Tag Archives: St. Francis Prep

Fresh Meadows man stars on new reality show ‘Little Women: NY’

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos by Patrick Eccelsine

Jason Perez may be a little man, but he is representing the biggest borough on a new Lifetime reality show.

Perez, a 27-year-old Queens College student from Fresh Meadows, is starring on “Little Women: NY,” premiering Wednesday night.

Standing at 4 feet 4 inches tall, he is the only male cast member among seven little people whose lives are documented on the series, which takes a look at how the group of friends navigates the Big Apple.

lwny_gallery-jason_150112-pe-021“New York is one big city and we are little women…well, six little women and the one guy that can handle them,” the first episode starts.

“Little Women: NY” is a spin-off of the network’s hit reality show “Little Women: LA,” which just concluded its second season on March 18 and featured New York cast member Lila Call in several of its recent episodes.

A friend of “Little Women: LA” cast member and executive producer Terra Jolé, who is also an executive producer for the New York version, Perez was easily convinced to appear on the new show.

“I think it will be very enlightening, very educational. It will also take the stress of the day off,” he said, promising the one-hour program will bring as much reality show-style drama as its West Coast counterpart and a true look into the world of little people.

Born in Brooklyn to a close-knit Filipino family, Perez grew up in Ozone Park before moving to Fresh Meadows in 2000, where he attended St. Francis Prep.

Though he faced bullying because of his dwarfism and is the only little person in his family, he said his loved ones have always given him strength.

“They just took me as a regular person,” Perez said. His parents always told him to “cry but not for long” and to “just get up and keep moving.”

After high school, he earned a culinary arts degree and started working as a cook. But his childhood love for performing led him from the kitchen to a job as a singing server.

Today, he is studying political science and history at Queens College, but is still pursuing his passion for entertainment through performing, and voice, dance and acting lessons. He has even won several talent competitions, including at the MGM Grand Las Vegas and the Coney Island Talent Show, and has performed in Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular.

Perez is also hoping to entertain viewers on “Little Women: NY,” which he says will step it up a notch from its LA counterpart because of the challenges of fast-paced New York City, such as commuting on the subway, hailing cabs and traversing crowded streets.

Jason Perez with "Little Women: NY" co-stars Lila Call and Dawn Lang (Photo by Zach Dilgard)

Jason Perez with “Little Women: NY” co-stars Lila Call and Dawn Lang (Photo by Zach Dilgard)

“New York in itself is an animal and to survive you need to have skills,” Perez said.

The show will also look at some of Perez’s personal struggles — a sensitive issue he discusses with his conservative family while living at home and his difficulties in finding the right person to settle down with.

“We may be small but we have emotions like everyone else, we have ambitions like everyone,” he said. “Just because we look different doesn’t mean we are out of the loop.”

“Little Women: NY” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. 


Hundreds pay respect to legendary football coach Vince O’Connor

| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

As students, family and former players of Vince O’Connor flocked to St. Francis Prep for his funeral service on Thursday, they remembered the legendary football coach and devoted family man with messages of gratitude for all he had done for others in his life.

Several hundred mourners filled the school auditorium in Fresh Meadows where the funeral was held for O’Connor, who died on Feb. 14 at the age of 85, while still head coach of the St. Francis Prep football team, a post he held for 62 years.

“It’s no secret that coach was one of the biggest influences on me going into my career of coaching,” said Kyle Flood, who is the head coach of the Rutgers University football team. “Saying that someone lived their life like Vince O’Connor is probably the highest honor I could ever give to them.”

The funeral mass took place in St. Francis Preparatory School’s auditorium on Thursday morning. Eulogies said by Flood and O’Connor’s son, Martin, highlighted the life of a man who served both his immediate family and larger network of family that he gained from coaching at the school for 62 years.

Martin started the eulogy of his father with a scene most players remember from being on the field with the late coach. He had a yellow pad attached to a clipboard and blew a coach’s whistle and said, “Varsity line up!” just as his father would do.

He proceeded to take the crowd through the life of his father, not only as a coach but as a father and family man. Upon his ending remarks, the hundreds in attendance gave a standing ovation commemorating the life of O’Connor.

As the casket was being led out of the school, current football players and coaches lined the hallway and sang the St. Francis Terrier fight song as a final tribute for all O’Connor had done for the football program at the school.

Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Prep Facebook page

Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Prep Facebook page

During his storied career, O’Connor amassed more than 300 victories to be among the top two winningest football coaches in state history. His teams have won 16 CHSFL titles, including 14 at the highest level, and he has coached nine players who went on to the NFL.

But his greatest legacy may be the tight-knit community that he helped build around the school and his football program. With rare exceptions, all of his assistant coaches over the years have come from the ranks of his former players.

O’Connor, friends said, never intended to retire despite his age.

“I enjoy what I do. It’s as simple as that,” he said in a published report two years ago.

Under Coach O’Connor, the Terriers posted undefeated seasons in 1957, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1973 and 1983. In 1992, he was honored as National Coach of the year.

O’Connor was named New York’s Catholic High School Coach of the Year 20 times and has served as president of the CHSFL. He was selected in 2000 for the Frank McGuire Foundation Award, which recognizes high school coaches for their positive impact on students.


Beloved St. Francis Prep football coach Vince O’Connor dead at 85

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Prep Facebook page

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 17, 1:48 p.m.

Vince O’Connor, the legendary and beloved football coach at St. Francis Prep for more than six decades, died on Friday night. He was 85.

Sources close to O’Connor said he passed away at his daughter’s home in Floral Park.

News of O’Connor’s death came as a blow to students, colleagues and the thousands of alumni whose lives he touched during 62 years as football coach. He has been at the helm of the school’s football team since 1952 when St. Francis Prep was at North Sixth Street in Brooklyn.

Hundreds of people who knew O’Connor came out to show their respect at his wake on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the school is expecting a large crowd to be at the funeral, which will take place Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the school’s auditorium.

During his storied career, O’Connor amassed more than 300 victories to be among the top two winningest football coaches in state history. His teams have won 16 CHSFL titles, including 14 at the highest level, and he has coached nine players who went on to the NFL.

But his greatest legacy may be the tight-knit community that he helped build around the school and his football program. With rare exceptions, all of his assistant coaches over the years have come from the ranks of his former players.

O’Connor, friends said, never intended to retire despite his age.

“I enjoy what I do. It’s as simple as that,” he said in a published report two years ago.

Under Coach O’Connor, the Terriers posted undefeated seasons in 1957, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1973 and 1983. In 1992, he was honored as National Coach of the year.

O’Connor has been named New York’s Catholic High School Coach of the Year 20 times and he has served as president of the CHSFL. He was selected in 2000 for the Frank McGuire Foundation Award, which recognizes high school coaches for their positive impact on students.

He is survived by his wife Mary, his daughter Rose and her three children, Patrick, Connor and Dylan.


St. Francis Prep teen earns rare college sand volleyball scholarship

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Bogda family 

When you think of the best places to play beach volleyball, New York may not be the hottest choice on the list.

But that never stopped St. Francis Preparatory School volleyball player Stephanie Bogda from loving the game. Bogda, who plays both indoor and outdoor, was attracted to the sand version after watching some women in Long Beach play when she was 11. She would return occasionally to the beach to watch the players for two years and ask tips about the game, until eventually they asked her to play.

Now Bogda, 17, who has trained and competed for years in sand volleyball, earned a four-year scholarship with Division I University of New Orleans to play sand volleyball, despite the long odds, being from a state where the temperature gets to be near freezing for half of the year. She recently verbally committed to the school.

“We’re extremely proud of her because she had to overcome a lot,” said Bogda’s mother, Patricia. “She has had to sacrifice a lot while her friends were playing. She always had this goal and she would never let anything stop her.”


Beach volleyball, which has two players per team rather than six, has been on a wave of growth that stems from the Beijing Olympics, according to many published reports.

The NCAA added Division I sand volleyball to its list of varsity programs in 2011. Now, more than 40 NCAA four-year schools sponsor the sport, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Bogda continues to play indoor volleyball on travel teams and with St. Francis Prep. But during the summer she partakes in sand volleyball competitions in other states. She also has a rigorous daily training schedule that includes running, two-hour conditioning and personal mentoring from professional sand players, including Brazilian Priscilla Lima.

Besides volleyball, Bogda likes to draw and paint in her free time, so she believes she will major in art in at the University of New Orleans.

But of course she has her eyes set on becoming a professional volleyball player and perhaps playing in a future Olympics.

With a year remaining before college games begin, Bogda plans to work harder than ever to prove when she steps in the sand in New Orleans that she belongs there.

“I’m going to spend a lot of this year on the beach,” Bogda said. “People say ‘oh you’re committed, you can relax now.’ Absolutely not. I need to be ready for college.”



Sports Star: Theodore Gallucci, forward, St. Francis Prep, hockey team

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Name: Theodore Gallucci
School: St. Francis Preparatory School
Grade: Senior
Sport: Hockey
Position: Forward/ Center

Theodore Gallucci is a senior forward on the St. Francis Preparatory High School hockey team. Gallucci has helped the team to a 3-1 record, as of Jan. 6. He scored a goal in the team’s most recent game against Xaverian, on Dec. 27, helping his team to win, 4-3. While being a productive member of the team, Gallucci maintains a 92 percent academic average and has been an active member of the school’s Model United Nations organization since his sophomore year. The organization holds conferences to talk about real issues with foreign countries and allows students to meet with other schools’ Model UN groups. Gallucci also knows American Sign Language, which he uses to communicate with his grandparents, who are deaf. Gallucci has already been accepted to Iona College, but has not decided where he will enroll.

Why do you play hockey?
“I had been playing roller hockey for about 11 or 12 years. Right before high school my mom encouraged me to play ice hockey. I ended up making the team and I wasn’t that good, but worked hard. I chose hockey over other sports because it appealed to me.”

If you couldn’t play hockey in the future, what would you do?
“If I couldn’t do hockey I would try to be involved in something else, maybe crew (rowing) or anything that involves a team. It gives you a chance to bond with people. It’s fun and it’s good to see your team succeed.”

What is your favorite class?
“I enjoy a lot of things. I like AP European History and CAD (Computer Aided Design) class. It’s a lot of architecture and design. You have a lot of options and you can get creative with it.”

What did you learn from being on the Model UN?
“It brought me out of my shell. I used to be a shy person, and being in the Model UN I am more comfortable speaking around people. I also learned how to research things better.”

Is it hard to balance both Model UN and hockey?
“I play hockey at least twice a week and I have a meeting with model UN once a week. It gets tight sometimes.”

Follow on Twitter @liamlaguerre




St. Francis Prep gymnastics team aiming to continue championship dominance

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of St. Francis Preparatory School

The St. Francis Preparatory School gymnastics team has become a powerhouse.

On Friday, October 25, the team swept all events at the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) championships to win its third consecutive title. Junior Khayla Martinez and senior Nicole Donini led the team and finished first and second in the individual showcase. Senior Madison Kolnsberg won first place in the individual junior varsity championship, as well.

“I’m extremely proud,” head coach Kamla Modi said. “It’s a very good feeling, not just to win, but to see their hard work pay off.”

The last time the Terriers’ won the title, before the current championship streak, was in 1994.

Modi credits their recent success to many players’ out of season training in private gyms. This helps the players to improve consistantly throughout the year, rather than just training at St. Francis, during the short gymnastics season.

Top gymnast Martinez has been training in gyms since she was very young. Coincidentally, Modi, herself remembers training in the same gym as Martinez, who was only four-years-old at the time.

“Now I’m coaching her at the high school level,” Modi said. “It’s great just to see her grow from a little girl, bouncing around the gym to a fanatic gymnast.”

Martinez has won the individual championships two years in a row and Modi is confident she’ll win the title again next year. Also, with just four of the 17 team members graduating this year, most of the championship team will be back for the 2014 season.

Modi said most of the girls have returned to their gym outside to train for that fourth consecutive crown.

“After year three we have to keep it going,” Modi said. “As long as we are the best, we can’t fall short.”



Football legend Vince Lombardi honored at alma mater St. Francis Prep

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

St. Francis Preparatory School senior Kevin Brown had trouble choosing his high school years ago, but he had one requirement: it had to have a football team.

His mother chose St. Francis and when he first joined the Terriers, one thing he’ll never forget the coaching staff told him is that legendary pro football head coach Vince Lombardi was also a student there.

“I was surprised,” Brown said. “I thought they were playing with me.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the late Lombardi in a ceremony at his alma mater on Wednesday as part of the Hometown Hall of Famers program, which is sponsored by Allstate.

“It opened up my eyes to see that I’m really part of something that’s so big,” Brown said of the ceremony to honor the football great.

Lombardi, a former Green Bay Packer head coach, maybe a Wisconsin icon, but he got his football start right here in New York City. He first played organized football on the St. Francis Prep football team.

Lombardi’s grandson, John, who accepted a plaque on behalf of the family, said his grandfather realized he wanted to dedicate his life to football because of his experience at St. Francis.

The family decided to donate the plaque to the school to help motivate current students to strive for success in whatever career they choose.

“I think [my grandfather] is just an example of someone who had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish and went after it with every ounce of what he had and that’s the lesson,” John said.

After Lombardi graduated St. Francis in 1933, he went to play football at Fordham University in the Bronx.

Lombardi is attributed for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” and he certainly knew how to win. He led the Green Bay Packers to three straight and five total league championships, including the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967.

Lombardi was entered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy, the award for the winning team in the Super Bowl, is named in his honor.

Rutgers University head football coach Kyle Flood, who is also a St. Francis graduate, praised Lombardi for his contributions to pro football.

“I don’t know that there’s any coach that doesn’t strive to do what Vince Lombardi was,” Flood said. “It’s an honor to call him one of our own.”



Vince Lombardi to be honored at alma mater St. Francis Prep

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will recognize the late Vince Lombardi in a special ceremony at St. Francis Preparatory School on Wednesday, October 2.

A plaque honoring Lombardi will be presented at the school, where it will be permanently placed, as a part of the Hometown Hall of Famers program. Lombardi’s grandson, John, will accept the plaque on behalf of the Lombardi family.

The football legend attended St. Francis Prep and played on the football team until he graduated in 1933.

Lombardi is attributed for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” and he certainly knew how to win.

He is best known as the head coach who led the Green Bay Packers pro football team to three straight and five total league championships, including the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967.

The NFL’s Lombardi Trophy, the award for the winning team in the Super Bowl, is named in his honor. Lombardi was entered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.



St. Francis Prep goes for first baseball championship since 2007

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


With a strong starting rotation and a solid bullpen, St. Francis Prep is eyeing its first baseball championship since 2007.

Senior captain Nick LoPrinzi has been a major asset to the Terriers. LoPrinzi, a four-year varsity standout, has played behind the plate, on the mound and at first base in his young career.

This season he is focusing on catching and calling a competitive game for star pitchers Taso Stathopolous and Dylan Lawrence.

LoPrinzi will attend Saint Joseph’s College in Brooklyn next year, where he has a chance to start as a freshman. For now, he is focused on bringing a championship home to Fresh Meadows.

“I think we have gotten better and better every year and we built a team this year that can win a championship,” LoPrinzi said.

While the players are confident in their team, they will need to stay healthy and remain consistent throughout the season.

Pitching and defense have been steady, but the offense has been the backbone of the team.

“If we hit, in my opinion, no one can stop us,” LoPrinzi said. “This is definitely the best team I’ve played on [during] my years at Prep.”




Middle Village teen receives congressional, state commendations for science achievements

| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The only Queens teen to make the semifinals in a prestigious national science competition has a few more honors to place on her mantel.

Aishvarya Arora, 17, a senior at St. Francis Prep, was given commendations from the U.S. Congress, State Senate and Assembly on Friday, February 8 for making it to the second to last cut in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search.

The Middle Village student was named one of 300 semifinalists, whittled down from 1,700 of the country’s brightest high school seniors, last month.

She did not advance to the final round, but her 23-page research paper on teenage body dysmorphic disorder — a psychological malady in which a person becomes obsessed about perceived or imagined flaws in appearance — landed her $1,000 and recognition from her state and country.

“[Aishvarya] is an exceptional student who through hard work and determination received [this] extraordinary honor,” said Congressmember Grace Meng. “I am extremely proud of her.”

State Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Joseph Addabbo, and Assemblymembers Nily Rozic and Andrew Hevesi, also bestowed honors upon the budding young scientist.



Middle Village teen makes Intel Science Talent Search semifinals

| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy the New York Daily News

A Middle Village brainiac has brought bragging rights to the borough as the only Queens kid to make the semifinals in a prestigious national science competition.

Aishvarya Arora, 17, a senior at St. Francis Prep, made the second to last cut in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search, joining 300 of the country’s brightest high school seniors.

She did not advance to the finals, but the budding young scientist took home $1,000 and a coveted honor for her school.

“I’m extremely excited and very grateful,” said Arora, who spent two years developing an original research project on teenage body dysmorphic disorder, a psychological malady in which a person becomes obsessed about perceived or imagined flaws in appearance.

“I’ve had teachers stay after school and come in on weekends to work with me on this,” she said. “To be able to have all of their work and my work come into fruition means so much. They believed in me, and it wasn’t for nothing.”

Arora’s 23-page study found teenagers with the disorder show the same social cues as adults who suffer from the mental illness. After creating a 10-page survey, polling 120 students at school and analyzing data, she discovered both age groups perceive defects in their body images.

“It’s a pretty big deal now that we know this symptom is consistent with teens and adults,” the aspiring psychologist said.

Arora, who attends Prep on a full scholarship, has her eyes set on attending Wellesley College, Brown University or Vassar College, where she will double major in psychology and English.

“I’m on my way, which is exciting,” she said.

Prep has produced semifinalists for the past 15 years, but never a finalist, said science department chair Mary Ann Spicijaric.

“I think she did such a great job. The level of competition is so intense,” Spicijaric said. “To be one of 300 is still pretty, pretty good. We’re so proud of her.”

Jim Boylan, Arora’s science research advisor, touted the teen as the perfect student.

“To be able to watch her evolve and grow over the past four years has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced in my whole life,” he said. “There’s no one that’s more deserving than her.”

The contest’s 40 finalists, cut down from 1,700 entrants, will go on to vie for the top award of $100,000.



Prep teams eye championships

| ncarousso@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Neil A. Carousso

This fall sports season, the Saint Francis Prep Terriers have dominated on the gridiron, volleyball court and in gymnastics — going a combined 22-0.

The Terriers football team is 6-0 in Catholic High School Football League (CHSFL) competition after their 35-14 victory last Saturday night, October 20, in Brooklyn against the Bishop Ford Falcons. The Lady Terriers volleyball team is undefeated as well, beating the Archbishop Molloy Stanners in all three meetings, each one in a three set sweep. The Terriers gymnastics team has blown away their competition in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA), winning all six meets this season.

Senior captain quarterback Jack Hurley

The Terriers football team has one regular season game remaining against Saint Peter’s Eagles on Saturday, October 27, before the CHSFL playoffs begin. The program is making a comeback after two poor years in the CHSFL “AAA” division in 2009-2010, before taking a step down to the “AA” division last season and losing in the CHSFL “A” championship game against Bishop Ford. Senior captain and starting quarterback Jack Hurley has remained poised and focused on each game. Hurley’s approach has resonated with his teammates as they embark on their “road to the title.” “It’s so important [to go deep in the CHSFL playoffs]; we want to bring Prep football back,” Hurley said.

The Terriers are confident that they can come away with a championship this season.

“We believe we can go all the way, but we are going to have to work extremely hard everyday in practice,” Hurley said.

On the volleyball court, the Lady Terriers have dominated the last half decade, winning five straight Brooklyn/Queens Division I titles. Four of the last five seasons the Lady Terriers finished the regular seasons. This season the Lady Terriers are seeking another city championship as well as a state title.

“This might be our sixth [straight] title, but we’re not going into [the playoffs] expecting to win. We play each game one at a time,” said senior captain Kelly Flynn.

The Saint Francis girls’ volleyball team has beaten their rival, the Molloy Stanners, but remain humble — in the playoffs anything can happen. “Molloy is a really solid team, there’s no doubt about that, and they play strong each time they play against us. They’re out to get us, as every team

Senior Captain Kelly Flynn

is, but with the way we play, and the players we have, we’re going into the postseason with the drive and intensity to win and show them who we are,” said Flynn, a prospective Division I collegiate athlete.

The Saint Francis Prep gymnastics team is seeking a third straight CHSAA title. They have thrived this season against the Holy Trinity Titans, Kellenberg Firebirds and Saint John the Baptist Cougars. The experienced Terriers are controlling their excitement about the CHSAA Championships, which will be at Prep on Saturday, October 27 at noon.

“After performing at six meets, the mindset of the team is to give it our all, but most importantly have fun. At championships, it’s individual, so we need to still work hard and be very focused, if each one of us wants it and I know we do,” said senior captain Marisa Marden. “This year was great and I’ll remember it the most. We are a family and I’ll miss it so much. We worked hard, but it was fun and successful.”

Saint Francis Prep athletics is flourishing this fall season with football, ladies volleyball and gymnastics all seeking championships. Focus, poise, dedication and work ethic were strengths among these three teams during the regular season, and these attributes will need to be carried over to the postseason if the teams want to bring championship hardware home to Prep.

SFP beats Xavier in overtime

| ncarousso@queenscourier.com

After beating the Xavier Knights 41-35 in overtime at Hofstra University in Hempstead on Saturday night, October 6, the Saint Francis Prep Terriers are 4-1 overall and 4-0 in Catholic High School Football League (CHSFL) competition.

Their lone loss was against Washingtonville High School, from Kingston, New York, in week one.

One of the Terriers’ strong suits — their running game — struggled to get going in the first half, forcing the team to open up the offense and mix in more passing plays.

As the game wore on, the offensive line began opening holes for the backfield duo of junior halfback Justin Guerre and senior back Kadir Wisdom. With 5:26 left in regulation, Wisdom recorded a 60-yard run with the help of strong blocking up front. The drive was completed with a Guerre 3-yard touchdown run tying the game at 27.

On the other side of the ball, the Terriers struggled to slow Knights junior running back William Solomon, who ran for more than 250 yards for the second consecutive game.

In the fourth quarter, both teams had opportunities on offense, but the game came down to defense. A deflection by senior Ramel Joseph, who ran from one sideline to the other to break up a pass and a likely score, and an interception by Guerre, who hadn’t played defense his entire high school career, helped keep the Terriers in the game.

The interception by Guerre put the Terriers back on offense and Guerre was the beneficiary. Senior quarterback Jack Hurley, who threw for 213 yards, delivered a long, accurate pass down the sideline to Guerre for a 64-yard touchdown with 1:51 to go in regulation. The Terriers then tied it with a 2-point conversion strike from Hurley to Joseph.

In overtime, a Hurley to Wisdom 20-yard touchdown and a defensive stop sealed the Prep victory against Xavier.

The game was the difference between a 3-2 team and a 4-1 team – a very big difference in October in the CHSFL.

“It is so surreal [being 4-0 in the league and beating Xavier Saturday night], but we know that we have a lot of work to do and we are not trying to lose any games this year [in the league],” Wisdom noted before Monday afternoon’s practice.

They play their homecoming game Friday, October 12 at 7 p.m. at Mitchell Field in Uniondale against the Cardinal Spellman Pilots.

SFP’s gymnastic team maintains balance as they look toward another championship

| ncarousso@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Shay Bendeck

The Saint Francis Prep Terriers gymnastics team — the reigning Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) champions — won their first two meets of the season against the Kellenberg Firebirds and the Holy Trinity Titans last week.

Each gymnast has their strengths on the four apparatuses they compete on: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and the floor routine. Head Coach Kamla Modi strategizes the Terriers’ event lineup according to many factors including the competition as well as her gymnasts’ strengths and capabilities, which vary by day due to common injuries in the sport.

Two days after defeating Kellenberg 164.5-157.9 on October 2, the Terriers beat Holy Trinity 166.55-152.35 on Thursday, October 4. Led by sophomore Khayla Martinez-Reyes, junior Veronica Cusack and seniors Jennifer Nicola, Alexis Holuka and captain Marisa Marden, the Terriers were productive on each apparatus.

Martinez-Reyes, who will represent the Terriers individually at the championships, held at The Prep this year on Saturday, October 27, performed beautifully on each apparatus, notably the uneven bars and the vault.

“Since I was four [years old] I just loved doing crazy flips and moves – just natural to me,” Martinez-Reyes said.

Cusack performed an admirable beam routine and capped off her night with a flawless floor routine.

“It’s pretty difficult,” Cusack said of the beam routine. “Most of it is staying focused on what you have to do and not psyching yourself out.”

The floor routine’s difficulty is the choreography and mixing dance moves with gymnastic elements. Cusack explained her process for the floor routine, “I first listen to the music and then see what kind of dances I can do with it and any type of style that would go with the tango.”

Cusack chose tango music this season. Each gymnast picks out her own music for her floor routine.

Holuka also had a sound floor routine, following a difficult beam.

“I did get hurt during [the beam], but I pulled through and did what I did,” said an enthusiastic Holuka. She explained that she got an “adrenaline rush” after her beam routine leading into her floor routine.

The close-knit team looks to the captain, Marden, for advice.

After the meet on October 4, Marden said, “Today I told them: don’t give up, don’t slack, we still need to work hard.”

The Terriers have a total of six meets, competing against three different teams this season before the championships, where each team in the CHSAA competes in team and individual events.

“I think we have a good chance of winning championships again this year, so I am very excited,” Marden said.

Wise beyond his years

| MKirk@queenscourier.com


Salvatore “Sal” Cocchiaro is a machine.

The 17-year-old senior at St. Francis Preparatory School (SFP) has taken eight Advanced Placement courses throughout his high school career, putting him at least a full semester ahead of the game before he even gets to college.

The Bayside resident also has more honor society memberships than most. He has two part-time jobs and several volunteer gigs. He is currently studying childhood obesity as part of the Science Research Program in his school in hopes of finding new ways to combat the global epidemic. He’s also at the top of his class, so not only does he have the time to do it all, but the skill to pull it off expertly.

He has a schedule that rivals people far older than him, and yet somehow he still finds time for video games, pickup football, movie nights, Mets games and hangouts with his friends.

Cocchiaro said his academic prowess comes naturally. For him, however, maintaining that excellence comes from being well rounded. He places just as much significance on achieving peace of mind through relaxation.

“I refuse to go to bed feeling upset by my homework,” he said, adding that even if his studies keep him up until 2 a.m., he always makes time for a half-hour of television or videogames afterward in order to unwind.

“It’s important to take care of myself as much as my studies.”

He also said remaining social was an important aspect to this balance.

“I’d rather stay up late and finish homework [on weeknights] and be able to go out on weekends. People so often neglect themselves for their work, and that’s never a good thing. By exercising, keeping myself satisfied and enjoying my days as much as possible, the work isn’t a burden. I allow myself to take in all in stride.”

When Cocchiaro speaks of his activities, he does so with excitement and pride.

Cocchiaro’s scholastic abilities shone throughout his early childhood as well, even garnering him acceptance to Manhattan’s esteemed Regis High School. After careful consideration, he ended up turning it down.

“I love Prep,” he said simply. “All my friends are here, my family’s here. I really found a balance between my academic, social and physical life.”

On the weekends, Cocchiaro works as a sales associate at FYE in The Bay Terrace shopping center and as a captain and waiter with his father at Riccardo’s By the Bridge.

Like school, he appreciates his part-time jobs for the learning experiences they provide. Being a captain at Riccardo’s, he said, allows him to lead, while FYE teaches him to be a team player.

“It’s good to lead and take orders,” he said, “because you’re never going to be a big shot 100 percent of the time. There will always be someone above you and there will always be someone beside you.”

As for the future, Cocchiaro said he wants to study English and economics at college. He would eventually like to pursue a career in sports management, a passion he currently nurtures through his adoration of the Mets and the Jets, along with participating in the Fantasy Sports Club at school, which he founded two years ago.

Vassar College, Fordham University, Princeton and Columbia are all at the top of his college list, he said, adding, “In life, the key is to never give up in what you believe. I would rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t tried to do. In life, you get what you give. I’ll make who I am by myself.”