Category Archives: YMCA

Color War For A Cause

For many Westport youngsters, summer camp is a rite of passage. They spend weeks in the woods, doing fun stuff and forming lifelong friendships in an environment far different from suburbia.

A few spend only 1 week at Experience Camp. But for them — and the 550 boys and girls ages 9 to 16, who attend one of 4 sites in New York, California and Georgia — it is a profound, even life-changing, time.

Experience Camp is for youngsters who have lost a parent or sibling.

Most of the time is spent in typical camp activities — swimming, arts and crafts, campfires.

But with the guidance of licensed clinicians, campers find opportunities to share their life stories with kids who are just like them. They learn that grief, isolation and loss is not theirs alone.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

Experience Camp is directed by Westporters Jon and Sara Deren. It’s headquartered right here in Westport.

The national organization has kept a low profile in town. But on May 20 Experience Camp holds its first-ever fundraiser. Money raised will keep camp free, for every youngster who attends.

The “Day of Champions” is set for Camp Mahackeno — a perfect choice for this camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) compete in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities.

Points are awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It will be a day of laughter and fun.

Of course, it’s bittersweet. Many members of the planning committee lost a parent, sibling or spouse at an early age.

Rory Murray’s husband was killed in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Their daughter Aly was 5 months old.

Five years later, she attended Camp Better Days. The 1-week program on Lake George brought together scores of children of 9/11 victims.

Enjoying life at Camp Better Days.

Aly went back the next year. And the next, and next.

She’s now a Staples High School junior. She’ll head back this summer, for the final time. The friends she’s made there — the youngest group that began at the camp — head to college next year. Camp Better Days has served its purpose, and will close in August.

“This has become her family,” Rory says. “It’s a safe haven, where they can be and say anything. Aly moves heaven and earth to go there.”

As she thought about the end of Camp Better Days, Rory learned about Experience Camp. Immediately, she volunteered to help.

“The Day of Champions will help provide all the wonderful things Aly had,” Rory says.

“For kids who lost a sibling or parent, having a place to go is magical. There’s implicit trust, and lots of love. Realizing you’re not alone, that you’ve got other people to lean on, cry and laugh with, is so powerful. This 1-week escape is a gift for these children, and their families.”

Rory and Aly Murray

Rory, Aly and her family will be one of the 20 teams participating in the Day of Champions. Many slots are already filled.

But there’s still room for a few teams. So be a champion! It’s a “camp experience” that’s even sweeter than a s’more.

(The Day of Champions is set for Sunday, May 20, 9 to 11 a.m., at Camp Mahackeno behind the Westport Weston Family YMCA. To register a team, or for more information, click here. To donate without participating, click here.)

Pics Of The Day #343

Bald is beautiful.

It also raises money to fight childhood cancer.

For the 3rd year in row, the Westport Weston Family YMCA hosted a fundraiser yesterday for the St. Baldrick Foundation. Over 80 men, women and children raised pledges — and paid themselves — to have their heads shaved.

They honored Brent McCreesh, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2004. Since then, Team Brent has raised over $4.5 million.

And they’ve done it one lock — well, many — at a time.

(Photos/Denise Hotch and Dana McCreesh)

 

“Full Court Kindness”: Every Team Is A Champion

The suicide of a local student a few years ago was tragic.

But out of that darkness came some wonderful light.

The young man’s friends decided that a great way to honor his memory was with a round-robin basketball tournament.

Like any tournament, every player wants to win.  But the organizers also promote the values of kindness, tolerance and fellowship.

“Full Court Kindness” an inter-faith event. Teams come from 4 Westport houses of worship: Church of the Assumption, Temple Israel, St. Luke and the Conservative Synagogue.

One of last year’s Full Court Kindness teams …

All proceeds go to 3 charities, chosen by the teen captains:

The tournament is set for this Sunday (6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Westport Weston Family YMCA).

There’s a $5 admission fee (though of course you can give more). Full Court gear will be on sale.

I’m not sure which team will score the most points. But I know who will win.

Everyone.

(For more information, or to contribute, contact Michele Harding, Assumption Church youth minister, assumptionyouth98@gmail.com, 203-222-8486.)

… and another.

Photo Challenge #162

If you’ve ever been to the Westport Weston Family Y, last week’s photo challenge was a slam dunk.

Ed Simek’s photo showed the cow that sits on the flat roof. You see it from the spinning room, and by the stairs leading down to the pool, fitness center and locker rooms. (Click here for the photo.)

Ben Berkley, Lynn Wilson, Elizabeth Fry, Ann Bernier, Jalna Jaeger, Karen Kim, Art Schoeller, Martin Gitlin, Rick Benson, Kathy Fagan and Eva Lopez Reyman all recognized the cow.

They should. It’s been there since the new Y opened.

Which raises a few questions:

Where did it come from? Who decided to put a cow on the roof? In other words, Why, Y?

If you know the back story, click “Comments” below. And if you know where to find this week’s photo challenge, do the same.

(Photo/Ben Berkley)

 

Stop (Or Start) The Presses: Staples Swimmers Sink Greenwich!

The Staples High School boys swim team is making quite a splash this winter.

But — at least in the local media — they haven’t even caused a ripple.

What a shame.

Last week, the Wreckers beat Greenwich.

The last time that happened was 1979 — nearly 40 years ago. And the time before that — Staples’ only other swimming win over the Cardinals — came in 1970. That day, the water in the small Westport YMCA pool was so murky, no one could see the turns.

The 2018 Staples High School swimming and diving team. (All photos by Andy McNab)

How good is Greenwich? Under coach Terry Lowe, they’ve won 34 state open championships, and 24 class LL (extra large school) crowns. They’ve also won captured a mind-boggling 46 FCIAC titles, over the past 47 seasons.

They make the Yankees and Celtics of the 20th century — or, more recently, the Patriots — look like the early New York Mets.

Coach Jeff Bonaccorso

Yet last week, Staples out-swam the Cards. In fact, they drowned them. The final score was 110-76.

It was quite a victory for the Wreckers. And for first-year coach Jeff Bonaccorso.

That’s right. This is his rookie season with this high school team.

He took over after Frisk Driscoll moved to Fairfield University. Of course, Bonaccorso is hardly a fish out of water. He’s aquatics director at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the fall, coaches the Ridgefield High girls squad.

The Staples/Westport Y connection is strong. Many Wreckers grew up in the Water Rats program, directed by the legendary Ellen Johnston. Most continue to compete on both teams — even during the high school season.

Scott Adler

That’s true for Staples 2 captains, Josiah Tarrant and Scott Adler. They began swimming almost before they could walk. Pool water courses through their veins — and they race through their lanes faster than everyone else.

Still, both were a bit apprehensive when Driscoll left.

“I never thought we’d see another coach like Frisk,” Adler says. “But Jeff exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

The two men have very different styles. Driscoll always had a set lineup. Bonaccorso makes changes based on whoever the other team puts in the water. Plus, Adler says, “he’s super-competitive and a great motivator.”

Entering the season, the captains had high hopes. They finished 3rd at last year’s FCIACs — and graduated only a few, non-scoring seniors.

Still, admits Adler, despite their confidence they were “not sure about Greenwich and Ridgefield.”

Two weeks before the Cardinal meet, Staples met the Tigers — a team with 5 great swimmers, including 2 Olympic trial hopefuls. What Adler calls “the most exciting and closest dual meet of my life” — with an “insanely loud” home crowd — came down to the final relay.

Ridgefield won. But by placing 2nd and 3rd, the Wreckers amassed enough points to eke out a 94-92 victory.

Josiah Tarrant in action. He swims the 50 free, 100 butterfly, and anchors the 200 medley and free relays.

Then came Greenwich.

Again at home — with more packed, roaring fans, including the girls’ team — Staples took down the state’s most legendary swimming power.

How did they do it?

“Hard work,” says Tarrant. “I know it’s a cliche. But we’re in the pool from 5:30 to 7 in the morning before school, a few days a week. Then we’re in again, from 3 to 5 every day.”

Their rigorous practice schedule — and all the coaching, from Johnston, Driscoll and Bonaccorso — are paying off.

Josiah Tarrant

“Everyone thinks swimming is an individual sport,” Tarrant notes. “At the club level, it is. But on the high school pool deck, there’s so much camaraderie.

“It’s not just about the fastest guy. The 5th guy gets a point, and every point matters.

“We constantly push each other in practice. We always cheer for each other. These are my brothers.”

“It’s nice to see a direct connection between hard work and the end result,” Adler adds. “You really see it come to fruition.

But Tarrant and Adler are not basking in the glow of their press clippings. (Whoops — sorry. There weren’t any.)

“This is only the beginning,” Tarrant notes. “The championships are what really matter.”

The FCIAC meet is February 27-March 1 — at Greenwich. Hey, why not?!

Then come the state LL and open championships.

Scott Adler gets ready for the start of his backstroke race.

It won’t be easy upending Greenwich in the post-season. The Cardinals have a ton of swimmers — they brought 2 busloads to the dual meet — and numbers count.

But one thing is certain. When the record board that hangs over the Staples pool is updated in March, nearly every event will now include a 2018 swimmer.

You may not read about the Wreckers’ accomplishments elsewhere.

But this year’s team has written a new chapter in the history books.

(For more on the Staples swim team, click here.)

The Staples girls swimming and diving team provided great support at the Greenwich meet.

Photo Challenge #161

Three “06880” readers thought it looked like the old YMCA pool.

They were close. But last week’s photo challenge showed tile that was uncovered when 36 Elm Street was torn down. (Click here for the photo.)

That’s the downtown building a few feet away from the Y. Most recently, it housed Villa del Sol restaurant.

The demolition was part of a land swap between the town and David Waldman — the Bedford Square developer who took the photo challenge image.

David said his photo showed the floor of “the original Brasserie St. Germaine — I think.” Was that the first restaurant? I don’t know. I do remember Werner’s, which occupied that spot for many years.

Chip Stephens was the only “06880” reader to identify “the remains of Villa del Sol.” Perhaps he recalls Werner’s too — or Brasserie St. Germaine.

Now, chew on this week’s photo challenge:

(Photo/Ed Simek)

If you know where you’d find this guy, click “Comments” below.

Glenn Hightower Bench Dedication Set For Wednesday

Glenn Hightower — who died last January, at 76 — touched many lives.

He was a Westport school system administrator, softball coach, United Methodist Church parishioner, Rotarian, Westport Weston Family YMCA volunteer, and competitive handball and basketball player.

He was also the longtime principal of Bedford Junior High and Middle Schools (when they were on Riverside Avenue), and an avid runner.

Those last 2 accomplishments converge this Wednesday (December 27, 12 noon). A bench and plaque will be dedicated in his name — at the school he served for so many years. Hightower’s many friends and fans are invited to the ceremony, at the side parking lot closest to the track entrance.

The project was financed by private donations, and Westport Athletic Club members. Hightower completed 16 New York City marathons, and 10 ultra-marathons.

He often ran to raise money for charity. Now, funds have been donated to remember this very giving man.

Glenn Hightower (front row, 2nd from right, yellow cap) joined Westport Athletic Club members for a Saturday morning run in the late1980s — at the home of a sleeping-fellow member (in pajamas at left). Longtime Westporter Patrick Kennedy says the tradition was to run to radio station WMMM, on Main Street over Oscar’s. Runners then sang carols on the air.

(Hat tip: Reess Kennedy)

Unsung Hero #28

Everyone knows Patty Kondub. And everyone loves Patty Kondub.

But she’s one of those people who everyone kind of takes for granted.

We shouldn’t. Which is why Patty Kondub is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Patty is many things. A 1981 Staples High School graduate — and proud University of Connecticut alum — she’s worked for the Westport Weston Family Y for 30 years.

Members flock to her Aquafit classes. She works hard at researching and preparing lessons. But she always welcomes members with a smile, then makes every class fun. One day she’ll wear a costume; the next day she’ll announce a game.

Patty Kondub, in her Aquafit Halloween costume.

When someone is sick, she brings a card for the class to sign. She sings “Happy Birthday” (a lot!). Whenever she sees a news story about a class member — a new book they’ve written, a promotion, or just a brief mention — she tells everyone (and posts its on the bulletin board).

As soon as Ellen Gilbertson joined Aquafit — because of a stress fracture in her foot — Patty called her doctor, so she could design the best workout. If someone is laid up at home, Patty visits (and brings food)

Every day she picks out great music, which puts everyone in a great mood. (For Halloween it was “Monster Mash.” For the Olympics, elections and many other events, she finds something appropriate. On St. Patrick’s Day, she’s got an Irish playlist — and an Irish quiz.)

Patty is no slouch. Her Aquafit students work hard. But she’s such a good teacher, they don’t even realize they’re getting a fantastic workout.

A motivational message from Patty Kondub. (Photo/Barbara Wiederecht)

Her classes get together outside the Y, to celebrate special events. (Ask about her vegetarian chili!)

Colleague Ruth Sherman says, “Patty works so hard to make aging fun. They say our community is getting younger every day, and for this we thank Patty.”

Gilbertson adds, “She goes above and beyond any teacher I’ve ever known, in so many ways.”

Sandra Long says, “Whether it’s your first class or you’ve come for 20 years, Patty knows your name and helps you. She looks out for everyone — it doesn’t even have to be related to the pool. She does whatever she can to help anyone at the Y who’s in need.”

Elsewhere at the Y, Patty helps coordinate indoor triathlons and special needs swim instruction.

Patty Kondub offers hydration tips.

Out of the water, Patty helped organize the Spin Odyssey that over 15 years raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research. Some of her Aquafit fans were involved.

In her spare time (!), Patty is the much-loved coach of the Staples girls golf team. She’s a past president of the Longshore Women’s Golf Association.

And on Saturday mornings, she teaches a class for cancer survivors at CT Challenge.

Patty Kondub always has a smile on her face. The next time you see her, smile back — and congratulate our latest Unsung Hero.

BONUS FUN FACTAs a field hockey player, Patty was part of the first University of Connecticut team to win a national championship — in any sport.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? To nominate him or her, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Fathers And Daughters Dance In The Spotlight

When I heard the Westport Weston Family YMCA planned a “Father Daughter Dance,” I did a stutter step.

This is 2017! How could they single out fathers? What about girls whose dads were away on business? Girls with divorced fathers, living far away? How about girls whose dads had died — or those with 2 moms?

They’re all “families” — as the “Family YMCA” should know.

Dabbing at last Friday’s Westport YMCA Father-Daughter dance.

It’s a good thing I shared my aaaargh! moment with Patty Kane.

She’s the director of marketing and communications for the Westport Y. And she took my questions right back to her bosses.

So here’s what I learned about the “Father Daughter” dance, held last Friday in the Y gym (with the tag line “Make her first date one to remember!”).

“I am proud to say it does not stem from a desire to be traditional, nor was it meant to exclude other family types,” Patty reports.

Instead, it was “intended to honor and strengthen the relationship our community of fathers has with their daughters, and for the Y to provide a space for them to share time together.”

In fact, the Y’s flyer noted (at the very bottom): “If dad is not available, substitutes are welcome. Preferably grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, close family friend etc.”

Malia Daniels (2nd from left) attended the Y’s Father-Daughter dance with her uncle.

The idea, Patty notes, was to “emphasize the importance of good male role models in children’s lives. I am happy to report that over 60 families took part in the Father Daughter Dance.”

That’s great — and reassuring — news.

Now — as a way to make all girls feel comfortable, welcome and accepted — maybe they can come up with a more inclusive dance name.

Samantha Heiser enjoys a special moment with her dad.

Unsung Hero #17

If you’ve been in Westport for any length of time, you’ve probably heard — and met — Jo Fuchs Luscombe.

She’s been involved in every aspect of life here — politics, education, community service. If it needs doing, Jo has done it.

But how many people know her back story?

A Dallas native, she was just a year old when her father — an oilman — moved the family to Venezuela. Jo grew up speaking Spanish — and gaining an important, real-world view of life.

She went to boarding school and college in Texas, headed to Katherine Gibbs secretarial school, got married at 19 and had a child at 20.

Jo Fuchs Luscombe

Her husband was in oil too, so they headed to Libya. Jo learned Italian there, and was once more immersed in a very different culture.

In 1969, the family moved back to the US. Her boys were 13 and 10.

In her mid-30s, Jo and her husband divorced. Encouraged by Rev. Dana Forrest Kennedy, she threw herself into every aspect Christ & Holy Trinity Church. She became president of the Women’s Guild, served on the vestry, and ran fundraisers.

She got interested too in the Westport Historical Society. Jo was a driving force behind the acquisition and restoration of Wheeler House — owned at the time by her church — as the organization’s headquarters.

In 1980, Jo was asked to fill out an unexpired term on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Public speaking did not come easily. But — as with everything else in her life — she worked to master it.

She won a full term on her own, then was appointed to the vacant post of 3rd selectman.

In 1986, Jo headed up her friend and fellow Westporter Julie Belaga’s campaign for governor.

Jo’s next step was the state House of Representatives. She served 5 terms — from 1987 to ’97 — and rose to Republican minority whip.

Retirement from state politics did not slow her down. As a member of Westport’s School Building Committee, she helped oversee 5 major construction and renovation projects (including the new Staples High School).

Jo Fuchs Luscombe (Photo courtesy of Westport Woman’s Club)

Remarriage did not slow her down either. Jo has been president of the Westport Woman’s Club (where she helped run major events like the art show), and is active in Westport Rotary, Greens Farms Garden club, and countless others.

As a longtime Westport Family YMCA board member, she helped shepherd the new building on its long, torturous journey from downtown to Mahackeno.

Her husband John says there is one reason she accomplishes so much: “She doesn’t sleep.”

There’s one more thing: Jo Fuchs Luscombe is one of the nicest, most always-smiling people you’ll ever meet.

Congratulations, Jo. And thanks from all of us, for all you’ve done in so many ways.

(Hat tip: Bobbie Herman)