Category Archives: Sports

Michael Connors Finds A Career

Michael Connors has had several careers.

Michael Connors

The Staples High School football player did not go to college. Instead, after graduating in 1999 he traded commodities, helped run Juba’s coffee shop, and got involved in skincare. Eleven years ago, he started an excavation constructing firm.

He began selling his own equipment online. Then he sold lamps, and a dining room table. 

The process attracted him. Last May, 2 Westport women offered him a partnership with their consignment shop.

It did not work out. But he loved the space.

Six months later, with construction work slow, his phone rang. The consignment space — on Taylor Place, across from Tiffany — was available.

Which is how Connors became the new owner of a consignment boutique, known simply as Taylor Place.

He enjoys helping people who have no idea what to do with items they own (or have inherited). He loves the challenge of “seeing pieces with character and craftsmanship find new homes.”

And he appreciates the chance to meet interesting people: artists, designers, anyone who wanders in the door. “This is never boring,” Connors says.

His shop is small. So he’s selective about the pieces he chooses — furniture, home decor, lighting, art and accessories — and how he displays them. He uses his walls to display the works of one artist at a time.

As a merchant on Taylor Place, Connors can apply for a permit to use Jesup Green for events. He anticipates a show with a bounce house, antique cars — the sort of stuff that makes Westport fun.

And that can’t fit inside 24 Taylor Place, the newest venture for a man who has finally found his true calling.

 

Jack And Neal: They Got (Every) Game

It’s not easy being a high school athlete. Or fan.

You’ve got the ups and downs of wins and losses (and injuries). There’s the pressure of school, extracurriculars, family and social life.

And — thanks to weather, facilities and a thousand other factors — the game schedule constantly changes.

Jack Sharkey and Neal Soni can’t do anything about Xs, Os, concussions, sprains, rain or snow.

They can, however, make following your favorite team a snap.

And they have. With an app.

Jack Sharkey (left) and Neal Soni show off their CT Sports app.

The Staples High School seniors spent 2 months creating CT Sports. An outgrowth of their Building Web Applications class with teacher Dave Scrofani, it’s simple, clear, and tremendously useful.

Users select any of Connecticut’s 183 high schools, and any of the 27 sports administered by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Fan of Staples sports? Here’s when and where all the spring teams play!

Instantly, you see the schedule, opponent, location, bus time and level (varsity, JV, freshman). The information is up-to-date: As soon as a change is made to the CIAC website, it appears on CT Sports.

You can add events to your personal calendar — along with reminders.

All information is pulled directly from the CIAC site. So why use this one?

“Our interface is much cleaner,” says Neal. “For theirs, you have to choose each parameter separately, each time. On ours you can save features. And it’s much easier to switch schools.”

Visually, it’s appealing too. Neal and Jack added each school’s colors to the site — tedious, but a welcome feature. (They considered using logos. But if they sell ads later, there may be copyright issues. These guys think ahead.)

The potential user base is enormous. But Jack and Neal had no sure way to reach them.

The CIAC helped. They emailed every athletic director in the state, encouraging them to send information about CT Sports to all students, parents, teachers and coaches.

Feedback was immediate — and very positive — Jack says.

A small Google ad at the bottom brings in a few dollars. But the app was not designed as a moneymaker. Neal and Jack hope to use it to build name recognition, for future endeavors.

They’ll create more apps, juggling all their other activities. Jack is president of both the Unified Sports Club and Kool To Be Kind, and is a Top Hat Tutor. Neal is president of Top Hat, and a national taekwando competitor.

Unfortunately, martial arts is not a CIAC sport. But if it becomes one, Neal and Jack will make sure you never miss a meet.

(To download the app, search for “CT Sports: HS Sports Schedules.” Right now, it is available only for iOS devices.)

Two more app functions: Choose one specific sport, or select from every high school in Connecticut.

Staples Lacrosse Sticks Up For Soldiers

James Hazelip does not live in Westport. But the US Army combat veteran — who deployed twice to Iraq — considers this his adopted home town.

He’s seen the kindness, care and generosity of Westporters personally, on visits with 2 non-profits: Sticks for Soldiers and Catch a Lift.

“Sticks” uses lacrosse to raise funds to support wounded vets and their families. Catch a Lift provides gym memberships and home equipment, fitness programs and motivational peer support to post-9/11 combat-wounded military personnel.

Staples lacrosse players wear special pinneys for the “Sticks for Soldiers” game. (Photo/Shelley Burger Sports)

In the past year, Hazelip has been to Westport twice. Both times, he says, “I met amazing people. They really care about and take action for the welfare of our service members and veterans.”

This Saturday (April 21), Hazelip returns the love. He’s the keynote speaker at Staples High School’s 7th annual Sticks for Soldiers event. After the girls’ 4 p.m. game, and before the boys’ 6 p.m. contest, Hazelip will deliver inspiring remarks to the football stadium crowd.

James Hazelip

He’s got quite a story. PTSD nearly cost Hazelip his life. He struggled with substance abuse, gained 100 pounds, and spent more than a month in a coma. Speaking to Westporters is part of his journey to rebuild his life.

That’s not all he’ll do. The Army vet will also address the Wrecker boys team in the locker room before and after their game.

A Navy lieutenant who served on 4 destroyers during her 15-year military career will speak to the Staples girls team too.

Staples lacrosse coaches, and their PAL counterparts, have planned an important afternoon. The ceremony between the boys and girls games includes presentation of the colors, and remarks by Sticks for Soldiers president Jeff Casucci.

The 2016 Sticks for Soldiers lacrosse game at Staples included a speaker and color guard — and this intriguing double image. (Photo/ Shelley Burger Sports)

During halftime of both games, PAL youth teams will play scrimmages.

A suggested minimum donation of $5 raises funds for Sticks for Soldiers. Proceeds from food and drink sales will also benefit the organization.

Whether you’re an avid lax fan or have never seen a game, te sure to “stick” Saturday on your calendar. You’ll welcome James Hazelip back to Westport — and help many other soldiers too.

(To donate to Sticks for Soldiers, click here. For more information on Saturday’s event, email edward.iannone@gmail.com)

Staples Books Its Own Final Four

Earlier this month Villanova, Michigan, Kansas and Loyola held America spellbound, as they battled for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship.

But that was nothing compared to the halls of Staples High School. There, it was a fight to finish for the first-ever title of Favorite Book Ever.

Who would win? Weeks of voting had whittled 64 contenders down to the Final Four: Fahrenheit 451, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just like in San Antonio, the semifinals produced an intriguing mix of old standbys and surprising newcomers. Some top seeds won; others advanced through upsets.

The contest was organized by Mary Katherine Hocking. A few years ago, the English teacher saw a similar idea on Pinterest.

But which books? She found Business Insider’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” — and used the top 64.

Those choices may be less controversial than that used by the NCAA selection committee.

Or more. There are a lot more great books than good Division I men’s basketball teams.

The top 4 seeds were — in order — To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and 1984.

Like the NCAA’s tournament, the rest of the field was all over the map. The Old Man and the Sea, Huck Finn, Night, Hamlet, The Giver, Frankenstein, Catch-22, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple, Anna Karenina, Lord of the Flies — all (and dozens more) had a chance to advance.

Game on!

Hocking sent email blasts to students and staff. She used Twitter and Instagram too. The Staples library’s Twitter feed, the TV show “Good Morning Staples,” the school paper Inklings, and colleague Rebecca Marsick’s Instagram also helped spread the word.

Hocking had no idea who would respond. It was, she admits, a somewhat nerdy concept. But votes poured in.

Each round drew more interest. In addition to regular email updates from Hocking, an enormous bracket in the English hallway stirred plenty of conversation.

“Students seemed really engaged,” she says. “They were eager to find out what was next.”

She expected the Lord of the Rings trilogy to advance far. It’s a popular book (and film) series. But it fell in the Sweet 16 to Fahrenheit 451.

“That was a surprise,” Hocking says. “Far fewer kids have read that one.”

From the first round on, To Kill a Mockingbird was the team to beat. It kept winning, by huge margins.

Favorites, of course, don’t always win.

But Harper Lee’s 58-year-old novel about prejudice and integrity in a small Southern town knocked off the much more recent Harry Potter fantasy.

That set up a highly anticipated championship match, between 2 American classics: Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.

Did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Westport connection propel him to victory? Or, in these days of great focus on racial inequality, did Staples voters go with that dramatic tale?

And the winner is ……………….

………………………………………….

………………………………………….

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

…………………………………………..

To Kill a Mockingbird.

It’s a worthy champion.

But it won’t be back to defend its title next year.

Unlike basketball Final Four, Hocking is looking for 64 entirely new contenders.

Perhaps the best young adult books of all time? Or the best non-fiction works?

Bring it!

The Final 4, on display at Staples High School.

 

Westporter Earns Huge Country Music Honor

Earlier today, “06880” highlighted a recent songwriters’ “boot camp” academy held on Saugatuck Island.

Last night in Las Vegas, a Westport musician made headlines of his own.

Guitarist Brad Tursi — a 1997 Staples High School graduate, best known here for his soccer prowess — and his band Old Dominion was named Vocal Group of the Year, at the 53rd annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

Billboard called it”the biggest upset of the night.” They beat Little Big Town, winners 4 of the past 5 years. Other contenders were Lady Antebellum, Lanco and Midland.

Brad Tursi (right) with fellow Old Dominion members, after being named Vocal Group of the Year. (Photo/New York Daily News)

Old Dominion’s 3rd straight nomination came on the heels of their 2nd album, Happy Endings — nominated for ACM Album of the Year, with Number 1 singles “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Written in the Sand” — and a world tour.

They continue to tour and record this year.

No word on whether the Vocal Group of the Year will make a stop in Westport.

(Hat tip: Jeff Lea)

Oldtime Newcomer: Art, Marketing Still Thrive Here

Westport may no longer be chockablock with illustrators.

And we’re certainly no longer the Marketing Capital of the World.

But artists and marketers still work here. Sometimes, they’re the same person.

You just have to know where to look.

Elliot Gerard is still young. He was raised on the Upper East Side. But he remembers the Westport of “old.”

Elliot Gerard

His grandparents Philip and Lillian Gerard had a summer place here. His uncle and aunt, Darko and Jena Maric, are longtime residents. His parents were married here. Gerard spent plenty of time in Westport, and loved it.

After graduating from Pratt Institute, he worked in design for a gaming company.

He loved the New York Knicks. They loved his freelance artwork about the team. So did players, who reposted it on their personal social media accounts.

ESPN called. Then CBS, Vice Sports, Bleacher Report and Major League Soccer.

A Major League Baseball illustration by Elliot Gerard, for Vice Sports.

Soon, Gerard was creating animations for the Madison Square Garden Jumbotron.

As LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs, Gerard designed a digital magazine cover that perfectly captured the star’s kinetic energy. James used the artwork on his social media.

LeBron James, by Elliot Gerard

“That put me on the map,” Gerard says.

When the Cavs won the NBA title, he was a natural choice to design the team’s enormous mural. It was displayed at their arena.

Elliot Gerard, with his Cleveland Cavaliers’ mural.

That helped land Gerard a job with MKTG. The marketing firm has over 2 dozen offices worldwide. Most are in major cities.

But there’s one in an office park on Greens Farms Road. Over 100 people work there.

As vice president, creative director he works with corporate partners like IBM and AT&T. He’s involved in events like the Super Bowl.

Gerard is well aware of the links between his current job, and Westport’s arts and marketing heritage.

Now he’s a Westporter too. He and his wife Meredith recently moved here, with their young daughter and son.

“I’m a city kid,” Gerard says of his new hometown. “But I played in my uncle and aunt’s backyard. Now my kids play in their own.”

Elliot Gerard’s poster for last summer’s MLS All-Star game.

Fairfield County Hunt Club: Horses — And Much More

A few weeks ago I wrote about Birchwood Country Club. I called the hidden-in-plain sight 80-acre property — just inches from the Norwalk border — “the only private country club in Westport.”

Oops!

At the opposite end of town — just inches from the Fairfield border — lies the Fairfield County Hunt Club. It’s a country club too.

And though their emphasis is on horses, not golf, the Hunt Club shares several similarities with Birchwood. Both clubs have beautiful dining rooms. They offer tennis and swimming. They’re reaching out to younger families, and welcoming kids.

Fairfield County Hunt Club’s inviting dining room.

And they’re both trying to overcome low profiles and outdated stereotypes about who they are, and what they do.

The Hunt Club traces its history back to 1923. Averill Harriman commissioned Laura Gardin Fraser — a famous sculptor living on North Avenue — to design and execute a polo medal.

As part of her research she borrowed mallets, mounted a horse and began knocking a ball around on her estate. Intrigued, other Westporters joined her.

Games grew into the idea of a club — with, in addition to polo, horse shows and hunting.

Polo was played first on the a field on Hulls Farm Road, in Fairfield. Horse shows were held on the Bedford family estate.

The historic logo hangs on a barn door.

The Long Lots Road property was purchased in 1924 by Henry Rudkin, whose family founded Pepperidge Farm.

Interest in horses flourished. But the Depression a few years later made riding seem frivolous.

Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges helped reorganize the club. They introduced sound financial controls, and things were looking up.

A fire on New Year’s Eve in 1937  gutted the clubhouse. With insurance money, the club could have paid all its obligations and closed up shop. Instead, leaders vowed to rebuild.

Then came World War II, and gas rationing. Though membership dropped to 70, the club emerged in good shape.

A swimming pool was added in 1952. Then came 6 tennis courts, a paddle court, and in 1965 an indoor ring for year-round riding.

Through the 1970s the Hunt Club built more tennis and paddle courts, another indoor ring, and other amenities.

In the 1990s a capital improvement program renovated the clubhouse, improved barns, refurbished the baby pool, and added a snack bar and irrigation.

The 40 acres now include 8 tennis courts, 4 paddle courts, 6 barns, 2 outdoor and 2 indoor rings, a casual grill room in addition to the formal dining room — and a 60 foot-by-120 foot skating rink.

Paddle courts (foreground). In the rear is the skating rink.

Notable members over the years have included Martha Stewart, Lucie McKinney, Paul Newman, Ruth Bedford, Frank Deford, Robert Ludlum, and Harry Reasoner — who lived directly across Long Lots Road from the club.

Though not as famous as some members, Emerson Burr was well known in riding circles. He was Fairfield County Hunt Club’s stable manager for over 50 years. A ring is named for him. Burr died in 2001. His portrait hangs in the dining room.

There are now approximately 200 members. One-third are not interested in riding — they join for the pool, tennis and paddle courts, dining, family fun, summer camp, whatever. They come primarily from Westport and Fairfield, with a smattering from other nearby towns.

Things have changed over the years, of course — and not just the facilities. Members used to ride horses on the roads near the club. They no longer do — except occasionally on Godfrey Lane, off nearby Bulkley.

Riding lessons, in the indoor ring.

But key events remain the same. Several horse shows are held each year. The big one is in June. This year’s — the 95th annual — benefits the Equus Foundation. The US Equestrian Federation has designated it a “heritage competition” — one of only 16, out of 2,000 shows a year in the country.

The polo field, as seen from the dining room.

The Hunt Club hosts other fundraisers, along with dances, Halloween and holiday parties, and more.

The riding program is robust. Youngsters start as young as 5 — and members continue to ride through their 70s. A summer academy (ages 6 to 11) teaches riding, as well as horse care.

A young Fairfield County Hunt Club member, and her horse.

The club owns 9 horses; some members own their own.

Polo begins as young as 10 years old.

Monthly horse shows are open to the public. The big one, in June, draws international riders.

Like its counterpart Birchwood, the Fairfield County Hunt Club honors its history — and is moving into the future. New, young members have energized both clubs.

Ride on!

BONUS HUNT CLUB FUN FACTThe Polo Ralph Lauren logo is based on a photograph of Benny Gutierrez — a Polo Hall of Fame inductee — taken on the Fairfield County Hunt Club polo field.

A whimsical part of the Fairfield County Hunt Club parking lot.

Gimme An “S”!

Louis Pinto loved parkour. An obstacle course-based training/sport/martial art that involves running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling, it appeals to independent-minded people who may not be into traditional activities.

When Louis got to Staples High School, he thought about trying out for another sport that involved tumbling and leaping: cheerleading.

Friends told him he’d probably be mocked. He did not go out for the team.

The same thing happened the next year.

Louis Pinto

But as a junior, Louis changed his mind. “I really shouldn’t care what other people said,” he recalls. “I should do what makes me happy.”

The cheerleaders — or cheer team, as it’s also known — had a new coach last fall. Dayne Blackwood competes at the highest level, for the Inferno extreme team. An excellent role model, he encouraged Louis to try out.

Louis — and another junior boy, Odin Bartie — did. Both made the previously all-female squad.

Odin Bartie

At the first practice, junior girls welcomed them to the team. Underclassmen thought it was great to have guys too.

Louis worked hard. He was a good tumbler, but he learned a lot about form.

He’d never lifted weights. Now he was motivated to get stronger. Lifting a partner — and holding her high — is a lot tougher than it looks.

And cheerleading is a lot different than it used to be.

Though the squad cheers at football and basketball games, the real draw is competition. Cheerleaders perform routines to music, with stunts, jumps and tumbling. Points are awarded for difficulty and execution. The sport demands strength, agility, poise under pressure — and true teamwork.

“The first time we didn’t get any points deducted for a fall, we exploded with happiness,” Louis recalls. “It was an amazing feeling.”

Staples finished 2nd in the FCIAC co-ed meet. “We were disappointed, because of the deduction. But I felt so focused and connected with my teammates,” Louis says. “Our coaches went crazy, because our routines were so good.”

The Staples High School cheer team, with their FCIAC runner-up plaque. Front row: (from left): Julieanne McGrath, Jenna Doran, Aliza Dodge, Emily Putman, Daniella Gat;  middle: Lily Kane, Cate Casparius, Harley Bonn; top: Sophia Buitrago (assistant coach),Paige Lundquist, Maddy Crouch, Lili Tucker, Nicole Shapiro, Nevin Gordon, Odin Barten, Sophie Tricarico, Louis Pinto, Dayne Blackwood (coach).

The Westporters placed 2nd in the state competition, and 3rd at the Team of the Year meet. That qualified them for the regional event in New Hampshire. However, because of date conflicts they did not compete.

Louis credits Dayne with pushing him hard — and encouraging him. Now, Louis says, “I do back flips like it’s second nature. I lift people like it’s nothing.”

He credits the entire cheer experience with improving his confidence and self-esteem. “When I started, I was shy. I didn’t want to open up to my teammates. I had pent-up energy, and was anxious.

“Now I’m a better version of me. I look at myself, and see the great qualities I have.”

Staples cheer team assistant coach Sophia Buitrago and head coach Dayne Blackwood. (Photos/Stacey Casparius)

His friends are supportive, and “totally into it.”

Louis does get the occasional questions about a guy cheerleader. And he does hear, “That’s so gay.”

But, he says, “I shrug it off. It’s my life. Their opinions don’t matter. The only thought that matters is what I think.”

He’s thinking about trying out for Xtreme Cheer, a premier program in Norwalk.

He looks forward to Staples tryouts in May. And he has a message for any boy who — like himself 2 years ago — wants to try out for cheer, but hesitates.

“The more guys, the better. We want to be a real co-ed team!”

Meet Westport’s Newest National Hockey Champ

Syracuse’s NCAA basketball tournament run is over. Paschal Chukwu will not win a national title this year.

But Westport is home to someone who did just win a championship. And — like the 7-2 Orange star — this athlete also flies under Westport’s sports radar.

Rebecca Russo is a member of the Metropolitan Riveters. Yesterday the Newark-based team edged the Buffalo Beauts 1-0. The shutout — over the defending champions — earns the Riveters the Isobel Cup.

Which, as the sold-out crowd at the Barnabas Health Hockey House knows, is the National Women’s Hockey League equivalent of the Stanley Cup.

Rebecca Russo

Growing up in Westport, Russo played boys youth hockey in the Mid-Fairfield program until she was 14.

She went to Bedford Middle School, then headed to Berkshire School. The private school just over the Massachusetts border has something Staples does not: 2 on-campus rinks, and a history of sending female players to college programs.

But that wasn’t good enough. She transferred to Shattuck-Saint Mary’s School in Minnesota, one of the top prep hockey programs in the country, for her junior and senior years.

That first year, she won a national championship. Her 2nd season, she led the team in goals.

At Boston University, her D-I team won 3 national titles. She majored in communications, concentrating in media studies. Her goal was — and still is — to become a sports broadcaster.

Russo joined the NWHL last season, and was selected for the All-Star game. At that event in Pittsburgh, she won the Fastest Skater competition.

Now she’s got a league championship.

Rebecca Russo celebrates with the crowd after yesterday’s NWHL championship win. (Photo/Matthew Raney for the New York Times)

Of course, the NWHL is not the NHL. Players need day jobs. Russo — now 23 years old — works for MLB/NHL Network, in media and productions.

And — also unlike the NHL — players don’t get to bring the champion cup to their hometowns.

So you won’t see the Isobel Cup in Westport.

But if you see Rebecca Russo, tell her she made us all proud.

(Hat tip: Russell Sherman)

Toby Burns: Westport’s Al Jazeera Connection

At Staples High School, Toby Burns was a Renaissance Man.

He captained the 2002 baseball team (and the year before, helped them win a state championship). He starred in Players’ “Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Into the Woods.” He sang with Orphenians.

At Harvard he studied Latin and Greek literature, and performed with Hasty Pudding and the Krokodiloes. Burns imagined himself getting a Ph.D., and becoming an academician.

But his artistic impulse was strong. He spent a couple of years after college pursuing Broadway.

Burns missed studying languages though, and headed to the Monterey Institute to learn Arabic.

He also began considering a career in journalism. He calls the field “a combination of what I love. There’s the creative side of telling stories, but it involves a lot of serious research.”

His parents were journalists — his father Eric Burns is a television commentator and author; his mother Dianne Wildman is a producer/reporter/editorialist — but it took a while before Burns realized that all those dinner discussions about current events, and how to cover them with balance, had made an impact.

Toby Burns

He went to Medill School of Journalism, where he focused on international relations, military affairs and diplomacy. He had no formal background in those areas, or even writing. But, Burns says, “I learned a ton about journalism, and how the world operates.”

He landed a job with TheStreet, reporting on oil, energy and cybersecurity. He worked for a production company in Los Angeles, then joined the Hollywood Reporter as a staff writer.

“I did the least sexy stuff there: labor and taxes,” he says.

His friends were in the entertainment world. He was learning about Hollywood from many angles. Still, Burns wanted to use his Arabic skills — and get back into the international arena.

He heard of an opening for assignment editor with Al Jazeera. He interviewed by Skype. They liked him, despite his lack of TV experience.

Which is how Toby Burns is now living and working in Qatar, for one of the largest news organizations in the world.

The learning curve was steep, he admits. For 6 months, he thought he would get fired every day.

He helps run 10 hours of broadcasts a day. He has plenty of resources: Al Jazeera has 80 news bureaus around the globe, and sends teams deep in the field. “This is not like a cable channel that has panels of talking heads,” Burns notes.

“We strive to be a prestige product. We do pure, hard news. We have no sponsors, so we don’t worry about ratings. That’s a real luxury. We just focus on stories with international relevance.”

That’s everything from wars in Syria and Yemen, to Brexit, to secessionist movements like Catalonia, to turmoil in the Trump White House.

To keep up, Burns reads 20 newspapers a day. They include the New York Times, Washington Post, and the leading ones in France, Germany, Russia, South Korea, India, South America — all over the world. He follows the wires for breaking news, and talks with correspondents everywhere.

The day we spoke, he planned coverage for a major water conference in Brazil. It’s a huge issue — and Al Jazeera was sending a crew to quickly shrinking Lake Chad to illustrate it. But it’s not, Burns notes, a story the American press would cover.

The Qatar newsroom mirrors the network’s reach. It’s filled with men and women from the US, Britain, Africa, Asia, and of course the Mideast.

The Al Jazeera newsroom.

It’s extremely exciting — and challenging. “We have to be very sensitive to cultural differences,” Burns explains. “This has reset my objectivity button back to a new level.”

That objectivity means too that a story on foreign meddling in US elections will include Russian voices. “We have to represent the entire globe,” he says.

The biggest story he’s worked on is the Syrian war. “It’s massive. A whole generation has been devastated.” It involves not just Syrians, Americans and Russians, but Turks, Kurds and many other groups.

The geopolitical and military complexities are “staggeringly large,” says Burns. “I’m finally starting to see how to build a comprehensive narrative.”

A scene in central Doha, Qatar.

Each night when Burns leaves the newsroom, his mind races. “There’s a real intellectual high. It’s so stimulating to hear so many different perspectives,” he says.

Plus, of course, “there’s the basic journalistic reward of being first to the story, or getting an angle no one else has.”

Burns knows that the Middle East is “massively misunderstood. There are so many misperceptions and stereotypes in the US.” In Qatar and his travels throughout the region, he’s come to appreciate that “the tapestry of Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions is so much richer than we often appreciate.”

A Christmas tree in the lobby of a Doha luxury hotel. Qatar is more religiously tolerant than many Americans imagine, Toby Burns says.

But Burns gives plenty of credit to his hometown.

“Westport is an incredibly international place,” he says. “There’s a UN Day, with flags. There are wildly diverse people there. At Staples, I saw many different cultures.

“I view this job as an extension of the values I got there. I’m very proud of the international side of the town. I’m honored to have grown up there.”

But although Burns spends much of his time working on geopolitics, the arts — another foundation of his youth in Westport — are never far from his mind.

Soon after arriving in Doha, Burns joined the Qatar Concert Choir. The high-quality group performs classic, contemporary and original music.

Toby Burns is indeed a Renaissance Man.

Spectators watching a military parade, on Qatar National Day.