Westport men’s teams, and in Staples soccer alumni events (though they are only “honorary” alums).

Gaelic players who helped the team reach the finals, but could not make this trip, include Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, a former Staples captain and Dartmouth College star; Mickey Kydes, Westport Soccer Association director of coaching, former MLS player and Westport resident; EJ Zebro, a certified movement and performance coach who owns Westport’s  TAP StrengthLab, and Mike Brown, who won 2 state championships at Staples and starred at Middlebury College.

Congratulations to all. “06880” is indeed where Westport meets the world — and the world game.

*For headers and tackles, not the fake-injury kind.

Unsung Hero #111

Ruth Sherman walks the walk.

Literally.

Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.

She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.

For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.

Ruth Sherman

Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.

When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.

Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.

When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.

Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.

You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.

But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.

*And in Westport, you know what that means.

(Hat tip: Richard Fogel)

Friday Flashback #154

The opening of the transformed Westport Library brought back memories of the original — and reminders, once again, that it was built on what was once the “town dump.”

Alert — and historic minded — “06880” reader Fred Cantor found a fascinating aerial photo, published by the Town Crier in 1965

(Photo/Robert Lentini)

Back then, the library was located in the building at the lower left of the photo. Today it’s the site of Starbucks, Freshii and other tenants.

Across the Post Road — at the foot of what we now call the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — is a block of shops and apartments that burned in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Today it’s South Moon Under, and other stores.

But the most fascinating part of the photo is seen beyond Jesup Green and the Taylor Place parking lot. There — in the center of town — sat the Rogers Little League baseball diamond. The dugouts are about where the upper entrance to the library lot is today. (Why is it so bumpy now? Landfill.)

Unfortunately, the photo does not show what lies beyond left and center field. That was the town dump.

It smelled. It attracted seagulls. It was not uncommon for the birds to swoop near unsuspecting outfielders, attempting to catch flies (the baseball variety).

Around that time — perhaps a few years later — Westport artist Arthur Cady drew a series of Westport scenes.

(Illustration by Arthur Cady/courtesy of Jim Ezzes)

This one may have been a bit of artistic license. I don’t think the dump was quite that close to downtown.

But it sure was near to what is now Tiffany, nestling right behind on Taylor Place.

Tennis Grand Slam Comes To Westport

Tennis fans know that the Grand Slam of Tennis —  the Australian, French and US Opens, plus Wimbledon — are played on 4 different types of courts.

But you don’t have to fly to 3 continents to see them.

In fact, you don’t even have to leave Westport to play on 4 surfaces.

The town’s first Grand Slam Open is near. Singles, doubles and mixed doubles competition on private red clay, grass, hard and soft courts is set for August 16 to 18.

One court that will be used for Westport’s Grand Slam …

Each stop has a different theme, with Australian, French, English and American food and drinks. There are trophies and t-shirts at each court too.

The event also includes a ping pong tournament and pool party. Music is provided by the Dave Kardas Band — whose leader heads up the Longshore tennis program.

… a second …

The Grand Slam Open is a fundraiser for Joseph Oyebog’s tennis academy in Cameroon.

The former Davis Cup tennis player/Cameroon national champion/beloved local tennis coach has impacted thousands of youngsters in his home country. Twenty players have earned college scholarships, or obtained coaching positions in the US and Europe. Many more have gained confidence, hope and opportunity.

… a third …

Ben Sturner — who played tennis at Boston University, and runs the Leverage Agency sports marketing firm — met Joseph when he taught Ben’s children.

When Ben learned how far a little money can go in Africa, he created the Grand Slam concept. Also helping: Clair Mason (Intensity owner and Oyebog Tennis Academy board member), longtime player June Eichbaum, and Ben Stein and Evan Felcher, members of Staples High School’s state champion 2018 tennis team.

… and a fourth.

Ben and Evan are still teenagers. But Westport’s Grand Slam Open involves a centenarian too.

Lee Greenberg is 101 years old. A sign on her Saugatuck Shores home says, “Tennis bum lives here.” Sure enough, she has a grass turf court.

Ben Sturner and Joseph knocked on her door, to ask if they could use it. She invited them in. For an hour, Lee told stories about her life in tennis, and her passion for it. She’s been playing since she was 10 years old — more than 9 decades ago.

Lee was born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and moved to Westport 75 years ago. Each of her 4 homes here had a tennis court. She organized many games, with a variety of people.

Lee is also an avid sculptor. She organized the tennis art show at the opening of the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island — in 1954.

And, Lee said, years ago, Joseph taught Lee’s son Michael.

Lee Greenberg at her 100th birthday celebration with her children: Mike, Debbie and Gail.

Lee was happy to offer her court. The other 3 are in the Compo Beach neighborhood.

Players of all ages and abilities are eligible to sign up. If you prefer not to enter, no problem. Joseph will hold a clinic for non-competitors.

When it comes to helping kids, I can’t think of a better service than this.

(The suggested donation is $150 per entry. For more information, call 475-999-1335, or email BenjaminStein2000@gmail.com or carolinem@leverageagency.com.)

Joseph Oyebog

Compo Lifeguards Add Competition To Training

For several reasons — college graduation, other job opportunities, etc. — this year’s Compo Beach lifeguard crew is younger than usual. Of the 3 dozen guards (about 60% from Westport), almost all are between 16 and 21 years old.

But it’s a hugely important job. Lives are at risk. Standards can’t be lowered.

Compo lifeguards do rescue training throughout the summer. Being young and outside, they like to keep fit.

This year, those 2 elements are one. Waterfront co-directors Heidi List Murphy and Danilo Sierra have designed a series of “rescue workouts.”

Heidi List Murphy and Danilo Sierra, in the guard shack.

And they’ve added the element of competition.

Every day at high tide — except, of course, when the beach is closed due to a sewage leak 😦 — the guards form teams. They sprint along the sand, swim, and head out on boards to the buoys and back.

Every guard is timed. They’re allowed to choose their teams, so there’s pressure to have good scores.

At the end of every day, there’s a debriefing meeting. The rescue workout is always part of the discussion.

The workouts increase confidence and raise morale, Sierra says.

“This is a teaching beach,” Murphy notes. “Guards are constantly learning. They like the hands-on part of this, and the competition.”

JC Montoni, in the midst of a rescue workout.

Fortunately, the Compo guards have not had to rescue anyone — for real — this year.

Last year, there was one rescue. It came in the final 4 hours of the last day guards were on duty for the summer.

“It can happen any time,” Murphy notes. “We have to be ready.”

Thanks in part to the rescue workouts — and constant supervision and education — they will be.

 

Remembering Hank Mergenthaler

Dr. Francis W. “Hank” Mergenthaler — renowned as both a surgeon and sailor  — died on July 30. He was 83 years old, and lived in Westport since 1968. He and his wife of 62 years, Janet, raised 5 children here.

Dr. Francis Mergenthaler

Trained at NYU and Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Mergenthaler performed the first coronary bypass in New England in 1969. He went on to serve countless patients – and save many lives — as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at St. Vincent, Bridgeport, Park City, Milford, Norwalk and Greenwich Hospitals.

In the early ’90’s, Dr. Mergenthaler was called to the intensive care unit to operate on fellow Westporter Don Imus. After relatively minor surgery, the doctor rode with the radio personality in an ambulance to New York City.

Imus thought it was all very funny, and mentioned Hank several times on his show in the following week. Hank’s friends called him “The Surgeon to the Stars.”

In the mid-80’s he was given another nickname, “The Sailing Surgeon,” when the Bridgeport Post chronicled his achievements in a feature story.

Hank Mergenthaler, in his sailboat racing days.

Hank’s loved sailboat racing, and competed in regattas around the world.   His list of honors includes winner of the Atlantic Nationals; winner of the Cedar Point Yacht Club Season Series and all 3 Commodore’s Cups; participant in the Regates Royales in Cannes, and commodore of the Mayor’s Cup in New York City. He was honored by the Sportsmen of Westport in 2000.

He continued competitive racing out of Cedar Point until 2017.

In the winter Hank and his family skied at Stratton, where they purchased one of the first slope-side homes.

All 5 Mergenthaler children — Tracy, Heidi, Gretchen, Eric and Karl —  graduated from Staples High School. Dr. Mergenthaler discussed his life in medicine at many career days, and showed a film of himself performing heart surgery to Staples biology classes.

In addition to his wife and children, Hank is survived by 12 grandchildren.

An informal celebration of life for Dr. Francis “Hank” Mergenthaler will be held Sunday, August 11 (5 p.m., Cedar Point Yacht Club). Friends, well-wishers, fellow sailors and former patients are all invited.

Photo Challenge #240

Last week’s Photo Challenge was a bit of a curveball.

The image showed a sign: “No Little League Parking Beyond This Point.” In the background was a brick building, and some steps. (Click here for the photo.)

The field behind Town Hall! most readers responded.

A great guess. But wrong.

This sign can be seen at The Saugatuck Cooperative — the apartment complex on Bridge Street, between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

Michael Calise and Chip Stephens — former Little Leaguers, back in the day — knew that before it was converted to housing, the building was the site of the original Saugatuck Elementary School. Darcy Sledge — who I don’t think played Little League here — also knew the correct answer. (In its earlier, wooden incarnation it was called the Bridge Street School.)

The playground and most athletic fields fell into disuse when Saugatuck El closed, back in the 1980s. But Little League continued to use the small diamond there up until a few years ago, even after the school was re-imagined as apartments.

Fred Cantor — who took the photo — is a longtime sports fan (and former Staples soccer player). Play ball!

Maggie Gomez provides this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Maggie Gomez)

Friday Flashback #153

Lou Nistico is fondly remembered as part of the family that owned the Arrow — the beloved Italian restaurant in Saugatuck (it’s now Mystic Market).

In the mid-1970s though, he was also the concessionaire at Longshore. His daughter Joanne was the bartender.

At the time, Westport was the illustrators’ capital of the world. They worked at home, but socialized often.

A group of cartoonists often played golf, then headed inside for martinis. Joanne calls them a “fun and wild group of talented men.”

One day during lunch, they dashed off this collage for Lou:

Famous names are included: Tony DiPreta (who drew “Joe Palooka”), Bud Jones (“Mr. Abernathy”) and Bob Gustafson (“Tillie the Toiler”).

Dick Wingert’s “Hubert” looks half in the bag, as he raises a glass to “Lou the Great!”

But check out Stan Drake’s “Juliet Jones,” and his/her R-rated comment.

Then look at Curt Swan’s Superman next to Grace — and his wandering eyes.

They make a nice couple. Their cartoon kids would have been gorgeous.

Pic Of The Day #826

Saugatuck Rowing Club sky, last night (Drone photo/Ward French)