Category Archives: Sports

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.) 

Unsung Heroes #131

The other day, Saugatuck Rowing Club marketing director Diana Kuen noticed there are a lot of kids in the youth program — but very few teachers.

She figured one reason might be cost.

That’s an easy solve. So now the Riverside Avenue facility — which includes a state-of-the-art fitness center — offers half-price off memberships.

But Kuen did not stop there. She realized there are other town employees to honor too. So the Saugatuck Rowing Club offer is extended to Westport police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.

Best of all: This is not a one-shot, take-advantage-of-the-January-slump kind of deal. It’s good all the time, all year long.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club wins plenty of trophies on the water. Now they’re winners on land too.

Saugatuck Rowing Club (Drone photo/Ward French)

Remembering Sally Deegan

Sally Deegan — for many years the secretary to the principal of Staples High School, and part of a long-time, well known Westport family — died earlier this month. She was 93. Her family writes:

Our mother, Sally J. Deegan, passed away after a valiant battle with old age.

She was born May 28, 1926 in Ridgefield, to Marion Wakeman and Sereno Thorp Jacob. Her dad was a pioneer aviator who flew in The Lafayette Escadrille during World War I.

As a child, Sally battled numerous life-threatening illnesses and missed a lot of school. However, her determination to succeed at everything she did, saw her through. She graduated from Ridgefield High School as class valedictorian.

A child of the Great Depression, after high school she went right to New York City, and was hired as secretary to the president of Faberge Perfumes. Fable has it she was taking dictation while watching a plane crash into the Empire State Building.

In 1946 she married our dad, Donald B. Kellogg. They lived at Compo Beach. Don passed away several years after their 4th child was born, leaving Mom a young widow with 4 kids under the age of 13. She drew on her warrior spirit, doing what she had to to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

Not long after she met the love of her life, William F. Deegan. They married in 1962. He had the courage to take on 4 kids, and survived our teenage years. Bill was a crack golfer so Mom, drawing again upon her tenacious spirit, learned how to play.

Sally Deegan

After summers spent on Fairfield Beach, they pursued their dream of having a home in Vermont. They joined the Woodstock Country Club, where Mom won the club championship and chaired the women’s golf committee.

Before moving to Vermont permanently, Mom was secretary to several principals at Staples High School in Westport. No student wanted to be confronted by her.

She also formed the union for public school staff that provided health insurance benefits. She was brilliant at reading fine print, and learning the ins and outs of the insurance industry, which served her for the rest of her life.

Bill and Mom enjoyed many years in Woodstock. They played lots of golf, and made many friends. Bill passed away in 1997.

Before moving to Naples, Florida in 2001, Mom worked at The Bank of Woodstock, and was a part-time realtor.

Mom loved her hard-earned retirement years in Naples. She enjoyed lots golf, tennis, bridge, and many new friends. She played golf just before her 90th birthday, and had a wicked short game. However, old age crept up. Her final years were spent at Aston Gardens Senior Living, where she made even more friends.

Our mom was a Valkyrie. She had gumption and grit. She was smarter than most, and her intuition never failed her. Saint Peter better have his office in order, because she will see to it that his filing system is in order, and his desk clean.

She is survived by her brother, Merritt W. B. Jacob of Hendersonville, North Carolina; children Sally Kellogg (Bruce Tansey) of Naples, Florida, William Bradley Kellogg of Fairfield, Hope Kellogg Kokas (Dan) of Holderness, New Hampshire, and Donald B. Kellogg, Jr. (Anthony Arguelles) of Providence, Rhode Island, and step-daughter Sharon Deegan.

She will be missed as well by her 5 grandchildren  and 7 great-grandsons. She was Aunt Sally to the Jacob girls, residing in Connecticut and Newport, and their brother. Finally, she will be missed by her beloved cat Casper.

We will be forever grateful to Jessica Anderson for her dedication to Mom’s comfort and care for the past 6 months; the folks at AVOW Hospice, and all the staff at The Inn at Aston Gardens.

Internment will take place in Westport. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to The Humane Society of Naples or The First Tee Naples/Collier.

Remembering Mike DePalmer

Mike DePalmer — a 3-sport athlete in Staples High School’s Class of 1951, and a high school and college coach afterward — died Thursday in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was 86.

Few Westporters remember him. But in a way, he helped change youth sports in America forever.

In the 1970s — after coaching high school and college basketball and football in Florida — DePalmer and a partner established a tennis boarding school in Bradenton.

His partner was Nick Bollettieri. The DePalmer-Bollettieri Tennis Academy helped develop players like Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Mary Pierce.

In doing so, it popularized the notion that top athletes needed specialized schooling: hours of instruction a day, along with specialized fitness training, nutrition and more, while living away from home and attending boarding school.

Mike DePalmer

It’s unclear how long DePalmer was associated with the academy. But Bollettieri sold it to the sports and entertainment company IMG in 1987. The IMG Academy now includes golf, soccer, baseball, volleyball, football and lacrosse. There was a hockey program for a while too.

Thousands of youngsters attend; their parents pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, hoping they’ll be the next [insert name of your favorite athlete here].

Sports were much simpler when DePalmer played football, basketball and baseball at Staples. After 3 years in the Army, he joined the basketball team at Florida State University.

Following his partnership with Bollettieri, DePalmer served as head tennis coach and assistant athletic director at the University of Tennessee.

He was honored by many organizations, including the Sportsmen of Westport.

For Mike DePalmer’s full obituary, click here.

(Hat tip: Ben Sturner)

Pic Of The Day #985

Longshore PAL skating rink, at dusk (Photo/Johanna Rossi)

[UPDATE] Rid Your Yard Of Deer. Eat Well For A Long Time, Too.

[UPDATE] Reader Amy Ancel points out that bow hunting is illegal in Westport. However, it is legal in other towns — with a permit.

Brian Burns is a 1994 graduate of Staples High School, where he starred on a state championship soccer tam. Now living nearly 300 miles north, in Calais, Vermont, he builds furniture and plays bluegrass guitar. He and his wife Dillon have 2 sons, Sarge (14) and Dewey (13).

In his free time, Brian is a bow hunter. Surprisingly, it takes serious effort — and luck — to find deer in northern Vermont. However, when visiting family here, he sees them everywhere. 

So — knowing how much homeowners here hate deer — Brian has an offer. He writes:

I hope to find Fairfield County landowners who will let me bow hunt deer on their property.

I am a very safe, ethical, quiet and responsible hunter. I’ll happily share as much venison with you as you’d like.

Typical deer hunting hours are the 90 minutes surrounding sunrise and sunset.

Bow hunting is a close range pursuit. Most shots are within 20 yards, from an elevated position, so arrow flight is short and very controlled.

Bow hunting

Ideally, properties would be 3 acres or more (the bigger the better!), and have deer on them during daylight hours.

Archery season for private land in Fairfield County starts September 15 and runs through the end of January. I’m able to get down there a few days each year.

Connecticut regulations require landowners to sign a consent form each year. I can supply that for anyone interested.

I hope to get down this January to give it a try. Please contact me (bbrianburns@aol.com) if you are interested.

Thank you so much. Happy holidays!

Staples Football Honors Past, Present

“06880” seldom covers sports. There are way too many leagues, teams and games. Besides, newspaper sports sections, and plenty of websites, already do a good job of this.*

But “0688o” is also about people — and “the story behind the story.” So when the Staples High School football team recently named 2 new awards after legendary adults, my ears perked up.

And when I heard who the first honorees were, I knew this was “06880”-worthy.

The Coach Paul Lane Award goes to a senior who displays “the highest levels of positive energy and an unbreakable positive spirit.”

Lane served as head football coach from 1962 to ’86. His teams won the 1975 FCIAC championship and 2 FCIAC titles, and in 1967 ended Stamford Catholic’s 30-game winning streak. After retiring, Lane coached professionally in Italy and England.

Lane also coached Staples track and girls golf — and won a state crown in both. As in football, he led by quiet example.

The recipient of the Paul Lane Award is Adam Petro. A football player since 3rd grade, and last year’s leading receiver, this year he suffered a career-ending ACL injury during preseason practice.

Gridiron Club president Jim Adrian says that Adam “embraced the reality that sometimes life deals you bad breaks, and unlucky consequences beyond your control.” Yet he always encouraged his teammates from the sideline. He “never let the positive energy or pride for his teammates wane.”

Adam Petro, flanked by Paul Lane and his son Skip.

The Dan DeVito Community Citizenship Award is presented to a senior player who consistently exemplifies commitment to the team over self, has strong character and leadership, and benefits the program, school and community.

DeVito — who had a long career with Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department — helped reestablish Staples’ Gridiron Club in 1994, and served as president and chairman for over 20 years.

He helped create the Wreckers Wall of Fame, chaired the Field of Dreams turf field project, and led a long campaign to install lights at Staples. He has also coached youth football, basketball and baseball.

Dylan Curran received the Dan DeVito Award. Despite disabilities, Dylan was an integral part of the Staples football program. Starting freshman year he was on the sidelines at every practice, every bus ride, every game, every team event.

Adrian said, “Dylan’s passion lifted up his teammates.” He always brought “contagious energy to the team.”

Dylan Curran (right) and Staples High School assistant football coach Garret Lederman.

Both awards were presented at the annual banquet, held earlier this month at Giovanni’s in Darien.

*  And I say this as the head coach of the Staples High School boys soccer program, which really deserves tons of publicity.

Middle School Hearts Dave Parise

Dave Parise — part of a longtime, well-known Westport family — was born with a genetic heart defect.

Obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was not noticeable when he was young. He wrestled, ran, and played football and baseball while growing up.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1976 he helped coach there, and joined the custodial staff. But in his early 40s he went on medication. A defibrillator was implanted. He developed blood pressure problems and a heart murmur. He took 9 medications, twice a day.

This past April, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chemo and radiation exacerbated his heart condition.

In early October, while walking his dog at Southport Beach, David passed out. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital.

Dave Parise, in the hospital.

On October 18 he underwent open-heart surgery. An adverse reaction to his blood thinner kept him in the hospital for 12 days.

Back home, he was in excruciating pain. He had pericarditis — an inflammation near the heart — and then complications from bleeding. He endured a second open-heart surgery, this time in New York.

It’s been a rough year for Dave and his wife Anne.

But the day before Thanksgiving, he got a call from Paul Coppola, assistant principal at Trumbull’s Madison Middle School. David’s been a custodian in that town for the past 5 years.

Students and staff have been uplifted by his friendliness, generosity and vibrant personality. He loves kids, and knows virtually every Madison student well.

The youngsters wanted to know where “Dr. Clean” had been. (His other nicknames: Mr. All-American Red White and Blue, and Dr. Patriot.)

One morning, Coppola called. They were  having a pep rally for him, he told Dave. They were singing songs and cheering — all via FaceTime.

Dave beamed. His spirits soared.

He can’t wait to get back to his school, his staff and his kids, and make his building shine again.

Dave Parise, flanked by his daughter Mary and wife Anne.

(Hat tip: Jack Backiel)

The Year In Pictures: Tyler Hicks/Lynsey Addario Edition

Every year, the New York Times produces an end-of-the-year retrospective: “The Year in Pictures.”

The 2019 project was the most ambitious yet. Last Sunday’s photos were part of a stand-alone special section. It included interviews with the photographers, taking readers behind the scenes (and the lens).

Editors culled through over 500,000 photos. Just 116 made the cut.

Three are from Staples High School graduates. And one — by Tyler Hicks — is the first image shown, for the very first month.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)

The 1988 Staples alum photographed Saleh Raken, a boy of about 10 years old, who was playing near his home in Yemen when a land mine blew off his lower leg.

Hicks explained:

On this assignment, I saw more of the humanitarian impact of the war than I had on any of my previous trips there, particularly in northern Yemen, where I took this photograph of a young boy who had lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion. There were also many other children and adults alike who had lost limbs or who continue to lose limbs every day in Yemen.

In this case, it’s very difficult when you walk into a clinic and a hospital and there are so many people suffering. You ask yourself: Whom should I photograph? You want to document every case, but that would be impossible.

This boy in particular had a very innocent face and reminded me a lot of any kids that I would see in my own community. And yet he was changed for life by something that he’s absolutely not involved in, and so I chose to focus on him and allow this boy to represent, in this case, all of the other children in the clinic.

Oftentimes, it is more effective for a photograph to be specific than it is to try to include a large group. It allows viewers to identify with somebody and interpret that subject and that photograph in their own ways.

Two other photos were taken by 1991 Staples grad Lynsey Addario. A shot from February showed Marine recruits at the beginning of a grueling 54-hour training exercise.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Her second image was of Marieke Vervoort, a Belgian Paralympic athlete with a degenerative spinal disease that caused excruciating pain. This fall, she chose do end her life via euthanasia. Addario’s photos about Vervoort’s life and death appeared in a special Times report earlier this month.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

To see all 116 photos, click here.

Floyd Patterson And Westport’s Kid’s Gloves

If you live in this town long enough, you hear everything.

But it’s taken me my entire life to learn about Westport’s boxing club, Kid Gloves. And one of the men who trained there: Floyd Patterson, heavyweight champion of the world.

The story comes thanks to alert “06880” reader Franklin Mason. A 1960 Staples High School graduate who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, taught college for 10 years and then became a technical writer in Silicon Valley, he emailed me recently with this fascinating tale.

Franklin Mason: 1960 and 2010.

Mason sent news clippings and photos too. There is no hook or angle to this; no upcoming title fight, demolition of the boxing club building or anything else. It’s simply a fascinating tale, about a long-buried part of Westport’s past.

In 1958, a few prominent Westporters started an after-school gym. The focus was on boxing and body-building. (There were also “figure control classes” for ladies.)

Seven years earlier, the group had helped start Westport Little League. Now they were doing something else for boys in town.

Kid Gloves was located in Nash’s Barn, at the head of Nash’s Pond on Kings Highway North. Built before the Revolutionary War, in the early 1940s it had been converted into a theater. Then it was a dance studio, with a hardwood floor.

Nash’s Barn, 1952.

The building no longer exists. It’s been replaced by a handsome private home — the one owned by singer Michael Bolton.

But in 1958 it hummed with activity. Jim Freeman — a boxer in the 1928 Olympics, World War II pilot and boxing referee, manager and promoter — served as Kid Gloves’ director and “heart,” Mason says.

He should know. Though just 16, scrawny and out of shape, his neighbor Virginia Mercier — Kid Gloves’ office manager — hired him as an instructor.

Freeman taught Mason how to teach the boys how to work out — including 14-year-old Westporter Michael Douglas. One day, his father — Kirk — came to visit. He strapped on gloves, and sparred with his son.

The actor knew what he was doing: In 1949 he’d starred in “Champion,” a boxing movie (based on a short story by Weston’s Ring Lardner).

Other young boxers at Kid Gloves included Daniel, Max and Peter Shulman. Their father, Max Shulman, wrote “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” about the Westport Nike missile site. In 1958 it was made into a film starring Paul Newman. Soon he and his wife, Joanne Woodward, moved here.

Westport Town Crier ad, October 16, 1958.

In 1959, Floyd Patterson needed a spot to train for his rematch against Ingemar Johansson — the man who had recently taken the world heavyweight title from him.

He wanted a place with “peace and quiet.” A special, regulation-sized ring was ordered. Patterson’s smaller-than-usual speed bag was sent too.

Patterson arrived with his manager Cus D’Amato, and sparring partner Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson. Jackson spent several nights at Mason’s home.

Floyd Patterson, on the speed bag.

Ed Mitchell’s oldest son, Jack, was a football player at Wesleyan University. That summer, to get in shape for the upcoming season, he ran around the track at the old Staples High School on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School). His younger brother Bill was with him.

D’Amato saw Jack, and asked if he wanted to work out at the gym. He brought the Mitchells across the Post Road. There was Floyd Patterson. They did some pullups and other exercises together.

Patterson asked Mitchell if he’d run on the track with him. “I was never a runner. He wasn’t either,” Mitchell recalls. “But we ran together.”

The brothers were told not to tell anyone that Patterson was there. They kept quiet.

But word got out. When it did, the Westport Town Crier ran this headline: “Boxing Gangsters Invade Westport.”

That was a reference to D’Amato’s alleged association with organized crime. When Patterson saw the headline, he left for another training facility, in Newtown.

Lou Dorsey and Franklin Mason, 1954

Freeman soon left also. But Kid Gloves added staff members. Lou Dorsey — a popular Saugatuck Elementary School phys. ed. instructor — took over as boxing coach. Derek Shelton taught dance to all ages; Edwardo Enrich was a judo instructor for boys and adults.

One of the dance students was Amy Vanderbilt — the famous etiquette expert. One day, waiting for a friend outside the building, Mason honked his horn. She rushed out, and reprimanded him. Sixty years later, he says, he still remembers — and has never done that again.

But Freeman’s departure was crucial. In January of 1960, Kid Gloves was sold. New owner Anthony Iannone of Stratford renamed it “Anthony’s Health Center & Gym.”

By that time Freeman could easily do sit-ups and chin-ups. He was adept on the free rings and trapeze.

Bridgeport Post ad, January 3, 1960.

In June of that year, Floyd Patterson knocked out Ingemar Johansson. For the first time ever, a boxer had regained the world heavyweight title.

Four months later, Anthony’s went out of business.