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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Meeting Deanna Hensley for the first time is like meeting an old friend, a great quality in a homeless outreach coordinator. Her giant heart shows in her welcoming smile and gentle, fierce protection of Saratoga Springs’ homeless neighbors. On Friday, August 12, Hensley invited me, Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20), and congressional staffer Marilyn Smith to ride along with her during her outreach work for Shelters of Saratoga (SOS).
We began in Congress Park, meeting at the park’s north entrance in front of her white van. “I usually have the RV, but it’s in the shop,” said Hensley. “I park in the same spot so they know to look for me here. It’s not rare for me to make 25 contacts in a day.”
It was a beautiful morning, a summer breeze lifting spirits while cooling the temperature across the green, tree-dotted grassy expanse. Mothers were pushing strollers, a visiting family was tasting the spring waters at the pump, and joggers were getting their morning exercise. And here and there, among the typical Saratoga Season crowd, a few men slowly walked in, found a shade tree, and lay down to sleep. One here, one there, seemingly random but some had their favorite spots. We watched as Hensley walked over to each of them, checking to see if they needed medical assistance or water or even a pair of socks. “Sometimes they’ve been drinking and are sleeping it off,” said Hensley. “Sometimes they are angry, or sick, or just have headaches. They don’t pay attention to hydration. They appreciate someone out here noticing and saying ‘hey, drink water.’” Hensley is careful, and listens well to the homeless neighbors in her care so she can keep them and herself safe. “We do have people who take advantage and try to prey on the weaker ones,” she said. “You never know what you might find walking up to someone, just have to be ready for anything. I do my research, so I know whether or not I’m walking up on a sex offender or someone with a violent history. So far I have not had anyone threaten me, and I think it’s because you have to show you care. They know me out here, know I can stand this close, and they have nothing to fear from me. If they ask for a hug, I’ll give it. One guy told me he hadn’t had a hug in 8 years. Can you imagine?” She opened the back of the van (filled with water bottles, t-shirts, baby wipes, foot powder, ramen noodles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sometimes tarps and sleeping bags) as Shawn walked over, a former roofer suffering from alcoholism and other issues. “Hi, Shawn, how are you feeling today?” asked Hensley, as if she’d known him forever. “Want some raviolis?” Shawn stood a little hesitantly at first, unsure of us strangers around the van, but Tonko reached out to shake his hand and learn a little more about him. Shawn had once had a family, a home in Ballston Lake, and a job roofing and siding, but one mistake led to another, and like many in trouble who lack support, he tried to find solace in alcohol, and has been homeless 9 years and 7 months as a result. His daughter, Michaela Rose, is 10 now. “It makes me not think,” he said about the drinking. “I don’t want to think anymore.” He sat down on the pavement between the van and a parked car to empty his sneaker. Hensley put a bottle of water by him and some food in his backpack. His blue eyes would make Sinatra proud, and his ready smile belied the serious resignation in his eyes. “I’m going to die soon,” the 34-year-old told us with an unnervingly quiet calm that made me want to check his pockets for anything he might hurt himself with. “I gave up on myself. I’m in such rough shape. It is what it is.” And he smiled, as if he were trying to make us feel better. Hensley and Tonko stepped aside and spoke urgently with him, and later Hensley told me that she wished she could throw a burlap sack over his head and just take him to a doctor, but she can’t take him unless he wants to go. According to Hensley, 85 to 90 percent of the people she meets tell her they have a pain inside that they can’t kill, so they try to kill it with alcohol. “There are so many like Shawn,” she said. “Good people, locals. That guy over there was an engineer at GE, worked 31 years. His wife got sick, and he lost everything to debts. Now he’s on the street.” Tonko told me he felt it was important to see the situation with his own eyes. “There are too many faceless discussions about homeless solutions,” he said. “Anecdotal evidence is a powerful tool to get things done. If our neighbors are homeless and struggling, we need to find a way to address their needs with care and dignity.” Hensley has so many stories to tell the Congressman. She talked about Alex, a Saratoga native who turned 21 on Thursday, Aug 25. His mom moved him from home to home, until he finally ended up in foster care, “…where bad things happened,” said Hensley. “He was severely abused in foster care.” “Locally?” I asked. “Locally,” she answered seriously. After that, she said, Alex didn’t feel safe in any system, not even SOS. Another man walked up as well as a teenager and a woman. Shawn and the three additions all knew each other and they all knew Hensley. The scene could almost have been a family out for a picnic, but one was joking one minute and crying the next, and the youngest played it cool, showing me his prison tattoo. He had good news – he had just landed a job putting labels on bottles at a local brewery. They needed care, though, including showers and a safe place to sleep. One homeless man reached up to his head, politely excused himself, and bent down to swipe the dust from his scalp, which showered down as if he’d spent a week at the beach. Even he was surprised and said he had been careful to sleep on the sleeping bag and not in the dirt. Not one of us stepped back from him, though, and it was clear that even those of us just visiting couldn’t help but have our hearts reach out to this fellow needing a little human compassion. Hensley began her work with SOS in March of this year, and has already built trust and helped many members of the local homeless community. Her vast experience stems from her work with the homeless in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she worked in a few different capacities, including in an adolescent acute unit for several years. When asked what she hopes to gain from hosting ride-alongs with reporters and elected officials, Hensley said, “We need easier access to detox and rehabilitation facilities, places that won’t keep them for only a few hours.” Currently, Hensley drives her “guys” to either St. Peter’s in Albany or St. Mary’s in Troy for those services. Anecdotally, she hears from homeless individuals that local places will take them in for three or four hours and then discharge them. Hensley hopes that legislators at the state and federal levels will understand that health coverage for the homeless population needs to cover longer-term detoxification, so it is out of their systems and they are given education and support to keep it out, as well as counseling services to address the underlying problems that made them become addicted to substances or alcohol in the first place. “Once you treat the addiction, you have to treat the person, and we need that. I will put them in the RV and take them, then and there, if they say they are ready for rehab,” said Hensley. “I don’t want to risk losing that window.” Hensley was glad Tonko came along and spent so much time on the ride along. At one point, she told him, “Normally they clam up around strangers, but they really opened up with you. You could be an outreach person.” After a couple hours, we left Congress Park in her van to visit an abandoned encampment, a home for the homeless. She surprised us when she pulled to the side of a road in a well-known section of the city, and took us to a hidden path through the woods we would never have seen without someone showing it to us. We climbed over a fallen tree; slipped a little down a hill; crunched through dead leaves, mud and underbrush; and found ourselves in a small clearing. The trees muffled the sounds from the road, and the beauty of healthy green plants and trees seemed incongruous next to the broken bottles of vodka and overturned shopping carts. As I stood there surveying the empty food wrappers, a torn tarp, tufts of grass peeping up around shards of glass and a moldy pillow, I imagined people sleeping here. It was peaceful, a hiding place from everything about the world that could scare you, a place where you could hide even from yourself. Someone like me, educated and with years of work experience, or even someone like Tonko, who has dedicated his career to public service, could one day find ourselves in a hidden home like this. One mistake, one economic downturn, one house fire, one illness – and everything I – or Tonko – or Hensley – or anyone – had built could disappear. That could be me, numbed to sleep by alcohol and rustling leaves, on that pillow, grass, and glass. In that quiet place, Hensley asked us what it would be like to have to live with nothing but our own thoughts, regrets, frightening memories. What it would be like to have to choose to live, not just day by day, but hour by hour. “Some people say they should just get up and get a job,” said Hensley. “They say it as if a homeless person just decided one day they’d be more comfortable sleeping and drinking on the ground, that it would be more comfortable than having a home or a job. It’s sad to see that stigma. People only see the aggression, but not what’s behind the aggression. They [the homeless] are not the bad guys. These are mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters.” Bottom line, human resiliency depends on a support system, meaning people who care, who have giant hearts like Hensley. If such a person, friend, relative, neighbor doesn’t exist in your life, it’s that much harder to get up from a fall, especially a tragic fall. There but for the grace of God and the caring people in my life, go I. Hensley said the one thing she wishes everyone would take to heart is, “Just because someone is unshowered and sitting against a tree with a backpack doesn’t mean they should be judged; it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your kindness. Be kind to everyone, because, as the saying goes, you don’t know what battle they are fighting.” And no one could be kinder than Deanna Hensley. To support her work and the countless other volunteers and professionals working with the homeless in Saratoga, a series of colorfully-painted drop boxes have been placed along Broadway to accept check and cash donations. [See our story “New Donation Boxes Hit the Streets of Saratoga Springs” by Allison Capasso in Saratoga TODAY’s August 19 edition.] For more information about Shelters of Saratoga or how you can help, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org or call 518-581-1097.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales are in Saratoga Springs. Having arrived on Tuesday, August 16, they will be in the Capital Region through Sunday, August 21, with events in Saratoga Springs, Lake George, Troy and Altamont. The Clydesdale breed originated in Clydesdale, Scotland over 300 years ago. Canadians of Scottish decent brought the animals to America in the mid-1800s, and they made their first appearance in correlation with Budweiser on April 7, 1933. August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch presented 12 Clydesdales as a gift to their father in celebration of the repeal of Prohibition, sparking a multiple-city tour of the six-horse hitch that delivered cases of Budweiser to each city. From there on out, Clydesdales became associated with the Budweiser brand. The Clydesdales have spent the summer of 2016 on tour, hitching their famous red beer wagon in hundreds of locations across the country. To be considered for the job of hitch horse, a Clydesdale must be at least three years old, approximately 18 hands tall, weigh approximately 2,000 pounds, and have the signature Budweiser Clydesdale coloring and markings. On average, a single Clydesdale horse consumes 20-25 quarts of feed, 40-50 pounds of hay, and 30 gallons of water per day! The hitch is also accompanied by a Dalmatian, which has been the mascot of the Clydesdales since 1950, when a Dalmatian was introduced with the horses at the opening of the Newark Brewery. Originally, Dalmatians were trained to protect the horses and wagons while the drivers made deliveries; today, they are simply another symbol of Budweiser. In Saratoga Springs, the horses are stabled in the Warming Hut in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Stable viewings are held daily and open to the public beginning at 10 a.m.; everyone is invited to come take pictures with the horses or simply admire the impressive animals. On Wednesday, August 17, the Clydesdales had their first of two “public workouts” – parading along the picturesque Avenue of the Pines from inside SPAC to their home base by the Warming Hut. The reaction was universally gushing: “I love, love, love the Clydesdales!” exclaimed Fred Clark, AKA ‘Saratoga’s Santa.’ “I was so happy my daughter, Lisa, saw this on Facebook and told me… I saw them at the race course in their last appearance a few years ago.” Clark played down rumors that he was scouting said Clydesdales as reindeer replacements should they come open on the free-agent market. “Well, they’re not as fast. Santa loves his reindeer,” he stated firmly, yet with a hohoho. Lucy Dwyer, age 12, was there on the Avenue with Aunt Molly and Grandma Sheila (visiting from Stuart, Florida). The seventh grade student at Maple Avenue Middle School said it was her first time seeing the “pretty horses” up close and personal. “Aunt Molly told me about it!” she said. Molly also learned about it from Facebook, in this case a group page called “Signs You Live in Saratoga Springs.” Teddy Foster and her posse (all from Saratoga Springs) made it unanimous. “I’m just thrilled and delighted,” she said. “It’s my first time seeing them, and it’s also a beautiful evening!” Her friend Tammy supplemented Teddy’s thoughts by saying “Yet another reason why we love this town,” Tammy said. Lena was thrilled to see the mighty steeds receive their bath earlier in the day; and Donna (who insisted on opining that she plans to never plans to grow up, is a season ticket holder for the “Clydes” of sorts – this was her fifth time seeing the stallions – two in Florida (Busch Gardens, naturally). The Clydesdales will also be making various other appearances throughout their stay in the Capital Region, including the Charles R. Wood Park in Lake George, the Altamont Fair, and the Troy Valley Cats baseball field at Hudson Valley Community College. Locally, It’s not too late to catch a glimpse of these amazing horses: come to the Avenue of the Pines in Saratoga Spa State Park on Friday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m. and watch the awe-inspiring Clydesdale parade.
‘Tho Mother Nature thankfully blessed us with perfect weather at the start of the week for the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales, by midweek she was cursing us with the dreaded “h-cubed muggies”, and by Fourstardave Saturday, she was defiantly laughing in our faces! The annual Sales hold a very special place in my heart. It is there that my lifelong love affair and fascination with horses began. Since my childhood home (our Presbyterian Church’s manse) was literally behind the yearling stables on the north side of Madison, I could walk out my backyard on Fifth, cross over what was then a real alley, slip under a gap in the fence, and be in seventh Heaven! If I knew then what I know now, however, I would never have been filled with the joyful innocence of that little girl who believed that one day a horse like these could be hers! On the second night of the sales, a filly by Medaglia d’Oro, (sire of the great Rachel Alexandra and current star Songbird) elicited a bidding war between Mandy Pope and B. Wayne Hughes that resulted in the Sales topper at $1.45 million! Ms. Pope, who has been building a powerful breeding operation in Ocala for some time now, along with the reputation as a fierce player and bullish foe, outdueled Mr. Hughes in a spirited battle, as they sat close by to each other! It never becomes old to watch in wonder as these beautiful babies are led out to the walking ring, often and loudly displaying their dismay with all of the attention, and to then see their potential suitors fight over them in the Sales ring like jilted lovers! In the very same location on Friday morning, pillars of the industry gathered for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. For many years, I’ve relished being able to attend this wonderful event that has always been open to everyone, but thank goodness I had a media pass this year, because for the first time, it was closed to the public! Sadly, this resulted in a much smaller crowd than usual, for what was perhaps their most decorated class ever. Even though I’m sure the Hall anticipated huge ticket requests from the connections of this star-studded class, it was common knowledge that they were mostly fearful of PETA protesters ruining their event because of the scurrilous and baseless allegations of abuse that were leveled by Joe Drape in the New York Times against Steve Asmussen. Thank goodness these trumped up charges, based on a dubious and highly edited video that was manufactured by PETA, were found to be false after lengthy investigations by both the NY and KY Racing Commissions. After two agonizing years of waiting, their findings opened the door for the Hall to finally and rightfully induct him. Steve’s wife Julie, who began as a hot walker in his barn, introduced him, and remarked that the most important lesson he has shared with their three sons, is that you never give up, and that you wake up every morning and give it your all, because effort is everything! Although it’s been said that Steve is rather unapproachable and can appear aloof, in an extremely emotional and heartwarming acceptance speech, he showed us a very different side. He made it clear that he owes so much to his wife, who stood bravely by his side in spite of battling cancer during this ordeal, and to his Mom and Dad, (a former Jockey and Trainers who were in attendance) who raised him and his older brother Cash (a former Eclipse Award Winner as an Apprentice Jockey) in the small Texas town of Laredo, to believe in their ability to succeed, and to understand the importance of family and hard work. Choking back tears, he thanked his Mom for her faith in him, and his Dad for being the essence of a “true man”. He also made a point to thank his longtime Assistant, Steve Blasi, who had been the focus of the PETA witch-hunt. He went on to explain that this honor belonged to his entire team, and to his owners that never stopped believing in him, and most importantly, to the horses, including greats like Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, My Miss Aurelia, Untapable and Kodiak Cowboy. I can’t recall ever feeling any more devastated about an athlete’s injury than I did after hearing the horrible news of the bad fall Ramon Dominguez had taken on the hard inner track at Aqueduct, that January afternoon in 2013. I was absolutely heartbroken that this could happen to not only such an amazing talent, but to such an incredibly fine human being. Praying incessantly that he would recover, and hoping beyond hope that he would be able to return to the saddle, as the months passed, I remained optimistic. When the final verdict was announced, that the 3-time Eclipse Award Winner had to retire, I cried like a baby, and continued to tear up each time I saw him after he finally returned to the Track that following summer in Saratoga. But this year, and this day, are different, as the tears of sadness have turned to tears of joy for a man who has accepted his fate with the same humility, class and grace that defined his career. To make it easier on us who are easily moved to tears, he engaged us with hilarious stories during his acceptance speech, and showed us all why he will forever remain on top, no matter where life leads him. The ever-entertaining Tom Durkin, who once again served as the MC, introduced each honoree with his usual flair, and when he did so for Ann and Jerry Moss’ incomparable Zenyatta, he lamented that he was never able to call one of her races. Moss, the founder of A & M Records, (hence Queen Z being named after the album by The Police) and wife Ann, were understandably ebullient in their praise of, and thanks to and for their superstar, who wowed her throngs of fans with her diva-like prancing in the Post Parades, bigger than life personality, and devastating come from behind thrilling stretch runs. As has become my routine, I have saved the best for last, and I say this unapologetically and unabashedly with pride, because Rachel Alexandra is one of my very favorites of all time! I’ll freely admit that my opinion is based on the fact that I was so blessed to see her greatness in person several times, and from Churchill Downs in the Oaks, to Belmont in the Mother Goose, and ultimately on to Saratoga for her iconic Woodward, she thrilled me like no other, and left us all breathless and in tears! My heart stopped when we almost lost her in childbirth, and broke when we realized she would never be able to give birth again, but the unbelievable memories of her courage, grit and determination will remain alive in my heart and soul forever! As her compassionate yet understated owner, Barbara Banke, remarked during her acceptance speech on behalf of Rachel, it is her amazing courage that will define her legacy. In what was arguably his greatest race call, Tom Durkin reminded us of how Rachel’s heart stopping Woodward literally raised the rafters and moved the crowd with her gutsy victory! I will never forget standing at the rail on the finish line, with bodies ten-deep pressed up against me, and with tears running down my face, as she returned to the Winner’s Circle! Thank You, Rachel, for creating these unforgettable moments! Anticipating a storm of epic proportions, NYRA wisely cancelled the last six races on Saturday’s card, putting safety first, and all eyes then turned to Arlington Park. At this point, NYRA had to be very pleased with their fortuitous decision to provide bonus coverage that day from AP during their Saratoga Live show, and since Gabby Gaudet was already there to cover the big races, they smoothly transitioned from the mess at home, and turned it into a positive Win-Win for their new national programming. In spite of struggling in his Saratoga debut this Meet, with only three wins to his credit before he headed to Chicago, Florent Geroux, the almost-30-year-old French Jockey, had a day to remember at his old stomping grounds at AP! He racked up five wins from eight mounts, with four of them being Stakes, and two of these being Grade 1s. He owes a huge debt of gratitude to his hardworking Agent, Doug Bredar, (husband of TVG analyst Caton, and a former Racing Secretary at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream) for securing mounts for him three weeks out, on very live horses, that were favorites in every race he won! His Stakes streak began in the American St. Leger, on Mike Maker’s 4-5 favorite Da Big Hoss, and continued in the Grade I Secretariat for 3-year olds, aboard Chad Brown’s classy Beach Patrol, a son of Lemon Drop Kid. In the $700K Grade 1 Beverly D, FloG rode Chad’s even money favorite, Sea Calisi, stable mate and training partner of the great Lady Eli, to victory, and ‘tho he didn’t have the same luck in the Arlington Million, he closed out his streak in the Grade III Pucker Up, where with a continued stroke of good luck, he was awarded the victory on Chad’s 5-2 shot when the apparent winner was disqualified and dropped to third! The up and coming young Trainer from the UK, David O’Meara, further elevated his rising star when his 6-year- old Mondialiste, a son of the great Irish Sire Galileo, captured the Million. Although O’Meara only got his Trainer’s license six years ago, he has opened eyes with a win in the Woodbine Mile and a place in the Breeders Cup Mile already to his credit. In spite of still maintaining a four-win lead in the Jockey Standings with 31, it was a pretty rough week for Irad Ortiz, per his usual high standards. He was shut out on Wednesday, and again on his Birthday on Thursday, and also on the shortened card on Saturday. He was able to manage one win on both Friday and Sunday, but was also disqualified in Sunday’s feature, the Grade II Special, following a scary moment when his wayward 2-year-old bumped Ricardo Santana’s baby hard, who then in turn, bumped Johnny Velazquez, but fortunately, nobody went down! Javi Castellano was not involved, and ran down Irad aboard Gunneveral, who with an impressive turn of foot in the deep stretch, won in a thriller! This was Javi’s fourth Win of the day, and it moved him into a tie with Johnny for second in the standings at 24, but he would move ahead with a win on Monday to 25. However, this would be short-lived, as José Ortiz had a great Monday with four winners, too, and bolted ahead of them to 27! Joel Rosario remains in 5th with 18, and a streaking Luis Saez, who has been on fire since his huge 55-1 upset in The Test, now has 17! Manny Franco has 13, and after a big Wednesday for José Lezcano with three wins, he now has 10. ‘Tho FloG kept his hot hand going in the 1st Race Sunday, upon his return that morning from Chicago, he still only sits in 14th place with 4 Wins, proving how extremely difficult it is for any Jockey to venture into Saratoga and win! Chad Brown has a six-win lead over Todd Pletcher, 23-17, and Kiaran McLaughlin remains in 3rd with 9, while a red hot Rudy Rodriguez now has 8! I cannot wait for Saturday’s Alabama and the chance to see the magnificent Songbird once again! The delayed Fourstardave will also be on Saturday, and the cancelled Adirondack will now be run on Friday. See you next week!
Paying for the privilege to participate in high school sports is still a relatively new thing for me. ‘Participation fees’ is actually a better description since no one is really able to guarantee playing time. I never had to pay to participate in high school sports back in the late 50s and early 60s, while growing up in New York. Other than a few dollars to buy football cleats, socks, basketball shoes etc., New York State is where property taxes and other levy’s funded all academics and extra curricular activities. Up until the 1980’s most states were also this way with regard to funding athletics. Then of course funding challenges in public education, Title IX equity mandates, recessions and expenses of growing athletic programs began to chip away at available funding and the practice of charging pay-to-play fees became more and more common to keep public school athletic programs afloat. New York State does not permit pay-to-play, even though some local school districts experimented with the idea. Here are some pros and cons. Pros: there is no advantage here, so there are no pros. So, what’s wrong with the concept? Increasing the cost of playing sports by implementing pay-to-play, without a doubt, keeps some low-income students from participating, at a time in their lives when they should be trying new things, and at a time in our country when kids are less active than ever. Officials are finding it hard to resist using fees beyond athletics, risking the creation of an a la carte-style education where only students with means can take full advantage of what is offered through public schools. Not to mention that the concept might have the potential to widen the gap between students based on their financial resources. Both must be avoided. The last 40 years of public education have been defined by the demand for more: more classes, more clubs, more services and more sports, especially with the addition of Title IX. For much of that time, those demands have been accompanied by more money. Since the 2008 economic crash, however, pressure on state budgets and property taxpayers has produced sharp cuts in the money sent to schools. In New York State, as a result of underfunding, students are being shortchanged as schools have inadequate supplies, overcrowded classrooms, insufficient numbers of guidance counselors and social workers, understaffed and under resourced libraries, underfunded arts and sports programs, lack of sufficient tutoring and other supports for struggling students and reduced curriculum offerings and after school options. These classroom cuts have the greatest negative impact on students in high needs schools with large concentrations of students in poverty, students with disabilities and English language learners. So school districts across the state are looking for other means to fund certain “extracurricular” programs, like the sports programs, in order to sustain some quality in academics. Andrew Cuomo’s two percent tax cap had short-changed many school districts across New York State, as a result Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to live up to his constitutional obligations to New York State’s school children. Governor Cuomo has consistently failed in his obligation to provide the resources necessary for all New York State students to receive the “sound basic education” that is guaranteed by New York State’s constitution. Cuomo is delinquent in the amount of $5.9 billion that is owed to the New York State schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). Governor Cuomo’s delinquency perpetuates inequality with the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts being at $8,733 per pupil. So, the athletic programs have become part of this tendency of negligence, for most of New York’s public schools. This information comes from The Public Policy and Education Fund, in an article about the Governor’s failure to keep public schools on track. As a matter of fact Governor Cuomo has butted heads with the NYSUT (teachers’ union) since the day he was voted in as New York State’s leader. The above scenario, of gubernatorial cuts and delinquency funding strategies, has become an issue for at least 35 states across the country. There has been discussion, as well as the implementation of pay-to-play in many states because of the concern of budgetary slashing. Many ideas have evolved to remedy and solve ways for the funding of sports programs. So far, there hasn’t been an ideal model that actually works. In general, it has been, for the majority of the states, to fund public education through property taxation. To use a sports related analogy, school districts, teachers’ salaries, the extracurricular programs, especially athletics have become a political football. I see it in a very different way. I feel, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo, like some other governors across the states, have this thing about teacher’s unions, let me use the prehistoric label called “union busters.” The concept has been reincarnated from the early 1900s - it might be the underlying force behind cuts to education, and one result being cuts in athletics. But, the subject of the pay-to-play scenario has unfortunately become a bad idea, turning into programs for elitists, for those who can afford to pay to participate. So, not all students would have the opportunity to become involved with athletics, because of the costs. Some states have districts that are charging up to $1,200 for the school year athletics, some states have school districts charging $250 to $600 dollars per sport. So the student who comes from a single parent family and whose mom (usually) who makes barley a sustainable income for her family, might not be able to pay for her child, or children to play school related sports. As a coach, I can see so many related problems. If a child is paying $1,200 to participate on the football team, the coach is pressured to use that kid more than he has planned maybe because the kid just might not be strong enough to physically compete. The biggest problem with pay-to-play might even come from the parents: “I just paid all of this money and my kid isn’t getting the time “I” think he deserves!” Pay-to-play is a dangerous concept, and I see no winners in this game, it changes the scholastic environment from a chance for all versus only a game for the privileged. Quite frankly, it’s the “haves overshadowing the have-nots.” Thoroughly a true opposite of what public education represents.
Editor’s Note: You probably know Susan Farnsworth from her long tenure with the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association. Or the Saratoga County Fair. Or Hats Off / Final Stretch. Or even at SPAC – but as a planner, who was brought in as a consultant to help plan all the SPAC50 hoopla that you are enjoying this season. But what you don’t know is that Susie got a singular honor: To be asked to sit in as a performer on the SPAC stage as part of an ensemble when she was a Skidmore student in 1973! She acquired life-changing experiences at a formative age. And they happened at SPAC. I promised you when we began this series that we were going to surprise and dazzle you. Susan’s remembrances are one big way we are fulfilling this promise.
- Arthur Gonick
What I remember most about playing on the main stage at SPAC was that it took a long time to get over the amazing feeling of playing for thousands of people and I was too innocent to be scared. I was asked for my autograph. If I had been aware of the caliber of the local musicians with whom I was playing, I also should have been in awe. The band’s leader was from Ohio. I believe he was discovered in Chautauqua - by the wife of Craig Hankenson (the President of SPAC at the time). She brought him to Saratoga Springs. He wrote all the music and the lyrics to the songs we were rehearsing, and he had some musicians he brought with him from Ohio.
He put a sign up at Skidmore looking for a flute player, and I answered it; I auditioned and was accepted, I played flute and sang backup. I was happy because I was self-taught on the flute, and didn’t read music for this particular instrument. I started on clarinet in fourth grade and played it until about 10th grade. When my sister started on the flute, I picked that up and never looked back.
We rehearsed in a local farmhouse he rented from a dentist; there was an alleged deal with Columbia Records and we would be his studio musicians. We rehearsed 5 days a week, from 10 p.m. to about 2 a.m., then I would get up and go to classes. It was exhausting. I never once thought about money for this gig, as any musician who loves to play can tell you, this is the natural, default position. We didn’t play at local bars or music festivals, we only rehearsed for the album. So when we were asked to open at SPAC for Maria Muldaur (Midnight at the Oasis) and the Headliner, America (Horse with No Name), we said yes. I believe that is when we got some local musicians to join us (including Peter Davis and Butch Walkanowski).
The curtain went up, I remember looking out and being very happy that I couldn’t really make out the audience…thousands of faces. The original music was nothing to write home about, but the band was tight, the arrangements were great and we got applause. The adrenaline was ridiculous. The Columbia Record deal fell through, I doubt that I would have seriously considered leaving Skidmore for the road tour that would have been necessary, (I remember my father being extremely anxious about this possibility) but it was a moot point. That fall, the bandleader composed a song for me, for flute and guitar. We performed it together at the Spa Little Theater: me on flute, him on guitar, no vocals. I remember it was a haunting and beautiful piece. I played it from my soul. It was very different from his other music.
We got a standing ovation. That was the end of my musical performing career, I left on top. I have been friends with the local musicians that were on stage with me that night ever since. I remember that the bandleader and I were also hired to bring food and drinks specified in the performers’ riders backstage to the Green Room for a whole summer.
Two memories stand out to me from that; John Denver was furious that the string instruments kept going out of tune during his first set because it was not a climate controlled environment, and he threatened to leave at intermission. The other was Linda Ronstadt was on the stage, and I was in the wings about 15 feet from her. She is a tiny little thing. She opened her mouth and belted out a song with a fullness and volume that astonished me. I couldn’t believe that it could be coming out of her tiny frame. SPAC was an important part of my life the whole 40+ years that I lived in Saratoga Springs, from the Jazz Festival to the Ballet, Orchestra and special rock concerts.
I was thrilled to be asked to help plan the 50th Anniversary season celebration, and spent 3 ½ years working with Marcia White and the SPAC team. I left the country in January 2016, the parts of the celebration planning I did were finished, and I am watching everything unfold -one after another -from afar.
Congratulations to everyone.
Susan Farnsworth now resides in Israel with her husband and his family.
At the racetrack, “Who da ya like?” is the question.
Deciding which horse or horses ya like and why it is critical to pari-mutuel success. The answer is in the track program.
Though at first intimidating, the track programs’ past performances are less difficult to understand than you think. The “key” is learning where to look and in what sequence. Handicapping is FUNdamental if you know the Four Cs: Connections, Capabilities, Current Form and Conditions.
CONNECTIONS: Determining the horse “ya like” begins with people. Horses race under the care of trainers; a jockey rides horses. Nothing earth shattering here, but the top 10 trainers and jockeys win most of the races. Current standings are printed in the track program. Start with that list. Then move to the past performances and determine how well each trainer and jockey is faring. In our program example, trainer Mitchell Friedman has run but a single horse; jockey Aaron Gryder has but one ride.
CAPABILITIES: What a horse has accomplished on the racetrack is recorded in a career box. The box presents lifetime starts and earnings, race record over the current and previous racing season, performance over today’s course, surface and distance. Wins, in-the-money finishes and performance by surface provide a picture of consistency or lack thereof. The career box suggests Can Can Babe is better on synthetic surfaces, wet tracks and turf than on dirt. Can Can Babe won 4/10 races in 2015. She earned a win a second thus far in 2016 as she rounds into form. Additionally, each horse earns speed and pace ratings for each effort it makes in a race. The higher the number the faster the speed or pace. Fast horses usually win over slower horses. But horses are not machines and figures earned vary. Speed and pace figures help you decide who is fast enough to compete and predict which might be faster today. Can Can Babe’s most recent speed figure is an 81. She has run a 99 in the past.
CURRENT FORM: Equine athletes are not machines. They are trained and conditioned in much the same way as most professional athletes. After each race, like most athletes, horses feel the effects of their effort. Most need a certain amount of time to recover. Some are capable of holding form through several races. Others, like NFL players sustaining minor injuries, need longer “vacations”, layoffs, before returning to the race wars. Simply put, horses round into form, perform and cycle out of form. If horses were people, I imagine they would often call in sick. Health and race fitness is the trainer’s job. Trainers recognize when horses require time to recover. Can Can Babe has been rested since her June 16 race after being claimed (purchased) by these connections. Racing dates are listed at the far left of the past performance box. The dates indicate how often each horse makes it to the races. Lines between the dates indicate time away in recovery. Additionally, each line indicates track condition, surface and distance, fractions and final time of each race, the age level and sex of the runners, the class level (a topic for another time), pace and speed ratings, and the running position from start to finish. Some horses race better over different tracks, surfaces and distances. Some race well after a layoff; others don’t. Can Can Babe won once following a 30-day rest from December to January. Finish position is a reflection of current form against that day’s level of competition. Horses finishing in-the-money or in the front half of the field in their most recent races can be viewed as being in good form. Consistent rear-half finishers are cycling either out of form, overmatched at the class level, or cycling back into form. Can Can Babe returns to racing after a layoff since June 16.
CONDITIONS: Because it is so important to trainers, handicappers should pay attention as well. The Racing Secretary writes a book of races from which trainers will opt to race. This Condition Book is a form of racetrack bible. The intent is to bring horses of near equal ability together to race for purse money. Some races are open to all. Most races restrict or bar certain horses. The specific race condition identifies which horses may or may not enter to run. Why might horses be barred from running in a race? To keep young developing horses together, and to level the playing field for elders. If not, the better horses would always beat up on and defeat the lesser. So, the intent of the condition is to invite eligible horses of relatively equal ability to enter. Conditions are not unusual in sport. Professionals always win open golf or tennis tournaments; professionals are barred from amateur tournaments. Today’s condition example is a claiming race. All horses entered are for sale for $20,000 and may be bought by licensed horsemen through a “claim” process. This race is for females (Fillies and Mares), ages Three Years old and Upward. Three-year-olds carry weight of 120 pounds; older carry 124 pounds. Horses carry weight plus the jockey. Elders carry more than three-year olds. In this condition, Non-winners Of Two Races in 2016 are allowed to carry 2 pounds less. Non-winners of A Race in 2016 are allowed to carry 4 pounds less. Good horses that win are “penalized” and carry more weight than ‘Non-winners’, a euphemism for Losers. Weight carried is a concern for trainers. They seek race conditions that give their horse a weight advantage. Horses that best fit the written restrictions of the condition don’t always win, but are always contenders to win.
That’s why it pays to learn to read and understand the race conditions. Mastering the FUNdamental Four Cs of Connections, Capabilities, Current Form and Conditions will help you answer the question, “who da ya like?”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Kasandra Carda decided to buzz into Dunkin Donuts on South Broadway, on Tuesday, July 26, about 10 a.m. for some quick refreshment on her way to some real estate appointment, she had no idea that her life was about to change. “I went in that side entrance—the one only locals know about,” she said with a smile.
And there it was. The perfect, quintessential, only in Saratoga Springs photo op.
Mounted Officer John Sesselman, aboard the mighty police horse King Tut – ordering a coffee for himself and a single glazed munchkin for his steed. “It happened by accident, and I couldn’t resist. So I snapped the photo – with my cell phone – and impulsively threw it on Facebook. I knew my friends would like it,” Kasandra said.
That became quite an understatement. In short order, she was rapidly accumulating likes, loves, ha ha’s, comments, and shares. Nothing unusual – it’s a great pic. We printed it ourselves on page seven (Neighborhood Buzz – July 29) last week. But then something else happened. Somehow, one of the “shares” reached the attention of a Boston TV news reporter for WCVB, an ABC News affiliate. Kasandra Carda started getting inquiries from all over the nation.
All of a sudden, Kasandra started to worry. She was concerned that this sort of publicity might not be appreciated by her local police department. Here, she was just beginning to launch her own realty firm, Saratoga Spa Realty, LLC – a joint venture with Bella Home Builders and herself (visit SaratogaSpaRealty.com), and as anyone who has started a business knows – there’s already plenty to be concerned with, even with a well-established partner.
As it turned out, Kasandra had nothing to worry about. “I actually reached out to Officer Sesselman, and spoke to his wife, very nice,” she said. “She said everybody in the department loved it!”
This was confirmed by Mounted Officer Glenn Barrett, whom Cassandra ran into near the Saratoga Race Course. But, like I said, Kasandra never needed to worry.
For the reporter in Boston, the one who somehow got ‘shared’ Kasandra’s quintessential Saratoga photo, and put her on that viral road…
Is named…Jenny. Pombo. Sesselman. “She is Officer Sesselman’s sister-in-law,” Kasandra said, with a smile.
Like my hero Paul Harvey used to say: “Now you know…”
But wait – there’s still more to …the rest of the story.
Along the way, ABC Boston shared with other ABC affiliates, as networks are wont to do. Eyewitness News in Raleigh, NC broadcast the photo; Eyewitness News in New York City tweeted it on their page. And along the way, the Associated Press (AP) picked it up.
The AP, which is headquartered in New York City, operates in more than 280 locations worldwide. Their affiliates number in the thousands. AP’s 2015 annual report tells the tale:
“More than half the world’s population sees content from The Associated Press every day via 15,000 news outlets worldwide.” - Source: ap.org T
hat, my friends is the definition of viral. There is no way I know of to measure the amount of eyeballs that have seen, or will see, Kasandra’s picture. And it all started right here in Saratoga Springs – where she was born, raised, and lives with her husband and daughter.
And she’s a nice person to boot! So help her out - buy a house from her – two if you can afford it.
Lest she be tempted to switch to photojournalism or something…
WORLDWIDE — Paramount Pictures’ latest installment of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe is an exciting ride for everyone except Trek purists. It is well worth the extra bucks for surround sound, but if you go 3D you might miss the extraordinary detail in the cinematography and computer-generated imagery (CGI).
The spaceport is especially impressive and a far cry from Star Trek DS9, showcasing an estimated budget of $185 million well spent. Sure, we’ve seen similar twists of gravity in other movies, but none with this attention to living, breathing detail of people and vehicles and day-to-day activities. The visual artistry and design in this film will surely gain awards at the Oscars and Golden Globes.
The entertaining plot derives from the creative talent of Simon Pegg, who also stars in the film as engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. Co-written with Doug Jung, fans are being treated to a new Star Trek adventure, a refreshing break to the story rehashes of the first two films. The humor is spontaneous, natural, and continues to poke a little fun at the original Trek television series, including a scene redolent of the “I see you managed to get your shirt off,” line from “Galaxy Quest.”
Pegg does a good job of character development, with a reflective Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) facing a “now what?” realization of the consequences of accepting a dare to get through Starfleet Academy. Pine is entirely believable as a young man questioning his motives as he is maturing into leadership, but Zachery Quinto could not quite pull off a Vulcan caught between duty to his Starfleet promise and duty to the remnants of his endangered species. The actor’s portrayal of the inimitable Spock lacked the logical confidence of his earlier portrayals, making Spock seem more vulnerable and, well, human in a disappointing way.
Without giving anything away, the villain continues the theme of personal consequences, and the tale’s solution is a little reminiscent of “Shaun of the Dead,” also written by Pegg, but that can be forgiven in the glorious treatment of it by director Justin Lin, of “Fast and Furious” fame, with spectacular space explosions to the screeches of the Beastie Boys.
And speaking of music, there is nothing like sitting in a darkened, surround-sound theater listening to the magic of Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s genius. His original score from the 2009 Star Trek continues to thrill audiences, beginning with its distinct oboe’s long, trailing note that awakens a hint of heartbreaking solitude before it moves into a building percussion of edge-of-seat anticipation. The score’s emotional transition is so natural that the audience doesn’t even realize it has been set up to love the movie before it’s even begun.
Kudos also goes to actress Sofia Boutella, who expertly brought to life new character Jaylah in the film. With the brains of an engineer, a tragic backstory, and the dangerous beauty of a ninja warrior, there’s no doubt that Comic Cons and Halloween will be making a killing off of Jaylah costumes this year.
And for the “shippers” out there, as far as budding romance, well, Mel Brooks said it best in “History of the World Part I.” Let’s just say, “It’s good to be the king (er, writer).” Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon has worked with Lin on Fast and Furious movies, and their teamwork shows in the thrilling action sequences that will satisfy the modern Trek audience, but true Trekkers will note the flash replacing substance in the plot.
For a series that was leading the way in social debate, such as airing the first interracial kiss on television in 1968, the new Star Trek seems to be just trying to keep up. The leaked pre-release spoiler that helmsman Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho, is gay was a nod to the original Sulu’s George Takei. It is tastefully done, but it underscores the plot’s lack of challenging themes such as world economics, man versus technology, and human (species) rights that made the original Trek so compelling despite its low budget and overacting.
Paramount seems content to stick with tried and true formulas that make good money feeding a sugar-high audience – and this film is great fun and among the best in that category. But is the studio risking audiences will leave the film feeling the emptiness of enjoying a high-calorie dessert with nothing thought provoking to sustain them and bring them back for more?
It would have been easy to make the artifact in the story a rare item that survived the destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek 2009, which would have provided a little depth to the plot. And where are the Ferengis who are likely making enriching deals left and right off that disaster, but neither J.J. Abrams (director of Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness) and his writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman nor the Lin/Pegg/Jung team thought to capitalize on the wealth of potential original stories such a tragedy could create. Humor, action, pioneering science, and depth is the real money-making Trek formula, and this film comes painfully close. The next movie will make or break this reboot.
“Star Trek Beyond” was dedicated in memoriam to two lost stars – Leonard Nimoy, actor, director, and original Spock, who died February 27, 2015 at age 83, and Anton Yelchin, (ship navigator Pavel Andreievich Chekov) who died June 19 this year at age 27.
My first concert, my high school graduation stage, and my first “big girl” job all have one thing in common – SPAC.
So for a place that fulfilled so many of my milestones, it feels only fair that I pay homage to its special milestone, the 50th Anniversary.
As a Saratoga Springs native - you know that it’s a special place.
As a little girl, I was mesmerized – twirling in a little pink ballet tutu – the first time my mom took me to a New York City Ballet matinee. As a tween, ecstatic, when I scored balcony tickets to Britney Spears. My big brother, who previously was way too cool for “Baby One More Time”, quickly volunteered to take me. And earlier this month, as an adult-in-training, I admittedly attended the Phish show, and of course it’s legendary “Shakedown Street.”
However, despite growing up at SPAC, it took working behind the scenes to be able to fully appreciate what makes it tick. The dedication of the small staff to present a full season to the public is astounding. You need to give up your life – and sleep -- for about 4 months of the year. Seriously.
The phrase “the show must go on,” while likely overused, rang true quite literally.
From an intern dressing up as “Dorothy” to promote the upcoming Wizard of Oz presentation with The Philadelphia Orchestra (and getting caught in a rain storm while staging promotional photos) to handing out American Girl doll raffle tickets to anxious moms to quickly tidying my notoriously messy car before picking up The Philadelphia Orchestra President – each was a once in a lifetime experience.
Meet and greet hundreds of Russians from the Bolshoi Ballet in the Price Chopper parking lot on a Sunday night? No problem. Smile and welcome them to Saratoga while they groggily exit their Upstate buses and navigate the foreign aisles containing 50 brands of cereal? Sure.
The New York City Ballet Gala and Lawn Party, always one of my favorite events, was subject to many near crises. At “The British Invasion,” we counted 32 tent rentals set-up. There was supposed to be 33. Can we get another tent installed ASAP all while not disrupting the current matinee performance? We must. Where are the eight missing high-top tables? And why don’t the linens fit?
And then the curtain rises to Balanchine’s Union Jack – and you remember what it’s for. Wait – where is the male arm bouquet Marcia is presenting on stage after the first Act? It’s not backstage with production?
Ah, yes, it’s in the wrong office. Roger. And the second act continues.
To borrow from Bill Dake who coined a popular SPAC motto (printed as a required desk adornment): instead of admiring the problem, look for the solution. And don’t answer the phone – “can I help you?” It’s “I can help.”
This philosophy has followed me to New York City where I now work at a public relations firm. Sometimes when I speak, my former bosses come out. And I’m proud of that.
The amazing thing about SPAC is that it has always had the most loyal “fans” – rivaling that of even Phishheads, and classical aficionados – who care about the venue, its history and its future.
And while we all know the show must go on, it’s nice to reflect on the place that we natives are lucky to have in our backyard.
Kristy Godette is a Saratoga Springs native. She served as Executive Assistant to the President and Public Relations Associate at SPAC and now does public relations for DKC Public Relations in New York City.