Category Archives: Teenagers

Chad: Challenger Baseball’s Shining Knight

Chad Knight has a sparkling resume.

Last week the Staples High School senior captained his baseball team to their 2nd state championship in 3 years. In 2013 Chad starred on the Westport squad that reached the finals of the Little League World Series.

He’s been drafted by the New York Yankees — but he’s heading first to Duke University. He’s also an excellent piano player.

Yet one of his many other recent honors — Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year — led to an especially fine moment.

As part of Gatorade’s Play It Forward Fund, Chad was given $1,000 to pass on to any national or local youth sports organization of his choice.

He chose Westport Little League’s Challenger Division. That’s the very successful program for boys and girls with disabilities.

Chad Knight (rear, center, white shirt) and Challenger commissioner Beth Cody (front, blue shirt) join Challenger players, buddies, and Staples baseball players today.

Chad’s generosity came from the heart. Throughout the years he has served as a “buddy” to the players. He always found time to help out. He loved the youngsters, and they adored him.

In appreciation of Chad’s gift, commissioner Beth Cody announced that Gatorade is the official drink of the Westport Winners challenger team. Today at Meyer Field, she presented Chad with a bottle with his name, number and the Westport Winners name.

Starting this fall, every Challenger player will get one too.

It was a quick, fun ceremony, before Westport took on Norwalk in their final game of the season.

Then Chad headed off to his next celebration: his own graduation party.

In 2014, Chad Knight (right) was a Challenger buddy with Dylan Curran. Dylan is now manager of the state champion Staples baseball team, and still plays with the Westport Winners.

We Are The Champions. And The Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions, Champions.

I don’t normally post “lineup” photos: people in a row, smiling at the camera.

And I hate running pictures where the heads are so small you can hardly see who’s who.

But it’s not every day a school has 7 state championship teams in one year.

So — in honor of today’s Town Hall reception for Staples High School’s field hockey, boys cross country, boys squash, boys tennis, girls tennis, boys volleyball, and baseball teams: Here you go!

(Photo/Chris Greer)

Sorry — I did not get left-to-right IDs for everyone.

They Wear Orange Because …

Final exams loomed. But Staples High School’s Students Demand Action club was all-in to participate in this past weekend’s national Wear Orange event, to raise awareness of gun violence, and promote a future free from it.

Club members put up many signs, including a big banner in front of the school. They chalked the sidewalks and staffed an information table during lunch, where they handed out information, signed up teachers and students for the Connecticut Against Gun Violence email list, and gave away orange pens, bracelets, pins, stickers and shirts.

They also created a poster wall, where anyone could write about “Why I Wear Orange.”

(Photo/Kayla Sirlin)

Final exams began today. But members of the Students Demand Action club have already earned an A+ in civic engagement.

(Hat tip: Elana Atlas)

Staples Grad Turns Chess Rookies Into Kings And Queens

Earlier this year, Marian Edmonds — a teacher at Price Middle School in Atlanta — won a district-wide award. Her prize: She could attend any educational conference she wanted.

Instead, she used her prize money to bring 5 students to the US Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championship in Grapevine, Texas.

They’d been playing less than 2 years. But that was enough time for Edmonds — the former Marian Warshafsky, a 1978 Staples High School graduate — to introduce them to the game.

And to inspire, motivate, and coach them well enough to compete at a national level.

Marian Edmonds, and her Price Middle School chess team.

It all began in the fall of 2017. Edmonds — on cafeteria duty — had a chessboard. Several kids seemed interested. She taught them the basics.

They told their friends. Soon, Price had a chess team.

Chess offers many benefits, Edmonds says, like critical thinking skills, improved confidence and concentration, and the life lesson that every move you make has consequences.

“Chess makes us all equal,” Edmonds told the Atlanta public schools’ website. “All you need is the opportunity and the motivation.”

She sure gave them that. This past April, her team placed 6th in the state tournament.

Marian Edmonds with one proud Price chess player …

Then came Texas. The selection process for the 5 players included writing an essay about the game’s impact on their lives.

Chess “made me a better person,” Cierra Patton wrote. She said she now feels “like I’m a knight.”

The national tournament was the big leagues. Most of the Price kids’ competitors had been playing for years — some with professional coaches.

“Our students had to learn how to simply play a board game: how to compete, take turns, manage frustration, lose gracefully, and persist through losses,” Edmonds said.

“Yet here we were, at the same competition, facing those same chessboards.”

Like any great coach, Edmonds inspired her team.

“That kid wouldn’t last a single day at Price Middle School,” she’d say. “You’ve GOT this!”

They sure did. Her team finished 16th overall — and Aquantis Clemmons took 5th place individually.

One of Marian Edmonds’ chess players exudes confidence at the national tournament. (Photos courtesy of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta)

That was exciting. Unfortunately, the team was not at the awards ceremony. Their flight home had been booked for the same time.

No matter. Tournament officials were so thrilled at the Price youngsters’ performance, they delivered the trophies to them at the gate.

“Victoriously, the Price chess team boarded their plane with trophies in hand,” the Atlanta schools’ website reported.

“Their fellow passengers cheered them on. Aquantis, Keylon, Corey, Montayo and Cierra beamed from ear to ear.”

(For the full story on Edmonds and her chess team, click here. Hat tip: Laurie Woog.)

Strike Up Another State Title For Staples!

The state baseball title is back in Westport.

For the 2nd time in 3 years, Staples won the class LL (extra large schools) title. The Wreckers shut out Southington today 3-0, in Middletown.

Staples pitcher Chad Knight — already drafted by the New York Yankees — was his usual commanding self. He struck out 10 Blue Devils, and gave up just 3 hits, in a commanding, complete game performance.

Pitcher Chad Knight celebrates the final out … (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

Knight and 3 teammates — Harry Azadian, Drew Rogers and Charlie Roof — are no strangers to success. In 2013 they were part of the Westport team that reached the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Two years ago — as sophomores — they starred on the Wreckers’ state champion team.

… and is quickly joined by his teammates. (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

Today was the last time the longtime friends played together. How wonderful for them — and their teammates, head coach Jack McFarland and his staff, and the town of Westport — that they went out on top.

And — as they’ve done for the past 6 years — they did it again today with class, poise, and plenty of smiles.

The state champion Staples baseball team. The scoreboard behind them tells the story. (Photo copyright by Chris Greer)

Pics Of The Day #781

In just 4 years, the Westport Schools’ Music Department Pops Concert has become one of the true highlights — and must-have tickets — of the spring.

The choruses, bands and orchestras are phenomenal. The Levitt Pavilion locale is stupendous. The evening is warm — in both the weather and community senses of the word.

It’s a sure sign that summer is almost here.

And that this is a town that loves and supports music, in all its forms.

A variety of chamber groups entertained early arrivals…

… as did the very talented Middle School Percussion Ensemble, playing traditional rhythms of Senegal.

A small part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The Westport Police Department color guard. (Photo/Tomas Curwen)

Symphonic and jazz band leader Nick Mariconda retires this year, after 41 years with the Westport schools. He was honored at his final concert.

Three of Mariconda’s former students — Jon Owens ’86, Andrew Willmott ’85 and Michael Ances ’90 — came back. They played trumpet — Mariconda’s instrument — on “Bugler’s Holiday.” All are now music educators.

Between sets, Staples musicians hung out by the river.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey and former Staples High School principal/Pops emcee John Dodig enjoyed the show.

The Orphenians wowed the crowd with selections like “And So It Goes” and “Unclouded Day.”

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg.

Another view of the great crowd. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Hail To The (State) Champions!

It’s tough to win a state championship.

It’s even tougher to repeat.

After going 26-0, and winning both the FCIAC and state class L (large schools) boys volleyball championship last spring, everyone was gunning to take down Staples.

Their route to back-to-back titles was complicated when head coach Dan Cho — who lived and worked far upstate — resigned.

Of course — this being high school sports — the Wreckers also had to replace graduating seniors. There were 9.

But new coach John Sedlock — and the new squad was up to the task.

Last night at Shelton High School, the Wreckers faced longtime rival Darien. The Blue Wave had beaten them twice this year — including the FCIAC finals.

This time, the Westporters got revenge. It took them 5 long, nail-biting sets. But — once again — Staples is state champs.

Staples’ state champion boys volleyball team … (Photo/Gayle Gabor and Tom Carstens)

That’s not all.

Coach Paco Fabian’s girls tennis team completed a perfect 24-0 season with a 5-2 win over Wilton, to earn the class L state title. Alyssa DiMaio went on to become the first Staples girls player to win the state open singles  crown.

The Wreckers are a very young squad, so the future looks bright indeed.

… and the state champion girls tennis team …

That’s not all.

Coach Kris Hrisovulos’ boys tennis team won the state championship too — for a remarkable 4th consecutive year. Robbie Daus and Tighe Brunetti then captured the state open doubles title.

… and boys tennis, also state champs.

That’s not all.

Senior Chet Ellis set a boys outdoor track state open meet record with a phenomenal high jump: 7 feet, 1/2 inch. Obviously, that’s a Wrecker record too.

That’s not all.

There’s a chance for one more state championship this spring at Staples. Tomorrow (Saturday, June 8, 12 p.m., Palmer Field, Middletown), the Wreckers plays Southington for the LL (extra large schools) baseball crown.

Chad Knight, meanwhile, was just picked — by the New York Yankees — in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. You won’t see him in pinstripes any time soon, though: The Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year will continue his baseball career this fall at Duke University.

Congratulations, guys and girls! There’s only one thing left to say:

Youth Commission’s Student Market Pops Up Saturday

Staples High School students take a heavy course load. Local graduation requirements are even more onerous than state ones.

Yet our teenagers also participate in clubs; play music and sports; act; volunteer in the community, and hold jobs.

Somehow, some of them even find time to make custom items. Others paint and bake.

This Saturday (June 8, 12 noon to 4 p.m., Bedford Square), the public gets a chance to see some of their most creative work.

And buy it.

Hillary O’Neill creates and sells terrariums through her company, Pebbles + Posies.

The Westport Youth Commission is sponsoring their 3rd annual  Student Creation Market.

Here’s some of what you’ll find among the dozen businesses:

  • Custom posters and stickers (Tomaso Scotti)
  • Paintings (Evie Dockray)
  • Custom dog treats (Lina Singh)
  • Limited edition custom shoes (Mitch Price)
  • Homemade terrariums (Hillary O’Neill)
  • Baked goods (Cate Casparius)
  • Creative cookies and desserts (Hailey Nusbaum)

The past 2 Student Creation Markets have drawn hundreds of attendees. Many have become huge — and continuing — customers of the young entrepreneurs.

It’s a special event — one day only.

Because when it’s over, our teenagers go back to work.

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)