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Batavia High School

Everybody's getting 'Footloose' this weekend at BHS

By Joanne Beck
Batavia High School opens this Friday evening with Footloose musical.  Photo by Steve Ognibene
BHS Production Club presents "Footloose the Musical" this weekend, running at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Batavia High School, 260 State St., Batavia. 
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Amidst the stress of rehearsals, learning lines and choreography, and directing 34 people with varied levels of experience, there were welcomed moments of levity tucked into the tension for everyone taking part in “Footloose the Musical,” Director Caryn Wood says.

Take, for example, Batavia High School senior Ephraim Hanna, who is playing the character Willard Hewitt. 

“Just in general, the student that plays Willard is hilarious. In personality, the student himself is very calm and quiet. And a little bit reserved and shy. And then when he goes on stage, he's absolutely hilarious,” Wood said during rehearsals Thursday at the high school. “And the kids aren’t used to doing southern or like country bumpkin-type accents. And so, one of the students who plays Reverend Shaw Moore (student actor Peyton Woeller) has to say the word creek and, of course, pronounces it crick. And a lot of the cast laughs. They think it’s hilarious because they're just not accustomed to that.”

BHS Production Club plans to present the fun and laughter — plus a whole lot of music and dancing — at the Frank E. Owen Auditorium stage at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at BHS, 260 State St., Batavia. 

Based on the movie made in 1984, this musical “bursts onto the live stage with dynamic new songs” and celebrates the exhilaration of youth, wisdom of listening to one another and the power of forgiveness, according to its promotional description. 

The story is about Ren McCormack, a city kid who loves dancing as a form of escaping the stresses of life, and he and his mom end up moving to Bomont, a small southern town where Rev. Shaw Moore just effectively banned the activity. Ren and Willard end up befriending one another as Ren also gradually builds relationships with others as they discover they may have more similarities than differences. 

With the title of “Footloose,” it might go without saying that this show includes a lot of fancy footwork, from jazz and lyrical to country line dancing to tap influences. However, it really also means “a lot of choreography and a lot of intense, long dance rehearsals,” Wood said. 

Dance instructor and choreographer Denise Leblanc-Chatt returned again for what has become a longtime relationship of providing her experience and expertise so that students can envelop those lessons and deliver them onto the stage. 

“The kids have no dance experience. And this is a very physical thing for them that they are not accustomed to,” Wood said. “And they have done an excellent job rising to the challenge to bring a ton of energy to this dance-heavy show.”

They have been learning dance steps and practicing since the end of December for about two hours at a time for two to three days a week and for even longer as it grew closer to show time, she said.

LeBlanc-Chatt owns and is head instructor at The Dancing Place Dance Academy in Batavia and has studied the art for the past 50 years.  

“She’s a phenomenal choreographer and dance teacher, and we are lucky to have her,” Wood said. “She does an excellent job of making non-dancers look impeccably energetic on stage.” 

So, most definitely, learning the dance routines in and of itself was a major challenge, she said. But there are always other hurdles to consider, especially when you’ve got a mix of more versed actors and newcomers, which was true of many of the freshmen, sophomore and some junior novice actors, she said.

“I also think that any time you're working with students, especially students who don't have a lot of performance experience but want to be involved, you're really training them physically and emotionally, to deep dive into characters and what are their characters' motivations? Why are they doing this? What are they feeling? What is their physical appearance right now? Making fully well-rounded, fully fleshed-out characters can also be a challenge for a new performer,” she said. “Our cast is made up of kids that had been performing for several years and done a couple of shows a year, and kids where this is their very first show.”

Most of the characters are high school kids, along with some parents, school administrators, and a restaurant owner. Costumes are street clothes, but they had to be plentiful, with characters needing five or six different costumes throughout the show, Wood said. 

If you’re at all familiar with the original movie, you will “definitely hear and see all of those people,” she said. And then some.

“There’s also a lot of additional music and dance numbers added to make it a full musical. I think that the musical version of Footloose stays really true to the original movie but also pulls in influences to make a broader range of shows where it doesn't have to be set in the 80s; it is applicable in its message at any time period. It will always work, and it's very transferable and very, very entertaining, very upbeat and positive and can be explosive with energy at various points,” she said. “Overall, I feel like the message is of healing and forgiveness, definitely forgiveness. I think that there's some characters who are struggling with forgiving themselves and other people for tragic events in their past. And that message of forgiveness and healing through music and dance and relationships is a powerful one. And I think the kids are doing a fantastic job relaying that message.”

Advance sale tickets are $10.50 online, $10 for students/seniors and $12 for adults at the door.

Buy tickets HERE

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Photos by Steve Ognibene

Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene
Photo by Steve Ognibene

Veterans Day is about 'recognizing the heroes that are around us'

By Joanne Beck
bhs veterans event
Rocco Pellegrino, standing at left, takes part of a Veterans Day ceremony Thursday morning at Batavia High School. The event included the school's chorus, band and string ensemble, fellow veterans and guest speaker Stephen Hawley. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Looking at the short row of veterans seated at the front of the Frank Owens auditorium Thursday morning, one might come to a conclusion that Air Force veteran Lurando Mata had already realized: the pool is decreasing. 

Mata and the other servicemen attended the annual Veterans Day ceremony hosted by Batavia High School. With each passing year, especially for older veterans of World War II and others of decades ago, those who were in the military are no longer here to share their stories.

Mata has lost a couple of buddies to COVID, he said, and his circle of comrades is definitely “shrinking.” 

Yet he continues to attend the high school event, which this year included a talk by state Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, patriotic songs performed by the chorus, band and string groups, and recognition of veterans in the audience. 

For Mata, his reason was simple as to why he wanted to be there. 

“I’m involved in the community,” the 71-year-old said. “I volunteer for Crossroads and Care-a-van, we do events for people.”

As a Native American veteran — his tribe is based in Monterey, California — Mata has experienced hate and judgment, and he just keeps pressing on. He grew up in Washington State and was drafted while in college.

He served in the U.S. Army and in the Air Force Reserves during the Vietnam War, working first on helicopters and then on tanks in corrosion control. 

He was with about a half dozen others who were asked to stand when their signature song for the Armed Forces was played. 

High School Principal Jenni Wesp welcomed and introduced each segment of the program, seeming awestruck with emotion at one point.

“Wow, it’s giving you all the feels,” she said.

Rocco Pellegrino, who attends every year at the request of his two granddaughters and grandson, stood up during the Navy anthem.

“I come every year,” he said, putting his hand to his heart. “It hits right there. It’s very emotional.  It just brings you back, you know. When I was in the service, it takes me back to when my brother served in Vietnam, he was in the infantry, and it was very trying moments, you know. “

Pellegrino, who came to Batavia from Italy when he was 10, wasn’t certain whether today’s youth can fully appreciate what this day is all about.

Rocco Pellegrino at BHS
Rocco Pellegrino of Batavia, a U.S. Navy veteran.
Photo by Joanne Beck

“I don’t think the kids really understand what we went through,” he said. “A lot of us were drafted. Some of us volunteered. My brother came back from Vietnam, and he says, ‘Rocco, whatever you do, if you get drafted, join the Air Force or the Navy, and see if you could stay out of ‘Nam.”

He was drafted and joined the Navy. It was “the best thing I ever did,” he said, “like they say, it made a man out of you.”

He was based in San Diego and enrolled in dental technician school, where he had the threat of being sent to Vietnam hanging over his head if he flunked out. “They put the fear of God in you,” he said.

“So it was up to you to make it, and then I came here to the East Coast. I was aboard the ship the USS Puget Sound for a year and a half. That was a destroyer tender,” he said. 

Steve Hawley at BHS
State Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, a veteran of the Ohio Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves, talks to students, school district and community members and fellow veterans Thursday morning during a Veterans Day event at Batavia High School.
Photo by Joanne Beck

It’s the stories of those like Pellegrino and Mata that are important, Hawley said. He encouraged audience members to thank family members who serve or have served and ask them about their experiences. 

“I’m sure many of you have grown up with family members, parents, grandparents, moms, dads, aunts, and uncles who served as well. I'd encourage you, when you go home later today, to take some time, to first thank them for their service and talk to them. And most importantly, in everyday life, but on Veterans Day especially, when you're talking to a veteran, listen to them, listen to what they have to say. Because, hopefully, they're speaking from their heart and from their minds,” Hawley said. “And we need to remember why we're able to assemble here today, free to exchange ideas and free to speak freedom of speech. So please thank a veteran for their service. Not only can their stories inspire us, but veterans also carry an incredible ability to work hard and to contribute to their community right here in Genesee County and right here in Batavia. 

“We have one of the largest populations of veterans in all of New York State. And we can see that hard-working, determined spirit out in our own backyards,” he said. “This is the thing that makes Veterans Day so special; it isn't just about remembering the past. It’s about recognizing the heroes that are around us today. And every day.”

bhs veterans event
Veteran Lurando Mata, right, stands to be recognized during the Navy anthem Thursday at Batavia High School. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Unified Bowling making its mark on local interscholastic sports scene

By Mike Pettinella
Unified bowling
Jamie Masters, in black shorts at right, instructs the Batavia High Unified Bowling team during a practice session at Mancuso Bowling Center. At left is Assistant Coach John Kirkwood. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

More and more students in the Genesee Region are finding their athletic niche by participating in Unified Bowling, a component of the Special Olympics Unified Sports program.

About two dozen schools – including Batavia, Pavilion, Le Roy and Perry -- are participating in the Section V Unified Bowling League this season.

Matches get underway this coming week, with the Batavia team opening against Churchville-Chili at Spencerport Bowl and the Perry team taking on the combined Pavilion/Le Roy squad at Perry Bowling Center. Both of those matches are set for 4 p.m. Tuesday.

What makes Unified Bowling (and Unified Sports, in general) unique is that it combines students with intellectual disabilities and students without intellectual disabilities to produce interscholastic sports teams for practice sessions and competition.

“It’s all about creating a team atmosphere,” said Jamie Masters, the first-year head coach of the Batavia squad. “Whether they have disabilities or not, they're all working together as a team.”

She said that the matches consist of three games, with two games of doubles competition and the last game as a team competition. Local bowling centers scheduled to host matches over the next several weeks are Mancuso Bowling Center in Batavia, Le Roy Legion Lanes and Perry Bowling Center.

Masters, a physical therapist for the Batavia City School District, said the program also aims to increase friendship both on the playing field – or lanes, in this case – and in school.

“A goal is to build camaraderie in the school, such as sitting with each other during lunch or having conversations during the school day. It’s goes beyond bowling,” she said.

The Unified Sports initiative fosters inclusive activity as a way to tear down stereotypes and build relationships, while providing students with and without intellectual disabilities the chance to take on leadership roles in their schools and the community. Specific campaigns tied to the program include Fans in the Stands, Pledge and Plunge and the R-word Campaign.

According to the Special Olympics, more than 8,300 schools across the United States take part in Unified Sports.

For the Section V Unified Bowling schedule, click on this link: Unified Bowling Schedule - Section V Athletics.

Rosters of the local teams are as follows:

Batavia – Lena Boris, Andy Burton, Jennifer Ewert, Aleigha Frith, Kaelee Kelso, Max Kongmany, Esayas Reinhardt, Aiden Bellavia, Landon Hamilton, Jayla Odom, Price Parris, Rahmeto Reinhardt, Lylianalynn Santos-Baez, Benjamin Sputore and Marisha Tucholski. Coach: Jamie Masters. Assistant Coach: John Kirkwood. Volunteer assistant: Ryan Hamilton.

Pavilion/Le Roy – Carter Blaisdell, Alex Boldt, Case Cummins, Chris Doody, Corina Dunn, Jackson Fix, Merritt Holly, Hudson Klein, James Kingsbury, Jordin Kreutz, Adam Leitten, Dannielle Morehead, Alaina Powers, Morgan Powers, Arianna Pray, Reilly Powers, Landon Stoddard, Andrew Strollo, Mia Strollo, Joey Vernaccini, Makayla Washburn and Zoe Washburn. Coach: Michelle Milligan. Assistant Coach: PJ Puccio.

Perry – Hunter Clark, Todd Claud, Ashlee Davenport, Alexandra Faryna, Dominik Forrester, Nicolas Gutierrez, Hunter Henchen, Mason Herman, Olivia Herman, Kiara Hughes, Peyton Lyke-Scott, Koleden Osborne, James Shearman, Bryce Tallman, Landon Warner, Sawyer West, Victoria Wilson. Coach: Kris Goodell.

Unified bowling 2
Batavia High senior Ben Sputore delivers the ball during the Unified Bowling practice session. Sputore recently rolled a 300 game in USBC-certified competition at Mancuso Bowling Center.

Making a difference at Batavia Community Garden

By Joanne Beck
BHS at community garden
A Batavia High School senior turns over the soil at the Batavia Community Garden this week during Make a Difference Day activities. Photo submitted by Irene Hickey.

Batavia Community Garden committee members welcomed nine Batavia High School seniors Friday to help with various landscaping tasks as part of this year's 24th annual Make a Difference Day.

Tracy Grover of the high school College Career Center led the group of students for their community service project, garden helper and photographer Irene Hickey said.

BHS at community garden 2

Students were on hand to help garden members with end of the season work. A laundry list of tasks was led and coordinated by RaeAnn Engler, Garden Committee chairperson, at the garden on MacArthur Drive alongside the high school. 

Those chores included turning over the soil in the beds, putting the art panels into storage for the winter, relocating the compost within the garden, caging apple trees cutting back milkweed and thorny black raspberries (ouch!), and general weeding.

BHS student digging at garden
BHS taking a break at garden

This enthusiastic crew worked from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., breaking at noon for a quick lunch under the tent. 

"The morning was cool and damp with on and off drizzle. Luckily the rain held off until the bulk of the work was done," Hickey said. "Many, Many thanks to our work crew from the High School. The garden community
appreciates your willingness to lend a hand and your spirit of service. We couldn’t have done it without you!"

Photos by Irene Hickey

BHS girls at garden
BHS students at garden 3
Student at garden
Adult at garden

Bringing a restorative strength to BHS, new principal wants it to be a place to serve kids' needs

By Joanne Beck
BHS principal
Jennifer Wesp, new Batavia HS principal.
Photo by Joanne Beck.

Restoration seems to be a common thread in Jennifer Wesp’s life, from her work in education to upcycling estate furniture and even giving rescued dogs a new lease on life as the Batavia City Schools administrator has sewn all of those passions together in her personal and professional endeavors.

She’s been easing her way in as the new high school principal, touring the community, meeting people, observing and absorbing her new environment and learning the values of Batavia, she said. While at the same time, she wants to understand the school climate, survey staff, and especially get to know the kids, she said.

“To meet the kids, that was my favorite part. So I'm trying to be very present. I hope that I give that sense of I'm approachable, that I'm warm, that I'm open. I'm trying to be everywhere and responsive,” Wesp said during an interview with The Batavian. “So I feel that kids have been very graceful and kind to me, but it's important to know who they are. So I'm doing things like looking through old yearbooks, trying to make the connections between that beautiful face I see in the hallway and their name, right, because they're not always ready to tell me their name. And I just want them to feel important and connected. So that's a lot of my messaging and the things that I've been doing, you know, one-on-one with them as well as large spaces like class meetings and things like that.”

That may not seem so officially restorative in nature, but Wesp is about getting to know people, “where their baseline is, what they’re really strong at,” which in turn allows her to work with them on “shaping a culture of a building.” After all, what does restorative mean? To be curative, therapeutic, antidotal, healthful and recuperative. 

“Because I know it’s a lot, but I think that the most important piece of my job is relationship building, actively listening to the values to be aligned, to make sure that the choices and decisions I’m making as the leader are the decisions that reflect what the community is expecting from the high school, and what the families and the students need from the high school,” she said.

Wesp has a strength in social-emotional learning, she said, which has been a key buzzphrase since COVID. 

So what does it mean for her to put a focus on social and emotional elements for kids in school?
“So I think everybody has most mental health needs that we need to attend to every person, right? And I don't know that sometimes our society actually helps us to prioritize that. And then I think after COVID, there were so many different feelings and experiences, and then life just kind of went back to normal, and the new normal doesn't feel the same. So in schools, I think what happened is kids just had a disruption. And there was also probably a lot of fear that was kind of just in their bodies, right? Even if they talked about it or didn't talk about it, because it was a very different experience.” She said. “So I think for schools, we talk about 21st Century skills all the time, which is really like what a kid needs when they leave us. And post-COVID, And not even just COVID, I am honestly just going to say the state of where we are, kids can't learn if their needs aren't being met. So what it looks like in schools now is helping our people who've been trained extensively in academics and trained extensively in those other pieces to also have the tools to meet the kids where they're at. So if they're coming in, and a lot of things are on their plate, they can't just sit down and perform academically.”

The education system has had to make room for some adjustments, she said, such as Mental Health Mondays once a month to take a pause and allow kids the opportunity to engage in some mental health support, social-emotional circles, and breaks from “that academic pressure and be able to build a culture that is connective in their space.”

“So I think it is a buzzword, but I think it's the smaller pieces that we intentionally build in that make the difference with our mental health,” she said.

Five or seven years ago, mental health issues seemed more obvious and visible, she said. Now it’s not always so visible.

“But if you check in with those kids and you have those systems where kids can still have a voice no matter who they are, if they’re the talker, that’s great, they’ll always give you their voice,” she said. “If they’re a quiet kid, what’s our mechanism in school to give them that ability to know that we care, we hear them?”

What do you think is the greatest need of this student population?
“I would say emotional regulation … if they're having a moment where they're frustrated, they're struggling to get to that baseline again. So they kind of use the wrong words; they choose the wrong actions,” she said. “And it's really because their emotions are all over the place. And they haven't learned those skills and those strategies to manage them appropriately.” 

How do you help them with that?
“Nowadays, we have all of that stuff that comes in their brains from social-emotional, I mean, from social media, you know, the different things that go on in society now. So I think schools have more of a charge recently to kind of dig into that, how do we teach the kids to manage those situations, because they happen more often,” she said. “And they're coming to school less prepared. And, you know, I don't want to say it's because families don't do their job. I think families try to do an excellent job and meet kids where they can. But I also think a lot of our families are working double, right, they are single families, and maybe they have all of these other pieces on their plates. So in order to meet those needs for their own children, they're battling a bunch of stuff. So I think we have to work in partnership with them.

“And I think we're taking more time to come to the table with kids to make them teachable moments as opposed to, you're just in trouble.”

Aside from all of her academic prowess, Wesp enjoys a good dose of estate sale shopping and working on resin paintings and upcycling furniture at her home in Gates. She also cares for her three rescues: Ringo, a Greater Swiss Mountain dog, a new Pyrenees Newfoundland mix, and Roxxi and Calliope, a pit bull.

She visits her daughter Jade in Chicago a couple of times a year and otherwise sees her here in Western New York and hosts her dad Walter for occasional visits in Batavia, where he lived for some time while living with his grandmother and attending John Kennedy Elementary. Wesp’s son Jacob passed away. 

“My son had mental health needs. So as a parent, I wanted to, you know, learn and grow,” she said. “And I wanted to understand, not only from the parent perspective, because I pursued things in that regard to learn my role as a parent, but I also wanted to understand the role of the professionals that he was going to bump into in his school systems, and things like that.”

Wesp pursued teaching, with 15 years working with special education and at-risk youth, and is now in her sixth year as an administrator. 

Batavia High School has revised its in-school suspension to offer an alternative to suspension option, and “we’re working to make that a bigger program,” she said.

“So you know, if they were in a fight, we didn't just want them to know they couldn't fight, we wanted them to understand what happens in the real world, like when you're at the mall, and you're mad, and you punch somebody in the face, right? So we have learning around that. Also, those student reflection pieces. So we're in the admin team, in the process of trying to figure out ways to make that a much more robust, restorative program,” she said. “So you're still in an in-school suspension. So you're not really not suspended. What you are that's different is you have teachable, learning pieces that are expected in terms of you living through your consequences. So it's not just you're in trouble. It's that, hey, this wasn't a great choice that you made. But really, this is impacting you. And here's the reasons and the learning we want you to have, so you don't do this again.”

As a first-generation college student who experienced “a lot of bumps in the road” on her own life journey, Wesp has a deep appreciation for education and a love of learning “that was instilled in me from school,” she said. 

“I was able to navigate and figure out as a young person that there were systems in place that could help to get me to college and to get me through college. So I think, in general, education has always been in my life for positives and negatives,” she said. “And it's the one-stop shop; everybody has to go to school, and everybody's got to be here for hours and hours and hours on end. So why not make it a place where kids get what they need.”

She hopes to see families during the next open house from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at the high school.

BHS earns 'top 40 percent' honor in U.S. News and World Report

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Batavia City School District is proud to announce that Batavia High School has earned high national and metro-area rankings on the 2023-2024 Best High Schools list from U.S. News and World Report.

Batavia High School earned a national ranking in the top 40% of U.S.-based public high schools out of nearly 18,000 schools. A top statistic included in the ranking was Batavia High School’s impressive 98% graduation rate, which is “well above state median.” 

“We are elated and deeply honored once again to receive this recognition from U.S. News and World Report. Earning a place in the top 40% of high schools nationally is a testament to the dedication, hard work, and commitment to excellence that our teachers, students, staff, and community collectively contribute to at Batavia High School. Keep up the great work!” Said Superintendent Jason Smith. 

“I knew when I accepted the principal position at Batavia High School, I was stepping into a remarkable community, and this recognition from U.S. News and World Report is an excellent reminder,” said Principal Jenni Wesp. 

“This achievement also highlights our unwavering focus on academic excellence and our drive to provide a nurturing yet challenging environment that prepares our students for the world beyond Batavia. This award is not a final destination but a milestone on our ongoing journey of educational innovation and continuous improvement.”

Batavia High School previously received this honor in 2022 and 2014.

According to U.S. News and World Report, “The 2023-2024 edition of Best High Schools includes a numerical ranking of nearly all public high schools nationwide. There are rankings within each state and within each census-designated metropolitan area that has three or more high schools, as well as the Best STEM Schools ranking and comprehensive Best Charter Schools and Best Magnet Schools rankings. Also published are rankings of high schools within each school district that has three or more high schools.”

Making this year 'a remarkable journey' at BHS, new principal says

By Joanne Beck


BHS first day
Batavia High School Principal Jennifer Wesp greets students during the first day of school Wednesday.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Jennifer Wesp had about a month to prepare for her first big day in welcoming students onto Batavia High School’s State Street campus Wednesday.

And prepared she was, anxiously waiting to greet them at 7:20 a.m.

“It was so exciting to see the students today. Many teachers and support staff came in early in order to spend some connection time before the first bell. We even had a table set up by GSA where students and staff could choose to wear a name tag that states their preferred pronouns,” the newly hired principal said after a full day of meet-and-greets and ensuring all went well on this day of return after summer. “The air was filled with chatter and laughter. I was able to get into many classrooms throughout the day. Teachers had planned many activities that revolved around building community and getting to know each other. Overall, it was an amazing start to the year.”

While her predecessor, Paul Kesler, was over at John Kennedy Intermediate resuming his former role as principal, Wesp was doing what she enjoys after capping off August: celebrating the beginning of the new year and fresh starts, she said.

“As an administrator, you are always thinking about how you can create an environment that is welcoming and affirming for all. I think we are always thinking about short-term goals vs. long-term goals. They are both critically important for student success. This year, we have a theme with students: ‘Promoting the Independence Within,’” she said. “We will be digging into this at grade-level meetings and throughout the school year. We want to empower students to take ownership of their abilities and choices, and we understand that high school spans a large development range. It is our job to help students to become adults who are prepared for the 21st-Century world.”

Wesp was hired in July, and began August 1. She admits that it’s hard to talk about what she sees as the biggest change to the school’s environment: Paul Kesler’s absence. He is a beloved administrator who “ran an excellent program for many years at BHS,” she said, however, with his switch back to John Kennedy, “I feel that I have inherited a thriving building.”

“I would say the biggest change for BHS is the change in leadership and the need for staff and students to adapt,” she said. “I will say, though, even though it was only one day, they all really were welcoming and affirming to me. I would say we are off to a great start.”

Wesp has brought a fat portfolio of experience with her, having served as assistant principal at both Spencerport High School and Greece Odyssey Academy; and as a special education teacher in the Churchville-Chili and Greece Central School Districts. 

She received both a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a Concentration in Elementary and Special Education and a Master of Science Degree in Inclusive Education from Nazareth College, and has a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Administration from the State University of New York College at Brockport. 

Wesp also serves as an adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College in the Pathways to Teaching Program, and, something Kesler can certainly appreciate, her father attended John Kennedy as a young boy. 

Her future includes some settling in and learning more about “this fantastic community,” which of course should put some Blue Devils’ games on her fall calendar. 

In my short time, I have been extremely impressed with the dedication that the community has to its school and kids. There are so many incredible programs, partnerships, and opportunities for young people. One key goal is to build on our fertile foundation and get more students into the community through those opportunities. It sounds like we continue to build these opportunities, and I want to make sure that we keep a focus in this area to take full advantage,” she said. “Another area of focus is continuing to build upon our high-quality instructional practices in order to provide equal access to all of our learners. We know that social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching are paramount to students being able to access academic goals. Batavia High is an incredible school with a strong foundation, so we will just continue to build on that so we stay relevant and on the cutting edge of meeting students' needs.

As we look ahead to the new school year, I am eagerly anticipating working with our exceptional students, dedicated staff, and inspiring teachers. Together, we will make this year a remarkable journey of learning, growth, and success for all.”

Omar Hussain and Jessica Korzelius will return as assistant principals for the 2023-24 school year.

BHS first day
Photo by Howard Owens.

Batavia native Mike Sputore hired as Blue Devils' varsity baseball coach

By Mike Pettinella
Mike Sputore

Mike Sputore fell in love with the game of baseball when he was a young boy growing up on the southside of Batavia.

He excelled at the sport, starting as a member of the Ramblers, who were coached by his father, Paul, in the Batavia Minor League on the diamond at the corner of State and Denio Streets and continuing through two seasons as a pitcher and third baseman for the Genesee Community College Cougars.

Sputore’s baseball career didn’t end then, however. In a sense, it was just beginning. For the past 20 years, he has been a coach at various levels – including the past two years as the varsity head coach at Pembroke Central School.

This summer, when he heard that James Patric was stepping away from the job after two years at the helm, Sputore submitted his resume to Mike Bromley, director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics for the Batavia City School District.

“In 2022, James had reached out to me about coaching the jayvee team at Batavia, but I was committed to Pembroke at that time,” said Sputore during an interview with The Batavian on Monday at Mancuso Bowling Center, where he is employed as the general manager. “When the position did come available, I applied and was interviewed by Mike and (physical education staff members) Brennan Briggs and Nick Burk.”

Apparently, Sputore, a 1999 BHS graduate, aced the interview and was offered the job.

“We had several applicants and Mike came through as the leading candidate,” Bromley said. “He had some great experiences as a coach at Notre Dame and the last couple years at Pembroke as the varsity coach. We know that he has a love for Batavia baseball, with his family deeply involved in baseball here for a long time.

“We think that he has some of the attributes that it would take to be the next varsity coach here in Batavia – a good work ethic, great with kids and loves baseball. Just a good fit.”

Sputore credits his dad, who was president of Batavia Minor League for many years, for introducing him to the sport.

“He was a big influence when I was young and now, I’m enjoying it more and more the older I get,” Sputore said. “It’s very satisfying to help others in reaching their goals.”

After progressing through the summer youth baseball programs in the city – Minor, Little and Junior-Senior leagues, Sputore was a three-year starter at Batavia High under coaches Pep Johnson and Rick Saunders – claiming a Section 5 title in 1998 and earning Monroe County Honorable Mention status as a pitcher and third baseman.

Interestingly, Sputore’s brother, Chris, also won a Section 5 championship as a Blue Devil in 1994.

Mike Sputore played American Legion ball, before enrolling at GCC. It was there that he started his coaching career, serving as an assistant in 2003.

From there, he joined the Notre Dame High baseball program, recruited by varsity coach Rick Mancuso to run the jayvee program. In 2006, he became the varsity assistant coach under Mike Rapone and stayed in that capacity for 11 more years.

From 2018 until last season, Sputore coached at Pembroke – helping to build its program while coaching at the modified and varsity levels.

“We were very young (at Pembroke), but we made progress,” Sputore said, noting that the team won five games over the past two seasons after not winning any the previous couple years. “Going to Batavia, I feel the program has been set up for success, thanks to James, and we hope to continue the tradition built by Pep and Rick.”

Sputore said his expectations for his players start with two words – hustle and effort.

“It takes zero talent to hustle and give your best effort at all times,” he said. “We’re looking for kids to be coachable and to be motivated to succeed.”

He said he hopes to get his players on the field for some practice in October and is planning some “winter workouts” with the drop-down batting cage at the high school’s auxiliary gym. He also is excited about the “Meet the Coach Night” on Sept. 12 at the high school for all of the program’s players and parents.

Ryan Mansell, a five-year ballplayer at Brockport State, has accepted a health teacher position at BCSD and has been hired as the baseball program assistant. Other coaches are Derrick Busch (junior varsity), Greg Mruczek (modified A) and Rich Wagner (modified B).

Sputore has a son, Benjamin, a senior at BHS, and a daughter, Brooklyn, an eighth grader at Oakfield-Alabama Central School. His wife, Jillion, is a teacher at John Kennedy Intermediate School.

BHS grads 'take the next step' during 141st ceremony Friday

By Joanne Beck
Commencement Guest Speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz addresses the Class of 2023
Commencement Guest Speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz addresses the Class of 2023 during Friday's Batavia High School graduation ceremony.
Photo by Steve Ognibene.

There was a contingency plan for Batavia City School District’s commencement ceremony Friday evening, just in case the clouds — which threatened all day long in grumpy gray masses — gave way to thunderstorms.

But by later afternoon, it was all systems go as the school of blue and white opted to move forward, not long before a short blip of rain came down to tempt the Blue Devils’ steadfastness. The Class members of 2023 lived up to a word repeatedly attributed to them in the evening’s speeches: they were resilient.

With clear umbrellas in hand and some rags to wipe off the makeshift stage and nearby awards and diplomas, school officials and students strolled through graduation with every bit of pomp and circumstance, albeit with a few raindrops here and there out at Van Detta Stadium field.

It seemed only natural for how they began as ninth-graders.

“I want to congratulate you on your graduation this year. As freshmen, you experienced the beginning of the pandemic and have shown resilience to get to where you are today. I am very proud of all this class has accomplished,” High School Principal Paul Kesler said.

He listed several of those accomplishments, including the band’s “outstanding” ratings in several categories during a recent competition, the Mr. Batavia event that raised more than $5,000 for multiple charities, the musical “Les Miserables” and its stellar reviews at Stars of Tomorrow, plus the myriad sports championships and academic feats for the 148 graduates.

There were 29 National Honor Society students, six Genesee Valley BOCES National Tech Honor Society members, seven Tri-M Honor Society, and five National Art Honor Society members, he said, and 62 percent of the class earned more than $2 million in scholarships for higher education. 

Of those students, 42 are planning to attend four-year schools, while 46 are geared toward two-year schools and six toward post-secondary schools. Another 39 are headed to the workforce with offers for employment, and four are on the road to military service, he said. A hefty 141 students earned a Regents diploma.

So with all of those accolades, what was left for him to say? Especially given that this will be Kesler’s last year as high school principal before he moves back to John Kennedy. 

After mulling the possibilities for a speech, he landed on three key takeaways from significant people who have impacted his life, Kesler said.

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Photos by Steve Ognibene

Mr. Paul Kesler, Principal
Paul Kesler, BHS Principal

A 90-year-old veteran who often checked on how Kesler was doing in his school leadership role taught him lesson number one: to “encourage people.” His father doled out one of life’s greatest gifts, and that taught Kesler about lesson number two: “Be kind.” 

And Kesler couldn’t help but include those oft-repeated words of the late city school district substitute teacher, mentor and friend Jim Owen about not accepting setbacks. So that’s lesson number three: “When you have a setback, you can come back and recover from obstacles,” Kesler said.

“I am so thankful to have had a front-row seat to see many of you recover from obstacles to get where you are today,” he said. “So today, I want to let all of you know how proud I am of you. But most of all, continue to be young people who come back when you have a setback, encourage others, and be kind. It has been a great honor to be your principal. Congratulations, Class of 2023.”

Guest speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz encouraged this group of anxious, soon-to-be academically free young adults not to be defined by one aspect of their life, warning against the “danger of a single story.”

“It might be easy to allow the whirlwind that was lockdown, or hybrid learning, or the mayhem that is all of those years combined, to dominate your narrative. But that would be a woefully incomplete story. I want to challenge you to rewrite the story right now. What have you worked hard to overcome? What have you been proud of? What have you shared? How can you change that narrative, that single story?” she said.

“Let me help you. Class of 2023, I can tell you, you have lots to be proud of. When I think of you, I think of your resilience. Your perseverance. Your ability to overcome adversity. Your sitting here tonight is evidence of that.

“When I think of you, I think of your compassion and heart. I think of your altruism; so many of you have given back to your school community and the Batavia community at large. I think of the ways you’ve gone out of your way to help others -- be it underclassmen, each other -- I think of your honest care and concern. 

"I, personally, have often been on the receiving end of that kindness, and I am so grateful for it. When I think of you, I think of your passion. You are fierce advocates, for causes dear to your heart, for your peers, for yourselves," she said. "Continue to harness your voice to demand action, to seek to make the world around you a better place. You are powerful change agents. Believe that.”

The words of advice were plentiful, including from students Jack and Noah Pickard, who ended their jointly given speech with a quote from ultra-marathoner David Goggins, that “most wars are won or lost in our own heads,” capped off with their own: “you are the only person that can make your success happen.”

And from student Clara Wood, who acknowledged that change can be absolutely terrifying, and moving on from high school “is certainly a monumental change.”

“But as a class, we experienced more insanity, hardship, and unpredictability compared to what is usual, and we have to somehow use this to our advantage. We need to somehow realize that we are more than the worst things we have ever been through. We need to somehow recognize that every day is an opportunity to rise above the challenges we are forced to grapple with, and somehow we need to allow ourselves to be proud of everything we have accomplished despite those challenges,” she said. “In the future, when we look back on our high school years, our view will be very different than most. My hope is that we will be able to look back and not have sadness by the feeling that arises.

“My hope is that we will reflect on our time in high school and remember the fact that no matter what, there will always be struggle and uncertainty, but that sometimes hardship is essential for us to realize all that we are capable of,” she said. “Struggle allows us to realize how good the happiness that follows truly is.”

School Superintendent Jason Smith’s message came from a fictional tale, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse.” It weaves through various lessons from each character while on a journey, including the value of compassion, the way in which we react to things, and honesty.

It ends with Smith’s favorite part, he said, and a lesson for graduates and audience members alike. That is, to take the next step.

“That is my final message to you, members of the Class of 2023: take the next step when challenges come your way. Keep moving forward,” he said.

Mr. Jason A. Smith, Superintendent of Schools
Jason A. Smith, Superintendent of Schools
Photo left to right, Co-Mayors Noah and Jack Pickard
Photo left to right, Co-Mayors Noah and Jack Pickard
Student Speaker Crristina M. Brown
Student Speaker, Senior Christina M. Brown
Student Speaker Senior Clara Wood
Student Speaker, Senior Clara Wood
Family and friends at Vandetta Stadium along with the Batavia High School Band
Family and friends at Van Detta Stadium, along with the Batavia High School Band.
Assistant Principal, Mrs Jessica Korzelius shares a hug to Alessia Bruce
Assistant Principal, Jessica Korzelius, shares a hug with Alessia Bruce.
Senior Jevon Griffin looking to the stands at his parents along with Superintendent of Schools Jason Smith smiles after presenting his diploma
Senior Jevon Griffin looking to the stands at his parents as Superintendent of Schools Jason Smith smiles after presenting his diploma.
Jevon Griffins family cheering him in the moment of him receiving his diploma
Jevon Griffin's family cheering him in the moment of him receiving his diploma
Senior Aidan A. Anderson turns his tassle right to left commencing him and the Class of 2023 officially graduated
Senior Aidan A. Anderson turns his tassel right to left, commencing him and the Class of 2023 officially graduated.
Family photo moment with senior Abby Moore
Family photo moment with senior Abby Moore.
Senior Olivia Shell hugging English Teacher Kim Przybysz sharing a hugs and tears, saying good byes and good luck in college studying education.
Senior Olivia Shell hugging English Teacher Kim Przybysz, sharing hugs and tears, saying goodbyes and good luck in college.

Batavia youth protest at tobacco company's shareholders' meeting in D.C.

By Press Release
Judith Newton at Altria protest in Washington D.C. 

Press Release:

Nearly 100 youths gather in Washington D.C. to protest Altria Group, Inc.’s shareholder meeting and expose Big Tobacco’s lies and schemes to addict kids. 

Last week, Abbigayle Leone and Judith Newton - Reality Check leaders from Batavia High School - joined more than 125 youth and advocates from 15 different states to protest Altria Group, Inc.’s 2023 Annual Meeting of Shareholders. These advocates held a demonstration outside Altria’s Washington, D.C. office, while several youth activists had proxy tickets to directly address Altria’s executives and ask questions during the virtual shareholders’ meeting.

“I’m so proud of my youth for fighting against the manipulative tactics the tobacco industry uses to target them,” said Brittany Bozzer, Youth Coordinator at Tobacco-Free Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming (TF-GOW). “After using their powerful voices in Washington, D.C., the teens plan to continue to address the challenges of tobacco use in their communities back home, as well as mobilize their peers to take action.”

This year marks the eighth consecutive year that Mobilize Against Tobacco Lies (MATL), a collaborative of youth programs and national partners, gathered to expose and fight back against the tobacco giant’s lies. Reality Check youth from across New York State rallied with a coalition of seven tobacco control youth programs and five national partners, including Michigan Making It County, Texas Say What, New Hampshire Dover Youth to Youth, Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, Wisconsin FACT, Delaware Kick Butts Generation, Indigenous Peoples Task Force, Corporate Accountability, Counter Tools, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Center for Black Health and Equity and Truth Initiative.

Altria sells the number one most popular cigarette brand among kids, Marlboro, and has long targeted kids and other vulnerable groups with its products. Altria claims to be “moving beyond smoking,” but the truth is that they rake in billions from cigarettes and other tobacco products, hook kids with new products like e-cigarettes, and fight real efforts to reduce tobacco use.

Despite Altria and the tobacco industry’s efforts, the United States has made great progress to reduce youth smoking. However, the latest government survey shows over 3 million U.S. middle and high school students still use tobacco products, including over 2.5 million who use e-cigarettes.

Reality Check is a teen-led, adult-run program that seeks to prevent and decrease tobacco use among young people throughout New York State. For more information about Reality Check, visit

Submitted photo courtesy of Gretchen Galley

BHS Class of 1973 reunion set for July 7-8

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Batavia High School Class of 1973 is observing its 50th reunion this summer and has invited graduates from earlier and later years to join the celebration.

The reunion schedule lists a meet-and-greet at 7 p.m. on July 7 at Ri-Dan’s on West Main Street Road and a dinner from 4-10 p.m. July 8 at the Batavia Downs Gaming grandstand on Park Road.

The cost of the buffet dinner, which features DJ Tommy B, is $50 per person if paid by June 1 ($60 per person after that date).

Both events are open not only to Class of 1973 graduates and guests, but also to those from the BHS classes of 1971-75.

Al those attending must complete a special form, which is available by contacting Debbie Best at 585-343-2548 or at

BHS senior Brendan Burgess wins Mr. Batavia 2023

By Steve Ognibene


The Mr. Batavia event -- in its 10th year and featuring 10 contestants on Friday -- has been a great tradition at Batavia High School, said Lisa Robinson, chairperson of the annual contest. 

Not only is the event a source of local entertainment featuring Batavia High School students, but it also serves as a fundraiser for charities, mostly right here in Genesee County. 

"I am so incredibly proud and very appreciative of all past and present hostesses, contestants and committee members, as well as the amazing staff who has supported myself and everyone involved over the years.  I could not do it without them," Robinson said.

Friday's event surpassed $5,000, bringing the 10-year fundraising total to nearly $38,000.

Each contestant performed their best in different categories, such as group dance, talent, swim strut, lip-sync, tux walk, and question and answer.

Brendan Burgess will get 50 percent of proceeds to donate to his charity, Volunteers for Animals.  When they read his name, his first thoughts were "all the money for the charity for such a good cause."

"I was thinking of my fellow contestants on how much work we all put in.  My coaches, my family, on how much they all supported me through the process," Burgess said.  "I really strengthened my friendships with my close group of friends, and some I have not talked to over a couple years. It helped bond us together even more.  It’s really awesome to come together and make new friends and strengthen those connections."

There was a tie for second place.  They were Cooper Fix (Ricky Palermo Foundation) and Fabian Vasquez (Golisano’s Childrens Hospital).  They will each get 25 percent of the proceeds to donate to their charities.

Vasquez said it was a "shell-shocking, amazing feeling" to win. 

"I was really impressed with this and we all put a lot of hard work and dedication into this," he said. "I don’t feel like there (were) any flaws and we put on a really good show tonight, and I hope it’s loved for many years for those who attended."

Fix had similar positive sentiments about the experience, regardless if he won or not.

"I was so excited and happy, I didn’t expect to place. There were so many talented guys out here that it could have gone either way, so I was so excited especially to share it with one of my friends; it was a great feeling," Fix said.  "We were all friends coming into this, but we got so much closer, seeing each other every day before school, working hard with each other every day it’s like building a new family."

Other contestants and their charities were:

  • Garrett Schmidt – All Babies Cherished
  • Ifran Armstrong – Crossroads House
  • Aidan Anderson – Batavia VA
  • Aden Chua – Genesee Cancer Assistance
  • Alex Johnson – Dave McCarthy Foundation
  • Shawn Kimball – Habitat for Humanity
  • Michael Marchese – Batavia Community Schools

Judges were Michelle Gillard, Batavia Business & Professional Womens Club; Christian Yunker, Owner/Managing Member at CY Farms/Batavia Turf; Jay Gsell, retired Genesee County Manager; Carly Scott, hostess of Mr. Batavia 2015; and Jordan Fluker, winner of Mr. Batavia 2015.

Hostesses were seniors, Clara Wood, Maya Schrader and Lucy Taggart.

Photos by Steve Ognibene.

To view or purchase photos, click here.










Out with the old school, in with Vape U to deal with e-cigarette use at BHS

By Joanne Beck


Editor's Note: The name of this student has been changed to preserve confidentiality. 

Howard wasn’t really into vaping.

Yet he was doing it socially when hanging out with friends.

And he would also vape in school.

He didn’t get a buzz or feel much of anything at all, he said. But he wanted to go along with the group.

“I think they thought it was mostly cool,” he said at Batavia High School. “I used them from my friends.”

Howard never actually bought any vaping products, and only used them when friends offered.

That is, until it all came to a crashing end. He got caught vaping in class.

“I was mad, kind of scared. I knew my sports would be done,” he said. “I got ATS, and talked to the assistant principal.”

ATS, alternative suspension, is done in-school during the day instead of placing the student at home. Howard was also given another option to take a session of Vape University to reduce his sentence. The university was a pilot program and Howard was the pilot, so to speak, to go through it.

He met one-on-one with math teacher Mark Warren, who was one of four or five teachers who had volunteered to train for the program. They reviewed facts about and negative consequences of vaping.

For example, do you know what’s in a vape cartridge? It may sound all fruity delicious with bubblegum, strawberry cream, blackberry lemonade and watermelon flavors, but, according to the Vape U materials, it contains nicotine, acrolein, an herbicide used to kill weeds, aldehydes, one of the most toxic components of tobacco smoke and cause of cardiovascular disease, ultra fine particles that include heavy metals and flavoring ingredients that can cause irreversible lung damage.

Yet the marketing makes the product seem innocuous and homes in on kids. Perhaps that’s why the first e-cigarette or tobacco product that four out of five youth try is flavored. Want a creme brûlée draw anyone? By 2019, there were 5.4 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes across the country, the material states.

That’s one of the more surprising facts to Howard, he said. He didn’t realize how many kids were actually vaping. He knows it goes on, but it doesn’t seem all that prevalent, at least not at BHS, he said.

Did you know that some of the short-term effects of vaping include:

  • Reduced lung function
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Nicotine dependence
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Teeth discoloration and decay
  • Bad breath
  • Diminished capacity in sports
  • Skin appears pale and unhealthy

And a few of the long-term effects include:

  • Asthma, lung cancer, COPD
  • Diabetes complications
  • Stomach cancer and ulcers
  • Wrinkled skin
  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Infertility
  • Weak bones

Warren also talked to students about their reasons for getting into the habit, and replacements for the behavior. He also listens when needed, he said.

“I’m an additional person, so they can talk to their teachers or counselors administrators, other people in the building, and this just gives one more friendly face,” Warren said.

And what happens if the student doesn’t show up?

“So that would extend the consequence side of it. That's part of our work with the parents. And so we definitely want a consequence side to vaping. But we also really want to help students out, that's why we would have a program like that in the first place, our goal is for (this student) or any of the other students that number one, they were educated on it, and that we were able to come up with a good plan to see if the nicotine is really affecting them, and that they have some replacement behaviors in school,” high school Principal Paul Kesler said. “You know, and so, ultimately, we don't want to see the students missing a lot of class, if it's something that we can help with on the education side of it, and the replacement behavior side of it.”

Students are also given a Quit Kit containing the essentials: suckers, gum, a hair tie to fidget with, and mints. While seemingly frivolous tools to combat potential addiction, it’s important to have something to replace the vaping behavior, Warren and Director of SOAR Chris Merle said.

Students are also confidentially referred to a GCASA counselor who has been working with the district for at least the last five years, Merle said. Referrals are for various issues, including vaping and drug use.

“And so she meets with them confidentially. So, you know, she's very aware of our programming with Vape University and we're very aware of the work that she does with our students. The parents are on board and know that it's happening,” Merle said. "But again, that's sort of part of our combination of … really working with students and giving them access, they might reveal the level that they're struggling with, and then GCASA working with parents could offer further services, or any other agencies in the area as well.”

Students caught vaping don’t have to attend Vape University, but it would reduce the amount of time that they’re out of class and in suspension or alternate suspension. For Howard, his automatic removal from sports also meant another step that he chose to take.

He faced a committee and “I had to tell them why I should be on the team,” he said. He spoke of his qualities and that he was an asset to his team. And that he wasn’t going to be vaping any more.

He was allowed to return, and as a multiple-sport athlete, was grateful for that.

“They let me back on, that made me happy,” he said. “I got a second chance. It made me prove I could be better.”

The downside was that he couldn’t maintain some of his friendships with kids that continued to vape.

“I told them I’m not doing it any more. It’s not cool; it’s just the appearance (of it),” he said. “I didn’t want to surround myself with things they were doing. I pulled myself away from them.”

One success story down, many to go. At least from how Merle describes it. Most school districts are seeing an increase in vaping, she said. “Everywhere.” COVID, as with other issues, can be blamed for this too, at least somewhat. Merle believes that when kids were home a lot more, often alone, there was more opportunity to vape.

“The market has grown exponentially. It’s hit that demographic as well,” she said. “That’s what the American Lung Association will tell you as well, and more research, that it’s really grown a ton in the past few years.”

As for Batavia district’s own research, Vape U leaders will be looking at repeat offenders as markers of their program’s success. With this being year one that began in January, and about a dozen student graduates of Vape U, they have a ways to go before being able to identify solid trends and positive habits, but organizers feel it’s a good start. No repeats yet. There is a survey given to participants at the beginning of the program that will also be used to collect data.

Meanwhile, students will probably continue what students have been doing for decades — smoking (or vaping) in the bathroom, locker rooms, outside of school, in their cars, and the brave ones will do it in classrooms, until they possibly get caught one day. And Batavia officials will introduce them to Vape U.

Warren has noticed a few differences between cigarettes and vaping in the minds of kids today.

“There are kids who would never fathom smoking a cigarette, but think that vaping is ok,” he said. “They see vaping as so less harmful than cigarettes.”

Kesler wants parents to know that this is not just for students.

“As we move into next year, if you have a concern, please contact us. We would love to have this as a resource for parents,” he said.

The district is launching a similar program at the middle school.






Top Photo of Director of SOAR Chris Merle, BHS Principal Paul Kesler and teacher Mark Warren; and individually as they discuss issues about vaping; a Quit Kit with replacement supplies; and materials used at Vape University. Photos by Howard Owens.

BHS student artwork on display at GO ART!

By Howard B. Owens


The work of Batavia High School art students is on display on the second floor of GO ART! through Feb. 27.

The gallery, at 201 East Main St., Batavia, hosted a show opening on Wednesday evening.

Photos by Howard Owens.





Robin Hood: good, bad or evil? Show patrons will get to decide

By Joanne Beck


This week’s production of "The Trial of Robin Hood" will probably seem familiar, since most people —whether through cartoons, movies or live stage — have watched a version of the English-based character performing his obligatory duties to give to the poor.

Except for the fact that this Robin Hood must fight for his life in a court battle. And King Richard, in this case, is Queen Richelle. Oh, and there are those three witnesses who describe in conflicting detail who they believe Robin Hood to be. And, yes, another variation is that the audience gets to vote for one of three endings to the story.

So perhaps you may not be as familiar with this version of the good-deed-doer and his band of merry men. But one thing is certain, says Caryn Leigh Wood, director of the Batavia High School Drama Club’s play.

“It’s very Robin Hood in tights-esque. It’s tongue in cheek, almost poking fun at itself,” she said after rehearsals Monday evening. “Obviously, it's a well-known story. I feel like almost everybody has heard the story or concept of Robin Hood. And obviously, there's tons of different adaptations. But it's funny, it's very silly, and we don't take it too seriously at all. If people come with an open mind and be ready for some silly fun time … I think people will laugh a lot.”

The trial is set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at BHS, 260 State St., Batavia.

Funny thing is that The Batavian asked Wood how many BHS shows this makes for her, and she only happened to realize earlier in the day that it’s her 20th season. It gave her pause to reflect on the work that has gone into each and every show — from the selection process and auditions to the creation of the set, costumes, running lines, choreography and the maestro act of pulling it all together.

Throughout it all, Wood has questioned herself: am I doing everything that I need to do?

“I want to work as hard as I can for the students; they are putting in a tremendous amount of effort and time, and I want to reciprocate that for them. And so before every show every year, I'm just like, okay, mentally I've gotta prepare, gotta make sure I have my checklists. And I foresee a daunting task, and then I get to this point, and it's like, a whirlwind. And I'm like, how did I get here?" 

It’s really that "day-to-day, constant, chipping away" at the minute details that have brought her and the club members to this point. And yet, she remembers every single production, she said, and the significance of each. This winter’s show puts a cast of 25 students and a crew of six to work on the tale of Robin Hood of Nottingham, England.

“I look at a ton of material each year, I like to cast a wide net,” she said. “It comes down to what fits the kids best. When I start hearing their voices speaking the parts, I know that’s the one. And we want one that also be entertaining to the audience.”

The Drama Club voted for a comedy this year, a stark contrast to last year’s sobering “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” They got what they asked for, though it has meant three times the work.

The trial puts Robin in the hot seat, as witness accounts by Maiden Marian and the Sheriff of Nottingham widely stray from Robin’s own accounting. As each witness describes his and her version of details, a vignette of characters acts it out before the audience.

Whose version will win out? With Queen Richelle as the judge, the court must rule on what happened to a kingdom run amok. Is Robin Hood a lusty hero, a hapless romantic or truly an evil criminal? That’s where the audience comes in, to vote on a finale.

Typical for many of Wood’s shows, this will be a black box-style, putting the audience square in the eyes of actors during the performance. She likes that it really draws spectators into the action while also giving students a more intimate acting experience.

All this is to say that the cast had to rehearse three different endings and be prepared for the final decision, chosen on the spot during the show. Rest assured, Wood said, “we have a plan.”

No matter what scenario is chosen, the kids will have fun with it, she said.

“They know all three endings. They are very prepared,” the confident director said. “I think that everybody will laugh at something in the show.”

Tickets are $9 and available at or $10 at the door.




Photos of dress rehearsal for "The Trial of Robin Hood" feature BHS senior Paul Daniszewski as Robin Hood, junior Cassidy Crawford as Maid Marian, senior Christina Brown as Sheriff of Nottingham, and Saniiya Santiago as Queen Richelle. Photos by Howard Owens.

Batavian Mike Battaglia basks in the glow of the Colorado Avalanche's NHL championship

By Mike Pettinella


The Colorado Avalanche captured the esteemed Stanley Cup on Sunday night, defeating the two-time defending National Hockey League champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1, to take the best-of-seven series, four games to two.

Residents of the Centennial State will be celebrating their Avs’ first NHL title since 2001 with a parade and rally in downtown Denver on Thursday morning – and among the participants will be a Batavia native who holds the title of the franchise’s Director of Video Scouting.

Mike Battaglia, a standout goaltender for the Batavia High Ice Devils from 2004-2007 who went on to play at the collegiate and professional levels, has worked for the Avalanche for the past six years.

Speaking by telephone today from his apartment in Denver, Battaglia said he has had the opportunity to scout some of the young men who led the Avalanche to the NHL crown – players such as left winger J.T. Compher, right winger Logan O’Connor, center Nico Sturm and defensemen Cale Makar and Bo Byram.

“I did quite a bit of scouting, but I must clarify that none of these players fall directly on me,” he said. “We are a team and it was a group effort. I am just a small piece to the puzzle of a Stanley Cup winning team.”

An essential piece, at that, as Battaglia has put in countless hours traveling throughout the United States and Canada evaluating potential prospects for the team and working with the analytics’ department to compile pertinent data and statistical information for management.


An All-Greater Rochester first team goaltender and New York State Second Team All-Star in high school, Battaglia went on to play club hockey at Niagara University – earning most valuable player honors – before moving on to Division III hockey at Geneseo State College.

After graduating in 2011, he took a summer internship with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets in the marketing department and also ventured into video scouting and even was used as a practice goalie on several occasions. Battaglia tried out for the Cincinnati Cyclones and signed a pro contract with that team, staying there for a short time.

While at Columbus, Battaglia actually signed an NHL contract – for one day – when star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky became ill before a game and was unable to play.

“We needed an extra goalie at that point and there was no emergency goalie then. Because I used to practice with the team every now and then – and because I was a goalie – they called me in the office in the press box and said that I needed to put my pads on,” Battaglia recalled. “And if the other guy gets hurt, you’re going in.

“So, I had my pads on, I was sitting in the locker room and I had to sign a contract. They even had a jersey all made up for me. It was definitely an interesting experience.”

When asked if he got in the game, he replied, “No. Thank God.”


In 2016, Battaglia began his full-time tenure at Colorado – finding himself on the road on the weekends scouting players and in the office during the week working with General Manager Joe Sakic and Assistant GM Chris McFarland. He said he is very close to McFarland, a Bronx native and fellow New York Yankees’ fan.

“I’m traveling to college games every weekend and do a lot of college free agency right now,” he said, adding that he attended more than 200 games this season. “Because when we're chasing the Stanley Cup, we're trading a lot of draft picks.”

Battaglia contributes to the evaluation process by communicating his thoughts on player skills and by matching the video he shoots with the “numbers” generated by the analytics staff.

“We do something called Identity Files where we're trying to capture all the players that we have interest in -- in the draft – and what they are, and what they're all about. And then when it comes to draft time, I'm the one who actually types the players’ names in a system that selects the players. It can be a little stressful.”

Colorado has one farm team, the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League – the same league that includes the Rochester Americans, who are affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres.

“We have the one farm team and many prospects that we’ve drafted who are playing college hockey or are in Europe or junior hockey in Canada,” Battaglia said. “I’m fortunate enough to touch a lot of pieces in our organization and see a lot of things. I work pretty much throughout all departments of the organization, and I am very grateful for that.”


Battaglia is youngest son of Paul and Mary Battaglia of Batavia. His brothers are Paul Jr., Mark and Tim.

He said he and his fiancé, Stephanie Dupuis, will be getting married in August at a ceremony at Stephanie’s hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

“We met through work. I was scouting and she was working for a junior team in Windsor,” Battaglia said.

When talking about family, Battaglia said he owes much to what he learned from his mentors during his time as part of the Batavia High ice hockey “family.”

“I always will appreciate the coaches at Batavia,” he said, naming them all. “Paul Pedersen, Nate Korzelius, John Kirkwood, Mark Dahl, Peter Guppenberger, Jack Porter and John Zola. Those guys are really important in making it more than just hockey for me – showing how to do the little things and being a good person.”

Battaglia said there’s a chance that he will be able to transport the actual Stanley Cup to Batavia when he visits this summer.

“I haven’t heard if I get a day with the Cup yet but if I do I will bring it to Batavia if I’m allowed to,” he said. “I will keep you updated if that happens.”


Batavian native Mike Battaglia is on cloud nine as he has his moment with the NHL's Stanley Cup following the Colorado Avalanche's victory over Tampa Bay. Submitted photos.

Batavia High School seniors are finding success with engagement post-COVID

By Joanne Beck

Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler


Batavia High School seniors are on the right path, Principal Paul Kesler says.

Kesler added a number along with his comment: 96. After having a graduation rate of 85 percent in 2011, fluctuating from 89 to 94 percent through 2020, seniors are at a 96 percent graduation rate, Kesler said. The increased percentage is proof that career initiatives and student attitudes are pushing kids on to greater success, he said.

“It’s a testimony of the work done in K through 12,” he said during this week’s board meeting. “We’re finding the right pathways.”

Some of those pathways include  early college opportunities with Genesee Community College and now Daemen College, which is new this year. Daemen hosted a cartooning class free of charge, with the school district paying for supplies. Students became engaged in the class, and it was a success in providing other possible avenues for them to pursue, he said.

A Leave to Learn program exposes students to various career possibilities, such as first responder, manufacturing, counseling and educational occupations. 

“Students are going to be able to select one of six buses, and on that date they’re going to have an opportunity to be with an adult and have an awesome work session,” he said.

The past two years have not only been frustrating for most, but have introduced socialization issues to district leaders, Kesler said. 

“It has caused us to realize that, not only as a district but as a nation, some of the focus needs to be on helping students be able to interact … our mental health is really important,” he said.

A post-graduation program — a Cornell University boot camp offered in collaboration with Genesee County Economic Development Center — will be available to seniors after they graduate. The camp is three days a week of concentrations in manufacturing jobs, Kesler said. Other improved partnerships include local dairy companies for hands-on learning and training, he said.

“We’re seeing more engagement of students,” he said, compared to when kids were remote due to COVID-19. 

May 2 will be “Decision Day” for graduating seniors to have the spotlight to announce their choices of college or career options. Fellow district students will be on hand to cheer them on, he said.

On with the show means cramped quarters for BHS actors

By Joanne Beck


Rehearsals for Batavia High School’s production of Mamma Mia has not been without its mishaps, senior Samantha Balbi says.

The Abba tune “Money, Money, Money” features actors in lines that move across the stage for a big dance number. Except there was no stage for the last few months, and actors had to adjust during busy scenes, she said.

“I’m weaving through everybody, and it was very difficult, very cramped,” 18-year-old Balbi said during an interview with The Batavian. ”I bumped into people accidentally. It’s a good sized cast; we had to work out spacing.”

As if scheduling and rehearsing with busy student actors — during a time requiring masks and sanitizing no less — wasn’t enough for Musical Director Caryn Wood and her cast. But then “the other shoe dropped,” she said: She and her cast were left without an auditorium for rehearsals. A massive windstorm boasting 75 mph gusts on Dec. 11 last year left portions of Batavia High School’s roof severely damaged. That in turn rendered the auditorium below inoperable. Up to that point, her production of Mamma Mia was well on track for an early March debut, Wood said.

“In very early December we did auditions. We had just finished Sherlock Holmes,” she said. “All was fine, we’re just rolling onto the next show. We were starting our rehearsal process, and the windstorm happened.”

All of the air exchanges on the roof were damaged, leaving no way for air circulation in the auditorium, she said. No one was allowed to use the space until the exchanges were fixed. She and students initially and enthusiastically marched on. They learned their lines and music while seated in smaller areas, including the band and chorus rooms, and then added in hallways and sections of the gym for choreographed pieces.

Their plans for a show during the first weekend in March were eventually dashed, Wood said.

“We found out there was no way that was going to happen,” she said.

The group’s biggest space needed for choreography and blocking wasn’t going to be an option. For the next several weeks, they sought out whatever space was available for rehearsals, moved all of the chairs out of the room, and did what they could, she said.

“I’d say, ‘ok, we’re going to go on a field trip now,’ and we were going to find some space,” Wood said.

She met with Superintendent Jason Smith and Business Administrator Scott Rozanski, who were working with buildings and grounds staff about the necessary repairs. They were all “trying to move on a timeline,” she said.

In the meantime, a two- to three-week delay wasn’t just about rehearsal space, she said. Wood had to get an extension from Music Theater International for the show rights and usage of scripts and to extend costume and backdrop rental (which was shipped from Kansas) and materials from the art and hardware store.

“All of that had to be readdressed and readjusted,” she said. “It felt surreal, I didn’t know how it was all going to play out.”

The same could be said about Mamma Mia, a musical comedy about a young bride-to-be who invites three men to her upcoming wedding, with the possibility that any of them could be her father.

Wood had to make hard decisions, such as deliberately putting off the bigger choreography numbers until there was more room to move. It’s not the first time the director faced this type of dilemma, she said. Her cast had to work around a capital project for Shrek three years ago. Only she at least had a more definitive timeline, unlike the unknowns this time around.

“We were nomadic. We were going where we could go," she said. "I feel like young people handle change better than adults. All were on board, and they wanted to make a good show; they were up for the challenge. They are without a doubt super excited and thankful to come back into the auditorium.”

Rehearsals moved into the auditorium this past Monday for the first time all year. It was a “breath of relief,” said Balbi, who plays the character Donna.

Fellow actor Michael Bartz, a junior, has participated in theatrical shows since fifth grade. He is happy to be part of "a super upbeat show," and took the regular field trips with stride, he said.

“I’ve never had to move between rooms before; that was just fun, I enjoyed it,” he said, adding the downside “The space we had was not accurate to the stage. At the end for a megamix of three songs back to back, there are fun dance numbers and moving lines going back and forth. It was harder to transfer that to the stage.”

Wood explained that, after having to shrink down the dance moves to fit a hallway, there was then a challenge to expand all of that to fit across the school’s comparatively gigantic stage. She is grateful for the district administrators' assistance to get back into the auditorium, especially since the roof has not yet been completely repaired.

“We’re very fortunate, the show is only two weeks later,” she said. “There were some weeks when I was waiting with bated breath.”

The show has been postponed to run March 18-20.






Top photo: Members of Batavia High School's drama club rehearse a scene in the hallway of the State Street school. Other venues are tapped in an effort to find available space in lieu of using the auditorium due to roof damage. Photos by Howard Owens.

Batavia High student finds smooth sailing as junior member of Youngstown Yacht Club racing crew

By Mike Pettinella


Batavia High School 11th-grader Charlie Kegler is carving out his niche as the “floater” for the Zing sailboat racing team that will represent the Youngstown Yacht Club in the 2021-22 IC37 Winter Series Lauderdale Cup early next month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The lone youth member of the nine-person crew, Kegler (at right in photo above) has excelled in a highly-competitive sport that demands sound judgment, quick thinking, strength and stamina.

Versatility is the key to becoming a successful floater, a position recognized as the glue that keeps the crew’s moving parts together. Going into his second year on the major regatta circuit, Kegler has proven himself worthy in competition as his numerous trophies would attest.

Kegler was introduced to the sport four years ago by his father, Charles, who serves as vice commodore of the yard at YCC.

In an interview with The Batavian (where he was joined by his father and grandfather, Bill), the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Charlie said that his participation in sailboat racing has enabled him to value teamwork and to speed up (no pun intended) his development.

“For me, sailing makes me feel like I’m in a different world,” he said. “It’s a sport that I enjoy, can be competitive in different ways and on different boats and with different people.”


Charlie’s dad got involved in the sport six years ago at the invitation of a friend, Shane Vanstrom, currently the junior sailing director at YCC.

“I sailed once and became instantly hooked,” Charles said, adding that in time he brought his only son along to experience the thrill of sailboating.

Charlie started in the junior sailing program where the goal, according to his father, is to emphasize the safety aspects of the sport while learning racing tactics and strategy. He quickly showed that he was up to the task, participating and winning in the 420 class (normally featuring two people).

This past summer, Charlie’s Zing crew competed in the Canada Cup Challenge and, although it didn’t win, plans to challenge the champion Defiant team, that includes four past Olympians, again this summer.

The Canada’s Cup, the second-oldest match race trophy in the world, started in 1896.


In the immediate future, Charlie and his team are ready to compete from Feb. 4-6 in the Fort Lauderdale regatta’s IC37 division. IC37 is the type of boat (at 37 feet) that the Zing crew and six other entrants will be racing. The other teams are from Fort Lauderdale, Newport, R.I.; New York City, Tampa, Cohasset, Mass., and Norfolk, Va.

February’s competition is the second of three legs of the Winter Series Lauderdale Cup – the first was in November, when Zing placed fourth, and the final leg is in March. The Zing crew is looking to improve its standing -- banking on the experience it gained from the first leg.

“We’re confident,” Charlie said. “We plan to go as hard as we can – max power.”

The team’s other members are in their 40s, with the strategist, Chris Doyle, in his early 60s.

Charles said that it’s rare to see someone as young as his son become part of an international crew, especially representing YCC, “which has a storied reputation from the 1970s of producing world class sailors.”


According to Zing Skipper Adam Burns, who started in the sport as a child, the Zing crew is fortunate to have Charlie as part of the team.

“He’s phenomenal,” said Burns, who recently was elected as commodore at YCC. “He’s a team player with a great attitude in a role that is very unique. Not many people can do that and it’s nice to have an agile junior sailor on board.”

Burns said sailboat racing has embraced a more diverse population in recent years, encouraging women and teens to be a part of what is considered an amateur sport.

“Two of our crew are women, plus we have Charlie, and I think that is admirable the way the sports has become more diverse,” said Burns, a wealth management consultant in Buffalo. “I didn’t have this opportunity growing up.”


To prepare for Florida trip, which could consist of up to 12 races in those three days, Charlie said he has been working out regularly at CrossFit Tsunami in Oakfield.

“It’s important to have arm strength to pull in the spinnaker (lightweight flying sail) and the retrieval line,” he said. “In my role, I have to move from position to position, help on the deck and with the mast team; whatever is needed.”

A B-plus student enrolled in the Diesel Technician course through Genesee Valley BOCES, Charlie is exploring his college options. While scholarships aren’t plentiful, there are opportunities for assistance at colleges with sailing programs.

Furthermore, someone knowledgeable in diesel engines would have a place working at boat yards as almost all of the sailboats are diesel-powered, said Charlies’ dad, who will be accompanying him on the Florida trip – cheering him on while keeping a trained eye on the team’s performance.


Charles and Charlie Kegler at the Youngstown Yacht Club.


Charlie going solo in small sailboat.


Overhead view of the Zing crew.


Charlie with some of the trophies he has earned as a top-notch sailor.

Submitted photos courtesy of Charles Kegler.

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