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August 5, 2011 - 6:05pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in arts, music, schools, education, Parents.

The Batavia Music and Arts Advocacy Group (BMAA) held its premiere meeting Wednesday evening at the GoArt! building in Downtown Batavia. Cheri Kolb, seated, and Lauren Picarro-Hoerbelt formed this organization in response to the cuts that the Batavia City School District's arts and music programs have endured as a result of current economic woes. 

Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt both have children in the Batavia schools who are involved in music programs. They started this group out of: 1) concern for where they see the district going, and 2) a desire to maintain programs, teachers and the quality of arts/music activities for the kids.

Picarro-Hoerbelt said her hope is for this group to have a presence in both good times and bad.

"(We want) to help out in the bad times, and to remind everyone why these programs are important in the good times."

Kolb envisions BMAA as a "forum for parents (and others) to express their concerns and be a voice for their children."

Five parents were in attendance -- a scant turnout, but understandable, since it "fell in the middle of several vacations" (Kolb's words). A number of other people who were not able to attend the Wednesday meeting have expressed interest in joining.

The issue at hand

Over the past few years, art and music programs have taken some major hits, funding-wise. There has been particular concern about this at the elementary level, where art and music are not mandatory subjects.

For that reason, Kolb said, part of BMAA's mission is to "help create an understanding of how these subjects affect the ones that are mandated."

Part of the night's discussion centered around research showing that the more exposure kids get to these programs early on, the more they will contribute to brain development. Susan Dickenson, one of the parents at the meeting, noted that research has proven the beneficial effects of arts and music programs on reading, math and study skills.

Frank DeMare, another parent at the meeting, said part of the problem is that "it's all about test scores" in the education system right now.

"They want to get test scores up," he said, "and they think the way to solve the problem is to throw money at it. Well, if they're going to throw money at it, the place to throw it is music and the arts."

He noted that students from low income and minority populations are of special concern to the State Education Department in terms of test scores. Children from these populations could stand to gain a lot from the benefits of music programs, but don't have the money to purchase instruments. This is one area where additional funding resources could come in handy.

In spite of their zeal for the arts and music in the schools, Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt are not insensitive to taxpayers' concerns.

"People are worried about how their money is being spent," Kolb said. "But they need to know how (their decisions) affect the kids, who will be the next citizens of this community, and also to understand that trying to send a message by voting down budgets might not be the most productive message to this generation."

In the recent past, people have responded to this by arguing that it is the district employees who are "hurting the kids" by demanding unreasonable benefits, etc. Kolb addressed that concern.

"I think there was a time when New York State was in a period of prosperity," she said, "so they put into place a lot of benefits for teachers' unions. Now that the state is in greater economic need, they have had to accommodate the benefits that were in place before. But that's not the fault of the teachers."

She further noted that the teachers she knows "work an incredible amount of hours and contribute (a good amount of) their own money to purchase supplies they can't otherwise get because of budget cuts."

Teachers under pressure, students shortchanged

"The original spark (behind the idea of forming this group) stemmed from (the school board's discussions about) restructuring of the strings program," Kolb said. "That was our first public indicator that there was something going on, budget-wise, that could affect our kids."

Following this "original spark" was a major catalyst: A statement from one of the board members, quoted in The Daily News, about the need to look carefully at non-mandated programs in the wake of state budget cuts. At the elementary level, these include the arts and music.

"We knew they probably weren't going to be cut," Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "but they would be restructured to the point where the kids get less."

This "restructuring" has entailed staff cuts and increased workloads for remaining teachers. For example, the position of chorus instructor at Batavia High School has been eliminated, and the chorus teacher at Batavia Middle School must now pick up the slack by teaching grades six through 12.

Picarro-Hoerbelt's husband, Mark, who was also present at the meeting, has the exact same position (chorus teacher for grades six through 12) in Alexander, which is a smaller district with fewer students.

"I'm busy," he said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like for him (the BMS chorus teacher)."

Meanwhile, recent retiree Cindy Baldwin's position as a districtwide strings instructor has also been eliminated. Students will now receive string lessons from staff at each of their respective elementary schools.

So at John Kennedy Elementary, for example, the music teacher is going to have to take on 55 string lessons per week. Keep in mind that this is in addition to his role as director of the school's vocal music programs and his regular classroom responsibilities.

Baldwin was also the music department chair for the district; that role will now be assumed by Jane Haggett. Haggett was hired as the high school band director several years ago and, since the band director position at Batavia Middle School was cut, has had to add grades seven and eight to her list as well.

DeMare expressed worry about the prospect of Haggett becoming department chair -- not because he doubts her capabilities, but because she is already overburdened with current responsibilities.

Fewer teachers available and more work for the teachers who remain in the district mean less time and energy to dedicate to the students.

"We're worried about our kids falling through the cracks," Picarro-Hoerbelt said.

Additionally, DeMare noted that the restructuring of programs leads to larger groups of students.

"Some kids get lost in big groups," he said. "They lose interest."

What about the cost?

Right now, the immediate goal of BMAA is to make sure nothing else gets cut. It's about maintaining programs rather than adding to them.

Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt stressed that parents and community members are going to have to assume responsibility and find creative ways to keep these programs going.

"There's a tendency to blame the state when things are so dire," Kolb said. "I think we're at a point where the state can't do any more. The districts have to take the initiative."

Dickenson presented the Royalton-Hartland School District in Niagara County (where she used to live) as proof that this can be done.

Royalton-Hartland has received media recognition for its sports programs in addition to having thriving arts/music programs.

"There's something for every student," Dickenson said. "(Royalton-Hartland) is a small district, just like we are. But they really make use of the resources they have available."

When she moved to Batavia, she found that there was "such a different mentality."

"There's almost an attitude in the community that, 'Oh, they're doing the best they can, so we'll leave it in their hands,'" Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "until things get really dire like this. Everyone has to step up."

Game plan

BMAA welcomes all community members with a passion for arts and a desire to see keep them kept alive and well in the schools. The only people who would not be accepted into the group are those who are currently teaching art and music in the Batavia schools, as this would create a conflict of interest.

People with various talents and skills are invited to join and to help out in whatever way they would like.

One way to help BMAA is to do research on various topics, such as:

  • what music/arts programs are in school districts comparable in size to Batavia and how they are maintained;
  • data and charts demonstrating the importance of music and the arts in relation to core subject areas and brain development;
  • rules of conduct at school board meetings;
  • and even something as simple as finding out which locations the school board will use for upcoming meetings and letting everybody else in the group know.

If you have a gift for public speaking, there is also room for people who would like to speak at board meetings or other events.

And that's another thing: BMAA is designed to foster a positive relationship with the school board, as opposed to the community vs. board mentality a lot of people seem to have.

"We are being reassured that they are looking at everything," Kolb said.

In other words, the board is examining options for making necessary cuts more equitable, keeping in mind that the arts and music have suffered disproportionately for a few years.

Other ideas

Another one of the key ideas presented at Wednesday's meeting was that of giving school arts and music programs more visibility in the wider community. Someone raised the question of how, for example, student art shows could be opened up so that it's not just the students and their parents who come, but also school board members, legislators, etc.

DeMare said that in many of the wealthier school districts, local businesses support arts and music programs. Batavia businesses already sponsor sports programs, and everyone agreed that this could be extended to the arts and music as well.

One of the most fundamental questions raised was this: "How can we get people out there to vote?"

A very small percentage of those eligible to vote in school board elections and budget votes actually vote. Picarro-Hoerbelt and Kolb feel it is important to encourage everyone to recognize their role in the lives of our community's children.

"Even if you no longer have a child in the district," Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "please come out and support the programs that meant a lot to your kids 20 years ago."

BMAA is drawing on information from the NAMM Foundation on how to effectively implement grassroots organizations in support of music in the schools. For more information, go to

For more information on BMAA or to get involved, e-mail [email protected]. The group's next meeting will be held at the GoArt! building, on the corner of Main and Bank streets, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

August 2, 2011 - 12:56pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Batavia Muckdogs, music, dwyer stadium.

Get ready to rock and roll at Dwyer Stadium Friday night with Batavia's own "In Plain View."

Pictured above in the band's poster are lead guitarist Joe Lambert (top left), drummer Mark Assenato (top right), bass player Mike Burns (bottom left) and singer Pete Cecere.

"In Plain View" has roots in the players' high school days, but officially got its name last year -- during 4th of July weekend, to be exact.

Burns, a graduate of Batavia High School, said his class celebrated its 26-year reunion -- that's right, 26-year reunion -- at that time, and the band got back together to play for the occasion. They were asked to play again the following night at a private party, which was held at Haul 4 Less.

"(And we thought,) 'Here's four guys who haven't played in 26 years,'" Cecere said, "'and what people see is what they get, in plain view.'"

Included in the group's repertoire are rock songs from almost every era, from the '60s to the present. They play songs that multiple generations will know and appreciate, as evidenced by the fact that Cecere has received positive comments from his daugthers and from some of his aunts and uncles.

"(We'll play) anything from The Kinks to Jimmy Eat World," he said. "We like to pick songs that are interesting and out of the ordinary, but still popular."

"Our goal is not to be the typical bar band," Burns said.

Dedication is a key ingredient in the work that "In Plain View" does. Lambert, who lives in New York City, flies into Batavia for every gig, which is followed by a good five, six or seven hours of rehearsal.

Cecere and Burns, for their parts, have been able to manage this while working full-time jobs. Cecere works in sales at Diamond Packaging. Burns is a manager of client services at the Rochester Institute of Technology -- and coaches a girls soccer team through a season of near total victory.

When asked how they found the time for rehearsals, Cecere replied: "Very carefully."

If you're going to be part of this band, he added, "You've got to do your homework."

"In Plain View's" pre-game concert will start at 5:30 p.m. and last about 45 minutes.

Anyone who purchases tickets to the Muckdogs game will get to see Friday's show at no extra cost.

The band's expenses are being covered by the Juliano Allstate Agency, but they themselves are not getting paid for the concert. As huge Muckdogs fans, all four members are more than happy to donate their time.

"We are extremely blessed to have the Muckdogs," Cecere said. "It's cheap (price-wise) family fun."

"We went by (Dwyer Stadium)," Burns said, "and Joe said, 'This is where we've got to play.'"

For more information on "In Plain View" and their upcoming concerts, visit

Bottom two photos taken by Stephen Ognibene.

July 31, 2011 - 2:03pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, sports, soccer, Girls Soccer.

When you try to put together a youth sports team here in Batavia, you're usually lucky to get more than 30 kids on board -- let alone 30 of the most most athletic kids, like in the larger districts near Buffalo and Rochester.

That's why it's all the more impressive that Batavia's U12 (under 12) soccer team won 11 out of 12 games and suffered no losses -- the exception to the winning streak being a tied game, which was played on a 92-degree evening -- during the 2011 season.

Led by Head Coach Pete Cecere, along with assistant coaches Mike Burns and Steve Moore, the team of 11- and 12-year-olds competed against several Rochester area teams, including: Penfield, Victor, Webster, Churchville-Caledonia, Livonia and Bloomfield (that was the tied game).

On Friday night, Cecere and Burns -- who, in addition to coaching the team, are also on the board of directors for Genesee Amateur Soccer Association (GASA) -- took time to answer some questions for The Batavian at Cecere's home, where the team had a pool party to celebrate their successful season.

Cecere gave a lot of credit to the girls for the effort they put into the games.

"A good core of the team played with me year-round (in preparation)," he said. "We had tremendous defense, great goalies," including Paige Hamiester, Courtney Burns and Maggie Cecere.

"Pete has taken the girls a long way," Burns said.

Up until now, U12 was more of a recreational league than anything else. Cecere, along with other GASA board members, wanted to take it up a notch.

As an assistant coach for the Batavia High School varsity team, he understood the challenge that awaited these girls as they approached the age where they would get into modified sports. Soon, they will match athletic prowess with top-notch athletes from some of the region's bigger districts, where coaches have a much larger pool of players from which to draw.

For that reason, the board wanted to take this "rec" program and make it more competitive.

"About half the girls on this team are going to be playing modified in the fall," Cecere said. "And we (the GASA board) decided that the only way they were going to get better was by swimming with the sharks."

Passionate as he was about this prospect, he was also realistic.

"I said, 'Rochester teams have 150 girls when we're beggin' to get 30, so we probably won't do very well. But the girls (our kids) will be playing now are the same girls they'll be playing in modified, and the only way they're going to be prepared is if they actually get out there and play."

To him, it was about how to make the kids better players rather than how to get more kids on the team.

So what did he and the other coaches do to guide these young ladies through this surprising streak of impressive games? Basically, the strategy involved getting them excited about the game of soccer -- including the whys and wherefores of the game's rules and mechanics.

According to Burns, "you could definitely see the spark in their eyes" as they grew in their knowledge of the game.

"One of the beauties of soccer is that it's a game that teaches itself," Cecere said. The girls were able to "learn by doing," as they say.

Cecere, for his part, made sure that there was always activity on the fields during practices.

"I'm a firm believer that there shouldn't be a lot of standing around at practice," he said. "I try to keep them moving, change up activities so they don't get bored, and be supportive. (It's important to) accentuate the positive."

And whenever he does point out any given player's mistake, he phrases it in the form of a question (for instance, "Can you tell me where you went wrong here?")

"And nine times out of 10, they know the answer."

You could say he's a tough coach. He had his girls play the tough teams, and he definitely kept them movin' during those practices. But as a coach, he is also encouraging and fun.

"He has a great rapport with the girls," Burns said. "It's fun to watch someone who can connect with them, both on a game level and on a fun level -- whether it's goofing around on the sidelines or teaching them about how the game works."

For Cecere, it's all about passion for what he does.

"There is literally nothing I like better than coaching these girls," he said.

For more information on GASA, visit

Photo taken by Barbara Paserk

July 22, 2011 - 12:28am
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Jackson Square, music, concerts, Ghost Riders.

It turns out there are two sets of Ghost Riders in town, and both will play at Jackson Square tomorrow night.

Batavia resident Dough Mellenthine, one of the directors of the "other" Ghost Riders, describes it as a miniature drum and bugle corps and a "brass choir." They play everything from patriotic tunes to chorales to "fun-filled, good time music" (as worded in a press release).

Formed in 1996 to compete in the Drum Corps Associates (DCA) "World Championship," which is held every year at various locations throughout the country, the Ghost Riders have distinguished themselves numerous times. They have appeared in championships for 15 consecutive years, won the New York State American Legion Crown, and, last year, won the Silver Medal and position of first runner-up at the DCA World Championship with a score of 98.0.

Mellenthine co-directs Ghost Riders along with Rod Keppel. Music is arranged by "World Drum Corps Hall of Fame" and "Buglers Hall of Fame" member Donny Allen. Group members are professional musicians whose experiences range from education to judging music competitions.

"This is not beer tent stuff," Mellenthine said. "I believe we're Batavia's best-kept secret."

Ghost Riders will perform from 8 until 8:30 p.m. at Jackson Square tomorrow night. Mellenthine said they've been practicing all year for this performance, so it ought to be good!

To learn more about Ghost Riders, visit their Facebook page.

Photo submitted by Doug Mellenthine.

July 20, 2011 - 7:25pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Neighborhoods, National Night Out, Norris Ave..

Faith Smith, 8, cooled off with an ice cream sandwich on Norris Avenue yesterday...

...or maybe she was warming up in preparation for the donut-eating contest that came later.

Treats and games like this one kicked off the seventh annual National Night Out -- a yearly event designed to bring neighborhoods and community police together -- in Batavia. Last evening's event on Norris Avenue was the first of three "National Nights Out" this year. August will feature two more -- one at Birchwood Village, the other on Pringle Avenue.

This is a big change in the way National Night Out is done. Traditionally, it has been geared toward the community as a whole and held at public venues like Austin Park.

According to City of Batavia Youth Bureau Director Toni Funke (pictured right, with Lydia Schauf), who's in charge of National Night Out this year, there's a "different spin."

"We want to try and enhance relationships within neighborhoods," she said. "People can get out, meet their neighbors, and talk to their department heads in the city."

In other words, it has become a way to revive the lost art of the block party.

July 16, 2011 - 8:44pm

Judy Essig and her two daughters, Jenna and Nicole, were texting away in front of St. James Episcopal Church yesterday.

St. James is in the running for a Pepsi Refresh grant -- the same grant that Robert Morris and Byron-Bergen elementary schools won for the construction of new playgrounds earlier this year -- $50,000 each.

If the St. James community wins the grant, they will use the money for the restoration of the church's bell tower, a project that is still in its early phases.

Laurie Oltramari, president of the Landmark Society of Genesee County, said that the church is getting ready to choose a contractor, and that the Pepsi Refresh grant will fund masonry repairs, architectural and engineering fees, and promotion of the overall project.

Oltramari applied for the grant on behalf of the church out of a desire to preserve one of Batavia's most impressive landmarks. Built by Robert North in 1908, it is based on the Gothic architecture of churches North studied while living in England.

Unfortunately, the tower has been slowly deteriorating over the last 10 years due to water infiltration and very hard mortar in its structure. As you can see in pictures below, parts of the stonework have actually fallen off.

July 13, 2011 - 6:28pm

Even the fierce, sizzlin' heat couldn't keep this crew inside yesterday, as Holland Land Office Museum kicked off its eight-day "History Heroes Summer Program" at Harvester Cemetery. 

Program coordinator Ann Marie Starowitz (pictured below) took a group of 7- to 11-year-old kids to the cemetery to sketch the gravestones of famous Batavians. Afterward, they went to the Richmond Memorial Library to learn more about these people.

Starowitz said the tour was expanded to become an eight-day program this year. Last year, it only lasted three days.

Between now and July 22, the kids will learn about local history through research and hands-on activities like making their own butter, a mini-archeology dig, candle making and building a miniature log cabin home.

Here are some photos of the kids sketching gravestones (in most cases the photos are of the student and the gravestone he or she is sketching):

Courtney Biegasiewicz, 11, sketches the tombstone of William Morgan.

July 12, 2011 - 2:28pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in theater, performances, rent, Harvester 56 Theater.

Jon used to think of himself as a promising composer, but...

"Instead, I've been promising for so long I'm afraid I'm about to break my promise."

That's the paraphrased line of the main character in "Tick, Tick...Boom," a semi-autographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the writer of "Rent." It will be performed this weekend at Harvester 56 Theater in Batavia.

Directors Shellene Bailey and Thorin Vallentin are members of the newly formed local theater group, JNS Productions -- named after the founders: Joel, Shellene, and Nick. They look forward to bringing this lesser known work of Larson's to the local stage.

"The music is very similar (to the music in "Rent")," Vallentin said. "It has some of the same styles, with roots in rock music but including various other styles as well."

"Rent" fans may be interested to know that Larson worked on this play first. When listening to the music, according to Vallentin, they might notice the seeds of a style that will further develop in the tunes of "Rent."

While it is similar to "Rent" stylistically, it has what Vallentin calls a "lighter feel."

"It's not as heavy," he said. "It does deal with emotional issues, but it's not as in-your-face."

The show also doesn't have as much R-rated material as "Rent," although there is some bad language (including the f-word) and a somewhat provocative dance number.

Pictured are Amanda Taylor and Drew Williams, the actors in the roles of Susan (Jon's girlfriend) and Jon, an aspiring Broadway playwright

A little information on the story: Jon is approaching his 30th birthday, and he is having what Williams calls a "pre-midlife crisis."

"His career isn't where he thought it would be by the time he turned 30," Bailey said.

At this pivotal point in his life, Jon has to decide whether he wants to continue to pursue a career in musical theater, which is his true passion, or choose a safer and more realistic path in life, as Susan and Michael, Jon's friend since childhood and an executive in corporate America, advise.

"He doesn't want to give up his dream," Bailey said.

Williams said he sees a couple of similarities between himself and the character he's portraying.

Like Jon, Williams is also about to turn 30.

"Also, he has a real passion for music," he said, "like I do. So I can kind of relate."

"Tick, Tick...Boom!" will have four performances: this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and then a matinée at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

General admission tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at (through the Batavia Players, Inc). People can also buy tickets at the door.

At this point, there are still tickets available for all four shows. The Harvester 56 theater seats about 110 people.

For more information, e-mail Nick Russo at [email protected]

July 12, 2011 - 2:23pm

On Sunday, 12 homeowners -- nine from Batavia and three from Corfu -- opened their homes as part of the Landmark Society of Genesee County's "House & Garden Tour," the proceeds of which went toward the restoration of St. James Episcopal Church.

For $20, self-guided tourists travelled to all of these beautiful homegrown gardens and then enjoyed a reception and dessert at St. James in the evening.

Here are some pictures from a few of the gardens:



July 5, 2011 - 3:41pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, books, local history, picnic in the park.

Abigail, age 7, showed us her cat-face Monday at GoArt!'s annual "Picnic in the Park." She had just been to the face-painting booth.

While I was there taking pictures, I ran into some, shall we say, figures of historical interest.

Jacob Richardson came dressed in the get up of a Revolutionary War soldier, complete with weapons and an old-fashioned belt (which soldiers needed to keep all their materials together, since their uniforms had no pockets).

Richardson was there to represent "Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship," a program of Batavia Assembly of God Church.

Also, a horse and carriage ride, just like the old days.

Also, Genesee County native Lynda Breckenridge Gaetano, author of the "Up South" series, was there to promote her books.

Gaetano now resides in Austin, Texas, but was raised on a dairy farm in Bethany. Her books are set in Genesee County and, all total, span a time frame ranging from the early 1800s, when pioneers first came to the "woody wilds" (as worded in a promotional pamphlet produced by the publisher, Blue Stocking Press) of Genesee County, up until the time of the World War II years.

They include a mixture of folk tales, real life stories and local history, all told from the perspective of a wizened sugar maple tree.

Gaetano has published her work in three volumes: "Spring," "Summer" and "Autumn." She hopes to publish the "Winter" volume soon.

July 4, 2011 - 6:52pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, books, local history, picnic in the park.

Abigail, age seven, shows us her cat-face at GoArt!'s annual "Picnic in the Park." She had just been to the face painting booth.

While I was there taking pictures, I ran into Genesee County native Lynda Breckenridge Gaetano, author of the "Up-South series."

Gaetano now resides in Austin, TX, but was raised on a dairy farm in Bethany.

July 2, 2011 - 5:31pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, music, dance, images in dance.

When Robin Cotler and the Images Evolution Dance team performed in the town of Ladek Zdroj, Poland, last year, they probably never expected to be invited back so soon.

Cotler -- the founder and director of Images Evolution and its housing studio, "Images in Dance" -- travelled with her students to the small mountain town last year as part of a cultural exchange program. She said they were recommended by a previous participant.

"Soul Force" is the name of the work they performed for the people of Ladek Zdroj. It was so well received that the group was invited to come back this year for a repeat performance and commissioned to perform another piece as well.

"As far as I know, we're the only company they've invited two years in a row," Cotler said, adding that performing groups are normally asked to come back every other year or so.

Dancers' ages range from 16 to 23. They are pictured above, along with Cotler (left). They are, from left, Joseph Cotler (back), Krista Montrone, Emily Drilling, Robert Tyler, Kristen Drilling, Laura Neth (back), Charity Newton (front), Noelle Cotler, Stephanie Denzler and Stephanie Breining.

Last night, on the eve of their departure for Poland, Images Evolution treated locals to "Soul Force" -- and to a premiere performance of "I Am," the new piece they are bringing to Poland -- at its Liberty Street site.

Cotler got the idea for "Soul Force" from research she had done on the founding of the United States. "Soul Force," according to Cotler, was the name some of the first Americans gave to the idea behind founding our country.

"The whole purpose of the U.S. being formed," Cotler said, was so that people could live together in peace, freedom, and respect. That's kind of gotten lost."

Images Evolution's performance is about these ideals and how things like greed, vanity and political manipulation have gotten in the way.

"I Am," on the other hand, has more personal themes.

"It's almost a sequel (to "Soul Force")," Cotler said. "It's about finding yourself, and finding love for yourself. Once you love yourself, then you are able to love others."

Here is a selection from "Soul Force."

And here is a selection from "I Am."

Cotler sees dance as an art that helps to "open people up and break down defenses." She is very happy to bring that art to Ladek Zdroj, a community she called "the definition of underserved and underfunded."

In addition to bringing Image Evolution's performance to the people of Ladek Zdroj, Cotler will be helping to create a dance academy there.

"Last year we formed some real bonds," she said. "(The people of Ladek Zdroj) talked to me about having me help them pioneer a new program."

She hopes that by helping to get this new dance company off the ground, she will be providing the town with a resource for creative, artistic expression that would not otherwise be available.

"Images in Dance" offers dancing lessons to children, teens and adults, and has locations in Batavia, Akron, Perry and Brockport. For more information, visit their website (, call 343-2818 or e-mail [email protected].

June 23, 2011 - 2:41pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, music, Lisa Barrett.

Well, it's official -- Batavia resident Lisa Barrett's song, "When You Look at Me," is now the best original song in the world.

"It's difficult to grasp the 'in the world' part," Barrett said in a thank-you letter to her fans. "I feel like I'm dreaming this!"

After five months of anticipation, "When You Look at Me" was selected as the winner of "Best Original Song," an international contest that started off with 100 music videos from around the world, on Monday.

This victory is especially meaningful to Barrett because of her nephew, Austin, in whose memory she wrote and performed the song. Austin died of cancer just shy of his second birthday.

"I’m so grateful  to all of you, the voters who have stood by me and supported me and this song in memory of  Austin," Barrett said. "I am touched beyond words, and I feel so honored. Your kindness will not be forgotten, and Austin’s spirit will live on through the music."

As the winner, Barrett will get:

  • her own web page on
  • promotion from Best Original Song to record labels, recording artists, producers and music agents
  • a press release to various media outlets, including music magazines (including this Nashville-based publication

Barrett is also the featured artist on Best Original Song's website right now.

The Batavian warmly congratulates Barrett on a job well done. For previous Batavian coverage, see:

Batavia singer/songwriter has high hopes for very personal song

Singer/songwriter Lisa Barrett advances to next round in world competition

Batavian Lisa Barrett moves up in international song contest

Lisa Barrett one of three finalists in worldwide songwriting competition  

June 15, 2011 - 12:08pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, music, Lisa Barrett.

Thanks to the loyalty and support of her many voters, Lisa Barrett's song,"When You Look at Me," is now one of three finalists in the international contest for "Best Original Song."

Yes, she's made it to the sixth and final round.

Barrett, who lives in Batavia, says she's very grateful to all of the people who have gotten her this far. She submitted the following to The Batavian:

There's so much I'm array of emotion.

I do have butterflies this time around! I also feel like I'm watching this happen to someone else.

I'm so grateful to all who have been voting and standing by me. I wouldn't be here without them. 

I'm taking this all the way to #1 because it's too important to me! There's so much more I need to do on this journey.

There are so many more songs to sing and write, so many more people to heal with the music. 

I will continue bringing awareness for pediatric cancer research in Austin's memory.

I also do this in memory of my dad, Sigmund Racki. I look to carry on his legacy and his love for music. He always told me and my sisters that we could do anything if we just set our minds to it.  (Well dad, I did just that)

This competition has brought back so many memories of Austin, both happy and sad.

I remember one time in the hospital when Austin pointed to me.  He wanted to sit with me, and then fell sound asleep. 

I also remember visiting his home. I walked in and talked with my sister, Gail. Well, Austin heard my voice and came running with his arms outstretched towards me. He jumped in my arms with the biggest smile! That was in December, and it was the best Christmas gift I could have received. With so much sadness, I try to hold onto those happy moments in my heart. 

Finally, it's time to put a Western New Yorker on the map! 

Voting for Lisa's song will last through Monday. Here is the procedure:

1. Go to

2. Click on "Click Here to Listen"

3. Select Stage 6 - June 13th Show Date

4. Vote for and/or download "When You Look at Me"

For previous coverage, see:

Batavia singer/songwriter has high hopes for very personal song 

Singer/songwriter advances to next round in world competition

Batavian Lisa Barrett moves up in international song contest

June 10, 2011 - 2:23pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in John Kennedy School, schools, Parents, PTO Today.

On Thursday, John Kennedy Elementary School's parent group proudly posed with their picture in PTO Today, a nationally recognized magazine covering school parent group activities. Pictured from left are Jill Halpin (treasurer), Jen Houseknecht (president), Paul Kesler (John Kennedy principal), Sherri Wahr (vice president) and Cheri Kolb (secretary).

A writer from PTO Today contacted Houseknecht in October after reading The Batavian's article, "John Kennedy School welcomed new families, highlighted community."

According to Wahr, it was the parent group's effort to "bring the community into the school" that piqued PTO's interest.

John Kennedy's Community Night started six years ago as a way to welcome new students and their families, and, at the same time, introduce families to Kesler, whose job as principal started that year.

Kesler called it the "brainchild" of former parent group members Shari Ange and Heather Parker.

"It started off real basic," Kolb said. "Each year we've elaborated more on it, added more activities for the kids and (invited) more organizations."

Local organizations that have attended include the City of Batavia police and fire departments. Detective Rich Schauf, Kesler says, makes it a point to be there every year. Other participants include Cain's Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Images in Dance and many others.

People from these groups are very appreciative of this opportunity to showcase their services and connect with the school community. Kesler said that many of them often ask when the next Community Night is going to take place.

Beyond that, some of the vendors at Community Night have worked with the parent group on various school events throughout the year.

"Pauly's Pizzeria has helped us with just about every fundraiser," Wahr said, adding that the restaurant provided the sauce for the school's Pasta Night.

Additionally, Kolb said that the Boy Scouts gave the parent group a plaque this year in acknowledgement of their support of Community Night.

If you ask Kesler or any member of the parent group what has enabled their outreach to the community to be so successful, they will all likely say the same thing: the community spirit among parents, teachers, staff and students at John Kennedy.

"The amount of apprecation and gratitude shown by the principal and staff (has been important)," Kolb said. "Everyone from the secretaries to the custodial staff to the teachers, etc. They always do whatever they can to help."

Houseknecht pointed out that the parent group also has "a large number of parents we can count on for continued support."

"It's really a group effort," Kesler added. "Community night happens because a community of people make it happen."

This includes the students, who always ask what they can do for, and how they can help with, any school event or function. One of the goals the parent group has for next year is to get fifth-graders, who run the games at the school's Family Fun Night, to volunteer on Community Night.

"We'd love to have the fifth-graders kind of mentor the kindergarteners," Halpin said. "Since they're on their way out, they can share their experience and what they love about John Kennedy with the students who are just coming in."

As members of a thriving and supportive school community, the parent group members seem cautiously optimistic about the school district's current budget woes (see yesterday's article, "Public begs for city schools' Suzuki Strings programs to be saved," for coverage).

"I think we have such a supportive community that we'll get through it," Wahr said.

"Change will come," Kolb said. "Other school districts have been through the same thing and come out of it, reached the other side, and seen better times financially. I think it will be the same way with us. It's just a matter of keeping intact what we have in the meantime."

"The community and the schools are going to have to work together more closely," Halpin said. "The onus is going to be on the parents and community to provide activities for the kids that aren't covered in the budget."

Kolb said that efforts to do so will require persistance and the willingness to look for "creative ways to support these programs."

To read the PTO Today article, click here.

If you would like your organization to be featured at next year's Community Night, call the school at 343-2480, ext. 5000.

Kolb said that "as many organizations as are interested" are welcome to participate. They use the gym, the cafeteria, the hallways and the outside area for the event, so there's plenty of room.

June 5, 2011 - 2:23pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, music, Lisa Barrett.

Batavia resident Lisa Barrett is now one of six finalists to have advanced to round five in the international contest, "Best Original Song."

If she makes it through this round, she will be one of three finalists to make it to the last one. One of these three finalists will win the contest.

Voting for Lisa's song, "When You Look at Me," will start at 8 p.m. on Monday, and will continue through June 13. To vote:

1. Go to

2. Click on "Click Here to Listen"

3. Select June 6 through 13 Show Date

4. Vote for and/or download "When You Look at Me."

For previous coverage, see: 

Batavia singer/songwriter has high hopes for very personal song

Singer/songwriter Lisa Barrett advances to next round in world competition

To see a story YNN did on Barrett recently, click here.

June 4, 2011 - 1:20pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in baseball, tourism, darien lake.

Pictured are John White and Ben Zhao, both of Clarence, who were two of many youngsters who came to Darien Lake Theme Park yesterday to get free tickets.

Why do they get such special treatment? Well, the short answer is that they could be helping bring a fortune into Genesee County.

John and Ben are two of almost 1,600 kids, ages 12 to 18, who are competing in the Darien Lake Baseball Tournament, which starts today and involves youth from all over the Northeast and part of Canada.

According to Kelly Rapone, who works for the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, there are a total of 106 teams, with 15 kids on each team. Kids from outside of Genesee County will, of course, be accompanied by their families.

This is likely to be a major boon not only for Darien Lake Theme Park -- which is sponsoring the tournament -- but also for the county in general. In addition to Darien Lake tickets for the kids, all visiting families receive welcome packets with visitors' and dining guides.

But what exactly is this tournament, and how did it come about?

According to Rapone, this is a "public-private venture to grow our economy through sports."

It all started a couple years ago with a conversation between Chris Suozzi of Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC), Neil Turvey of A-Turf (a Cheektowaga-based company that specializes in synthetic grass surfacing for sports fields), and former Senator Mary Lou Rath. They met to discuss possible opportunities for Genesee County.

"There are a lot of synergies right here (in Genesee County)," Suozzi said. "Our location is real prime -- right on the New York State Thruway, between Buffalo and Rochester."

Suozzi and Turvey then got involved with Tom Lichtenthal, the Town of Batavia engineer, and Craig Yunker, who owns the Batavia Turf Farm on Bank Street Road.

Up until now, the Turf Farm has mainly been used for youth soccer games. Turvey would like to develop a baseball training center there, as well as space for baseball and softball games next to the soccer field.

Turvey, of Lockport, said this "is just phase one."

"We hope to eventually have 11 fields for baseball and softball."

Before taking on the ambitious task of "taking baseball (in Genesee County) to the next level," as Suozzi put it, he and Turvey wanted to have a baseball tournament  here to see if it would be successful.

Suozzi said this idea came from an observation of how well local soccer teams have done with their tournaments.

With this in mind, and having connections with Darien Lake, he set up a meeting between himself, the theme park's general manager and Turvey. It was agreed that Darien Lake would sponsor the tournament.

"Our hope is that this will be economically impactful," Suozzi said. "When people and families come in, it brings sales tax dollars to our community. That's something people don't realize -- events like this are a real draw for that."

"We're expecting to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 people this weekend," Turvey said, "and around 7,500 people total."

The teams are divided into three groups: 10- to 12-year-olds, 13- to 15-year-olds and 16- to 18-year-olds. The 10- to 12-year-olds are playing today and tomorrow at Pembroke High School, at 8750 Alleghany Road in Corfu, and at the Pembroke town park, which is right behind the high school.

Next weekend (June 11-12), the 13- to 15-year-olds will play at three Batavia sites -- Batavia High School at 260 State St., John Kennedy Elementary School at 166 Vine St., and GCC at 1 College Road -- and Barrie Park, just outside of Albion.

Finally, the 16- to 18-year-olds will play Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19 at these same four locations and at Pembroke High School.

Four games are played at each location every day of the tournament. Start times for each game are 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. They are free and open to the public, and food is available.

As difficult and time-consuming as it has been to coordinate this whole thing, Turvey is grateful for the amount of support the tournament has gotten from the Genesee County community.

"Everybody's been fantastic," he said. "The government agencies, the hotels, the chamber...the schools have also been very supportive."

If you have any questions or would like more information, call Turvey at (716) 462-8155. I spoke with him a minute ago, and he said that today's games are still on; they're just waiting for the weather to clear up a bit.


A rather "impressive" wooden bear guards the entrance to the Darien Lake lodge (right near where the kids came to pick up their tickets). Here he is a bit more close up.

June 1, 2011 - 12:08pm

The Genesee County Chamber of Commerce invites everyone to stop by Oliver's Candies parking lot -- at 211 West Main St. in Batavia -- today for their bumper-to-bumper brochure exchange.

Set to run from 3 until 4:30 p.m., this event is a great opportunity to learn about the many attractions in Genesee County and the surrounding region. Representatives from each organization will be there to talk with people and provide information.

The following organizations from Genesee County are participating:

  • Oliver's Candies
  • Simply Homespun
  • Batavia Bus Service, Inc.
  • Coffee Culture
  • Darien Lake Theme Park Resort
  • D & R Depot
  • Jell-O Gallery and the Historical Le Roy House
  • Batavia's Original (formerly Pontillo's)
  • Copper Top Gardens

Other organizations from our region will include:

  • Hidden Valley Animal Adventure (Wyoming)
  • Genesee Country Village & Museum (Monroe)
  • Genesee Country Campground (Livingston)
  • Barn Quilt Trail (Orleans)
  • Watt Farms (Orleans)
  • Orleans County Tourism
  • Artists of the Oak (Orleans)
  • Medina Railroad Museum (Orleans)

"Yankee Doodle Brochure Distribution" will also be represented.

For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 343-7440.

May 21, 2011 - 1:48pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in festival of hope, Genesee Cancer Assistance, 5k Run, 5k Walk.

Joe Gerace, left, Dorothy Schlaggel and Justin Calarco-Smith share a passion for helping cancer victims. As members of the Genesee Cancer Assistance Board of Directors, they took time to speak with me today about the upcoming Festival of Hope and 5K walk/run, the organization's major annual fundraiser.

Batavia Downs, at 8315 Park Road in Batavia, will host the event on Friday, June 3.

The 5k walk/run

The 5k walk/run is a new feature that was added to the Festival of Hope two years ago.

Registration starts at 4 p.m., followed by a "Lap of Honor" for cancer survivors at 5:45 and the official race at 6:15.

Schlaggel, an honorary board member and founder of Genesee Cancer Assistance, said this is not really going to be a "race," per se.

Calarco-Smith agreed.

May 18, 2011 - 1:11pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, music, Lisa Barrett.

Lisa Barrett, of Batavia, is very grateful to everyone who voted for her song in the international contest, "Best Original Song." Thanks to her voters, she has made it to round four and is now a top 12 finalist.

Voting for this round starts at 8 p.m. on May 23 and runs through May 30. To vote, follow these simple steps:

1. Go to

2. Click on either of the two bars on the homepage that read "Click Here to Listen."

3. Select Show #1 -- May 23rd Show Date

4. Vote for and/or download "When You Look at Me."

This information was submitted by Barrett. If she makes it to the next round, she will be one of six finalists and have only two more rounds to go before she wins the competition.

See the April 29 article, "Batavia singer/songwriter has high hopes for very personal song," for previous coverage.




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