Tag Archives: Special Olympics

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.) 

Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.

One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.

The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.

Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.

Young Nick Zeoli.

He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.

He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.

He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.

After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.

Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.

They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.

Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.

He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.

He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.

In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.

Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.

There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.

He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.

(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)

Y Special Olympic Swimmers Splash To Success

Just 6 months ago, “06880” announced that the Westport Weston Family YMCA was forming a Special Olympics swim team.

The group came together quicker than Michael Phelps churns through pools.

This weekend, 16 athletes travel to Hamden and New Haven, to compete in Connecticut’s Special Olympic Games.

Their ages range from 10 to 18. Some need assistance to swim 15 meters. Others race on their own for 50 meters.

All have a fantastic time. All practice once a week. And all are supported by a wonderful team of coaches and volunteers.

Good luck to all. Of course, they — and the Y — are already winners.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

(Hat tip: Marshall Kiev)

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email jjaronko@westporty.org.  To read more about the Kievs and Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Remembering Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett — one of the entertainment world’s leading executives in the 1960s and ’70s, and a powerful influence in everything from Batman to the New York Cosmos — died last Monday night, at 86. The cause was heart failure, at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Emmett was a longtime resident of Westport, while he built his career in movies and sports marketing.

He began his career working for his uncle in a family-run comic book publishing company that owned the rights to a number of superheroes, including Batman and Superman.

Jay Emmett

Jay Emmett

Emmett founded the Licensing Corporation of America, which expanded from licensing comic book and cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird into sports marketing, leading to partnerships with Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

In 1964 Emmett joined Warner Communications — now Time Warner — and was named president, under chairman Steve Ross.

Emmett oversaw great growth in the company’s music and movie divisions during the 1960’s and 1970’s. When the company established the original New York Cosmos, he was instrumental in signing Brazilian star Pelé. The franchise went on to draw more than 70,000 fans each game.

Emmett’s close friendship with Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams led to his meeting Larry Lucchino, a Williams protégé. Emmett helped Lucchino’s teams — the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox — set home attendance records.

Emmett’s love of sports led him to partner with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the early 1970’s. They worked to develop the Special Olympics into one of the most important charitable institutions in the world. Emmett served in a number of capacities, including as a member of its international board of directors

Family and friends in Westport remember Emmett for his charismatic personality, infectious enthusiasm for life, and his outspoken nature. In recent years, Emmett derived great pleasure from the success of his children and grandchildren.

Emmett is survived by his sons Steven and Andrew, and daughters-in-law Deborah, Marlene, and Geri. He leaves behind 6 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Martha and son Paul.

A public celebration of Emmett’s life will be held at Fenway Park this summer. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Special Olympics.

To express condolences and/or make donations, click here.

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