06/14/14 8:00am
06/14/2014 8:00 AM
An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein)

An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein)

“Thank God my wife is such a pain in the a–.”

That was how my brother Chris kicked off our phone conversation Monday, days after our mom had informed me he had been suffering from a 102-degree fever, yet still refusing to see a doctor.  (more…)

05/17/14 6:00am
05/17/2014 6:00 AM

password

One of the most dreaded moments in the modern-day workforce is when the IT guru walks up to your desk and informs you it’s time to change passwords. Just as you got used to the old ones…

Such was the case recently at Times/Review Newsgroup. Our instructions were straightforward: Pick a new password, at least eight characters long. Oh, and make sure there’s at least one capital letter. And one number. And one other character. (more…)

12/22/13 8:00am
12/22/2013 8:00 AM
This Don Duga painting, 'Memories of Frosty' has been on exhibit at the Dark Horse restaurant in Riverhead.

This Don Duga painting, ‘Memories of Frosty’ has been on exhibit at the Dark Horse restaurant.

Ever notice how nasty the adults are in Christmas specials?

Michael White, editor

Michael White

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve curled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a stop-motion animated classic. If so, here are some reminders. (more…)

12/13/13 6:59am
12/13/2013 6:59 AM

BILL LANDON FILE PHOTO | Former Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz speaks with a reporter in 2012.

In Tom Rotanz’s impassioned 109-second plea to the Shoreham-Wading River School Board Nov. 19 to keep his job as the varsity boys lacrosse coach, there was one notable omission.

He spoke of being “disappointed.”

He asked Superintendent Steven Cohen for “guidelines. Do’s and dont’s.”

He said he didn’t want to be “controversial.”

What he never said was: I’m sorry.

Of course, he’s the victim here, he’ll be quick to tell you. In 19 years, he’s never done anything wrong, always putting the kids first. And anyone who says anything to the contrary is out to get him for their own personal agenda.

It’s always the same script.

I’ve known Mr. Rotanz since the spring of 2006, when I covered Shoreham-Wading River’s county championship win over Mount Sinai. The Wildcats were in the midst of one of their most successful runs in program history, capped by a state championship the following year in Syracuse.

I’ve always respected him for his ability to mold teams into winners and rally the community around the game of lacrosse. His résumé speaks for itself.

Related: At SWR, it’s been one athletic director after another

But I’ve also known Mr. Rotanz to be a polarizing figure, a larger-than-life coach who can be awfully persuasive. Most coaches shy away from the politics; not Mr. Rotanz, who has always been a vocal advocate for the lacrosse program. After word got out that Mr. Rotanz would not be rehired, Mr. Cohen and the school board declined to provide any specific details, citing it as a personnel decision. The school’s attorney, Greg Guercio, spoke at a school board meeting.

“I’ve directed the board … that they are not to release any of the contents of a personal file or any of the information that forms a basis for the superintendent’s decision not to make a recommendation,” Mr. Guercio said.

Given the lack of information provided by the school, it’s worth examining all aspects of Mr. Rotanz’s record. One area worth consideration is Mr. Rotanz’s company, The Power Shaft, and how it relates to Shoreham-Wading River.

In 2010, Mr. Rotanz, a retired teacher, invented a weighted lacrosse shaft that’s designed to connect with the head of a player’s regular stick. Training with the weighted shaft improves shot speed for offensive players, increases hand speed for face-off specialists and puts a “pop” in defensemen’s checks, according to The Power Shaft website.

After launching the product, which retails for between $89.95 and $125.99, in 2011, Mr. Rotanz made a promotional video that was featured on the home page of the company’s website.

The video details some of the benefits, before a narrator says: “Don’t take my word for it. We brought the Power Shaft to a collection of amateur and professional lacrosse players and, boy, were they amazed at the result.”

The video features demonstrations by several lacrosse players from Shoreham-Wading River, who are wearing Power Shaft apparel.

The video appears to have first been uploaded to YouTube on May 4, 2011. Mr. Rotanz uploaded clips from the video to his YouTube account in August 2011.

At least one athlete in the video is now a Division I lacrosse player. There’s no evidence that the player sanctioned the use of his image once he became an NCAA athlete.

When asked if that could cause a potential issue with the player’s NCAA eligibility, Mr. Rotanz said: “No, it’s not. We looked into it. They’re all sophomores and juniors in high school. That was checked.”

However, once a student becomes an NCAA student-athlete, he cannot appear in a commercial video promoting a product, according to Emily James, a spokesperson for the NCAA, who deals with eligibility and infraction issues and provided a description of general guidelines.

“Once the prospect becomes an NCAA student-athlete, the high school coach could no longer use the promotional video containing current student-athletes,” Ms. James wrote in an email. “If the coach did, the current student athlete’s school would have to issue a cease and desist letter.”

After Mr. Rotanz was contacted for this story, the video was removed from the Power Shaft home page and deleted from Mr. Rotanz’s YouTube account. Some clips still remained on an inside website page.

The newest video is a 12-minute instructional video featuring drills to use with the Power Shaft. The video was filmed this year at Shoreham-Wading River High School and features Shoreham lacrosse alumni who are no longer in college programs. It was uploaded to Mr. Rotanz’s YouTube account in October.

A screenshot of a Power Shaft video that was filmed on Shoreham-Wading River school grounds. The video was uploaded to YouTube in October.

Shoreham Superintendent Steven Cohen confirmed that filming such a video on school grounds violates the school’s facility-use policy.

“Not acceptable,” Mr. Cohen said.

For-profit organizations can use school grounds under certain conditions, Mr. Cohen said, such as contributing to educational programs. The board is currently considering prohibiting all for-profit organizations from using facilities, to clarify the rule, Mr. Cohen said.

Filming the video did not appear to factor into Mr. Cohen’s decision on rehiring Mr. Rotanz. The superintendent said he was unaware of the video when contacted for comment a few weeks after making his decision.

Mr. Rotanz said he was unaware the video violated any policy and was never told he couldn’t film on school grounds.

“If you go to the library, there’s people that do tutoring there privately,” Mr. Rotanz said.

Asked if that was a fair comparison, he said: “They’re making money off it … I think it’s pretty much the same.”

Mr. Rotanz said the video serves as an instructional film for anyone to see, and is not merely to sell his lacrosse shaft.

Asked if he ever made instructional videos before inventing the Power Shaft, Mr. Rotanz said, “Not really, because I had no avenue to get it out there.”

While Mr. Cohen said that, from the school’s perspective, there was no issue with students appearing in a commercial video filmed off-campus, the circumstances certainly raise ethical questions about whether it’s appropriate for a coach to use his athletes to promote a product he sells.

Mr. Rotanz maintained the students in the video were not compensated, which would have been an NCAA violation.

Mr. Rotanz added a philanthropic note to his website with a message saying: “For every Power Shaft sold, The Power Shaft will be making a $1 donation to the New York Police and Fire Widow’s and Children’s Benefit Fund.”

A screenshot of a message on The Power Shaft homepage, which was later removed.

Out of curiosity, I checked with the organization to confirm whether it had received donations from The Power Shaft. Mr. Rotanz said he spoke with a representative of the organization Dec. 2.

Afterward, Lauren Profeta, associate director for development, wrote back to me in an email: “We will be receiving our first installment this week.”

I asked Mr. Rotanz when he started donating from Power Shaft to the benefit fund.

“For a period,” he said, adding that the charity hits home on a personal note because he benefited from it growing up.

The message explaining the donation was taken off the website shortly afterward. It had appeared there since at least February 2011, according to a screenshot from archive.org, which takes periodic snapshots of websites and stores them in an online archive.

Taken individually, the mishaps and missteps and misinformation swirling around Mr. Rotanz may not seem like such a big deal. But questionable judgment adds up. As the coach of young men, Mr. Rotanz needs to hold himself to a higher standard, whether it’s in his role as coach or as the owner/operator of a private company.

As chronicled in the adjacent story, turnover in the athletic director position has been rampant at Shoreham.

At the Nov. 19 board meeting, former Shoreham assistant lacrosse coach Mike Delia spoke in Mr. Rotanz’s defense. In part of his statement, he said, “Why not wait for the AD to come and make a decision on coach Rotanz?”

In my opinion, Mr. Delia misses the point.

Dumping this onto a brand-new athletic director only sets him up for failure. How could a new athletic director possibly make an objective decision about Mr. Rotanz without taking ample time to review the background? The new athletic director could never make a decision against Mr. Rotanz and come out alive.

That’s why I believe Mr. Cohen made the decision when he did, fully aware of the backlash that would follow.

Despite the grim forecast from all of Mr. Rotanz’s supporters, I don’t believe his departure will mark the end of Shoreham lacrosse as we know it. The passion for the sport runs deep. I don’t see that fading.

joew@timesreview.com

11/24/13 8:00am
11/24/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The entrance to Long Island Science Center on West Main Street.

I couldn’t believe 60 first-graders could stay so captivated for so long. Every kid’s eyes were glued to the center of the room, heads tilted, little mouths agape. They were spellbound. But this wasn’t “Fantasia” or a more modern Disney movie. This was science.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

Material science, of all things. This particular lesson was called States of Matter. And when it came time for the children to retreat to individual work stations for some hands-on lab work, the room and the other children around them seized to exist. They had a task to complete, after all, and that was to apply a special solution to the dozen or so pebbles waiting for them in petri dishes.

They were then told by the instructor that, in a few days, they would begin to notice crystals forming on those little rocks. Soon, they’d have their own crystal gardens. Of course, they’re still kids; delayed gratification isn’t exactly their thing. And so began the second part of the lesson, which ended with the Sachem School District students making ice cream. Ice cream!

This is the type of pure magic that goes on almost every day at the Long Island Science Center in downtown Riverhead, and for an adult like myself, who had never stepped inside the center, it was a lesson on how a properly managed and sustainable nonprofit group with a purely altruistic mission can offer a huge public benefit to children and parents alike, not to mention the local school systems.

“A lot of the elementary schools don’t have science teachers, especially with all the recent cutbacks,” said the center’s executive director, Michelle Pelletier. So the schools use the science center for “enrichment” alternatives, she said. While that’s good for business, Ms. Pelletier can’t help but feel opportunities are being missed in the schools, as the younger kids seem to be the most engaged when learning how things work. That enthusiasm is plain to see during any day at the center.

After each lesson, the students — usually on a field trip or a weekend birthday party — are invited to roam the Exploratory Enrichment Center, an interactive, educational display play area. The rules for the kids are simple, and just the opposite of what they’re told to do at home: Touch everything. (Oh, and no running.) So the children will fan out to the interactive weather station or the dino-dig, to look for fossils. They’ll check out the snakes and Madagascar hissing cockroaches or just play with the magnets or building blocks. On Saturdays, this museum side of the center is open to the public, with admission just $5 a head.

Among Ms. Pelletier’s favorite and oft-repeated quotes from the children who visit the center are:

“I didn’t know that!”

“You guys like dinosaurs too?”

“Are you a scientist?”

“I’ve never been to a museum before.”

She’s hoping to hear more of these types of adorable phrases, as the center is planning a big move from its aging West Main Street building to the vacated West Marine storefront on East Main, closer to the Long Island Aquarium. The new space is planned to be much bigger, allowing the center to remain open to the public throughout the week, even when lessons are going on in the classrooms.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more worthy — yet often overlooked — organization in the town or county. Not only does the science center offer programs for children but high school interns build most of the hands-on exhibits. Teenagers from Riverhead, Mercy and other high schools also sit on its Board of Youth Trustees, charged with keeping the exhibits fresh and, presently, improving community outreach through social media.

The museum is in contract to purchase its new space, with real estate developers in contract to buy the current museum building. When the move is complete, the new center will feature more professionally built displays, including a state-of-the-art Leonardo da Vinci exhibit currently mothballed in the science center’s storage room for lack of space. The Board of Trustees, which includes two Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists, also envisions placing an emphasis on technological breakthroughs that are happening, and have happened, right here on Long Island.

It could even be a place where Intel Science Talent Search participants show off their work, I’m told.

By far the most popular exhibit in the museum right now is the dino-dig. Ms. Pelletier said, pointing to a square table covered in sand. The kids brush the sand away to unearth planted fossils that are explained on a chart nearby.

“I would love to have a big dino-dig that the kids could step into,” she said. “But this is our space. I wish it were bigger. But we’re working on it.”

To learn more about supporting the Long Island Science Center, visit 11 West Main St. in Riverhead or lisciencecenter.org.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.

11/16/13 10:00am
11/16/2013 10:00 AM

JOSEPH PINCIARO PHOTO | A group of Southold police officers have started growing moustaches to help out a local family in need. From left: officers John Helf, Tim McGowan, Andrew Garcia, Brian McNamara and Bill Brewer, Sgt. Bill Helinski and officers Dave O’Kula and Chris Salmon.

When I first heard of “Movember,” an international charity event that raises awareness of men’s health issues by encouraging men around the world to grow moustaches during November, I thought for a moment I’d let my own whiskers blossom this month.

But just for a moment.

That’s not to say I didn’t really want to participate. It’s just that I can’t.

I’m one of the rare men who, despite being four months shy of my 35th birthday, doesn’t have the ability to grow a proper mustache.

Several years back, during a 10-day holiday break from work, I decided not to shave. The goal, for comedy’s sake, was that I’d return to the newsroom a moustachioed man. But while my beard filled in nicely across most of my face, one of my coworkers kindly pointed out just how obvious it was that the moustache was “lagging behind.” I’m sure Abe Lincoln <I>could<I> have grown a moustache, but not me.

The next year I didn’t shave for a month to prepare for a Halloween costume that required a nice thick goatee. In the end, I would have been better off just drawing one with a brown Crayola crayon.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the 1980s that I always wanted to grow a moustache.

Born a Mets fan, unfortunately, I wanted nothing more than the ability to grow my own Keith Hernandez. I’d have even settled for a Wally Backman or a Terry Leach.

And it wasn’t just in baseball where I grew jealous of men with hair above their upper lips. Everywhere I looked as a kid it seemed someone was rocking a moustache. Magnum P.I. used his to reel in the ladies on TV, John Oates of Hall and Oates fame fought off “maneaters” with his — and who could forget the glory of Hulkmania? Even “Weird” Al Yankovic had a nice moustache.

I can remember as a kid praying I’d one day be able to grow facial hair. Instead, God gave me body hair in all the places that aren’t cool. If it were possible to style a nice moustache out of triceps hair, I’d be a real modern-day Burt Reynolds.

Of course it didn’t help growing up when my good friend Matt was already using an electric razor in the fifth grade. By the time we were in high school we all still looked like kids, while he looked liked Andy Sipowicz. As I was writing this column this week, I texted Matt to see how long it would take him to grow a moustache. His wife responded, “He could grow one in five minutes.” If I had Matt’s hair-growing abilities, I’d pull a Rollie Fingers one month and a ZZ Top the next. Instead, Matt joked, I’m like Benjamin Button, becoming more and more baby-faced the older I get.

So it’s smarted a bit the past couple months as I had to watch the Boston Red Sox relish the power of a fine October beard last month, followed by the sweet “Movember” moustaches growing all around me this month — including a group of about 20 police officers who decided to let their moustaches grow out and pitch in an entry fee to help out one local family in need. The officers are also selling pins to people who want to help the cause.

It’s certainly nice to know there are people out there picking up the slack for me, but sadly, I won’t be celebrating “Movember” again this year. For me it’s just plain old “November” — as in no ability to grow a moustache.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor of Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at gparpan@timesreview.com or by phone at 631-354-8046.

09/28/13 8:00am
09/28/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Glenn Townsend operates out of the Red Barn.

I set out to write about my vision for Wading River’s historic hamlet center, believing it has the potential to become the “hippie capital” of Long Island’s North Shore. I figured the owner of BarnStock Trading Post and Woodstock Home Improvement — right in the heart of the district — could help me in those efforts.

And I finally had Glenn Townsend on the phone.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

“The historic district reminds me a lot of those artsy, upstate towns, like New Paltz. It’s got the old barns and old buildings, and hills. Unlike many other Long Island downtown areas,” I said, hoping he would say that’s why he came here.

But Mr. Townsend has never been to New Paltz, I learned. He’s from Ohio.

“Well, I just ask because, some of those areas upstate have adopted the whole, y’know, hippie culture — excuse the term,” I continued. “Do you think that could be what attracted you to the area?”

He said simply that the presence of Bob Dylan probably had a lot to do with the culture up there.

“What type of items do you sell in your store, BarnStock?”

“Well,” he said. “Basically, I’ve got a lot of classical rock and roll music.”

Then he let it slip — reluctantly, but with pride in his voice — that he’d been one of the 500,000 people who had actually attended the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, N.Y., in 1969.

I congratulated him on not being an impostor, given his businesses’ namesakes.

“So … would you call yourself a hippie?”

“As they say, I’m a licensed contractor,” he said, dodging the question.

I figured Glenn Townsend has had enough of labels in his lifetime. I wouldn’t push it anymore.

What I did learn about Mr. Townsend, who operates out of the landmark Red Barn building, is that he’s also one of a few people trying to bring life back to an area that’s been suffering from a general lack of foot traffic recently. (Or, depending on your vantage point, maybe since the time of Woodstock.)

First, he’s been doing contracting work for his landlord, who owns the Red Barn and other properties, to help beautify the area.

He’s also been helping to run a weekend farm stand for the past couple months.

He even tried to plan a big farmer’s market in the hamlet center’s main parking lot, but hit a wall with Riverhead Town.

“If you want to do something like that, you have to have insurance and go through red tape as if you’re putting on a concert or something,” he said. “So unfortunately that didn’t fly.”

The smaller farm stand has been running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday, outside the Red Barn and overlooking the Duck Ponds.

“Basically, we’ve got a farm stand and a lady who does some cookies and some bakery things,” Mr. Townsend said. “Somebody that does crystal, dream-catcher things. There’s a knitting person.”

Mr. Townsend has been working with the owners of the neighboring Thrifts & Gifts store, as well as the Wading River Historical Society, he said.

“We’re just trying to revitalize,” he said. “If we can get enough artists or something to set up an art show in the fall. We’re all looking to promote the area.”

He may not have given me the hippie money-quotes I was looking for, but Mr. Townsend’s vision for the hamlet pretty much jibed with the one I was hoping to lay out. One way or the other, the area needs to become a mini mecca for small shops offering artisanal foods and crafts. That would likely require conversion of the mothballed mechanic’s garage on Sound Road into a horseshoe of small rental spaces and chasing away the inactive financial planning and accounting offices.

We also agreed that this asphalt-happy historic district needs more green space, with picnic tables and room to throw a Frisbee. Perhaps this could be achieved by clearing some space around the ponds, Mr. Townsend suggested — or if the parking lot was trimmed down. Certainly a few cars parked on the streets wouldn’t hurt; it could even help slow down traffic.

As much as he’s hoping to attract more craft-makers and artists to the area, Mr. Townsend also knows a couple of well-received eateries would be paramount to creating more of a buzz downtown. And, he assured me, things will be happening in the near future.

“Things are going to be on the upswing soon,” he said, hinting that there are people very interested in investing in the district while reminding me that he works for the area’s principal landlord.

He also believes people are yearning for that connection with the past, and with trees and nature — all offered in historic Wading River.

“As you well know, they’re trying to develop up on the hill, the main strip on 25A, and the people are up in arms,” Mr. Townsend said. “You can see what’s happening to Riverhead, everything is getting developed.

“As Joni Mitchell said, ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ ”

And they may just be chasing people back to historic Wading River.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

Follow him on Twitter at @mikewhite31