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|Feldman Here To Stay|
Max Feldman has been practicing law in the same 5th Avenue office for 27 years. And he figures on being in Coraopolis, either as District Judge or as an attorney, for the next 27. And that's why a large number of voters favor him in Tuesday's election.
The Coraopolis-Neville-Crescent-Moon judicial district has been without a judge of its own for two years. Every month, a different judge rotates in for that month's cases. The judges don't know the communities involved and do not hold night sessions or extra day sessions.
Feldman supporters worry that Michele Santicola will use the judgeship as a stepping stone to higher position and, once again, the district will be left with rotating out of district judges. They point to her winning a seat on the Moon Township Board of Supervisors, then immediately running for district judge. They point to her already investigating possible openings at the county level.
Feldman himself doesn't talk about these details. He's focused on a grass roots campaign, with lots of going house to house, knocking on doors, listening to voters, finding out what they worry about and what they want in a judge.
"I love this town," he says. "I love this whole area. We have good people here. The vast majority of them just want to be respected, to be listened to, and to be treated fairly. As a Magistrate, it will be my job to make sure all those things are done. "
Feldman sees the disparity in the area. "But these are all Americans, all important people. No matter how big or small their house or apartment is, they all deserve equal treatment and respect under the law. The Magistrate has to be visible, be out and about the town and the area, be available to everyone who wants to talk to him. He has to know the community, know all its various neighborhoods, from Mooncrest to Glenwillard to Charlton Heights to Front River Road. And it's not always big court decisions. It may be little things. Helping people vote by absentee ballot, helping people get the kind of help they need from some government agency. A Magistrate is more than a courtroom judge."
Feldman has been too busy knocking on doors and campaigning to watch TV and keep up with the impeachment effort in Washington, but he does think it's important to follow the Constitution. "No matter who you are, the Constitution guarantees you the right to know the charges, to confront and cross examine your accuser, and to have your hearing in public, out in the open, where everyone can see what's going on. We can't have Justice without Due Process. Whether you're a maid or a custodian or President, you have to have your basic rights."
Feldman supporters point to his arriving in Coraopolis with nothing and building his law practice from scratch. He's doing fine now, but at one point he had to watch each dollar carefully. So they believe he can identify with members of the community that find themselves struggling pay check to pay check.
One dilemma that worries him is how the court treats illegal immigrants. "The law must apply equally," he emphasizes. "The Magistrate takes an oath to administer the law blindly, impartially. But you also have to have common sense and compassion. An illegal immigrant still has the right to be heard, to be treated with respect."
Feldman shakes his head when the subject of Opioids comes up. "A great percentage of crimes that come before the Judge are directly or indirectly relate to opioid use. Yes, of course, we have dealers and traffickers and users. But also many of the thefts and assaults begin with opioid use. And a teenager may come before the court on what may seem like an unrelated offense, except his parents are opioid users so the kid is without supervision or adult guidance. So who's to blame, the kid or the parents? As a Judge, I would work closely with mental health and community service agencies. We must address this issue on all fronts, as a total community."
Feldman points to his 27 years of working long hours as proof he would be a hard working Judge. "I'm used to working evenings and weekends. The idea of night court so people don't have to take days off their job is not a problem to me. We have to make the court accessible. I will do whatever is needed to serve the community."
|Mayor Reed Assesses His First 15 Months|
Long before he entered politics, Shawn Reed adopted Coraopolis as his hometown. Originally from McKeesport, Reed came to attend Robert Morris and fell in love with the place. His 100 year old house on Montour Street backs up to the forest of McCabes's Hollow. Deer, Raccoon, Possum, Rabbits and Groundhogs prowl his backyard. This is where Reed retreats from his busy days.
Much of his backyard is consumed by Cory's only Bocce Court. Bocce is an Italian bowling game. There was a court at a park where he grew up and he came to enjoy the gsme. Between local meetings and work travel, Reed doesn't have time for golf or other sports, so he plays Bocce. "There's a large Italian population here," he says. "We should have Bocce courts. Maybe we can install one in a local park."
His days are so busy because he basically has two full time jobs : Mayor of Coraopolis and Senior Vice President at True Sense Marketing. One day he's at the new Borough Building holding office hours, and the next day he's in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere in between. Reed majored in marketing at Geneva College and Robert Morris, and sees the world through a marketing perspective. As Mayor, he sees his job as marketing Coraopolis to the world. This week, on a beautiful Spring day, he paused to reflect on his first 15 months in office.
"I underestimated the slowness of government,:" he admits. "The wheels turn verrry slowly. In the business world, you can turn a project on a dime. In government, even in a small town like this, everything just takes time."
But he still rates his first 15 months as a success.
"You have to look at the first third of a political term as a time for planting seeds. You have to establish relationships, lay groundwork, build connections." He's been making the rounds of local businesses, the Cornell School, Police, Fire Department and various other agencies. "I explained that it's not my intent to do their jobs or tell them how to do their jobs but rather to understand how they do their jobs and continually ask how I can help them do their jobs. We are so lucky here. We have so many great and talented people who are working very hard to keep this town running smoothly." Reed is thrilled with the buzz about Coraopolis. "We get several calls a month from businesses interested in locating here. Just this week one of our old Victorian houses went on the market for $250,000. We have people interested in partnering with us on various projects. The word is out there that Coraopolis is a town on the rise, and people want to come here and be part of it."
Some projects are moving slowly. Reed had the idea of removing the parking meters. But he and a councilman learned that if they did, people would grab downtown parking spaces in the morning and stay parked there all day, so customers couldn't get to the small businesses. So the parking meters are still there. However, he and several councilmen are in talks with companies to replace the coin meters with new ones using credit csrds. "A lot of people don't even carry pocket change anymore."
His big priorities right now are to improve borough communications, and to establish committees led by residents, not council members. An Arts Committee just had its first meeting. "I've visited other small towns with murals on the sides of buildings. In some cases, the murals themselves have become attractions; people visit the towns just to see all the murals. There's no reason we can't do that here. I'm no artist, but we have artists here, and I believe they could come up with a plan to use art to beautify the town."
Regular website updates and a newsletter "let us control our own narrative." He is determined people in Cory need to know on a regular basis exactly what their government is doing.
He's been heartened by the number of people who have come forth to volunteer for various tasks but believes there are a lot more out there who could be drawn into working on one committee or another. "I'm a collaborative Mayor. I'm an enabler. Government is a participant sport. The more people we have working on projects, the better our town can become."
Reed is an enthusiastic supporter of Hollow Oak Trust's plans for local trails. He wants the Ohio Valley Trail from the Montour Trail to the Sewickley Bridge, the Coraopolis Trail up Thorn Run and McCabes run, and the Robin Hill Trail connecting Thorn Run to Montour Woods, to become realities. "People can use these trails for jogging, hiking, biking, nature study, any number of things. Studies show that people and businesses are attracted to towns with trail networks."
Reed took great pride in being one of the workers blazing a trail from Cornell School to McCabes Run and back up.
"These trails are going to happen. Never before have we designated borough woodlands for public use, AND made them accessible. That'll be another opportunity for local residents to volunteer for work crews. Laying a trail requires a lot of volunteer labor."
One thing he's proud of and intends to maintain is Cory's budget condition. The borough is solidly in the black. Statewide, 80% of all towns and townships are in the red. That, he mentions, is due to Ray McCutcheon. "He's a very frugal Borough Manager, one of the best around."
But Reed also thinks McCutcheon could use some help. "I would like to hire a combination grant writer, marketing specialist and communications manager. Some Council members are already in favor of this. Could this person pay for their own salary? Could they bring in enough grants and attract enough businesses that whatever we paid them was more than balanced by income? I'n hoping to move on this in the next six months." Long term, he would like to find some way to add more downtown parking and more green space.
He is disappointed with the disconnect between reality and what is said on social media. "We have people who take Facebook, Twitter and other sites much too seriously. I see businesses moving in, our Shade Tree Commission planting trees and setting out flowers, a committee staging a Halloween Festival, the Riverfront Park, trails and other projects moving right along, the train station in progress, our really progressive school system, all these great things happening every day, and then I go online and read dozens of negative comments. We've done millions of dollars in street and road work over the last few years and people are online complaining that their alley has potholes. It takes time to get around to every street and alley and it will take time for Riverfront Park to become a reality and so on, but the critics on social media want to paint a negative picture that is just not true."
This, he emphasizes, is another reason why the Borough needs its own Newsletter. "We have to let the people know the positive things that are happening. If we're silent, those negative voices will prevail." But he's optimistic. "This is a great job. How many people get to spend their time as the spokesman, the advocate, for a town as exciting, as promising, as Coraopolis? I feel very very blessed."
|Feldman Offers Longevity, Business Acumen|
Evaluating candidates for District Judge is difficult because all three candidates are well qualified. But two qualities Max Feldman offers that separate him from the other two are Longevity and Business Background.
The Western Hills District Judgeship has been vacant for almost two years. To fill the void, the County has rotated other judges in every month. While the men rotating through have all been good judges, they have had different styles and backgrounds, so local rulings have been inconsistent. And since those judges have not been from this area, they have not always worked the entire day and not always worked five days a week.
Feldman promises to change that.
He's been in Coraopolis 30 years. He's run the same law practice in the same 5th Avenue building all that time, raised his family here, and represented local clients all that time.
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm 56. I have no ambitions to become a Common Pleas Judge or State Superior Court Judge or anything else. If I'm elected, I'll be the Western Hills District Judge for the long term. I'll establish a consistency that's been missing here."
Feldman also promises to extend working hours. "We need late afternoon and evening hours. Adults in this community work, and most of them work during the daytime. Kids here go to school. A night court at least one evening a week would allow those people to take care of their legal issues without missing work or school. I've worked long hours ever since I opened this law practice, so working evenings is nothing new to me."
Feldman also feels his business background would be an asset. "We came here with $4000 and a baby on the way. A law practice is a small business, and we started this one from scrstch. We had to remodel the building. We have to maintain records, file taxes, supervice employees, do all the things any small business does. The District Judge, in addition to hearing cases, has to administer the court. It's like running a small business. You have to keep records, file reports, supervise employees, all the same tasks. My background better qualifies me to do those things than either of my opponents."
Feldman sees a Distridt Judge almost as a parent figure. "Sometimes you have to impose consequences, but other times you have to show compassion. We have repeat and violent offenders and they need dealt with. But for light offenses or first time offenders, sometimes community service is a better alternative."
He also sees Respect as a key component. "A District Judge has to earn the respect of the community. But he also has to respect the people who come before him, treat them professionally, listen to their side of things. Another important aspect of this is a District Judge has to respect the Police. We have good Police in this area. They work hard and sometimes risk their lives. When they bring a case to the Judge, they deserve to have that case taken seriously."
Fortunately, he sees the Western Hills as a great community. "This is a safe community. We have good Police and good people. The drug flow through here worries me, and I think a lot of the other activities, the thefts, vandalism, violent confrontations, and even traffic violations, stem from drugs most of the time. But for the most part, what we have are kids and adults who make poor decisions more than chronic offenders trying to get away with serious crime."
One issue people are asking candidates about this year is the location of District Court in the old Volante's Building. Feldman doesn't see that location as a problem. "It's central. There's plenty of parking. It's easy to get to. It's right on the bus line. Sure, we could use a larger facility, but there are a lot of communities who have a lot worse and would gladly trade with us."
Feldman's two sons both became lawyers and work at his firm. "Our family's solidly established in this community," he says proudly. "It took a while to build this practice, but we have a good paralegal and good legal assistants. If I move into the District Judgeship, my sons can take over the firm. It would be a way I could give back to the community."
|Tapestry Assisted Living To Open In June|
The former Embassy Suites Hotel just off Coraopolis Heights Road and the Parkway West has undergone a year long renovation and will open in June as Tapestry Senior Living Moon Township.
The 224 apartments are already being rented even though the occupants will not move in for another six weeks. There are choices of basic units with one bedroom and slightly larger units with a den or a patio. (There are no more den units available.)
The facility will include a swimming pool, various recreation areas, and a full medical unit. A nurse will be available 24/7 and doctors will visit weekly.
Units begin at $5300 a month. That is all inclusive. Once a resident or their family pays the monthly rent, there are no other costs. For additional care, such as the Memory Care units, the cost is more.
Dining facilities are open from 7 am until 7 pm.
The photo here at left shows the restaurant, serving three meals a day. A pub serves drinks and light snacks. The coffee shop (photo below left) and grille serve everything from burgers to grilled cheese sandwiches to wraps to soups and salads. The restaurant includes side rooms for family visits or special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
The Moon Senior Connection Center, currently housed at Robin Hill, will move into Tapestry in June. Their facility and all their programs will be open to Tapestry residents.
A chapel, hair and nail salon, and movie theater are also included.
The Sewickley YMCA and Lifespan of Imperial will provide various exercise and recreational programs.
John Sciulli, Business Development Coordinator, emphasizes that Tapestry wants residents to remain as active as possible because that is the key to sustained good health.
Tapestry will host trips to movies, plays, concerts and other nearby attractions.
Tapestry requires its staff to be trained in TEEPA Snow technique for dimentia caregiving. Those residents are more carefully monitored 24 hours a day. A music therapy plan is available. Research has found that music can often unlock memories in Alzheimer's patients.
The Silver Sphere monitoring systemis also in effect for all residents. SS equips every room with infrared cameras which alert staff in the event of a fall or other mishap. Tapestry also equips every resident with a pendant (women usually wear them as a necklace, men as a wristwatch). They can press the pendant at any time 24/7 to summon a staff member to assistance.
This is not Tapestry's first Assisted Living facility. The company already has facilities in Florida, Minnesota and Cleveland. It is planning more in New Jersey and Cincinnati. All are remodelled former hotels. But this one in Moon Township is the largest with capacity for 224 residents.
|Sacred Heart Musical Opens This Weekend|
Sacred Heart's 2019 musical, Once Upon A Mattress, opens this weekend (March 1-2-3) in the OLSH Auditorium with performances at 7:30 Friday and Saturday and 2 pm Sunday afternoon. Admission is $12. The run will continue next Friday, Saturday and Sunday (March 8-9-10) at the same times.
Sacred Heart may be a small private academy but this is no small time program. In 20 years Director Dolores Manuel has built one of the strongest drama companies in all of western Pennsylvania. This is no idle claim. The facts back it up. 10 times during those 20 years OLSH has won awards in the prestigious Gene Kelly Musical Theater Festival. OLSH has already been invited back to the exclusive Edinboro University Fringe Drama Competition. Two years ago, at the Fringe competition, OLSH qualified five students to spend two weeks in Scotlsnd, where they performed a Thornton Wilder play.
Wednesday night, at a full scale dress rehearsal, Manuel watched critically as her 60 student cast put the play on before an empty auditorium
Once Upon A Mattress is a 1950s musical comedy set in medieval times. It features the efforts of a king and queen to find a suitable princess for their son, Dauntless. A long list of hopeful candidates have failed the tests dreamed up by the Wizard. Finally, the other son, Sir Studley, volunteers to go Beyond The Wall into the swamp kingdom of Woebegone to see if he can find an acceptable princess who could pass the test. Much to the horror of Queen Aggravain, he returns with Princess Winnifred, a free spirit who swims, drinks, lifts weights, and has no use for the Queen's stuffy protocol. Dauntless and Winnifred take an immediate liking to each other but the Queen and the Wizard try to devise a test the Princess cannot possibly pass.
Two subplots wind through the play. Sir Studley and Lady Larken have dallied and she is pregnant, but so far only they know. King Sextimus is mute so has to explain everything by pantomime. The claim is that he is mute because of a spell cast by an angry witch and the spell can only be broken when a mouse rises up and overcomes a hawk. But the suspicion grows that he is really mute because he has been cowed into submission by the domineering Queen.
While all this develops on stage, Manuel (photo below right, speaking to cast) takes notes. The lighting is not yet quite right. In a few scenes, actors forget their lines or cues. They ad lib and improvise smoothly so an audience not familiar with the play might not notice, but that needs correcting. A few scenes lag, the pacing slow. That will need tightening up.
By Friday everything will need to be perfect because in the audience will be four judges. As usual, OLSH is entered in the Gene Kelly Musical Theater Competition. This year 33 schools are entered. Across the region, the judges will be viewing plays. The ones they select will be invited to the Benedum Center the last week of May for the Finals.
The Gene Kelly awards were created in 1998 to honor Gene Kelly, the famous actor, dancer, singer, director and producer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Kelly graduated from Peabody HS and the University of Pittsburgh and began his stage career here before heading for Hollywood. Kelly is considerd the most important person in the history of American musical theater, and did everything he could to encourage Pittsburgh colleges and high schools to become involved in that field and develop their local talent.
In past years, OLSH has won Gene Kelly awards for Scenic Design, Costuming, Actress, Supporting Actress and Lighting. Manuel's company has been a finalist in Crew, Technical Support, Ensemble, Actor, Direction. Choreography and Best Overall Production.
This is no one woman production. Manuel has plenty of help. Daughter Kate is a Bucknell University graduate in Vocal Performance and handles the vocal coaching plus the artwork. Heather Taylor is in charge of the Choreography and Lighting. Michelle Nowakowski is responsible for Costuming and Music. Manuel designs the sets, but a committee of Dads builds them. Nowakowski, Allen Pontiere and Tracey Whorton anchor the orchestra, but all other members are students. "Every adult handles two or even three tasks," Manuel explains. "We don't have enough to let people specialize."
The orchestra is unique in several ways. In the tight OLSH Auditorium, there's no room out front. So the orchestra sits behind the stage and is heard but never seen. Because it is right behind the sets, it sits in total darkness (photo, above left), except for tiny lights right over each member's pages of music. No member of the orchestra can see on stage. So they listen for lines. When an actor or actress says a particular line, the orchestra begins a particular song.
The orchestra isn't the only group in the darkness. Further backstage, Rebecca Voss of the Stage Crew tracks scene changes and set movements in a flow book under a single desk light, as seen in the photo bottom center. Like all stage crews, Sacred Heart's is a tight team, headed by Ryan Parker and including Jacob Kanoza, Tiffany Ponticel and Matthew Shick. An old drama cliche says the Director conducts rehearsals and organizes everything, but once a performance begins, the stage crew runs it while the Director sits in the back of the audience and watches.
One advantage a stable, long term program like OLSH has is that students begin as freshmen and develop their skills over three years so as seniors they're ready to fill key roles, whether acting or singing or backstage. Alyssa Brinza (photo, left) is wonderful as the quirky, boisterous Princess Winnifred, who thinks Winnie sounds like a horse so prefers to be called Fred. Xavier Moskala plays a great King Sextimus, unable to talk so communicating with bizarre gestures. His birds and bees talk with son Dauntless, in which the King has to explain sex through pantomime using flower and bee imagery, is a classic, even though the two actors are still perfecting the pace. Sextimus flirting with all the handmaidens and chasing them around the sets adds a continual undertone to each scene. Sophia Blake is charming, sweet and gracious as Lady Larken (in pink in photo three frames up on the left), alternately romantic, frightened and angry. Margaret Matous makes a fine domineering Queen Aggravain (above right, cradling son Dauntless), overprotective of her clueless son, ferocious with her King, conniving against the Princess, and plotting with the Wizard. A strong supporting cast helps, especially Chapel Fauser as The Nightingale. She only appears once, brought in to serenade Winnifred to sleep. Fauser's screeching and yowling are one of the play's funniest scenes, but it takes real talent to sing as loudly as badly as she does while occasionally lapsing into legitimate music.
Even the army of handmaidens (photo, right) serving rhe court does a good job. While none of them are speaking roles, their constant knitting, floor scrubbing, errand running, and general bustling around help create the atmosphere of an operating castle, lending a rich background and filling the stage with color and motion. Presumably, from their ranks will come the lead actresses of two and three years in the future. The beautiful costumes were all designed and made by Michelle Nowakowski.
This is not a low budget production. There's a lot of high tech equipment backing up what happens on stage, as seen in the photos below. That's Manuel checking the twin screens at right and David Sykut manning the sound system at left.
Putting on a production of this level is not easy. Of 300 high schools in western Pennsylvania, only 33 even attempt it and about 20 consistently do it well. The OLSH performance looks like a typical college play. The lines are well inflected, the pacing usually snappy, the supporting tech flawless, and the voices impressive. It is definitely worth an evening.
Cornell Girls Basketball Starts Over
|Rebuilding A Team From The Ground Up.....|
How do you rebuild a sports program from ground zero? Cornell High School has faced that challenge twice in the last four years. First, Coach Ed Dawson had to bring back football after the school had abandoned it for five seasons. He warned the School Board it would be a tough uphill struggle and they would need patience. Beginning with freshmen but forced to play a varsity schedule, his teams lost every game for two years by one sided scores. Gradually, his players developed the experience and skills needed. In 2018 they finally won half their games, and in 2019 they expect to contend for a playoff berth. All of that, and Cornell, Coraopolis and Neville Island had a century of championship football tradition.
Now the school faces the same challenge in girls basketball. It history is much bleaker. After the WPIAL launched girls basketball, Cornell went two decades with no team. At all. Challenged by Title 9 advocates, they held tryouts and no girl showed up. When the school did find enough girls to field a team, they lost every game by embarassing scores. Finally Cornell hired Shawn Urbano of McKees Rocks. Urbano had been an assistant at several schools. He promised to build a program, but warned it would take several years.
He kept his promise. He went down to the grade school, recruited a dozen girls, and worked with them year round. When those girls reached ninth grade, suddenly Cornell reached not only the WPIAL Playoffs but the State Tournament for four straight years. They ranked #1 off and on, beat traditional power Quigley, upset Farrell, saw Daeja Quick named Player of the Year, and sent girls off to college.
Then Urbano left for the coaching job at 5A Canon McMillan, and the school discovered that all this success had concealed a glaring error. The one group of girls was the only group recruited and developed. Below the one group, no players had been developed. As those girls graduated, no one was left. Not one.
So another complete rebuilding job would be needed. This time, Cornell turned to Mark Bolla, who had previously coached at Langley and Canevin.
What Bolla inherited was no seniors, no juniors and no sophomores. He had a dozen very enthusiastic freshmen with little or no middle school experience. Below this group is another dozen eighth graders which WPIAL rules do not allow to play in high school.
Cornell considered cancelling the varsity season and playing a freshman schedule. But area schools no longer field freshman teams, and their sophomores play on JV teams which play only as preliminaries to varsities. So that was not an option. Bolla's freshmen were going to be fed to the wolves in one of the WPIAL's toughest sections.
Where to begin? "Talking about an offense or defense is silly," Bolla explains. "We don't have the basic skills. If we can't dribble, pass, catch, shoot or rebound, it doesn't matter what offense we play. We just need to work on fundamentals."
The differences in height, weight, age, strength and experience were also overwhelming. "When the girl guarding you is a foot taller, she just stands there watching you fake to the right, fake to the left, use your clever footwork, and then she swats your shot away. You set a screen and the opponent swats you out of the way. You can box someone off the boards and she reaches over you for the rebound."
Cornell's biggest problem has been getting the ball up the floor. "Every team we play presses us full court. They're too tall to pass over and have arms too long to pass around. We don't have the strong, clever dribblers to dribble around or through them."
Bolla also found his girls lack the arm strength. "We need lots of off season work with a heavy ball to build up our sttength so we can fire those quick, snappy passes and shoot a shot from 15 feet or further from the basket. We're throwing the ball at the basket more than we're shooting it."
He started back in October with 10 players. Nveah Lee was lost due to concussions, and Braelynn Weaver was lost to knee injuries. They were his best two girls. His third best player, Stefania Wiley, prefers to be a student manager.
"Playing before an audience doesn't bother me," Wiley says. "And the game pressure doesn't bother me. I just like the administrative side of it. I could be the best student manager in the WPIAL. I could go to a really big time college on a student manager scholarship. I like doing this."
So Bolla has a starting lineup of Angel Matukae, Karly DiVito, Jada Jenkins, Sophia Sicili and Heather Stephenson. Reserves are Lorraine Bourne and J.J. Robinson.
Bolla's assistant coach is Rachel Belhy, who played at Fort Cherry High School and Washington & Jefferson College. She works in real estate sales during the day.
While Bolla and Belhy have worked on fundamental skills and basketball instincts, they've also been working on fragile egos.
After all, how many times can you lose 76-2 and 72-5 before you get discouraged and quit?
"This is the most wonderful group of girls," Bolla says. "They never miss a practice, never complain, never get frustrated or angry. But we tell them every day not to consider these games. For the other team, they're games. For us, they're practices. We're practicing all this year in preparation for next year." And the girls do seem to have bought into this view.
Especially Matukae and DiVito, who have the bloodlines. Matukae's sister is Maya Goins, who was one of those girls Urbano coached. She played on those WPIAL and PIAA teams. She also played softball and was a cheerleader. DiVito's brother is Kaden, star point guard on Cornell's #1 varsity.
Matukae (#43 in three photos, including the one at right) paused after practice and talked about the year. "We're just paying our dues," she explains. "This is all going to pay off. Those big kids, they graduate. And we're getting a whole year of varsity experience. We'll work the whole off season. Next year, we should be a lot better. We may still lose. But we'll lose by a normal score. Then, again, girls will graduate, and we'll all be back. The day's going to come....."
Matukae tried to explain how far she's come since November. "I was so intimidated. I was afraid of contact. I didn't want to go in there. I got knocked around, knocked to the floor. Now, I'll drive in for a layup, or go after a rebound. One of those big girls, they want to knock me around, OK, bring it on."
"I used to think basketball was a noncontact sport. Wow, have I learned different. Those big girls knock us around the whole game and nothing gets called. So instead of waiting for an official to call a foul, I've learned we all just have to toughen up."
DiVito (#12 in the photo at left and below) nodded her head in agreement. "The game is finally slowing down," she described. "And I've learned to consider each possession a little game all by itself. They beat me once, twice, three times, OK, let's see how well I can do THIS time. Let's see if I can get the ball into the front court THIS time."
DiVito also tried to put into words how much different high school basktball was from grade school and middle school. "Everyone takes this so much more seriously. They're over there keeping statistics. Your scores and statistics are in the newspapers. People pay to come to the games. Everyone's always talking about which teams are going to make the playoffs. Fans are screaming at the refs. It's like WOW, this is a really big deal."
Her mother, who between the boys and girls' teams is often at games four nights a week, has tried to be encouraging at home. "It's been tough on Karly and it's even been tough on me. It hurts to sit here in the stands and watch her getting beat night after night. She's gotten down sometimes, but I keep telling her to see the long range. When they were freshmen, the Rochester girls never won a game. Now they're seniors, won the section and are ranked #1. One thing Karly has learned from Kaden is the value of hard work. In sports, nothing comes easy. But if you keep working, eventually you get your rewards."
Bolla used to get intense about winning, but this year he's taken a very low key approach. "What one thing can we focus on tonight? What did we learn tonight? What do we most need to work on for our next game?"
With the flood of eighth graders rising, he looks forward to having the numbers to run a real JV team and Varsity.
"It's quite possible some of those eighth graders might end up making the varsity, even starting on the varsity. We get 15 or 16 girls out here, everything will get a whole lot more interesting. We can have legitimate scrimmages. We can run competitive drills. We can have some depth if someone gets in foul trouble, or someone is sick or hurt."
In a century of school athletics, research has clearly shown that for small schools to be competitive, strong middle school programs and off season programs are essential. When it comes to girls, Cornell hasn't had either with any consistency. Bolla is determined to change that.
"We've got to get these girls off to a camp or two, and work with them here ourselves. During the season, all you have time to work on is the next opponent. It's during the offseason you work on fundamentals and on your shots and on building up your body. Girls don't like to get in the weightroom, but we're being outwrestled for rebounds and passes. We've got to get strong enough that when we get our hands on a rebound we can bring it in and pass it out to a teammate.
"The reason we need to get them off to camp is so they can hear someone beside me stressing the same fundamentals. After a while, kids tune out a teacher or coach or --- yes, even a parent. They've heard the same thing so many times they quit listening. But then when someone you don't know tells you that same thing suddenly you take it seriouosly.
"These girls also need to spend a week or two in an environment where everyone is devoted to basketball 24-7. They wake up talking about it, talk about it at breakfast, work on their game all morning, talk about it at lunch, work on their game all afternoon, talk about it at dinner, work on their game all evening, and go to bed talking about it. Our girls need to see how girls at other schools are so totally devoted to getting better."