Category Archives: Teenagers

Anne Farkas’ Very Close Shave

For years, Anne Farkas was a warm, welcoming sight at Restoration Hardware. Her huge smile was familiar to every customer.

Her green hair — that’s new.

Anne Farkas

It all started with Brent McCreesh.

The Westporter was 3 years old. He’d spent over a year in the hospital, battling neuroblastoma cancer — only to be put in isolation at home for 6 months. He missed the nurses, staff and volunteers who played with him nonstop.

He pleaded with his parents to go back to the “fun” hospital. Then he met a few fantastic volunteer caregivers.

One was Anne. By then she was working at the Fairfield Public Library. She helping bring joy into Brent’s life.

She also became a face of St. Baldrick’s, the pediatric cancer fundraising organization that sponsors — among other things — head-shaving events. (The idea is to show solidarity with youngsters undergoing chemo treatments.)

Every year, Anne puts on an enormous bow tie and green leprechaun cap. She greets everyone at the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s St. Baldrick’s.

She’s also a prodigious fundraiser. She said when she reached $3,000, she’d add green highlights to her hair. At $5,000, she’d dye her hair green — and at $7,000, purple.

Now she’s set a new goal: $10,000. When Anne reaches that amount, she’ll shave her head at St. Baldrick’s. The event is set for next Sunday (March 24, Westport Y, 12 noon).

This year’s St. Baldrick’s is the last one for Anne and “Team Brent.” After 15 years, they’ve decided to focus on helping new groups grow. They know what they’re doing: So far, they’ve raised over $4 million.

Taking it all off for St. Baldrick’s, in 2015.

As always, this will be a great day. Head-shaving is done by volunteer stylists; there’s head painting too (and photos!), all while a DJ spins tunes.

There are inspirational speakers (hosted by sportscaster Deb Placey). Anthony Capalbo — whose son Charlie, a former Fairfield Ludlowe High School hockey player, has battled 2 cancers — will talk too.

Brent McCreesh will be there. He’s now 16 — and has been cancer-free for over 13 years.

He’ll take on comers in a challenge chess match. All funds will go to St. Baldrick’s.

See you there, mate!

(For more information on Anne Farkas and the March 24 St. Baldrick’s event — and to donate and register —click here, or email DanaMcCreesh@gmail.com) 

Who doesn’t love a bald guy?

Pics Of The Day #698

“Curtains” — Staples Players’ murder mystery musical — wowed audiences this weekend. The choreography, sets, pit orchestra — all were (as usual) astonishingly professional, entertaining and fun.

The show continues next Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday and next Saturday at 3 p.m. But when you see it, you’ll never get a view like this. Brandon Malin is a member of the lighting crew. He took these photos last night, from the catwalk.

Spot operators (from left) Maria Saravia, Michael Lederer and Charlie Norman. (Photos/Brandon Malin)

And here are a couple of shots of the cast:

Nick Rossi, as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi 

There’s plenty of dancing in “Curtains” (Photos/Kerry Long)

 

Town-wide Music Festival Wows Crowd

Westport’s Town-wide Music Festival is one of those fly-under-the-radar events.

Unless you’ve got a kid in it, chances are you won’t go. Or even hear of it.

But last week’s performance — with 5 Staples High School choral groups (including Orphenians), plus the Bedford and Coleytown Middle School 7th and 8th grade choral ensembles — deserves to be heard.

All music was written by guest conductor Jim Papoulis. At the end, all 300 students sang together. It was quite impressive.

Fortunately, former Staples Media Lab guru Jim Honeycutt taped the entire show. And uploaded it YouTube, for “06880” readers to enjoy at your leisure.

 

It’s “Curtains” For Staples Players

When the curtain rises on  “Curtains” this Friday, audiences will enjoy another superb Staples Players production.

The show — a musical mystery comedy by Rupert Holmes, with music by Kander and Ebb (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) — is clever. Contemporary, yet with a classic old-time, homage-to-musical-theater feel, it’s a play about putting on a play.

Nick Rossi, Chloe Manna and the “Curtains” dance ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because a stage manager is one of the key cast members, it’s time to shine a spotlight on that often-overlooked — but crucially important — role.

Players — the professional-quality high school troupe — has earned rave reviews and national awards since its founding 61 years ago. But like any Broadway show, none of it would be possible without behind-the-scenes help.

At Staples, stage manager is an enormous responsibility. Joe Xiang — a senior who earned the post this year — coordinates multiple aspects of the show. Each day he huddles with directors David Roth and Kerry Long, producer Michele Wrubel and technical director Peter DiFranco to keep everyone — and everything – progressing well.

He works with vice president of tech Karalyn Hood to coordinate set, paints and light. He oversees all 100-plus lighting cues with lighting designer Ben Wolfe, Roth and Long.

Stage manager Joe Xiang at work. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Curtains” includes three different scene drops. Over February, Players installed pulleys — a completely new element for Xiang, and one that he’s helping oversee too.

Next year, Xiang will take everything he’s learned with Players — people skills, task management, organization, critical thinking and more — as he studies business in college. Theater, though, will continue to be part of his life.

That’s certainly true for Michael Dodd. The 2017-18 stage manager is now a freshman at Duke University. But Roth asked him to help with this year’s set design.

Dodd took the drawing originally created by David Steltzer for Players’ first production of “Curtains” — in 2010 — and made them bigger and better. It was one more contribution from a stage manager — and one more way for Players to connect the past with the present, while providing an opportunity to learn everything possible about producing a first-rate show.

Four “generations” of Staples Players stage managers. From left: Joe Xiang (Staples High School Class of 2019), Jack Norman ’17, Michael Dodd ’18, Karalyn Hood ’20. (Photo/Kerry Long)

This weekend and next, audiences will roar for the actors. “Curtains” is a true ensemble show. It’s a whodunit filled with belly laughs, a catchy score and rousing old-Hollywood-meets-old-West dance numbers.

But none of it would be possible without Players’ stage managers. How great that that “role” will finally be noticed on stage.

(“Curtains” will be performed at Staples High School on Friday and Saturday, March 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, March 17 and Saturday, March 23. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available in the auditorium lobby 30 minutes prior to showtime.) 

Charlie And Will Capalbo: Goalies Try For An Amazing Save

Two years ago this month, “06880” reported a heart-breaking — yet inspiring — story.

Charlie Capalbo – Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior and star hockey goalie; grandson of Westport writer Ina Chadwick and Westport native Richard Epstein; son of Staples grad Jennifer Wilde Capalbo — was battling cancer. A tumor near his heart and lungs had spread to his lymph nodes.

Charlie’s Fairfield teammates and classmates rallied around him. So did his parents’ and grandparents’ Westport friends. A GoFundMe page raised nearly $200,000.

It took a year, but after grueling treatment Charlie’s cancer went into remission. He gained weight, felt good, and went off to Fairfield University. It was one of the greatest days of his family’s life.

Charlie Capalbo (Photo/Dave Gunn)

Charlie’s brother Will — now a senior at Ludlowe, and also a hockey goalie — says that being a cancer survivor is like playing that demanding position: “You have to always be prepared.”

But no one was prepared for the news just a month after Charlie started college. He was diagnosed with a new, aggressive form of cancer: leukemia.

Despite the devastating news, Charlie fought as strongly as he had the first time. He kept his sense of humor. He kept smiling.

He was hospitalized for 4 months. He underwent chemo, and radiation on his spine and brain. The goal was to prepare him for a bone marrow transplant.

Family members and friends all wanted to donate. Finding a match is not easy. Finally, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Charlie and his parents FaceTimed his brother Will with the news: He was a 90% match.

From left: Will and Charlie Capalbo, and their parents on the ice.

Will was thrilled. At last, he thought, he could do something for his brother. The boys were always close, Jenny says. But that kind of closeness is unbelievable.

“Goalies are a special breed,” Will says simply.

Indeed. For Will, being a bone marrow donor meant enduring needles in his back — and missing the end of his senior hockey season.

The procedure took place on February 4. Charlie, Will, his family and friends are all waiting now to learn whether it worked.

Meanwhile, Charlie remains upbeat. He’s been buoyed by the love of his family, the support of countless friends and strangers, and messages of encouragement from NHL stars.

He’s still fighting. This courageous goalie’s goal is to get back on the ice.

(Click here for Charlie Capalbo’s GoFundMe page. Click here for last Sunday’s NBC Sports video story on Charlie.)

Staples Students Merit Praise

This is not the kind of photo I usually post on “06880.”

For one thing, I stay away from lines of people staring at a camera.

For another, I’d much rather give a shout-out to a kid doing something different or unusual — carving his or her own path through high school — than the ones who are used to getting praise and applause.

But I love this photo of Staples High School’s National Merit Scholar finalists.

Front row (from left): Isabel Powell, Emma McKinney, Orly Salik, Genevieve Domenico. Middle: Andrew Moy, Angela Ji, Anisa Prasad, Sirina Prasad. Back: Martin Menz, Preston Lust, Joshua Zhang, Benjamin Tobben, Zachary Katz, Carter Teplica.

Take a look.

They’re split right down the middle by gender: 7 girls, 7 boys.

They’re ethnically diverse.

More importantly, they’re some of Westport’s brightest students. But they sure don’t look like they spend all their time all alone in their rooms, squeezing every last decimal point out of the GPAs.

No. They look like they’re having fun. They look like they like each other.

Plus, everyone has their own style.

I particularly like Preston’s hat.

And Anisa’s shirt.

Dream On: A Better Chance Changes Lives

Five years ago, Michael and Karen Wolfe were invited to A Better Chance of Westport‘s Dream Event.

They knew little about the organization, but were happy to support their friend. Michael expected a typical charity night: a fun cocktail party, silent auction and dinner.

Then the speeches began.

Two seniors were graduating from ABC — the program that brings academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color to Westport. They live in Glendarcy House on North Avenue, attend Staples High School, and take full advantage of the opportunity. But they give back to this community at least as much as they get.

That night, the young men spoke passionately about their 4 years with A Better Chance. Ruben Guardado talked about growing up in the San Diego barrio, and how coming to Westport opened his horizons to new worlds.

Khaliq Sanda spoke directly about overcoming metaphorical walls, and how ABC allowed his parents — immigrants from Cameroon — to fulfill their dreams of providing an excellent education for their son.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Ruben was headed to the University of Southern California, Khaliq to Duke. The Wolfes were in awe, hearing how one organization touched and changed two lives, on such profound levels.

Almost immediately, Michael and Karen decided to become more involved. Fortuitously, Diane Johnson sat at their table. She ran the host family committee. (Each ABC scholar is paired with a Westport family, with whom they spend every Sunday and one full weekend a month. The broadening experience often leads to lifelong friendships.)

The Wolfes’ own children — Jacob and Rachel, twins about to enter Staples themselves — were all in.

Over 4 years, they watched Jarod Ferguson blossom from a shy freshman from Philadelphia into a strong, capable young man, now proudly attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Jarod Ferguson (far left) with the Wolfe family.  They had dinner together every Sunday. This was their final get-together, at Compo Beach.

Last year, Michael introduced Jarod at the 2018 Dream Event. He said, “All we did was share our home over the weekend. But Jarod was willing to share his heart, his mind and his dreams with us. For that, we’re eternally grateful to him, his amazing mother Angela, and to A Better Chance of Westport.”

Michael — now ABC’s vice president of fundraising — is getting ready for this year’s Dream Event. It’s set for Saturday, March 30, at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

As he learned 5 years ago, it’s far more than a charity fundraiser. It’s a inspiring, remarkable evening. And it can be as life-changing for attendees as ABC has been for the scholars.

Once again, 2 graduating seniors will speak from the heart.

David Li and Darby Aurelien, A Better Chance of Westport’s 2 graduating seniors.

Since joining ABC 4 years ago from Queens, David Li has been active in basketball, rugby and track. He excels in art, which ABC helped facilitate.

David says:

ABC has been very helpful in my growth and development as a person. Not only have I been able to mature and better myself, but I had the opportunity to continue to pursue my interests and further my creativity.

Since sophomore year I have taken art lessons with Roe Halper. She has helped me immensely, guiding me to perfect my craft and exposing me to new styles and techniques. I am very grateful for everything that ABC and the Westport community have offered me.

“Woman,” an ink drawing by David Li.

It’s hard enough for most ABC scholars to leave their homes in 9th grade — but at least they start as new freshmen with their peers. Darby Aurelien made the transition from Teaneck, New Jersey as a sophomore.

But he too has thrived. Staples fostered his passion for music and public service. Last year Darby traveled to the Dominican Republic with Builders Beyond Borders, where he helped build classrooms. Next month, he heads to Guatemala.

He says:

My time in ABC has been filled with action-packed and memorable experiences. What was once a yearning attempt to just attend a new high school has turned into amicable relationships, wholehearted support, and a growing maturity.

The ABC program provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back. With B3 I bond with other students, learn to immerse myself in a community culture, and adapt to living conditions. It is a delight to see what we accomplished as a team to better the lives of others — as A Better Chance of Westport has done for me.

Every year Westporters head to their first Dream Event, expecting just another charity fundraiser.

Like Michael and Karen Wolfe, they never dream of the impact it will make not only on the very special scholars’ lives — but on their own.

(A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is set for Saturday, March 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Sure And Begorrah, Eddie O’Rourke’s A National Champ

Everyone in Westport knows Laddie Lawrence. He’s 72 years old; he’s coached Staples High School’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams for 50 years, and won dozens of state and New England championships.

Hardly anyone knows Eddie O’Rourke. He’s 74, and just won his first state title.

But he has an excuse. This is only his 2nd year of coaching.

Eddie O’Rourke

O’Rourke immigrated from Ireland to America in 1984. His wife’s sister was here; they visited often, and liked it. The O’Rourkes spent 3 years on the green card wait list. When their number came up, they had just 3 months to sell their house, and move.

Back home, O’Rourke had driven a double-decker bus. There’s not many of those here. He found work on golf course construction in Wilton, but missed driving.

Two months later he was hired by Connecticut Limousine. He loved that. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, the company went from 130,000 riders a month to 8,000. They laid off nearly everyone.

He worked for a while in a liquor store, then retired at 66. “I’m living the life now,” he says, in a brogue undimmed by 35 years in the States.

That life revolves around squash.

Back in Ireland, he had been a good handball player. A friend convinced him to try squash. O’Rourke had never played — but beat him.

It was an easy adjustment. Both sports are played within 4 walls. Shots are similar.

Squash is “a brilliant game,” O’Rourke says. “It’s a great workout. There’s nothing better than a good runaround. And you can play it well into your 80s.”

For 32 years, he played at Southport Racquet Club. But Equinox bought it 2 years ago, and did away with the squash courts.

The 260 players were distraught. The nearest courts were in Stamford and New Haven.

Intensity — the tennis club on the Westport/Norwalk border — agreed to create 4 courts, with one provision: 120 players had to join.

They got 134. In just 2 years, that’s ballooned to over 200.

Intensity formed a junior program too.

Last year, 34 Staples boys and girls signed up. Some had played before. Others never had. They placed 2nd in their division.

This year, over 60 Wreckers compete. There are separate boys and girls varsity teams, boys and girls JV squads, and a club team.

Eddie O’Rourke, coaching on the court.

They play from Thanksgiving to mid-February. They train Mondays through Thursdays, with matches on Fridays. “They’re great kids,” O’Rourke says. “They really help each other out.”

This winter, the boys varsity went unbeaten in the Fairwest League. Then they won the Division 8 HEAD US High School Team Championship.

Not bad for a 2nd year squad — and their equally new coach.

Coach Eddie O’Rourke (left) and the national champion Staples High School boys squash team.

O’Rourke’s route to the head spot began when Southport Racquet Club charged members $60 a month. He could not afford it, so the manager told him to pay whatever he could.

O’Rourke suggested $25 a month — adding that he’d be happy to teach new members how to play.

So when Staples needed a coach, he was the natural — and easy — choice.

“I’d have done it as a volunteer,” O’Rourke says. “But they offered to pay!”

It’s money well spent.

Though O’Rourke will never catch Laddie Lawrence in the number of championships won, he’s got a national championship at age 74.

And — based on the enthusiasm of the program he’s helped build, and the passion he brings to the sport — there could be many more trophies ahead.

Middle School Actors Get Star Treatment

Coleytown Middle School students have lost their auditorium. But Coleytown Company — the school’s drama troupe — has not lost a step. In true theatrical fashion, the show must go on.

This spring’s production is “42nd Street.” Guest stars include Amiee Turner (who was in the original show) and Megan Osterhaus (who played Mary Poppins opposite Gavin Lee’s Bert on Broadway).

Coleytown Company director Ben Frimmer — who saw Lee in “Mary Poppins,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Grinch” — realized he’d be a great guest artist, to work with his middle school actors.

Osterhaus made the connection. Yesterday, the magic happened.

And — because the two middle schools are now one — Frimmer invited the Bedford acting troupe too. Over 140 students from both schools had a blast.

Gavin Lee talked about his craft …

Many students seemed familiar with “Mary Poppins.” But they were gaga over the SpongeBob credit.

Lee passed out lyrics to that show’s opening song, and described the back story of the musical. Then he taught the words — and the intention behind them — to the song “Bikini Bottom Day.”

After the kids belted them out, Lee taught the choreography. Students spilled off the stage, onto the extension built for “42nd Street,” and into the aisles.

They took turns dancing and singing. They cheered each other on. They loved it.

… and then worked closely with the Coleytown and Bedford Middle School youngsters.

Lee then discussed characters. Volunteers read a few scenes with the actor.

Next, he asked a group of “42nd Street” tappers to show him the opening number. He gave important feedback on performance and precision. They all listened intently.

The workshop ended with a Q-and-A. It might still be going, if Frimmer had not finally called a halt.

The young Coleytown and Bedford actors enjoyed the fun, educational afternoon.

They also enjoyed being one group. Two is indeed “company.”

Teachers Whip Up A Tasty Day

For years, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Staples High School’s culinary arts program have teamed up to bring great food to folks in need.

Once a month, students shop for provisions at the market. Then they prepare and serve a delicious, nutritious meal at the Gillespie Center.

Yesterday, many more people got in the act.

As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.

The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.

Staples’ 3 culinary instructors (from left): Laura Wendt, Alison Milwe-Grace, Cecily Gans.

The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.

Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.

The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.

Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.

Westport teachers cook for the community.