Category Archives: Staples HS

[OPINION] There Must Be Ways To Prevent Suicide

Alan and Sheri Snedeker lived in Westport for 30 years. He’s an “eclectic creative”; she’s a painter.

They raised 2 sons here. Kirk is a drummer, and builds websites. Mark — who left Staples High School in 1990, when he had enough credits to graduate — committed suicide at 19.

The other day, Alan saw a Tedx Talk. He learned that psychiatrists and psychologists are the only medical professionals who treat a body part that they do not test, look at or scan.

Instead, he says, “they rely on medical companies to create a pill that, hopefully, will work.” Alan is convinced that his son would be alive today if his brain had been scanned.

Alan wants Westport teenagers — and their parents — to see this video. He also sends some thoughts on Mark.

Mark told me one day, “You will never know how bad I feel.”

He attempted suicide the next day…the first time. Police found him, and rushed him to the hospital. I’m sure that a scan of his brain would tell us a lot about his depression.

He was hospitalized in Norwalk Hospital, and given nothing but lithium to help his feeling.

He was mixed with alcoholics and drug addicts, and treated like he was a moron.

After Norwalk, we had Mark on daycare at Silver Hill. He was deeply depressed. One day he went out to take pictures. At Staples, he easily shot excellent photographs. That day, he came back with nothing.

Mark Snedeker was an excellent photographer — and also a talented musician.

He was 19 at Silver Hill — legally, an adult. The psychiatrist he saw could not tell us to search his room for weapons and drugs — and we didn’t think to do it. We did not know that people who attempt suicide often do so more than once.

On the day he died I was raking leaves. I thought to myself that exercise is good for a person in depression.

The day before he died, he acted normal. That should have been a warning sign. We now know that people kill themselves when they are strong enough to do it.

I found his body in his bedroom. I could barely recognize him. He was totally disfigured. He must have suffered terribly before he died. He took hundreds of pills.

My point is 2-fold. Demand brain scans for manic depression and depression. It’s ridiculous that this is not done for mental illness.

And don’t treat a 19-year-old with mental illness as an adult. A psychiatrist should talk to parents, and possibly prevent a suicide.

There have to be better ways to treat people like Mark. The brain must be studied, and people over 18 must be able to talk to those who care.

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.

Blues, Views & Volunteers

Over the past few years, the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival strayed from its local roots.

Crowds poured in from the tri-state region. They heard great music, ate smokin’ barbecue, and their kids played in bouncy houses and on slides.

The only thing lacking was Westporters. For some reason, it was hard to find our neighbors there.

The event — set for August 31 and September 1 , at the Levitt Pavilion and library parking lot — has been reimagined this year. Founder Bob LeRose returns as a producer. He, Westporters Peter Propp  and Crispin Cioe have reached out to local businesses.

They’ve targeted 2 great non-profits — Staples Tuition Grants and Wakeman Town Farm — for a portion of the proceeds.

Though they’ve scrapped the BBQ portion of the event, they’re bringing in top acts like Lawrence, Anders Osborne, Southern Avenue and the Main Squeeze.

“We view the event as Westport’s hometown festival,” Propp says.

This summer, 3 interns helped maintain that hometown feel.

In the spring, Taylor Barr — a 2019 Staples High School graduate who heads to  George Washington University soon — joined the team.

He recruited rising seniors Emily Stone and Emma Vannart. The trio worked on social media, strategy and sponsorship sales. They’re now distributing posters and postcards around town.

From left: Taylor Barr, Emma Vannart and Emily Stone.

Propp calls the interns “an unstoppable force.” They helped bring on West, Earth Animal and Greenwich Medical Spa as new sponsors.

“They analyze problems, crack jokes, are thoughtful and smart,” Propp says. “It’s been really fun to get to know them.”

As Blues & Views draws near, more volunteers (of any age) are needed. There’s work to be done before — and of course during — the festival. For more information on the event, click here. To volunteer, email info@bluesviews.com.

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

Jacob Heimer Is Beautiful. On Broadway.

Jacob Heimer was a Barry Mann fan — even before he knew the songwriter’s name.

Growing up in Westport with eclectic musical tastes — he loved everything before, during and after the Elvis era — Heimer listened to the radio, and rummaged through his dad’s record collection.

“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” — he knew them all.

At Staples High School, Jacob’s band Sally’s Place (named for the popular record shop, owned by the beloved and influential Sally White) covered “I Love How You Love Me” — a 1961 song produced by Phil Spector, co-written by Mann.

Heimer was a talented musician and actor. At 13, he was part of the the Barrington Stage Company’s professional production of “Falsettos.” His Staples Players credits include “Oliver!,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

David Roth, Alice Lipson, James Andrew, Kevin Connors — all were huge influences on Heimer.

“I have ADD. Focusing is not easy,” Heimer says. “In theater, I could direct my energy really positively. Being in the performing arts helped my grades. And I had incredible support from everyone in my life — especially my family and teachers.”

More than a decade ago, Jacob Heimer and Mia Gentile starred in Staples Players’ “Urinetown.” She’s gone on to a Broadway career, in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In “Falsettos,” the youngster told an older cast member that he wanted to be a professional actor. Along the way, Heimer said, he’d probably wait tables.

“Don’t have a backup plan,” the man advised.

After Staples (Class of 2006) and Syracuse University — where he took advantage of the superb Shakespeare Globe program — Heimer searched for work.

His first paid Equity gig was a young audience’s show in Florida. Then he landed an “off-off-off-off Broadway” role in an “odd production about displacement camps, with puppets,” and had a lead in “Gold Star,” an indie movie with Robert Vaughn.

Jacob Heimer and Robert Vaughn.

Cast in a Shakespeare production, he met his wife Iris, a talented actor. (She changed careers, and now works at the Center for Reproductive Rights.)

Five years ago, Heimer auditioned for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It took a while, but he landed ensemble roles — and understudy for Barry Mann — in the first year of the jukebox musical’s national tour.

(Collage courtesy of Staples Players)

Thanks to his early introduction, Heimer knew more about Mann than he knew he knew. But after getting the role he read “Always Magic in the Air,” a book about the talented young songwriters who cranked out hit after hit — for solo artists, girl groups, rock bands, you name it — in the tiny, windowless rooms of Broadway’s Brill Building.

Heimer gained plenty of insights into Mann — including his relationship with Cynthia Weil, and “his own neuroses.”

Heimer calls the show “brilliantly written.” But after the tour ended, he and Iris headed to Italy for a vacation. On the last day — in a beautiful cave city with no cell reception — Heimer got a text from his agent. Could he play Barry Mann again for 2 months — on Broadway?

“It’s icing on the cake,” Heimer says of his current gig. He’s on stage through September 29. Ben Jacoby will resume the role in October, when the show closes after 6 years.

Making his Broadway debut a couple of weeks ago was “exhilarating,” Heimer notes. More than a dozen family members came to opening night.

“This is the most supportive group I’ve ever worked with. I was petrified — even though I knew the role. The cast didn’t know me. But they didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it like the guys before me. They welcomed me in.”

Playing Barry Mann in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a fantastic experience, Heimer adds. “This place was built for intimate music.”

With his long involvement with Barry Mann’s (and Carole King’s) music — even if he didn’t realize it at the beginning — does Heimer have a favorite song in the show?

Jacob Heimer (3rd from left) with the cast of “Beautiful.”

“The lyrics of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ are so sensitive and vulnerable,” the King/Gerry Goffin tune.

“Singing ‘Walking in the Rain’ as a duet with Cynthia Weil is definitely a highlight.

“And ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is such a great song.” Mann wanted to release it himself, Heimer says, but the Animals heard it and made it one of their anthems.

So: Has Heimer ever personally met the man he plays on stage?

Absolutely.

Barry Mann is “alive and well in California. He’s a very sweet guy.” He’s seen “Beautiful” a few times — including the Los Angeles opening, where he met Heimer.

Barry Mann (3rd from right) and Jacob Heimer share a laugh. On left are Sarah Bockel (who played Carole King) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil) on tour.

“He told me something that made me laugh out loud,” the actor says. “I’m keeping it to myself.”

On Broadway.

Unsung Heroes #110

A couple of weeks ago, “06880” put out a call. Earthplace had lost its longtime supplier of food. They needed $14,000 to feed their raptors.

Readers responded immediately. But 2 young people went waaaaay beyond the call of duty.

Sienna DeSantis organized a lemonade stand on the hottest Sunday of the year. She raised $250.

Sienna DeSantis, and her lemonade stand.

Rising Staples High School senior Emma Borys works in the Earthplace Animal Hall. She donated her salary from 2 holidays — July 4th, and this coming Labor Day — to the campaign.

Emma Borys at work.

The ravens, owls, hawks and eagles thank you!

(Hat tip: Sophie Pollmann. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Charlie Drozdyk: “Job Moron”

If you’re a college graduate looking for a job, you know: It’s tough.

In fact, if you’ve ever looked for a job, you know it’s hard.

As Charlie Drozdyk notes, for decades — centuries? — people have said, “This is a really bad time to be looking for work.” No one ever says, “This year, we have tons of jobs!”

But, Charlie adds — quoting a senior VP of programming at MTV — “There’s always jobs. And there’s never jobs.”

Charlie should know. After graduating from Staples High School in 1983, and then the University of Virginia, he’s worked on Broadway as a theater manager; in Hollywood for CBS and William Morris; in New York and San Francisco in advertising and publicity, and in Austin as COO of a software company.

Right now, he works remotely — as a “digital nomad” — in Central America for a Texas-based firm.

Charlie has also written about careers for Rolling Stone magazine. He had a weekly spot talking about jobs on CNN. HarperCollins and Random House published his books on how to get a job.

Charlie Drozdyk and friend.

He’s just published his 3rd. “Job Moron: Idiot-Proof Strategies for Getting Jobs That  Don’t Suck” offers advice to job-seekers from people who have actually gotten jobs, by doing things “differently and creatively.”

But you don’t only want to get a job. You’d like to move up! “Job Moron” has plenty of info on that too. (“You don’t have to show you can just do your job,” Charlie says. “You have to prove you can do the job above yours too.”)

He interviewed young professionals with “great jobs at great companies”: Geffen Records, the X-Games, the Whitney Museum, Chiat/Day, and top finance and software firms.

They talk about how to network (without losing your soul and integrity), land interviews, make cold calls, and create cover letters and resumes that get noticed.

They discuss what to say — and not say — in interviews. And how to write a thank-you letter that works.

Charlie weaves his own story in too. At UVa he majored in the infamous, often-mocked subject of history — and had, he says, “no contacts and no internships.”

It sounds easy. But Charlie warns: No one owes you a job. A job is possible because someone else worked hard at his or her job. They want to know how you can help them make more money.

Anyone in a position to offer you a job will do so only if they believe 2 things:

  1. You’re hungry for a job.
  2. You don’t think you’re owed one.

Charlie is a lively author. He writes plainly, clearly and bluntly. He uses salty language. He gets the reader attention.

After reading “Job Moron,” you’ll be ready to get anyone’s attention too.

And once you’ve got your foot in that job door, Charlie Drozdyk will make sure it never closes on you again.

(Click here for more information on “Job Moron.” “06880” readers can access the first 13 chapters for free.)

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.

The Power Of Courtney Kemp

Never underestimate the power of a strong, smart, committed woman.

In 2013 Courtney A. Kemp — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who went on to Brown University, then earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia — created a visionary television drama.

It was about New York’s “rich and infamous,” and the international drug trade. She called it “Power.”

It was the writer-producer’s first pitch ever. Starz loved it — and bought the series. Kemp was nominated for an Emmy. Ebony Magazine named her to its (naturally) “Power 100.”

Her co-producer was Curtis Jackson — the Grammy Award-winning rapper/actor/director/entrepreneur known as “50 Cent.”

Courtney A. Kemp with her “Power” producer 50 Cent.

The duo know all about power. And next month (August 14, 7 p.m., The TimesCenter, New York) they’ll discuss “Power” at a New York Times Talk.

Topics include the creative origins of the show, and the importance of culturally diverse narratives on our sociopolitical landscape.

Sounds like a very powerful evening.

(Click here for more information and tickets. Hat tip: Mary Condon)

[OPINION] A Players’ Parent Perspective

David and Amy Mandelbaum moved to Westport 14 years ago. This fall their daughter Julia enters her senior year at The Westminster School of the Arts at Rider University, earning a BFA in musical theater. Their son Sam will attend Chapman University, Dodge School of Film, studying screenwriting, TV writing and production.

Both thrived at Staples High School, particularly in the Staples Players drama program. Sam graduated last month, then starred in his final production: the summer show “Back to the ’80s.” When it was over, David reflected on the experience of being a “Players parent.” His letter to fellow parents is worth sharing. He writes:

Having just attended my final show as a Staples Players parent, I’m still processing what this all means. If you will indulge me, I’d like to share a few thoughts that have been percolating. I know many others are going through the same experience, have gone through it before us, or eventually will go through it.

Sam and Julia Mandelbaum.

It’s been an amazing 7 years for Amy and me, starting with Julia’s first ensemble role in “Oklahoma!” and concluding with Sam rocking the stage (in a tubular mullet) one last time. In between there have been countless moments of joy, frustration, pride, anxiety – in short, a microcosm of what it is to be parent.

But seeing our kids grow in so many ways over these past 7 years has been a gift. We have seen them learn to persevere, work hard, sacrifice, collaborate, take direction, deal with and move beyond setbacks and inevitable social conflicts, lead, communicate, create, multitask, plan, manage very full calendars, and of course express themselves with increasing confidence through their art and talents for all the world to see.

It’s been quite a journey seeing that growth, and we attribute much of it to their Players experience and the uniquely special community that Players is.

Too many people to mention have contributed mightily to the organization that is the pride of Westport. David Roth, Kerry Long, Luke Rosenberg, Don Rickenback, Chris Stanger, Rachel MacIsaac, Rhonda Paul and Michele Wrubel, most especially, have lent their great talents and time to create an environment that is nurturing, while also demanding the very best from the kids.

Director David Roth with (from left) Georgia Wright and Sophie Rossman. They’re 2 of the many actors he’s worked with over his Staples career. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because of them, our kids have had the opportunity to be a part of consistently outstanding productions year in and year out. We are further privileged to live in a broader Westport community that fully supports and embraces the arts.

The Players community would not be what it is, however, without the deep involvement of parents who have volunteered a considerable amount of their time and resources, while also being there when needed for rides and generously opening their homes to the kids for cast parties, field days and the like.

Players is so much more than the exceptional product on stage. It is a community of wonderful families and kids who gravitate to it. And we feel blessed to have gotten to know so many of them over the years.

Julia Mandelbaum (center) in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Now the somewhat sad part as we end our journey as Players parents. I know all of our kids will go off to do great things in or outside of the arts. We will be there to support them as best we can through their many successes (and a fair share of inevitable setbacks, from which the most growth ultimately arises). Still, I recognize that we are unlikely to ever replicate the unique experience we have had as Players parents.

Over these past 7 years, the immense pride we have felt has not been limited to just our own kids, but also to their friends, who we have come to love.

Throughout these years we have shared the many joys and frustrations with other Players parents, who have become dear friends. Even if we are fortunate enough to see our kids shine in their next chapters, it won’t quite be the same as the bond of community in which those future experiences occur will not be nearly as strong.

Sam Mandelbaum in “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In other words, it is not seeing our kids and their best friends on stage that we will miss most. But rather, we will miss being part of this incredible Players community that has become so important to and intertwined in our lives.

On that note, Amy and I will soon have to adapt to an entirely new schedule that does not revolve around fall, winter and Black Box shows and one-acts, and Orphenians and choral performances. I know that could open up some fun new possibilities for how we will spend our time. At this point, however, it’s a daunting prospect that we will need to come to grips with in a few short months.

Nonetheless, as I look back on these past 7 wonderful years, I also look forward. I am excited to see what college and life beyond has in store for our two kids and all the other Players grads. We also intend to continue to be supportive of Staples Players, albeit in a different capacity. You may not see us at 4 or 6 (or more) performances per show, but we will absolutely continue to be excited audience members of future Players productions.

So, at the risk of being too presumptuous, even though we are as of today no longer Players parents, we will still forever view ourselves as part of the Players family.