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)
It’s a recent, and potentially fatal, phenomenon: a car crashes into a tree or telephone pole. It’s the middle of the day — often in fine weather — and there are no other vehicles around.
The cause is almost always distracted driving. And the driver can just as easily be an adult as a teenager.
Meanwhile, for decades, many other accidents — at all times of day — have been caused by impaired drivers. Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be any age too.
Staples High School’s Teen Awareness Group wants to do something about it.
This Saturday (October 13, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Staples football field), the club hosts a Distracted Driving event. It’s free, and open to all high school students.
Plus their parents, and any other interested people.
Drivers can be distracted by texting, as well as by alcohol or drugs.
The State Police will be on hand with a simulator. Attendees can experience first-hand the power of an impact by a moving vehicle — this time, fortunately, in a safe, controlled environment.
Westport police officers will create an obstacle course and other simulations. Using special goggles, participants can experience the effects of substances on depth perception, coordination, decreased reaction time and impaired decision-making.
You can also take a field sobriety test.
TAG has organized this Distracted Driving Day with support from the Westport Youth Commission and Westport Police-Youth Club.
It’s an important event. Drive safely — there, back and always.
(NOTE: Attendees should park by the Staples fieldhouse and pool. Staples boys soccer’s 60th anniversary celebration will fill the parking lot by the soccer field and baseball diamond.)
Monday was Grim Reaper Day at Staples High School. The Teen Awareness Group sponsors the annual event warning of the dangers of drinking and driving. “Victims” (like this student) were pulled out of class throughout the day by police officers and EMTs — harsh reminders of the 28 Americans killed every day by drunk drivers.
As part of the message, this scene greeted students as they arrived on campus.
Police and teenagers threw balls at each other’s heads — and cheered for each other — at tonight’s annual Dodge-a-Cop tournament in the Staples High School fieldhouse.
Sponsored by the Westport Youth Commission, Staples’ Teen Awareness Group, the Westport Police Youth Collaborative and PAL, it’s a chance for a couple of hundred kids and a couple of dozen cops to play dodgeball, eat pizza, win trophies, raise money, and hang out.
Teams came in costume. Police took off their holsters and cuffs. It was a great night for all.
Whether it’s Staples Wrecker blue, or the men (and women) in blue, the message was clear: Blue lives matter.
A typical team — with actual cops on the far left and far right.
Jack Norman’s parents divorced when he was young. His dad had a drinking problem. When he lost his job, Jack’s mother picked up a second job, to support Jack and his younger brother.
One day when Jack was 13, he stayed home from his school sick. His dad came to take care of him. When Jack woke from a nap and asked for a sandwich, his father stood up — and passed out. He’d been drinking all morning.
Jack cut off all contact with him. Two months later, his father died.
Soon, Jack’s mom — 1985 Staples High School graduate Jen Rago — returned to her hometown from Atlanta. She’d be closer to her family, and her sons could attend better schools.
Jack thrived as a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader. The next year, at Staples High, he discovered Players and the Teen Awareness Group. He stage managed 18 shows, as well as music department and other performances. He served as TAG’s treasurer; this year as a senior, he’s president.
Last summer, he worked at A Child’s Place. He also babysits through CrossFit Westport’s daycare program.
Jack Norman, working behind the scenes as stage manager. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Jack is a role model for many students. Through TAG, he talks to freshman health classes about the challenges of growing up, and the toll addiction takes on individuals and their families. He is open about his life, and the devastating effects of his father’s alcoholism.
Now, Jack is reaching an even broader audience. “Jack’s Story” has been posted on Positive Directions’ website. And he’s featured in the organization’s new PSA.
When the non-profit mental health and addictive behaviors education/ prevention program asked for volunteers to share their stories, Jack never hesitated.
His TAG presentations — which began when he was a sophomore — have convinced him of the importance of letting students know they’re not alone.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have resources, and a support system,” the articulate, insightful and very energetic teenager says.
“My mom has been there for me. Mr. Frimmer at Coleytown, and the theater family at Staples, they’ve been great too.”
So Jack talks — at Staples, and now online. He describes growing up with an alcoholic father. His painful decision to cut off contact. Writing something that was read at the funeral.
When he first moved to Westport, Jack says, new friends asked about his parents. Jack tried to protect them from hearing the truth.
However, he soon realized, “death is a reality. If you can’t talk about it, it consumes you.” TAG gave him the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and to encourage, empower and inspire many others.
The day after one of Jack’s talks, a freshman approached him during a Players rehearsal. Tearfully, she said she was sorry for his loss.
“I’m okay,” Jack replied. “But how are you?”
“It’s just good to know other people understand,” she said simply. They hugged.
“Knowing someone felt less alone, that’s very satisfying,” Jack says. Even if they don’t tell him everything, he’s helped them take one step on a long journey.
The Positive Directions PSA does the same thing. “The whole idea is to get the message out there,” Jack explains. That message is: It can happen to anyone.
This fall, Jack heads to college. He hopes to study stage management.
Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Earlier this week, they ran toward them.
And threw dodgeballs at their heads.
The cops threw them right back.
In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.
The Dodge-a-Cop winners! From left: deputy police chief Foti Koskinas, “coach” Mac Barecca, Grant Sirlin, Sam Ahlgrim, Jason Nelson, Noah Staffa, Joe Pravder.
Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event. Students paid to play. It was a fundraiser for the Chris Lemone College Fund. Lemone, Staples’ outreach counselor and longtime TAG advisor, died earlier this fall.
The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it.
An all-girls team high-fives their cop. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)
Each of the 26 teams had at least 1 police officer.
A cop fires in the line of duty. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)
As they hurled dodgeballs at each other — and shared pizza — it was hard to tell who had a better time, the cops or the kids.
There was plenty of action all night at the Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball event. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)
To raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, the Teen Awareness Group (TAG) plastered the halls and lockers with informational signs and graphic posters.
A coffin near the cafeteria hammered home the point that drunk driving kills.
A video — shown to the entire school — was the day’s centerpiece. The TAG- produced documentary featured members of the Staples and Westport communities, sharing personal stories of the impact drunk driving had on their lives.
The effect was powerful. And — in every aspect of the word — sobering.
Click below to watch the video. Click here if your browser does not link directly to YouTube.
Teenagers text. It’s as natural to them as eating, drinking, and thinking about sex.
In fact, they text while they eat, drink, and (yes) have sex.
They also text while they drive.
So do their parents.
But at least a group of teenagers is trying to do something about it.
Zach Slater — a Staples senior who serves on the Yale-New Haven Hospital youth board — brought the “Txtng Klls” (“texting kills,” for those of you > 18) movement to his high school.
Sponsored by Allstate, it asks teenagers to take pledge not to text while driving.
They back up their pledge with a thumbprint. It’s a natural: Thumbs are the primary texting digit.
At Staples earlier this week, the Teen Awareness Group got several hundred students to pledge with their thumbs. In return, they received thumb rings saying “Txting Klls” — hopefully, a vivid reminder whenever they text.
Blue thumbprints on the poster -- and a thumb ring on the "thumb."
TAG also distributed surveys — asking students about their texting habits, as drivers and passengers — to help Zach with a research project.
A couple of hundred students responded. Results are being tabulated.
Thumbs-up to Zach and TAG for tackling this important issue.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)