10/11/14 8:00am
10/11/2014 8:00 AM
Dave Spinella watches as 10th graders Alek Lewis (left) and Xaviah Moore play a game of chess. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Dave Spinella watches as 10th graders Alek Lewis (left) and Xaviah Moore play a game of chess. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Tension filled the area as the kings and queens of the battlefield took their positions.

One competitor stared into his opponent’s eyes, trying to pull a single thread of a thought from the depths of his mind before striking his next blow.

Then, without a word, a knight had fallen. A scheme for victory was dashed.

OK. Maybe that description is a little dramatic for a chess match. But literally, it’s on point.

At least, in the depths of my weird mind it is.

So at last week’s story meeting, when one of my colleagues pitched a story about the start-up of Riverhead High School’s chess club, I think I got more excited than anyone else in the room — including the woman whose idea it was.

I really enjoy chess — and, for that matter, any other competitive endeavor. But chess involves a particular strategy and mental aspect that few other outlets offer. There are no bad calls from a ref, no wind in your face, no injuries. The resources at your disposal are limited, each tool with a certain use designed to somehow defeat the person sitting across the table from you — and your opponent has the exact same inventory!

There are no excuses other than simply making a bad move.

When my colleague said she had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t interview chess club advisor Dave Spinella, I made my move and hopped on the story myself.

Mr. Spinella is known to many of his students as “Spin.” The current girls’ varsity basketball coach, he’s a former basketball captain at West Babylon High School, where he also served as president of the school chess club.

“It would be nice to break the stereotype. It’s not the nerd club. And it’s not all guys,” he said, pointing out some female athletes in the room. “Chess teaches patience, problem solving skills, thinking on the fly and concentration.”

Last spring, Spin started the chess club after noticing a steady stream of kids coming in who had played in chess clubs in the middle school and at Pulaski Street but would have no similar outlet at the high school level.

The club started up in earnest this fall with support from the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization, which purchased 10 chess boards and two clocks for the students.

About 20 students showed up last week at the first club meeting of the school year. They included some of Spin’s athletes, some freshmen who had played in the middle school chess club and some upperclassmen who had started playing last spring.

At one table, a pair of female basketball and volleyball players huddled over one chess board. Miecko Vail was teaching Joanna Messina, who was playing her first game of chess ever.

Miecko made a move that exposed her queen to Joanna, who was unaware how important that mistake could be to winning. Ever the competitor, I couldn’t help but point the error out to Joanna. Miecko took her move back, but Joanna didn’t seem to mind and the game went on.

Spin said he’d like to have Ron Boyd speak to the chess club. He’s a former educator at Pulaski Street School who, along with Wanda Nardolillo, built up that school’s chess club in the mid-1990s. Boyd retired in 2004.

Boyd says there’s more to chess than just winning the match. He said he ran Pulaski’s in-school suspension program and would use the game as a tool to teach kids about more than the game itself.

He pointed out that just by playing with someone else in a club setting, socialization skills are being nurtured. And even when you lose, he said, “you learn another strategy to apply to your own game.”

I guess I never thought of chess as a learning tool. But then again, when I think about the game of chess as an actual battlefield, I suppose that doesn’t exactly lend itself to teaching moments.

Maybe my next move is to learn a thing or two from Ron, Joanna and Miecko: Be a little less competitive and a little more social.

Which chess piece do I use for that?

Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, ext. 238

10/10/14 8:00am
10/10/2014 8:00 AM
A flag flies at half-mast at Shoreham-Wading River High School last week following the death of junior Tom Cutinella. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

A flag flies at half-mast at Shoreham-Wading River High School last week following the death of junior Tom Cutinella. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

When tragedy strikes, it’s only natural to wonder what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it. When a life is lost on the athletic fields at far too young an age, the emotional toll cuts deep to the core of a community.  (more…)

10/09/14 6:00am
10/09/2014 6:00 AM

To the editor: 

Last week’s page 3 article “Neighbors wary a car lot could replace retail shop,” I am one of those neighbors. We are not wary, we are angry! It started over four years ago, when a “stop work order” was issued to Garsten Realty LLC for no permit to bring truckload after truckload of grading material that was started on a Sunday at the Apple Automotive Discount Center at 785 Raynor Ave. (more…)

10/04/14 10:00am
10/04/2014 10:00 AM
This cake was brought to the first Death Café meeting at Floyd Memorial Library. (Credit: Rachel Young)

This cake was brought to the first Death Café meeting at Floyd Memorial Library. (Credit: Rachel Young)

There’s a scene in the 1977 film “Annie Hall” in which Woody Allen’s character is at a bookstore with his girlfriend, played by Diane Keaton, and he suddenly places copies of “The Denial of Death” and “Death and Western Thought” in front of her.

“I’m gonna buy you these books, because I think you should read them,” he tells her. “You know, instead of that cat book.”

“That’s, uh … that’s pretty serious stuff there,” she says, laughing nervously.

“Yeah, cause I’m, you know, I’m obsessed with, uh, death, I think,” he says. “Big — big subject with me, yeah.”

I was 15 the first time I saw this scene. I was watching it at home with my uncle Peter, who was terminally ill with colon cancer. He began laughing as heartily as his body, much weakened by the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation, allowed.

More than 13 years later, I still vividly remember thinking how remarkable his reaction was; how someone mere months away from dying was able to laugh about his fate.

Despite my uncle’s example, the ability to think about death objectively has mostly eluded me. An anxious child and lifelong sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I went through a phase where I regularly begged my mother to reassure me I wouldn’t die for a very, very long time. So I was intrigued when I spotted an advertisement for a group-directed discussion called a “Death Café” at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.

Organized by Poppy Johnson, the library’s assistant director, a Death Café is a philosophical forum about death that purports to help people “make the most of their (finite) lives,” according to a library flier.

When the group met for the first time Friday afternoon, I was one of a dozen attendees who gathered around a large table in the library’s conference room. Our ranks included a priest, a beekeeper, two couples, a 91-year-old woman and a man with a history of slipping into diabetic comas.

The proverbial ice was broken when another participant arrived late carrying a glazed chocolate cake shaped like a skull.

As we delved into our deliciously macabre dessert, Ms. Johnson delivered a brief history of Death Cafés, the first of which was reportedly organized by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004. In the past few years, the volunteer-run model has sprung up in cities around the world.

“I think the idea is that, simply, in our culture we have a real taboo against actually talking about death,” Ms. Johnson told our group before we began. “And anything you don’t talk about somehow takes on scary or magical properties that make it difficult to deal with. Talking about death is one way to embrace life.”

So, that’s what we did.

Rather than make standard introductions (“Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m thrilled to be here!”), Ms. Johnson encouraged each of us to talk briefly about our views on or experiences with death.

The first person to speak said she became aware of death at a young age. She was just 8 years old when her father died. In a short span of time, her brother and mother died, too.

“One of the things I decided was I was not going to be a victim,” she said as I felt my eyes brim with tears under the glare of the basement’s fluorescent lights. An objective discussion about death might have been the goal, but the power of human emotion can’t be underestimated.

The beekeeper told us that in order to help conquer the difficulty she has with death, she began volunteering as a hospice worker almost 10 years ago.

One participant said she decided to come to the Death Café because she figured “anyone who came here would have a sense of humor.”

Another said she was an Irish Catholic who grew up going to wakes and that she’d like to choose how and when she dies.

“Something simple,” she said. “No drama.”

That led us into a brief debate about end-of-life care, with many attendees agreeing they’d like to go out on their own terms. We also talked about “permission to die” — a phenomenon in which people who are terminally ill sometimes don’t die until their loved ones tell them it’s OK to let go.

At one point, our group discussed the idea of an afterlife. Some said they believed in the notion; one man said he believes our spirits become whatever we want them to be. I avoided the priest’s eyes, feeling ashamed, when I revealed that I vacillate on the concept of an afterlife.

“The finality of death scares me,” I told the roomful of strangers, who already felt like friends. “Ceasing to exist when that’s all we’ve ever known.”

They nodded.

Two hours later, I left the library feeling inexplicably moved — and, ironically, reinvigorated about living. I think the others did, too.

We all agreed that we hoped to see each other at next month’s meeting. Alive and well, of course.

Rachel Young is a features writer and copy editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. She can be reached at ryoung@timesreview.com.

10/04/14 8:00am
Civic Person of the Year Vince Taldone (left), Public Servant of the Year Dennis Cavanaugh and Educator of the Year Keri Stromski were honored Thursday night at the News-Review's main office in Mattituck.

Civic Person of the Year Vince Taldone (left), Public Servant of the Year Dennis Cavanaugh and Educator of the Year Keri Stromski were honored Thursday night at the News-Review’s main office in Mattituck.

Every year at this time we use this space to ask Riverhead News-Review readers to nominate candidates for our People of the Year issue. As we have for decades, we will name an educator, businessperson and overall person of the year in January.

We will also introduce three new categories: community leader (combining the former civic and public servant winners), sports person and northforker.com person of the year, honoring someone in the food, wine or tourism industry.

With their heartfelt nominations, our readers have always played perhaps the most important role in the selection process. Last year, they helped us choose a wide array of worthy recipients, from a beloved police officer to a fitness instructor operating three Main Street businesses, a teacher who takes learning to new levels, the president of an active civic organization and a young man whose battled for survival taught his peers a lesson in courage.

Who last year’s people of the year?

We’ve always prided ourselves on honoring people from diverse fields and all walks of life. We want to hear about people like the teacher who went above and beyond to help you become a better student or the business owner who never stops giving back to the community.

This town is loaded with residents who work tirelessly to make our area a better place. We always have a growing list of people who are more than qualified to earn such an honor. That list can never be too long.

We realize there are a great many people doing big things in their community who don’t seek the spotlight. As a result, the work they do is hardly noticed. That’s who we’re talking about.

Do you know such a person? Let us know.

Nominations can be mailed to Times/Review Newsgroup, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952. Or you can email the editor at mwhite@timesreview.com. Faxes are OK, too; our fax number is 631-298-3287. Or just give us a call at 631-298-3200 and ask for Michael White at extension 152.

Tell us why this person or group is deserving — and please be sure to give us your phone number so we can follow up. All correspondence will be kept confidential, so the people nominated don’t even have to know you are singling them out. Nominations should be submitted by Dec. 1.

We plan to announce our People of the Year in the Jan. 8, 2015, edition.