Tag Archives: Ned Batlin

PAL Fireworks And Parking Passes: The Back Story Many People Miss

Since 2003, Westport PAL has awarded over $400,000 in college scholarships.

In the past few years they’ve donated $153,000 to the Field of Dreams turf field project, $49,000 to Westport Baseball and Softball, $23,000 to Special Olympics, $15,000 to the Compo Beach playground, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to many worthy, kid-related causes.

Each year, they help sponsor the 4th of July* fireworks. They are allowed to sell a maximum of 2,000 Compo Beach parking passes. The cost — $35 per vehicle — has not risen in years.

Last year, they sold fewer than 1,900. Yet an estimated 15,000 party-goers thronged the beach, for the best community event of the year.

You do the math.

A small portion of the very large crowd.

Westport PAL was organized in 1948. A few years later, they started the fireworks tradition.

It takes a ton of work. The volunteer organization partners with the Westport Police, Fire and Parks and Recreation Departments; EMS; Fireworks by Grucci — and many others — to make the event a smash.

About 20 years ago, PAL offered to hand it over to the town. First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said thanks, but no thanks.

Everyone — including out-of-towners — pitches in to make the fireworks a success.

The fireworks is PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help run programs in football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, rugby and track. They impact thousands of boys and girls each year.

In addition to the recipients of PAL money listed earlier, recent donations include $24,000 for health and wellness programs, $20,000 for lights at Staples High School, $5,000 for wrestling mats, $2,000 for a WWPT-FM Wrecker Radio tent, thousands to Staples’ Gridiron Club — the list goes on and on.

The fireworks is a true community effort. Melissa & Doug — the internationally highly regarded, locally owned children’s toy company — generously covers the cost of the actual pyrotechnics each year. (Grucci offers 3 levels. Westport’s is the top-tier.)

Happy birthday, America! (Photo/Suzanne Sherman Propp)

But PAL picks up other costs: the barge ($15,000 a day). The Cobra marching band, with Sapphire dancers. The Nassau County bomb squad. Food and drinks for police, fire and Parks and Rec workers (beyond what Jersey Mike’s provides). This year, PAL is even springing for a new barge mooring.

PAL president Ned Batlin, and past president/current vice president Sam Arciola, are both Staples grads. They grew up going to the fireworks — and playing PAL sports.

They want Westporters to know: Those $35 parking passes are not a ripoff.

They’re a bargain.

Parks and Rec operations supervisor Dan DeVito helps collect tickets. The process is quick and easy.

Last year’s non-sellout — despite the packed beach — was part of a trend. Some fireworks-goers arrive by Uber. Others park — as far away as the Children’s Community Development Center on Hillspoint Road — and walk in.

Of course, there are people like the homeowner on Soundview Drive. Like many neighbors, he throws a huge fireworks bash every year.

But he also buys 30 parking passes, and gives them to guests. He wants to support PAL; he doesn’t want friends to freeload.

Party on Soundview!

“One of our longtime executive directors, PJ Romano, used to say, ‘It’s all about the kids,'” Batlin says.

“PAL — and the fireworks — is all about local police and citizens who really care about the town, and everyone in it. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. But if we don’t sell out, it really handcuffs our ability to help.”

That’s the back story too few people know. So pony up, Westporters. PAL needs you to buy those fireworks parking passes.

They’re available at the Parks & Rec office in Longshore (opposite the golf pro shop) during business hours, and 24/7 at police headquarters (50 Jesup Road). You can pay by cash or check (“Westport PAL”).

If — er, when — they sell out, you can buy a pass to park at Longshore. Dattco donates buses, which shuttle back and forth to the beach from 5:45 to 11 p.m.

With a police escort.

*Okay, the 3rd of July. You know what I mean.

Westport’s fireworks are timeless. This shot is from 2016. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pic Of The Day #745

(Photo/Steve Perkins)

Rugby is a favorite South African sport. Westporter Steve Perkins was born there, and wanted to find a club here for his son.

Deputy Police Chief Sam Arciola and Westport police officer Ned Batlin helped Steve organize a rugby program, through the Westport PAL. Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department also helped.

Staples High School head rugby coach David Lyme has helped the program grow into 3 teams: Under 10 (non-contact), and U-12 and U-14 (full contact). Very quickly, the young Westporters have become formidable ruggers.

They’ll feed into the Staples program, which currently fields 4 teams for nearly 100 players.

In the photo above, Steve’s son Ari Perkins (blue) battles Aspetuck, in U-14 action at Wakeman Field.

Unsung Hero #55

Today is July 4.

Westport jumps the gun a bit on our fireworks celebration. We held ours Monday night. It’s the town’s biggest and best party of the year.

The cost is just $35 — and that’s only if you want to park at Compo. (Plus, you can pack as many people as you want into your vehicle.)

Otherwise you can park at Longshore, the office complex on Greens Farms Road or a friend’s house, and walk to the beach.

Still, people complain.

The $35 — a price that has remained the same for years — helps fund Westport PAL. They’ve sponsored the event for years. Recently, Melissa & Doug have helped out, ensuring that more of the money goes back to PAL programs.

Under the direction of Westport Police officer Ned Batlin — and a small group of volunteers — PAL does plenty. For example, they provide:

  • Youth sports teams and clinics. Each year, over 2,000 youngsters participate in 20 or so programs, including football, wrestling, cheerleading and much more.
  • The ice rink at Longshore (one of Westport’s favorite winter activities, for people of all ages and abilities).

The PAL Longshore Ice Rink.

  • Equipment and other needs for a variety of Staples High School teams.
  • College scholarships (more than 300 graduates so far, and counting).
  • Support for Toys for Tots, DARE and other programs.

That’s just the tangible stuff. By partnering with so many efforts, Westport PAL shows kids that the police really are their pals.

Westport PAL is our July 4th Unsung Heroes.

And every other day too.

Officer Ned Batlin, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Sam Arciola all help Westport PAL go.

July Comes In With A Bang!

Westport celebrated the arrival of July — and Independence Day — with perfect weather, and one of the largest fireworks crowds ever, last night.

It was a wonderful, friendly, community vibe. There was food and fun, glow sticks and sparklers, and wall-to-wall people.

Westport may have been the 1st community in America to celebrate July 4th this year. But the date doesn’t matter. The great feelings — about our town and our country — do.

Thanks, Westport PAL, Melissa & Doug, our police and fire and EMTs and Parks & Rec crew, and everyone else who made last night special!

Click on or hover over photos to enlarge. All images below by Dan Woog, unless otherwise noted.

It's not Independence Day unless you wear red, white and blue.

It’s not Independence Day unless you wear red, white and blue…

...whatever your age...

…whatever your age…

 

...and deck your house in an American flag.

…and deck your house in an American flag.

Celebrating the 2nd Amendment.

Celebrating the 2nd Amendment. (Don’t worry! They’re toys!)

One man found solitude around 5 p.m. The large crowds had not yet arrived.

One man found solitude around 5 p.m. The large crowds had not yet arrived.

On Compo Beach Road, youngsters sold lemonade and cookies to raise funds to fight Alzheimer's.

On Compo Beach Road, youngsters raised money to fight Alzheimer’s.

Police officers did their job -- and mingled with the crowds. Ned Batlin knows everyone.

Police officers did their job — and mingled with the crowds. Ned Batlin knows everyone.

This scene was repeated hundreds of times, up and down the beach.

This scene was repeated hundreds of times, all along the beach.

Boats were out in force, all afternoon and evening.

Boats were out in force, all afternoon and evening.

Up and down Soundview, the boardwalk and beyond, teenagers strutted their stuff.

Up and down Soundview, the boardwalk and beyond, teenagers strutted their stuff.

New York City's Cobras put on a great dance and drum performance. They appeared in the movie "Birdman."

New York City’s Cobras put on a great dance and drum performance. They appeared in the movie “Birdman.”

A classic shot. We sometimes forget that the cannons represent Westport's part in our war for independence.

A classic shot. We sometimes forget that the cannons represent Westport’s role in our war for independence.

As night fell, bunting was illuminated on Soundview Drive.

As night fell, bunting was illuminated on Soundview Drive.

The main attraction.

The main attraction.

The fireworks, as seen from a Soundview Drive front porch. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

The fireworks, as seen from a Soundview Drive front porch. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

 

Fireworks Over Fireworks

Westport PAL is taking heat for something it’s done well for decades: organizing one of our town’s hottest shows of the year, the 4th of July fireworks.

Of course, they’ve never been on July 4th. We celebrate Independence Day on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th, with Westport’s biggest party of the year. Besides fireworks, we enjoy picnics, barbecues, bands, and tons of fun.

This year — for a variety of reasons — the big day is June 30. When they heard that, a few Westporters exploded.

Westport's 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

Westport’s 2014 fireworks, as seen from Hillspoint Road.

The main complaints are that the event is scheduled on a workday — June 30 is a Thursday — and that folks have to work the next day (Friday, July 1). A secondary issue is that June 30 is several days before the 4th, lessening the holiday’s importance.

The date was picked almost a year ago, says Westport PAL president Ned Batlin. With a limited number of barges, barge crews, and fireworks companies available, not every town can schedule its fireworks on the same date.

For as long as they can remember, Batlin and Police Chief Foti Koskinas say, the fireworks have been held on a weekday (including Friday). At 4 p.m. the beach is cleared; then, people who have purchased tickets ($35 per car — a price that has remained constant for years) are allowed in.

It would be very difficult to clear the beach on a holiday weekend — both because of sheer numbers, and because some of those visitors would have paid for an expensive weekend day pass.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge -- and relaxing with an iPad.

Scoring a prime spot in front of the barge — and relaxing with an iPad.

In addition, Batlin explains, for financial reasons it’s best for the rain date to be the day after the originally scheduled fireworks. A few years ago rain pushed the fireworks to July 5. Many people complained that it came after the holiday.

For the past few years, Batlin notes, July 4 came close to a weekend, so many people did not have to work the day after the fireworks. This year, July 4 is a Monday.

“We know not everyone can take this Friday off, but some people can,” says Koskinas. “Knowing that some people will have a 4-day weekend, we opted for Thursday so we could have Friday as a rain date.”

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene last year at the Schlaet's Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

Everyone has a favorite spot to watch the fireworks. This was the scene at Schlaet’s Point jetty, where Soundview intersects with Hillspoint Road.

The fireworks are PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help fund programs that serve thousands of youngsters, and 30 college scholarships.

The fireworks draw 12,000 people to Compo Beach. “We’re well aware we can’t please everyone,” Koskinas says. “Whether it’s the date, the weather, the traffic going to the beach or leaving, someone will be unhappy.

“We strive to please everyone. But we realize that’s not possible.”

Koskinas concludes, “Every year we hope the weather cooperates, that everyone has a good time, and is patient. And every year we hope the fireworks are better than the year before.”

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.

Soundview Drive is one place to be for the fireworks. The woman on the balcony is conducting a fife and drum corps, which entertained along the closed-to-traffic road.

Walter Paulovic Arrives In Style

Walter Paulovic is not your usual Staples student. The senior will finish his classes next month, and join the Marine Corps — a longtime dream.

This morning, he did not arrive in school the usual way either. Westport Police officer Ned Batlin — who helped him through the Marine Corps process — picked him up at home, and drove him to North Avenue in the Humvee used for high water search and rescue operations.

Walter Paulovic, Ned Batlin and Jay Dirnberger, 7:15 morning at Staples High School.

Walter Paulovic, Ned Batlin and Jay Dirnberger, 7:15 this morning at Staples High School.

The unusual transportation came courtesy of Jay Dirnberger. He’s mentored Walter since 7th grade. At the Westport Historical Society’s recent holiday house party, Jay saw a silent auction item — a ride to Staples in a cop car — and realized it would be a perfect gift for his mentee.

Jay won the auction. And Walter won a morning he’ll remember for a long time — even when he’s driving his own Marine vehicle, a few years “down the road.”

Tiny Miracles, Humongous Hearts

Four years ago, Peggy Sawala delivered twins. Born at 29 weeks, they weighed just 2 1/2 pounds each.

“My husband and I didn’t know what to do,” the Westporter recalls. The girls were in Stamford Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 6 weeks, hooked up to monitors, feeding tubes and respirators. “It was a time of such tension, ignorance, fear and emotion.”

Within hours after delivery, a mentor from the Tiny Miracles Foundation visited Peggy’s room. She had never heard of the organization, a low-key group offering support, information, services and supplies to families of premature infants.

Few people hear of Tiny Miracles — until they need it. Then they never forget it.

Tiny Miracles logo

Tiny Miracles makes close matches. Mentors who have had gestational issues — or heart problems, or who lost their babies — help new moms in similar situations.

Peggy’s mentor had delivered twins too. “I didn’t even realize I needed to hear her story,” Peggy says. But it was a very important conversation.

Tiny Miracles runs resource rooms at 4 area hospitals: Norwalk, Bridgeport, Stamford and Danbury. The rooms are filled with books, and inspiring stories and photos of other NICU families. There’s a computer, printer, telephone, TV and toys for siblings.

Tiny Miracles provides welcome bags too, including preemie-sized clothing that allows access for medical equipment.

“My girls had so many monitors and tubes, they couldn’t wear clothes,” Peggy says. “The 1st time I saw one of them in a doll-sized t-shirt from Tiny Miracles, I sobbed. It made her so much more human.”

(Photo/Gary Esposito)

(Photo/Gary Esposito)

When Peggy’s twins finally left the hospital, Tiny Miracles provided a take-home bag. “There were these tiny sleepers and shirts,” Peggy says. “I wouldn’t have known where to get them.”

The kit also includes preemie-sized diapers, pacifiers, bottles, skin care and other supplies.

Tiny Miracles shirtMost of all though, Peggy appreciates the camaraderie Tiny Miracles provides. “As much support as we had from family and friends, no one had gone through such a premature birth. Tiny Miracles validated our feelings, gave us advice, and got us through that awful time.”

Four years later, Peggy volunteers as a Tiny Miracles mentor herself.

Another Westporter recalls the birth of her son, 8 weeks premature. She had 4 other kids at home — all under 5 1/2.

Tiny Miracles president Leelee Klein “came to my rescue. She listened. She told me everything I needed to hear. She let me cry,” the Westport mom recalls.

“I felt so much better. I could breathe. I could carry on. I swore that when Charlie was in preschool, I would give all of my free time to be a Leelee.”

She does. And she calls her hours in the NICU “some of the most special days in my life.”

A recent recipient of Tiny Miracles’ wisdom and generosity is Annie Batlin. Teddy was born July 1, with severe lung problems. He spent a week in the Norwalk Hospital NICU, and it was touch-and-go.

Teddy Batlin, in early July.

Teddy Batlin, in early July.

Annie’s husband Ned was as supportive as possible. But when Jennifer Lau walked in and introduced herself as a Tiny Miracles representative, he left the 2 women alone. “I knew Annie was in better hands than mine,” Ned says.

“It was wonderful to have someone there who’d actually been through the same thing. Jennifer was there all week. She helped Annie in her greatest hour of need — the worst time of our life.”

Ned adds, “You can be the biggest, toughest guy in the world” — and, as a Westport cop, he looks the part — “but no one can help in that situation the way Tiny Miracles can.

“If I ever won the lottery, I’d set up a charitable foundation to give money away. Tiny Miracles would definitely be near the top of the list.”

Like any non-profit, Tiny Miracles could use the help. In addition to the many items mentioned above, the organization offers financial assistance to defray non-medical costs, like parents’ transportation to visit their baby, babysitting for older siblings, and specialized equipment, supplies and services.

Fortunately, there is a way for Ned — and anyone else — to contribute.

For the 1st time ever, Tiny Miracles is holding a Westport fundraiser. The gala — “A Night of Miracles” — is Friday, May 2 (7 p.m.), at the Inn at Longshore. There’s cocktails, dinner, dancing, and silent and live auctions.

“Live” auctions. To the mother of a premature baby — and the mentors of Tiny Miracles — that’s the sweetest word in the world.

(For tickets to the “Night of Miracles” gala, or more information, click here.)

Teddy Batlin today.

Teddy Batlin today.

 

 

 

 

 

Staples Students Dodge Cops; Everyone Happy

Cops and kids battled it out for a couple of hours last night at Staples.

They threw stuff at each other, across a line no one dared cross.

Then they all fist-bumped, had pizza, and drove home safely.

The event was “Dodge-a-Cop” — a massive dodgeball tournament — sponsored by the Westport Police/Youth Collaborative and Youth Commission.

Over a dozen high school teams participated, with at least one Westport Police officer on each team.

Students paid to participate. All funds raised go to Homes With Hope.

That’s a big 10-4.

Officer Ned Batlin, Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas and Captain Sam Arciola are all smiles -- before the dodgeballs start flying.

Officer Ned Batlin, Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas and Captain Sam Arciola are all smiles — before the dodgeballs start flying.

Staples track stars (from left) Patrick Lindwall, Will McDonald, James Lewis, Peter Elkind and Jake Berman are fast enough to run from the cops. At the dodgeball tournament, they didn't have to.

Staples track stars (from left) Patrick Lindwall, Will McDonald, James Lewis, Peter Elkind and Jake Berman are fast enough to run from the cops. At the dodgeball tournament, they didn’t have to.

Click here if your browser does not link directly to YouTube.

 

Cops

I’ll never look at the Post Road the same way again.

Or a police car.

Those are 2 takeaways from last Thursday. I spent the 3-11 p.m. shift on a ride-along with Westport Police officer Ned Batlin.

There were no major accidents or medical emergencies. No drug busts, DUIs or domestic disputes. There was not a deer to dispose of, nor a possibly rabid raccoon.

Westport PoliceLast Thursday, it rained hard. Veteran officers knew that meant one of two things: Lots of action, or none at all. Because heavy rains had been predicted, most people stayed off the road.

While touring the communications center — who knew there was a live video feed of the railroad station? — I made the rookie mistake of saying, “Pretty quiet today, huh?” The dispatchers stared at me like I had just ensured that all hell would break loose.

It never did.

Still — as someone who spent his youth running from cops, and his college years profoundly distrustful of all authority — I had come as an adult to appreciate the fantastic job Westport police officers do.

Now — with a ringside view of how they do it (if only for 8 hours on a very slow night) — I have even more admiration for the men and women in blue.

Events that seem routine can be anything but. A 911 call came in from the 1st tee at Longshore — but no one was on the other end. Was it a pocket dial, a misdial — or something seriously amiss? A cop sped over, and found nothing on the golf course. But was there was a real emergency nearby — in the Inn, maybe, or Parks & Rec headquarters? It all had to be checked out.

Police - Town of Wp home page

Batlin bought water at Cumberland Farms. The clerk mentioned that a regular customer had just handed him a counterfeit $5 bill. The paperwork that followed was lengthy. But it had to be done. There’s no way of knowing if this will provide important evidence in a case down the line — or (more likely) nothing at all.

Much of the night was spent on patrol. I’ve lived in Westport my entire life, but I’d never driven through the Green’s Farms railroad station lot. Batlin swung by, looking as much for people who shouldn’t be there as for things that didn’t look right.

“You might not catch the guy breaking into a car,” he said. “But you better see the broken glass on the ground before someone gets off the train that night and finds it himself.”

Westport police car

Up and down the Post Road we drove. Up and down side streets too. Batlin showed me a crazy web of roads off Park Lane and South Compo. Birch Street, Linden, Spruce, Pine — at every turn the name changed, and most mailboxes lacked house numbers. “Can you imagine what it’s like coming here in the dark, trying to find the right street and house?” Batlin asked.

Near Super Stop & Shop, Batlin spotted another patrol car with its lights on. The officer had just pulled over a driver for using a cellphone. It took a while to check out the license and registration, but thoroughness is part of the job. Cops learn, Batlin says, never to take anything for granted. At the same time, though, it’s their job to ease the anxiety of the public.

A couple of hours later — again on the Post Road — a car pulled into the back of a strip mall. That meant nothing to me, but Batlin checked it out. It was late and rainy; he wondered why the driver headed there. Turns out he wanted to show off his car to his buddy, who was just getting off work. Nothing nefarious — but it’s a police officer’s job to be curious.

It’s a reporter’s job to be curious too. I had been curious about the life of a Westport police officer; curious about what goes on inside the imposing-looking headquarters, and inside a patrol car.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

As he drove, Batlin told me stories: about Westport officers who had been ambushed during routine traffic stops. Who arrested shoplifters with tens of thousands of dollars of goods, based on both experience and instincts. Whose routine shifts were suddenly interrupted by murders, suicides, sexual assaults, accidents or fires.

That doesn’t happen often. More routine is what I experienced — though, everyone kept explaining, it was the slowest night they’d had in months.

I had gotten in the patrol car at 3 p.m., not knowing what to expect.

I got out of it at 11, realizing that’s exactly the same feeling every police officer has, every moment of every shift.

Gimme Shelter

Long Lots Elementary School serves as Westport’s emergency shelter. With dire predictions of Hurricane Sandy bearing down last Sunday, staff and volunteers were ready to prepare for a surge of evacuees.

But first, there was a Halloween party for kids.

Custodians assured emergency workers that they could set up after the party. They wanted the children to have fun.

The kids did. And indeed, the shelter was ready in time.

Long Lots School

That’s just one of the feel-good stories told by Ned Batlin. A Westport police officer — and much-loved DARE official — he spent several days at Long Lots last week, overseeing security and pitching in as much as everyone else there.

“Human Services, Red Cross, CERT volunteers, the custodial staff — they were phenomenal,” Ned says. “They worked around the clock, day after day.”

He cites too Long Lots’ custodial staff: Pat Hayden (head), Peter Barcello and Patrick Rodgers.

Chartwells — Westport Public Schools’ food service provider — was “fantastic,” Ned says.

Executive chef Ritch Imperiati never left. “He slept in his car every night. He made sure there were 3 hot meals a day, from Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon. And there was chips, juice and water, 24/7,” says Ned.

“It was a great group effort. One of the food servers — who also never left — played with kids in the gym in between her shifts.”

The first night, nearly 90 Westporters slept at Long Lots. As the storm raged, all the cots were in the hallways. Officials feared the gym’s windows might not withstand such high winds.

On Tuesday night, 50 people slept in the gym.

Others stopped in just for meals or coffee. One man came to charge his ankle monitor. (His probation officer told him to.)

Social workers from Human Services were always on duty. Department members Barbara Butler, Patty Haberstroh, Elaine Daignault and Kevin Godburn made sure things ran smoothly. There was also a nurse at all times.

“So many people came together to make people’s lives a little easier,” Ned marvels. “It was fantastic to see.”