Category Archives: Staples HS

Staples Grads Still Get Their Kicks

Old Staples soccer stars don’t hang up their cleats. They just keep kickin’.

So do Westporters who love the game, but never played for their high school.

At Gillette Stadium on Saturday, 5 20-something grads — former Wreckers Ben Root, Megan Root and Jessie Ambrose, along with Mike Ljungberg and Nick Yu — led their team to the championship of the America Scores Boston tournament.

The 40-team event raised $350,000 for America Scores Boston. The organization supports 1,400 children with an after-school program that combines reading, poetry, community and service.

The winners!

50 Years Ago, Staples’ Computer Made A Memorable Match

In the 1960s, Staples High School was in the forefront of social change.

Students could take “Experimental English.” On an open campus, they came and went as they pleased. Bands like the Doors, Cream and Yardbirds played in the auditorium.

Staples was also one of the first schools anywhere to hold a “Computer Dance.” After teenagers answered 50 questions, an “electronic computer” matched them with their “perfect” partners.

Staples may also be the first place where a “Computer Dance” actually led to a marriage.

This weekend, Collin and Sherida Stewart enjoyed their 50th high school reunion. In June, they celebrated their 46th anniversary.

None of it would have been possible without that new-fangled computer.

And the desperate financial straits of the Staples Student Organization.

The “Computer Dance” was page 1 news in the Staples High School newspaper “Inklings.” Student government president Paul Gambaccini is shown supposedly filling out the match questionnaire.

Back in the spring of 1966, the student government needed money. SSO card sales were low; gate receipts from football and basketball games were “bitterly disappointing,” said the school paper Inklings.

What better fundraiser  than a “computer dance”?

Students replied to questions about their own looks, intelligence, activities, cars, favorite school subjects, TV-watching habits, movies, and time spent on the phone. Then they answered the same questions about their ideal match.

Part of “ideal partner” questionnaire. Even though a computer did the matching, students answered the questions by hand.

Sherida Bowlin was a relative newcomer to Westport. She entered Long Lots Junior High School in 9th grade, when her dad’s employer transferred him from Kansas to New York.

Collin Stewart was even newer to town. Amoco moved his father from Houston to New York in the winter of 1966 — the middle of 11th grade.

In fact, he was not yet at Staples when he filled out the computer questionnaire. His dad — already here — heard about the dance from a new acquaintance at the United Methodist Church.

Realizing it was a great way for his son to meet people, he called Collin. Together on a long-distance call, they filled out the questionnaire.

The 2 juniors did not know each other. But they were matched together at the dance — despite a computer glitch that rendered the boy’s name as “Stewart Collin.”

Collin Stewart and Sherida Bowlin at the junior prom.

They shared “maybe 1 or 2 dances,” Sherida recalls. Neither remembers if there was a live band, or records.

Their friendship grew quickly — though more at their shared Methodist Church than Staples.

Their 1st real date was the junior prom.

Soon they were going steady. They continued all through the next year. By senior prom, they were a well-established couple.

Within days after graduation however, both families moved. Sherida’s went to the West Coast; Collin’s to London.

But they’d figured out a way to stay together. Collin was going to the Colorado School of Mines. His father and uncle both graduated from there — and he wanted to major in geological engineering.

Sherida headed to the University of Colorado — just 20 miles away.

In June 1971 they got married in Lebo, Kansas — her grandparents’ hometown.

Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, on their wedding day.

Collin’s job as a mining engineer took them all over the West. They lived in Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada. They love the outdoor lifestyle.

They’re now in Farmington, New Mexico, in the heart of the gorgeous Four Corners. They have 2 sons, and 3 grandchildren.

“We remain each other’s best friends,” Sherida says.

Collin earned a master’s degree before their kids were born. After he retired, he went back to Colorado School of Mines for a Ph.D. As of last December, he is Dr. Stewart.

Sherida taught 1st and 3rd grades, then preschool working with special needs children. Now she’s turned to inspirational romance writing. She’s won a few contests. (With her 50-year relationship, she knows a bit about romance.)

Sherida and Collin Stewart, in a recent selfie.

Collin came back to Westport just once, a couple of years after graduating. Until this weekend, Sherida had never been back.

Both looked forward to returning here. After all, had it not been for that “electronic computer,” the previous half-century of their lives might have turned out very, very differently.

Take that, Tinder!

(Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Passing The Olympic Torch To Bill Krumm

When Kevin Strong was a Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmer, coach Bill Krumm asked him to mentor a new team member. Both boys were 11 years old.

They forged a great friendship. Strong — a very talented swimmer — quickly brought his teammate to the Water Rats’ high athletic and personal standards.

Both swam at high level college programs. They were in each other’s weddings. Today, Strong — a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate, now a pediatrician in northern Maine — calls Krumm’s request to help another boy “an opportunity I’ll never forget.”

Three years later, the Westport Y selected Strong as its representative to run with the Olympic torch on a 1/2-mile Fairfield County leg, from the East Coast to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He was chosen not only for his swim team accomplishments, but because of the way he lived the Y’s values.

Strong’s run came at night, in the pouring rain. The electric torch was lit. More than 3 decades later, he recalls how thrilling it all was.

Runners kept their torches. Each was also given a gorgeous mahogany case, inscribed with their name and date of the run.

For years, Strong kept his in the basement.

Bill Krumm

He told both stories last week at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, to an audience of 200 Water Rat alumni, Y friends and admirers of Krumm. They came from as far as Singapore to honor his memory. The longtime coach died suddenly in March, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

“Bill was a great technical coach,” Strong recalls. “But he was just as talented in helping kids get through that awkward 9- to 14-year-old stage.”

So — at the end of his 5-minute eulogy — Strong tied his 2 stories together. In a surprise, stunning move, he lifted up the Olympic torch he’d brought from Maine — and announced he was donating it to the Westport Y.

Then he asked everyone who knew Krumm to help choose an appropriate inscription.

Kevin Strong with his Olympic torch, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Strong is not sure where the gift will be displayed. He hopes it’s somewhere near the trophy case, at the pool.

But he knows what it will do.

“I want that torch to inspire some 8-year-old kid to be the best swimmer and person he can be — just the way Bill inspired me, and helped me grow,” Strong says.

“I learned so much from him. Now I can give back to others, just like he did.”

Besides, he says, “That Olympic torch does a lot more good at the Westport Y than sitting in my basement.”

Justin Miller: Master Of Harmony

Justin Miller has a storied career as a music director. The 2001 Staples High School graduate — and noted Orphenian — graduated with degrees in music education (vocal) and performance (conducting) from Chapman University. In his 1st job, he led the Westminster Chorus to a Choir of the World championship in 2010.

In 2010 he succeeded his own teacher, Alice Lipson, as choral director at Staples. Simultaneously, he directed the Big Apple Chorus. He left both in 2012.

Justin Miller

Miller’s roots were always in barbershop. His father, John Miller, won 2 international championships, singing with Grandma’s Boys in 1979, and New Tradition in ’85.

Justin attended his 1st Barbershop Harmony Society convention at the age of 2 (with his dad, duh).

At 18, Miller joined the Masters of Harmony. As a singer, he won gold medals at BHS international competitions, in 2002, ’05 and ’08.

Now Miller — whose full-time gig is director of choral music at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California — is back with the Masters of Harmony.

Not as a singer. In 2012 he was named chorus director.

Two years later he led them to a 2nd-place finish at the international convention in Las Vegas.

This year, Miller’s men — 140 strong — won it all. Click the video below, and you’ll see why.

In another great testimony to the barbershop world, Justin’s father traveled back and forth between Connecticut and California so he could sing with Masters of Harmony, under his son’s tutelage.

In an emotional coda to the competition, Justin was able to hand a gold medal to his father and fellow international barbershop champion, John Miller.

The entire chorus erupted in — not song, but applause.

Justin Miller gives his gold medal to his father, John. And the barbershop crowd goes wild.

End Of An Era: Safe Rides Shuts Down

SafeRides has saved its last life.

The program — which ran Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., providing free, confidential transportation home to any high school student in Westport — will not reopen in September.

Directors cite 2 reasons: lack of volunteers, and Uber.

SafeRides began in May, 2009. It was the inspiration of Staples High School senior Alex Dulin — a 1-girl tornado who had recently moved here from suburban Seattle. Just 5 months later, she received the 2009 Youth Leadership Award from the Connecticut Youth Services Association.

For nearly a decade, SafeRides thrived. A board of directors — all high school students — organized volunteer drivers. It was a lot of responsibility, with plenty of training.

SafeRides volunteers, waiting for calls.

But it was fun too. Working in a room donated by Christ & Holy Trinity Church — and munching on pizzas delivered free every week by Westport Pizzeria — dispatchers and drivers ferried teenagers too drunk (or otherwise incapable or unable) to get in a car, from parties or friends’ houses back home.

There was plenty of support. The Westport Police Department backed the program. Kiwanis Club provided an insurance policy. And Westport Wash & Wax offered free cleaning to any driver whose passenger got sick. (It happened a few times.)

But starting last year, numbers — of volunteers and riders — dropped drastically.

A year ago there were 7, 10, 12 calls a night — with 12, 15 or 18 riders. Now there were just 1 or 2 calls, with 2 or 3 riders.

Several times this past school year — lacking enough volunteer supervisors, dispatchers and drivers — SafeRides did not operate.

“The kids on the board tried hard to keep it going. A lot of people tried,” SafeRides president Maureen Coogan says. “There just weren’t the numbers.”

She noted that  SafeRides collected users’ cell numbers — and would only drive teenagers home, not to another party, the diner or McDonald’s.

Uber has none of those requirements. It often arrived quicker than SafeRides.

And — by using a parent’s credit card — Uber seemed as “free” as SafeRides actually was.

“It’s sad for kids who don’t have their parent’s credit card,” Coogan says. “What are we showing our kids — that it’s okay to take their parent’s credit card and do whatever they want?

“And for the community, it’s sad. My daughter had a blast volunteering with her friends. It’s sad that kids will grow up without that sense of giving up a couple of Saturday nights, to volunteer.”

There’s no way of knowing how many lives SafeRides saved. But Westport has not had a teenage traffic fatality in many years. It certainly worked.

Now saving lives is Uber’s responsibility.

Unsung Hero #6

This Saturday at 4 p.m., when the Westport Cinema Initiative screens “The High School That Rocked!” Fred Cantor will sit contentedly in the Town Hall auditorium.

Few in the audience will know that the ever-smiling Westporter came up with the idea for a film about 6 major bands — you may have heard of the Doors? — that played at Staples High School in the mid-1960s.

Cantor then produced the intriguing film. He tracked down archival photos, arranged interviews and found funding.

Fred Cantor, at the opening of the Westport Historical Society’s “The High School That Rocked!” exhibit. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

After the talkback that follows the showing, Cantor will head across the street to the Westport Historical Society for a cocktail hour. Guests will enjoy the “High School That Rocked!” exhibit — inspired, and curated in part, by Cantor.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Cantor will sit on the Levitt Pavilion grass. He’ll watch with satisfaction as an all-star cast of Staples High School 1971 classmates — Charlie Karp, Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom played and recorded with the biggest names in entertainment — join several other very talented ’71 classmates for one of the best shows of summer.

Cantor masterminded that event too.

He won’t get much credit for any of this. But he won’t mind. It’s just his way of contributing to the life, joy and history of the town he’s called home since he was 10 years old.

Cantor moved to Easton Road with his family from Fresh Meadows, Queens. (He loves that place too — and wrote a book about the middle class families that thrived there after World War II.)

While serving as a public interest lawyer in New York City, he and his wife Debbie Silberstein bought a 2nd home on Drumlin Road. They now live there full-time. True to his volunteer — and community-minded — form, Cantor is active in his road association, and a great neighbor to all in need.

Fred Cantor, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

His selfless ways are legion. Several years ago, a Staples freshman soccer player with a single mother had no transportation after practice and games. Every day, Cantor — a former soccer star at Staples and Yale — drove him home.

Twenty years ago Cantor combined his passions for soccer, writing and history with a book, “The Autumn of Our Lives.” He followed the Staples team for an entire season, and told a compelling story of the changes — and similarities — between 2 teams, 25 years apart.

Cantor has done more than perhaps anyone in the world to keep the Remains’ memory alive. The Westport band that opened the Beatles’ 1966 tour — and that was, Jon Landau said, “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — has been memorialized in an off-Broadway play (“All Good Things“) and documentary film (“America’s Lost Band“).

Cantor came up with the idea for both. And made sure that both got made.

Always, he stayed out of the limelight.

These days you can often find Cantor at the Westport Library. He’s researching some element of Westport history.

Often, that research — or simple inspiration — leads to an “06880” story idea.

You may not have known the enormous impact Fred Cantor has had on this blog. Or this town.

Now that he’s this week’s Unsung Hero, you do.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Staples Players’ Summer Musical “Working”: A Perfect Day Off For Audiences

When the school year ends, David Roth and Kerry Long don’t stop working.

After directing Staples Players’ 2 mainstage productions and a host of Black Box Theater shows, they turn their attention to the very popular summer musical.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the directors’ summer show. For the hard-working, very creative Roth and Long — and the equally hard-working and very talented Staples Players cast and crew — the selection is appropriate:

“Working.”

On July 20, 21 and 22, more than 50 students — from recent alumni to rising freshmen — will stage the sprawling, toe-tapping adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1972 book. Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell,” “Pippin”), James Taylor and Lin-Manuel Miranda contributed the music.

Using real words of actual people, the production takes an intimate look at the struggles and joys of a variety of Americans: factory workers, millworkers, project managers, cleaning ladies, masons, stay-at-home moms. Using a style similar to “A Chorus Line,” “Working” weaves together the stories of nearly 40 laborers over the course of one workday.

Rising freshman Samantha Webster and Staples 2016 grad Samantha Chachra rehearse Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “A Very Good Day.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s a fascinating show, and it resonates for many reasons.

For one, it’s timely. As America debates all aspects of work — lost mining jobs, jobs moved overseas, how to prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist, gender stereotypes and roles, you name it — Miranda’s latest revision is compellingly relevant. As much as we talk about work, we seldom explore the meaning we get from whatever we do.

For another, Roth has wanted to direct the show since he was 16. He was a junior at Staples, and applied to present it as a studio production. Al Pia chose a senior’s project instead.

More than 30 years later, Roth gets his chance to work on “Working.”

For a third, it’s a musical that engages the 55 actors and 20 tech members. Freed from the pressures of schoolwork, they’re spending this summer totally devoted to something they love.

Summer shows draw together a wider range of ages than school-year productions. During the month of rehearsals and set construction they form strong bonds — essential to an ensemble work like “Working.”

Younger ones learn what it means to be a Staples Player. Older ones mentor them.

Christian Melhuish graduated last year, and is studying musical theater at Temple University. June graduate Jacob Leaf is headed to Northwestern. Both have roles onstage, and help Roth and Long as acting coaches.

Rising junior Antonio Antonelli, with alum Christian Melhuish in Staples Players’ production of “Working.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

For hours every day since school ended, dozens of teenagers have been hard at work. Their job: producing a show that seems effortless, while offering insights, inspiration, and tons of entertainment.

They’ve done it all for free. After all, they’re Staples Players.

But if they were getting paid, everyone would deserve a huge raise.

(“Working” will be performed Thursday, July 20; Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m., with a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, July 22, in the Staples High School auditorium. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available at the door 30 minutes prior to each show.)

RTM Urged To Join “Net Zero” Energy Effort

Last month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has joined over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.

Two years earlier, Marpe announced “Net Zero by 2050”: a target involving energy, water and waste. The goal is to create a sustainable community — economically, socially and environmentally — by mid-century.

Now, a group of Westporters is asking the RTM to endorse Net Zero too.

On Tuesday (July 11), the Green Task Force will present a petition with dozens of signatures. So far all 3 selectmen, and many town boards, commissions and individual committee members have signed the document.

Another petition is also circulating, with a similar request. This one is aimed at non-government Westporters.

Westport has a history of environmental activism. In 2007, we were the first town in Connecticut to include a sustainability chapter in a Plan of Conservation and Development.

Since then we’ve won the Department of Energy’s Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge, helped launch the Solarize Connecticut program, and (with a unanimous RTM vote) became one of the first towns in the state to adopt financing to support energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Examples of Net Zero include:

  • Signing an agreement to receive electricity credit for 1 megawatt of solar power per year, produced at a site in eastern Connecticut. The town is waiting for approval for an additional 1 megawatt. This program could satisfy 1/4 of the town buildings’ electricity.
  • Implementing the Energy Performance Contract initiative in school and municipal buildings. Reducing energy consumption has the potential to save up to$1 million per year in energy costs for the next 15 years.
  • Installing electric vehicle charging stations at the railroad station parking lots and other municipal parking sites.
  • Applying for an additional 1.2 megawatts of on-site solar power at Staples High School (just shy of 50% of the school’s electricity loads, after a separate building efficiency improvement program).
  • Preparing to break ground on an efficient renovation of the Westport Library, including 70 kilowatts of solar power.
  • Installing another 100 kilowatts of solar capacity as part of the planned expansion of the Senior Center.
  • Initiating a new program with support of the town, Downtown Merchants Association and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, encouraging businesses to keep the doors closed this summer when using air conditioning.

That last goal may be the toughest of all.

(To sign the Net Zero petition, click here.) 

Say “Thank You.” Please.

It’s a big, important — and time-consuming — part of a Staples guidance counselor’s job: writing college recommendations.

With 45 to 55 seniors a year — and each one taking 30 minutes to 2 hours to compose, based on feedback from the student, teachers, coaches, music and drama directors, community members and others — that’s a lot of work.

Because their school days are full, counselors often write recommendations on their own time, at home.

However, writing college recs is not part of a Staples teacher’s (or coach’s, or other staff member’s)  job description.

Officially, that is.

But students often ask. And — because their job is helping teenagers succeed — those teachers often oblige.

On their own time.

The most popular teachers are asked to write dozens of recommendations (and other references — for scholarships, summer programs, etc.) — a year.

You’d think that students would show their thanks with a note — or at least a heartfelt email.

You’d also think that students would eagerly share their acceptances — and final college decisions — with the folks who played at least a tiny role in helping them get in.

Some do.

But nowhere near as many as you think.

Victoria Capozzi

Victoria Capozzi — a longtime Staples guidance counselor, who like her colleagues works hard to craft every recommendation to each student’s personality, accomplishments and goals — talked recently about the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and disappointments of college rec writing.

“Kids may not realize, but adults are truly invested in them, throughout the entire process,” she said.

“The teenage brain doesn’t see it that way. They just see it as a checklist item on their college application.”

Once a student completes the application, Capozzi explained, “the teenage brain shuts down. It’s done.”

It’s important, she noted, for adults to remind students of the importance of “a gracious thank-you.” Email is “the minimum.” The best option is a handwritten note, delivered in person.

Those are “old school values,” Capozzi admitted. But they exist for a reason.

She showed an example of a great note. It meant so much, she stuck it on her file cabinet.

But a thank-you like that is rare. Capozzi had 48 seniors this year — young men and women she started with as freshmen. Only 8 wrote notes.

“I don’t need accolades,” Capozzi stressed. “I’m their counselor. I know where they’re going. But teachers pour their hearts and souls into their letters. It’s just common courtesy to let them know where you’ve decided to go.”

She added, “I don’t want to sound negative. These are great kids, and great families. I just want to stress the importance of this.”

Staples’ guidance department tries to educate students and parents about the value of this courtesy. It’s in the PowerPoint presentation made during junior and senior years. Counselors also mention it in face-to-face meetings — including the senior “exit interviews.”

“Don’t forget to thank your teachers!” they say.

Sadly, many do.

Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 37.3% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.