Lori Mahan

Lori Mahan

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:58

Authors Michael and Greg Veitch

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Michael and Greg Veitch are a father son duo that has spent their lives living in Saratoga Springs. Several generations of their family, since at least the 1890s, has been involved in horse racing. Michael Veitch has been a writer for The Saratogian and The Pink Sheet since 1979, his specialty on the New York Racing Association (NYRA), so it only made sense that he would write two books on the history of the Saratoga Race Course. 

He has never owned racing horses and always felt that as long as he was writing about them, “whether it was innocent or not, I didn’t think it was proper for me to own a racehorse. I think that I need to stay on the sideline and be free to write what I wish to write and I’ve had that privilege.”

Foundation of Fame covers the track from its inception in 1863 up until 1900.

“I decided to start at the beginning, which is 1863, and I was rather surprised to find out that as far as I know, no one had ever covered those first 37 years, in particular, recording all of the major stakes winners and things like that. I broke it off at 1900 because that was the year that William C. Whitney purchased Saratoga and in my view, saved the race track,” Michael said.

His second book, “Summit of Champions,” covers the track from 1901 up until 1955.

“I selected 1905 as a natural break point because that was the year that the Saratoga Association for the Improvement of the Breed, the real true private owners of the race track, went out of business, having been in business for 90 years. 1955 is the creation legislatively of NYRA,” Michael clarified.

Michael plans to write a third and final book in his trilogy which will cover the years 1955 up until 2008 because that is the year the track surrendered its’ properties to the state of New York.

Michael talked about both books in great length at the museum’s event Monday night. He has served in a lot of capacities at the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame for nearly 25 years. He was a trustee of the museum and remains a chairman on the historical review committee.

“I have been happy to have something for Saratogians to put their hands on that is fairly well researched history of the track. It’s the joy of having Saratogians say, ‘I really enjoyed your book,’” Michael said.

Greg Veitch is the Saratoga Springs Chief of Police and has been for the last four years. On Monday night, he discussed his first book, “All the Law in the World Won’t Stop Them,” a book that is a retelling of a whole history of Saratoga Springs that a lot of people “may not remember. It paints a vastly different picture of Saratoga,” Greg stated.

This book focuses on the crime, corruption, and gambling in Saratoga Springs up until 1921, right before prohibition.

“As a kid, one of the earliest memories I have is going to a family reunion at the Olde Bryan Inn where my family used to live. So one of my earliest memories is having the older men at the reunion tell me all about my great-grandfather who may have possibly been involved in a gangland murder in the 1930s in Saratoga Springs. Well, I had this story in my head for my whole life, I’ve become a police officer and 10 years after that I found myself down in the archives and on a whim, I picked up the oldest case file that we have and it’s the same story that my great-grandfather was allegedly involved in. Except, my great-grandfather is nowhere near this murder. I did a presentation for the history museum for that murder and when I was done, someone walked up and said, ‘hey you should write a book,’” Greg said.

Researching that murder led to the discovery of other murders during that timeframe in Saratoga Springs that he found interesting. Nothing in the books comes from any old case files the Saratoga Police Department has. It took Greg about five years to find a narrative and flow that he considered fitting and interesting for his book. His book is based on previous stories that have been mentioned in local gangster autobiographies and he has expanded on them.

“I hope people enjoy and appreciate the book. One of the motivations for doing this was to kind of have a central resource for people who wanted to understand this part of Saratoga history. If nothing else, it’s a record of what happened then, to the best of my abilities to tell it,” Greg said.

“As far as our talk went, I was thrilled to be doing something like this with my father. I think that’s pretty unique,” Greg concluded.

“I’m very proud of Greg,” Michael added.

Greg’s book can be purchased at Northshire Bookstore on Broadway and Michael’s can be found on Amazon.

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:56

Ann Reilly and Man O’ War

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Man O’ War, voted the greatest horse of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated and The Blood Horse, is still considered to be the fastest horse ever. Author Ann Reilly was surprised that there was very little literature written about him so she decided to write a fiction book with historical accuracy. Her book, Man O’ War and Will Harbut: The Greatest Story in Horse Racing History, is a fictional account told through the voice of Will Harbut. Taking place at Glen Riddle Farms, owned by Sam Riddle, Man O’ War lived out his days there after being retired to stud two years after his racing career began. Visitors would come to tour the stables and Harbut would take them around to all of the other popular horses, such as U.S. Triple Crown winner War Admiral and Crusader, hyping the visitors up for the main attraction, Man O’ War. It is estimated that one to three million visitors came to the farm over the years Man O’ War spent his retirement there. Harbut was extremely dedicated to being a groom, especially to his favorite, Man O’ War.

What started as a joke in Kentucky, that Harbut and Man O’ War could not live without each other, proved accurate when Harbut had a stroke and could no longer care for him. He would still visit the horse until he passed away Oct. 3, 1948.

“There was a moving story told by Man O’ War’s new groom. Man O’ War kept staring down the drive way and refused to go in the stall. The new groom couldn’t get him inside; he was just staring down the driveway. So some think he was looking for Will, some think he saw Will’s spirit, but it took him like 15 minutes to get him to walk backwards in to the stall. And then he laid down and passed away two days later on November 1,” Reilly retold.

Sam Riddle held a state funeral in honor of the horse. Riddle had a casket built big enough for Man O’ War and mourners came to bid farewell. The funeral was radio broadcasted by NBC Radio.

From a very young age, Reilly has been knowledgeable about Man O’ War. Her grandfather would take her to his memorial, set up where he trained in Maryland, and would educate her on the horse and his racing career. Reilly’s grandfather’s neighbor was friends with the Riddle’s and would also regale Reilly with stories about Man O’ War, sparking her interest very early on.

“When I realized there had been nothing done on Man O’ War, I wrote a movie script first and I didn’t get anywhere with it by banging on doors. So then I went backwards and wrote the book,” Reilly said.

Reilly has a PhD in sports psychology and has written for several equestrian magazines, such as Sidelines Magazine, where she wrote the sports psychology column for 12 years. She has also written for a number of other horse magazines, along with writing a book on sports psychology called A Sport Psychology Workbook for Riders. Reilly mainly works with riders and has worked with horses in the beginning stages of their career and horses all the way up to Olympic level. She is also an avid rider of thoroughbreds.

“A lot of people, probably 60 - 70 years old, don’t have a clue about Man O’ War. So that was another reason I wanted to write this book,” Reilly said.

Man O’ War produced a lot of successful offspring including Triple Crown winner War Admiral whom was sired with Brushup. 

This year is Man O’ War’s 100th birthday celebration. In honor of that, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame hosted a birthday party for Man O’ War on March 29 of this year. Man O’ War made his first appearance in Saratoga Springs in 1919, appearing first in the United States Hotel Stakes on Aug. 2. Man O’ War won easily, beating a colt named Upset by two lengths, even though he had 130 pounds on his back. Also on March 29 of this year, the Kentucky horse park where he is buried hosted a big celebration in his honor. Many people came out to celebrate this legendary horse. 

Man O’ War is also featured in the Man O’ War Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to support the first university-led research trial aimed specifically at veterans diagnosed with PTSD to determine the effectiveness of Equine-Assisted Therapy for treating PTSD (EAT-PTSD) and to establish manualized guidelines for the application of EAT-PTSD,” according to their website.

On Aug. 26, Travers Day, Reilly will be hosting a book signing in the Saratoga Pavilion at the Saratoga racetrack. 

“This book is more about the human and horse bond,” Reilly concluded.

Her book is on sale now at the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame gift shop and will be available to purchase at her signing on Aug. 26. It is also available on amazon.

Clifton Park — Petra Acker is a 24 year old from Clifton Park, New York currently training to earn a spot on the 2018 Winter Olympic Team. She is a Long Track Speed Skater, specifically long distance events. Acker trains with the US All-Around National team in Salt Lake City, Utah under coach Tom Cushman, she also has two coaches back home in New York, Pat Maxwell and Paul Marchese, who also participate in her training.

“It’s a team effort and I have great people on my side!” Acker gushed.

This will be her third Olympic Trial, after participating as the youngest competitor at the 2010 trials at just 16 years old. She has competed on the World Cup circuit for many years, along with the Junior World Championships at 15, which was her first international competition. Last year, Acker took on the World Single Distance Championships in South Korea at their Olympic venue as part of the team pursuit, which took sixth place.

Acker trains for six hours a day, “some days are more, some days are less,” she said.

Her training incorporates different types of cross training, especially during the summer months.

“Daily, you can find me running on the track, cycling, inlining, lifting weights, doing dry land, which specifically targets skating muscles and techniques, and skating both long track and short track,” she explained.

Acker keeps her schedule rigid and busy, “In racing season, we general get to the rink around 8:00 a.m. and finish around 12:00 p.m. Then I’ll eat lunch and try to sneak in a little nap if I have time. Around 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. we will start our second session, which usually lasts two to three hours. Then I’ll go home, eat dinner, and pass out pretty early.”

Acker was a homeschooled student and needed to fulfill a physical education. Her mom contacted Acker’s grandfather, Howard Ganong, an internationally ranked Masters skater, and asked him if he would take her to the rink and teacher her how to skate.

“Despite holding on desperately to the sideboards and falling my way around the rink the first few times, I loved it. Eventually when I could skate on my own, he would time me and I would always respond with, ‘okay let’s go again, I know I can go faster!’ The rest is history,” Acker recalled.

Acker has faced a few setbacks in her career, as any athlete can.

“Going into the 2014 Olympic Trails, I had been skating well and had a strong chance of making the team. I ended up finishing fourth in my distance which didn’t qualify me. That loss broke my spirit and for the next year and a half I really struggled. My results were really poor so I moved back home to New York from Utah and decided to take a break from the sport. After a few months off, I decided I wanted to continue and I’ve now come back even stronger with a renewed passion and greater focus,” Acker said.

That renewed passion and focus certainly paid off. “I skated personal best times last season, finishing on the podium in all my events at the US Championships. I’m feeling more fit than ever so I am hopefully anticipating skating some more personal bests this season,” Acker informed me. 

Acker is ready to move forward with her skating dreams.

“With the heartbreaking setback of missing the 2014 team, and the death of my father last year, I think my greatest achievement in the sport is that I’m still here and I’m still fighting,” she said.

Acker’s father took her to all of her practices and also fell in love with the sport, becoming involved as an official.

“Skating was ‘our thing” and both him and my mom have unconditionally supported me since the beginning. His dream became seeing me accomplish my dream of becoming an Olympian, and he went above and beyond anything I could ask to help me realize that.  Whenever I have imagined making my first Olympic team, the greatest moment was imagining crossing the finish line and having my dad’s face be the first I see and the tears and hug we would share. He always told me, ‘skating is what you do, not who you are.’ I know he loved me and was proud of me even if I never become an Olympian. I want to finish this journey we started together for the both of us, and that is an inspiration that fuels me,” Acker explained.

 “I love waking up every day and having the opportunity to challenge myself and push my limits. There is an insane amount of pressure being an elite athlete, sometimes that can be extremely draining, but it also teaches you how to cope with difficult situations that can carry over into other areas of life. I don’t like the stress that comes along with racing, but I love the intensity and adrenaline rush you experience from competing, especially when you see all the hard work translate into a good performance,” Acker finished.

Acker will be competing in the Long Track Qualifiers on October 11 through 15 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She will also be competing in the Long Track Olympic Trials January 2 through 7 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:08

Academy of Lifelong Learning

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Academy of Lifelong Learning (A.L.L.) is a non-profit member-driven organization providing non-credit academic classes. A.L.L. is sponsored by SUNY Empire State College. A.L.L. was founded in 1992 and will be celebrating their 25 years with a number of celebrations and fundraisers they’re calling “Celebrating Silver.” SUNY Empire State College allows A.L.L. to utilize office and class spaces at no cost, these spaces also include equipment and the A.L.L. website. Memberships are $60 per fiscal year, which runs July through June. Eight week classes are $50 and four week classes are $25. There are two terms available per year, fall term begins in Sept. and spring term begins in March. “Within the curriculum, we have 34 offerings this fall,” Jeff Shinaman, executive director of A.L.L. said. Shinaman has been the executive director of A.L.L. for the last four years. He has sat in on many of the classes A.L.L. offers classes on all ends of the education spectrums. They offer history classes, science, military, religion, politics, economics, writing, language, and a unique antique and collectibles class. However, they’re most popular one for the fall is looking to be their Tour of Saratoga Museums class. This is a traveling class where the students travel to eight different museums over the course of the term. “A lot of new members are joining because of the museum tour class. It was very popular last spring and we decided to do it again this fall. We can take up to 20 students and we do still have some spots left. For some reason, this class seems to be a great recruiting tool for A.L.L. overall!” Shinaman explained. The student population consists of mostly 65 to 95 year old seniors. “Large populations of people are retiring in the Saratoga Springs area. They are still active so they are continuing their education in a non-credit, no homework environment. A.L.L. is a great way for them to stimulate their minds and still be socially and physically active,” Shinaman said. There are roughly 430 members of A.L.L., 300 of which that are currently enrolled in classes. “What I find really wonderful is that is that these teachers are all volunteers. They put the time and effort into offering the classes for free,” Shinaman said. Upcoming fundraisers for their Celebrating Silver event are Raising the Dough in Sept. at the Westside Sports Bar and Grill. On Sept. 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., each purchase will give 20 percent to A.L.L. On Sept. 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the SUNY Empire State College, they will be hosting an antique appraisal day, $10 per item, $25 for 3 items. Local experts appraise items. All proceeds go toward A.L.L. In Dec. A.L.L. will hold a gala at the Gideon Putnam for their anniversary banquet. They schedule fundraisers periodically to keep costs down for their members. “We have a group of knitters knitting a hat for cancer patients at Saratoga Hospital. The group is knitting one cap per every member of the Academy, so 430 caps and they’re hoping to get all this done for our Dec. 1 banquet. We’ll be inviting someone from the hospital to come and accept all of the knitted hats for their patients there,” Shinaman informed me. “As part of the 25th anniversary Celebrating Silver activities, we will have a brunch which will kick off our fall term Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. This will be a special orientation for the anniversary with raffles and other activities,” Shinaman said. If you are interested in learning more about The Academy of Lifelong Learning, visit www.esc.edu/all.
Thursday, 10 August 2017 19:33

Two Nights; $53 Million

[Photos provided by www.photoandgraphic.com.] 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Monday night was the kick off of the annual Fasig-Tipton Auction, taking place at the Finney Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, New York. Many key players stepped out on the first night, Monday August 8, to scope out the yearlings. Drinks were flowing and excitement was in the air as people walked around in their Sunday best to network and find their next winning racehorse. Lots of Saratoga Police Department officers canvassed the area to make sure the event went off without a hitch.

On Monday night, 75 horses sold at an average of $325,667 per horse. Monday night’s total was $24.43 million, with Eric Fein in conjunction with Stonestreet Farm being the top buyer at $1 million for a Denali Stud colt born to Curlin and River’s Prayer. Coming in second was Mike Repole, co-founder of vitaminwater and BodyArmor, partnered with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, claiming a colt bred from Medaglia D’Oro and Rigoletta from Gainesway for $900,000. Repole purchased another yearling, this one sired by Curlin and Quippery,  also from Gainesway, for $400,000. In total, Repole spent $1.3 million.

Of 112 horses up for sale, 17 were not sold, 16 were “out,” which is to say the consignor removed the horse from the sale, and 75 were sold. The lowest sale of the night went to Kings Equine for a colt produced by Shanghai Bobby and True Kiss for $50,000, this colt was consigned by Taylor Made Farm.

On Tuesday night the excitement was still overflowing at Finney Pavilion. Buyers had not lost their steam as the night rounded to $28.57 million total with 81 horses selling at an average of $352,716 per horse. 21 horses were not sold and 13 horses were out. Kerri Radcliffe, the racing manager for Phoenix Thoroughbreds, was the top buyer Tuesday night. Radcliffe purchased a filly sired by Orb and Flashy American for $1 million. The lowest sale of the night went to Kings Equine again and was $75,000 for a colt produced by Exchange Rate and Diamondesque, this colt was consigned by Taylor Made Farm.

The “Five to Watch” hips, according to the Paulick Report, were hips number 135, 150, 162, 205, and 207. Hips 135 and 207 were surprisingly not sold, and the remaining three hips were sold at very low prices. Hip 150 sold for $475,000, hip 162 sold for $400,000, and hip 205 only sold for $350,000.

Overall, the auction sales were up by 11% in average sales on Monday and Tuesday’s auction saw an average increase of 20% from last year. In total for both nights, $52,995,000 changed hands.

The auction is open to the public for free with many spectators coming just to people and horse watch. The auditorium is set up for the horses’ benefit, green carpeting to match a pasture and fence like ropes to simulate an arena. Televisions are also set up outside of the auction hall so people can watch the auction while remaining outside by the stables, a live stream also takes place on the Fasig-Tipton website. A huge photo of Secretariat is hung in the high rollers balcony, looming over the bidders to remind them that it takes money to make money.

Thursday, 10 August 2017 19:28

Camp Abilities

[Photos by www.PhotoandGraphic.com]


SARATOGA SPRINGS – Camp Abilities, sponsored by the Saratoga Lions Club, is in its fourth camp year this summer. This camp, which lasts a week, is an active overnight educational sports camp for children that are visually impaired. Taking place on Skidmore College campus, campers are able to experience a week of just being a normal kid.

“This is one of the only weeks where kids can just be a kid. A lot of times, they’re the only kid that might have visual impairment in their school. This week is the one time where they don’t have to worry. If they bump into something or if they make a mistake, they’re not being looked at like ‘oh you did that because you have a visual impairment.’ They just did it because they’re being a kid. They feel comfortable here,” says Tiffany Mitrakos, director of Camp Abilities.

Camp Abilities has 26 campers, each with their own counselors, so they have a one on one experience. To put on the camp itself, it costs roughly $100,000 and is $3,500 per camper, though it is funded by donations and sponsors, no money is out of the camper’s pocket to attend. The requirement for campers to attend is that the only disability they have is a visual impairment, they must be independent and otherwise capable, and they have to be between ages 10 and 18. Camp Abilities first year had 18 campers and now they are capped at 26 due to cost and less chance of forming lifelong friendships if there are an overwhelming number of attendees. Saratoga Lions Club (SLC) took on this camp as a service project four years ago and is instrumental in the planning and execution of the entire week of camp. SLC organizes all of the nighttime activities that take the campers off campus. Camp Abilities Saratoga is unique among all of the other Camp Abilities because of their nighttime activities. Other camps are confined to their campuses but with the help of SLC and donations from local restaurants, campers eat dinner off campus and attend different activities.

From day one, the staff was adamant that the kids set goals and focus on reaching them. Campers participate in sports tailored for them, such as beep baseball and goal ball while also participating in sports and activities that all peers their age play. Beep baseball, for example, is baseball tailored to the visually impaired. This game lasts six innings and only has first and third bases, which are four foot high padded cylinders with speakers that give off a continuous buzzing sound when activated. When the ball is hit, the base operator activates one of the bases and the runner must identify the correct base and run to it before a defensive player fields the ball. Each team has a sighted pitcher and catcher. Kids are also shown how to play sports not tailored for them that they can adapt and show their physical education teacher at school how they can successfully play with the other kids.

The camp is made up of 41 staff members. They have a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week nursing staff, six sports specialists with degrees in adaptive physical education, 26 counselors, and several other people who band together to help this week of camp meet it’s full potential.

A special treat for the campers is a Judo class instructed by Olympian Jason Morris, of Jason Morris Judo Center. Morris donates his time and staff to the camp.

Tiffany Mitrakos, director, has been a part of Camp Abilities for nine years. Mitrakos originally became involved at the camp’s initial location at Brockport College, where she was involved for five years before coming to Saratoga’s camp for the last four years. Mitrakos’ assistant director is Jeff Yellen, who also started with the camp in Brockport for two years and this is his second year as assistant director for the Saratoga camp.

On the Saratoga Lions Club (SLC) side, John McDonald has been a member of SLC for 18 years and is a past president of the club. He has been instrumental in the planning of the camp since it’s inauguration.

“This camp gives kids an opportunity to participate in a summer sports camp just like their peers,” McDonald echoed Mitrakos, proving the point of the camp really is for visually impaired children to feel like normal kids, if only for a week.

Joanne Soles is the current president of Saratoga Lions Club and was also involved in opening the Camp Abilities in Saratoga Springs. She is at the camp every day to oversee and enjoy.

“We are really taking advantage of what Saratoga has to offer for our night time programs. Those programs are why we stand out,” Soles said.

Some nighttime activities include going to Saratoga National for golf and disc golf, which is the new activity added to this year’s camp. They also have stand-up paddle boarding, equestrian, ice skating in conjunction with the Saratoga Ice Stars program which is also an SLC service project, and bowling at Saratoga Strike Zone Bowling Center.

“We’re already thinking about what we’re going to do next year. Our gears are always rolling,” Mitrakos said excitedly.

On the last Wednesday of every month the planning committed have phone conferences throughout the entire year to plan for the upcoming camp.

“Every year we just get better and better!” Mitrakos said.

Saratoga Lions Club motto is, “A loss of sight, never a loss of vision.”

This camp proves that vision is key. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - John Hendrickson has just been announced as the new president for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame by the Museum’s Executive Committee, according to museum spokesman Brien Bouyea. 

Hendrickson has been involved in thoroughbred racing for many years and is currently the manager of Marylou Whitney Stables, LLC and also the president and chief operating officer of Whitney Industries. 

Hendrickson said of the new position, “I’m honored to be named president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and carry on in the great tradition of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, who was one of the Museum’s founders and its first president.”

Hendrickson has managed Whitney Stables, LLC for a number of years and has been married to Marylou Whitney for 20 years, further proving that his love and knowledge of racing made him a prime candidate for this position.

[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]  

Thursday, 03 August 2017 17:58

Plans Underway for 2017 School Year

[ Photo provided by saratogaschools.org]


SARATOGA SPRINGS - “There is nothing like the first day of school,” Superintendent Michael Piccirillo exclaimed.

Between working in public education for the last 31 years and attending his own many first days of school, he has experienced a lot of that excitement first hand. Piccirillo attended Binghamton University and received his bachelor of arts degree in sociology, his master of arts in teaching from Binghamton with a certification in social studies for grades 7 through 12, where he went on to earn a doctorate in educational administration from Sage College. After teaching social studies for 10 years in two different school districts, North Warren and Lake George, his own high school alma mater, Piccirillo has been in the Superintendent’s office for the last 10 years, the first five as assistant superintendent and the last five as superintendent.

“It has been a really interesting and exciting 31 years.”

This year on January 1 Piccirillo put in his retirement resignation and the district will announce his replacement in the coming months with his final day being December 31.

“I’m not finished with being a public educator, I’m just looking to do something different and to have a little bit more time with my family,” he said.

For the upcoming school year, Saratoga will see many new projects that will help students succeed. When Piccirillo first began as superintendent, their Legacy Plan was the 2018 Vision, which is now almost to a close. They are now working on their new Legacy Plan and developing their next 5 – 10 year vision. The Great Outdoors Project was just presented to the town board. It is a $15.6 million project that will address the long overdue needs across the districts in properties they own, such as the East and West Side Recreation buildings and the back of Gavin Park that is owned by Dorothy Nolan Elementary School. They will be fixing and building more playgrounds and athletic fields.

Watson for Education is an IBM created augmented intelligence system that Saratoga will be the first district in New York State to utilize.  They will be a “Lighthouse District” for other districts around the state to come and learn from. This program creates personalized education plans for every individual student. It helps to make sure that students are successful not only academically, but socially and emotionally.

“Watson is an exciting and robust system that will ultimately help us to personalize education for all of our students and that has been one of our goals for our current 2018 legacy vision, but having the right tools to make it happen has been the difficult part of it. We believe Watson is going to be the tool we’ve been looking for,” he explained.

Expect a broader digital learning experience this year. CloudBooks, which is a Dell created tablet, will be available for all sixth graders to use and take with them as they move throughout the system. Each year, another grade level will be added, they hope to accelerate additions if more funding becomes available. They are using the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA) funds to purchase the new equipment.

The SSBA is “an initiative that would finance educational technology and infrastructure, providing students access to the latest technology and connectivity needed to succeed and compete in the global economy,” according to the website.

Since Piccirillo became Superintendent, graduation retention rate is at an all-time high. The goal for the last 10 years has been 95% and they have reached 94%.

“There is still room for improvement in terms of vision, obviously the target rate is 100%,” he clarified.

Piccirillo believes the retention rate has elevated due to more effort being put into support systems. They have partnered with Franklin Community Center and the LIFT Program to add more social workers to the staff, a mental health clinic, a substance abuse counselor at the middle and high school level. Graduation rates for subgroups have also improved. For special education and economic disadvantage rates have skyrocketed, almost doubling in both areas. Ten years ago, economically disadvantaged students were at a 35% graduation rate and special education was at 40%. Now, they are up to 80% and 75% respectively.

“As life gets more complex, students have greater needs and we need to be able to support them so they can focus on their academics and be successful academically. So yes there’s room for improvement but I also think we’ve made quite a bit of improvement over the last five years,” he noted.

There has been talk recently about the overcrowding in the elementary schools due to new housing developments being built. The district has six kindergarten through fifth grade schools, and of the most concern is with Dorothy Nolan Elementary School behind Gavin Park.

Speaking on the subject, Piccirillo said, “Dorothy Nolan School alone has room for 1200 kids and presently is only up to 800. To my knowledge, there is no concern for overcrowding at the moment. If that concern does become valid, we have the room to grow.”

Dorothy Nolan Elementary owns the land behind Gavin Park and they can expand the building if necessary. If worse comes to worse, they can also re-district and place children in the South Glens Falls schools.

“In the past when this issue arose, we have moved Dorothy Nolan students to Caroline Street School as opposed to having them change districts,” Town Supervisor Art Johnson said.

“If overcrowding does become an issue, Superintendent Piccirillo will certainly address it,” Johnson remarked.

When I asked Piccirillo what his favorite part of the school day was he said, “Students! Whenever I have a chance to be with students, to talk with them, to visit classrooms and participate in activities with them, that’s the best part of the day because that’s why I got into public education as a teacher. It’s always the hardest part of being an administrator is that the further up the ladder you climb in administration, the further away you get from the students.”

It goes to show that Superintendent Piccirillo has made great strides during his five years in the position and that the new Superintendent will have some big shoes to fill.

Thursday, 03 August 2017 17:54

Meet Gavin Park's New Director, Mark Marino

[Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com]


WILTON - Mark Marino, a Massachusetts native, decided to move to the Saratoga Springs area a number of years ago after he and his wife realized the school systems were better here and there would be more job opportunities. Marino attended Norwich Military University with a degree in physical education and moved on to be an Officer in the Army. From 1981 until 1984 he was stationed in Watervliet, where he got a taste of the area. For 14 months Marino worked at the Capital District YMCA until his position was eliminated. From there, he decided to pursue being a physical education teacher like he had planned. For 10 years he was a substitute teacher in Waterford and also owned his own landscaping business for a number of years. These jobs combined with his military background made him the perfect candidate for the director of Gavin Park position. On July 6, the Wilton Town Board voted to approve Marino’s appointment as director of Gavin Park.

“I always wanted to be a physical education teacher and athletic director, this job is the best of both worlds,” he said.

A key element in his hiring was his career background, especially his landscaping business. He knew what the grounds should always look like and what it would mean to maintain them. He was experienced in managing people, he taught and worked with kids for many years, he is an officiate for three different sports, and he was also an athlete. He was a prime candidate.

In regards to Art Johnson, Town Supervisor, Marino exclaimed,“I am very grateful Art is my boss. He was essential in bringing me on board and I really appreciate them giving me the opportunity to do this.”

Gavin Park offers a wide variety of different programs. Tracy Kubis is the assistant recreational director, she is essential to the summer camp and summer programs. Ross McNeal helps Kubis to coordinate and execute the programs.

The main thing Marino is looking to add personally is a hiking activity, geared toward ages 14 – 18.

“I would love to see that age range get off social media and have more face to face time.  I think a hiking program could provide that,” he observed.

Marino said there is not much to add to the park right now because Stephen Porto left it in such a good place after his 10 year tenure. Porto added new fields but also created the concept of Splash Park. Splash Park is a water park for kids 12 and under but most frequented by kids six and under. Sprinklers and other fun contraptions run on a 15 minute sensor, shooting out water for kids to splash around in.

“We try to provide a lot of variety for people so it doesn’t become stale or feel stagnant,” he remarked.

Campers get their fill of variety. They visit all beaches in the area, The Great Escape, Valley Cats games, and other fun activities happening daily.

Only five weeks into the job, Marino said his main goal right now is to “make sure that all the fields, courts, and nettings, along with anything else related to what people are using, are safe and well maintained.”

On a daily basis, Marino arrives at 8:50 a.m. and meets with Kim Brock, who runs the financial side, to discuss payroll and other related things. Then he takes out the golf cart and rides around to every field to make sure everything is proper and clear. He then has meetings with people and in between it all, leaves his office door open.

“I believe in an open door policy. My door is always open for anyone to come in and discuss any concerns or issues,” he expressed.

His day then wraps up at five o’clock and he heads home, excited for the next day to begin.

“In all the jobs I’ve had in my life, I really feel well-received here. I believe in the team effort and being transparent and having open communication and an open door. Everyone here does their job very well and that’s a credit to the overall organization, the town board, the parks and recreation commission, and Gavin Park as a whole. It’s just a very well run organization and it has been for years. My goal is to maintain that level in the years to come. This is a job where I really look forward to coming to work,” Marino said sincerely.

Marino is especially grateful to Maintenance Supervisor John King and his staff for all their hard work physically maintaining the grounds in a timely and organized fashion. He could not speak highly enough about his staff as a whole, from the camp counselors to the maintenance staff to the financial department.

“I want to give a lot of credit to the staff. You can’t run an organization well without having a good staff and again players like Tracy, John, and Michelle, they all do such a great job,” he said.

For more information on all that Gavin Park offers to the town of Wilton, visit www.townofwilton.com and navigate to the parks and recreation department.

Thursday, 03 August 2017 17:48

NEW West Mountain Biking Trails

[Photos provided by West Mountain]


Glens Falls - West Mountain has opened up it’s winter trails for biking this season. The Mountain Bike Park opened the second weekend in July of this year.  Adding an express chair lift, West Mountain is able to bring guests and their bikes to the top of the mountain to ride down. After receiving a grant from the town of Queensbury, they were able to purchase bike rental equipment and marketing materials for the bike park.

“With our own staff, we designed a series of cross country and downhill bike trails. We also have a pump track. Currently we have about 22 trails and we are adding more trails weekly,” Sara Montgomery, general manager of West Mountain said.

West Mountain is also offering cross-country and downhill riding lessons along with guided tours of the mountain.

“When we set our mind to something, we’re able to accomplish a lot in a very small amount of time. We’re very lucky that we have the people on staff that we do who are able to do these types of projects,” Montgomery said.

Sara Montgomery and her husband, came up with the bike trail idea and oversee the concept as a whole. The Montgomery’s oversee everything from the waivers, to the equipment ordering, to the account management. West Mountain also offers head to toe protective gear for riders. Bike rentals include a fleet of 15 Scott Bikes, downhill and cross-country are available. To participate, all day passes are for children 12 and under are only $15, teens 13 – 19 are $20, and adults 20+ are $30, a senior citizen discount is available for riders 65+ for $15. Mountain Bike Park season passes are also available for committed riders, adults can buy a pass for $180, teens for $150, and youth for $99. The bike trails are open Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. and weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. All riders must sign a waiver, children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult, and children teens 13 - 18 must have an adult sign an additional waiver to ride unaccompanied. Tickets and rentals can be purchased on site. Bike and protective gear rentals are a separate price ranging from $20.00 - $40.00 depending on the package.

“It will probably take a couple seasons to hit its full swing, but we are seeing a lot of people. I spend a lot of time asking people for their feedback and where they’re traveling from. We had one guy from Arizona stop in, we’ve had people from Albany area, Malta, Clifton Park. I think the word is spreading it’s just going to take some time. We’ll probably do more marketing for the park next year,” Montgomery remarked.

The bike park will open in late June / early July each season and will be open until the number of riders starts to dwindle.

Montgomery added, “We are open for scenic lift rides as well. So people can take the lift to the top and then we have a hiking trail mapped out with beautiful views. They then take the lift back down after the hike.”

Currently, the bike trail has a small but efficient team of four lift attendants, three people in the rental shop, and a manager on duty.

“The mountain bike trails are just the first part of a larger plan that we have for off season business. We did want to offer the scenic lift tours because it is nice for people who do not have an interest in biking, so they also have something to do,” she observed.

At the top, there is also a bounce house available for the younger kids and a grilling area for adults and families to make a day of the trails.

Montgomery continued, “We tried to make it all inclusive so that everything is right there for the riders. This is all part of a bigger plan for West Mountain.”

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