Category Archives: Staples HS

The Puzzle Of Alan Southworth

Westporters have a special relationship with the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Every year, puzzle editor Will Shortz hosts a competition at the library. (The upcoming 19th annual event is February 3.)

When library director Maxine Bleiweis retired in 2015, Shortz showed up — and presented her with a specially created, “MB”-themed puzzle.

Two months ago, “Westport” was even the answer to a clue — “Affluent Connecticut town” — in a Times crossword puzzle.

But our special relationship goes only so far. To be published by the paper, a puzzle must be good. Very good.

Alan Southworth’s is. Which is why — ta-da! — the 2010 Staples High School graduate makes his debut today as a New York Times puzzle constructor.

Alan Southworth (left) and Will Shortz, at last year’s Westport Library crossword puzzle contest.

The best constructors know a lot, about a lot of things. They have varied interests. Southworth definitely does.

At Staples he sang with the Orphenians, joined the jazz band, competed on the math team, and played freshman basketball.

At Princeton he majored in geosciences (and was certified in sustainable energy and environmental studies). He works now as an energy market consultant, in a Manhattan firm run by 2001 Staples grads Gabe Phillips and Jonathan Spivak. In his spare time, he plays singer-songwriter gigs around the city.

Southworth always loved words. He grew up playing Scrabble and Boggle with his mom, and relaxed before bed with Sudoku and KenKen.

In college, he discovered crosswords. He and his friends challenged themselves with the Times puzzle in the dining hall.

After graduation, he commuted nearly 2 hours each way. Vowing to be as productive as possible, he spent his train rides writing song lyrics. That soon morphed into crossword theme ideas.

His college friend Ryan McCarty had a couple of puzzles accepted by the Times. He wanted to collaborate. So Southworth devised themes. McCarty did most of the grid construction. Together they wrote clues.

They’ve kept a Google Doc of puzzle ideas ever since.

Their first 2 puzzles were rejected. This one was accepted, Southworth thinks, because the theme answers were a  bit “cleaner,” and the grid more open (fewer black squares in the middle).

Having a crossword accepted is quite an accomplishment. Having your first one run on a Thursday is remarkable. That’s the toughest day for a themed puzzle. (Monday is the easiest; Tuesday and Wednesday are a bit harder. Friday and Saturday are reserved for themeless — but more difficult — puzzles.)

Southworth has a digital subscription to the Times. But today he’ll buy a dead-tree copy of the paper — and make copies for his co-workers.

Here in Westport, his parents have promised to save their copy for him too.

Liz Hannah’s USA Today “Post”

Last March, “06880” reported that Liz Hannah’s screenplay about the Pentagon Papers was being made into a major motion picture.

Very major. Steven Spielberg directed “The Post.” Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee. Meryl Streep is Katherine Graham.

Hannah is not a boldface name like those three.

At least, not yet.

But good things are happening to the 2003 Staples High School graduate.

Liz Hannah (Photo/Martim Vian for USA Today)

“The Post” was named best film of 2017 by the National Board of Review, and in  the Top 10 by Time and the American Film Institute. It earned 6 Golden Globe nominations, including Best Screenplay. (It didn’t win. But Hannah was there, at a table with Hanks and Streep.)

The writer has gotten some pretty good ink herself.

USA Today headlined its story: “‘The Post’ Writer Liz Hannah Shows What’s Possible When Women Occupy Powerful Roles in Hollywood.”

In it, the Westport native talks about her female mentors, and the inspiration of Katherine Graham herself.

USA Today notes:

A few years into writing pilots that languished in development and feature spec scripts that didn’t sell, a burned-out Hannah made one last-ditch effort before planning to leave the grind of writing to focus on something like teaching. At the encouragement of her husband, Hannah decided it was time to write something about Graham, and focus it on her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Like Graham, “I had been in those rooms where I’m the only woman, and men turn their back on me pretend I’m not there,” Hannah says. The writer’s journey to express her voice, and use “guts (to) ignore the fear and stand on our own two feet,” paralleled her protagonist’s.

Eventually, Hannah’s screenplay reached former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal. She said:

I would’ve wanted to make this movie no matter who wrote it. But of course working with and supporting women has always been important to me, and I was thrilled to help get it made.

For months, the media has been talking about men — in Hollywood and Washington — taking advantage of women.

Now — with “The Post” — they can talk about the power of women to do great things on their own.

Including Westport’s own Liz Hannah.

(Click here for the full USA Today story. Hat tip: Jeff Kapec)

Peter Dickstein’s Solful Startup

Ever since moving to the Bay Area nearly 35 years ago, Peter Dickstein has been immersed in that torrid startup scene.

The 1973 Staples High School graduate — and former University of Pennsylvania soccer captain — founded and operated a variety of companies. For the last 10 years he’s advised CEOs and boards on corporate and financial strategy.

Peter Dickstein

“I enjoy the process of building businesses, and doing deep dives. And I love helping younger entrepreneurs,” Dickstein says.

Now he’s building a new business. He’s doing it with a young co-founder. And he’s helping shape one of the fastest-growing industries around: legal cannabis.

In 2015, when Eli Melrod — son of longtime friends — took a pause from Wesleyan University, he sought Dickstein’s entrepreneurial experience. With California headed toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use, they looked at multiple opportunities: intellectual property acquisition and licensing, testing lab, cultivation, you name it.

The most compelling prospect, they believed, was creating a branded destination dispensary, focused on a great customer experience grounded in cannabis education. They would use healthful, locally grown products, sold in a warm, welcoming environment.

On January 1, Solful became one of 88 dispensaries across all of California licensed to sell to adults 21 and over. It’s in Sebastapol, nestled in Sonoma County.

Dickstein (the first person interviewed in the video clip above) is executive chairman. Melrod — who his mentor calls “diligent, thoughtful, curious and hard-working” — is CEO. With a team of marketing and retail experts, they’re building a brand and experience they hope to roll out in multiple locations.

“We didn’t want to be a head shop,” Dickstein emphasizes. “We want to be an important part of the communities we serve. We cater to mainstream consumers who want to improve their physical and mental health.”

That’s not, he says, what most dispensaries in California are like. Many are small “mom and pop” shops.

Opening a dispensary in California is not easy. Numerous state and local regulations demand diligent record-keeping and compliance. In the absence of normal business banking options, there are tough financial management challenges.

Obtaining a local permit is arduous too. Proposition 64 allows each jurisdiction to make its own rules. Marin County, for example, rejected a dozen or so applications, for reasons ranging from proposed locations to the backgrounds of applicants.

Publicly traded companies– including big drug, food and tobacco enterprises — are prohibited from investing in and selling cannabis. So most investors so far have been private entities and individuals, Dickstein says.

“We’re bringing a professional business approach, applying best business practices to what has, until now, been a black market, under-the-radar industry,” Dickstein says.

Solful is designed to bring light to the formerly underground sale of cannabis. The store is open, bright and natural-looking. It’s a happy, upbeat place, with a well-trained, friendly staff.

A few members of Solful’s large, well-trained and happy staff.

Products are well-organized, and clearly displayed. Thoughtful signage helps customers understand each product, along with how to ingest and the body’s reaction to it.

A 30-page “Solful Field Guide” (hard copy and online) provides even more information.

Staff members ask questions: “What are you trying to achieve with cannabis? Do you have any ailments? Have you used cannabis before? If so, did you smoke? Vape? Use edibles, topicals or tinctures? Most importantly, how did it affect you?”

There’s no hard sell. As with a store like Patagonia — one of the founders’ inspirational brands — the emphasis is on education and information. Farmers, health professionals and manufacturers are invited in, to give and see live demonstrations.

The shelves in Solful’s Sebastapol store.

The dispensary opened in early October, when only medicinal marijuana was legal in California. Almost immediately, wildfires devastated the region.

Solful’s staff headed into the community, helping residents and volunteering with the Red Cross. They fundraised for victims.

The store partnered with a major edible and vape pen manufacturer to supply medicine and devices to medically dependent people, becoming one of Sonoma’s 4 free distribution centers.

Since January 1, sales have been robust. Twenty-five percent are to people 60 and over.

Some customers seek relief from cancer and its treatment, epilepsy, glaucoma and depression. One uses cannabis to ease back pain; he’s now opioid free.

Some simply seek to relax, or alter their mood.

Solful offers a wide range of products.

The West — California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska — leads the country in terms of recreational marijuana legalization. In the East, only Massachusetts and Maine have passed similar legislation.

What about Connecticut?

Because federal laws prohibit the movement of cannabis products across state lines — it’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug — Dickstein says the laws of economics suggest that the industry will evolve more quickly in states with bigger populations.

“If adult use happens in Connecticut, it would probably look more like Colorado — where the plant needs to be grown indoors — than California, where there’s a deep, multi-generation outdoor tradition,” Dickstein says of his home state.

So you probably won’t see Solful stores in the Land of Steady Habits any time soon — if at all.

But, Peter Dickstein believes, his branded destination dispensary model can be replicated in communities like Sebastapol across the Golden State.

It’s hardly a pipe dream.

Sam Rocks CES

Every January, CES — originally called the Consumer Electronics Show — draws 4,000 exhibitors to Las Vegas. Over 180,000 of the biggest names in technology and electronics — the industry’s movers and shakers — roll out new products, pitch ideas, schmooze and party.

Virtually none of them are high school sophomores.

Then again, few 10th graders are Sam Gold.

Posting as Sam Henri, he’s a content creator and social influencer. Sam’s more than 11,000 YouTube subscribers love his unique take on all things techs.

He’s high enough on the food chain that Google sent a web router. Other companies regularly offer new products to review.

Sam Gold, at Google’s pop-up shop in SoHo.

Still, that hardly guaranteed him a spot in the very adult/professional world of CES.

But — with the help of his Staples video production teacher Justin Nadal — Sam snagged coveted press credentials.

At school, Sam has already earned a great reputation with his “Good Morning Staples” tech reports. He writes, edits and creates videos as easily as you or I flick a light switch. Here’s his preview of CES:

Last week, Sam headed west.

What goes on in Vegas usually stays there.

Except for CES. Here’s Sam’s first video, posted yesterday:

Today, Sam is back in Westport. He’s studying for midterms.

But it’s clear he’s going places.

And far beyond Nevada.

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Kids Appreciate Cops

Tuesday was Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

If you missed it — like I did — don’t worry. This story will make up for it.

Dr. Joan and Dennis Poster are long-time police supporters, here and nationally. When the Westport couple mentioned the day to their grandsons Max, Jack and Sam Eigen, the boys decided to do something to show their own support.

Max — a junior at Staples High School — and Bedford Middle School 7th grader Sam asked their friends to write down what they appreciate most about our police. The boys put the notes in a “gratitude jar.” Yesterday morning at Town Hall, they presented it to department officials.

Max and Sam Eigen yesterday, with (from left) Deputy Chief Sam Arciola, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Officer Nat Batlin, at Westport Town Hall.

Jack asked his Fairfield Country Day School classmates to do the same. He put those notes in another jar, and handed it to Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara and the department.

Police and kids both get plenty of bad press.

Today it’s all good.

Take A Knee? TEAM Westport Asks Teens Their Take

Last year, TEAM Westport‘s annual teen diversity essay contest tackled a hot topic: white privilege. Submissions were insightful and strong. Reaction was strong too, though not nearly as intelligent. A national controversy ensued.

TEAM Westport was not cowed. The town’s multicultural committee has just announced this year’s 5th annual contest. The topic is once again in the news.

And the idea once again is to make local teenagers — and everyone else reading their essays — think.

The prompt says:

Recently, several professional athletes have “taken a knee” during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to bring attention to — and to protest — ongoing bias and discriminatory practices in American society in general, and by law enforcement officers in particular.

In reaction, some people have called these athletes “unpatriotic.”  In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your understanding of what it means to be a patriot, what kinds of behavior you think would be unpatriotic, and what forms of protest against discriminatory laws, customs, or patterns of behavior you would consider legitimate.

This is not your typical essay contest.

But — as the nation continues to be grapple with issues relating to race, ethnicity, religion and identity, along with questions about what America is and what it stands for — it is exactly the kind of essay contest we need.

The contest — co-sponsored with the Westport Library — is open to students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or who live in Westport and attend school elsewhere.

Applications are available here. The deadline is February 27. Winners will be announced at a ceremony at the library on April 2. Based on the volume and caliber of entries received, judges may award up to 3 prizes. First prize is $1,000; 2nd prize is $750, 3rd is $500.

(Individuals or organizations who would like to help sponsor the contest can click here or email info@teamwestport.org. Contributions are deductible to the extent permitted by law.)

Game, Set Match: Greenwald!

Back in the day, Jeff Greenwald was quite a tennis player.

Jeff Greenwald, in his Staples days.

In 1984 — playing #1 for Staples High School — he won a rare triple crown: the FCIAC and state LL (largest schools) singles championships, and the team’s 3rd consecutive state title.

As life moved on, Greenwald continued to compete. Seventeen years later, in 2001 — now a clinical and sports psychologist in northern California — he won the US 35-and-over national singles and doubles championships. He was ranked #1 in the world International Tennis Federation men’s 35 category, for both singles and doubles.

He played #1 singles for the US in the Italia Cup. The team made it to the finals, grieving at night over the 9/11 attack, and pounding balls by day.

Another 16 years went by. Last month, Greenwald – now 51 — entered the national 40s hard court tournament. Most of the 64 competitors were just 40, or a year or two older.

He’d won that tournament for the first time in 2009 — and again in 2016. No one had ever been champion of a division a decade younger.

Jeff Greenwald

Seeded #3 this year, he reached the finals. His opponent — ranked #1 — was a 3-time 40s winner.

Greenwald flew his son Will — 9 years old, and an avid tennis player himself — to La Jolla for the finals. The stands were filled.

Greenwald lost the first set, 6-3. He won the second, 7-5.

Suddenly — at match point in the final set — the umpire called a “ball abuse” penalty on his opponent.

The radio announcer had never heard of that situation before. Neither he nor Greenwald saw his opponent’s infraction. But he’d smashed a ball out of the court, onto another court in play, in frustration over losing the prior point.

Just as suddenly, Greenwald told the umpire he did not want to win that way.

He declined to accept the penalty.

Greenwald went to the line again. He unleashed an aggressive shot to his foe’s backhand. It was not returned.

For the 2nd time in minutes, Greenwald won the national championship.

“We battled for over 2 hours,” the victor told a reporter. “There was no way I wanted to win that way. It wasn’t even a choice for me.”

He called it “the most satisfying tournament of my career.”

And then he waved his son over, to join him for the trophy celebration.

Jeff Greenwald and his son Will, happy together.

(Jeff Greenwald is the author of The Best Tennis of Your Life, and several instructional videos. He conducts corporate seminars on stress management, gives motivational speeches, and helps promising young athletes enhance their mental skills. His website is www.mentaledge.net

Justin Paul Scores Again

The hits just keep on comin’!

2003 Staples High School graduate Justin Paul and his writing partner Benj Pasek snagged yet another honor  at last night’s Golden Globes.

The pair won “Best original song, motion picture” for “This Is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman.”

The “La La Land” and “Dear Evan Hansen” songwriters beat stiff competition. Other contenders included “Home” from “Ferdinand,” “Mighty River” music from “Mudbound,” “Remember Me” from “Coco” and “The Star” from the movie of the same name.

Oscar nominations will be announced January 23.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, at last night’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)

Preserving Nature, With Help From Friends

The H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve is a Greens Farms gem.

Straddling the Southport border, it’s actually 3 parcels: a 24-acre Christmas tree farm at the top of Sasco Creek; a 14-acre field habitat across the way, and a 36-acre evergreen plantation by Hedley Farms Road, behind Greens Farms Academy.

It’s a gem because it’s open, and teeming with nature. But for a “preserve,” it wasn’t always well preserved.

Several years ago when Charles Stebbins joined the Connecticut Audubon Society board, the organization surveyed all 19 sanctuaries they managed. The one most in need of restoration: Smith Richardson.

Smith Richardson Preserve, before restoration.

For 3 years, volunteer days in November have drawn dozens of neighbors, friends and board members, plus Staples High School League of Boys and Builders Beyond Borders teenagers. Slowly but methodically they cut vines, cleared brush and cleaned the 14-acre habitat.

With the help of Oliver Nurseries, they planted 100 trees and shrubs — oaks, cedars, pawpaw, black gum, dogwoods, blueberries and holly. They seeded 4 acres with native pollinator flowers and grasses, and built a stone bench.

Regular users — hikers, dog walkers, cross country skiers — helped fund the project.

A few of the many volunteers.

Early last year, the Long Island Sound Futures Fund — which combines money from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — awarded $145,780 to the Smith Richardson preserve.

The goal is to restore a coastal forest habitat. Stebbins calls the Greens Farms property one of the few remaining forests along Connecticut’s 100 miles of coastline.

A year from now, the area will be cleared of deadwood and invasive plants. Fields and meadows will be restored — exploding in bloom — and 1,200 trees planted. Professionals are doing much of the work.

One of the many trees being planted at the preserve.

The grant is contingent on $134,047 in matching funds. Neighbors and friends have already contributed generously.

“It’s heartening,” Stebbins says. “Greens Farms and Southport are so built up. To be able to restore this property is a great gift.”

Smith Richardson Preserve is a neighborhood gem.

But this is nature at its best. Everyone is welcome.