Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Proud Resident of New Castle and CCSD

Photo By Larry Clark; Muscle by HGHS Varsity Football
Varsity Football players pushing cars on 117 on way home from game.
Link to other photos from Larry Clark

Below is an edited version of an email I sent to my fellow Board members and the administration late on Saturday night.  Turns out, that because of the power outage at the Ed Center, it did not go out until later.  I altered the letter for publication, to remove any personal references, and to make it more blog readable.  As 97.3% of it is unedited, you get the point.  I also apologize for the length and stream of consciousness style, but for anyone who knows me well or whose child has had me as a coach, you know I tend to rant and ramble in my emails.  And with special thanks to the parents on the New Castle Knights/Hornets+, I now try to give the important stuff in paragraph one (I'm Ok; the bull is dead.)  and the rest is the details.

Alyson, Randy, Vicky, Karen, Lyn, John, Eric, et al:
I am writing to tell you all how proud I am of the district and our community after watching some events unfold today.
First, at 9:00am, I watched our JV Football team beat, crush actually, Spring Valley on a cold, windy and begining to snow field here at HGHS.  The Varsity team was to play at Spring Valley at 1:30.  The team left for SV on two buses at 11:30ish.  I left at noon.  It was snowing hard when I left and the roads were trecherous.  Quite frankly, as a parent I was concerned about the buses crossing the Tappan Zee and heading deeper into the storm, but not wanting to be the paniced parent or the over protective one, I grinned and bore it.
Just past the Tap, hard to see, but by the side of the road was a Chappaqua Transportation bus.  I recognized the number 390 as one that had left with the football team.  (I am weird that way with bus numbers, license plates and other random numbers.  Weird in other ways too, but that is another email.)  It is slippery and slow going, but I manage to pull over about 20 yards in front of the bus.  I figure as a parent and BoE person I should check on the kids' well being.
It was hard to tell about the boys because they were not on the bus.  They had all immediately piled onto the other bus and continued on their way.  I found out later that the entire bus started smelling an odor and the driver determined the bus was overheating, contacted the other driver and they arranged to make the transfer.  I get back in my truck and continued to the field.
By this time, it is blizzard like conditions when we arrive at the field.  I talk to the bus driver who made it and he tells me that Joan is sending a mechanic and another bus.  I am a little amazed.  Sending the third bus to replace the broken one would be the proper thing to do most any day, but today, it sort of seemed like throwing good money after bad.  It was so hard going on the roads that I did not think it safe to have him drive.*
Anyway, I walk to the field and it is covered, really covered in about 4-5 inches of snow.  You cannot see the field at all.  The refs are up to their ankles in snow.  At this point, there were only two other people in the stands.  Of course they were Chappaqua parents!  If you know the football team and its fans, you knew that more would show too.  They did.
The whole thing is surreal.  The players are taking running slides in the snow having fun.  They decide that since we are there, we should play the game.  I think if they had had some foresight, they would have called it off early in the morning.  Of course, to top off the crazy scene, when they start the national anthem, I guess for all 5 of us in the stands and the two teams, it is James Marshall Hendrix (aka Jimi) playing the anthem on his heavily distorted guitar.
The game starts and it is what you would expect from a game played in a literal blizzard.  Neither team can move the ball, neither can punt it nor place kick it.  But boy do the boys look like they are enjoying themselves!  By now, an additional 10-15 Greeley parents (and brothers AJ and Koby!) have shown up.  Mostly the regulars who support the players regardless.  There were two SV parents there the entire time.
Since we decided to stand in front of the press box where there was an overhang and where we figured we could hear what the coaches were saying since we could not actually see the field if we looked left into the storm, we found out that a lot of the families in SV hail from the islands and there was no way they would be out in this.  Interestingly, both my sons told me that the other team's players were real nice, real funny and complaining about the cold the entire game. 
At half time the score was 0-0.  It was obvious that if any team found a way to score, it would likely be the winning score.  It took until midway through the fourth quarter, but we finally managed a touchdown!  The game ended 7-0 Greeley!!
But there was still the problem of getting home and doing it safely.  At that point we did not know the 2nd bus had arrived.  The few parents had already taken count and were prepared to take 3 or 4 players in their cars to get them home safely.  Normally, Coach T requires that the players all take the team bus to and from every game.  None of hopping a ride with mom or dad like they do in middle school.  Today, as we all gathered at the buses in the lot afterwards, Coach T, unhesitatedly made the announcement that parents could take their kids.  I guess it was sort of a reward for the families that traveled and supported the teams - if having a cold, wet and smelly football player in full pads in your car is a "reward". 
These boys were exhausted and COLD.  Most had on an Under Armour shirt of some sort and not much else besides their pads and uniform.  They were wet too!  The boys got on the buses with the parents and some support staff following behind caravan style.  Immediately, within a 1/4 mile of the lot, we were stuck in a mess of cars slipping and sliding. 
The drivers did an amazing job being cautious and persistent with the buses.*  It took about two hours to get to 117 in Pleasantville, normally a 30-35 minute ride.  But we were stuck once again on 117.  A lot of cars were sliding and spinning their wheels.  So what did our cold, wet and tired players do?  They got off the bus and started to help push cars out of the snow or to the side of the road. They saw a problem, and they presented and executed a solution.  Critical thinking in action!
Photo By Larry Clark
Muscle by Greeley Football team
I am quite sure that first, we should not have had those buses running at all today.  But the boys loved playing and I can tell you that they will all be talking about this game when they are our age.  There might be more like 2 feet of snow in the retell and the ride back will have taken 6 hours, but it was one for the ages.
I am also quite sure that letting kids off the bus on 117 is not something we normally would do. If we search long and hard enough for a policy, I am sure we can find one that prohibits it.  But, it was the right thing to do.  To see the boys, in their depleted state being part of the Chappaqua community was awesome.  The driver and the coaches who let them off the bus should be commended.  Being a good citizen sometimes means doing what is right, not what is written in the rule book.
When they finally did get to the high school, it was amazing to watch them all arrange rides and make sure that no one was left at the HS.  These are kids helping kids, no parents involved.  Football brothers not leaving anyone behind.  Maybe it is limited to the football team and is a testament to the coaches, but I would like to think that it is really a testament to the whole district and the staff.  When I go to games, all the staff know me and say hello.  I know they are watching out for the kids, even Joe's [Gramando] staff whose primary responsibility has nothing to do with the kids directly. 
Although I have really gotten to my point, I add the following addendum to the story.  If you have read this far already, I thank you as I know many of you, like me, have no power.  I am not trying to drain your cell batteries, just making a long winded point.
On the way home in my truck, not knowing the extent of the damage in Chappaqua I agreed to head to the high school before going home.  One of mine left this or that and claimed he really needed it.  Ok, let's go.  So I am heading down the big hill on Roaring Brook just before the light with about a 67% chance of making the turn and then being able to stop at the bottom when I am flagged down by a couple who appear to be in their late 60s or early 70s.  (I have no ability to judge or guess age anymore.)
I stop.  Their minivan is clearly in the wrong place and I see no hope of it getting in the right place by anything we or they could do.  They tell me that they called AAA who told them sorry, ain't happening tonight.  They then called 911 who pretty much blew them off too.  They were told to go to the Holiday Inn.  Sounds great, but these are two older folk, lost, without any way to do anything.
"Get in" I hear myself saying.  I tell them I will take them somewhere, not sure where just yet, but first I need to stop at the high school.  They get in and start telling us their tale.  Turns out they had a heavy accent and their english was not so good.  (I think they were speaking german, but it was all greek to me.)  After the high school I need to stop across the street so the boys can get something or other there too.  Now I leave this old couple in my truck as all of us go inside to figure out what to do with them.
I end up driving them to the police station.  The police officer on duty btw was not very nice nor very helpful, but I am sure he was having a long hard day.  He told me to drive them to the Holiday Inn.  I told him, no thanks and we are leaving them here in your capable hands to discuss the slogan, "To serve and protect".  The nice couple who told us all about their dog who got lime disease and died while we drove to town, tried to thank me by reaching into his pocket.  No, it is what we do here in Chappaqua, we help each other out in time of need I told them.  I was even prouder when my boys were thanking me for helping them and telling me I did the "right thing" even if it took them another extra half hour to get out of their wet cold clothes.  
But it does not end there.  I realize it is now close to 6:30 and we have not eaten and I am not going to cook tonight.  I wish I could plan my meals months in advance like Karen, but if I were to do that, there would be a lot of pasta and Rocky's on the menu.  So we stop in Pizza Station.***  In there is John Buckley from the Town Board and a few tables of customers.
I say hello to John.  I commiserate with him and tell him at least the BoE members recognize that an October snow storm must be a budget buster.  He asks why I am out and I give him the Reader's Digest version (see what I did there?).  He then tells me that he stopped at Quaker Hill making his rounds to local businesses and there is a newley wed couple, married earlier today I think, stranded at QH.  "I never want to make calls and ask for favors, but for once I called a buddy on the FD and asked him if he could grab a 4 wheel drive vehicle, come to QH, and take this young couple to the Holiday Inn on their wedding night." he told me.  Another community member just trying to do the right thing.
Then, this one table consisting of a grandmother, mother, and young boy who had overheard our entire conversation asked me "who we are".  I tell them we serve on the town council and school board.  They are amazed.  Turns out they live in NYC, their car had some sort of glitch (wipers stopped?) and since the trains were not working they were stuck here in the pizza place. 
Next thing I know, I am on the phone with her husband who has decided to drive up from Manhatten to rescue them but is lost as they had closed part of the Saw Mill and his gps was taking him in circles.  I direct him to the Pizza Station.  The woman told us that they were looking at houses in Westchester (not today, but in general) and had not looked in Chappaqua "yet".  She told us that she would not consider buying in another town now after hearing and witnessing all sorts of good deeds today.
I tell you all this to point out that most of the town never hears about all the good people do around here, about the spirit of volunteerism, about the good that we do as a board.  Why?  Because good news does not sell, controversy does.  Unfortunately, most of the town only knows of us through what they read in the blogs.  If only they knew of the extraordinary things done in the district every day.**
As Gregg said last year on his way out, it is only a thankless job if you are looking for thanks.  I tip my hat to you all fellow volunteers who do this for some reason I am not sure even we know, but do it nonetheless.
The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
Stay warm, stay safe and stay home,

* I had a chance to meet Seth from Chappaqua Transportation on Monday at a meeting where opening of school was discussed.  I thanked him for the terrific job that his drivers did Saturday and let him know that the Coaches had also written to the AD and Board pointing out what a great job his drivers did.

**As an example, on Monday (Oct 31st) while driving around the district facilities in my role as Co-Chair (with Randy K) of the Board's Facilities Committee, I happened upon Joe Gramando working hard to get things back up and back to normal and then a meeting in the high school where all the district administrators (Ed Center and building principals) lead by Lyn McKay were meeting to discuss and finalize a plan for opening schools and communicating with the community to keep them up to date on the situation.  They had developed plans A, B and C depending on power restoration, bus safety and facilities availability.  I was impressed not only with the operational planning, but with the attention to detail going into communicating efficiently and clearly with the community on a timely basis.

Also, I want to recognize the extraordinary level of cooperation between the Town of New Castle and the CCSD.  I know there was communication at all levels of the two entities.  The BoE communicated with Barbara Gerrard and she with us, as well as Superintendent McKay and Assistant Superintendent Chow (and Joe Gramando) in constant contact with Penny P and other members of the Town staff sharing information, finding ways to help each other out, etc.  Two simple examples of cooperation would be the Town in a time crunch and while being burdened with so many other logistical items managed to pull off a Halloween celebration for the kids at the community center and in town that probably should be the template for Halloweens to come.  The district opened HGHS as a warming center and place to shower for residents of New Castle.  

*** As another totally "only in Chappaqua" moment and as a testament to our merchants, I was in Pizza Station again on Monday early evening (I still had no power) when in walked a young trick or treater.  Unfortunately, PS was all trick or treated out.  The owner, whose name I do not know, shrugged and ask if he wanted a slice instead of candy.  I big shake yes of the head and two minutes later off he went with his free Halloween slice.  (When it came time to pay for my slice, I said, "Trick or Treat?, but I guess that does not work for big kids.)

New Castle Hornets 2009-10


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