Christopher Daleo: Suffolk County’s Top High School Football Player
Jan 15, 2020Posted by james

The best way to describe the first few days of 2020 is to use a football term – the new year began with a fantastic “super bowl” event.

I was invited to become involved with the Suffolk County Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. The chapter has been celebrating local high school and college players for many years. Now named in my honor, the chapter invited me to speak with the students, their families and their coaches, and to present its prestigious Top Scholar Athlete Award for 2019.

Though I am more known for my career as a lacrosse player and as a supporter of Long Island youth and college lacrosse programs, I did play football and set a few records at Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills during the 1970s. For the last several years for the National Football Foundation, I have sponsored the Mr. Football New York City Player of the Year Award presented by the New York City Chapter.

At the Suffolk chapter awards program on January 5, more than 50 high school and several college scholar athletes were celebrated for their outstanding achievements in the classroom, on the gridiron and in their communities. The Top Scholar Athlete Award, which also has been named in my honor, was presented to Christopher Daleo of Westhampton Beach High School. Here is a summary of Christopher’s incredible high school achievements.

Academics:

  • Carries a 96 unweighted average and scored 1360 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT.
  • Enrolled in 10 Advanced Placement courses during high school. Recipient of the AP Capstone Diploma. Received designation of AP Scholar with Distinction.
  • Member of the National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, World Language Honor Society and Math Honor Society.
  • Recipient of the Journalism Award presented to the top journalism student in the school district.
  • Elected senior class president.

Football:

  • First Team All-Division, First Team All-County.
  • Team captain.
  • Two-way starter. Two-year varsity record, including playoffs, was 18-3.

Community:

  • Founder, Church Youth Leadership Ministry, expanding the group to more than 30 students.
  • Volunteer for the “Adopt-A-Family” program that provides local families with a helping hand.
  • Contributes his time to the Westhampton Beach Oyster Festival and the Westhampton Beach Talent Show.
  • A peer tutor for younger students.

Wow!

Christopher is going places in school, in sports and in life. I am glad that we met, and I wish him all the best!

Changing Lives Through Rugby
Jan 01, 2020Posted by james

England ruby star Kyle Sinckler was hailed throughout the country for his performance against Australia in the recent World Cup quarter-final. But, he already was a hero at his old grade school, Graveney School in Tooting. He changed lives there after setting up a rugby team when he was just 13 years old.

Kyle had assured a teacher that he would pick the players and help train the team. The hodgepodge group of students gradually grew, year after year, into a dominant team. All of the success, including an appearance eight years later in league finals, came from the foundation created by Kyle.

Following graduation, Kyle continued to build his personal foundation. He earned a scholarship to Epsom College. Then, he was spotted by the Harlequins Rugby Union, which enjoys a 150-year lineage in the sport. Through his personal success and the school rugby program that he created 13 years ago, the prop forward has inspired scores of children to play the game.

Many of the players who followed in Kyle’s footsteps are the first in their families to attend college. Rugby has led them to success through quality education. According to a former grade school teacher, Kyle “has changed lives.”

At the quarter-final game with Australia, Kyle’s outstanding performance was capped with an emotional tribute to his mother, Donna, who works at a police call center. She raised him and she ferried him to training when he was a schoolboy.

The current demographics of rugby indicates that many potential players are similar to Kyle –mixed race, from single parent households and attending grade schools without rugby teams. Today, at Graveney School in Tooting and at many other schools, Kyle’s original determination, along with his current fame, support the rallying cry that is helping many young school boys build solid lifelong foundations.

He Gave His All On The Football Field And On Battlefields
Dec 17, 2019Posted by james

Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., was known as “Jock” to his friends. A natural athlete from Covington, Virginia, he earned the nickname “Jocko the Monkey” after a popular children’s character of the early 1900s.

Jock graduated from Greenbrier Military School in West Virginia and he received the school’s single appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was a star football player at West Point, leading Army to victory against the University of Norte Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy during the 1935 season.

Everything changed for Jock, and for everyone in the country, on December 7, 1941. By 1944, he was fighting in the Philippines. During the battle for the Ormoc Corridor, Jock’s battalion received a flanking mission to cut off the lead Japanese elements from its rear echelon. With only the ammunition and food that they could carry on their backs, his battalion infiltrated the enemy lines and climbed 900 feet to the crest of Kilay Ridge. They dug in for a long stay.

For three weeks, in torrential rain, Jock’s battalion repulsed daily attacks. Rifles became caked with mud. The weapons were more useful as clubs. Many hand-to-hand engagements resulted, and Jock’s men beat the Japanese with entrenching tools, bayonets and the butts of their rifles.

Food and ammo became scarce. Supplies from air drops often fell outside their perimeter and into enemy hands. Near the end of the battle, Jock received a radio message from the commanding general of the 32nd Infantry Division: “You are the talk of the island, and perhaps the United States. Oh, and Jock, Army beat Notre Dame 56 to 0, the worst defeat on record.”

When the battalion was relived, fresh troops who moved into the muddy foxholes of the ridge were shocked to see 1,000 dead Japanese soldiers. The successful mission earned Jock the rank of colonel and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Colonel Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., exuded the qualities of an effective and beloved leader. He commanded from the front and never asked his men to do anything that he was not willing to complete himself. Just days before the end of the campaign during 1945, Jock dashed into a barrage to rescue a wounded man. He was killed by a mortar shell.

The message announcing Jock’s death was distributed to the entire division. The words summed up Jock’s character: “No finer soldier ever wore the uniform of our army. No braver commander ever led his unit in battle. He was not only a skillful and gifted soldier, but the kind of military man we would all like to be.”

Alan Hodish Is A Long Island Lacrosse Legend!
Dec 02, 2019Posted by james

I have known Alan Hodish for many years and was pleased about eight years ago when he asked me to join him to champion the Hempstead PAL lacrosse program. The program is such a rewarding experience for me, especially when I have the opportunity each season to speak with the young players who are learning this great game.

Before he became involved with this wonderful program for grade school youth, Alan was a successful assistant coach at Levittown Memorial High School and C.W. Post, and then he held the reins for many years as head coach for the Hempstead High School varsity lacrosse program. Alan turned around the Tigers boys’ program, creating one of the best high school boys’ lacrosse programs on Long Island.

After all these years, Alan, an attorney by day, still maintains his personal passion for lacrosse. The Hempstead PAL program is a natural fit for him. As he teaches youngsters about the game, Alan’s message to them is to remain “focused…I want the kids to be focused and I want them to take what they are doing seriously.”

Diversity in the game, whether today or during his earlier coaching assignments, always has been important to Alan.

“You have a lot of role models out there now…all the way back to Jim Brown,” said Alan. “Probably the greatest lacrosse player of all time right here from Manhasset High School. Not a better athlete than Jimmy Brown and he certainly is a role model to everybody, in particular the African-American community.”

Alan proclaims that lacrosse provides every athlete, no matter race, heritage, or family economic situation, with the opportunity to succeed, play at Division I universities and accomplish so much in school, in sports and in any chosen career. Featured as a Long Island Lacrosse Legend in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKUXzTH86gI&feature=youtu.be), Alan embraces a positive forecast for boys and girls youth lacrosse on Long Island and for the college and professional game.

For the kid who never played the game but wants to give it a try, Alan’s advice is that he or she just needs “to buy a stick and get on the wall…you go up against a handball court and you practice your catching righty, lefty, over the shoulder.”

It’s all about the fundamentals, according to Alan, that will get anyone started in the game.

“Pick up the skills, join a team and have fun,” advised Alan.

Success In Singles! Doubles! How About Triples?
Nov 15, 2019Posted by james

The Svantner Sisters – Nicole, Samantha and Jackie – often are mistaken for each other around Clarkstown South High School in Rockland County. They are triplets, so this is common.

On the tennis court, however, the young ladies are quite distinguishable, and they are helping the Clarkstown South Vikings build a successful program.

Nicole and Samantha are a strong one-two punch, an undefeated tandem in doubles play, achieving a 12-0 record as of this past October. They also have not lost a single set in 20 straight matches dating to last season. The outgoing and boisterous Nicole serves as a vocal presence in practice. Samantha keeps an eye on the smaller details.

Jackie, meanwhile, is a singles player with an 8-3 record as of October. She has enjoyed a number of come-from-behind victories, exhibiting extreme poise during tiebreakers. Jackie found her niche and success on her own.

“I’ve coached twins, I’ve coached brothers and sisters, but it’s the first that I’ve had…triplets,” said Coach Ted Mascola. “They’re also a wonderful family, great kids, they’re great teammates, and they can play tennis.”

The Svantner girls have achieved success despite their late arrival to the sport. They each received lessons at a young age, but all three preferred to concentrate on soccer. Injuries (torn ACL, concussion and other mishaps) convinced each sister to again pick up the racket.

“They played soccer, they ski, they golf, and they came to tennis a little bit late, but they’re athletic,” he said. “All the cross-training they’ve done paid off on a tennis court. … I think soccer helped their footwork. Other sports helped their hand-eye [coordination], and they’ve just worked at it. They also have a lot of intangibles like mental toughness…”

The trio plans to play tennis in college. They have toured SUNY schools and other colleges. Their plan is to attend college as a team.

Nick Varano Has Figured Out All the Alleys
Nov 02, 2019Posted by james

In New York, baseball has Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso while hockey has Henrik Lundquist and Mathew Barzal. As for bowling, we have Nick Varano. At only 17, the North Rockland High School student is the best bowler in the Lower Hudson Valley of any age or gender.

Earlier this year, Nick showcased a 242 average in a local league and a 235 average for the high school season. He threw two 800 series and one perfect game late last year.

Nick’s varsity accomplishments become more impressive when you learn that the Rockland County high school league is spread among three different bowling alleys in three different communities. No home alley advantage for this bowling star.

“He’s like a freak,” stated a former coach who was very successful during his bowling career. “But in a good way.”

The freak analogy must run in the family. Nick’s sister, Danielle, is an eight-time member of Team USA and she currently is one of the leading women bowlers in the world for the Professional Women’s Bowlers Association Tour. Even she stated what has become obvious: “He’s a freak of nature,” she said lovingly of her 6-foot-3 brother.

Though he has been so successful at such a young age, Nick has little interest in headlines and accolades. His personal goal always is a team goal—win the state championship.

Nick has thought about turning pro during the last few years. First, though, he wants to complete college and think about his options not just for bowling but for his life. Many coaches feel that Nick can be a PBA Tour titlist. We’ll just have to wait to learn what Nick decides.

Rugby Player Honored For Off-Field Contributions
Oct 16, 2019Posted by james

Kraig Puccia was completing his junior year at Fordham University earlier this year when he was honored with the fifth annual Penn Mutual Life of Significance award. Presented at the conclusion of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, the award included a $5,000 contribution to a charity of Kraig’s choice—the Tundra Women’s Coalition of Alaska that helps protect women and their children from domestic violence related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Kraig is an Italian studies/history double major from Queens. As a member of the Fordham Men’s Rugby Club since he entered the school, Kraig impressed the award judges both as a scholar-athlete and for his dedication to multiple off-the-field causes.

Kraig had traveled to Bethel, Alaska, with other Fordham students to work with the Tundra Women’s Coalition. He also had volunteered with the Queens District Attorney’s domestic violence bureau. This past summer, Kraig volunteered at the Urban Justice Center’s Veterans Advocacy Project, providing pro-bono work for veterans throughout New York City. Kraig has been involved in service projects since his first year at Xavier High School in Manhattan.

“The work has just felt like the right thing to do,” said Kraig, “but to get recognized for it was a nice chance to be retrospective. It was a nice chance to sit down and recognize what I’ve done, and not necessarily celebrate it, but to be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

The award was presented to Kraig by Penn Mutual CEO Eileen McDonnell and Fordham alum Joe Jordan. In fact, Joe, a football scholar-athlete member of the Fordham Ram’s Hall of Fame, created this rugby collegiate award to highlight the lessons of his book, Living a Life of Significance, that emphasizes a purpose-driven life in the service of others.

Following graduation, Joe found success in the insurance industry. He was a senior vice president at Met Life and played rugby recreationally for 30 years. He convinced Penn Mutual’s CEO to support the rugby tournament as a way for the company to connect with young people and to show them that a career in the financial services sector can be compatible with living a purpose-filled life.

Kraig, Joe, Eileen and Penn Mutual! Great job all around.

Where Young Patients Can “Just Be Kids Again”
Oct 01, 2019Posted by james

Tim Tebow made a splash on the college football field but he has not enjoyed the same success on the professional football and baseball levels. His good and open heart continues to beat strong, however, and this includes his work with ill children.

Earlier this year, the Tim Tebow Foundation opened its 10th Timmy’s Playroom. This new playroom is located at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, a children’s hospital in Florida. The space allows kids to escape from their medical conditions and enjoy life. Tim gives children in hospitals a chance to “just be kids again.”

“Hopefully, it can bring a brighter day for so many in their darkest hour of need,” Tim said in a video posted by AdventHealth. “That is our goal, to encourage and uplift people, especially when they’re going through such a tough time…”

The playrooms include a football field floor, specialized lockers for seating, tables for arts and crafts, flat-screen televisions, video games, toys, interactive games and other activities. The playrooms also display Tim’s favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

The foundation’s mission delivers faith, hope and love to pediatric patients and their families. The playrooms are “creating a space where children can heal in a very unique way,” according to the foundation. Timmy’s Playrooms can be found at other hospitals in Florida and at hospitals in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and the Philippines.

Each playroom has been recorded as a huge touchdown in all the scorebooks. Tim Tebow certainly is a star off the field!

Emily Andriello Pursues Her Special Passion
Sep 15, 2019Posted by james

Lacrosse players, according to Emily Andriello, require specific skillsets and mindsets to achieve success. The standout Pearl River (Rockland County) High School scholar-athlete, who now is beginning her studies at the University of South Carolina, immediately has applied her athletic skills and critical thinking from lacrosse (and soccer) to her new scholastic responsibilities. Emily also knows that she must acquire many new and diverse talents for her chosen career.

Emily ranked 14th in her high school class with a 96.4 weighted average. At college, she plans to study biology before attending medical school or physician’s assistant school. Emily hopes to pursue a career in neonatal intensive care. She found her passion when she first studied biology and anatomy a few years ago.

Emily’s world, however, is much more than science and sports. Last year, she helped a teacher with workshops held at Queens College and Hunter College, embracing the Italian language and poetry to demonstrate lesson plans for students who aspired to become teachers. Emily also is involved in her community. She has received many awards and citations for her commitments.

During her high school days, Emily learned a lot about herself. One lesson came about when she worked at the neighborhood ice cream store — with countless choices and combinations at her fingertips, Emily said that she just prefers good old chocolate with “no toppings, nothing special.”

It’s no frills for Emily as she pursues her goals. But, it’s no secret that she does leave room for a few “specials” in her life, including Gus, her bulldog.

I maintain a special interest in high school students who play lacrosse. Whether or not they continue with the game in college, lacrosse already has provided them with a solid foundation of teamwork, specific skillsets and separate mindsets that will become useful later in life. For Emily, the lessons learned on the lacrosse field will create many great opportunities for her in the health care field.

Sonia Citron Draws A Lot Of Attention
Sep 01, 2019Posted by james

Sonia Citron is drawing a lot of attention for her work on and off the basketball court.

Sonia is a junior at The Ursuline School in New Rochelle. She has received numerous college athletic scholarship offers since she significantly contributed to the United States win at the 2019 International Basketball Federation’s U16 Americas Championship in Chile.

Oregon and Stanford made scholarship offers, following others by Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, Texas and Michigan. Harvard and Princeton did not offer scholarships but each has recruited Sonia. She is ranked 17th overall and six among guards in the high school class of 2021 by ESPN.

At the Chile tournament, Sonia averaged 13.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 3.2 steals while playing almost 20 minutes per game. Team USA finished with a perfect 6-0 record and defeated all opponents by wide margins. Back at high school, Sonia led Ursuline to the Section 1 final this year (loosing to Ossining High School). She has scored more than 1,300 points in her varsity career and earned all-state honors the past three seasons from the New York State Sportswriters Association. She was a second-team all-state honoree in Class AA for 2019.

Among Sonia’s other accomplishments are her role on Ursuline’s soccer team and her academic average of nearly 96 as a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Sonia also cherishes her participation in the school’s Warm Hands, Warm Hearts program that provides meals to 100 clients at a community soup kitchen. Sometimes she is the chef and at other times she is the shopper. Everything Sonia touches – academics, basketball, soccer, community service and more — is accompanied by her warm and captive smile.

Ursuline encourages, empowers and inspires young women, and the school certainly has been a magnificent influence for Sonia’s success that is drawing a lot of attention.