Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Before this past spring, I hadn't written a sports story in a few years. The newspaper company I worked for had hired a team of sports reporters to cover mainly high school sports. I missed covering that beat because I love sports and always enjoy writing about baseball and especially football.

So when I got the opportunity in April to do some freelance writing for Ultimate Athlete Magazine, a publication that covers high school sports across Long Island, I jumped at it. The following are stories I wrote about two Levittown baseball teams. You can also read them in PDF format online by clicking on the link above. The first story starts on page 52; the other on page 60. And if you go there, you'll see the magazine does a great job with its photography, graphics and layout.

Island Trees: Roller Coasters to Playoffs

By Joseph Kellard

Before this baseball season’s first pitch, Island Trees coaches handed their players custom-made red shirts to wear under their uniforms, which read “Finish It.” The words serve as an inspiring anthem for them to rally around after a narrow, heartbreaking loss to Clarke in last year’s County championships.

“We just have to go out there and put everything on the line,” said senior Bryan Verbitsky when asked what it will take for his team to finish as champions this season. “We have the talent this year to go do it, so hopefully we can.”

The Nassau County Player of the Year in 2009, Verbitsky is among the talented players on a team that has nonetheless navigated something of a roller coaster ride of wins and losses while guaranteed a playoff spot in Conference A-1. But Verbitsky, a pitcher and centerfielder, and his teammates cited their 4-3 comeback over Division on May 5 as a pivotal game, especially after falling to that cross-town rival 15-4 the week before.

“There was a lot of adrenaline going there,” Verbitsky said after he struck out the final two batters with the bases loaded. “Division beat us when I was in 10th grade in the semi finals, and just whipped us pretty bad last week, so this was a big one for us. We needed to go out there and get it done.”

Verbitsky, who smacked a two-run homer in the game, came in for relief after starter Brandon Garcia relinquished four hits and three runs over six innings. “Today was the biggest game all year,” said Garcia, who earned All Conference Player in 2009. “Yesterday, we had a tough game, losing 2-1 to Clarke. But today, after bouncing back from a loss, and how we came out and fought for the lead, we came out awesome today. Best I’ve seen this team all year.”

Against Division, Verbitsky and Garcia were making their return after suffering injuries earlier in the season. Head Coach Joe D’Auria regards their absence, as well as injuries to other players, as a factor playing into their up-and-down season in which they’ve won or lost by two runs or less in eight games.

“There’s been a lot of bumps and bruises, more so than any year I can remember,” said D’Auria, Island Tree’s head coach for the past six years.

Another factor has been ability grouping, in which teams of equal status are pitting against one another throughout their schedules. “We beat the hell out of each other and every game is a grind,” D’Aura said. “They’re all playoff games.”

After winning a county championship in 2007 and coming close to another title last year, Island Trees lost some of its offensive power this season but retained all of their main arms. “The strength of our team is going to be our pitching,” D’Auria said.

Behind Verbitsky and Garcia in the rotation is Dan Bartlett, who also said his team’s defeat of Division was a defining game that could help propel the team back to the county championship series. “This was a big win we just had,” Bartlett said. “After this win, I think we’re going to be alright the rest of the season. We have a lot of momentum going into the rest of the season.”

The game after Division, on May 6, Island Trees defeated South Side 12-6, with Verbitsky batting 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and two RBIs, as winning pitcher Matt Bowen allowed one earned run, to brining their record to 9-5.

But since every team in their conference makes the playoffs, what counts is not so much your record but rather how you play each game, particularly at the end of the season.

“You have [to] take it game by game and you have to forget about what happens in your losses and look ahead,” said Mike Manganiello, a junior third baseman and pitcher.

Manganiello watched as his brother [helped] Island Trees to their country championship in 2007, and he got a taste of what it’s like to play in title series last year.

“Unfortunately we lost but it’s beautiful, being in that atmosphere and being involved is good,” Manganiello said. “Some guys say when they look back that you want to win the counties, but you have to realize what you have done and what you can do and look toward the future.”

Verbitsky knows what winning a county championship taste like and he savors another taste.

“It was incredible that year, it was one of the best years of my life,” Verbitsky said about winning the counties. “This year’s getting there though. We’re just trying to get on a roll … Hopefully this one will get us back on a roll like we had in 2007.”

MacArthur: Pitching Powerhouse

By Joseph Kellard

For a perennial baseball powerhouse, finding defining distinctions between each team from one season to the next can be a tall task. Once again, MacArthur entered the season a top-seed that fields talented, hard-working players who are expected to earn a playoff berth.

But Coach Steve Costello is quick to note that the strength of this season’s squad is the quality and depth of its arms. Through its first 11 games, MacArthur went 9-2 with pitchers throwing four shutouts and in three other victories surrendering a mere four runs.

“Maybe our pitching is a little deeper,” Costello said when asked what distinguishes his team. “We’ve always had good pitching, but we have a lot of guys that throw really well.”

Leading the rotation are seniors Frankie Vanderka and Josh Barry. The All-County League MVP and an All-State player last year, Vanderka started the season with a 3-0 record, allowing just one run over three games.

“After the first two starts, I know I didn’t have my all today,” Vanderka said after his third win, 8-0 against Freeport on April 28. “I went out, trying to hit spots. They’re a good-hitting team. Can’t take anything away from them. The other pitcher, Alejandro Marine, threw great. But I just had to go out there and keep battling.”

Also at 3-0 through the end of April, Barry tossed a 12-stikeout complete game shutout over Baldwin, winning 5-0 on April 15, struck out 10 over six innings in an 11-3 rout in Oceanside on April 29, and has been solid in relief. “He’s pitched really, really well for us,” Costello said.

But when asked to pick a highlight this season, Barry cited his team’s 10-inning battle against Bellmore-JFK on April 12, when Vanderka dueled with pitcher Kevin Archibold, whom Barry called possibly the two best pitchers in the state.

In a 1-1 tie, Vanderka went nine innings, struck out 10 batters while allowing three hits and two walks. “We stuck it out, we got a big win,” Barry said about the 5-1 victory. “It’s games like that, which go into late innings, that can turn a season, and instead of a loss it’s a momentum booster.”

While Vanderka and Barry, who have accepted scholarships to play at Stony Brook next season, have been standouts, other key MacArthur players are shortstop Nick McQuail, who batted 3-for-3 with two runs in the Oceanside game, centerfielder Mike Scrow, and third baseman Sal Sanquini, who has pitched well at the back of the rotation.
“A lot of guys have been contributing,” said Costello, who has coached [in] MacArthur’s baseball program since 1993 and earned two Nassau County and Long Island championships and one state title.

Last year, MacArthur showed all signs that they could cruise to another championship, going 19-0-2 on the regular season, but come playoff time the team was thrown an unexpected curveball. Their high school was closed for a week due to a swine flu scare, but the playoffs continued without them.

“We just got backlogged, had to make it up and we just got caught,” Costello explained. “Our bats slowed up and we got knocked off in the semifinal round. It was a huge disappointment.”

Although several seniors departed last year, MacArthur remains a senior-heavy squad, and perhaps the discouragement over letting a possible undefeated season and championship slip away is what ultimately distinguishes this team.

“We just have a desire, you know,” Barry said when asked to compare the two teams. “We’re always top ranked, and we want it a lot this year. A lot of the seniors have gone on, but we still have a pretty filled senior lineup this year, and we really want it this year.”

Barry said that one important lesson he and his teammates have learned is to enjoy themselves more while they’re out on the diamond casing down balls and running the bases. “We just don’t want to be tense, we want to stay relaxed and have a good mentality when we’re out there,” he said. “Think, but also don’t think at the same time. You want to be loose and you want to love the game. If you have a bad at bat, you wanna come back and say ‘I’ll get ‘em next time.”

Next up for MacArthur are games against Oceanside, Massapequa, East Meadow and Mepham, some of the best teams in the county, a schedule that is a consequence of ability grouping, in which similarly-talented teams are pitting against one another.

“It’s like the old Doors’ lyrics, “no one hear gets out alive,” Costello said about the remaining schedule. “You don’t highlight any one game because you highlight them all. Any team can beat you because they’ve set it up that the good teams beat the hell out of each other. We have Oceanside, East Meadow, Mepham and Massapequa and they’re all good. They’re no gimmes on the schedule. That’s the way it’s designed.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Four New Books I’m reading

By Joseph Kellard

On Saturday, I stopped by Barnes & Noble and bought three books: “Neoconservatism” by C. Bradley Thompson, “The Logical Leap” by David Harriman and “The Sea Wolf” by Jack London.

A few week ago I ordered “Nomad” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali from Amazon.com, but I only read the first chapter or two before I had to put it down to invest much more time and effort writing a 6,200-word essay on the fundamental cause of the Catholic Church’s sex scandals and complete it before deadline. Before this stage, I had kept my book reading to a minimum (I finished reading both Andrew Bernstein’s “Capitalism Unbounded” and John David Lewis’s “Nothing Less Than Victory”), and now that I’m finished with the essay I want to return to reading more often, especially as I prepare to start writing at my new job with Patch.com, a new news division of America Online.

So what motivated me to pick up these four books? Let’s start with “Nomad.” I bought it because I loved Ali’s biography “Infidel,” which is about Ali’s strict Muslim upbringing in Africa and the Middle East, and her break from her religious family after he father arranged her to marry a man she had never met. I’ve written about an interesting aspect of that book -- how reading Western novels and romance books in particular helped sustain the spirit she needed in order to run away from her family. In “Nomad,” Ali writes about her time living in what she calls her last and final home, America, and about Muslims living in the West. If this book is anything like “Infidel,” I expect to be more enlightened and happy with my purchase.

And that purpose, to be more enlightened, is the purpose of buying any book, isn’t it? That is definitely what drove my interest in “The Logical Leap” by David Harriman. Sure, I’m buying the book, in part, because Mr. Harriman is an Objectivist, but I’ve not been motivated to read every book written by my philosophical brethren. I need to be particularly interested in the subject. Well, this book is on physics, a field I actually know little about but would love to learn much more. But more specifically this book is about methodology in thinking, about applying Ayn Rand’s theory of concepts to physics, and, more fundamentally, about inductive reasoning. I know that after I had read Tom Bowden’s excellent book “The Enemies of Columbus,” as well as hearing him talk about this book on a radio show, I learned not only about the history behind the heroic explorer and how multiculturalists have distorted the objectivity of his life and accomplishments, but also how to think about historical subjects and events in general, based on the objective methodology that Bowden employed in this book. I eagerly expect the same results from reading “The Logical Leap,” in that I hope to learn to be able to think more effectively about scientific issues in general.

The full title of C. Bradley Thompson’s new book is “Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea,” and based on the table of contents it looks like it explores both the historical and, mainly, the philosophical right-wing political movement. Dr. Yaron Brook, the president of the Ayn Rand Institute, is a co-author, and if this book is anything like the excellent essay that Mr. Thompson wrote about conservatism a few years ago for The Objective Standard, I expect to learn much more about the political right. I’ve always had a strong interest in politics, and it’s exciting to o see an Objectivist write a new book on the subject, just as exciting as when I read Thompson’s excellent book on John Adams's political thought “John Adams and The Spirit of Liberty.”

Lastly, I decided to pick up a fiction book, which I read little of last year. I’d like to return to reading novels on a more regular basis, and so I bought “The Sea Wolf” by Jack London at the recommendation of Objectivist Diana Hsieh.

I’ve come across her praises of London’s novels at her NoodleFood website, and it interested me enough to give this short book a shot. About “The Sea Wolf,” Hsieh wrote: “My favorite Jack London is The Sea Wolf. It's the Nietzchean ubermensch versus the civilized Christian. It's phenomenal. Ever since reading that, I've been reading Jack London regularly. I definitely like some works more than others, but overall, I'm entranced.”

Here's hoping I become entranced!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cash with no questions asked

In wake of shooting, Christian Light hosts second gun buyback program

By Joseph Kellard

Wearing T-shirts with the image of a relative who was shot dead in Long Beach, Lisa Cummings and Deanna Cruse greeted men who passed through the doors of the Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church on a recent Saturday. The men entered the house of worship with guns.

The church was hosting its second gun buyback program, after a shooting at nearby East Hudson Street in March, when, police say, Casey Fitzgerald, 20, gunned down fellow Long Beach resident Ernest Cummings, 40, after the men argued over their pit bulls. Cummings and Cruse, Ernest's mother and aunt, were among the church's congregants, alongside the Rev. Isaac R. Melton Jr. and Deacon Cecil Garrett, who helped at the May 15 program, which was dedicated to the murder victim.

"We wanted to do another program before Memorial Day, to make sure nothing like that happens again," said Marcus Tinker, president of the church's Boys to Men Ministry, who organized both events. "That was in honor of Ernest."

The program, a joint effort between the church, the Nassau County district attorney's office and the Long Beach Police Department, invites owners of illegal guns to turn them over in exchange for $200 in cash. The only questions the plainclothes police officers asked were, "How are you doing?" and "How many guns do you have?" In all, 133 firearms were collected, 13 more than were turned in at the first program last September, according to Chris Munzing, a spokesman for the D.A.

While New York City has run gun buyback programs for years, Nassau County kicked off its first program in December 2008, with pickup points in Hempstead, Uniondale and Freeport. To date, the program has gathered 1,609 illegal guns.

"We tweaked it a little bit from the New York City program, using cash rather than vouchers or ATM cards," said Chuck Ribando, the D.A.'s chief investigator, who runs the program.

The cash the police dole out is forfeiture money from people who were arrested for crimes. Using cash is one way to make the program as anonymous and comfortable as possible for those who turn in the guns. "People are more likely to hand the guns in if they get cash," Ribando explained. "They come in, hand in their guns and leave with cash in less than a minute."

Other tactics used to assure the program's anonymity include using places of worship as turn-in points and keeping local police officers away.

"It would be much easier for us not to take our show on the road and have it right here at the D.A.'s office," Ribando explained. "But I think people are more apprehensive about coming to any law enforcement facility to turn in an illegal gun."

Christian Light contacted the district attorney's office about holding the first buyback in Long Beach. To help promote it, Tinker and other church members handed out hundreds of fliers around town, and used Facebook, Twitter and the Herald.

Tinker said that at both events, he noticed that people who turned their guns in were a mix of Long Beach residents and out-of-towners. "Long Beach police know the people in the neighborhood, so to prevent anyone from being scared off, the county people are there, not the local government or police who know the people," Tinker explained. "That's how every community does it."

Tinker had said previously that he wanted to bring the program to Long Beach in part because there is a lot of drug dealing around the neighborhood, in which guns can come into play, he believes the program makes the community safer.

Some critics argue that the gun users can simply use the $200 to buy other guns. "Most people think it's a joke," said one Long Beach resident. "It's like playing musical guns. If it worked, how come they come back every year and find more guns to buy?"

But while the gun-owners can do whatever they want with the $200 they get for each gun, that doesn't necessarily mean they take that money and get a new piece, Ribando said. "If anyone who knows anything about street guns, there's not much you can buy with $200, especially to upgrade," he added. "To say they're going to upgrade with $200 is ludicrous, because you can't even buy one for $200, let alone upgrade."

Others question why police don't use the program as a way to observe the gun-owners coming in and out to see if they fit the descriptions of any wanted criminals and to potentially track down and arrest them. But Ribando said emphatically that this tactic would defeat the purpose of the program.

"No, the whole point of this is to get the illegal guns off the street, not to make an arrest for the gun," he said. "Not that you don't want to make an arrest — you do. But out of the 132 guns we collected, if one of those guns was to be used to shoot someone, then we've done our job."

All serial numbers on the guns are checked, and if any guns is connected to a crime, all police know is that they've gotten that gun off the streets. "We wouldn't try to back search to find out who handed that gun in," Ribando said. "It's totally anonymous."

Tinker said the church is working on organizing other events with the city and the Police Department to make the community safer and to strengthen relationships with elected officials.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Celebrating a Transplant Milestone

Kidney recipient honors donor’s gift

By Joseph Kellard

When Liz Stark walked into the Middle Bay Country Club in Oceanside on April 3, she was surprised to see a poster-sized, decade-old Herald article and a photo of her and her father-in-law, Eli, on an easel.

Liz was led to believe she was attending a party celebrating her in-laws' wedding anniversary a few days earlier, but instead she found the club's dining room filled with her friends and family, there to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her donation of a kidney to her father-in-law.

While Liz said she was "very surprised" and "extremely grateful" for the acknowledgment, she did her best to deflect the spotlight. "It's really about him," she said of Eli, "and it's funny because he probably thinks it's the other way around, but it's really about 10 more years of life for him."

Eli's long road to the anniversary began in 1999 with unnerving uncertainty. A longtime diabetic, Eli, then 67, had developed kidney problems due to his disease. From his Long Beach home he traveled to North Shore-LIJ Hospital a few days a week. Although he was eventually treated at a dialysis center in Lynbrook, Eli still had to rise before dawn for his treatments before teaching a 6 a.m. math class at Nassau Community College, where he has been a professor since 1966.

"Occasionally I think of what I had to do for almost a year on
dialysis," said Stark, a former vice principal at Long Beach High School and Board of Education president. "You had to do it at least three times a week."

Eli's wife, Susie, and sons Mark and Scott wanted to be his donors, but they didn't share his blood type, and although his brothers were good matches, their advanced age and frail health made them undesirable candidates.

His only recourse was to get a new kidney from a cadaver — and to mark time on a list where the average wait was five to six years. But then Liz stepped forward. "Finally, Liz, my lovely daughter-in-law, said, 'I want to give you my kidney,'" Stark recalled.

For Liz — then 32 and a mother of a 4- and 2-year-old, Elyse and Brendan — the decision was a no-brainer. "People always told me, 'I don't know if I would have done the same thing,' but for me, at the time, it wasn't even a question in my mind," said Liz, whose blood type is O, which makes her a universal kidney donor — anyone can use her blood.

A decade ago, doctors still had to operate on both the donor and the recipient, but the Starks agreed to try an emerging new method, laparoscopic surgery. On March 7, 2000, at New York University Medical Center, Dr. Michael Edye removed one of Liz's kidneys, and Dr. Thomas Diflo performed the transplant.

Susie recalled that her son, Mark, Liz's husband, felt a mix of emotions in the waiting room. "It was so painful to watch his angst, waiting for his wife to come out of surgery," Susie said. "It was the hardest for him, I think. It was the love of his life and the mother of his children and his father — what do you do?"

To this day, Liz has never been adversely affected by the surgery, and thanks to her, Eli got a new lease on life — along with two new grandchildren, Owen and Nate, Scott's kids.

"He's gotten to see my brother-in-law's two kids that he probably would have never seen," said Liz, who grew up in Long Beach and now lives in Lido Beach. "So he has double the number of grandchildren that he had at the time I gave the kidney. And that's the milestone that I keep in my head. That's a big thing."

These days, Eli has problems with his knees, and other ailments have sidelined him from playing racquetball, one of his favorite pastimes. But he still reads voraciously, mostly historical fiction, and teaches three days a week at NCC. "I have no plans to retire, not if I can help it," he said. "I'm more concerned about keeping my mind."

Every year on their special anniversary, Eli has always done something for Liz, buying her flowers or taking her out to dinner. He took her to Jimmy Hays Steak House in Island Park on March 7, one of the ways he kept her from knowing that a much bigger celebration was in store.

"It was outrageous — it was wonderful," Susie Stark said about the anniversary celebration at Middle Bay. "She was wonderfully surprised."

To Liz, who lost her father at a young age, Eli is like a father. Now, to further commemorate their anniversary, she will take part in her first walk for the National Kidney Foundation at Hofstra University on May 23.

"Everything worked out beautifully," Susie said. "My husband was so thrilled to honor her. What can I say? She saved his life. I cannot thank her enough. She's like the daughter we never had."

* Photo Courtesy of Arthur Findlay

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

‘Our family is incomplete without her’

L.B. parents talks about daughter’s heroin addiction, overdose

By Joseph Kellard

The beach had a significant role in Holly Prussman’s life — and death.

When she was a girl, Holly enjoyed playing on Roosevelt Boulevard beach, and she developed into a top Long Island swimmer at age 6. In January the beach was the site of a memorial service for her, as lifeguards paddled surfboards out to sea to place a wreath in her memory and 19 balloons, one for each year of her short life, sailed skyward.

On Jan. 12, Holly died of a heroin overdose at her parents’ home in the Canals. Early that morning — a week after she had checked herself out of a drug rehab center after a few months’ stay — her father, Mitch, saw light under her locked door. Mitch and Holly’s mother, Julia, found their daughter lying dead in her bedroom.

Holly had injected herself with the usual amount of heroin that she took before the rehab stint, her mother explained, but because she had been clean for three months, her detoxified system couldn’t handle the normal dosage. “She didn’t mean to kill herself,” Julia said.

Growing up in Long Beach, Holly cultivated many interests and developed into a top athlete. Thanks to her early success in swimming, she made the high school varsity swim team when she was just a seventh-grader. Her mother was a swimming instructor, and Holly taught alongside her. She surfed with her father, and became a lifeguard at several Town of Hempstead pools and beaches as well as in Long Beach. She also excelled at track, soccer, gymnastics and dance.

At Long Beach High School she was an honors student, earning a 98.6 average, excelling in math, chemistry, earth science and meteorology, faring well at school science fairs and earning a $10,000 scholarship to C.W. Post. She loved going to movies, especially comedies, tending to her chihuahuas and riding roller coasters. Her parents took her on multiple trips to Busch Gardens and Disney World.

In her late teens, however, her life changed. One day on the boardwalk, her mother recalled, Holly met her future boyfriend, a Freeport man who, her parents said, introduced her to heroin. Eventually the Prussmans started to notice things missing from the house: cash, blank checks, jewelry. At the time they had no clue that these were the first signs of Holly’s addiction.

There were other red flags. “Holly had always been a good friend to her friends,” Mitch said, but, Julia explained, her daughter began shutting her friends out, isolating herself with her boyfriend. The Prussmans were aware that she had done some drinking in high school, but that stopped cold. “You see, alcohol and heroin don’t mix,” Julia said — one of the many things she came to learn about heroin users.

There were also the many lies. Julia dismisses the claims of those who insist that you must trust your drug-addicted children. “They’ll earn your trust to get you to believe them and then they’ll lie to you,” she said. “So you never knew when she was being truthful and when she was lying. She was very smart and knew how to manipulate you.”

One day, Holly’s boyfriend was at her home and appeared to her parents be under the influence of something, but when they later confronted Holly about it, she lied, telling them he was high on marijuana. They told her not to bring him around anymore. Then Holly’s older sister, Sarah, found heroin bags in Holly’s clothes, and her boyfriend explained to the Prussmans what they were.

Finally, last June, Holly came clean. “She told me one morning, ‘Mom, I’m in a lot of trouble,’” Julia recalled. Her parents took her to the detox unit at Long Beach Medical Center, and the time she spent there made her eligible for the Dynamite Youth Center, a drug rehabilitation facility in the Catskills, which she entered last October.

But it wasn’t long before she started to think about leaving the center. One January day, a week before her fatal overdose but months before her treatment was scheduled to end, she checked out. The next day she took two trains back to Long Beach. “That was a bad sign when she came home,” Mitch said, citing statistics about relapse rates.

Hours before her parents found her dead, they tested Holly for heroin, and the test turned up positive. After the family went to bed the night of Jan. 11, Holly got up and injected herself with more heroin. “Heroin addicts will do drugs at any time,” Julia said.

Mitch said that what makes his daughter’s death so hard to accept is how sudden it all seemed. “We lost her to a severe sickness — drug abuse, a sickness she couldn’t control,” said Mitch, a high school teacher, who recalled his bring-your-child-to-work days with Holly.

“I’ll miss her affectionate ways,” he added. “If something was bothering you, she would rub your shoulders and your back.”

The Prussmans are heartened by the outpouring of support from the Long Beach community, particular their fellow parents and officials at the high school, who helped pay the funeral expenses. With Sarah, 24, and their son, Jacob, 14, still to look after, they want to find some way to help the parents of other drug-addicted children avoid the pain and heartache they have endured.
“She was a good kid ... the one we had the highest hopes for,” Julia said. “Our family is incomplete without her.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did Students Heed My Career Advice?

By Joseph Kellard

When I was editor of the Oceanside-Island Park Herald, I gave talks to students from fourth grade up to the high school level on Career Day. I eagerly agreed to talk to students about my career and to offer them advice that would have served me well when I was their age.

While I spoke briefly about my work as a journalist, I spent most of my talk emphasizing to students that they should choose a profession that they can enjoy and love. I believe a long-range, productive career is the cornerstone of self-confidence, pride and happiness, and that an individual can't fully achieve these values stuck in a job they don't like.

To get them to understand this fact, I asked them to imagine being stuck each day, every week, in a class they disliked, whether it's math or English or science. With my analogy, some students gave a knowing groan.

I told each class my own story to give them an example of someone finding a career they loved. When I was in grade school, I was a poor student with a mild form of dyslexia, so my biggest problems were with reading, writing and spelling. Knowing I loved sports, however, my parents bought me a subscription to Sports Illustrated, believing, correctly, that this would motivate me to read. Immersing myself in stories of my sports heroes, my reading proficiency soared.

Through my teen years, I expanded my reading to include encyclopedias and works by writers ranging from Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolstoy to Hemingway, Capote and Joyce Carol Oates. I made lists of unfamiliar words and historical and mythological figures that had me reaching for my dictionaries and Britannica. During those years, I had become so fascinated with the many ways to use the English language that I began to write short stories and poems. I had decided I wanted to be a fiction writer.

My deeper purpose in telling students all of this was to get them to take my experiences as a guide for how to start thinking about their own potential careers and career choices. Specifically, I wanted them to consider some activities they enjoy, and to think about applying these to the seemingly countless career choices they have in this land of opportunity.

"Maybe you love animals and have always been intrigued by doctors," I explained to them, "so why not think of becoming a vet? Perhaps you like to talk a lot and enjoy athletics, so being a sports announcer might be your bag. Are you a numbers person? If so, maybe your calling is to teach math, be an accountant or work with statistics."

I made sure to tell them that I had left college to work at a well-paying, full-time "job" with a medical company. But within a few years I realized that this was not my field. I was bored and felt stuck, as if I were in a dreaded algebra class each day. But I noted that I never gave up on my writing and self-education, reading writers on subjects ranging from philosophy, history and art to politics, American culture and sports. I began to write some opinion columns that were published in a few semi-prominent newspapers, and this led me to try my hand at freelance reporting and, eventually, a career in journalism.

I also stressed to students that it's not enough to just dream about a particular career, but that they must take the necessary steps to attain their ideal. It's one thing to for someone to say "I want to write a novel," and another to have the motivation and commitment to invest the countless hours and enormous effort — researching information, striving to find the precise words and write perfect sentences, re-editing one draft after another — to become a published fiction writer.

When one fourth-grader told me that he would like to be the next Derek Jeter, I asked him if he played Little League and practiced baseball even during the winter. One girl told me she wanted to be a lawyer. I told her that, in part, she'll have to learn how to speak well to present her cases, and that she should take some public speaking classes when she gets to high school.

The last time I talked on Career Day, at Hegarty Elementary School in Island Park, when I left the classroom that day to head back to my office, I had hoped that at least a few students had learned a lesson that I didn't fully understand in my youth: Making a career choice is one of the most important decisions an individual will ever make — and is crucial to his or her happiness. If the students followed this advice, then they likely won't have to struggle unnecessarily for several years and through a string of dead-end jobs before finally finding a profession to be passionate about.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Building From Scratch

Homeowner talks about life after fire

By Joseph Kellard

Standing barefoot in the street in mid-January, watching her Tennessee Avenue home go up in flames, Cheryl Ennella ran back inside to try to rescue her three cats.

"I was really concerned about getting my cats out," Ennella recalled. "I went in the house twice. The second time, I was trying to get in my front door and a man pulled over in a truck and pulled me out."

The fire that ripped through the bungalow she had lived in for 25 years destroyed everything inside — including her and her husband's life savings, which they did not trust to banks. "There was nothing salvageable," Ennella said. "Nothing."

When a stranger led her to one dead cat during the fire, she passed out and was treated by EMS workers at the scene. For three weeks afterward, she returned to the charred ruins of the house with food for her other two cats, hoping to find them. One eventually came to her; her son found the other hiding under what was left of the house.

Since the fire, Cheryl and her husband, Silvio, and their son, Silvio Jr., have had to start from scratch. Their neighbors and friends immediately offered help, giving the family clothing, and the Red Cross gave them debit cards to buy shoes.

"It's been a lot of paperwork and a lot of legwork and a lot of heartache," said Cheryl, who on Tuesday took a bus to the Nassau County Department of Social Services for the first time to seek public assistance.

Meanwhile, she remains out of work due to poor health, but Silvio continues to work as a salesman for Drake's Bakeries in Hicksville. The Ennellas now occupy a home on West Penn Street at Grand Boulevard, but initially they had to split up, each living in a friend's house. They wanted to stay local because their only relatives are in the Bronx. "I even stayed in the Long Beach Motor Inn for three days," Cheryl recalled.

The family was at first unable to find a permanent place to stay, due in part to issues with their home insurance company, which is still investigating the fire. Cheryl fears that delays could keep her family from building a new home for at least another year.

When the fire started, at around 1 p.m. on Jan. 15, Ennella said she was home with her son and his girlfriend, who were playing cards. Suddenly she heard her son shout to call 911.

"I went to open the door from my living room to my hallway and I saw the smoke coming in from the back of my house," she said. "My son proceeded to open the back door, and the flames just flew through the house. And we ran out with no shoes on."

Ennella learned later that the man who stopped her from going back in was Gregg LePenna, owner of the Whales Tale restaurant on West Beech Street. LePenna was leaving work that day, driving down Tennessee, when he spotted Ennella in the middle of the street, shouting that her cats were inside. He pulled over to help her.

"I walked about three feet into the front of the house and I saw a big black cloud of smoke coming towards me, and I turned back around because there was no going in there," LePenna recalled. "She tried to go back in but I grabbed her."

The fire ignited in a shed at the rear of the house, which housed a washing machine and a boiler. Vincent McManus, a division supervisor at the Nassau County fire marshal's office, said the cause remains unknown, and that insurance companies will hire a mechanic to investigate equipment like the boiler to determine exactly how it malfunctioned.

Some 100 firefighters from eight companies helped battle the blaze, which they brought under control in about 40 minutes, but not before it damaged the exteriors of three neighboring homes.

Long Beach City Council members Len Torres and Mike Fagen have assisted Ennella's family since the fire. John Merit, owner of Buddy's Bike on West Beech Street, offered her a new bike, her favorite mode of transportation. Brendan Costello of the city's Transportation Department gave her a Metro card so she could use buses for free. And Fran Barden, director of the outreach program at St. Ignatius Church on Broadway, bought the family new clothes, bed linens and gift cards.

"Once in a while we get fire victims and try to get them to the Department of Social Services," Barden said. "We encourage them to go there first to see what they provide, and then, if I can afford it, I go and see what else I can do for them."

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Book of Historical 'What Ifs'

East Atlantic Beach author writes time-travel novel

By Joseph Kellard

What if the Hindenburg had never exploded over Lakehurst, N.J.? If President Lincoln had been unable to deliver the Gettysburg Address, would the Confederacy have won the Civil War? How might history be different if Amelia Earhart had completed her ill-fated Pacific flight?

These are just some of the 10 scenarios Robert McAuley, an East Atlantic Beach resident, plucks from history and develops in his first book, “The 1800 Club,” published by Publish American last month.

If the Wright Brothers hadn’t invented a man-powered and controllable flight system that is heavier than air, McAuley posits that the Germans could have, particularly for military purposes. “That would mean Germany wins World War I through their innovative use of air power,” McAuley said.

As the recently retired art director of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine at McGraw-Hill, McAuley understandably has a particular interest in writing about aeronautic figures in his 500-pages-plus time-travel book, but he knew enough not to pack them all into his first book of a planned trilogy.

“In each scenario I ask, What if this or that didn’t happen?” McAuley explained. “In so many cases, it changes the power structure of the world.”

To thicken his plots, McAuley conjures up an 1800 Club that is set in the present and whose members go back in a time portal to fix history so that it turns out as it did, to keep his tales historically accurate.

Members are unaware that the club was started by people from the future. These guardians of history discover that famous figures from the past strayed from their well-known decisions and actions, which makes it necessary for the members to guide them back, unbeknown to the subjects.

“What I’m doing throughout is looking at and teaching history in a different manner,” said McAuley, who is quick to point out that seeded throughout his book are little-known facts about each subject.

In “The 1800 Club,” McAuley postulates that if Ronald Reagan had never been born — if his great-great-grandfather had been pressed into the British Royal Navy and died before fathering his children — the Soviet Union might not have fallen when it did.

“Many believe that Reagan was the president who shut down Russia,” McAuley said. “In my scenario, if another president took his place, maybe he would have been too soft and the Soviets would have been here occupying the U.S.”

Throughout his book, McAuley fictionalizes people he knows, from former coworkers to childhood friends, into club members who go back in time. Rocko Terna, a friend of McAuley’s from his native Park Slope neighborhood, goes back to fight the Royal Navy, then the world’s most powerful fleet. “How he does it by stealth and subterfuge I think is amazing,” he said.

The figure he most enjoyed writing about was Mark Twain, who dies in a steamboat explosion that destroys a levee and causes Katrina-scale flooding in New Orleans, leaving unwritten such classic American novels as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

“If he passed away before he wrote most of his stories, imagine what would have happened,” McAuley said. “He wouldn’t have inspired so many great writers in the literary field, and he was also such a fair person and gave the black man a chance.”

McAuley found inspiration for his trilogy in Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” a 1970 novel whose modern characters travel back to the 1880s, which he calls one of the best books he ever read. After he retired from McGraw-Hill, McAuley discovered that he wanted to try his hand at writing. He started working on “The 1800 Club” about two years ago, for Publish America, a company that publishes first-time authors.

He is also a landscape and portrait painter whose work adorns the walls at his Clayton Avenue home. He aims to attract readers to his trilogy in the same way he attracted readers of the magazine he worked on for 17 years.

“My job as the artist was to stop readers from going past a particular page and bringing them into that page, and as a writer I found I was doing the same thing, writing intelligently but descriptively,” McAuley said.

He’s hard at work on his second book, averaging about a chapter every two weeks, which will feature scenarios involving the Titanic, the 1849 gold rush and Judge Joseph Force Crater of New York, who disappeared in August 1930. He expects most of his figures will be from the 1800s, a century that he likes to honor.

“That’s the age of the Industrial Revolution, and is what freed up enough creative time for the average person to come home, at least when it was light out, and work on their creations,” McAuley said.

* Photo by Joseph Kellard

Friday, February 26, 2010

Redrawing Their Plans

Architects reflect on careers changed by housing crisis

By Joseph Kellard

Since the 2008 financial collapse, architect Mark Geiselman has had to go back to the drawing board — literally. The Long Beach resident, who has owned the Islip-based firm OCJ Architects for 11 years, had to cut his already small staff a year ago and become reacquainted with a T-square and a drafting pencil.

“I’ve absolutely had to start drawing again,” Geiselman said of blueprints he would otherwise pass off to an apprentice. “And that’s always difficult to do because you’re always trying to run the business and draw up work. I just sit at the drafting table all day.”

Since the nation’s sub-prime mortgage crisis began in 2007 — before which housing prices were generally increasing yearly — architects, the first link in the chain of new construction, have been hit as hard as real estate agents and contractors. Geiselman, whose firm draws an even mix of residential and commercial clients from Suffolk County to Connecticut, started to feel the pain in early 2008, and a year later he began laying off workers.

Today, he said, his firm is seeing a slight uptick on the commercial side, since depressed prices have made leasing space more affordable. But in general, he added, greater restrictions on bank loans have impacted both categories, but especially residential. This is particularly an issue in areas like Nassau County, where architects and contractors deal mostly with developed acreage and existing homes.

During the pre-2007 seller’s market, homeowners capitalized on rising property values and built up substantial equity, while banks lent freely for home additions. Now, with the bursting of the housing bubble, buying a home is no longer seen as a guaranteed investment.

“One reason people are hesitant do anything is the difficulty in getting the financing, and the other is that they’re not sure they’re going to get the equity out of it when it’s all done,” Geiselman said of homeowners looking to build in the current buyer’s market. “People are concerned about their home values, and that’s severely affected us.”

Monte Leeper, an Oceanside architect who has owned a firm for 25 years and writes the Ask the Architect column for the Herald, said he believes the housing crisis has led more homeowners to go forward with work on their houses — usually interior work that can not be seen from outside — without obtaining the necessary permits or hiring licensed engineers and architects, whether to save time, money or taxes. As a result, Leeper said, he and other architects have seen all kinds of defective work and safety issues.

“People go out and buy tools and start to do work or they hire a contractor who really isn’t qualified,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who call themselves licensed and qualified, but they end up using the wrong materials or tools for the problem you’re trying to correct ... We’re not a necessary evil. We’re actually a contributing factor to saving people money, yet the average person doesn’t even know that.”

The Town of Hempstead, which oversees county building and zoning issues, reports a marked downturn in building permit applications, which are issued for any plans from the foundation up as well as variances for existing structures. In 2005, the town received and processed 6,819 building applications. In 2008 there were 5,734. And from October 2008, following the financial collapse, through December 2009, a 15-month span, there were 6,226 applications.

“It would be purely speculative to make guesses as to why applications are down,” said town spokeswoman Susan Trenkle-Pokalsky, “but it’s a reasonable thought that the downturn in the economy has impacted that.”

Architect Robert Hochberg of East Meadow said homeowners have long skirted building permits to keep extensions, dormers and other additions out of town records in order to save on taxes. But with the microscope on assessments this past decade and homeowners trying to sell their houses in a down market, Hochberg said, he does more work drawing plans for additions that homeowners now looking to sell failed to file with the Building Department.

“People think, If I don’t get a permit, the assessors won’t know about it and so my assessment won’t go up,” said Hochberg, who has been in business since 1970. “But that’s not necessarily true.”

For George Bella, who has owned GWB Architect in Long Beach since 2001, and who has seen an increased in business from sellers looking to legalize previous construction, the past 18 months have been mainly about homeowners looking to build out of necessity rather than luxury. “Your family is getting bigger and you need an extra bedroom -- you still have to do those projects,” said Bella, who drafts mostly residential and public projects. “What’s different now is that people aren’t looking to do more than what is minimally required for their own purposes.”

Unlike architects who try to keep an even mix of residential and commercial projects, about 80 percent of the plans Henry Monteverde was drawing before the downturn were residential, and he has since lost about 25 percent of his business. “We’ve been affected because with the mortgages being so tight and no money available, projects aren’t going ahead,” said Monteverde, who opened a firm in Island Park in 1991. “Therefore, everything is curtailed.”

Monteverde added that because he has a small firm, with just two employees, and little overhead, he has been able to weather the financial storm and has been fortunate enough to switch to mostly commercial projects, including offices, medical facilities and retail stores. But that hasn’t necessarily been by design, so to speak.

“That’s just want came in,” he said.

Mixing Pleasure with Business

Networkers relax at event held at Allegria lounge

By Joseph Kellard

Guests sipped wine more than they handed out business cards and engaged in personal conversations more than they talked shop. This relaxed atmosphere was what hosts of a business networking event were aiming for at the Allegria Hotel last week.

While a fireplace roared and a pianist played dinner tunes on a white Steinway in a lounge, hosts Janet Slavin and Alice Leybengrub, two local businesswomen who sponsored the evening event, mingled and schmoozed with dozens of businesspeople from Long Beach and neighboring towns.

“It’s about getting people to come in, have a good time, have some drinks, meet each other without the pressure of these networking groups,” said Leybengrub, who owns an accounting firm in Long Beach.

The mix of enterprising men and, mostly, women rubbed elbows on white sofas in the candle-lit room with a sky-blue carpet and an octagonal skylight that looked out onto the Long Beach night sky. The elegant setting was a far different from the first meeting Slavin and Leybengrub hosted at the narrow, seatless Evers Place art gallery in the West End last fall, when some 30 people stopped by.

After declaring it a success, the duo wanted to try something more spacious and upscale. For some, the allure of the second meeting wasn’t just the luxury hotel.

“I went to the last networking event they had and I just fell for Alice, because she’s such a mover and a shaker,” said Dr. Jo Eisman, whose chiropractic office is on East Park Avenue. “She’s young and energetic and she’s a doer. So anything Alice does I want to go to. She’s like a magnet.”

Eisman, a member of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce for 25 years, is a regular at the networking events. But networking for her now is as much about socializing as it is about business. “I’m at a point in my career where I don’t really need to do anything,” Eisman said about promoting her business. “It’s fun to come to the hotel and I love to meet new and interesting people. There are a lot of interesting people here tonight — I can hardly get past the door.”

Both Leybengrub and Slavin cited building relationships as the purpose of their gatherings. “It’s to get business owners more acquainted with each other, because I guess we feel that the Chamber of Commerce is all well and good, but it doesn’t really suit everybody’s needs in the community,” said Slavin, an attorney with offices in Long Beach and Manhattan.

A hypnotist who opened an office on West Park Avenue two years ago, Bernadette Martin met a man at the get- together who owns a solar panel company, and they chatted about possible ways their businesses could mesh.

“Coming here is really about getting your message out, and talking to people and letting them know where you are and what you’re doing and how you might work together,” said Martin, who is involved with Long Beach’s newly formed environmental committee.

Alisa Bracksmayer, a Long Beach resident who works with a mortgage company in Rockville Centre, had attended a networking event hosted by the Rockville Centre Chamber of Commerce the night before. Living down the block from the Allegria, she decided to take up the e-mailed invitation to the Jan. 13 meeting at the hotel.

Bracksmayer said that networking helps her get referrals and lets her know what’s going on in other businesses. Admittedly frightened by the still gloomy economy, she said that when she drives around town these days, she doesn’t notice what stores are in business, but rather those that are vacant and for rent. “I see it in the mortgage business, I see it in people calling up who want help but can’t get help,” Bracksmayer said. “It’s sad, so why wouldn’t you want to help promote business within the community where you live?”

Slavin and Leybengrub quieted the din to speak to the crowd for a few minutes, explaining and promoting their businesses and speaking briefly about the reasons behind their meetings.

When asked about their next steps, the duo said they weren’t necessarily forming a networking group or business organization.

“We’re trying to get local business owners to really get to know and build relationships with one another, in any economy but especially now,” Leybengrub said. “I think these are the type of events that are going to help bring more business to Long Beach ... I think people are tired of going to all these structured events with long speeches.”

Another Heroin Death

Experts voice concern as use increases in L.B.

By Joseph Kellard

While no one may be dealing heroin in Long Beach, some local people are overdosing on the drug.

“Our intelligence tells us that to get heroin, you have to go outside Long Beach,” said Inspector Bruce Meyer, a Police Department spokesman. That conclusion is based in part on police interviews with the handful of people who were arrested last year for heroin possession, and said they scored the drug elsewhere.

That was also the LBPD’s finding when it investigated two recent heroin-related deaths in the city.

On Dec. 11, police found a 23-year-old woman dead in her home, and on Jan. 12, they found a 19-year-old woman in the same circumstances.
Both appeared to have injected themselves, and investigators
determined that they had purchased the heroin in either Queens or,
more likely, Brooklyn, Meyer said.

The deaths are signs of an upswing in heroin use, not just in Long
Beach but county- and nationwide, and local authorities are stepping up prevention efforts to try to quell the potential epidemic. In recent years, use of the drug, particularly among young people ages 16 to 19, has been on the rise.

With some 400 people arrested for possession or distribution around Nassau County in 2009, the theory that the drug is confined to urban areas and a narrow demographic has been discarded. Heroin was once sold openly on street corners in crime-ridden neighborhoods, but now it is crossing all ethnic, economic and racial lines, and is bought and sold in restrooms at fast-food restaurants, gas stations and schools.

“These were your average people who go and buy their drugs in New York City and then they come back and, in the privacy of their homes, they’re injecting themselves with heroin,” Meyer said of the two Long Beach victims.

People involved in treating heroin addicts say the gateway to the
drug is right in their family bathroom. Patricia Hincken, director of alcohol and substance abuse at the Long Beach Medical Center, said that the volume of prescription painkillers being prescribed to
people statewide has increased more than 150 percent over the past decade.

“There are so many of them now, and doctors have a tendency to write very big scrips in order to save people potential co-pays they might have,” Hincken explained. “Where they might have given someone eight pills in the past, they’re now giving them 100. And they have them lying around medicine cabinets and kids are aware of it.”

Hincken described how young people take their parents’ OxyContin or other prescription opiates along with tranquilizers, such as Xanax or valium, bring them to “pharm” parties and put all the pills in a bowl where users take handfuls of them as if they were M&Ms. But these drugs have become prohibitively expensive on the street, with some single pills going for as much as $40, and teenagers are looking for a cheaper high and find it in heroin, which can sell for as little as $5 for a small packet.

“The dealers move in and it’s so highly addictive that the users
start spinning out of control, especially the younger kids who aren’t long-term, experienced users of heroin, so they’re more likely to make a mistake in how much they take and they overdose,” Hincken said.

But Hincken is quick to note that alcohol and marijuana are still
the main drugs of choice among Long Beach’s youth and adults.
Dr. Joseph Smith, director of Long Beach Reach, a state- and county-funded community agency, said that while heroin use has increased in Long Beach, it does not approach the level of an epidemic in town.

“It’s here, it’s not that we’re immune from it, but it’s not been a
dramatic or significant increase,” said Smith, who described Long
Beach Reach’s outpatient chemical dependency treatment program its largest program.

The medical center, which has an in-patient detox facility and
outpatient substance-abuse services, was working with the Police
Department to assemble a packet of information on heroin that they planned to make available to the community this week. Similar efforts will continue right up to the annual coalition-sponsored National Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking, on March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Long Beach Library, which will highlight prescription drug and heroin abuse as well as underage drinking. The event will feature Dr. Stephen Dewey, a leading researcher on the effects of alcohol and drugs on the adolescent brain.

“What we want to make sure is none of the main message gets lost, because it’s all connected,” Judy Vining, coordinator of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking at the medical center said. “It’s very easy to wrap your brain around how horrible heroin is, and I’m not minimizing that in the least. But alcohol is still the number one killer of kids, and it’s all connected in some ways.”

Hincken also chairs a subcommittee on the treatment of heroin
addiction for a heroin treatment task force run by the Nassau County district attorney’s office. The LBPD’s Narcotics Task Force and School Resource Unit will work with the schools and medical center to keep heroin use from spiraling out of control, Meyer said. The police also look to partner with the Drug Enforcement Administration to educate youth about the dangers of the drug.

And as always, Meyer said, detectives are running down every lead related to heroin possession and dealing. “We have confidential informants working out there,” he said. “The information that we’re getting is that it’s not of epidemic proportions.”