Category Archives: Staples HS

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.

Giving The Gift Of Music

The Staples High School music department is the gift that keeps on giving.

Many holiday parties — here, and around the country — include Christmas carols. Most of the time, guests stumble through a few standards. Then it’s back to the wassail and egg nog.

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston’s party is not like that. It’s at their lovely Myrtle Avenue home — but it might as well be Carnegie Hall.

Their daughter Emma Charles graduated from Staples High School, and the Berklee College of Music. Last night, she and her friends — all former Orphenians — harmonized on a few beautiful carols.

They did not rehearse. But — thanks to their Westport music education, amazing voices and joy in singing once again with each other — they made a great party even more wondrous.

Click on, and listen below!

The singers are (from left) Emma Charles, Joe Badion, Jack Baylis, Nick  Ribolla, Ian Goodman and Nick Massoud. Midway through, they’re joined by Emma’s uncle. Apologies: My video quality pales in comparison to the their wonderful voices.

Middle School Hearts Dave Parise

Dave Parise — part of a longtime, well-known Westport family — was born with a genetic heart defect.

Obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was not noticeable when he was young. He wrestled, ran, and played football and baseball while growing up.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1976 he helped coach there, and joined the custodial staff. But in his early 40s he went on medication. A defibrillator was implanted. He developed blood pressure problems and a heart murmur. He took 9 medications, twice a day.

This past April, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chemo and radiation exacerbated his heart condition.

In early October, while walking his dog at Southport Beach, David passed out. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital.

Dave Parise, in the hospital.

On October 18 he underwent open-heart surgery. An adverse reaction to his blood thinner kept him in the hospital for 12 days.

Back home, he was in excruciating pain. He had pericarditis — an inflammation near the heart — and then complications from bleeding. He endured a second open-heart surgery, this time in New York.

It’s been a rough year for Dave and his wife Anne.

But the day before Thanksgiving, he got a call from Paul Coppola, assistant principal at Trumbull’s Madison Middle School. David’s been a custodian in that town for the past 5 years.

Students and staff have been uplifted by his friendliness, generosity and vibrant personality. He loves kids, and knows virtually every Madison student well.

The youngsters wanted to know where “Dr. Clean” had been. (His other nicknames: Mr. All-American Red White and Blue, and Dr. Patriot.)

One morning, Coppola called. They were  having a pep rally for him, he told Dave. They were singing songs and cheering — all via FaceTime.

Dave beamed. His spirits soared.

He can’t wait to get back to his school, his staff and his kids, and make his building shine again.

Dave Parise, flanked by his daughter Mary and wife Anne.

(Hat tip: Jack Backiel)

The Year In Pictures: Tyler Hicks/Lynsey Addario Edition

Every year, the New York Times produces an end-of-the-year retrospective: “The Year in Pictures.”

The 2019 project was the most ambitious yet. Last Sunday’s photos were part of a stand-alone special section. It included interviews with the photographers, taking readers behind the scenes (and the lens).

Editors culled through over 500,000 photos. Just 116 made the cut.

Three are from Staples High School graduates. And one — by Tyler Hicks — is the first image shown, for the very first month.

(Photo/Tyler Hicks for the New York Times)

The 1988 Staples alum photographed Saleh Raken, a boy of about 10 years old, who was playing near his home in Yemen when a land mine blew off his lower leg.

Hicks explained:

On this assignment, I saw more of the humanitarian impact of the war than I had on any of my previous trips there, particularly in northern Yemen, where I took this photograph of a young boy who had lost part of a leg from a land mine explosion. There were also many other children and adults alike who had lost limbs or who continue to lose limbs every day in Yemen.

In this case, it’s very difficult when you walk into a clinic and a hospital and there are so many people suffering. You ask yourself: Whom should I photograph? You want to document every case, but that would be impossible.

This boy in particular had a very innocent face and reminded me a lot of any kids that I would see in my own community. And yet he was changed for life by something that he’s absolutely not involved in, and so I chose to focus on him and allow this boy to represent, in this case, all of the other children in the clinic.

Oftentimes, it is more effective for a photograph to be specific than it is to try to include a large group. It allows viewers to identify with somebody and interpret that subject and that photograph in their own ways.

Two other photos were taken by 1991 Staples grad Lynsey Addario. A shot from February showed Marine recruits at the beginning of a grueling 54-hour training exercise.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Her second image was of Marieke Vervoort, a Belgian Paralympic athlete with a degenerative spinal disease that caused excruciating pain. This fall, she chose do end her life via euthanasia. Addario’s photos about Vervoort’s life and death appeared in a special Times report earlier this month.

(Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

To see all 116 photos, click here.

“We The People”: Staples’ Constitutional Champs

Congress is bitterly divided. Government norms are under attack. Some Americans wonder whether our Constitution can survive.

If you worry that so much negativity will turn an entire young generation off to politics: Have no fear.

Just talk to Suzanne Kammerman’s Advanced Placement Government and Politics class.

The 23 students examine questions like: How did the framers create the Constitution? How have our Constitutional values and principles shaped American institutions and practices? What challenges does our democracy face in the 21st century?

The Staples juniors and seniors do more than discuss these issues. They compete against other high schools in a simulated congressional hearing, before a panel of actual judges, college law professors, state senators and attorneys.

The local teenagers do it very, very well. Last weekend, they finished 1st in the statewide “We the People” competition.

Staples High School’s 2019 “We the People” champions.

The victory broke Trumbull High’s 8-year stranglehold on first place. And it earned Staples a spot in April’s national “We the People” event, in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Westporters have qualified before, as 2nd-place wildcard finishers. This is their first year guaranteed a spot, as state champs.

More than 20 years ago, as a student at Shelton High, Kammerman herself participated in “We the People.” It was so powerful, she helped introduce the course to Staples.

Students spend hours outside of class forming teams, researching questions, developing answers, then arguing them in front of prestigious, difficult judges.

At a time when many Americans throw up their hands about government, it’s good to know that a great group of Westport teenagers embrace it.

(“We the People” winners include Surya Balaji, Taha Banatwala, Lucy Belknap, Brian Campbell, Violet Cooper, Lars Djuve, Michael Farnen, Dylan Goodman, Grace Katz, Kashvi Kumar, Brett Levy, Gary Lu, Natalia Maidique, William Matar, Tadeo Messenger, Neha Navrange, Maximus Pace, Samuel Powell, Claire Redmer, Andrew Spangler, Nicholas Suarez, Rachel Suggs and Samantha Webster.)

The Constitution

Candlelight Concert: The Video

Couldn’t get tickets to this year’s 79th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert? Couldn’t get there, because you live far away?

Couldn’t listen to the WWPT-FM broadcast or livestream? Couldn’t figure out how to access the Soundcloud audio either?

No problem! Jim Honeycutt — longtime Staples media teacher, now retired but still a music department fan and Santa’s-elf-like helper — shot and produced a video of the entire event.

So sit down and relax. Grab a glass or mug of your favorite holiday cheer. Then click below, to enjoy another marvelous performance by our town’s very talented choral, orchestra and band members.

 

A Carol Crawl Through Saugatuck

The Staples Orphenians can’t do pub crawls.

They’re still in high school.

So this Saturday (December 21) they’ll do the next best — no, an even better — thing:

A Caroling Crawl.

From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., some of our town’s finest singers will entertain diners in Saugatuck.

A scene from last year’s Caroling Crawl.

They start at the Boathouse. Then it’s on to Parker Mansion, Kawa Ni, The Whelk, Tutti’s and the Black Duck.

The 6 — Claire Baylis, Brody Braunstein, Maddy Fass, Anna Maria Fernandez, Courtney Hoile and Tomaso Scotti — head next to Tarantino, Harvest, Romanacci Express and Tarry Lodge, before ending at Match Burger Lobster, Rizzuto’s, Viva Zapata and Dunville’s.

The 2nd annual Orphenians event is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. It’s part of their “Eat Local” campaign.

But no matter what you order at any of those 14 restaurants on Saturday, the Orphenians are icing on the cake.