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)
Chris Lemone was Staples High School’s beloved outreach counselor. His death 2 years ago from a heart attack — at age 49 — left a hole in the lives of countless students who found his office to be a warm and welcoming place for advice, support, compassion, love (tough and gentle) and laughter.
It also ripped a hole in his family. Chris’ middle daughter Madison was a Bethel High School sophomore when her dad died suddenly that October weekend.
Madison’s passion was always dance. Ballet, tap, jazz — she did it all with Broadway Method Academy. The Fairfield-based non-profit offers classes, private coaching and performance opportunities to children and teenagers interested in acting, singing and dancing.
One of the Broadway performers Madison worked with was Westport star Kelli O’Hara.
After her father died, Madison says, “I struggled a lot. But BMA helped me through a really tough time. The arts have always been there for me, and it was one place I could really express myself. It was like an encouraging community that kept me sane.”
The partnership will help the Playhouse offer musical theater training, masterclasses and a mainstage show.
The collaboration began in July with 3 days of seminars, panels and activities, all focused on the technical world of theater prior to the Playhouse production of “Grounded.”
The Westport Country Playhouse.
For the upcoming November 27 “Broadway Sings” fundraiser, BMA students will share the Playhouse stage with Broadway talents.
During the mainstage production of “Evita” (January 28 through February 11), professional actors will team up with BMA students.
Also ahead: a 6-day March masterclass.
“My dad had a strong influence on Westport,” Madison says. “I’m really excited to see how my world combines with his in Westport.”
She adds, “I know I’m not the first person with a story. BMA allows each person to come out of their shell. A lot of times, we hide what we’re feeling. BMA lets each student show what they’re going through. It allowed me and others to heal, onstage and off.”
Now, through the Playhouse, Madison says, “I’m excited to see BMA influence other kids, in Westport.”
An enthusiastic Broadway Method Academy performance.
She has found a home in Broadway Method Academy. She looks forward to feeling grounded at the Playhouse too.
Madison graduates from Bethel High in June. She’s applying to musical theater colleges. If that doesn’t work out, she may study psychology.
“My dad loved shows,” Madison says. “But he really knew a lot about people too. We’re a lot alike.”
Zoe Brown graduated from Staples High School in June. Now a freshman at the University of Southern California, she’s also the author of an insightful blog, “IMO.”
Yesterday she shared her emotions on the death of Staples’ outreach counselor, Chris Lemone. She gave permission to share her beautiful piece with “06880.”
“You’re it. Your life. Your decision.” That’s the Teen Awareness Group (TAG)’s motto.
Unfortunately though, sometimes life throws something at you that you can’t control, something that’s not your decision at all. I learned this the hard way today.
I didn’t think anything at first of the texts and calls I was getting this morning at 5 from members of Staples High School’s TAG, of which I was co-president last year and Chris was advisor of for many years. But when my little sister called me at 6 a.m. (my time), I knew it must be important.
I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I really still can’t. I screamed “NO” over and over again. My whole body shook and tears spilled out uncontrollably. I couldn’t catch my breath for what felt like, and honestly may have been, an hour.
Chris Lemone was (and will remain) one of my favorite people ever. When I wrote him a thank-you note at the end of the year, I told him that I’d like to stay in touch forever, to which he said “absolutely.” I told him I could guarantee that he was someone who would be at my wedding, that we would still be close friends in 10 or so years. I even had a 30-minute conversation with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago when I was having trouble settling in to college. He made me feel a million times better, and was so happy that I called.
It’s all so ironic. Chris was one of the best guys I knew and one of the last people to deserve anything negative in his life, let alone this.
He spent all of his time working to help people and make the community a better place. He must have changed and bettered the lives of more people than I even know in total.
There’s no other way to say it besides that it’s not fair. To say it as Chris would have said it, “It’s just really f*cking unfair.”
On an even more personal note, Chris saw more in me than I ever saw in myself. I was never able to truly express to him with words how grateful I was for his faith in me. So I tried to use my actions. He made me want to be so great that I really did live up to his vision of me.
At the end of last year he wrote me the nicest letter I’ve ever received, praising my leadership and passion. I hope he understood that so much of what I did was in hopes that it would make him proud, and that he would speak highly of me as he did of other past TAG members.
I now hang that letter next to my bed to remind myself every day to be the person that Chris saw me as.
Last weekend, Chris Lemone helped organize a distracted driving event at Staples. It was a huge success. (Photo/Jack Norman)
What makes this even harder is that usually, Chris is the person I would call if I was ever feeling as I do now: weak, helpless and sadder than I thought possible.
I’m usually good at giving advice but now I’m completely lost. Nothing I say can make it better or make it hurt any less, no matter how hard I try.
So I’m going to try to think like Chris would. He would throw up his hands, raise his eyebrows, lean back in his desk chair in the TAG office by the cafeteria and say with a little half-chuckle: “F*ck. Life just sucks sometimes, man. You gotta try your best to make the most of it while you’re alive.”
I don’t know if he’d say it exactly like that. But he would definitely figure out a way to throw a curse word in there. He would be blunt and honest but also positive at the same time, as always.
There’s really not much else to say. I could write about how I cherish so much the times I would skip class to sit in Chris’ office, and give and receive advice. I could talk about how overly excited we both got when one of us would see a new Broadway show, or how we spent way too long talking about plays in general. Or I could mention the secrets we had that no one would ever understand and how happy I was whenever I was around him, even when he played his crazy loud rock music during lunch meetings.
Chris Lemone helped organize sessions in which upperclassmen spoke with freshmen during health class. The glum faces are not for real. Everyone here is waiting for others to show up. (Photo/Kendall Rochlin)
But I don’t need to spend too long talking about any of that because I know that I will always have those memories, even if I don’t have Chris anymore.
We know he loved us and he knows we loved him. We can and will remember the good times forever, and he will live on through our memories. And in everything I do and whoever I become throughout the rest of my life, there will always be a little part of Chris in there.
It’s pretty fitting that he shared this video on Facebook last month. Without us even asking, he left us with some of the best advice out there:
A good lesson shared by an even better man.
I’ll miss you forever, Chris, and I will continue to live every day trying to make you proud of me.
(P.S. I only included curse words because I know Chris is laughing about that from wherever he is now).
Staples High School was rocked today by the death of Chris Lemone. The 49-year-old Bethel resident passed away yesterday, of an apparent heart attack.
As the town’s Human Services Department’s student outreach counselor since 1998, Lemone touched many students. He was a strong, steady presence for those who had personal issues. He was also the guidance force behind the Teen Awareness Group. One of the most visible organizations on campus, TAG is best known for its annual sponsorship of Grim Reaper Day. Coming just before proms and graduation, it’s a crucial reminder of the dangers of drunk driving.
Just last week, TAG led a campaign against texting while driving.
Between his work with individual students and his tireless efforts with TAG, he saved countless lives. The exact number can never be known — but Lemone’s impact on Staples is clear and strong.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said Lemone “will be sorely missed by his co-workers, high school parents and, most importantly, the many students at Staples High School for whom he was an outstanding source of comfort and guidance.”
Human Services director Barbara Butler added:
TAG has become a part of the fabric of the Staples High School community, and Chris was justifiably proud of the TAG students and what they accomplished year after year. His thoughtful guidance was a key element in the group’s success. Chris was a wonderful man, teacher, counselor, mentor, and friend.
On behalf of the Town of Westport, his fellow employees, and the numerous young people who Chris worked with and inspired, we mourn with Chris’ wife, children and family. As a community, we will work together to give them our support during this difficult time in the same way that Chris supported the children and families of Westport throughout his career.
Audiences in Chappaqua, Bethesda, Winnetka — high-achieving, high-pressure Westport-type towns across the country — have flocked to “Race to Nowhere.”
The film — fueled largely by word of mouth (internet-style) — has drawn so many SRO crowds at schools, churches and town hall auditoriums around the country, it’s already the 20th most successful documentary ever.
Parents, educators, clergy, physicians — and teenagers — are drawn by the theme: that years spent building resumes, being tutored and seeking perfection may not produce perfect, healthy, high-achieving kids. The result, rather, could be “unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared and stressed-out youth.”
After screenings, audiences stay for facilitated discussions. Recently, in New Canaan, a few high-achieving fathers took issue with the film’s premise that intense pressure is bad.
That’s the way the world works, they said.
Two Staples students disagreed. They’d gone with Chris Lemone — the outreach worker who runs the school’s Teen Awareness Group — and stuck around to talk. (Most of the New Canaan kids left — maybe too much homework?)
The Stapleites refuted the dads — strongly and eloquently. Their words made a tremendous impact on the adult audience.
Now, “Race to Nowhere” is coming to Westport.
The PTA Council is sponsoring a Feb. 15 viewing at Bedford Middle School. In 2 days — and with virtually no publicity — 600 free tickets sold out. It happened so quickly, the Staples student and parent communities had not even received details.
The screening cost has already put the PTA Council over their measly budget of $1000. They hope to recoup some of the money from audience donations that night.
A scene from "Race to Nowhere." A typical Westport scene too?
The Council plans a 2nd screening in March. They need someone to fund the $2500. In a high-achieving community like this, someone should write a check today.
In the meantime, Westporters can click here to find details on other local screenings — including January 28 at Town Hall. Tickets to that show cost $10 each; it’s sponsored by the Learning Community Day School.
Are Westport students engaged in a “race to nowhere” — or do we avoid many of the traps that snare youngsters in similar communities?
Those questions — and others like them — will be explored here this winter. Whatever the answers, it’s clear — by the race for tickets — that “Race to Nowhere” is important to run.
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