Category Archives: Teenagers

Staples Wins State Freshman Rugby Title

It’s been quite a year for the Staples High School freshman rugby team.

Last week they beat the Greenwich High frosh team — a first for any Wrecker rugby team, at any level. That earned the 9th graders an undefeated season record.

Today Staples played in the state freshman championship game. Once again, they faced Greenwich.

Once again they prevailed — in a 59-14 rout.

It’s the first-ever state rugby championship for the entire Staples rugby program.

Even more remarkable: Many of the frosh never played rugby until this year.

Congratulations, lads (and coaches!).

Staples High School: state freshman rugby champions.

(Hat tip: Rebecca Mace)

From Williamsport To Westport: Last Inning For Baseball Stars

Six years ago, 11 6th and 7th grade baseball players mesmerized Westport.

The youngsters battled their way through through local, state and regional competition. They won in blowouts, and in nail-biting fashion.

They kept winning — all the way to the Little League World Series finals, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In 2013, Westport Little League All-Stars (front from left) Tatin Llamas, Chris Drbal and Chad Knight, plus Harry Azadian (rear) celebrated one of their many wins.

The dream ended in the championship game — on national TV — but they returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

It was a fantastic run. Unfortunately, too many times in youth sports, success at an early age is a recipe for disaster later on.

All that attention turns their heads. Other kids catch up — and surpass them. They discover other interests. Or they burn out.

Not every 12-year-old gets interviewed by ESPN. Harry Azadian did.

Thankfully, that is definitely not the case here.

Six years later, the Westport Little League All-Stars have become stars of the Staples High School baseball team.

Two years ago, they won the state LL (extra large schools) championship. This year, they’re battling for it again.

It’s a bittersweet time for them — and their parents. Four of the 11 players are seniors (the other 7 graduated last year). They’ve been together since they were 9 years old.

Soon — hopefully later rather than sooner, but in a single-elimination tournament, you never know — they will play their last game together.

Drew Rogers (7) and Chad Knight (27) celebrate. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

It’s an especially emotional time for Tim Rogers. He was their head coach, from those 9-year-old days through Williamsport, then beyond in travel baseball.

He’s watched with pride — and helped immensely — as his son Drew, and fellow seniors Harry Azadian, Chad Knight, Charlie Roof, have grown as baseball players.

And grown up, from boys into young men.

Rogers is proud of many things. One is that they handled that Little League World Series experience so well. Despite the demands of the sport — and the media — they were still kids. They met other players from around the world. They hung out, and made friends. 

Enjoying the 2013 parade, in the streets of Williamsport.

Then they took that experience, and brought it into the rest of their lives far beyond Williamsport.

Rogers is also proud that they have continued to play — and love — baseball. No one burned out. No one quit. No one peaked as a 12-year-old.

He is proud that 2 years ago — when other All-Stars, including Matt Stone, Tatin Llamas, Max Popken, Chris Drbal and Alex Reiner were still playing together — Staples beat 4-time defending state champion Amity High 5-1, in the LL title game.

Four years after the Little League World Series: pure joy, as Staples stops 4-time defending champion Amity High in the state class LL final.

All along, Rogers says, “they’ve found a way to win. They’re deep as a team, but that winning mentality is something intangible.”

He’s proud that they have become leaders. His son, Azadian and Knight are captains of this year’s Wreckers. They’re passing their competitiveness and values on to the younger players.

Rogers is proud that the Little League World Series finalists remained poised and humble. Ever since Williamsport, whenever they’re interviewed, they’ve put baseball in perspective.

Rogers may be proudest though that the longtime teammates still love being together. Through all their success — and occasional disappointments — they’ve remained close friends.

Captains (from left) Drew Rogers, Chad Knight and Harry Azadian, with Staples coach Jack McFarland. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Staples’ Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference is a brutal league. The Wreckers have had to fight for what they’ve gotten, every year.

This spring, they finished with the best record. On Wednesday night they avenged a regular season defeat to Fairfield Ludlowe by winning the FCIAC championship in storybook fashion.

Jake D’Amico — one of those younger players — drove in the winning run. On a 3-2 pitch. With 2 outs. In the bottom of the last inning.

Knight pitched a complete game, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 5.

Chad Knight (center) jumps for joy, as the Wreckers race onto the field after their dramatic FCIAC title win. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

The final quest — the state championship — starts Tuesday.

Graduations are always wonderful, and hard. For Rogers — who just turned 50, and saw his oldest son graduate from college — watching Drew and his baseball teammates march down the aisle, and out of high school, will be “one more step in my process,” he laughs.

So right now, he — and all the other parents, who have been together through so much and so long — are hoping the season lasts as long as it can.

So do the boys of so many summers.

The FCIAC champion 2019 Staples High School baseball team. (Photo copyright Chris Greer)

Emma Borys Speaks Up — And Out — About Epilepsy

Last October, “06880” honored the work Emma Borys was doing with epilepsy. The Staples High School junior — diagnosed with the disease in 6th grade — is an outspoken advocate for research and education.

This spring, she was chosen as the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut‘s representative for a lobbying effort in Washington, DC.

Emma had been helped by trainers who spoke to her teachers about the myths and realities of epilepsy.

But many students don’t have that opportunity. The DC program brought teenagers to the Capitol, to urge their representatives to approve CDC funding for that educational program.

Emma joined one student from each state. They gathered in a large room, and shared personal stories. The goal was to help them become comfortable speaking the next day with legislators.

“I’d never really talked to another teenager about epilepsy,” Emma says. “It’s great to realize we have similar experiences and hardships.”

The next day, Emma met with her congressman, Jim Himes, as well as 2 other Connecticut representatives: Rosa DeLauro and John Larson. She also spoke with staffers from DeLauro and Joe Courtney’s offices.

Congressman Jim Himes and Emma Borys.

All were very receptive. The mother of a Himes staffer has epilepsy, Emma says, so he seemed particularly interested.

Emma felt empowered and energized by the lobbying day. But her advocacy is not over.

Last weekend, she participated in a fundraising march in Stamford. She was proud of her efforts — and wants “o6880” readers to know that donations can still be made through May 25. Just click here to help.

A Bedroom For Bryant

The National Charity League is a great organization. With over 250 chapters nationwide, it offers mothers and daughters a chance to work together on community service projects.

The Westport chapter is thriving. Its members include 18 Staples seniors. Many have worked together for 6 years.

They’re about to graduate — from high school, and NCL. They wanted their final project to be especially meaningful.

It was.

They heard about Circle of Care. Since 2005, its Art from the Heart program has transformed over 120 bedrooms and play areas in the homes of young cancer patients into lively, joyful wonderlands.

The girls spent weeks designing an amazing makeover for a teenager named Bryant. He lives in Beacon Falls, and is undergoing leukemia treatment at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Bryant’s bedroom, before the makeover.

They spent this past weekend turning their plans into reality. It was hard work.

Amanda Samuels and Juliette Schwebel measure fabric …

… while Kaya Leitner, Maddie Phelps and Cece Adams cut …

… and Mia Kobylinski, Lili Romann and Juliette Schwebel finish the job.

But then came the reveal.

The bedroom …

… and the bed.

Soon, the 18 National Charity League girls will graduate. They will receive many nice gifts.

But none can ever compare to the gift they all gave Bryant.

Bryant, with the Westport National Charity League girls. (Photos/Susan Kobylinski)

Our Town’s Players

David Roth has acted in 3 productions of “Our Town.”

In 1980 — the summer he moved to Westport, as a rising Staples High School freshman — his introduction to his new town’s drama community came via Thornton Wilder’s classic play.

A few years later in college, he was cast in it again. The third time was as an adult, with the Wilton Playshop.

Kerry Long was introduced to “Our Town” as a Staples student. English teacher Karl Decker traditionally read it to his senior class.

Roth and Long now co-direct Staples Players. But in over 60 years, the nationally recognized organization has produced the play only once.

That was in 1962. Craig Matheson directed, 4 years after founding Players.

This Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26), Roth and Long will stage “Our Town” again.

Both love it.

“It’s brilliant,” Roth says. “It so well captures the human experiences we all go through.”

Much has changed in 57 years. Besides the auditorium, there’s now a smaller Black Box theater.

That’s where Players will stage “Our Town,” from Thursday through Sunday (May 23 through 26).

But much has not changed.

The set is spare. Props are minimal. Very little separates the audience from the actors, or both from life’s experiences.

Emily (Sophie Rossman) and George (Nick Rossi) at the soda shop. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Players’ 2019 cast wears contemporary clothing. Though the play is set in 1938 — and the “play within a play” covers the years 1901 to 1913  — Roth and Long want their audience to focus on the timelessness of the message, not its time frame.

The directors make good use of the Black Box’s intimacy and versatility. The audience sits on stage. They flank the actors, so the action happens both in front and behind.

Roth and Long have loved “Our Town” for years. They are excited to introduce a new generation of performers — and theater-goers — to it.

Mrs. Gibbs (Camille Foisie) and Doc Gibbs (Tobey Patton). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Most of the teenage actors knew of of the play, Roth says. But few of them actually “knew” it.

Now they appreciate it as much as their directors do.

That’s the magic of theater. Of “Our Town.”

And of Staples Players.

(“Our Town” will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m. Online tickets are sold out, but a limited number will be available half an hour before curtain, at the door.)

Unsung Heroes #98

Unsung Heroes come from every corner of Westport. They’re in every walk of life — and of every age.

Today, “06880” honors 3 Westport students.

Brett Malizia is a 4th grader at Long Lots Elementary School. His friend and classmate Eden Kopreski was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

As soon as Brett heard, he told his mother — Westport native Ursula Richards Malizia — he wanted to help.

He says:

Before I learned Eden had leukemia, I cared about cancer, but not as much as now. When you learn a friend has cancer, it changes everything. I want to do this because I want every child to be healthy, especially Eden.

Eden has always always been very nice, kind, and funny. She’s such a good friend.

I also know how awful it is to experience being hospitalized and having needles because this happened to me when I was younger with stomach problems. This made me feel so bad for her, so I wanted to figure out how to help.

The 2 families met. Brett decided to run in the Faxon Law 5K Road Race at Jennings Beach on Saturday, June 1. Eden will join him. So will Eden’s twin brother Gavin, her older brother Lucas, and Brett’s mom.

The next day, Brett and his mother will be back — for the Faxon Law half marathon.

Brett Malizia trained for the Faxon races by running in last month’s Minute Man Race. He was joined at the Compo Beach finish line by Eden Kopreski.

They would love having fans cheer them on — or, even better, joining them as they run and walk. (Click here for more information.)

Eden’s family started a GoFundMe page. Part of the money raised will go toward her medical care. Some will also be donated to a leukemia survivor organization.  (Click here to help.)

“I want Eden to be healthy and have a great life,” Brett says. I hope a lot of people contribute to this fight against leukemia and mostly to help Eden.

Brett Malizia and Eden Kopreski: You are true heroes!

Eden’s supporters will wear t-shirts with this on the front, at the Faxon road races next month.

So is Julia Davis.

Though the Staples High School sophomore is busy with dance, Best Buddies, homework, family obligations and friends, she always finds time for AWARE.

That’s the great local organization (the acronym stands for Assisting Women Through Action, Resources and Education) that each year partners with a different non-profit, for a variety of events.

Julia joined AWARE KIDS — the youth arm — as a Kings Highway 5th grader. Her volunteer efforts included preparing diaper bags for new mothers at Malta House, and cooking international recipes with women at Caroline House.

Julia Davis

Julia also works at the annual AWARE fundraiser, and recruits friends to help. She began as a greeter. This year (June 1, Burr Mansion in Fairfield) she has a key role.

The event will help the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. For over 100 years, CIRI has served newcomers to America, and helped them thrive.

Julia has played an active role in Staples’ CIRI Girls’ Club. Each month, CIRI girls ages 10 to 20 join high schoolers to practice English, and enjoy activities like yoga and arts and crafts. The Staples girls also provide homework help and dinner.

Strong bonds have formed. Julia texts her new friends between meetings. She sends them inspiring message. They in turn inspire her.

Combining two of her passions — dance and volunteering — Julia recently led a Girls’ Club dance session. She got even the shyest girls to participate — and 25 AWARE women, who had planned only to watch. Julia created a specially choreographed number just for them.

Right now, Julia is focused on making AWARE’s “Hope Starts Here” June 1 fundraiser a success. She tells everyone she knows about the food, dancing, raffle — and hearing the immigrant and refugee girls talk about their experiences.

Julia is a true Unsung Hero too. To support her efforts and help the AWARE fundraiser, click here.

(Hat tips: Lindsay Shurman and Amy Saperstein)

Vaping Sequel: Merritt Country Store Removes Signs

Yesterday’s post about vaping drew more than 60 comments.

To recap: An “06880” reader wrote about her frustration that the Merritt Country Store’s front windows were plastered with ads for vaping products. She suggested a boycott of the convenience store, next to Coffee An’.

Juul ads at the Merritt Country Store.

Many people responded with outrage about vaping. Some were upset about the boycott call, saying it was one more example of how hard it is to do business here.

Bart Shuldman defended the store. He suggested that instead of demanding a boycott, the original writer should have gone in and told the owners of her concerns.

Dan Katz wondered why Bart didn’t do that himself.

So he did.

Here’s Bart’s report:

I stopped by the store today. The signs were already removed. When I spoke to my friend at the shop, he said:

“We are here to serve the community. We want people to like us. We were so upset when we heard it. We are a mom and pop trying to make it despite the high rent. Just talk to us.”

Action was indeed swift. Here’s the store today:

(Photo/Bart Shuldman)

Now, if you have a problem with lottery tickets: Hold your fire.

[OPINION] Westport Mom: Boycott Stores That Promote Vaping

An alert — and concerned — “06880” reader writes:

The other day my daughters and I walked by the Merritt Country Store. The small shop sells food, candy, cigarettes, magazines, lottery tickets — and all kinds of vaping cartridges. The most well-known are Juuls.

We were on our way to Coffee An’, one of our favorite places in town. I noticed the bright, bold posters in the windows of the Merritt store. All but one advertised vaping. All are placed at children’s eye level.

Ads at the Merritt Country Store. The one on the left is for lottery tickets; all the others are for Juuls.

It reminded me of a great presentation that Dr. Ruth Potee gave recently at Staples High School about drug and alcohol use. She described the e-cigarette campaigns that companies utilize to advertise directly to kids.

They use bold, colorful print to draw attention to products in an effort to get kids attracted, and addicted, early.

There’s even a term for this generation of nicotine-addicted children: “Nic Kids.” There may be fewer smokers in this generation, but nicotine use via e-cigarettes or vaping, is clearly on the rise.

According to former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb — a Westport resident — 3.6 million teenagers (middle and high school students) vaped in 2017. That’s a 40% increase since 2011.

Companies market kid-appealing flavors, such as “fruity” vape cartridges (Juul) via online ads, and cool colorful posters in store windows where kids buy candy, gum and soda,

The federally mandated warnings tell one story. The colorful graphics and alluring text tell quite another.

Teenagers’ developing brains quickly become addicted to nicotine via e-cigarettes and other pod-based nicotine delivery systems. E-cigarette use affects brain development, lungs and future addictive behavior.

A new FDA report connects e-cig devices and vaping with seizures.

As the mother of 3 children, I speak openly about addiction and the undermining of their brains by means of these “ends” (electronic nicotine delivery systems).

I urge every adult to avoid patronizing any store that advertises these drugs to our kids. The only ones who benefit are the drug companies and the stores that advertise and sell their products.

Our kids pay the price.

Say Thank You. Please.

Right after graduation last year, I posted this story on “06880.” I’ve had requests to run it again — this time a bit earlier. Done!

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

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

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

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

Officially, that is.

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

On their own time.

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

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

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

Some do.

But nowhere near as many as you think.

Victoria Capozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, many do.

For Jem Sollinger, Summer Camp Is A Year-Long Job (And Joy)

It’s May. For a substantial population of Westport kids, that means one thing: Camp is around the corner.

Every summer, tweens and teens head to the woodsier parts of New England, New York and (less often) other states. They spend a few weeks doing all the traditional camp stuff, and plenty of modern-day activities that keep kids coming (and coming back).

Camp Laurel, in Maine.

But campfires, counselors — and campers — don’t fall from the sky. Camping is a year-round business.

And for much of the year, some of that business is conducted not in the wilds of Maine, but a pair of 2nd-floor offices on Main Street. Both Camp Manitou and Camp Laurel have space in Brooks Corner.

Jem Sollinger is the director of (and a partner in) Laurel. The 7-week sleepaway camp serves boys and girls ages 7 to 15, with a wide array of programs and experiences.

It’s a great career for the Westport native. An All-New England soccer pick and captain, 4-time All-State skier, and member of the choir in Staples High School’s Class of 1988, he too is a Laurel alum.

His camp experience also includes Mahackeno and the Intercommunity Camp in Westport, and the Soccer Farm at Pomfret School.

Jem first realized he could make camping a career as a senior in high school. The owner of Packer Soccer Camps in New Canaan gave him a job — and plenty of autonomy. He learned personnel management on the fly (including the challenges of bossing 2 of his best friends).

Laurel was his 3rd “real” job. After graduating from Union College he was a teacher and coach, then had a stint with an advertising and event management agency.

Then Laurel hired him as assistant director. He’s been there ever since. Laurel is now a family affair. His wife Debbie also serves as director and partner. Their oldest daughter was a Laurel camper; their youngest 2 still are.

For Jem and Debbie Sollinger, and their 3 girls, summer camp is a family affair.

“Director” is a catch-all title. Jem’s responsibilities include managing logistics, anticipating and solving problems, and setting every camper up for success. “We keep them safe, while encouraging them to take risks, learn new skills, and build a sense of self,” he says. He collaborates and partners with parents too.

Jem is also in charge of counselors, administrators and behind-the-scenes operations staff. He empowers, supervises and coaches all of them.

Much of his autumn-through-spring work in Westport — where he has a full-time staff of 6 — involves staffing. Some come back every year. But many are college students, so he is often in hiring mode.

Jem and his Westport staff recruit at colleges across the country. They use social media. They encourage current and former staffers to tell friends and teammates about their own growth experiences as counselors.

It’s not easy finding “warm, genuine, enthusiastic” college-age counselors — and in today’s market, it can be especially difficult.

“The pressure to get an internship is great,” Jem acknowledges. “There is definitely value to that experience.”

But, he says, “the life skills, relationships and memories gained from a summer working as a camp counselor are incomparable.”

Some of the Camp Laurel staff.

Westport has been fertile ground. Jem has hired a number of Staples grads.

Right now, he’s finalizing his summer staff. He’s talking to people who just graduated from college, or whose internships fell through, or who realize that a couple of months helping kids grow in the woods is a lot more intriguing than commuting to New York.

He’s doing plenty more, of course. Moving the entire operation from Westport to Maine — and getting the 50-acre property ready — is in itself a full-time job.

But if any energetic, self-motivated, hard-working, outdoors-oriented, kid-loving college-age people want to join him, Jem is happy to chat.

Click here for the Camp Laurel website. Email: staff@camplaurel.com.

FUN FACT: Jem Sollinger is not the only Staples High School alum with a full-time job in camping. Corey Frimmer of the Class of ’92 is director of Camp Wicosuta in New Hampshire.