Category Archives: Teenagers

Kids Dodge Cops

Over 100 Staples High School students spent 3 hours last night dodging the police.

It was hard to tell who had more fun: the kids or the cops.

This group of dodgeball players was going for the win — and the Best Costume award. (Photo/Lily Williams)

The event was the annual “Dodge a Cop” dodgeball tournament. Organized by Staples’ Teen Awareness Group and the Westport Youth Commission, in collaboration with Westport’s Police Department — and held in the dodgeball-friendly fieldhouse — it raises scholarship funds for Chris Lemone’s children. The founder of TAG died 3 years ago, age 49.

Police chief Foti Koskinas (2nd from right) joined in the fun. (Photo/Lily Williams)

Twenty-four teams competed. Each included at least one police officer. Staples staff and community members served as referees.

Staples’ popular resource officer Ed Wooldridge (far left) also joined a team. (Photo/Lily Williams)

Despite an evening of hurling balls at each other, no arrests were reported.

Lefty Pendarakis (center) gathers his team (including a police officer, right) for pre-game strategy. (Photo/Lily Williams)

Hey, girls play dodgeball too! (Photo/Lily Williams)

It wasn’t easy dodging these cops. But it sure was fun. (Photo/Westport Police Department)

They Are The Champions!

It’s very tough to win a high school state championship.

It’s even tougher to repeat.

But the Staples field hockey team did just that this afternoon. Coach Ian Tapsall’s girls decisively shut out Cheshire 2-0, to capture their 2nd consecutive class “L” (largest schools) crown. It’s the 3rd in the program’s history, following a co-championship in 2016.

State champs — again! The Staples High School field hockey team.

A couple of hours later, coach Barry Beattie’s girls soccer team fell 1-0 to Ridgefield, in the title match. It was the 2nd straight year that the 2 FCIAC schools met in the “LL” (largest schools) final — and the 2nd straight win for the Tigers.

Congratulations to both teams, for great runs.

And, of course, kudos to coach Laddie Lawrence’s boys cross country squad. Earlier this year they captured the “LL” title — their 3rd in a row. In 2015 and ’16, they were also state open champions.

Candlelight Concert Tickets Available Next Monday

The weather may be cold.

But it’s the hottest ticket in town.

The 78th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert will pack the auditorium for 3 performances next month: Friday, December 14 (8 p.m.), and Saturday, December 15 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

This annual gift to the Westport community showcases the diverse talents of Staples musicians (and their teachers). There’s music from around the world, and of course the opening processional, inspiring “Hallelujah Chorus” and creative production number.  

Groups performing include Bella Voce, Choralaires, Anima Cantorum, bands and Symphonic Orchestra. 

Because it’s a gift from the Staples music department, tickets are free. But they go very fast. They’re available to the public starting at 9 a.m. this Monday (November 19). Click here then to get yours! 

The always-evocative “Sing We Noel” processional. (Photo by Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Staples Players’ “Legally Blonde” Goes To The Dogs

In the mid-1970s, Bill Berloni was an acting intern at Goodspeed Opera House. The director offered him an Equity card — if Berloni could find and train a rescue dog for the upcoming show.

Berloni came through. He got his card.

The musical — “Annie” — went on to legendary success. And Berloni had a new gig.

He trained Sandys for every revival of the show — plus the movie.

Since then — using only rescue dogs — he’s trained animals for dozens of shows, including “Camelot,” “Oliver!,” “Nick and Nora” and “The Wiz.”

He’s done the same for hundreds of Off-Broadway and regional productions, TV and movies. He’s a Tony honoree for Excellence in Theatre, among other awards.

His credits also include “Legally Blonde.” That’s the show that Staples Players premiere next week.

And Berloni is right there backstage in  Westport, training a chihuahua and a bulldog.

Bill Berloni (rear, center) with Staples Players cast members of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

He’s no stranger to high school musicals. They’re where he got his start, as an actor. He loves working with teenagers. He teaches them how to interact with animals, instructing the actors in exactly how dogs think.

For the Broadway version of “Legally Blonde,” Berloni had to get his chihuahua to “speak” on cue.

He’s done the same at Staples.

One of the many stars of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Berloni is spending 2 weeks at the high school. He’s shown the cast how to bond with their dogs. For example, a few actors will scratch an animal’s belly backstage. The dog associates that with love — and will only go to those actors on stage.

“Legally Blonde” is an inspired choice for the November production. In addition to being the first Players show with trained animals, it’s both funny and timely.

The play “empowers women,” says director David Roth. “They stand up for each other. There’s an important #MeToo message. Audiences see that you can’t assume someone is who they are just by the way they look.”

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are excited about the show. They enjoy working with Berloni.

And, Roth notes, this is not the animal trainer’s first connection with Staples Players.

He’s worked with dogs on the film “The Greatest Showman,” and Broadway’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” The music for both was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 graduate, and former Player.

Most recently, Berloni trained animals for “Land of Steady Habits,” the Netflix version of Staples ’01 grad Ted Thompson’s debut novel.

“Legally Blonde” opens next Friday (November 9), and continues November 10, 16 and 17, all at 7:30 p.m. There are 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees on November 11 and 17. Just added — due to popular demand — is a Thursday, November 15 show (7:30 p.m.).

To fetch tickets (and for more information), click here.

Staples High School principal James D’Amico has a role in “Legally Blonde.” He has a musical theatre background, but this is his debut with Staples Players. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Now Playing: Henry Fisher

What do the Connecticut Ballet, Westport Weston Family Y and Maccabi Games have in common?

All had hugely successful parties — thanks in large part to DJ Henry Fisher.

It’s not easy to create a playlist that satisfies gala-goers, little kids and their parents, and teenage athletes at the “Jewish Olympics.”

It’s especially tough if you’re only a high school junior. But Henry — who has lived in Westport most of his life — keeps every party going.

Music is a big part of his life. At Hopkins — where he transferred after Kings Highway Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools — he plays piano in the jazz rock ensemble, heads up the Jam Club, runs cross country and participates in the Science Olympiad.

Outside of school he coaches in the Westport Y’s Special Olympics track and swim programs, and tutors computer science and music with Zaniac.

Four years ago, he began his DJ business. At first he used playlists from Spotify. But he was fascinated by the Ableton Live music production software. He bought a mixer board, learned how to add special effects and transitions between songs, and plugged his piano into his computer to add synth lines.

Henry’s big break came when he entertained 10,000 Maccabi Games attendees and friends at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena. Bar mitzvahs, birthday parties and fundraisers followed.

Henry is a pro. He does not simply show up at a gig and start spinning records. Before any event he consults with the host. He spends a ton of time planning a playlist.

Henry Fisher: hard at work.

For last month’s Westport Y Special Olympics fundraiser thrown by the Kiev family, for example, he had to balance pop music for hundreds of kids with ’80s hits, for the adults.

It’s easy to know what elementary school children like for the Kings Highway Pumpkinpalooza. It’s another entirely to entertain at the Westport Senior Center. (Henry — who listens to “a ton of different genres” — has extensive oldies knowledge. Still, for the Senior Center, he consulted his parents.)

Henry is not complacent. Between songs, he checks out the crowd. He’ll switch tunes on the fly, adjusting to the constantly changing vibe.

The whole idea, he says, is to get people “dancing and happy.”

Henry loves the energy of a good party. He feeds off of crowd responses. He also enjoys sharing music with people, and introducing them to new sounds.

A good DJ, he says, should be flexible. He can’t stand professionals who stick to a pre-set playlist.

As befits a jazz pianist, he thinks “the whole night should be improvisational. I’ll ditch what I’ve prepared if it’s not going well, or if I’ve got better options.”

Henry also likes taking requests. Otherwise, he says, “I’d just be like Spotify.”

He’s not sure where DJing will take him. He’s still learning, he says. But he’s also expanding his business skills.

In the meantime, if you see Henry Fisher: Party on!

(For more information on Henry Fisher’s DJ business, click here.)

Anne Frank’s Step-sister Brings Holocaust Education Here

With a fading generation of Holocaust survivors — and a rise in anti-Semitism, both here and abroad — the need to educate the next generation about that horrific chapter in history is crucial.

Chabad of Westport is doing its part. The Jewish outreach and social service organization sponsors “Holocaust Studies” for teenagers. Alexander Troy — a Holocaust studies teacher at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford — is the teacher.

Eva Schloss after Auschwitz.

Part of the 4-session curriculum — which examines Jewish life in Europe; what happened in Germany; the world’s reaction, and lessons learned — is a meeting with Eva Schloss. She’s a Holocaust survivor, world-renowned Holocaust education advocate — and Anne Frank’s step-sister.

But teenagers are not the only ones privileged to hear Eva Schloss. This Sunday (October 28, 5 p.m., Klein Memorial Auditorium, Bridgeport), she’ll speak at a public event.

It’s a rare opportunity for area residents. And it could not come at a more important time.

(Tickets for Eva Schloss’ talk are $25 for adults, $10 for students. Premium seating and VIP tickets — which include a private reception — are also available. For details, click here.)

Mystery Object #11

What do the Westport Historical Society, Main Street and zits have in common?

From the mid-1960s through the ’80s, the Vacutex Blackhead Extractor was manufactured by the Ballco Products Company. Run by Karl Eweson and his wife Ulla Eweson, located at the rear of 191 Main Street, the mail-order business sold a tool that claimed to “remove any blackhead if used accordingly.”

The Blackhead Extractor was the most recent Historical Society “mystery object.” Part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit, every 2 weeks they display something new. If you stop in and identify it, you can win something from the gift shop.

No one knew what the Blackhead Extractor was.

Dermatologists throughout Westport rejoice.

Distracted Driving Event Set For Saturday

It’s a recent, and potentially fatal, phenomenon: a car crashes into a tree or telephone pole. It’s the middle of the day — often in fine weather — and there are no other vehicles around.

The cause is almost always distracted driving. And the driver can just as easily be an adult as a teenager.

Meanwhile, for decades, many other accidents — at all times of day — have been caused by impaired drivers. Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be any age too.

Staples High School’s Teen Awareness Group wants to do something about it.

This Saturday (October 13, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Staples football field), the club hosts a Distracted Driving event. It’s free, and open to all high school students.

Plus their parents, and any other interested people.

Drivers can be distracted by texting, as well as by alcohol or drugs.

The State Police will be on hand with a simulator. Attendees can experience first-hand the power of an impact by a moving vehicle — this time, fortunately, in a safe, controlled environment.

Westport police officers will create an obstacle course and other simulations. Using special goggles, participants can experience the effects of substances on depth perception, coordination, decreased reaction time and impaired decision-making.

You can also take a field sobriety test.

TAG has organized this Distracted Driving Day with support from the Westport Youth Commission and Westport Police-Youth Club.

It’s an important event. Drive safely — there, back and always.

(NOTE: Attendees should park by the Staples fieldhouse and pool. Staples boys soccer’s 60th anniversary celebration will fill the parking lot by the soccer field and baseball diamond.)

Tommy Greenwald: Football’s “Game Changer”

Like many Americans, Tommy Greenwald has a complicated relationship with football.

He was thrilled when his son Jack played.

“If I saw him limping or shaking his head, I’d say ‘Get back out there!'” Tommy says. “I was as happy to see my kid hitting and getting hit as anyone else.”

In 8th grade, Jack hurt his ankle. “My first concern was not going to the doctor,” Greenwald admits. “It was, could he finish the game?”

Jack had a great football career, with Westport PAL and Staples High School. His father appreciates what he learned from intense practices, tough games and his relationship with his coaches.

But, Greenwald says, “the football culture — with its pressure to be tough and strong, to play hurt, to not be perceived as soft” — has its downsides.

That’s the heart of “Game Changer.” Published this month, it’s the local author’s 10th book — and a departure from his previous “Charlie Joe Jackson” (named for his 3 sons) and “Crimebiters” young readers’ series.

Jack Greenwald (center), with his brothers Charlie and Joe.

There’s not a laugh to be had in this one. There are no wise guys, no dog with special powers.

“Game Changer” is deadly serious — almost literally.

13-year-old Teddy lies in a coma after a football injury during preseason camp. His family and teammates flock to his bedside to support his recovery — and at the same time trade rumors and theories on social media.

Was this a tragic but fairly common result of a violent sport? Or did something more sinister — bullying and hazing perhaps — happen on the field that day?

“Game Changer” is different type of book. It mixes together dialogue, text messages, newspaper stories — and Teddy’s own inner thoughts.

It’s different too in that it’s a no-holds-barred look at the terrifying risks of a major American sport — and the entire culture supporting it.

Greenwald is emphatic that this is a work of fiction. He added an author’s note to that effect at the end. He says he never saw or heard anything like what happened in “Game Changer” during Jack’s Westport career.

But, Greenwald says, it is “based on a culture I saw through Jack. It’s not far-fetched that this could happen. We’ve all heard about terrible cases in college, high school, even middle school.”

“Game Changer” is not, he insists, a condemnation of football. “My respect for coaches, the life lessons they taught, the lifelong friendships Jack made, is amazing,” Greenwald says.

He calls Westport PAL and Staples “great programs.” And Greenwald has done enough research to know that football in Fairfield County — while intense — is “a dust speck compared to programs around the country. When football is the dominant event in a community, the pressure ratchets up unbelievably. Westport seems to have a good balance. We don’t pin our hopes and dreams on young kids.”

But his book is “a wake-up call for everyone — including me,” he adds. “People — including me — have to pay more attention to the culture and the injuries” of football.

Tommy Greenwald

Greenwald never had to confront the even more dangerous effects of football at the higher level. Though Jack was “semi-recruited” for college, he ended up at Elon and did not play. He graduated from there last June, and now works at a Boston cyber-security firm.

“Jack’s era was a tipping point,” Greenwald says. “The media started focusing on concussions, and parents started looking at football differently. If Jack wanted to play in college, that would have been a much larger discussion.”

Greenwald — who won a state championship as a Staples High School soccer captain in 1978, and whose son Joe was a Wrecker soccer captain in 2012 — remains a “huge” NFL fan.

“I read, like everyone else, about the dangers,” he says. “And like everyone else I camp out every Sunday looking for the best games.

“It’s a weird feeling to like a game you probably shouldn’t.”

(Tommy Greenwald will host a discussion on the pros and cons of youth sports at Barnes & Noble this Sunday [October 7, 12 p.m.] Panelists include his own son Jack; former Staples High School, Temple University football captain and Staples assistant coach Mac DeVito, and Dan Woog — in my role as Staples boys soccer head coach.)

Paul Ferrante: “The Beatles Must Die!”

Paul Ferrante was in 2nd grade when President Kennedy was killed. That’s his first real memory.

The second is from a few months later: The Beatles performing on “Ed Sullivan.”

More than 50 years later, Ferrante is a 7th grade language arts teacher at Coleytown Middle School. His students are only a few years older than he was then, huddled around a black-and-white TV “like the rest of America,” he says.

Kids today have gazillions of channels to choose from. Rock ‘n’ roll has given way to rap, hip hop, EDM, emo and more.

Paul Ferrante

But, Ferrante says, kids still love the Beatles.

He includes the band in his poetry curriculum. His students look at lyrics. They watch videos. They talk about the American culture, then and now.

When graduates come back to say hi, they ask if Ferrante still teaches the Beatles.

So it’s no surprise that the Fab Four are the subject of Ferrante’s most recent book. In addition to teaching, he’s a noted young adult author. His T.J. Jackson Mysteries series follow the paranormal investigations of 3 ghost-hunting teenagers from Gettysburg to New Orleans (with a stop in Fairfield County).

His 7th book — “The Beatles Must Die” — is as different from those mysteries as John, Paul, George and Ringo are from the Andrews Sisters.

The novel follows Marnie, a fan in Memphis who must make a choice between the group and her conservative community, after John Lennon’s famous “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark results in banned and burned records, even death threats.

John Lennon’s 1966 “Beatles are more popular than Jesus” quote drew a belated — but fierce — backlash.

As Ferrante notes, there are countless books about the Beatles’ music and lives. His is a rare piece of historical fiction, aimed at teens and older readers.

Why are kids still interested in the group, whose 2 surviving members are both well over 64?

“The music holds up,” Ferrante says. “They hear it from their parents. They still think it’s great stuff.”

Plus, he says, “they’re fascinated by the videos of all the girls going crazy.”

His students are intrigued to hear about a time before the internet, when most families had only one television and music came through transistor radios.

That’s why Ferrante — in his 19th year at Coleytown — sees kids in class wearing Beatles t-shirts.

He researched his book well. He read books, and watched the “8 Days a Week” video about their tours.

He built his story around real events — like the actual KKK death threat against the Beatles at their Memphis show. (They played anyway.)

Ferrante also gave his protagonist a strong character. She understands the importance of free speech, and the value of sticking up for herself.

“I’m a teacher, after all,” Ferrante says with a smile.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!