Category Archives: Staples HS

Liz Fry Conquers Cook Strait

Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It connects the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean, and is near the capital city of Wellington.

It’s beautiful. It teems with dolphins and whales. It’s also got some of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.

There’s no reason you or I would even think of swimming Cook Strait.

But you and I are not Liz Fry.

The 1976 Staples High School graduate is a long distance swimmer.

Liz Fry

Not just any one of that hardy breed, though. Liz has already completed the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming”: the English Channel, California’s Catalina Channel and circumnavigating Manhattan Island.

Twice.

She double-crossed the English Channel (England to France, then back). She’s swum 2 of the Great Lakes, and in Japan.

But — until earlier this month — Liz had never swum Cook Strait.

There were plenty of reasons why, even beyond the danger and distance. Liz is not a professional swimmer. With an undergraduate degree from UConn and a master’s from Fordham, she’s got a thriving career in finance. She works with global markets on tax initiatives.

Fortunately, today’s technology allows her to work remotely. So — even though training and preparing for a long distance swim takes a spectacular amount of time and effort — Liz is able to pursue her passion.

She loves the physical challenge of fighting tides, jellyfish, hunger and pain to get from Point A to Point B (though the route she takes is seldom the shortest).

Liz also loves to travel. She sees new places, meets new people and learns new cultures. “I’m living the dream,” she says.

New Zealand, though, was a dream deferred. Liz first hoped to swim the strait in 2012. But Superstorm Sandy hit, and its aftermath took precedence.

Four years ago, she applied for one of the few Cook Strait slots. High winds and treacherous seas limit the number of attempts.

A ferry plows through Cook Strait.

She was chosen for a final spot this season. It’s fall now Down Under, with air temperature already dropping to the 50s.

Liz’s entourage included her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples grad now living in Seattle who has served as crew chief on previous swims; Peggy’s husband, and Staples ’83 friend Debbie Masso.

In late March they all gathered in Wellington. As 50-mile an hour winds blew — with gusts up to 80 — Liz trained in a nearby pool.

Word came that she might be able to go soon. She adjusted her eating and sleeping schedules. But she would not find out until 7 p.m. Friday that she’d be swimming early the next morning.

Liz was accompanied by a large “mother ship,” and a smaller Zodiac. Peggy was in that boat. She fed her sister, and kept her upbeat.

Liz Fry prepares for her swim.

Liz swam with Nora Toledano — the first Mexican woman to complete 6 of the famed Oceans 7 open water channel swims. Cook Strait would be her last, after the Molokai Channel, English Channel, Catalina Channel, Tsugaru Strait, the Strait of Gibraltar and the most brutal: the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, ice cold and filled with jellyfish .

New Zealand mark Liz’s 6th of the 7 famed swims. Only the North Channel remains.

The pair left from a rocky shoreline near Wellington. Their destination — Arapawa Island, a small spit of land — was 18 miles away as the crow flies.

But Liz and Nora are not crows. Strong currents and gnarly conditions added quite a bit to their route.

The swimmers made good headway. At the 5-hour mark, they were about 5 miles from shore. Liz figured they were 2 hours away.

Liz Fry (farthest from the Zodiac) and Nina Toledano, in action.

But within minutes the water temperature dropped from the 60s to 57. Currents picked up. It took 4 1/2 hours for the women to complete their swim.

The last hour was the toughest swimming Liz has ever done. Normally, she was fed every 45 minutes. But the waters were so strong, it was too difficult to eat.

Still, she felt joyful. “I was working hard,” Liz notes. “I could see the shore coming closer.”

Finally, she and Nora were there. They hauled themselves up a sheer wall. Together, they had conquered Cook Strait.

Liz Fry, at the sheer wall ending point: Perano Head (Marlborough), on South Island.

I’m exhausted just writing this. I can’t fathom what a long distance swim feels like.

Yet Liz knows. “I love it!” she exults. But it’s more than just the satisfaction of overcoming extreme physical and mental challenges.

“I’m fairly introverted,” Liz says. “Swimming has helped me come out of my shell. I’ve met incredible people, and helped others meet their goals. I’ve seen the most beautiful places. And it’s fun!”

What was not fun was the trip back. She arrived home. Her luggage did not.

Which raises the question: If Liz Fry can swim from North Island to South Island, why can’t Air New Zealand put her bags on the right plane?

But — true to form — she is undaunted.

Liz is already looking forward to another “Sound” swim: Westport’s Point to Point, at Compo Beach.

It was one of the first “long distance” ones she did.

She’s “shore” come a long way.

(Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)

Mark Groth’s Amazing “Budy” Story

If you saw “Curtains” last month — or any other Staples Players production over the past 6 decades — you were awed by the acting, dancing, sets and lighting.

But back in the day, Staples Stage and Technical Staff was separate from Players’ actors. SSTS had their own director, officers, traditions — even their own t-shirts.

Mark Groth was a proud SSTS member. He was president in 1968, the culmination of a 3-year career in which he helped construct a set with moving turntables, another that jutted out into the audience, and multimedia projectors for the original show “War and Pieces,” which ended being part of a cultural exchange program with the USSR.

Staples Stage and Technical Staff member Al Frank working backstage, from the 1967 yearbook.

Groth had 2 wonderful mentors at Staples. Both were faculty directors of SSTS.

Steve Gilbert was “brilliant,” Groth says. “He led us places we’d never even thought of. He let us come up with ideas, and do lighting, sound and staging that was way beyond high school.”

When Gilbert was on sabbatical, Don Budy took over. He was a Staples art teacher — his first job after graduating from college in his native Colorado. He was quieter than Gilbert, but equally as talented and inspirational.

Groth learned well. He and fellow SSTS member Steve Katz did all the lighting for the legendary concerts — the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Animals — on the Staples stage.

Don Budy (1967 Staples High School yearbook photo)

Gilbert and Budy’s influences were profound. Groth headed to Rockford College in Illinois — attracted primarily by their state-of-their-art, $12 million theater.

He majored in technical theater (and in New York one Thanksgiving break, did the lights for a Hell’s Angels-sponsored Grateful Dead concert).

Groth spent 3 1/2 years with the Army’s 101st Airborne, and the next 40 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry. Groth videotaped residents’ sessions through a one-way mirror, as part of their training. It was a fascinating career.

Meanwhile, when his son was in high school Groth attended their production of “West Side Story.”

“It was terrible,” he says. He offered to help the director.

For the next 10 years, he volunteered for 20 shows. Then, after he protested the administration’s censorship of one play, he was told the school’s drama program was “going in another direction.”

A month later, Kella Manfredi — whom Groth had worked with 10 years earlier — called. With a master’s in theater education, she was now the theater director at Bear Creek High School in Englewood. Would he be interested in helping?

Sure! So, for the past 10 years, Groth has worked with a high school theater program that sounds like “the Staples Players of Colorado.” They’ve done “Cabaret,” “26 Pebbles” (about the Sandy Hook massacre), and just closed “Be More Chill” (they got the license when it was still off-Broadway).

The great set for Bear Creek High School’s production of “Grease.”

Which brings us back to SSTS.

Thirty years ago, Groth’s grade-school daughter performed in a concert at Cherry Creek High School. As he set up his tripod to videotape, a staff member came over.

They looked at each other.

“Mark Groth?!” the man said.

“Don Budy?!” Groth replied.

They rekindled their friendship. Budy — now a professional sculptor, in addition to working with Cherry Creek — comes to as many of Groth’s shows as he can.

He was there a few days ago, at “Be More Chill.” More than 50 years after they first met, Budy still supports his old student.

Don Budy (left) and Mark Groth, after Bear Creek High School’s “Be More Chill.”

Groth enjoyed his academic job, and loves working with high school students. He started with a professional-type troupe at Staples, and he’s with a similar one now in Colorado.

There’s only one difference. At Bear Creek, his tech crew remains separate from the actors.

“We’re like Ninjas,” Groth says proudly. “I tell them: ‘Be swift. Be silent. Be invisible.'”

And — as Steve Gilbert and Don Budy taught Mark Groth all those years ago: Be great.

 

Single-Stream Glass Recycling: We Can Do Better!

Confused about single-stream recycling? You’re not alone. Since Westport went to this method, there seem to be more questions than answers.

Environmentally conscious Staples High School junior George Nelson sent these thoughts to “06880”:

In the 1970s, recycling became a common American practice. To many, it’s a way of being environmentally friendly. When people recycle they believe they are doing the earth and their community justice. But your recycling may not end up where you think it does.

In fact, the United States is actually going backwards. Across the nation, dozens of communities are completely ending their recycling programs. This results in more garbage buried or burned.

The reason? It has become too expensive for some towns to afford. China — once the US’ #1 customer of recycling waste — no longer accepts used plastics, glass, metal, cardboard and paper, due to high levels of contamination.

This caused recycling prices to skyrocket. In some cities, recycling costs have nearly quadrupled since last year.

In Westport we are lucky enough to continue recycling, though at great expense (up to $65 a ton). Our town produces 3,300 tons of recyclable waste annually. However, not all of that waste is actually recycled.

Single stream recycling

Single-stream means that all recyclables — paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal cans, etc. — go into one bin. This is much easier for residents than separating recyclables into different bins. When Westport changed from separating different types of recycling to single stream, the rate of recycling increased by over 30%.

Although this is the easiest way to recycle, it leads to an abundance of contamination, such as plastic bags and styrofoam being put in recycling bin. Even more problematic is when particles of broken glass end up in paper and cardboard, rendering them useless as recyclables.

Nearly 25% of single-stream recycling goes to the incinerator. That figure can reach 40% for glass recyclables. What is so frustrating is that glass is one of the best recyclable materials. It can be continuously recycled and reused in its original form, through a relatively easy process.

When glass is recycled it is brought to a recycling facility. Once there, it is smashed into tiny pieces and sorted by color by an infrared light.

The glass is then washed. The broken, sorted glass is then shipped to yet another facility, where it is melted down and finally ready to be reused. Most of the glass is remade into other glass products such as bottles or jars. Some recycled glass is used in asphalt for roads, or mixed with beach sand to prevent erosion.

Separating single-stream recycling.

Although it’s most common, single-stream recycling is not the best option for glass. Westporters must make a better effort to recycle glass.

One way is to bring glass-redeemable bottles (beer, soda) to a deposit redemption machine at grocery stores, or a redemption center.

Another is to wash and reuse glass bottles and jars.

If you do continue recycling glass single stream, make sure to clean the glass and place it in the bin in one piece.

NOTE: The Sustainable Westport Advisory Team (formerly the Westport Green Task Force), whose mission is to support Westport’s goal to be a sustainable, thriving community, will promote waste reduction at the Maker Faire April 27. Look for the zero waste stations, and the Sustainable Westport “Maker” table.

Staples Books Its Own March Madness

Last year, as Villanova battled its way through March Madness to the NCAA basketball championship, the Staples High School English department conducted its own bracket.

To Kill a Mockingbird beat out fellow Final 4 contenders Pride and Prejudice, The Diary of Anne Frank and 1984 to win the first-ever Favorite Book Ever tournament.

Mary Katherine Hocking

‘Nova did not repeat as 2019 champs. Nor did Harper Lee’s classic novel.

In the case of the Wildcats, they weren’t good enough. But for the books, they changed the rules.

This year’s contest — organized by teachers Mary Katherine Hocking and Rebecca Marsick, with help from Tausha Bridgeforth and the Staples library staff — was for Best Book to Movie Adaptation.

Thirty-two contenders were chosen. Voting was done online. Large bracket posters near the English department and library kept interest high.

As always, there were surprises. Some classic book/film combinations — like The Godfather — fell early. Others that Hocking expected to be less popular (Twilight, Little Women) battled hard.

The field ranged far and wide, from Romeo and Juliet and Gone With the Wind to Lord of the Flies and Frankenstein.

Hocking’s email updates to students and staff were fun to read. Before the final — after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone crushed The Hunger Games, and The Princess Bride edged The Help — she wrote: “The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Westley versus Weasley, Vizzini versus Voldemort, Humperdinck versus Hermione.”

We’ll let Hocking announce the winner.

She wrote:

The Princess Bride has taken a rogue bludger to the head, losing to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With a final score of 94-49, this year’s House Cup, Quidditch World Cup, Triwizard Cup all go to Harry Potter and Queen JK.

Remember, one can never have enough socks, and one can never have enough books to fill the time.  Please check out any or all of these books from your local library as we head into spring break.

She and Marsick are already planning next year’s contest.

Wahoo!

UConn, Southern CT Soccer Teams Make Sports History At Staples

When the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team plays Southern Connecticut State University on Saturday, April 2o, local history may be made.

It could be the first time a college game — in any sport — has been held in Westport. The match is set for 1 p.m., at Staples High School’s Loeffler Field.

But even if that’s been done before, this is a historic encounter. The 2 teams — UConn, a Division I national powerhouse, and SCSU a storied Division II program — seldom meet.

It’s a significant moment. And it’s at Staples’ famed Hill, because of a very important Westport connection.

The match is a fundraiser for the Dennis Murphy Scholarship. It benefits players on the Southern Connecticut team.

Dennis Murphy

Murphy was one of Staples’ most legendary, competitive and hard-nosed players. He played on the Wreckers’ state championship squads in 1971 and ’72, then headed to Southern. As a captain and, later, assistant coach under Bob Dikranian, Murphy helped lay the groundwork for the Owls’ success.

Murphy spent many years as coach of all age groups, including Westport’s powerhouse Bridge Grille teams, and with the Westport Soccer Association. He died in 2016, after a long battle with cancer.

Southern established a scholarship fund in his name. UConn is happy to help raise funds for the scholarship program — and not just because coach Ray Reid began his career at Southern. Murphy’s brother Kenny (Staples ’76) was a UConn captain. He is now the head coach at Connecticut College, in New London.

The April 20 match is a chance for soccer fans of all ages to watch 2 excellent college teams — on the same field where Murphy and his 3 brothers (including Kenny, Ed ’74 and Kevin ’77) played. Owl and Husky players will be available after the match too, for photos and autographs.

The Staples, SCSU and UConn soccer programs all support this event. Donations will be collected there for the fund. If you can’t be there — or want to contribute now — click here, or send a check to Southern Connecticut State University Foundation, 501 Crescent Street, New Haven, CT 06515. Write “Dennis Murphy Scholarship” on the memo line.

TEAM Westport Essay Winners Shine Diverse Lights On Micro-Aggressions

Chet Ellis is a perceptive observer of Westport, and the world.

He’s also a clear, incisive writer.

Two years ago, he won 1st place in TEAM Westport’s annual essay contest. The topic was “white privilege.” As a sophomore at Staples High School, he described being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

This year — now a Harvard University-bound senior — Chet once again won the $1,000 first prize. Winners were announced at a special ceremony last night.

The topic was “micro-aggressions.” His essay — “The Sound of Silence” — traces his journey in Westport, from “camouflage” in 7th grade to fit in, to an incident on his freshman soccer team that made him examine why he remained silent in the face of micro-aggressions (which actually sound quite macro).

Chet blames himself for not speaking up sooner. If he had, he wonders, who would have stood up with him?

Second place — and $750 — was won by Angela Ji. In “Ripping Off the Bandaid: Microaggressions and How We Address Them,” the Staples senior talks about her experience as a Chinese-American in Westport. She also talks about how we talk — or don’t talk — about these “finger pricks” that really do sting.

Daniel Boccardo won 3rd place (and $500) for “Cactus in a Rainforest.” The Staples senior has spent his life dealing with micro-aggressions based on others’ assumptions that because his parents are Venezuelan, he and his family must fit certain stereotypes.

Olivia Sarno captured honorable mention with her essay, “Deconstructing the Voice in My Head.” Part of the LGBT community, she wrote about the micro-aggressions that come from feeling invisible. There is a “little homophobic voice” in her head — but she realizes it’s not her own.

TEAM Westport is the townwide committee on diversity and inclusion. To read more about them, click here. To read the 4 winning essays, scroll down.

First Place: Chet Ellis

You have two choices being a black person in Westport, Connecticut. You either do your best to be invisible, or you embrace the fact that in every situation you will be the very noticeable splash of color.

By 7thgrade, I decided to hide in plain sight. I covered myself in rags from J. Crew and Vineyard Vines as camouflage, trying to show the people around me that I belonged. My disguise was perfect — or at least I thought it was until one micro-aggression after another reminded me how feeble my disguise really was.

“I’m blacker than you,=” was a revelation white students often stumbled upon after hearing that I had not yet listened to the new Lil Wayne album. While my pigment acted as a tangible disqualifier to their claims, they would continue on to describe me as “the whitest black person they know.” What they were really saying was that I didn’t fit the stereotypes they grew up on. Knowing the underlying sentiment behind their words, I could have confronted them.

Instead, time and time again I stood there, silent.

Anyone who knows me knows I love to argue. I would fervently defend my position on why the snickerdoodles in the cafeteria were better than the sugar cookies, but when asked for my take on affirmative action I would just mumble and change the subject.

Chet Ellis

I thought my silence was saving me, but I eventually came to realize that it only made me more of a magnet for microaggressions. My middle school math class could’ve been confused for a 1950’s comedy club, with everyone vying to tell the most tasteless, insensitive racial joke. I’d say the winner was one of my tablemates who came running into class one day grinning and out of breath. “I got a good one. How long does it take for a black woman to poop?” I held my breath. “Nine months!” he exclaimed, jittery from what he had thought was comedic gold. I simply flashed my teeth in his direction and tugged up on the corners of my mouth to form a plastic smirk. He had offended me to my core, and yet there I was feeling compelled to smile so as not to offend him.

I see now that every microaggression I let side in middle school opened the gates for more aggressive aggressions in high school. On the freshman soccer team, always under the guise of “jokes,” at least monthly something would sting. I remember one game my teammates used to play, “get that minority,” where they would chase and tackle me or the other brown kid. That it was un-politically correct was precisely their point. In their minds they weren’t racists, they were pretending to be racists. But to me, it was so surreal and wildly outdated, I could only imagine passersby thinking we were all performing some sort of grotesque historical reenactment. Of course, at the end of every practice, I’d just smile and say see you tomorrow.

Then, when my team took our photo, a teammate suggested I move to the center. At the time I didn’t get the joke, but apparently, it would be funny if the one black person was in the dead center of the photo. Persuaded by my teammates, I kneeled down and smiled. I hadn’t thought again about the picture until one of my friends came to me, visibly exhausted from laughter, and showed me an edit of the photo on his phone. One of our classmates had photoshopped Klan hoods on every one of my white teammates’ heads and kept me smiling away in the dead center. For a long moment, I forgot that I knew how to breathe. I looked at my friend, who was looking back at me to see if I’d continue to be a good sport. It took me a moment, but once again, I pulled out the old plastic smirk.

But by the time I got home, I knew that I’d had enough. I started researching why it was so hard for me to speak up and discovered a study on the interaction of “token” women in the workplace. In a 1977 research paper entitled “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life,” author and Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Kanter studied the lone women in otherwise all-male workplaces, but her research also seemed to apply to me. Kanter wrote, “If tokens collude, they make themselves psychological hostages of the majority group. For token women, the price of being one of the boys is a willingness to turn, occasionally, against the girls. The token woman, in other words, is required to sell out her own kind.”

These words rang in my head. “Had I sold out my own race in an effort to fit in?” By not speaking out at the microaggressions early and often, was it my fault that I experienced an escalation of egregious racial incidents? If my teammates had not known that I would stay silent and instead defend myself and my race, perhaps they would never have dared flaunt a “joke” so.

I’ve come to realize that racist, sexist, and homophobic ideas are like weeds that need to be yanked out at their inception. As soon as you see them poke through the ground, it is our responsibility to pull up each and every one from the root. Left unaddressed, these toxic ideas and sentiments blossom into vast fields of hate and bigotry. I don’t blame myself for being racially targeted. However, I do blame myself for not speaking out. If I could have found the strength to stand up back in middle school, who knows who would have stood up with me?

Second Place: Angela Ji

Microaggressions are a bit like finger pricks. While they do not leave as large a mess as a sword wound in the form of Jim Crow laws or Japanese internment would, they are enough to make you wince. Some people are more sensitive to finger pricks than others, but we all bandage ourselves up afterwards, ignoring the sting in our thumb.

Professor and author Derald Wing Sue describes microaggressions as everyday slights that target your identity’ as a member of a marginalized group. As a Chinese-American girl who has lived in Fairfield County for her entire life, I am no stranger to them. My first introduction to microaggressions was in elementary school, where a classmate pulled the corners of his eyes back and asked me how I could possibly see if my eyes were so small. I met microaggressions again in middle school when a friend asked me about the Japanese language because “Japanese, Chinese — they’re basically the same thing.” I still get finger pricks from time to time. When someone seems shocked at how American my name is. When someone claims that my gender is the reason I get into STEM programs. When a stranger this past February grabbed my arm, asked me where I’m from, and refused to let go unless I say that I’m from China because “Westport” did not cut it.

I remember these moments clearly, how my emotions — confusion, frustration, disbelief, anger —spilled out as a shaky “…thanks?” “…cool?” I remember how I was at a loss for words, how I smiled awkwardly and just nodded. And while I cannot speak for all marginalized voices, I know that many have experience doing the exact same thing. We feel the pressure to keep quiet and move on to avoid conflict, often internalizing any feelings of invisibility that arise.

There is disagreement among researchers over the physical and psychological toll of constant exposure to microaggressions, but it is hard to deny that daily reminders of your outsider status have lasting effects. Researchers describe them as diminished self-esteem and impaired performance, to name a few. I think of them as the times I wished my hair, eyes, and skin were a different color so that nobody would question my nationality, the times I refused to bring lunch to school after someone laughed at my dumplings in kindergarten, the times I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my heritage.

Angela Ji

But I’d like to talk about the way we talk about microaggressions. Too often, we do not know how to address them, so we refuse to acknowledge their presence, which sends a message that one’s experiences are invalid and creates an even greater gap between groups; this hinders positive discussion of topics like racial issues, gender inequalities, and religious discrimination. Our approach to those on the receiving end of microaggressions should not be “get over it” but rather “what can we do?” Simultaneously, it is futile to condemn someone for inadvertently delivering a microaggression. Nobody will ever accurately gauge the sensitivities of others or make the perfect remark, and every single one of us reading this essay, whether we want to admit it or not, has delivered microaggressions at some point.

Because, microaggressions are a complicated topic; at the barest level, they are intangible expressions arising from societal constructs that straddle the line between offense and ignorance, and they will always exist. The question should not ask how we should eliminate them from our speech, which is both impractical and impossible — how do you control words, thoughts, expressions without turning into an Orwellian dystopia? — but rather how we can react to them and lessen their impact on individuals. We need to be willing to have open discussions; for this multifaceted issue, the responsibility does not depend on one person. All of us, as recipients, initiators, and witnesses must be willing to understand the circumstances surrounding these comments, explain our perspectives, and adapt our speech.

Take the “Where are you from?” incident from February. I described the man as “racist,” but perhaps “misinformed” would have been a more apt description. He grew up when the population of Asians in America was less than 1 percent. And, if he was from the New York area as he said, many of the Asians he came into contact with would have been immigrants rather than the second generation. Perhaps, under friendlier circumstances, I could have explained to him that his question was flawed rather than cut him off completely, or told him why his insistence on a response containing an Asian country did not sit well with me.

And while we should not denounce people before discussing, that does not mean he is not responsible for his words; he, like many others who have also asked me this question, could have corrected himself with, “Where are your ancestors from?” upon realizing that I was not giving the desired answer. Without fully understanding the experiences of others, we need to realize that we are bound to ask wrong questions. It is important that we are willing to adjust our speech and learn through talking to others.

Fostering an open discourse is not just limited to individuals, however. It is crucial that administrators and teachers promote direct exposure in our education to encourage cultural awareness and tolerance in our students so that they are prepared for informed conversations in the future, especially in a school district that is 90% white. We can follow California’s footsteps and advocate for policies that incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive history textbooks into our curriculum. Or we can encourage teachers to hold classwide discussions about racism earlier on in our education — my first one was this past November in AP English Literature, many years too late.

We are far from being a spotless society, and it is going to take a multitude of ideas and trials to lessen the long-lasting impacts of inequality. We’ve ripped off the Bandaid. Now, let’s ease the throbbing in our fingers.

Third Place: Daniel Boccardo

“Where are you from?” For me, that question is complicated. My parents were born and raised in Venezuela; I was born in New York. When asked, I naturally respond with, “‘I’m from New York.” To which the person asking the question looks at my brown face and asks, “But, where are you really from?” I then respond, “Venezuela. ” This usually elicits a strong reation from family members who actually did live in Venezuela. They claim I’m not truly Venezuelan and call me what they think I am, a gringo. So if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure where I’m from.

I’ve lived my whole life not really caring where I’m from, figuring I’m me and who cares where I was born? But today I realize my heritage matters more to society than I thought; we live in an “us vs. them” world. Clearly, I get asked where I’m from so the questioner can figure out whether I’m part of their “us” or their “them.” This is particularly divisive when the leader of the free world publicly espouses that “us” and “them” need to be separated by a wall because “them” are raping and murdering “us.”

The challenges associated with being the child of Venezuelan parents living in NY began early. I attended public school while being raised by parents who knew little English. My mother taught Inc the only language she knew at the time, Spanish. Not knowing English led to many difficulties in school. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me because I was so quiet and didn’t read or speak like the other kids. This led co my parents being called in frequently to meetings which they couldn’t really understand because they only knew a little English. In one of these meetings, my kindergarten teacher asked about my parents’ heritage. When learning that they were Venezuelan and spoke Spanish, she proceeded to ask what dialect they spoke. This suggested that my own teacher knew nothing about Spanish or how to communicate with me, as Spanish doesn’t have dialects. Spanish is Spanish, it doesn’t matter where you go.

From there, I was sent to every special ed, reading and ESOL class imaginable. I was evaluated by various professionals; somehow, my public school diagnosed me as having ADHD with mild autism. They obviously got their “diagnosis” wrong because I had neither of those things; I just didn’t speak English. Not knowing English was treated like a disease needing to be cured. I was beaten over the head with English and forced to redo kindergarten.

Daniel Boccardo

As a high achieving senior in high school, I’m one year older than most of my classmates and I obviously don’t face the same obstacles I faced as a young boy. But there are some things that I have to contend with which others don’t. Being asked questions like, “Do you people celebrate Thanksgiving?” when I’ve lived in the United States my whole life really affects me. It’s not a sharp pain, but a reminder of how I don’t seem to belong. There’s a disconnect between me, my community and the broader society. It sometimes feels as though I’m a cactus grown in a rainforest where cactus don’t belong.

I fut this most deeply just recently when I was in the throes of applying to college. I was handed an article by my guidance counselor about how to fill out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student [Financial] Aid) documents when your parents are illegal aliens. A person in a position of influence and authority in my high school just assumed my parents were illegal immigrants, criminals. The new Al Qaeda to many Americans. I’m not illegal, and neither are my parents, and today, we speak Spanish and English equally well.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in my struggles. There are countless Hispanics with parents who were born and raised in different countries who sometimes feel as though they are the enemy and have no place in America. These feelings stem from microaggressions perpetrated by people who didn’t necessarily have terrible intentions. I believe that most people have their heart in the right place and their messages come from a place of misunderstanding rather than intentional hate.

In our town, there are many things we can do to combat this misunderstanding, starting with parenting. Children aren’t born with a particular view of other people and have no sense of what makes us different. Learning tolerance, empathy and love for all people is crucial. Parents also need to instill a sense of community, reminding children that no matter their skin color or looks, we are all just people who want to make the best of ourselves and our community.

Educators can also help by teaching children to look for similarities and rather than differences. Tear down walls, rather than try to bully Mexico into paying for one. Look at people as not black, white or brown but instead as part of “us.” They need to be particularly attentive to my first generation brothers and sisters and my ESOL cousins. For they are as much a part of “us” as Westporters are to each other.

The words of government officials in office may not change, but the voices of our new generation can. Young and progressive voices like that of State Senator Will Haskell need to demonstrate that there is a place in America for everybody. Their words, actions and policies, messages of inclusion, fairness and empathy could be seen and heard through all the news media of today. This will, over time, help to build a stronger sense of belonging in Westport where we can look beyond skin color, accents and clothing and merely see each other as fellow Westporters — members of a community that hopefully can be an example of what America is at its best.

Honorable Mention: Olivia Sarno

We live in a society that trains us to be heterosexual in every way possible — from advertisements and billboards, to movies and children’s books. Each person is given an invisible manual at birth that says “this is who you are allowed to be.” The rules in this manual do not lie only in the immense heteronormativity woven into our world, but in the micro-aggressions surrounding us on a daily basis.

Internalized homophobia has always been a voice in my head, warning me that a compliment to a female friend might make me look predatory or that I should dress in the most feminine clothing possible. However, it took me until I was past opening up about my sexuality to recognize not only that these voices in my head existed, but how wrong they were and where they stemmed from.

After coming out to friends and family, they had almost all been extremely supportive, even if it took time to adjust. All of my crippling fears, fears that every LGBT person has before coming out– that my friends would leave me, that I would have to sit alone at lunch, or that  my family wouldn’t love me — turned out to be irrational. So what did I have to be ashamed of?

I saw all of this support laid out in front of me, reassuring me that my future would be okay, yet still felt my insides chum every time I uttered the words, “I’m gay,” or “I like girls,” as if someone was watching me disobey this all-telling manual. That’s the thing about shame — it isn’t a switch you can flip after you realize everyone is actually on your side. Instead, it accumulates over time, and like hatred, it is ingrained and acquired. The problem is, when I try pinpointing a singular moment where all of this shame started, I can’t; for it was not the result of one horrific event, but rather a build-up of the micro-aggressions I’d heard throughout my entire life.

Olivia Sarno

Maybe it’s the subtlety of micro-aggressions that make them so impactful – like the hopeful, “do you think you’ll ever like men?” questions I’ve received from friends, genuinely thinking they were being helpful. Then again, not all micro-aggressions are so subtle; and the worst that I’ve heard come from the time before I came out, where I could hide behind the safety of the fact that straightness was the default assumption of me. For example, I know the girl from my bunk at camp would never have said she would commit suicide if she “woke up to one day be a lesbian,” had she known that I was gay. I know a friend in eighth grade would not have accused a “tomboy” of creepily watching her change for gym, if she knew this either. I know my health teacher in middle school wouldn’t have brushed off the “how do lesbians have sex?” question as inappropriate had she considered how that would make LGBT students feel. But since these moments are fragments of a broad, collective issue, these people did not understand the significance behind their words; and I understand this.

There are times when I, too, have said harmful, unintentional words, glued to the pedestal of my own white privilege — but these are times I can only vaguely remember. This is the very problem with micro-aggressions — they are not universally detrimental, only harming the marginalized groups they target, while the person delivering the micro-aggression will probably forget what they said at all. Most often, micro-aggressions are inadvertent, and although their impact cannot be erased with a simple “I’m sorry,” we need to learn to be conscious of our actions and unafraid to apologize, even if that doesn’t solve the entire issue.

However, it is also undeniable that aside from curiosity or a casual slip of the tongue, there are occasions where micro-aggressions are intentionally hateful, not driven by ignorance, but by judgment or prejudice. For example, I know the boys I heard calling each other “fag” in the hallway know better; I know my straight classmate who jests she is a “dyke” because she wears sports logowear knows better, and I know the girl who said she would kill herself if she were gay knew better. The issue here is not an innocent lapse in judgment that we are all guilty of at some point or another, but the fact that we are not educated on LGBT issues in school, at home, or by media.

In elementary school we studied Keith Haring, but didn’t learn about his pieces protesting AIDS. In middle school we spent months covering protests and movements, but never once touched on the Stonewall Rebellion. In Spanish class, when we read works by Federico Garcia Lorca we don’t talk about his queerness during a time of fascism. A rich, beautiful history is lying between the lines of our own textbooks, our own papers, yet homosexuality is never embraced or even represented. Perhaps our curriculum is micro-aggressive in itself, full of minute notions and nuances telling us to silence the parts of ourselves society finds taboo.

Education is one of the few institutions that has the power expose children to diverse perspectives. We can’t let school be another rule maker in the manual of who we are allowed to be.

Today at 16 I am proud of who I am, but there are times I still feel ashamed. I have come to realize that this little homophobic voice in my head is not my own– but the echo of countless times I have heard my identity be associated with something dirty, strange or abnormal. As a society, we need to fight back against microaggressions, whether this means confronting friends about the language they use, being aware of our own language, or making sure all stories are told. Until we learn to stop forcing certain identities into shadows and embrace our differences, even if we are uncomfortable talking about them, the world is not going to change.

Soccer Players Give Bridgeport The Boot

Some Westport teenagers do community service far from home. They build toilets in Honduras, or schools in Africa.

Some do what they can much closer to home.

Thanks to Staples High School boys soccer reserve (junior varsity) coaches Russell Oost-Lievense and Reilly Lynch, 10 varsity and reserve Wreckers are spending the spring working with younger boys and girls just a few miles away in Bridgeport.

This is the 3rd year that Russell — himself a former Staples captain, now a special education teacher — has worked with Brighter Lives for Kids. The non-profit runs in-school and after-school programs for underserved youngsters.

He organizes the soccer component. Last year, 8 Staples players volunteered at the Cesar Batalla School. Twice a week for 8 weeks, they helped 60 boys and girls learn to play and love soccer. They also mentor the kids.

From left: Ana Simunovic, Sam Liles, Vig Kareddy, Callum Wisher, Russell Oost-Lievense and Brendan Lynch, with their eager young players in Bridgeport.

This spring, Russell has expanded the program. It’s now twice a week for 10 weeks, and involves 80 children.

One of the driving forces — last year and this — is current junior Carter Bassler.

He enlisted teammates Emerson Anvari, Surya Balaji, Colin Corneck, Josh DeDomenico, Sam Liles, Brendan Lynch, Patricio Perez Elorza, Enzo Valadares and Callum Wisher. Former player Vignesh Kareddy also participates.

It’s a fantastic, important program. 100% of Cesar Batalla students qualify for state-provided breakfast and lunch by the school, because they fall into the highest bracket of poverty. They have little access to sports, beyond this program.

Of course, it takes money — for equipment, transportation and more. Click here for a GoFundMe page.

In addition, soccer shoes and shin guards can be donated in Westport. A box is set up at the front door of 40 Sturges Commons (with security camera), between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Westport teenagers do plenty of good things, when no one is watching. Whether it’s halfway around the globe, or just up the road.

National Honors For VFW Building

As a Staples High School junior, Dylan Mace went the extra mile. Or three.

Appalled that Westport’s VFW Post 399 lacked a handicap-accesssible bathroom, he singlehandedly raised almost $8,000. An architect, electrician, contractor and tile guy jumped in. Businesses offered discounts on supplies.

They were joined by Scott Rochlin, who set up a foundation to help veterans and their families after his son Charley — a decorated Marine — died in an automobile accident.

But Dylan wanted his project to be extra-special for veterans. He created special tiles, with the emblems of the 5 US military branches.

Dylan loved working — and hanging — with the VFW crew so much, that he vowed to do even more. The new bathroom looked great, he thought — so why not spruce up the rest of the building too?

He enlisted 12 fellow National Honor Society members to help paint. They other day they grabbed brushes and rollers, and got to work.

Staples High School National Honor Society members (from left) Sophie McCabe, Molly Fording, Kate Miller and Dylan Mace paint the VFW interior.

The Riverside Avenue building now looks great. Dylan wants to get the word out, to make sure everyone in Westport knows about it. You don’t have to be a veteran to go!

Community service is not all that Dylan does. He made 2nd team All-State and All-FCIAC for the Staples ice hockey team — and was the Wreckers’ MVP.

“06880” — and the VFW, and the rest of Westport — salute Dylan, and Staples’ National Honor Society.

Mark Noonan: Ghana’s Head Phobian Returns

A lifetime of playing and working in the sports world taught Mark Noonan to embrace every new challenge, and work hard to achieve each new goal.

He’s got quite a resume. In 1981 and ’82, he helped lead the Staples High School soccer team to a pair of undefeated seasons and state championships. In 1986, he was a key part of Duke University’s national soccer title — the first for the school in any sport.

Noonan served as director of integrated marketing for Gatorade, chief marketing officer for US Soccer, executive vice president of Major League Soccer, and chief commercial officer for the World Surf League.

Last year, Noonan took on a new title: CEO of Accra’s Hearts of Oak. With 10 million fans — 1/3 of Ghana’s entire population — and a history dating back to 1911, they’re one of Africa’s top teams.

Mark Noonan, with Hearts of Oak players and staff.

Ghana is one of the top producers of soccer talent in the world. Noonan believes they can win a World Cup, if properly developed and supported.

But, like many African clubs, Hearts of Oak were not getting top dollars in transfer fees for their players. Their youth academies and training facilities were not on the level of European and South American clubs. Shady agents and managers poached players long before they were physically, mentally or emotionally ready to leave the country and their families.

Noonan was hired to help remedy that.

He also had a vision: for Hearts to make a difference in the lives of its players and supporters, making them proud and happy in the face of challenging circumstances.

He and his wife Katie — an accomplished musician — headed overseas. They were excited by Ghana’s unique culture, tropical climate and thriving highlife music scene.

Katie Noonan (left) and friend at a Ghana market.

Growing up in Westport helped prepare Noonan for the move. As a community that “valued diversity, creativity and had a real soccer culture,” he felt prepared to understand and respect his very different new home.

But nothing prepared him for the big egos and massive corruption he found. Or the entrenched ways of doing things, unlike anything he’d ever seen in the sports or business world.

Just a week after he arrived, the government shut down Hearts’ 40,000-seat stadium, for renovations. There had been no warning, or planning.

Noonan scrambled to find alternatives. The Phobians — that’s the team’s nickname, a legacy of the fear they were said to inspire in opponents’ hearts — played 7 “home” games in facilities up to 3 hours away.

Mark Noonan, with Phobian supporters.

But that was minor, compared to a corruption scandal that rocked Ghanaian soccer. An investigation showed dozens of people, from top administrators and team executives to referees, accepting bribes.

The president of Ghana dismantled the country’s Football Association. Its head was banned by FIFA for life. All professional matches were canceled.

Then one of the key journalists who produced the undercover documentary was shot dead. (Noonan stresses that gun violence in Ghana is very rare, compared to the US. He, his wife and daughters always felt very safe.)

It’s been 9 months since the league was shut down. To keep the team going, Noonan arranged friendly matches.

He also sold players. He is proud that — unlike nearly every other club — Hearts never missed a payroll. Nearly 100 people rely on Hearts for their livelihoods.

Hearts of Oak players and coaches at training.

Noonan is proud of bringing “stability, credibility, transparency and professional management” to the club. He revamped the technical department, re-branded the club, engaged supporters, brought Umbro in as a world-class supplier, moved the team to a new training facility, and began to build a youth academy.

He learned a lot about a different part of the world. Accra is a city of 8 million people, with 5-star hotels sitting not far from third-world infrastructure.

“Living in a developing country is hard,” Noonan admits. “I had a nice apartment, a car, a driver, a chef and housekeeping — and still it was not easy.

“Travel was difficult. The roads are bad. There’s a lot of pollution.”

For the first time, Noonan experienced life as a minority. He went days without seeing another white person.

Mark and Katie Noonan, with Phobian supporters.

He says that while he was respected for his credentials, and his work to help change lives, there was an undercurrent that a white person (“obroni,” in local lingo) could not understand Ghana’s culture.

English is the national language. But whenever people did not want Noonan to know something, they switched into a local dialect.

Yet Noonan is grateful for the “amazing” experience. Africa is a place of stunning beauty. He calls the mountains, plains and beaches “breathtaking.”

Ghanaians truly like Americans, Noonan says. Many have relatives in the US, or want to come here. He was often stunned by gifts of homemade clothes, or invitations into homes. He will never forget those kindnesses.

Praise for Mark Noonan, on social media (from Obama!).

“I’ve never been in a job before that could change people’s lives,” he says. He points with pride to What’sApp messages he continues to receive. “Father, we miss you,” his players and club supporters say.

They miss him because, this month — facing so much greed, corruption, and the continued lack of a league — Noonan reluctantly returned to the US. He’s still advising Hearts of Oak. But he’s reopening Focal Sport — the consulting business through which he once worked with MLS, the British Open, the US Tennis Open and the international basketball association FIBA, and helped negotiate Citi Field naming rights — and is looking for more opportunities.

In other words: Mark Noonan is once again setting up new goals.

Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page Return To Westport For Levitt Fundraiser

Back in the day, Jimmy Page played at Staples High School. He had just replaced Eric Clapton, when the Yardbirds made their first-ever American appearance in Westport.

Clapton made it to the Staples stage a few months later, playing with Cream. It was one more in the now-legendary late-1960s series of concerts here in town.

Both musicians — now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — are still touring. And they’ll be the latest in the list of special artists (including Willie Nelson, Roberta Flack, John Fogerty and many more) who have played at the Levitt Pavilion’s annual fundraiser. This year’s concert is set for Sunday, June 30.

The Clapton and Page concert — called “Cream of the Yardbirds” — came about because of another collaboration.

Dick Sandhaus and Paul Gambaccini were Staples students who managed to book fantastic acts (also including the Doors and Rascals) for the Staples stage.

Both have gone on to noted careers. Sandhaus produced much larger concerts, and now works in the fields of technology and marketing. Gambaccini became one of England’s most famous music critics and personalities.

Several months ago, they reminisced about their teenage concert-promoting days. Both regretted never seeing Clapton and Page play together at Staples. With their connections, they realized, they could make it happen — over 50 years later.

Now they have.

Tickets are not yet on sale. To be placed on an email list for notification when they do, click here.