Category Archives: Teenagers

Maria Maisonet’s Beach Bathroom Story

During The Great Compo Beach Bathroom Debate, we’ve heard from taxpayers, pickleball players, politicians, and just about everyone else in town.

Now a very articulate Staples High School senior weighs in. Maria Maisonet grew up in Westport. She works on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show, and for Cablevision’s public access division. Next fall she heads to the University of New Haven, to study communications and film. 

Maria also happens also to use a wheelchair.

She is a paid contributor to The Odyssey and The Patriot, 2 thriving online communities. Westport’s contentious brouhaha impelled her to write a piece, which has already been read by thousands.

Maria Maisonet

Maria wrote about how hard it is just to find a handicap-accessible bathroom.  So she created a video, which she believes helped sway some RTM members.

But not everyone was convinced. Her Odyssey piece mentions the back-and-forth comments, including a particularly hurtful one: that building this is “flushing  money down the toilet.”

“The sheer unbridled joy that filled me when I received word the proposal was approved during the wee hours of the morning at a 26-8 vote is the sad reality for people who live in a world built to exclude them,” Maria concludes.

Friday Flashback #118

If you grew up in 1950s, ’60s or early ’70s Westport, this photo means everything to you:

If you didn’t, it means nothing.

Vista is a town — or hamlet, I guess — in New York, just past New Canaan.

Vista Market was about 3 yards over the border.

It sold alcohol. So did plenty of places in Fairfield County, of course.*

But back in the day, the drinking age in Connecticut was 21. New York was 18.

You get the picture.

Generations of Westport teenagers spent untold hours racing to Vista, then roaring back.

The winding roads, the dark nights, the beer… it’s a wonder anyone lived to tell the tale.

From 1972 to ’82, Connecticut lowered its age to 18. The idea was to keep kids from making the risky trip to Vista (and Port Chester, an equally dangerous lure).

Another reason: to keep all those tax dollars here.

In 1984, Congress passed an act that effectively raised the national drinking age to 21. (It didn’t say so explicitly. But it punished any state that permitted alcohol purchases and possessions under that age, by reducing federal highway funds by 10%.)

When that happened, Westport teenagers found new, even closer places to buy beer and liquor.**

A generation of kids never knew about Vista Market. It’s been years since I’ve heard anyone mention a “Vista run.”

But somehow, the store survived.

Vista Market is still there.

* Except Wilton. 

** Including several places right here in town.

Pics Of The Day #591

Tonight’s Christmas Tree lighting at Town Hall included …

Staples’ Orphenians (with Rudolph, of course) …

… little kids and grown-ups …

… a somewhat slender Santa …

… and the feature attraction. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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.