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

08/16/13 12:00pm
08/16/2013 12:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside

FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside is the most diverse school in Riverhead.

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction on an uncertain future.

State officials are going to have to backtrack mightily on the Common Core State Standards now being used in public schools to, supposedly, better prepare all American children for college and “21st-century employment.” It’s going to be quite a drastic reversal and, for many outspoken officials, an embarrassment. But like the Department of Transportation having to count a certain number of fatalities at an intersection before erecting a stoplight, there will have to be victims first.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

And those victims will likely be the poorest among us.

Consider that many children in poverty-stricken areas will still be living in single-parent or no-parent households in our new, Common Core world. They still won’t be eating or sleeping properly. They won’t be getting proper medical attention for physical or emotional issues that interfere with school. They won’t be getting help with homework, or even having their homework checked at home. In fact, extra attention for such students will be increasingly funneled away from them, as the focus shifts to teaching to the Common Core assessments.

For these kids, school’s simply getting harder, with no significant amount of funding set aside to provide them better access to school supplies, computers and internet access, or any plans to expand the school day or school year or bulk up after-school enrichment programs. With higher test failure rates, there’s also sure to be a huge spike in students in need of additional support through mandated programs such as academic intervention services. Where does that money come from?

State officials keep arguing that we must adopt Common Core because America’s education system lags behind those of other industrialized nations. But they never acknowledge that much of the disparity is accounted for by the performance of students in poor and non-English-speaking immigrant communities, which aren’t as prevalent in more homogeneous nations like Finland and South Korea.

While the performance of top-scoring students may improve under the more vigorous Common Core standards — they and their parents and tutors are up to the challenge! — students in many poor and working-class households will see scores dip. Eventually, as these children grow increasingly frustrated with school, dropout rates will rise. This will lead to higher unemployment and incarceration rates, prolonged cycles of generational poverty and a widening disparity between rich and poor.

Let’s use some common sense to break this down.

Trust that most kids from Long Island’s Jericho, Syosset and Commack school districts, for example, will be fine in college — no matter how they perform under the Common Core. And many of them will be just fine after college, too, no matter how they perform in college. This is thanks to engaged parents — and many of those parents’ connections to people already established in their child’s career field of choice.

The aforementioned districts and others like them will likely see their state assessment scores rise across the board, though without much real-world benefit — other than maybe having graduates attend marginally better colleges.

In the economically diverse Riverhead School District, the state has revealed that for the 2012-13 year, 74.7 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard, and 73.8 percent failed to meet the ELA standard.

Those numbers will change very little moving forward (at least not after some initial curriculum adjustments). Here’s why. In Riverhead, scores will increase somewhat for wealthier students but will fall at about the same rate, with potentially disastrous results, for those who don’t have the same support systems at home. Those in the middle will break one way or the other.

When these disparate results between wealthier districts and the rest of the state become apparent — especially in New York City — the backtracking on these numbers-driven policies will begin.

Yes, it’s my prediction Common Core will be reversed. But it’s also my hope. My fear is that so much money will be tied up in pricey books, testing materials and other increasingly entrenched funding sources for this initiative that the politicians and policymakers won’t ever budge.

Meanwhile, our teachers will remain handcuffed and will continue teaching to tests, and more and more students who lack either a natural aptitude for learning or parental support will disengage from the classroom and the educational process in general.

Eventually, we’ll be wondering how we slipped even further behind Finland and South Korea.

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 786-5708 or mwhite@timesreview.com.

08/10/13 10:00am
08/10/2013 10:00 AM

The first time I wrote an obituary was Feb. 27, 2012. It was for my mother-in-law, who had died the day before. She was a wonderful person whose life was cut short by a terrible disease. It was the hardest piece I’ve ever written.

My husband’s family designated me as the writer at the funeral home, mostly because I worked at the local paper. I had never written anything using Associated Press style, and was a distraught family member. Did I include how much she loved her husband? Did I include how much she loved her sons and her grandsons? Do I mention how much she loved all of us — even those who came by luck and not by blood?

LAURA HUBER

Each time I read the obituary, I cried. I cried when I called my coworker. I kept saying, “We thought we had more time.”

This was about a year before it became my job to write obituaries for this newspaper. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Closer,” you’ve heard Jude Law’s character discuss his job as an obituary writer, stoically, in a British accent, and then discuss the euphemisms they use to reflect alternative lifestyles.

When people find out I write obituaries, they ask me if it’s depressing. I usually tell them I balance it out with weddings and births, but that’s not true. I see many, many more obituaries than I do weddings or births, thanks to social media.

But I don’t really find obituaries depressing. They’ve taught me some important lessons about my own life, and given me some healthy advice, which I will now pass along.

Write your own obituary now

I have met with best friends, life partners and grieving family members. Some know every intimate details about the life of the person they’re telling me about. Some don’t know much at all. Each of us has a different part of our life story.

For me, my parents have the beginning piece; my husband, family and friends can fill in; and my children and, hopefully grandchildren, will have the later chapters.

Each person would tell a very different story. Nobody will tell my story the way I want it. They’ll all be grieving. They’ll be trying to remember the meals I made, the hugs I gave them and the way I made them laugh. They don’t need a stranger asking them what my mother’s maiden name was.

If I write it now, they can celebrate, remember, cry and fill in the new details. I’ll update it from time to time, put it in a place where everyone can find it, and won’t have to worry about anyone spelling Catrow with a K.

Live a life worth writing about

I’ve written and read about people who sailed around the world, served in wars, taught children to read or took care of their grandchildren.

Whatever you do, do it with passion and love. Don’t care if anyone else thinks you’re crazy. If you love to write, start a blog. If you love music, play it loudly. If you love car racing, get on the track. You are more than the desk you sit behind or the children you birthed. Live passionately, at least a little bit, every day. Love what you do and who you are.

Have empathy for the grieving

Everyone grieves differently. When I talk to a woman who can’t find her purse because her son just died, I listen. When I speak with a woman who is angry with the coroner’s office, I listen. Sometimes, I get off the phone, I take a deep breath, wipe my eyes and move on to the next obituary. I have to.

My heart breaks for these people, and their loss. Each one of the living has a story and a connection, the same way each obituary tells a story.

Live each day as if it’s your last

I’ve written obituaries for infants, teenagers, people my age, people in their 90s. Each day is a gift, and the next one may not be there. However you live, live life as though it may not be there the next day.

Take time to hug your children and tell them you love them. Don’t hold grudges with family or friends. Hug your parents, even when they drive you crazy. Someday, they won’t be here.

After I hang up the phone with families, I hope that I have helped each person in a small way. I’m just a tiny piece of the puzzle, but I’m really lucky to learn about so many different lives and people.

We all have stories, and I’m privileged to tell them.

Ms. Huber is an editorial assistant with Times/Review Newsgroup. She can be reached at lhuber@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 250.

06/29/13 9:00am
06/29/2013 9:00 AM

My eyes lit up when the doctor gave us a canvas bag full of goodies at the end of our first appointment.

Surely, somewhere beneath all the samples of vitamins and other baby products would be the book I’d waited for my whole life. You know, the one that tells you everything you’ll need to know as a dad. When I was a kid I always marveled at how my pops seemed to have an answer for everything. It wasn’t until I got a little older and wiser that I realized he’d just been making things up as he went along, and he was correct only about 3 percent of the time.

Now, it’s going to be my turn to have all the answers. The Mrs. got through the first trimester this week and, if the calculations are correct, I’ll be a dad for the first time come New Year’s Eve. (This is the moment when, if we were speaking face-to-face, you’d make a comment about a tax deduction.)

Since we found out the news, I’ve found myself asking, “Am I ready to be a dad?”

I’ve used this column space many times to write about how I don’t really know how to do anything; how I have no man skills. If something needs fixing I call a handyman. And when it comes to working in the yard, my thumb is far from green, the color of my pool the one summer I tried to maintain it myself. A few months back, my father-in-law asked me a question about my car’s radiator. When I froze, he said, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t know how to write a newspaper article.”

It’s safe to say I’m not a so-called man’s man. I’m more like a boy’s man, still holding out hope of one day being a man’s man, which is why I was disappointed there was no dad manual in the doctor’s goodie bag.

Surely, at one of the 11 remaining U.S. bookstores, there’s that perfect book: the one that teaches you how to change a diaper with one hand while hanging a shelf with the other. I’d imagine that book would also dedicate an entire chapter on how to beat your son at various backyard games while simultaneously grilling a steak and drinking a can of cheap beer.

Just like everyone before us, the Mrs. and I find ourselves talking about the baby 99.4 percent of the time these days.

After every meal we talk about how the baby must have loved what we just ate and then we discuss how the baby will enjoy every little thing we perceive as cool. If this baby is anything less than tall, dark and beautiful with Carl Lewis’ speed and an encyclopedic knowledge of independent cinema, it will have failed to live up to the early hype.

The baby talk even extends to our conversations with others. “Yeah, that was a great game, dude. The baby would have loved that game.”

Of course, the good thing about us always talking about our little North — didn’t we come up with the coolest name? No one else will ever think of that — is all the productive talks we’ve had with folks who have been down this road before.

The advice has been tremendously helpful, especially from the friends who told us to never listen to anyone’s advice. I think that carefree style is the attitude we need to adopt. There shall be no more stressing over which type of diapers to use or what to do when the baby’s crying. The nursery will get painted, the crib will be assembled — likely by someone else — and the kid will grow up loved.

There’s still six months to go and I’m refusing to spend the rest of this time worried. I’m confident that when the time comes I’ll have enough of the answers at my fingertips.

What will happen when I don’t know what to do? Like my old man before me, I’ll just make something up.

gparpan@timesreview.com

06/01/13 7:00am
06/01/2013 7:00 AM

Loading up the Times/Review van.

As someone who grew up around newspapers, I was always fascinated by how they’d get to your doorstep each day.

I can remember as a young kid watching with wonder as my father — who was a graphic artist at Newsday — would draw an ad from scratch with his hand. The next morning, I’d flip the pages until I found his work in the paper.

I’d love to watch the presses run whenever the old man would take me to work with him. And as we’d walk the hallways, I’d stare at all the strangers we’d pass and wonder what role they played in the daily miracle, how they did it and why.

My fascination with how it all works hasn’t exactly declined over the years. In fact, as we keep our websites constantly moving seven days a week, on top of producing weekly newspapers here at Times/Review, I’m more amazed than ever before.

Our staff roster lists 57 employees, including more than 40 residents of the three towns we cover, each of whom plays a unique role in making sure our stories and ads get produced, packaged and delivered accurately and on time.

As executive editor, I meet several times a month with the managers of the other key areas of our company — sales and marketing, production and business — to discuss ongoing projects and to plan for the future. In these meetings, I constantly hear stories of how one of our staffers went above and beyond to make sure our product, a labor of love for all of us, was produced with the utmost quality.

Even though our circulation manager, Melanie Drozd, a Riverhead High School graduate and resident of Wading River, is here at 8:30 every morning to perform her regular duties, she often gets stuck driving our delivery truck. I rode shotgun on a recent Wednesday night to see how she does it.

It’s a grind. She drives to the printing plant in Shirley, loads the pallets onto the truck and drives for several hours, stopping and going, until the papers are dropped at each and every store that sells them.

In the form of awards and others’ praise, my staff of reporters and editors usually gets a lot of the credit for the good work our company does. But when someone doesn’t agree with us, it’s usually Melanie and her circulation staff who have to handle the complaint.

As I drove the route with Melanie last month, I got a sense of why she does it. She loves Riverhead. It’s in her blood. It’s where she was born and raised, and where her parents and grandparents have lived and worked, too.

She had a story to tell about many of the places along the route. “My grandpa once owned this place,” she said. “I can remember coming here as a kid.”

Laura Huber, a Mattituck native who lives in Aquebogue, recently joined our editorial staff as an editorial assistant. Dollars to doughnuts she produced more words in this week’s paper than anyone else and her byline doesn’t appear. The obits, the calendar, many of the briefs — that’s her work.

Though she only recently moved to a desk in our newsroom, Laura has been a key cog in the Times/Review machine since she was first hired full-time in 2001. She previously held roles managing circulation and later social media for our company. Before all that, she was an unpaid intern here.

And while a dozen years sounds like an awful long time, it’s nowhere near the top of our seniority list here. Lauren Sisson of Mattituck and Tina Volinski of Greenport started working here in the 1980s. Tim Kelly of Cutchogue, Tim Gannon of Hampton Bays, Archer Brown of Shelter Island, Decia Fates of Greenport, Bob Liepa of Center Moriches and Barbaraellen Koch and Bert Vogel of Riverhead all began their careers here in the ’90s. (Bob Liepa has become such a known figure covering sports for us, I once witnessed the Mattituck crowd chanting his name at a championship basketball game.)

I’ve been with Times/Review since February 2006, and 25 of our employees have worked here longer than I have.

I can still recall the feeling of comfort and familiarity I felt driving to our former satellite office in Wading River, just two miles from the house where I grew up, for an interview before I was hired.

I’d imagine that feeling is similar to the one so many of my coworkers feel as they drive past the local vineyards, farm stands and boutiques on their way to our office in Mattituck.

Every now and then, when you slow down and look around, you can feel it. You’re home.

gparpan@timesreview.com

05/18/13 10:00am
05/18/2013 10:00 AM

With the state Legislature upping the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, and fast food workers agitating for a union, it brought to mind my own experience scuffling at low-paying jobs — and the three union cards I carried. I’ve seen unions from three distinct angles: the weird, the great and the awful.

But first, some thoughts on why some people think unionizing a KFC worker is strange or funny. These jobs are widely disparaged in American culture; someone “flipping burgers” is a figure of fun. (It’s the same as the widely used “trailer trash” description of people. Can there finally be a moratorium on that? Do people using that term ever think of the kid growing up in a trailer park, hearing herself and her family referred to as trash by someone on TV?)

And unions? They’re considered an anachronism at best, “job killers” at worst — that is, except to those union members who have a job and make living wages. The left and the right both complain about how the middle class has been squeezed and shrunk over the last several decades, and both political wings have their reasons for this.

One argument for the stagnation of real wages — productivity grew 80 percent over the last decade while hourly wages grew only 10 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute — is that with the death of unionized labor, real money in the pocket has shrunk.

The union movement took off during the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, when the economy collapsed. Organization and collective bargaining thrived for several generations, contributing to one of history’s triumphs: the rapid and extensive expansion of the American middle class. In the 1950s, 50 percent of American workers held union cards. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11.3 percent of workers are unionized.

So, my three unions: As a high school kid I landed a full-time night job at a municipal golf course. My duties: Starting at 5 p.m., running an ancient, one-gear truck, following the final foursome around the 18 holes setting up sprinklers; moving the hoses after a couple of hours; driving around later and shutting them off and coiling them in the back of the truck.

I then went into watchman mode, although what I was watching for was never clearly spelled out. I did my duty by sprawling on a derelict couch in a shack in the woods off the 15th hole, listening to the radio and reading. By 1 o’clock I was done, racing to catch the last bus home.

I was paid peanuts, but it kept me out of the pool hall. The job improved immediately one midnight when a guy in a suit walked in. This was startling, since for a year I’d seen no one after that final foursome every evening. Was he who I should have been watching for? Before I could say anything, he introduced himself and called me “brother.” I was now a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Warehousemen of America. I was told a few dollars in dues would be taken out of my paycheck next week, handed a pamphlet and a card and got a handshake. Before I could ask a single question, my new union brother vanished.

The few dollars were removed from my check but more were added. I got an immediate 20 percent raise and wouldn’t laugh at Jimmy Hoffa jokes for years.

Did I deserve the raise? Asking the question defines you.

A few years later, at loose ends, I went to a state labor department office in Manhattan one morning. By that afternoon I was running an elevator at a five-story school on Central Park West. Soon I was a member of Local 32B of the New York Building Services Union.

The pay was all right, but the benefits, medical and dental, were better. Summers, when school was out, the doormen and elevator operators became maintenance men, and I painted classrooms and hallways, did pointing on the roof facade and was a plumber’s assistant. Walter Brown, our shop steward, kept telling me to pay attention, plumbers made way more than elevator jockeys. Did I listen to Walter? If I had, my address today would be Easy Street, Fat City.

My final union was the New York City taxi drivers union, where I paid dues for four years. The union and the industry as a whole have changed radically since those days. Back then the union was led by goons who were in bed with the big fleet owners. The general union meetings were chair-throwing parties — literally. If you went down to the hall on Park Avenue South to get some clarification on dues or rules, some union brothers named Sonny and Junior would be happy to clarify you right out into the parking lot.

But whenever I hear of people trying to organize, I remember the cabbies I shared long afternoons with at the fleet garages shaping up for work, and the Teamsters I came to know and especially Walter Brown, who truly believed in a union of bread and roses.

Ambrose Clancy is the editor of The Shelter Island Reporter. He can be reached at a.clancy@sireporter.com.

09/29/12 8:00am
09/29/2012 8:00 AM

I cringe every time I hear about one of these over-the-top Little League coaches getting arrested.

Not just because I’m upset for their families and the kids they coach, but also because I’m embarrassed for myself.

It was not that long ago that I, too, was a meathead youth sports coach.

Now let’s get a few things straight: I never followed a kid from the other team to his bus stop and sent photos along with a threatening text to his parents, as Robert Sanfilippo of Huntington is alleged to have done, charges that helped earn him national headlines and possible jail time.

No, my bad behavior was much more mild, but I definitely took things too seriously.

For the three years I coached youth softball — yes, girls ages 9 to 12. I kept meticulous stats, lost sleep at night over lineup decisions and even occasionally was tough on players.

And yes, there was even one time when a game I was managing had to be stopped briefly due to a war of words between yours truly and another coach.

I remember the details vividly (like I said, I used to lose sleep over this stuff).

My team was tied, 1-1, with our opponents, it was fairly late in the game and we were up at the plate. With a runner on first, one of my girls hit a single to left field. Coaching third base at the time, I began waving the runner on first to round second and head to third.

First to third on a single, nothing too aggressive about that base-running move, right? Except, I never stopped waving my arm.

When I looked out to see the left fielder catch the ground ball, I noticed she had no idea what to do. I could have been the nice guy and held my runners at first and third … but I didn’t.

When I saw the left fielder picking daisies with the ball in her mitt, I sent my base runner home with the go-ahead run. The other coach flipped.

In the past dozen years since it happened, I’ve always justified the move in my head as the right thing to do. My players, most every one of them, were prepared. They all knew where to throw the ball and to get it in quickly. They were also well aware of how to run the bases; when to hold, when to stop.

It wasn’t my fault the other coach’s team never practiced, I’d tell myself.

I told him that, too. He went bonkers and so did the left fielder’s mom, who started screaming expletives at me. The parents on my team fired back in my defense. Saturday morning youth softball suddenly sounded like Sunday night HBO.

The umpire, a kid who couldn’t have been a day older than 17, stopped the game. After 15 minutes of the coaches begging him to let us finish the final inning, he obliged. We won the pitcher’s duel, 2-1.

I was never proud of how I acted that day. While I’m still not convinced I did the wrong thing on the field, I certainly didn’t handle myself well after the action stopped.

I certainly hope the now infamous Mr. Sanfilippo isn’t trying to justify his recent actions. He was just plain wrong. Police said he went so far as to text the boy’s father that he’d “pick [the boy] at the bus stop for [the dad] next week” and he sent the dad pictures of the boy’s mom shopping.

The boy’s father told Newsday he didn’t recognize where the text messages were coming from at first.

“It was nerve-racking,” he told Newsday. “I couldn’t sleep. When he suddenly started mentioning my son by name, it just hit me that it was this guy.”

Police then showed up at Mr. Sanfilippo’s next game and arrested him. The Half Hollow Hills Little League has temporarily banned him from coaching and from their facilities, pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

The sad thing is that Mr. Sanfilippo isn’t the only youth coach going way too far.

Google the words “Little League coach arrested.” The first page of results turns up multiple stories of coaches molesting kids, a coach who urinated in the outfield during a game, a coach who got busted buying cocaine at a game and a coach arrested for an assault that took place during a game. Every single one of these incidents occurred in the past three years, including several that happened in the past few months.

The first search result was a story about Mr. Sanfilippo, the new poster boy for competitive youth coaches taking things way too far.

Youth sports are supposed to be fun. It’s all about encouraging our kids to be active and to teach them about the importance of teamwork.

It’s not about us.

A few years back, I was out covering a basketball game when I ran into the coach with whom I’d mixed it up a decade earlier. His two kids, who were excellent athletes, were now playing high school sports. We exchanged a few brief but friendly words and moved on.

A few months later I ran into him at a pub and when I went to pay my tab, the bartender told me it was taken care of. The other coach, who was at the opposite end of the bar, raised his glass to me.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He has a career winning percentage of .786 as a youth softball coach. He can be reached at gparpan@timereview.com or 631-354-8046.