Category Archives: Teenagers

Staples Crosses Country For National Title

Slowly, methodically, the Staples High School boys cross country team has won increasingly important championships.

Okay, not slowly. Very, very quickly.

First came the FCIAC (league) title. Then the state LL (extra large schools) crown. After that: the state open, New Englands, and a close 2nd place finish at the Northeast regionals.

Tomorrow the squad chases the biggest prize of all. The Wreckers are in Portland, Oregon, where they will run in the Nike Cross Nationals. The event brings together the top 2 teams from every region in the US.

Cross country is not a huge spectator sport. But it’s a great one.

If you’ve got time tomorrow (Saturday, December 3, 2:35 p.m.), you can enjoy a live webcast of the race. Just click here.

And don’t worry about spending a lot of time watching. The Staples cross country team will cover the course — as usual — very, very quickly.

Staples cross country captain and star runner Zak Ahmad wins another race.

Staples cross country captain and star Zak Ahmad wins another race.

O Christmas Tree!

With the help of a gaggle of little kids, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe lit the town Christmas tree this evening, on the Town Hall lawn.

Staples’ Orphenians sang. The Westport Historical Society provided hot chocolate. Youngsters gleefully counted down “3 … 2 … 1!”

Rockefeller Center it ain’t.

But it doesn’t have to be. Another Westport holiday season has “officially” begun.

Luke Rosenberg leads the Staples Orphenians.

Luke Rosenberg leads the Staples Orphenians.

Boys and girls help 1st Selectman Jim Marpe with the countdown.

Boys and girls help 1st Selectman Jim Marpe with the countdown.

The tree is lit. It's on the front lawn of Town Hall, on Myrtle Avenue.

The tree is lit. It’s on the front lawn of Town Hall, on Myrtle Avenue.


Jim Hood: It’s Time To Face Our Addiction Crisis

For the past 4 years, the Hood family has celebrated a different Thanksgiving than many Westporters. On Thursday, the Huffington Post published this story by Jim Hood.

It generated immediate — and heartfelt — responses, from all across the country.

Jim says:

Almost every day a parent shares with me the loss of their child, and asks what we can do about this horrific crisis.

What we can do is to create a movement — as has happened with every other major health issue in our country — where millions of people say, “enough is enough.”

They decide to volunteer, speak out, write letters to the editor, walk/swim/bike, send money or whatever.  But they realize they must do something if they want this crisis to end.

No such movement has ever been created in the addiction space, likely because of the stigma and shame. That is what this piece is about.

Here is Jim’s Huffington Post story.


Today marks the 4th Thanksgiving with an empty chair at our table. It also marks my son Austin’s 25th birthday. But he won’t be joining us, because he died of a drug overdose 4 years ago. A part of me died that day, too. My life, and my family’s, will never be the same because addiction ravaged us just as it ravages millions of families – of every color, religion, education, economic status and moral code.

Austin Hood

Austin Hood

Austin began using alcohol when he was 14. By 15 he had moved on to marijuana and by 16 was using prescription drugs. From there it only got worse. Throughout our journey with Austin’s addiction – through countless therapists, interventions, therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness programs and ER visits – we were terrified and lost.

We were uncertain where to turn next, because there was no road map. Instead, there was a profound sense of hopelessness and helplessness. And, of course, the staggering expenses. Also through it all there was the stigma…and shame. Austin was ashamed he suffered from addiction, and could not overcome its grip. It is imponderable and so very sad to imagine someone being ashamed of having a serious illness.

After nearly 6 years, Austin was in a much better place. Finally, his life seemed settled, and there was a real sense of optimism and purpose. There was talk of a bright future…finishing college and on to grad school. And then I got the phone call that brings any parent to his or her knees: my beautiful boy was dead of a drug overdose. Even though we talked or texted every single day, I’m sure my son was too ashamed to call me and say, “Dad… I’m struggling again and I need your help.” And so, ours is just another sad story, and my son is only a memory.

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Austin Hood (left) and his siblings, at their Compo Beach home.

Our country loses nearly 150,000 people – mostly young adults – each year to alcohol and other drugs. And then there are the more than 20 million who suffer every day from addiction. And only 1 in 10 ever receives any treatment. Can you imagine if only 1 in 10 people suffering from cancer or diabetes ever received treatment? I suspect you can’t…because it is unimaginable…and unconscionable.

Last week the Surgeon General issued a history-making report on the addiction crisis in America. His message was clear: Addiction is a chronic illness, not a matter of moral failing. He told us addiction is preventable, addiction is treatable, and recovery is possible. But the Surgeon General also said science tells us how to solve this problem. Now we need to marshal the resources and will to address addiction in our communities. How we respond to this crisis is a moral test of America.

We all view the world through our own lenses, and too often we see and hear only the facts that reinforce our worldview. But just like going to the eye doctor, lenses can be changed. And when they are, we suddenly see the world differently. And that opens possibilities.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Jim Hood, and Austin.

Because of the Surgeon General’s report, we have a new lens.

· Now we can see addiction for what it really is – an illness – and not a matter of moral failing. This changes everything.

· Now that we can see that people suffering from addiction are hurting and in need, rather than weak, everything changes.

· Now that we understand addiction demands a health care response, not a criminal justice response, it changes everything.

We need to see the people who are suffering from addiction for who they really are — our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, friends, neighbors and co-workers — people who did not ask or want to become ill, and who simply want and deserve our love and support on the journey to getting better and living their lives. If we all see addiction through this new lens, it truly changes everything.

Facing Addiction logoFacing Addiction is proud to be partnering with the Surgeon General to turn the tide against addiction in America, but to succeed we need to build a massive movement of people who will help fight this fight. Not just people who are concerned about the addiction crisis, but people willing to step up and do something about it. To accomplish the tremendous amount of work that is needed in education, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, we need tens of millions to lend their help and financial support – just as they do every day with other major health issues such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so on. We absolutely can defeat addiction, but we all need to do our part.

There is much to be thankful for this and every Thanksgiving. But there is also much to be concerned about. There is a health and human rights crisis that is crippling our nation and stealing our youth. With one in every three households impacted by addiction, everybody knows somebody whose life has been turned upside down – or worse.

If there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is (or might be) struggling, don’t be afraid to show your love and compassion. It’s the first step in helping someone get better…and maybe even saving a life.

That first, small step is how we can all do our part to begin Facing Addiction in America. God knows…it’s time.

Jim Hood is co-founder and CEO of Facing Addiction. For more information, click here.

Kids Dodge Cops At Staples

Across America, tensions are high between police and the communities they serve.

In Westport, cops and teenagers squared off tonight.

It was all in good fun — and for a good cause.

Westport Youth Commission member Colin Corneck sports a "Collaborative" t-shirt.

Westport Youth Commission member Colin Corneck sports a “Police and Youth Collaborative” t-shirt.

Staples’ Teen Awareness Group, Youth Commission, PAL and Westport Police Department sponsored the 5th annual Dodge-a-Cop tournament, in the high school fieldhouse.

A few hundred kids and a few dozen cops played dodgeball against — and with — each other. There had to be at least 1 officer on each team.

Cops and kids listen to instructions, before the massive tournament began.

Cops and kids listen to instructions, before the massive tournament began.

It was a great, bonding event. The money raised — from entry fees and food sales — went to the Chris Lemone Fund, in honor of the Staples outreach counselor who died last year.

It was a night to show off Westport’s finest.

And by that I mean: everyone who was there.

Police chief Foti Koskinas is flanked by dodgeball players Det. Sgt. Sereneti Dobson and Lt. Jillian Cabara. The referee (front) is Det. Sharon Russo.

Police chief Foti Koskinas is flanked by dodgeball players Det. Sgt. Sereneti Dobson and Lt. Jillian Cabara. The referee (front) is Det. Sharon Russo.

Stephen Rowland, Reid Rizack, Spencer Daniels and Max Zimmerman get ready to rumble.

Stephen Rowland, Reid Rizack, Spencer Daniels and Max Zimmerman get ready to rumble.

Dodgeball is not just for guys and cops!

Dodgeball is not just for guys and cops!

Police officers and everyone else: Watch out for Kenny Brill!

Police officers and everyone else: Watch out for Kenny Brill!

Everyone wants to know who's in the lead.

Youth Commission and TAG members keep score.

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Dylan’s Touchdown [UPDATE: Video Added]

Dylan Curran is a Staples High School freshman. Like many teenagers, he loves sports.

At the beginning of the school year — through the encouragement of quarterback Jake Thaw and his family — the special education student was invited to be the team’s assistant manager. He helped carry the med kit and water, and aided the coaches and team in countless ways.

Dylan had a wonderful time. He attended practices and games, wearing street clothes and a borrowed jersey.

Last night was different.

In the locker room before game time, the team helped Dylan get dressed in full football gear: pads, cleats, and of course a helmet.

Coach Drew Smith and Dylan Curran.

Coach Drew Smith and Dylan Curran.

He was thrilled. But there was more to come.

Dylan Curran (#29) and his teammates, before the game. (Photo/

Dylan Curran (#29) and his teammates, before the game. (Photo/Chris Greer)

Coach Drew Smith, fellow Staples freshman coaches Jared Smith, Ty Guarante and Chris Jerome — and their Greenwich High counterparts — arranged a special play.

On the Staples field — under the lights — Dylan scored a touchdown!

Dylan scores! (Photos/

Dylan scores! (Photo/Chris Greer)

The Wreckers ran over. They high-fived, hugged him, and chanted “Dylan! Dylan! Dylan!”


(Photo/Chris Greer)

Staples lost the football game, 34-13.

But they sure won the game of life.

Staples Wins Prestigious Athletic Cup

Most high schools across the country pay attention to some combination of academics, arts, athletics and activities. It’s tough to do all 4 well.

Staples High School is not “most high schools.”

All 4 of those “A’s” get equal attention, from administrators, staff, parents and (of course) students.

“06880” often highlights Staples’ academics, arts and activities. To the surprise of many, I steer clear of (most) athletics. There’s a good reason: sports gets plenty of newspaper and online coverage elsewhere.*

(Though here’s a plug for my boys soccer team. If you see them, congratulate them on a fantastic run during the state tournament. Those boys became men, and I am intensely proud of them.)

The Staples High School boys soccer team celebrates a state tournament victory in South Windsor. (Photo/Armelle Daniels)

The Staples High School boys soccer team celebrates a state tournament victory in South Windsor. (Photo/Armelle Daniels)

But here’s great news about Staples’ entire athletic program. For the 20th time since 1988, the school has received the Michaels Cup. It’s awarded by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for outstanding achievement in 7 areas: sportsmanship, participation, scholarship, personnel, equity, chemical-free initiatives and athletic success.

Staples athletic director Marty Lisevick — who compiled data upon which the Michaels Cup was awarded — says it highlights “not only our coaching staff, but the character education they develop with kids, win, lose or draw.”

block-s-officialHe cites the community service undertaken by many Staples teams. The football squad leads a school-wide breast cancer awareness campaign, for example; the boys soccer team works with the Farmers’ Market to shop, cook and serve meals at the Gillespie Center.

Lisevick also does leadership training with captains, including a conference at NYU.

“Our kids are successful athletically,” Lisevick notes. “But they’re also successful academically. They go above and beyond wins and losses. We try to develop people who will be successful later in whatever they do.”

Staples was honored last night, at a banquet in Southington.

This morning it’s back to work: on the athletic fields, in the classroom, and in all the activities that make up a full, well-rounded life.

One exception: Check out yesterday’s story on the Staples field hockey team. Go Wreckers!

Staples Field Hockey Goes For Gold

The Staples High School soccer and football teams get more publicity. More fans too.

But the Wrecker field hockey team is doing something on Saturday that those other squads are not this fall: playing for a state championship.

The 2016 Staples field hockey team.

The 2016 Staples field hockey team.

Quietly — but steadily, and with great talent and poise — coach Ian Tapsall’s girls have rolled to a phenomenal record. They’re undefeated (18-0-2-1) in regulation play. They’re confident, strong, tough, fit. And very, very good.

They put it all on the line against Darien on Saturday (10 a.m.) at Wethersfield High School. Sure, it’s a long way to go for 2 teams in near-neighboring towns.

But it will be worth it.

This is the Wreckers’ 1st field hockey state final since 1974. Back then, the coach was the legendary Jinny Parker.

Staples plays its home matches at Virginia Parker Field. And these girls know their history.

Before every game they look up, wave thank you and pay tribute to Parker — the founder of their program.

The Staples team waves to their founder, Jinny Parker.

The Staples team waves to their founder, Jinny Parker.

On Saturday — against the Darien Blue Wave — Jinny Parker may well be “waving” back.

Jinny Parker, during the 1974 season.

Jinny Parker, during the 1974 season.


The Holidays Are Here! Candlelight Concert Tickets Available Tomorrow.

Last year’s 75th Candlelight Concert celebration was classic — a warm, wonderful mix of voices, instruments, tradition, reverence, fun and joy that captivated audiences from near and far.

So what can Staples High School’s music department do for an encore?

They’ll reach for the brass ring again with their 76th.

The timeless "Sing We Noel" processional, in 2015. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The timeless “Sing We Noel” processional, in 2015. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This year’s Candlelight Concert — featuring the symphonic orchestra, concert band and 3 vocal ensembles — includes longtime favorites like the “Sing We Noel” processional, excerpts from the “Nutcracker Suite,” “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale, along with exciting new additions.

Performances are set for Friday, December 16 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 17 (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.). The free tickets always go fast. This year — for the first time ever — they’ll be available online. Requests will be taken starting tomorrow (Thursday, November 17); click here for the form.

A limited number of tickets can be requested by mail (through December 9). Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Candlelight Tickets, Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. For more information, call 203-341-1243.

[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.

  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.


The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

A Staples Senior Looks At Veterans Day

Every year, Bill Vornkahl — organizer of Westport’s Veterans Day ceremonies — asks Staples High School assistant principal Rich Franzis to recommend a senior to speak.

Franzis — a veteran himself — always finds an outstanding 12th grader. This year was no exception.

Spencer Daniels — a Staples soccer team captain who has earned a nomination to the US Military Academy — delivered these remarks yesterday.

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  -G.K. Chesterton

Serving one’s country, motivated by patriotism, is the most honorable commitment one can make. Willingly accepting the negatives of war and battle in order to defend the freedoms we have been blessed with is, honestly, incredible.

Spencer Daniels delivers Veterans Day remarks at Town Hall.

Spencer Daniels delivers Veterans Day remarks at Town Hall.

All those who have dedicated their lives to serving our country know one thing for certain. While in service, as well as civilian life, the primary list of priorities, and the basis for nearly all vital decisions, is Mission, Men, Me, or “M.M.M.”

Soldiers, and thus veterans, have a different set of values from others. Typically, individuals are motivated to help themselves. Soldiers cannot have this mentality.

As a United States Military Academy commit, I have already begun applying this to my own life. I began to understand the true meaning of MMM after speaking with Sean Gallagher, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, who also happens to be a former Staples soccer player. He guided me through everything he experienced that led him to follow the Mission, Men, Me structure. He did this in order to help me lead our soccer team in the best way possible.

He helped me understand that the mission, which is winning the state championship, matters most. Everything that our team does must help us achieve our mission.

The next most important thing on the priorities list is my teammates. Unhappy, lethargic and disappointed teammates would hurt us, so my second priority was to ensure that all players were happy, respected, and valued.

Finally, if there is room, I can worry and focus on myself. However, mission and men always come before me.



Spencer Daniels (3rd from right) gives everything he has on the soccer field in a pre-season scrimmage. The back of Staples’ t-shirts say “MMM.” (Photo/Frances Rowland)

After learning more about MMM, we decided to order Staples soccer preseason jerseys that had no numbers, but merely just MMM. This allowed us to focus more on our mission. Instead of everyone with their own numbers, we decided to represent our team as unified. With these preseason shirts, we showed that we were not a bunch of individuals playing together, but rather a team.

Now, enough about myself. The main message of my speech to you is that the patriotism, as well as the commitment to service, that was alive in all of your generations, is still much alive today. Although it may not always seem like it, commitment to service and country, as well as patriotism, are qualities present in my generation.

We have these qualities embedded in our roots due to the brave men who served before us. Our generation still feels the immense patriotism that many of your generations have passed onto us, and that will never fade for Americans.

We still feel, although it is not tangible, the struggle and pain you went through in order to ensure our freedom, protection, and the American way of life.

Spencer Daniels with Bill Vornkahl, longtime organizer of Westport's Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations.

Spencer Daniels with Bill Vornkahl, longtime organizer of Westport’s Veterans and Memorial Day celebrations.

So many teenagers still feel the obligation to serve, and I am proud to call myself one of these people. I, just like every other individual who chooses to serve, have service and patriotism embedded in my bones.

When I was 5 years old, I decided to have a military birthday party. I found doing PT and fighting invisible enemies far more interesting than a magician. I believe that my decision to serve our country began when I was just a little boy. One great influence on me was my great-grandfather, an Air Force veteran, who ran my birthday party.

On top of just myself, many of my classmates, even in a school with incredible wealth like Staples, choose to serve. Instead of following the “normal” path of going to college, becoming a banker, and making a ton of money, there are many individuals who want to join the military. Currently we have 5 applicants to service academies, and 7 individuals who are committed to enlisting immediately after high school graduation.

Memorial Day - Town Hall flag - 2016Service and patriotism run through all servicemembers’ blood, and is passed down from generation to generation. Those of you who have served have passed down, through your service, undeniable traits of patriotism and commitment to service.

While many of my classmates decide to compare cars, wealth, and other material possessions, we 12 have committed to serving our country. Without previous generations and their commitment to protecting our country, that number would be zero, and we would see those traits fade with every generation.

So for those who served, I would like to personally thank each and every one of you. Without you, I would not have to opportunity to serve. I am truly blessed, and proud to call all of you veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Veterans such as my great-grandfather have had a significant impact on my choosing to serve. Without veterans, I would not have made the decisions that I have made.

I look forward to following in your footsteps as a leader in the armed forces. I appreciate the time you have given me, and I hope I will make all of you proud. Thank you.