Support for those who Support the Outdoors

Back in the freezing weather of January, I shared my goals for 2022. One of the most important goals outlined was to fight for our ever-dwindling open spaces in New Jersey. That includes fighting for those who share the love of the outdoors and educate others about the resource.

Enter the frustrating situation of the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club.

Located in one of my favorite spots in New Jersey, Sunset Beach, Cape May, the Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club has been meeting and sharing their love of fishing and the outdoors since the mid-1940s. What started as a few friends meeting at a private home in the Philly-area has turned into a decades-old club that has officially met at Sunset Beach since the 1950s.

They function as a non-profit, providing camaraderie and community to a group of local anglers. They have a great little meeting space next to the miniature golf course at Sunset Beach. It sounds like a really wonderful group of anglers who enjoy the outdoors and telling fishing stories.

So what’s the problem? Glad you asked.

Their building is located on the grounds of a former brick plant. When the plant closed in 1982, the owners leased the land to the club. In 1999, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife purchased the land from the plant owners and added it to the adjacent Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area.

Sportsmen's Club Building inside black circle within former brick plant.
Sportsmen’s Club Building inside black circle within former brick plant. (Credit: Sportsmen’s Club’s Facebook page)

So they own the building, but they do not own the land underneath it. It is also worth mentioning they have paid taxes to Lower Township since 1957.

OK, so sounds like typical bureaucracy so far. Annoying, but not horrible… yet.

Well, here’s where it gets complicated. And frustrating.

The NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter in February announcing plans to terminate the club’s lease agreement. The “Notice to Quit and Demand for Delivery of Possession of Premises” notes that if not followed, the state could file for eviction action. The letter outlined a list of reasons, which include “the sale of alcohol on a Wildlife Management Area without the prior written permission or other authorization from the (state), the club’s ‘interference’ with the National Coastal Wetlands Grant and the club’s use of the property being ‘inconsistent’ with the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s mission.”

Yes, they drink the occasional beer at the end of a day fishing. Pardon me while I clutch my pearls. I really hope my Jersey sarcasm is coming through loud and clear.

Whether the state owns the land beneath the club remains in dispute, according to Chris Gillin-Schwartz, Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club’s attorney.

It is worth mentioning, letters have been sent on letterhead from The DEP, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Tremendous pressure has been put on Lower Township to not renew the liquor license the club has possessed (in good standing) since 1976. I applaud Lower Township for standing up to the state and renewing their license.

This is a club that has served the community and its membership since the 1940s. They currently have 160 members (over 50 of which are veterans) and are good stewards of the resource. I feel like there’s more going on than the state wishes to share.

Now in all fairness, I reached out to New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Governor’s office. I received no response whatsoever. Not even a “no comment.” Total radio silence.

I promised my readership to fight for our great state and its wonderful resources. The Sunset Beach Sportsmen’s Club does the same. They work for their community and work to preserve the resource. I urge my readership to sign their online petition. I also urge you to reach out to the Governor’s office and let your voice be heard. Why the state is making a (literal) federal case out of a local fishing club is beyond me. I promise all of you to stay on this story and hope for a positive outcome.

Fish on.

New Jersey: The Cradle of Independence

When many think about Independence Day, they often think of places like Boston or Philadelphia. The truth is, New Jersey played an incredibly important role in the birth of our nation. There are plenty of great events throughout the long weekend of celebrate the holiday! Here are some of events that are taking place over the weekend.

Morristown National Historical Park

Morristown National Historical Park, where America survived, will celebrate our Declaration of Independence with July Fourth activities beginning at Noon on the park’s Washington’s Headquarters grounds, 30 Washington Place, with a “Warm-Up for the Declaration” followed by the reading of the Declaration.

The “Warm-Up” will feature a park ranger in period clothing entertaining the crowd and giving a “kids level” explanation of the Declaration. Eighteenth-century stories, jokes, and riddles are all part of the fun.

At 1pm, the “Public Reading of the Declaration of Independence” will commence. Attendees will be encouraged to cheer along with park rangers and re-enactors as they denounce tyranny and praise liberty. After the reading, attendees are welcome to participate in a mock salute called a feu de joie (musket salute).

Following the reading of the Declaration, the Ford Mansion will be open for self-guided tours with re-enactors in period dress, bringing life to the mansion once again.

Ford Mansion
Ford Mansion, image circa 1930. Credit: National Park Service

Visitors are asked to bring water to drink and a chair or a blanket to sit on the ground and are reminded to dress appropriately for the weather, including wearing a hat and sunscreen. It is a rain-or-shine event. Due to limited parking, guests are encouraged to carpool or walk to the event.

All activities will occur at the Washington Headquarters area and are free. The Jockey Hollow Visitor Center and Wick House will be closed on July 4th, but Jockey Hollow’s roads, grounds, and trails will be open.

Cape May Coast Guard Sunset Parade

U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May; Sunday, July 3 at 7:40 p.m.

Sunset Parades are free military displays of marching troops and the Coast Guard Recruit Ceremonial Drill Team. The recruit regiment will march in the parade and strike the National Ensign from the parade field at sunset.

The gates to the training center will open at 6:30 p.m., and visitors are asked to be seated by 7:40 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to use this extra time for security screening, parking, and seating.

Avalon: Bay Atlantic Symphony Independence Day Concert

Avalon Community Center, 3001 Avalon Ave, Avalon; July 3 at 7 p.m.

This free symphony fills fast, so be sure to get there a bit early if you want a seat! Those who don’t have a seat can still watch in the standing room section. Come see a fantastic symphony play a patriotic set.

Princeton: Morven Museum & Garden Fourth of July Jubilee

55 Stockton Street, Princeton; July 4th — 12pm to 3pm

Check out Morven on Independence Day for their Fourth of July Jubilee, a free celebration of our American heritage at the home-turned-museum of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

This year will will also feature the museum’s current exhibition, Ma Bell: The Mother of Invention in New Jersey, which features the original TelStar satellite and so many other technological innovations made right here in New Jersey that affected the entire world for generations.

Wall Township: Historic American Flag Collection at Allaire

Come celebrate the Fourth of July at Allaire! Allaire’s rare one-of-a-kind historic American flag collection on display this weekend only!

Your ticket includes admission (which by the way is only $5) to the Chapel to see Allaire’s unique and one-of-a-kind American flag collection on display this weekend ONLY! There will be over five historic flags on exhibition (rare and one of a kind!), the oldest flag dating back c. 1850 and authenticated by the Smithsonian Institute!

To visit the historic village, experience early 19th century industrial community life, and explore the village grounds EAST of the Mill Pond, a ticket for General Admission is from 11am-4pm.

In purchasing your General Admission Ticket, you will be able to see our historic trades in action including our blacksmiths and tinsmiths as well as tour our period homes to see how each class in the village lived. All of this in addition to other themed pop up tours and demonstrations are all available to you when you visit The Historic Village at Allaire! There are great events scheduled throughout the month, so it is definitely worth a visit!

Oxford: Celebration of Independence & Museum Day at Shippen Manor

Shippen Manor, 8 Belvidere Avenue, Oxford; July 3; 11am – 4pm

The newly formed United States Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in the morning of a bright and sunny day. John Dunlap printed the Declaration (known as “Dunlap Broadsides”). There are twenty-four known copies, two of which are in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. One of these was George Washington’s personal copy.

Beginning at 11 a.m., the Colonial Musketeers Junior Fife & Drum Corps of Hackettstown will begin our celebration with music from the era.

At 11:30 a.m., the Bachmann Players of Easton, PA will commemorate our celebration with readings and other activities that preceded the actual reading of the Declaration. The reading will begin promptly at 12 noon (the same time as the 1776 reading in Easton, PA).

Following the reading, the Colonial Musketeers Junior Fife & Drum Corps will entertain our visitors with colonial-era music until 1 p.m., when the museum will open for tours.

And plenty more!

Now let’s be honest; right now we are a divided country. There are probably many out there that don’t feel much like celebrating. I say not true.

Stick with me for a moment.

The founders of this great nation ensured the right for us to disagree with each other, and more importantly, to disagree with our government. To peacefully assemble and voice our concerns. This experiment in democracy has been challenged over the centuries. I use the following example:

The more populous and wealthy the United States have become, and the higher the position to which they have risen in the scale of national importance, with the greater confidence has it been maintained, on the one hand, that our institutions rest on a solid and permanent basis, and on the other, that they are destitute of inherent strength and cohesion, and that the time of explosion and disruption is rapidly approaching.

The previous quote is from New-York Daily Tribune, November 27, 1860.

We’ve been pushed and challenged before and we have survived. Sometimes bruised. But we are still here. I implore everyone to remember that we will do the same again.

Almost every community will have events this weekend, so I encourage you to get out and enjoy!

Jersey Mourns Tony “Goose” Siragusa

Just one month after New Jersey lost favorite son Ray Liotta, we suffered another terrible loss. Last week, the Jersey family lost Tony “Goose” Siragusa at the young age of 55. His passing sent shockwaves across the state and the NFL.

Siragusa grew up in Kenilworth and played football at Brearley High School. He was also on the wrestling team and won a state high school heavyweight wrestling title in 1985. He was inducted into the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Hall of Fame in March of this year.

His impressive 12-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens as a defensive tackle ended with 562 tackles, 22 sacks, and nine fumble recoveries. After his retirement, Siragusa was a sideline analyst for Fox Sports from 2003 until 2015.

Michael Imperioli and Tony Siragusa in The Sopranos (source: Twitter)
Michael Imperioli and Tony Siragusa in The Sopranos (source: Twitter)

Better than his NFL career was his larger-than-life personality. He was true Jersey, even appearing in The Sopranos.

Goose entered the NFL undrafted. He was known for doing things the hard way. That’s typical for a Jersey guy. He did us proud his entire life, which ended way too short.

Thank you Goose. God speed.

New Jersey Free Fishing Day: June 4

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am an avid fly angler. My husband and I write, lecture, and teach about the subject whenever we can. Well, this weekend, we are hopeful everyone in New Jersey will give fishing a try on Saturday, June 4th during the Free Fishing Day.

Free Fishing Day

So what is Free Fishing Day? This means you do not need a license to legally fish. Not that I really trust the weather reports all that much, but it is expected to be beautiful on Saturday, so I encourage everyone to head outside and give it a try!

OK, you want to go but not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions:

Rod & reel: Get a basic rod and reel. You can start out with a spinning rod or go right to fly fishing. There are plenty of great basic combos available and the guys working in the fishing department are happy to help you pick something. Purchase a combo for simple freshwater fishing in your local ponds. Remember, every town has a local pond that is stocked with plenty of panfish and bass.

Pond in Morris Plains, NJ
A beautiful pond in Morris Plains, NJ in the fall.

Lures & flies: Just like your rod and reel combo, stick with the basics. Try a crawdad soft plastic with some split shot set as a weedless Texas rig to go deep. If you are looking to go just sub-surface, try one of my all-time favorites when I used to spin fish, a rooster tail with a gold blade. Want to go completely top water? Try a crankbait with a fat lip for maximum water disturbance. If you want to give fly fishing a try, think about muddler minnows, wooly buggers, poppers, gold ribbed hare’s ears, sponge spiders, and of course, Clouser minnows.

Now remember, when you go look at all these wonders, I always say they are there to catch the angler more than to catch the fish. Don’t go overboard. Get a variety, but you don’t need much.

Other equipment: There are a few other items you should have on hand. First, it may sound ridiculous, but have a good pair of sunglasses (polarized, if possible) and a hat. You will be out in the sun and want to stay protected. Polarized sunglasses will help you see down into the water by cutting the glare and will also protect your eyes from a wayward hook that catches air if a stiff breeze blows unexpectedly. Also pick up a good pair of hemostats. This looks like a surgical tool with a clamp and often a pair of scissors in it. Do yourself a favor and get the one with the scissors. Two tools in one. Have a bandana on hand to keep something wet on your neck to avoid overheating if it gets too hot. Also, keep water on hand to stay hydrated.

What happens June 5th?

Damage at Hedden Park, Morris County
Damage at Hedden Park, Morris County

So you have a great time on your Free Fishing Day. What happens on June 5th? Well, if you want to continue to fish, you will need to purchase a New Jersey state fishing license. I will tell you, sadly, many will continue to fish without a license. I ask that you do not. First, it is against the law. If you get caught, you will face a very expensive fine. Second, it is one of the few fees you will pay in the state where you are guaranteed to know where your money will go. The politicians in Trenton cannot access this money at all. The money you pay in fees will go right back into the resource you use. I implore you to spend the money and pay for your license.

Carry in, carry out

One more point, if I may. During the last few years, many people stuck at home due to the pandemic discovered all the wonderful parks in New Jersey. The bad news is not every visitor treated them with the care they deserve. In 2020 I wrote about Hedden Park in Morris County, which had to be closed for two weeks due to extensive damage from park visitors. So go out and take advantage of Free Fishing Day. Just remember to take your garbage with you. And if you see someone left something behind, grab it on your way out. Leave the area better than when you arrived.

I hope you enjoy your day outside!

Memorial Day 2022 Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we all look forward to it for different reasons. For many it is a three day weekend. It is the unofficial kickoff to summer. It’s barbeques, cold beer, and the beach.

Actually, no, it really isn’t.

It is a moment to stop and honor and remember the fallen. To commemorate members of the military that made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can all live free. Who gave that last full measure of devotion.

How it became a weekend for mattress sales, I’ll never know. It is simply appalling.

Northern NJ Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sussex County
Northern NJ Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sussex County

There are a variety of different events that take place all over the country. From the wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery, to moments of silence and the playing of Taps at events in every small town, to parades with current military members wearing their Class A uniforms; you can find events near your location.

Here are a few events taking place around the state:

Closter: Memorial Day Parade, march from Closter Borough Hall, 295 Closter Dock Road, through center of town to Memorial Park on Harrington Avenue for services, concluding with food and refreshments at Closter Elks Lodge, 148 Railroad Ave. 10 a.m. May 30.

Garfield: Memorial Day Parade, march from Veterans Monument on Midland Avenue to Garfield VFW Post 2867, 340 Outwater Lane, 11 a.m. May 30. 973-772-4696.

Lodi: Memorial Day Observance, 8:30 a.m. Ambulance Corps ceremony at 72 Kimmig Ave., 9:15 a.m. fire department ceremony at 99 Kennedy Drive, 10:15 a.m. VFW ceremony at 163 Union Ave., 11 a.m. American Legion ceremony at 41 Union St., and 11:45 a.m. police department ceremony at 1 Memorial Drive, followed by “Walkway for Peace” ceremony, May 30. 973-365-4005.

Mount Laurel: Memorial Day Tribute, wreath laying at Veterans Memorial, 6 p.m. May 26, Laurel Acres Park, 1045 S. Church St. 856-727-0595.

Cherry Hill: Memorial Day Service, ceremony at War Memorial cohosted by American Legion Post 372 and Jewish War Veterans Post 126, honoring 75th anniversary of the US Air Force with US Army Reserve Lt. Col. Daniel S. Bash as keynote speaker, 11:30 a.m. May 30, Carman Tilelli Community Center, 820 Mercer St., 856-488-7868.

Voorhees: Kirkwood Memorial Day Parade, march from old Carriage House Restaurant, 1219 Kirkwood-Gibbsboro Road, right on Walnut Avenue, left on Second Avenue, right on Chestnut Avenue, then right on Burnt Mill Road, ending at Kirwood Fire Station Veterans Memorial with wreath laying service, 11 a.m. May 30, Voorhees Township Fire Department, 2002 S. Burnt Mill Road., 856-429-7174.

Memorial Day

Cape May: Memorial Day Ceremony, 11 a.m. remembrance in conjunction with the American Legion Post 193 and VFW Post 386 followed by U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May detachments’ rifle salute and launching of flower boat from Gurney Street Beach, May 27, Soldiers and Sailors Park, Gurney Street and Columbia Avenue., 609-884-9525.

Glen Ridge: Memorial Day Parade, march beginning at Sherman Avenue and Baldwin Street and proceeding to memorial in front of Ridgewood Avenue School, 235 Ridgewood Ave., for memorial ceremony, 11 a.m. May 30, 973-748-8400.

West Orange: Memorial Day Ceremony, observance in front of the township municipal building, 66 Main St., 10 a.m., May 30, co-hosted by VFW Post 376 with WOHS Air Force Junior ROTC Squadron, township historian Joseph Fagan and vocalist Lynette Sheard. Special honoree will be the late Gordon Hansen, a West Orange High School graduate who posthumously was awarded the Purple Heart for his participation in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. His war-time trumpet will be used by Rob Adams for the playing of Taps.

Glassboro: Memorial Day Parade and Flyover, with F16 jet fly-over by the New Jersey Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing in Atlantic City. Procession from Lehigh and University Boulevard to Whitney Avenue and High street, ending at Glassboro Fire Department, with solemn ceremony at Veterans Memorial Plaza, 10 a.m. May 30, Glassboro Town Square, North Main Street and Rowan Boulevard. 856-881-9230, ext. 88322.

Guttenberg: Memorial Day Observance, 11 a.m. May 30, Monument Park, 70th St and Blvd East.

Flemington: Memorial Day Parade, march from Hunterdon Urgent Care down Church Street, right on Main Street to Civil War statue, 9 a.m. May 30, 908-782-8840.

Edison: Memorial Day Parade, march from Plainfield Avenue and Division Street to post home, noon May 28, American Legion Father & Son Post 435, 43 Oakland Ave., 732-287-0900.

Sea Girt: Memorial Day Parade, march from Sea Girt Elementary School, 451 Bell Place, to the Plaza, followed by festivities at Baltimore Park, 8:45 a.m. May 30. 732-449-9433, ext. 130.

Roxbury: Memorial Day Parade, march from Meeker Street and Hillside Avenue in Succasunna to Main Street past library and right on Eyland Avenue, across Route 10 to Veterans Memorial on Horseshoe Lake Island, followed by ceremony presented by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2833, 10 a.m. May 30, Horseshoe Lake Park, 72 Eyland Ave. in Succasunna.

Belleville: Memorial Day Ceremony, May 30, 11:00 a.m.: Dutch Reform Church Cemetery, 171 Main 12:00 p.m.: Veterans Memorial Park, Union Ave & Tiona Ave.

Budd Lake: Memorial Remembrance Day Ceremony, May 30, 10:30 a.m.-noon at All Veterans Memorial Ceremonial Grounds at Turkey Brook Park, 30 Flanders Road. Full event including Tolling of the Ascension Bell, Honorable Service Paver Installation, JROTC, and Rolling Thunder.

Oh, and don’t say “Happy Memorial Day.” There is nothing “happy” about it. It is a solemn day we all get to enjoy due to the sacrifice of the millions of military members that have ensured our freedom. And if you see a vet, say “thank you” and buy them a cup of coffee.

New Jersey Loses a Favorite Son: Ray Liotta

Today I saw a post that I thought at first was a hoax:

Ray Liotta Passes Away

Sadly, it was not a hoax. New Jersey has lost one of its favorite sons. It was announced Ray Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic while filming his next movie.

Born in Newark, Raymond Allen Liotta was abandoned at an orphanage after he was born. At six months, he was adopted. It was never hidden from him he was adopted and he actually brought his adoption papers in for “show and tell” in elementary school. He also had a sister growing up that was also adopted. He learned about 20 years ago he had one biological sister, one biological half-brother, and five biological half-sisters.

Liotta grew up in Union and graduated from Union High School in 1973. He attended Miami University and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978. He then returned to his familiar surroundings, this time New York City, to begin his career.

Two Jersey boys; Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta
(source: GQ.com)

Of all Liotta’s roles, he will be forever remembered for his portrayal of Henry Hill in Goodfellas; what I regard as the top of heap when you consider all that makes up the mafia movie genre. I mean, there’s The Godfather, there’s Goodfellas, and then there’s everything else in my opinion. If you want to read an amazing interview about the movie, I highly recommend the 2010 GQ article about Goodfellas.

But no matter how famous he became, those of us from Jersey still claim him as one of our own. And tonight our hearts are broken that he was taken from us far too soon.

Rest easy Raymond. And thank you.

Can You Go Home Again?

Recently I’ve been going back to the area where I grew up. While it is for a sad and stressful reason, I really don’t mind. While on the way down Franklin Avenue in Belleville during a recent trip, I found was thinking to myself how much I missed the area. When I mentioned this to someone their response to me was interesting:

“You don’t miss the area, you miss what it was to you.”

It was a thought-provoking comment. Do I miss my Motherland because it is familiar? It had me thinking again after reading a similar post by Jersey Collective regarding the demise of a favorite local coffee hangout.

St. Lucy's Church, First Ward, Newark
Candles at St. Lucy’s Church

I can still drive, walk, or bike ride just about all of Belleville and Nutley, as well as a fair amount of Bloomfield and North Newark blindfolded. I know every shortcut and backway. I can still tell you exactly where the cut in the fence was growing up to cut through the golf course to save time walking home. I used to be able to walk up to Franklin Plaza and pick up fresh Italian bread, meat for Sunday dinner, prescriptions, a birthday card, The Belleville Times, and a Carvel ice cream all in one location and walk home. One of my favorite things to do when the weather was warm was ride up to the high school on my bike, head all the way up to the top corner of the stadium, and sit and read a book. Yeah, I know; boring kid. But I liked it. It felt safe. It was home. Once I had my license, I could drive to St. Lucy’s Church in the old First Ward and sit and pray and enjoy the peace of the church and then stop at Di Paolo’s to get a cannoli.

Is it the familiar we long for or is it the place itself?

I’d be lying if I said I know the answer, but it surely makes me think.

It’s Spring; Be Bear Aware!

As the weather finally begins to warm up, we aren’t the only creatures starting to emerge from our homes. Bears are waking up and making a grand entrance.

Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them.

Black bears are appearing in more and more residential areas and people that are not necessarily used to seeing them may not know how to respond when they come face-to-face with a bear. Recently, a woman in Lafayette was attacked by a bear near her home. A few weeks prior, a bear killed two small dogs in Sussex County.

How to Prevent a Bear Attack

There are a number of steps everyone can take to minimize the chances of a negative experience with a bear.

NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Bear Safety Guidelines

If you come in contact with a bear, here are a few important points to remember:

  1. Yes, they are cute. They are also wild animals. DO NOT try to pet them. Yes, I really need to say that.
  2. Do not feed them. Don’t leave food out for them as a way to invite them on to your deck.
  3. Clean the grates of your grill after use. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and will definitely want to check them out if they any kind of interesting scent.
  4. Keep your garbage well-secured.
  5. If a sow is with her cubs, give her extra space! You know the term “momma bear?” People use it for a reason.
  6. Never corner a bear. Always give them an exit.
  7. NEVER turn your back on a bear. Just back away slowly.
  8. Never make eye contact with a bear. It may consider it as a form of aggression.
  9. NEVER turn and run! Again, slowly back away.
  10. Make yourself look as large as possible. Yell, clap, whistle, etc. to let the bear know you are in the area so it is not startled by you.
  11. If you are going into the woods, keep a whistle and either Mace or bear spray on hand.
  12. If you are actually attacked, kick and punch the eyes, throat, and muzzle. That’s your best chance. Do not follow the advise of the Bugs Bunny cartoons we all watched as kids and “play dead” with black bears.

Seriously though, bear attacks are incredibly rare. Just use the common sense God gave you. For more information, check out the bear safety resources provided by NJ Fish & Wildlife.

Westfield, Where are the Notes to Your Opus?

Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

One of my favorite actors is Richard Dreyfuss. He is an excellent actor, he’s in a large majority of my favorite movies, he has an awesome laugh, and he believes civics should be taught in public schools.

He was also in an incredibly profound movie; Mr. Holland’s Opus. It is one of my favorite – and least favorite – movies. It is the perfect example of art imitating life. A musician is hired as a music teacher. He starts out feeling rather uneasy about his decision to enter the classroom. Three decades later, he can’t imagine what he will do when he is forced to leave it.

I know many music teachers, choir directors, and band directors who went into public education, not with the trepidation of Glenn Holland, but as a force of positive energy with great plans to inspire. Unfortunately, most times, the only people who wanted them there were the kids, and sometimes (if they were lucky) the parents.

I’ve written multiple times over the years (on two different blogs) about the importance of arts and music in public education. I can literally feel my blood pressure go up every time I see athletics heralded and music cast aside.

Indulge me while I tell you a story…

I was the kid that played in Pigtail League when I was little because I grew up with a love of watching baseball. I would sit with my Uncle Sonny on Saturday afternoons and eat olives out of the can meant for the salad for Sunday dinner while we watched the Yankees or the Mets on our local television station. We would go through the packs of baseball cards my Aunt Roslyn would bring home for us from the deli she and my Uncle Tony owned. I still have an entire photo album full of baseball cards he put together for me.

Because I was born at the end of the year, all my friends moved up to the middle school softball league a year ahead of me. I went with them to the first practice to see what I was in for when I would join them the following year. The coach took one look at me, asked my why I was there, said “no visitors during practice,” and told me to beat it. I was quite taken aback. My friends went off to the field to start warm ups and I walked away dejected. I stopped and looked over my shoulder once and the coach caught my eye and gave me a nasty look. I quickly took off. I knew my softball career was over.

I attempted track and field when I was in high school, but I was terrible. I was slow and uncoordinated. I mainly gave it a try because a few friends were on the team and I had a crush on a boy that was a runner. They wound up keeping me around as the team manager.

But the music department was where I really belonged. I was in chorus, marching band, orchestra, jazz band, and concert band. I couldn’t get enough. I would plan my entire high school schedule around chorus, band, and orchestra. Before school, we would all collect in the band room and just sit and talk. After school, we would need to get chased out so the room could get locked up. We would all regularly cut class with the standard “I have a band lesson” excuse.

My senior year I was stuck with an English teacher that absolutely terrified me. The Vice Principal came in the first day of school and wrote “Queen of Peace summer school” with an address and phone number. He then proceeded to point out all the students he was sure wouldn’t graduate. I picked up my books, walked right up to the principal’s office and said “I’m graduating on time; get me out of his class!” Yeah, I could definitely throw that Belleville sass around when I wanted to, that’s for sure. I spent most of the next day in the guidance office reworking my schedule to get into another English class. It came at a great expense. I had to rework my entire schedule and drop all three of my music classes. I was devastated. I actually went to all three directors and personally apologized and explained I was terrified of this teacher and had convinced myself I wouldn’t graduate if I tried to stick it out. It took two weeks to get me out of his class. In those two weeks, my average was already a 45. I could barely get my marking period average up to a “C.” It threw off my entire year. But I’m not bitter or anything. Much.

But back to music. That’s where I knew I belonged. I wasn’t popular, except in the summer when the pool was open. I wasn’t interested in most of my academics. I just wanted to go to my writing classes and my music classes. Forget science, math, and worst of all gym. I was far from the best musician, but I was definitely the most enthusiastic!

I knew we weren’t respected. I knew we didn’t get the budget we deserved. But we worked hard. We learned more than just how to read dots on a page. We learned about teamwork, loyalty, we protected each other. When one of us hurt, we all hurt. Those are very special people to me. Music kids are a global community bound together by notes on a page.

And that experience was directly affected by my teachers.

Those special people who spend countless nights and weekends in busses with hundreds of boisterous kids who really don’t even think that teachers actually have a personal life. Teachers that spend their own money on supplies for their classroom. Teachers that know which kids are having trouble at home and need some extra attention. Teachers that know someone’s father was laid off from work and they don’t have money for lunch, so they tell the lunch lady they’ll pay for their kid’s lunch later when he’s not around. Teachers who listen to Christmas music in the spring and spring concert music in the fall. They do all this quietly without fanfare.

“You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable. I should be laughing.” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

So why am I sharing this sermon? Simple. This week, the Westfield Public School system took a machete to their arts, music, and drama programs. The final budget announcement was made, ironically, shortly after an announcement the district was named one of the best school systems in the nation for the arts by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).

I watched the video of the meeting and a few statements were made that really made my blood boil. I actually needed to let some time pass before I wrote this because I was so incensed I knew I would not be able to effectively share my frustration, anger, and disappointment.

“It included everything we wanted to do, that we wanted to continue to do from this year moving into next year.”

I found this comment particularly disturbing. Does this mean you didn’t want to continue your arts and music program? Did you even try? Do you even care?

“We did not reduce any of the stipends associated with any of the extracurricular athletics.”

Well, thank goodness for that! I can’t even say anything about this comment without sounding like Yosemite Sam.

You know what I didn’t see with cuts? Supervisors. Coaches. Athletics. I. Am. Disgusted.

“The day they cut the football budget in this state, that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it!” ~Glenn Holland, Mr. Holland’s Opus

One community member tied the district’s budget issues to a hotly contested Edison fields project. This is a project to replace the school’s grass fields with synthetic turf that will cost the town a whopping $9 million. Do they really need to do that? How about the athletics teams just be appreciative they were spared from the cuts and forego this project for the year.

A board member asked a question he received from a parent that was a perfect example that they have no idea what they are affecting. There is a music program that has 40 students in a class. There is a teacher and an assistant. The assistant will be eliminated. The parent wanted to know how that class will be handled. The answer is priceless:

“I don’t know the specifics. I’m sorry” ~Superintendent Gonzalez.

It is worth mentioning, he laughed and put his hands in the air in the classic “I don’t’ know” fashion. The sarcastic laughter from the audience was palatable and the confused look on his face said it all.

In all, 24 total positions will be cut. Of the 24 positions, 10 directly affect the arts and music. That is simply shameful.

I have submitted an OPRA request to the district for specific budget information for a “part two” on this topic.

In the meantime, if you are sick of seeing the arts and music being cut. If your blood is boiling as much as mine, I encourage you to email the Superintendent of Schools and Board Members and share your dissatisfaction. For your convenience, I have them listed below:

To reach all members of the Westfield Board of Education, please use group e-mail: wboe@westfieldnjk12.org

Board of Education Members:
Brendan Galligan (President): bgalligan@westfieldnjk12.org
Sahar Aziz (Vice President): saziz@westfieldnjk12.org
Robert Benacchio: rbenacchio@westfieldnjk12.org
Michael Bielen: mbielen@westfieldnjk12.org
Leila Morrelli: lmorrelli@westfieldnjk12.org
Sonal Patel: spatel@westfieldnjk12.org
Amy Root: aroot@westfieldnjk12.org
Kristen Sonnek-Schmelz: ksonnek-schmelz@westfieldnjk12.org
Mary Wickens: mwickens@westfieldnjk12.org

Raymond González (Superintendent): Email form

If you decide to contact them, please be respectful.

“There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.” ~Gertrude Lang, Mr. Holland’s Opus

Are You Ready for Some Spring Football?

A long time ago in a galaxy not too far away, there was an organization that was all about football. No, not that organization. Another organization called the United States Football League, aka, the USFL.

Growing up I was often asked why I wasn’t a Giants or Jets fan. After all, they played in Jersey and I am a hardcore Jersey Girl. Simple question; simple answer. They may play in New Jersey, but they are known as New York teams. Jersey does all the work and New York (as usual) gets all the credit. When the Giants won the Super Bowl, where was the celebration? In the Canyon of Heroes in NYC.

Nope, not having it. Enter the USFL.

When the teams were announced, New Jersey finally had a New Jersey team. The Jersey Generals. This league played football in the spring and summer at Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands. I was 100 percent all in!

New Jersey Generals logo

OK, so their first outing wasn’t great. Owner Donald Trump urged the signing of Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie; two players who would become household names. I still remember the commercials for “Flutie Flakes” that benefited autistic children (way before most people even knew what that meant).

Sadly, the USFL only lasted three seasons. My Jersey football team was gone… until now.

This spring the nation was reintroduced to the USFL… and the Jersey Generals.

Now, I’ll admit, I am quite bummed they are playing all the games in one location (Birmingham, Alabama), so unless you live in the area or are willing to travel, you are unable to check out the games in person.

I’ve watched two games so far and I have to tell you, I really enjoyed them! I hope the USFL is successful and is around for longer than its initial attempt. I’m quite happy to have a Jersey football team. Maybe by next year they’ll be able to play in the state they represent.