Category Archives: Staples HS

Troop 100 Honors 7 New Eagle Scouts

The phrase “Eagle Scout” has come to mean someone exceptional: straight-arrow, self-reliant and true.

But there is a literal definition too. An Eagle Scout is a Boy Scout who has earned 21 merit badges; secured recommendations from teachers, advisors or community leaders; completed a major service project with a charity organization; demonstrated leadership skills — and had all that confirmed by local and national boards.

This Saturday, January 25 (Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 11 a.m.), 7 members of Troop 100 will receive the honor of Eagle Scout.


From left: Jake McGillion-Moore, Matthew Griffin, Dylan Murray, Max Boyle, Daniel Syomichev, Miguel Gura, Whit Lupoli.

Staples High School senior Max Boyle coordinated the collection of tennis gear to benefit underserved youth through Norwalk Grassroots Tennis.

Staples senior Miguel Gura carved and constructed bird silhouettes for the Earthplace preschool.

Staples senior Jake McGillion-Moore refurbished a playground and created a garden for Bridgeport’s Caroline House.

Staples senior Dylan Murray led a trail creation and restoration project at the Lillian Wadworth Arboretum.

Weston High School junior Matthew Griffin cleared and built a wood chip trail connecting Earthplace and the Wadsworth Arboretum.

Staples senior Daniel Syomichev constructed benches and “caterpillar stacker” at the Earthplace playground renovation.

Fairfield Prep senior Whit Lupoli construted a 60-foot walk for Homes with Hope’s Linxweiler House.

Six of those Scouts worked together since they were 6-year-old Cub Scouts. Congratulations to Westport’s newest Eagle Scouts!

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

Sing Your (A Cappella) Songs!

In 2016, Danielle Merlis created Westport’s first cello camp.

Danielle Merlis

The award-winning musician — who was initially inspired at Long Lots Elementary School, earned first chair honors in the Staples High orchestra, and went on to perform with Chris Brubeck and the Eagles, at venues like Lincoln Center — wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much.

It was an instant success.

Three years ago, she added a summer a cappella camp. It includes vocal technique, beatboxing, ensemble skills and choreography.

Now there’s a winter and spring workshop too.

Starting February 2 and running through April 26 at the United Methodist Church, the camp — for students in grades 4 to 12 — will help them “shake off daily school stress and experience the joy of singing with friends,” Merlis says.

Each week will include a cappella ensemble coaching, beat-boxing masterclasses, vocal improvisation, solo technique and choreography. It ends with a final concert for friends and family.

Typical performances include A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Pentatonix’s “Take Me Home,” “Kendrick/Timberlake’s “True Colors” and One Republic’s “I Did.”

All vocal skill levels and ranges are welcome. Merlis believe that singing should be fun, so she promotes a “supportive, positive, non-competitive” atmosphere.

Sounds good to me!

(For more information on Camp A Cappella, click here.)

Youth Concert Brings China To Westport

Years ago, the Westport Youth Concert began as an opportunity to enrich students’ cultural awareness, through music.

As the school district’s emphasis on global understanding has grown, so has the Youth Concert. It’s evolved into a cross-cultural, collaborative event involving not only music, but Westport Public Schools’ visual arts and world language departments.

Outside organizations like the Westport Library, Westport Public Art Collections and PTA Cultural Arts have signed on as community partners.

A scene from last year’s Youth Concert.

This year’s event exemplifies the music department’s mission. “Music of China” features Staples High School musicians, the award-winning Middle School Percussion Ensemble, and guest artists from the New York Chinese Cultural Center. They’ll perform a lion dance and musical piece using a pipa, guzheng and erhu — with mini-lessons about each instrument.

The feature performance is Tuesday, February 4 (7 p.m., Staples auditorium). On that day, and February 6, in-school educational concerts for 3rd through 6th graders will complement the public concert.

It’s a huge undertaking. Youth Concert planning begins at the start of the school year. Coordinator Candi Innaco creates a classroom guide. It introduces the theme, and includes links to resources and classroom instruction.

Leading up to the event, teachers at Greens Farms, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School had students design China-related art: hanging lanterns, wish kites, brush paintings, Ming Dynasty vases and the like.

Westport student art: Ming Dynasty vases.

All elementary music instructors are teaching the tune and lyrics to “Jasmine Flower.” At the concert, students will sing it from the audience — led by Staples’ Orphenians.

Staples’ world language department is involved too. Mandarin students will emcee the concert, and photos taken by teacher Chris Fray on his recent visit to China will be shown.

WestPAC, meanwhile, is displaying art and photography from China at their traveling pop-up galleries, at every school.

In March, the Westport Library will bring the same guest artists from the New York China Cultural Center, to perform again.

China lion dance, performed by members of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

The public is invited to the free February 4 evening performance. For more information about this event and the Westport music program, click here.

Remembering Sally Deegan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sally Deegan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Mike DePalmer

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

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

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

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

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

Mike DePalmer

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

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

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

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

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

For Mike DePalmer’s full obituary, click here.

(Hat tip: Ben Sturner)

Staples Students: “JSA Changed My Life”

Charlie Effman’s first speech at Junior State of America was a nervous, mumbled mess.

Still, the audience applauded loudly.

Participating in JSA has helped Charlie immensely. Now co-president of Staples’ chapter of the national, non-partisan, student-led organization, he has learned about political debate, government, civic engagement, leadership and activism.

Debating ideas, at a JSA meeting.

He’s grown comfortable speaking in public. Last spring, no one told him he had to give an opening statement at the Northeast Electoral Candidate Forum. He nailed it — on the fly.

Vice president Elana Atlas entered high school convinced that everyone was judging her, and her voice was not welcome. Nervous and quiet, she went to her first JSA meeting.

The day before her first overnight convention, she panicked. But she went — and fell in love with it. Debates, speakers, knowledgeable students, fun — it all drew her in.

Convention by convention, Elana progressed from hesitantly asking questions to confidently leading her group.

“It was a place where I found my people,” she now says. “I realized my opinions were valued, and worth sharing.” In fact, she says, JSA has defined her high school life.

Lending support to a JSA friend.

At meetings, members debate everything from whether the US should get involved in military intervention, to whether or not dinosaurs would have been cool pets. They address complex, serious issues without scaring away newcomers.

“Meetings are safe places where students debate, discuss and learn, without being judged,” Charlie notes. “JSA is the perfect haven for young people to form their political understandings and beliefs.”

Convention speakers come from across the country — and along the entire political spectrum. Topics have ranged from free speech on college campuses to immigration. There are also activism workshops on topics like reproductive rights and gun legislation — again, allowing for a wide variety of opinions.

Charlie has written bills for the Winter Congress, clerked in a mock House of Representatives, run for elective office, and served as a mid- and high-ranking bureaucrat on the regional cabinet.

He’s learned to get endorsements, describe his platform, and win over voters. He’s found out how to talk about important issues with people he disagrees with — and how to take action. He’s discovered the highs and lows of politics, while having fun with friends.

Staples’ JSA contingent last year, at the Washington, DC convention.

Elana — now a convention coordinator for JSA’s entire Northeast State — debates “loudly, proudly, and most importantly, respectfully.” She runs meetings where she reaches out to students who remind her of her own freshman self.

“JSA taught me how to speak, and how to listen,” she says. “It taught me about different viewpoints, and allowed me to refine my own. JSA was life-changing.”

Club members attend 3 overnight conventions a year. The next is in February, in Washington, DC. It’s a great opportunity — but not everyone can afford to go.

JSA has set up a GoFundMe page. They’re already halfway there. To help the next generation of concerned citizens, click here.

Unsung Hero #130

Joseph Pontoriero is a Staples High School freshman. Nearly every day, he passes VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 on Riverside Avenue. His grandfather is a Vietnam War veteran who meets friends every Thursday for lunch and camaraderie.

For Veterans Day, Joseph wanted to see the events VFW had scheduled. He was amazed to find the organization had no website.

Many youngsters would say, “too bad.” Joseph said, “I’ll create one!”

Joseph Pontoriero

VFW officials were happy to have him — and his many years of programming experience. Joseph spent hours designing a custom site. Now he spends hours more maintaining it.

“He exceeds our expectations every time,” says Post 399 quartermaster Phil Delgado.

“Joe is not content to use a drag-and-drop template. He’s dedicated and determined. He writes and customizes everything manually, and helps drive visitors to our website.”

The site includes photos; news about coat and blood drives, support of a medical dog project, holiday parties and more; a calendar with upcoming events; the dining room menu; sign-ups for the e-newsletter — even a biography of the post’s namesake, Pvt. Joseph J. Clinton.

Joseph makes time for the VFW alongside many other activities. He’s been a junior board member of Westport Maker Faire (now Maker Faire Connecticut) for 4 years. As a Westport Library MakerSpace volunteer, he’s helped teach people of all ages how to 3D print. In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf — and the bagpipes.

Veterans of many conflicts are grateful for Joseph’s service to VFW Post 399. Now the rest of Westport can honor this Unsung Hero too. Just click here — vfw399ct.org — and enjoy!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399, on Riverside Avenue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow hunting

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much. Happy holidays!

Staples Football Honors Past, Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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