Some Westporters know Terry Brannigan as an Eagle Scout. Others think of him as a former Staples High School wrestling star.
Perhaps one day the rest of the world may celebrate him for his music.
The 2020 Staples grad is now a Wesleyan University sophomore. He’s double majoring in physics and music. He’s minoring in IDEAS (Integrated Design, Engineering and Applied Science). He’s a varsity wrestler (125 pounds).
And he’s just released his first album. Which (of course!) he created entirely himself, in his dorm room.
Terry Brannigan’s “studio.”
He wrote every song. He played live instruments (after teaching himself bass and piano — he already knew guitar). He sang. He mixed, mastered and produced it all (after figuring out how to use the Ableton program).
And — why not? — he designed the album cover too
Terry Brannigan created all the “Gillham” art.
“Gillham” — that’s Terry’s middle name; it’s both the album title and his stage name — traces its roots back to Terry’s first guitar, at 7. He joined School of Rock, but did not take music seriously until the summer after 11th grade
He and a friend formed the band Verbatim (it included his younger brother Eamon). They played a few gigs, at venues from bars to Barnes & Noble.
A turning point for Terry was taking Advanced Placement Music Theory with Luke Rosenberg. The Staples choral director gave Terry “another way to look at and appreciate music,” he says.
Balancing school, music, wrestling and Boy Scouts was not easy. Terry was grateful to have two escapes — arts and sports — from the stresses of teenage life. They use different sides of the brain, he notes, and balance each other out.
Throughout high school, Terry wrote songs. Last year, stuck in his Wesleyan dorm room for long stretches during COVID, he worked in earnest on his music.
“I’d sit in the same chair for 6 or 7 hours — class, homework, music, eating dinner at my desk,” Terry says. “I was having a really weird relationship with time.” He began writing songs with that theme.
At first, Terry admits, it was hard to write about personal feelings. “Is it too much information? Why would anyone care?” he wondered. But, he notes, “it’s easier, and a lot more fun, to write something you care about.”
The hardest part of making an album was not the lyrics or melody. It was production.
“There’s so much to learn,” says Terry. He taught himself Ableton Live — a digital audio workstation. “There’s an infinite number of sounds and instruments. When I figure out how to get something to sound the way I want it to, I’m grateful.”
Terry Brannigan: Westport and Wesleyan’s music man, in Nashville.
He’s produced an impressive debut album. That theme of “time” runs through nearly every track, mutating and reprising often. The more you listen to “GIllham,” the more you appreciate Terry’s insights, subtleties and nuances.
After the next tough part — promotion — Terry will turn to another musical project.
He’ll fit it in along with his very demanding courses at Wesleyan. And his equally tough wrestling schedule.
Terry Brannigan is a many of many talents. And — somehow — he’ll find “time.”
(“Gillham” by Gillham is available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.)
If Terry Brannigan is not making music or studying, you’ll find him on the wrestling mat.
High school winter sports are on hold until January 19. Basketball courts, hockey rinks, swimming pools — all are quiet.
The Staples High School wrestling team can’t practice or compete either. But they’re not taking the layoff lying down.
The Wreckers keep in shape by lifting. Not in the weight room, of course — that’s closed too.
Instead, the grapplers lift treadmills. Sofas. Pianos. You name it — if you’ve got a moving job (or any other work), they’ll do it.
And the service is free. (Donations to the wrestling program are gratefully accepted, for sure.)
Need a stone wall dismantled and moved? Call the Staples wrestling team!
The wrestlers form one of the tightest, most cohesive teams at Staples. (Their sport is one of the toughest, too.) Much of that is built on the foundation laid by Terry Brannigan. The former Staples wrestler’s son TJ graduated last spring after a stellar career. His second son Eamon is a junior on the squad.
As part of Brannigan’s effort 3 years ago to boost the morale of what was then a flagging program — and introduce the community to the team and sport — he realized that strong, enthusiastic teenagers could fill a need.
Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page often featured requests for help with jobs no one seemed to want to do. They were heavy, messy, small or required a truck.
One day Brannigan responded: “I know 30 fit, polite and responsible young men who are happy to do it: the Staples wrestling team!”
Quickly, someone asked how much they’d charge. He replied, “Nothing. If you’re happy, just say something nice about the team. If you feel like making a tip, it will go to the team.”
That was 100 jobs ago.
Among the wrestlers’ jobs: moving a chicken coop. This was before the pandemic, which is why they’re not wearing masks.)
The first request was to clear wood and brush from a yard, left there by an unscrupulous contractor. The homeowner could not pay what Brannigan calls “extortion prices” of area companies. After the wrestlers’ final trip to the dump, she tearfully said, “you’ve restored my faith in this town.”
Word spread. Soon they were working nearly every weekend. Along the way, they met “the nicest people,” Brannigan says. “And we’ve had a great time.”
They have moved, cleaned and transported everything imaginable. The heavyweights do the heavy lifting; the light guys maneuver in tight spaces.
Since the pandemic struck, they’ve done a booming business moving treadmills. Some are ordered online, delivered to the garage, and need to be brought downstairs. Others are bought from someone in town, and must be transported.
“We’ve gone up and down and around obstacles no one else would touch,” Brannigan says.
The wrestlers put the treadmills together too, if needed. One of their favorite jobs was for a 103-year-old military veteran, who was excited to get back to exercising.
The wrestling team specializes in bringing big items down small spaces.
The list of jobs is long. The teenagers have moved hot tubs, patio furniture and a chicken coop. They maneuvered a piano down stairs that a professional mover would not touch (“without even touching a wall,” Brannigan says proudly).
They’ve planted 900 tulip bulbs, fixed awnings, removed snow too, took apart a stone wall, and broke down the Remarkable Theater after a concert.
Each time, Brannigan says, “we make a friend. We receive a donation. Most importantly, they meet our athletes.”
It’s a fun event for the boys. They meet at Brannigan’s house or the diner for breakfast before work, or have a donut afterward. (Hey — the season has not yet begun!)
Most weekends, 2 crews work. Sal Augeri helps Brannigan supervise, but the bulk of the work is done by the teenagers. Five have pickup trucks; one has a trailer.
It takes money to run a sports program, beyond what the athletic budget provides. The wrestlers are earning funds to pay for extra coaches, equipment, and some of the extras that make their program one of the best in the state.
Now all they need is a season. They certainly earned it.
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Terry Brannigan calls himself a “passable” wrestler at Staples High School.
But the 1979 graduate says the sport was “hugely transformative.” In fact, he says, it was one of the best things he ever did. Wrestling helped Brannigan set goals, gain confidence, overcome obstacles, and take responsibility for himself.
Right after college, Nick Garoffalo — a wrestler who graduated from Staples a year before Brannigan — asked him to be his assistant coach.
“I was 23,” Brannigan recalls. “To this day, except for being a parent, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Nick Garoffalo (left) and Terry Brannigan, in their coaching days.
For nearly a decade, the pair formed a potent team. Helped by John Chacho’s PAL feeder program, they coached individual and team state champions. More importantly, they formed tight bonds between coaches, wrestlers and parents.
“It wasn’t about technique. It was about family,” Brannigan recalls. “We looked out for each other, on and off the mat.”
But “work and life got in the way.” Fellow wrestler Andy Lobsenz hired Brannigan at Dun & Bradstreet. Regretfully, he had no more time to coach.
Ten years ago, Brannigan moved back to Westport. He and his wife Laurie had 3 young sons. The oldest, Terry Jr. tried sports. But he was the smallest in his grade — boy or girl — and quiet. Nothing clicked.
As a Staples High School freshman 2 years ago, he decided to give wrestling another try.
Under a succession of young coaches, the program had fallen far from its glory days. Sometimes, there were only 5 wrestlers at a match. With 9 forfeits in the 14 weight classes, the Wreckers mathematically lost before even stepping on the mat.
As a freshman, Terry wrestled varsity. He learned the same lessons as his father: In this sport, size does not matter. Someone who studies wrestling and works hard can beat a pure athlete.
But Brannigan was appalled at the state of the program. “This can’t be his high school experience,” the father thought. “I want him to have what I had.”
Terry Brannigan Jr. controls an opponent. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)
As a sophomore, Terry Jr. had an excellent season. At the season-ending banquet — attended by only a dozen or so wrestlers — Brannigan began working to resurrect Staples wrestling.
Athletic director Marty Lisevick was all in. Brannigan went to work.
He told several key alumni, “we need your help — financially and emotionally.” Successful in fields like medicine, finance and business, they all had the same question: “How can we help?”
Lisevick agreed to move the wrestlers from the small, out-of-the-way football locker that had served as their wrestling room. When the winter season began, they would practice in the fieldhouse. It was roomier, and everyone could see what they were doing.
Snazzy uniforms were ordered. Brannigan and others built a new website, and a Facebook page. The Mat Men booster club grew too.
Another key was a coach who could also build a program. Fred Mills — the “guru” of Danbury’s strong youth program, and owner of Beast Wrestling Academy — signed on.
He brought 2 young assistants to the program. Alex Kappel — a teacher in Milford — is the son of a Hungarian national freestyle champion. Paulo Freitas is one of the winningest wrestlers in Danbury High School history. Both added immensely to the program’s credibility and impact. They served as head PAL coaches too, further tightening bonds between younger and high school grapplers.
Fred Mills (center), with Alex Kappel and Paulo Freitas.
Mills and Brannigan organized summer and fall clinics, sponsored by Westport PAL. Slowly, interest grew. Wrestlers got friends to come. The word was out: We’re doing something cool. Get in on the ground floor. You’ll get tougher. You’ll help us win. You’ll have fun.
In the fall, Brannigan helped recruit wrestlers. Some had been his son’s teammates on Staples’ undefeated freshman football team. The parents had formed tight bonds, and were eager to keep the magic going all winter long.
Forty wrestlers showed up on the first day. At the opening meet, 7 freshmen were in the lineup.
Proud members of the Staples High School wrestling team.
The program-building paid off — on and off the mat. The night before the Chacho Duals — a Staples-hosted event, honoring long-time coach and mentor John Chacho — a party drew dozens of parents to Wakeman Town Farm. They stayed until 1 a.m.
The next day — in dramatic, down-to-the-wire fashion — the Wreckers won the Duals. It was the first time they’d ever captured their own tournament.
Jacob Qiu was one of Staples’ many improved wrestlers this year. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)
The team caught fire. They earned votes in the Top 10 statewide poll. They finished 4th at the FCIAC (league) tournament.
They earned the respect of a growing number of fans — and of their coach.
Before accepting the job, Mills had been told that Westport kids are “soft.” To his surprise, he found them very tough competitors — and also very gentlemanly. (Like rugby, that’s the flip side of the sport.)
Team spirit was a hallmark of this year’s Staples wrestling team. They supported each other, every step of the way. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)
A few days ago, 119 people celebrated the season at Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl in Bridgeport.
“To call you my best friends is wrong,” said co-captain JC Montoni in his speech. “You’re my brothers.”
Co-captain JC Montoni concentrates intently before his opponent gets set. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)
Brannigan looked back with satisfaction on the year. And he was quick to spread praise for the turnaround.
“We are an army for good,” he says. He cited Lisevick, the coaches, and the Mat Men — including “superhero” mom and new Mat Men board member Jen Montoni — for the newly revived Staples wrestling program.
The wrestlers and their parents are already excited for next year. But first there’s one final meet.
Five Wreckers qualified for the high school national championships. On March 28 Terry Brannigan, JC Montoni, George Harrington, Jake Rizy and Nick Augeri head to Virginia Beach.
George Harrington — one of Staples’ best wrestlers ever — hoists one of the giant photos that were a centerpiece of Senior Night.
They and their parents will drive down together, in an RV. They’ll stay together in an Airbnb.
It’s the new Staples wrestling way. And — Brannigan promises — this is only the first round.
Mark Ryzewicz is a successful orthopedic surgeon in Cody, Wyoming. His Staples High School wrestling days are long behind him.
But the 1991 state open finalist remembers his days as a Wrecker fondly. So — when the call went out recently for fundraising help — he responded quickly, gladly and generously.
He was not alone. A dozen other former grapplers sent their own very generous checks.
Just as importantly, they sent emails. With passion, emotion and great gratitude, they described what the sport did for them in their formative years.
The individuality of wrestling — a physical loss is very personal, but you come back tougher and better for the experience, develop resilience and ultimately — was important, Ryzewicz wrote.
So was the team aspect. Every member helps every other wrestler improve. Even an inexperienced athlete who avoids a pin can save enough points so the entire squad ekes out a victory.
Mark Ryzewicz (bottom row, center) was unable to compete in the 1990 New England tournament due to an injury. He was there with (bottom, from left) Steve Uydess and assistant coach Skip Garoffolo, and (top) head coach Nick Garoffolo, Dan Haid, Zach Cahill and assistant coach Terry Brannigan.
Camaraderie develops through the intimate process of winning, losing, training, being physically beaten, gaining strength and confidence.
Ryzewicz notes that “in terms of socioeconomic, class and body type,” no sport is as diverse as wrestling. Success comes from “taking what you have, then figuring out how to make the most of it” — with, of course, the help of teammates and coaches.
Ryzewicz used the lessons of resilience and teamwork learned on the Staples mats well. First, after Stanford University — where he continued wrestling — he worked for several years as a cowboy on a 100,000-plus-acre Wyoming ranch.
Then he went to medical school. Residency involved 100-hour work weeks or more. He had personal struggles.
But the principles were the same: Don’t quit. Work hard. Find teammates to help him succeed.
In Cody, Ryzewicz’s operating room runs using a “wrestling teamwork model.” When his 6-year-old began wrestling recently — and earned a 5th-place ribbon — the former Staples wrestler drove him home, and reflected on the sport.
With the sun setting over the prairie, and sagebrush passing by, Ryzewicz thought about the impact his coaches and teammates had on his life.
The 1990 Staples High School wrestling team.
So when Terry Brannigan — another Staples grappling alum, who still lives here and whose own sons also wrestle — put out the call for help, the response was natural.
Brannigan is a founder of the Staples Mat Men. The parent group wants to “relaunch” the program. They hope to bring it back to the days of packed gyms, state tournament contenders, and dozens of athletes sweating, training, learning the same lessons that served Ryzewicz, Brannigan (and Jamie Breen, Pete Cahill, Zach Cahill, Adam Lau, Dave Santella, Ryan Sorley, Ken Shubin Stein, Ryan Thomas, Greg Torok and so many others — all coached by Nick Garoffolo) so well.
Brannigan — hearkening back to Garoffolo’s own mentors, Saul Pollack and John Chacho — is glad that the lifelong friendships and valuable lessons he learned on the mat will be experienced by his own 3 sons. (TJ is already an excellent junior on the team.)
He’s worked steadily for 2 years to help a program that had fallen on hard times: low numbers, several coaches, without a wrestling room to call its own.
New coach Fred Mills — a veteran of the famed Danbury program — is excited to help bring the program to the next level.
TJ Brannigan (left) and George Harrington at the state tournament in March. Harrington — only a junior — advanced all the way to the national event.
Earlier this month, Brannigan contacted some of the “kids” he and Garoffolo coached 25 years ago. He asked for help, funding things like extra assistant coaches, clinics and more. “What happened next is remarkable,” he says.
Emails, texts and phone calls cascaded in. Checks, too. (One alum said, “I’m traveling but can wire it if you need it right now.”)
Zach Cahill wrote, “the wrestling community made it feel like what we were doing as young athletes really mattered. It was an enormous advantage to have that kind of support. It is a gift I carry with me to this day.”
Not one of those former wrestlers — except Brannigan — lives in Westport.
That didn’t matter.
When one wrestler asked, they came through — no questions asked.
If the current Staples wrestling team is anything like its storied predecessors, the future looks bright indeed.
Yesterday, many Westporters enjoyed the first real day of summer. The start of a holiday weekend saw Compo Beach packed, the roads filled with bicyclists, backyard grills all fired up.
Meanwhile, Boy Scout Troop 39 was busy remembering the real meaning of Memorial Day.
They placed new American flags at the graves of military veterans, and decommissioned worn flags, at 4 local cemeteries: Assumption on Greens Farms Road, Greens Farms Congregational by the Sherwood Island Connector, Willowbrook on Wilton Road, and Christ & Holy Trinity on Kings Highway North.
Scouts at Assumption Cemetery, off Greens Farms Road.
It was definitely a good — no, a great — deed.
If you see Troop 39 at tomorrow’s parade, be sure to give them an extra-proud wave.
Terry Brannigan’s mother Ann died peacefully this week, surrounded by loved ones. She lived in Westport with her husband Robert for nearly 60 years. Terry writes:
Many people kn0w Ann as a mother of 3 and grandmother to 9 Westporters, or for her selfless contributions to the town.
Few know the story of Ann’s wonderful career in dance, musical theater and television. In an era of reality TV fame and extreme divas, her modesty is rare.
She was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. It was devastating to everyone and every city, but none suffered more than a single mother in a steel town. Times were hard, but Ann was gifted. At 15 she graduated from high school and moved to New York City, along with her mother and grandmother, to pursue an extraordinary career in dance, theater and the newly emerging media called television.
For more than 15 years Ann did not miss a day of work on Broadway. Her credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes and countless others — including an early stint as a Rockette.
Along the way she fell in love with a handsome stagehand named Bobby Brannigan, while working together on the Broadway production of Two on the Aisle. He was a World War II submariner who left Pittsburgh at 17, and came from a long line of stagehands. Ann and Bob were married at Mahachy’s Actor’s Chapel, between the matinee and evening performances of the shows they were working on.
Robert and Ann Brannigan.
In the 1950s, Westport was famous for its arts community, culture and proximity to New York. Eager to start a family but not ready to slow down, the time was right for the young couple to move here.
Another connection to the theatre led Ann to her beloved Old Mill cottage. Working together on a show, Ann, Robert, Darren McGavin and another cast member all discovered the peaceful cove, and bought their houses at the same time. Ann described Westport — and Old Mill Cove in particular — as “heaven.”
Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.
Bob commuted to New York to work backstage, and Ann performed for years. Bob’s career included senior roles at Lincoln Center and City Center. Ann transitioned to television, and for many years was part of the regular casts of pioneering shows like “Your Show of Shows,” “Jimmy Durante” and “Danny Thomas.” She finally retired from the stage to raise her 3 children, then cherished her role as grandmother.
Ann turned her focus to her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She never missed a game, performance or chance to be part of her family’s activities. Ann took great pleasure in helping choreograph school performances from Hillspoint Elementary through Staples. But in her unassuming fashion she shunned any reference to her contribution.
What was most striking about Ann’s accomplishments is that she never spoke of them — even when asked. For example, one day she was appalled by the poor health of Kenny Montgomery, owner of the Old Mill Market (now Elvira’s). The former ballerina tended to his medical needs, and volunteered behind the counter until he died.
The performing arts did not pay what it does today. To help put her children through school, Ann worked for years in administrative roles. She served others who had absolutely no idea of the stages she had danced on, or the talent she collaborated with. She was never one to brag.
A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.
Westport is full of treasures, some more conspicuous than others. In a town rightfully proud of the famous people who live here or pass through, I am sure many will read this post and say, “Ann Brannigan, from Loretta Court? Ann, who always talked about her grandkids? Wow! Who knew?”
Maybe that says it all.
A memorial service for Ann Brannigan will be held this Saturday (October 4, 10 a.m.) at Assumption Church on Riverside Avenue. A reception will follow.
Last Saturday, Terry Brannigan’s father Robert — who suffers from dementia — disappeared. It was a harrowing day for the longtime Westport family.
Terry contacted the Westport Police, and “06880.” Fortunately — hours later — his dad was found. Terry recounts that day, and thanks his community:
I wanted to reach out to everyone who helped with the events of last Saturday on behalf of my family — in particular the “06880” nation.
This is a case of the system working exactly as it should, and friends acting exactly as they should. When we first got the call from my mother, the family simply hopped into our cars and began searching.
When my dad had been gone 3 hours, we called the Westport Police. They sent out a BOTLO (Be on the Lookout) alert to the Westport emergency response community.
While that took place, my sister and I continued to enlist people to look for my dad, and sent family to be with my mother. After 4 hours I called “06880.” Ten minutes later there was my father’s photo on the site, and we began to get our first calls from friends. No one had seen my father, but they wanted to know we were in their thoughts.
I drove toward Fairfield, and on the Post Road flagged a Fairfield cop who could tell I was upset. He tried to keep me calm and immediately enlisted his department. After another hour, my sister Kathleen and I re-engaged with the Westport Police. It was getting dark, and we thought of the worst.
The Westport PD dispatched a cruiser to meet us in the parking lot of Home Goods to gather information to issue a full Silver Alert. To my relief, Tommy Casimiro pulled in. Tommy is exactly the person you want in an emergency: intelligent, thoughtful and clearly capable. He walked me through the required information, then followed me home to collect photographs. Tommy provided me with his private contact numbers, and texted me throughout the night.
I am not sure what time the Red Alert call went out, but concerned friends began to check in with my mother. I am very glad my father’s name was provided in the alert. My neighbor came over to watch the kids, followed immediately by my sister-in-law. My father was clearly in everyone’s thoughts. The manager of the Norwalk Costco even sent an employee out to check the parking lot.
By 9:30, after driving the same routes over and over and calling all the hospitals, it was clear that our place was with my mother. My dad had been missing more than 10 hours with no money or ID, so we braced for very bad news.
Miraculously at 10:30, the telephone rang. My wife said, “You got him?!” She handed the phone to me. To my shock, someone from the Fort Dix military police in New Jersey said they had found my father. He was safe, and in the hospital.
A Silver Alert is akin to an Amber Alert — but for older people. The MPs had received a call of an unidentified car on the base. When they found my father — confused, dehydrated and suffering from a minor medical emergency — they immediately discovered his Silver Alert. They started the process of getting him back home. A 2nd Red Alert went out to Westport, saying he’d been found. My sister and I were back in the car — this time relieved and on our way to New Jersey.
There’s a lot of community in our community, when you look for it. We did not get home until early the next day. I had to be at a PAL football jamboree, but as soon as I got there I was surrounded by friends offering help and sharing their relief. It was great. The same thing has been happening ever since.
On behalf of the Brannigan family, we want everyone to know how thankful we are — and to know that the process works.
The other day, Terry Brannigan got the Bedford Middle School supply list.
Which got the native Westporter/alert “06880” reader thinking.
He remembered back-to-school shopping, back in his day.
Cool kids at Long Lots Junior High.
It was, he says, singular and simple: a “humiliating trip to Paul Zabin’s.” That was a kids’ clothing store in Colonial Green — now the site of George Subkoff Antiques — where, Terry says, “for some reason every girl I had a crush on was shopping the same day.”
What made the experience so excruciating, Terry explains, was that “well-intended mothers forced corduroy on their embarrassed sons.”
I don’t remember corduroys — but I do remember enormous battles over whatever type of pants were considered cool (in 7th grade, they had to end well above the ankles), which of course was exactly what mothers hated.
Terry nails it: “The haberdasher at Zabin’s knew who buttered his bread. If a debate arose about fashion, he always sided with the mothers.”
Fortunately, we could always count on Schaefer’s — next door to Max’s Art Supplies — for sneakers. Tip or Charlie knew exactly what we wanted.
For non-apparel supplies — 3-ring binders, pencils, protractors (?!) — it was Barker’s.
And that was that. One trip. Bingo.
Today, back-to-school shopping is a month-long event — for no reason other than retailers have made it so. There are endless choices — of stores, fashions and supplies. It’s all there, everywhere.
Alert “06880” reader Terry Brannigan has a modest collection of vintage cars. He loves turning wrenches. And though he doesn’t mind waxing — well, they don’t call it Westport Wash & Wax for nothing.
Yet the other day, when Terry went to pick up a car, an attendant pointed out some minor damage. “It was truly an accident,” Terry notes. “No one’s fault.”
But it’s an old car — not easy to repair — and when Terry walked inside to talk with the owner, he prepared himself for a tough time. After all, no businessman wants to admit an employee screwed up. Right?
A typical scene at Westport Wash & Wax.
“He could not have been more sincere or accommodating,” Terry said. “He was not only willing to make things right — he insisted I take it to some place I trusted. He said if I wanted, he’d handle any bills directly with the repair shop.”
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