Category Archives: Teenagers

Science Olympians Confront Virus

The Staples High School girls and boys basketball teams — both enjoying their best seasons in decades — saw their state tournament hopes suddenly end. No one knows what will happen to spring sports, though that season seems increasingly unlikely.

But Westport athletes were not the only ones whose seasons came to a brutal end, thanks to the coronavirus.

At Bedford Middle School and Staples High, dozens of students were preparing for the state — and hopefully national — Science Olympiad competitions. They, their teachers and advisors had spent hundreds of hours since August researching, designing and studying.

Building on last year’s success — both teams represented Connecticut at the national tourney at Cornell University (for Bedford, the 3rd trip in 5 years) — the squads felt confident.

Last year’s Bedford Science Olympians …

Science Olympians don’t get the publicity or prestige — and certainly not the crowds — of basketball players. But in the highly competitive world of science contests, the Westporters are superstars.

The Bedford program began 9 years ago. Engineering and design teacher Art Ellis is the driving force — the Geno Auriemma of Science Olympiads. He’s assisted by Dr. Daniel Cortright, a BMS science teacher.

This year — with Coleytown students attending Bedford — the middle school teams merged. CMS engineering and design teacher Keenan Grace brought his students on board, with great success.

… and the Coleytown squad.

Science Olympiads consist of 23 events. Each team — usually 15 students — competes in all 23. (This year’s BMS squad included about 75 youngsters. Including various invitational meets, 50 or so got actual competitive experience.)

The events range from building a structure, vehicle or flying object, to tests in areas like geology, meteorology and anatomy, to hybrid, chemistry lab-style activities.

There are activities too like “Crime Busters,” for forensic analysis.

Then there is “Disease Detectives.”

Developed long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, this Science Olympiad event asks students to examine — and solve — disease outbreaks.

At the national high school tournament, the CDC gives an award to the winner of this event — plus an expense-paid trip to its headquarters in Washington, DC.

Many of the middle school Disease Detectives questions have revolved around food-borne illnesses. They’re fairly straightforward to analyze, Cortright says.

From left: Middle school teachers and Science Olympiad coaches Dan Cortright, Kat Nicholas and Art Ellis.

Not long ago, he and Ellis talked about possible tournament questions. They guessed there would be some about pathogens like COVID-19. They started preparing their team for them.

But before they could solve the problem — or at least, address it — the state and national tournaments were canceled.

The Westport Public Schools have moved to distance learning. Activities like Science Olympiad are on hold.

But if anyone can figure out how to adapt to our new reality — and (who knows?) come up with a way to solve or even prevent future disease outbreaks — it’s these young superstars.


In related Science Olympiad news, 4 members of Staples’ team were also involved in the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.

Formerly called Moody’s Math Challenge, it’s certainly challenging. Teams of 5 students represent their schools, using math to solve a real world problem.

They meet outside of school, download the problem, then work together continuously for 14 hours. The winning solution earns a large cash prize for the school.

Staples’ team — including those 4 Special Olympians — worked together on the problem before social distancing began.

This year’s involved electric trucks. Specifically, contestants had to make intelligent decisions about the necessary charging infrastructure is complex, and weigh economic and environmental implications for communities surrounding trucking corridors is essential. Over 750 teams competed.

The Staples Mathworks Challenge team, hard at work.

Click here to see the Staples team’s video — 14 hours compressed into 3 minutes — on Facebook. Click here for more information on the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.

Rishabh Mandayam Tracks Connecticut’s COVID

Drew Coyne’s Advanced Placement Economics class is one of the most popular at Staples High School. It’s challenging, interactive, and very real-world-oriented.

Before most Americans were concerned about COVID-19, Coyne gave an assignment: research the virus’ impending impact on the United States.

At first it was interesting. Then it got frightening.

Rishabh Mandayam

When Westport schools closed last week, the reality hit home. Rishabh Mandayam — one of Coyne’s 11th-grade students — wanted to understand how quickly and severely towns like ours would be impacted.

So — working with his younger sister Raina — he created a COVID-19 tracker.

The goal is to track the rate of community spread, and increase awareness statewide about the virus.

Data comes from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, CDC and ECD (European equivalent) sites.

Rishabh used a programming language called R to pull the information and create graphs. He published it using HTML and Firebase. His interest was sparked through Staples classes like Introduction to Web Programming and AP Computer Science, with David Scrofani and Clare Woodman.

As you can imagine, Rishabh is a go-getter. He’s co-president of the Coding Club, vice president of Future Business Leaders of America, and a member of the Math Honors Society and Staples Science Olympiad team. He’s currently doing an independent study course in machine learning.

Outside of school he tutors students in math and science. He spent last summer as a software engineering intern at Lockheed Martin, and will return there this summer.

Rishabh has seen websites that track COVID-19 nationally; some do it worldwide. As far as he knows, this is the only site that tracks it exclusively in Connecticut.

Feedback has been very positive. He’s enhancing the tracker regularly, with new ideas and tweaks.

During breaks, of course, from his distance learning — including plenty of work for AP Economics.

(Click here for Rishabh’s COVID-19 tracker.)

Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat For Aspiring Actors, Writers, Dancers

As Westport teens and tweens settle down to life in a pandemic, they’re learning how to learn online.

Academics and extracurriculars are all done virtually now. But it’s one thing to learn math or history that way, or do your judo or piano lessons.

What about all those theater kids? When Mickey Rooney said “let’s put on a show!” he wasn’t talking to himself.

Cynthia Gibb rides to the rescue.

The 1981 Staples High School graduate sure has the credentials. She’s starred in “Search for Tomorrow” and “Fame”; played Karen Carpenter in her biopic; starred with Shirley Jones, Dick Van Dyke, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Burt Reynolds, and been on “Law and Order/SVU” and “Criminal Minds” too.

Cynthia Gibb earned a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” with Bette Midler.

Cynthia worked with Oliver Stone, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. Her credits include 13 features, 3 network series, 24 TV movies, countless TV pilots, commercials, voiceovers and print work.

A decade ago she returned to Westport, and opened Triple Threat Academy. It’s nurtured and inspired hundreds of young and adult actors, singers and dancers. Many have gone on to schools like Tisch and Carnegie Mellon, and careers on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Cynthia Gibb, at the “Fame” reunion in Italy.

When the coronavirus pandemic turned “Contagion” into reality, acting teacher Nick Sadler (“True Grit,” “Scent of a Woman”) brainstormed how to keep youngsters — so many of whose shows were canceled just days before opening night — engaged. It had to be more than a watching-and-waiting scene study class.

Cynthia had an idea: a pandemic monologue play.

Students could journal about their experiences during this crazy time, and craft a monologue. At the end of 6 weeks, it will be performed via Zoom. With Triple Threat’s help, actors might take the resulting play to a real stage or screen — even on tour — once people can congregate again.

Westport native Jamie Mann (right) and Josie Todd (middle), last summer in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. The pair will perform together again — this time virtually — in Triple Threat Academy’s upcoming online plays. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Cynthia’s “Monologue and Play Development Class” meets for 6 weeks, starting next week (high schoolers on Wednesdays, middle schoolers on Tuesdays, from 5 to 6 p.m.).

Monologues will be good, bad, fearful funny. (Remember, “A Chorus Line” started out as monologues too.) Enrollment already includes teenagers with extensive — even professional — experience.

“Art always reflects what is going on in life,” Cynthia says. “Just think about ‘Rent’ and the AIDS crisis. We now have an opportunity to find the light in dark times, the humanity behind the grim news, and the positivity to push forward — all through the powers of creativity, collaboration and storytelling.”

Meanwhile, Nick has organized a hybrid of traditional radio theater and today’s podcasts. (Remember when Americans huddled around the radio, listening to plays? Hey — we’re back huddling together.)

Nick Sadler (center) with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Scent of a Woman,” starring Al Pacino. Sadler landed this supporting role shortly after graduating from Juilliard.

His “Virtual Play Series” will teach students how to stage a fast-paced play (or two). Each week the cast will meet via Zoom to read, rehearse and ultimately “release” the play to an online audience.

Students will take on multiple roles, challenging them to invent a variety of characters. It’s a collaborative effort — just like all great theater. (An adult version is in the works too.)

It runs for 7 Sundays, from 3 to 4 p.m. for high schoolers, and 5 to 6 p.m. for middle schoolers. The first session is this Sunday (March 29).

Meanwhile, the third part of Triple Threat — dance — heads online too. Kim Porio offers a class this Sunday (10:45 to 11:45 a.m.) for young actors and singers. It’s “Bring a Friend Day,” so even those not enrolled can try it out.

It all should be quite a show.

(For more information about Triple Threat Academy’s offerings, including registration, click here, email TripleThreatAcademyCT@gmail.com, search on Facebook, or follow @TripleThreatAcademy on Instagram.)

Talking To Kids About Traumatic Events: Part 2

Last week, Westport psychologist Dr. Joshua Eudowe offered insights into why parents must judiciously ground their children in age- appropriate, trustworthy facts in order to prevent irrational fears from developing.

Yet besides having discussions with children, what else can be done to lower their anxiety?

In Part 2, Dr. Eudowe says:

  • Explain what the Center for Disease Control does, and why they direct us to do what we do. Talk to children of all ages about the importance of complying with the CDC’s recommendations, and why it’s important to listen to them. Explain the global effort to contain this, including positive facts about treatment initiatives, containment, etc.

 

  • Consider giving children tasks to oversee during this time. For example, assign a child the job of ensuring soap is available near all sinks. Someone may be assigned to organize food or cleaning supplies. Even tasks that aren’t needed can be helpful, like creating a list of movies to watch or researching something online. Giving children responsibilities makes them feel more in control, connected to those who provide safety and security, and involved in the family’s collective effort.

 

Caring for pets is a great task.

 

  • Don’t be surprised if children aren’t taking this seriously. They don’t have the life experience adults have, or possess the bandwidth for intellectual reasoning that adults do. They can’t pull from prior experiences, nor compare to even slightly similar situations in life to know they’re safe. It’s not their fault they lack the experiences and perspectives that adults have. Most of us see our children as being older than their chronological age. Therefore we expect them to comprehend situations that are nearly impossible. Remember how old they actually are. I often tell parents, “She/he is only 12 years old. Developmentally, their capacity for intellectual processing is limited – despite how mature they seem.” Even though a child may appear sophisticated enough to comprehend the gravity of situations, developmentally they simply can’t decipher what’s needed to avoid irrational thinking.

 

  • While common for parents to talk to their children as a family, be mindful that conversations with different age groups can sometimes be inappropriate. Don’t sit down with your middle schooler alongside your high schooler to discuss facts or expectations. Questions and fears may arise during conversations that could prove troublesome to younger members of the family. Also, discuss with older siblings the importance of not saying things to instill fear in younger ones. It’s a point that must be stressed with consequences. This is a time for families to work together.

 

  • Remain consistent for your children. Consistency, particularly now, is critical. An inconsistent parent drives a child towards a state of uncertainty. An example most of us can relate to is screen time.  Parents may bend rules and say, “Okay, but just this time” to avoid a frustrating confrontation. This leads to children remaining in the “unknown” – not being sure whether consequences will be enforced or ignored. I tell parents, “when the door opens, children need to know who’s walking in. When they don’t, anxiety will develop.”  While parents are certainly allowed to have bad days, remain as consistent as possible.

Can I get away with this today?

  • Divorced parents must work hard to communicate to ensure consistency during transitions and visitation. Despite the difficulties that arise in these situations, children must come first. Creating environments that promote similar expectations during traumatic times is critical to avoiding excess anxiety. Transitioning to the other parent’s home is already difficult, and often a process filled with anxiety. An inconsistent parent who verbally or behaviorally devalues the rules of the other home will intensify irrational thoughts, and can make children feel responsible for their own well-being – something to avoid at all costs. Remember that children continue to see both parents as their “parents,” although you may not. Neither parent should ever speak negatively about the other, or behave in a way that invalidates the other. Doing so will cause children to worry for the other parent’s safety, resulting in increased difficulty in transitioning, and likely significant behavioral problems such as anger, disobedience, avoidance, and an unwillingness to continue to transition.

 

  • Take a break from the news. We all need to step away from television and online media from time to time. While it’s vital to stay informed, adults and children can easily become overwhelmed and transition into irrational thinking. When this occurs it’s time to play a game, watch a movie, do something fun, and ground ourselves in positive thinking.

 

As parents, we constantly model for our children. Remember: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Remain calm. Carefully and attentively listen to your children’s concerns. Don’t be engaged in other activities while your child is sharing fears or asking questions. Don’t be on your phone while yelling at them to get off theirs. Listen to them. Validate their concerns by saying things such as, “I can see how scared you are, and I know it doesn’t feel good,” or “There are many things we don’t know right now, but we’re doing everything to be safe.”  Don’t invalidate their fears by saying things like, “You have nothing to worry about.” It’s not true, and they know it. You will become a less trusted source for information.

Kids need us. Be there for them!

Symptoms to watch out for during any traumatic experience.

Avoidance. This is the number one challenge in treating trauma. People don’t want to discuss or even think about frightening events. Therefore, adults and children avoid discussions. In terms of communication, be careful (or ask a professional) if your gut tells you that your child is avoiding a conversation, rather than merely being uninterested. A parent’s intuition is usually correct; trust it. Either way, conversations should occur frequently.

Also:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • General and/or separation anxiety
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Overly fatigued
  • Being startled easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Edginess and agitation
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension

Dr. Joshua Eudowe

If your child exhibits several of these signs to a point where they interrupt normal functioning, seek professional help as soon as possible. Unlike some other mental health conditions, trauma can intensify quickly. Left untreated, it can worsen considerably. The COVID-19 pandemic will create enormous amounts of fear and anxiety, in all of us. Early intervention is the key to moving past this global pandemic. When the virus is eventually contained and treated, the wake of emotional dysregulation will grow exponentially. Now is the time for proactive measures.

With COVID-19 spreading at a rapid pace, many therapists are working remotely. While not ideal, even phone or video sessions can be invaluable in preventing symptoms from worsening. Please seek professional guidance; don’t wait until your child exhibits significant symptoms.

At least 5 young people in Fairfield County have been hospitalized because of suicidal thoughts related to anxiety during the coronavirus crisis. If you or someone you know is having a difficult time, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. or click here for additional resources.)

Introducing “0*6*Art*Art*0”

Westport really is an arts community.

Yesterday I tossed out an idea: In these perilous times, let’s share art. I promised to post some of what I got every Saturday.

I wrote:

It doesn’t matter how old (or young) you are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never picked up a brush, crayon or camera in your life. You don’t have to be an experienced painter, sketcher or collagist. You can work together, or with your family or anyone else you’re self-isolating with

All you need is an idea and a way to express it. Serenity, love, calm, separation, friends, solitude, fear, hope — whatever you’re thinking or feeling, get to work!

Artwork flooded in. It was broad, beautiful and imaginative.

Uh oh. Much of it was also created before (remember those days?) the pandemic hit.

My idea was to get folks — amateurs and professional, of all ages — making art, of all types. I guess some people just skimmed the story.

I’d love to showcase all the art I got. Right now, I’m limiting it to work that was specifically created during this crisis, or that shows powerfully some of the effects these days are having on us.

Here’s the first batch. Enjoy this virtual gallery.

Keep the submissions coming (based on the criteria above). And if yours is not posted today, be patient. There will be more next Saturday, and every week after until there’s no more art. As if.

PS: Thanks, Stacie Curran, for the great suggestion to call this new feature “0*6*Art*Art*0”!

Haiku, by Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman

“Find Your Beach” (Max Szostak, 17 years old)

Robbie Sumberg

Chalk art by Kassia Stedman, 8, and Avery Stedman, 6

A bra makes an impromptu face mask (Amy Schneider)

Alex Drexler couldn’t sleep. He took his dog on a 5-mile walk. The sunrise helped.

The new Merritt Parkway rush hour (Paul Delano)

Lonely boy (Finley LaPick)

Brenda Giegerich

“Heads Above Water” (Heidi Palmer)

Long Lots Elementary School student Ben Kuster spent the week decorating t-shirts

Mara Barth

Spectacular New Site Makes Helping Local Businesses Easy

For the past few days — as the rippling cascading effects of COVID-19 on the local economy have become apparent and frightening — many Westporters suggested ways to help.

One of the best is to purchase gift cards from local stores, restaurants, salons, gyms and the like.

A group of friends approached Danielle Dobin with the idea. She loved it. Like the others though, she wondered: Who needs help? How can I contact them? Who even sells gift cards?

Danielle — who in her spare time chairs Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission — brainstormed with them. Their solution : a website showcasing all the spots in town that need help, with clickable links to every one.

James Dobin-Smith

Then her family and theirs — the Weilguses, Kamos, Cammeyers, and the Posts and Rutsteins (you know those last 2 from the WestportMoms.com platform) — got to work.

Over the past few days they tracked down dozens of local stores, restaurants and service providers. They compiled tons of information.

And they handed it all to Danielle’s son James Dobin-Smith.

The Staples High School freshman is a member of Staples Players. He’s an honor student, keenly interested in world affairs. But he had absolutely no background in web design.

No problem! He’s smart, creative, and a digital native. Almost instantly, James taught himself.

The result — rolled out just moments ago — is OneWestport.com. It’s visually appealing, chock full of links, and insanely easy to use.

The homepage of OneWestport.com.

All you do is click to purchase gift cards online (or by phone or email, if no online option exists). You can use them tomorrow, or months from now. (One added feature: the hyperlinks take you directly to the gift card page. It’s truly one click — you don’t have to search for it yourself on a business website.)

From sporting goods to sushi, furniture to flowers, paintings to pasta, and clothing to cupcakes, Westport retailers sell everything and anything.

Nearly 200 places are listed, by category: Clothing/Jewelry, Fitness, Salons, Nails/Spas, Miscellaneous (Compo Flowers, Earth Animal, Age of Reason, Rockwell Art, Splatterbox, Stiles Market, The Toy Post, Westport Hardware, Bungalow, photographers).

Age of Reason is a great place to use a gift card right now. Kids need items for education and entertainment. And the store offers free delivery.

The Restaurants category can keep you busy (and well-fed) until this crisis is over — no matter how long it lasts. It includes places you might not otherwise think of, like Aartisan Chocolates and The Cake Box.

(It’s also a great way to order takeout or delivered meals, from those restaurants, delis and markets that offer them.)

“Purchase a gift card today for use in the future to purchase a birthday gift, an anniversary gift, or simply an everyday purchase for your family,” OneWestport suggests.

“Our local retailers need to make payroll, cover their expenses, and pay rent.  Buying gift cards now for use later can help our local businesses manage this near-term cash-crunch and ultimately weather this uniquely challenging storm! Together, we can make the difference for our local retailers!”

As extensive as the families’ work has been, they know it’s not complete. They’ll update the website daily, until school restarts. To add a business to the resource, email jamesdobinsmith@gmail.com.

This is these Westporters’ gift to the town. OneWestport does not profit from any purchases, in any way. All gift cards go straight — and fully — to the retailer, restaurant or service provider.

It’s the gift that will keep on giving. And helping save our town.

Oh, yeah: If you liked the awesome cover photo — a drone shot of downtown by John Videler — you can purchase it (or any of his work too). Just click here!

Distance Learning Begins: A Message From Staples’ Principal

In his first year as Staples principal, Stafford Thomas has earned high grades for his quick understanding of the school, his warm and upbeat manner, and his care and concern for all students.

When he was hired last summer, he never imagined one task would be overseeing distance learning.

Today — with schools closed at least through March 31 due to the coronavirus — the Westport district begins “distance learning.” It means different things for different grade levels.

There are bound to be questions. Administrators in the central office and each building have been communicating with students and parents about what it all means. It is still — as it is nationally — a work in progress.

Staples students have a better idea now though, after a video from their principal.

He begins — as he often does on the announcements — with shout-outs to students. Then he explains what distance learning is, and why it’s important. He ends with some tips on staying healthy (teenage style).

Click below to see how Westport’s high school students are beginning a difficult — but important — part of their educational journey.

 

(Hat tip to Staples media teacher Geno Heiter, who produced the video. It’s part of “70 North,” the high school’s great media platform. Click here for many other videos.)

Tales Of Inspiration: Teens Help Elderly; Tech Guru Helps Homebound Workers; Gold’s Customer Is Gold

When the going gets tough, Westporters offer help.

Three Westport teenagers — Ty Chung, Jonathan Lorenz and Luke Lorenz — are happy to run errands for senior citizens, and anyone else having difficulty getting out because of self-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just email GuysHelping@gmail.com. Include your name, address, and errand.

The helping guys are happy to do what they can. But they will not enter homes, and they’ll avoid personal interactions.

If your request involves purchasing items, they’ll reply with instructions for payment. (That’s for the items only, of course. This is a good-deed venture, from 3 really good guys.)

(From left): Ty Chung, Jonathan Lorenz, Luke Lorenz.


Westporter Paul Einarsen spent 5 years at Apple, as a genius (their word) and creative trainer. He’s spent many years working from a home office, collaborating with remote clients and vendors.

He knows the challenges. And he wants to help anyone who has suddenly been thrust into the remote-working world (and who uses Apple or cloud-based apps).

Paul Einarsen

“At Apple, I quickly discovered how much people rely on their desktop and mobile devices to stay connected to their world,” he says. “It is a challenge for many people in the best of times. With the added obstacle of social distancing I want to help where I can.” (He is not, unfortunately, a Windows guy.)

Paul set up a public Facebook group to coordinate and share information (click here). Through it — or if needed, video conferencing — he is happy to help in any way he can.


Other Westporters find other ways to help.

This morning, a family called Gold’s to order their usual Sunday meal. When they asked about delivery via Uber Eats or Grub Hub, owner Nancy Eckl immediately offered it direct from the deli.

She said that a kind customer had offered to deliver to people who were homebound.

The family was amazed. They were even more surprised when — almost before they knew it — the doorbell rang. An “incredibly nice gentleman” had their order.

“We are so blessed to be here among caring, loving and helpful neighbors,” they say. “Thank you to this selfless volunteer, and to Gold’s Deli.”


Like many Westporters, a Westport couple took a walk today. Along the way, they figured they’d do some good, by picking up trash.

A mile round trip yielded a wheelbarrow of assorted garbage, all within 10 feet of the road. It was mostly beer cans and bottles, a lot of other beverage containers, a few plastic bags and other assorted plastic, some broken pottery and pieces of metal, and a protein bar wrapper.

“Every day we take a walk — and it will be often these days — we will take another route and help keep Westport clean,” they say.

Trashing the coronavirus — with gloves, of course.

Collateral COVID Damage: Staples Basketball Team Devastated As State Tournament Is Canceled

Marisa Shorrock is a senior at Staples High School, and a captain of the basketball team. On Monday night, the Wreckers — ranked #1 in the state, and nearing the end of their best season in decades — defeated Glastonbury to advance to the state tournament semifinals.

Just hours later, they received devastating news: The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled the state tourney. Just like that, the season — with its dream of a title, a capstone to years of goal-setting, hard work, and playing together — was over.

Marisa — who was also a goalie on the soccer team, and will play lacrosse this spring (if there are high school sports) — wrote powerfully about the intense emotions she and her teammates felt after the cancellation. (The Staples boys team was also affected: After their best season in many years, they were eager to begin their own state tournament quest. It ended 6 hours before the opening tip-off.)

Her piece was published yesterday in The Ruden Report — the go-to platform for local high school sports, run by Staples grad Dave Ruden. It appeared yesterday morning, just hours before the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing for the foreseeable future. Marisa wrote:

As a kid, I had always dreamed of that one “great moment.”

I dreamed that I was scoring the World Cup winning goal when I practiced my penalty kicks on the “big girl” nets outside of school. I dreamed of making the buzzer-beater basket in the WNBA Finals when I counted down “3..2..1..” while trying to sink the craziest shot I could make up on the spot.

The “crowd” would go crazy. I would be running around, hands reached out to the sky, cheering at the top of my lungs.

Marisa Shorrock in action against Norwalk High earlier this year. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

One day. That’s what I would tell myself. One day I would have my own great moment.

As I got older, I realized that great moments don’t just happen, you have to work for them. Hard. You work through school breaks and race to practice right after the final bell rings. Your muscles always ache and bruises seem to pop up in a new place on your body every day. Injuries will come and go, but you will always work your way back.

You never give up, because you know that no matter the blood, sweat, and tears that you have shed for this sport, the reward at the end will always be worth it.

But what if that reward was just stripped away? Without warning.

Marisa Shorrock battles Greenwich, in the FCIAC tournament last month. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

I woke up yesterday [Tuesday] morning, coming off the high of a win that marked my team’s advancement into the state semifinal round, to find out that my season was over. My whole entire basketball career was done. Finished. While the CIAC will be back next year, I, and all of my fellow seniors, will not.

It took a while for the reality of the situation to fully sink in. It was like my brain couldn’t physically processes the information. How could I go from playing in front of a hundred fans to not being allowed to step foot on the court with my thirteen teammates, all in the span of less than twenty-four hours?

There would be no state tournament. No title. No celebration. No great moment. There wouldn’t even be the opportunity to lose.

When my team lost the FCIAC finals in double overtime, the core-shattering devastation felt like an out-of-body experience. I thought that I would never feel anything worse than the emotions I felt after that game. I was wrong.

Marisa Shorrock’s teammates included (from left) Nicole Holmes, Kat Cozzi and Abby Carter. They pressured Glastonbury High’s Charlotte Bassett Monday night, in what turned out to be the Wreckers’ last game of the season. (Photo/Mark Conrad for The Ruden Report)

Although I absolutely hate losing, nothing is worse than not even being able to compete. There’s no closure. It’s unsettling.

The title was right there. Two more games. Just over an hour of play time. That’s all we needed. I know that we were not guaranteed to make it to the finals and we might not have pulled off the magical finish I had always dreamed about; however, after all of the hard work and fighting through adversity, not even having the opportunity to compete was heartbreaking.

I understand that with a global health pandemic decisions need to be made. However, how is it that I am still attending a 1,900 person school every day? How is it that the same day the tournament was cancelled, my 10th grade brother was allowed to play rec basketball at Staples with hundreds of other boys and referees? When the rules don’t make any sense, that’s when I begin to question the decisions being made.

Tomorrow marks my 18th birthday, the day before what would have been Staples’ first semifinal basketball game in 25 years. Instead of spending the night as the kid that would always dream about the endless possibilities, I am left contemplating the harsh reality as I enter the adult world. There will always be a new decision to be made. There will always be controversy. The world’s not fair, but soon I, and hopefully all of my fellow seniors, will learn to accept the outcome and continue to dream for those great moments.

(Click here for the Ruden Report.)

Unsung Heroes #137

Alert “06880” reader Amy Herrera writes:

My family and I moved to the area a little over a year ago. We came to town after Coleytown had merged into Bedford.

The town was in a bit of an uproar. Some of our first interactions with neighbors were invitations to sign petitions or accompany them to meetings to speak out against the combined schools.

We respectfully declined the invitations. We were grateful the town had a facility that could absorb the Coleytown students, and honestly, our 7th grader was having an amazingly seamless transition despite the crowded hallways.

Although we were sensitive to other people’s concerns, in the grand scheme of things we really didn’t feel like we had anything to complain about.

Since then, our children’s experiences in the Westport schools have continued to be positive, but the angst swirling around education has certainly not subsided. Between redistricting/split feeder scenarios. budget cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of Coleytown, residents have not been at a loss for things to complain about.

In the midst of all of it I have witnessed something kind of remarkable.

Rehearsing for “Matilda the Musical.”

My middle son, now in 8th grade, has become very involved in the theater program at Bedford. This year, rather than keeping the 2 school populations separate, they combined all of the resources and created a single student body.

This has been a tremendous benefit to the arts, in my opinion. I think of the combined theater program at Bedford as the “something beautiful” that grew out of the chaos of the past year and a half.

The program that resulted from the collaborative efforts of the Coleytown and Bedford educators is worth talking about. Instead of being overwhelmed by the combined population, they took it as an opportunity to further develop their programs and provide an even more enriching theater arts experience.

They created a tech program that is thriving and enabling students to become skilled in all aspects of production, while supporting an ambitious year of performances across the 3 grades. They even created student directing experiences for 8th graders in support of the 6th grade spring production.

Learning the tools of the theater trade.

The Bedford Theater Company, which is co-led this year by Karen McCormick and Ben Frimmer, with help from Alicia D’Anna, is currently rehearsing for Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical.” There will be 4 performances the weekend of March 27.

Mr. Frimmer assembled an all-star production team of working professionals to help him bring this quirky piece of literature to life. Matilda is the only offering this year that included all 3 grades. If Coleytown reopens on schedule it will be the only time this ever happens.

“Matilda” creates an opportunity to highlight what is possible when a community comes together and makes the most of a situation. The students. educators and professionals have taken this tumultuous moment in Westport’s time and turned it into something to celebrate.

“Matilda the Musical” will be performed at Bedford Middle School the weekend of March 27. (Photos/January Stewart)

“Matilda” is a great example of how the Coleytown crisis actually served to enrich the middle school student experience in Westport. It is fitting that one of the overarching themes of “Matilda” is the idea of standing up in the face of adversity.

Thanks, Amy. You nailed it. This week’s Unsung Heroes are everyone who makes this production of “Matilda the Musical” possible. Click here for tickets and more information. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net.