By Meghan Durkin ’21
On October 26, both Upper and Middle School students participated in Pingry’s annual Rufus Gunther Day. In a day dedicated to community service, Pingry students and faculty visited numerous organizations in order to give back to the greater New Jersey community. Students continued the long-standing tradition of service by, among other activities, sculpting clay, making blankets, planting trees, decorating posters, and sorting candy.
In the morning, buses picked students up and dropped them off at their various organizations. This list included Grow It Green, an organization that uses gardens to help provide fresh food to the community; Deirdre’s House, a center for children affected by abuse; and Community FoodBank, which helps the hungry. Pingry students also worked with ECLC (Education, Careers, and Lifelong Community), the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation, and Bridges Outreach, all of which Pingry has built strong relationships with.
In addition, students helped at organizations created by Pingry alumni: Saint Justine’s Preschool and The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. A Birthday Wish, founded by another Pingry alum, provides gifts for kids in the foster care system. Anushka Agraway (IV), who helped wrap presents for the organization, remarked about her experience: “It was really great because it gives us a fun way to give back to the community”.
For the second time, Pingry Drama students went to Montgomery Academy, a school for kids with social and educational challenges. There, they stayed with Montgomery students during classes, including Music and English, and played improvisational games with them to help them learn how to mend negative situations. Mr. Alan Van Antwerp, a Drama teacher who joined the Pingry students at Montgomery, was excited to see that the Montgomery students “got along well with the Pingry students because they saw that [they] all were students too” and that there was a “fun, collaborative” environment between the two groups.
Ms. Shelley Hartz, Director of Community Service, worked hard to put the day together and finds that it’s important to “recognize as a community that we are part of a community . . . part of many communities” and that Rufus Gunther Day is an opportunity to “work with so many organizations that are diverse in what they do.” Ultimately, she hopes that this day of community service “builds bonds and tradition for students.” Ms. Hartz’s dedication to building relationships with organizations, in conjunction with Pingry students’ active involvement in community service, made Rufus Gunther Day, once again, a uniquely rewarding day.
By Eva Schiller ’21
Robotics is not often in the spotlight, and many members of the Pingry community haven’t heard much about what we do. However, even those who do not know where the robotics room is or those who just assume we make battlebots may have noticed that the robotics team is stepping out into the public eye here at Pingry, starting with our own competition.
After weeks of planning, Pingry hosted its first ever FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics event on October 27. Our event, Bear-ly Built, involved sixteen teams. Two of them were Pingry teams: the veteran team (6069) and the rookie team (14543); both had been designing, building, and coding their robots since the challenge was revealed in September. “Endless hours of hard work have been put into both robots in order to be ready for our first home competition,” says captain Brian Kaplan (VI), who has been guiding underclassmen on both teams along with co-captain Alex Strasser (VI).
The robots were designed for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), which requires teams to build small robots that can perform a series of tasks. During a thirty second autonomous period, robots attempt to lower themselves from a hanging position and perform a few simple activities, all from pre-programmed instructions. Then, for two minutes, two members from each team operate the robot using controllers and attempt to place balls and cubes into a “lander” in the middle of the field. Each match consists of two competing alliances composed of two teams each, and the highest scoring alliance wins.
Both Pingry teams were ultimately very successful; both teams advanced from the qualification rounds. Furthermore, the veteran team, along with its alliance partners, emerged victorious in the finals! However, despite their success, it is still quite early in the season and there is a long way to go. True to the name of the competition, many robots were a bit rough around the edges, but it was still valuable for the students to see other teams and designs. “We are glad to have done well, but we look forward to making further improvements, continuing to grow as a team, and learning more about robotics in the future,” remarked Alex Strasser.
In addition, the competition provided an opportunity for the girls on the team to convene with other girls from the robotics community. As a team of mostly girls, Pingry Robotics hosted a luncheon for New Jersey STEM Girls, an organization that encourages girls interested in science and engineering to share ideas and build relationships. The event, led by Eva Schiller (IV), Monica Chan (IV), Jemma Kushen (IV), Alesia Paliwoda (IV), and Jamie Wang (V), featured a round-table discussion about team sustainability and recruitment. “It was interesting to see how different teams used different strategies to recruit and structure their team,” reflected Monica, a builder and coder for the veteran team.
Overall, through hosting the competition, the robotics team hopes to reach out to the community and raise interest within the student body. “Seeing how well the robotics team has performed recently has really made me aware of how strong the team is,” says Rosemary Collins (IV).
While our robots do not have legs and faces, and unfortunately aren’t battlebots, robotics is still a cutting-edge field that has only recently entered the spotlight. With hard work, determination, and commitment from all team members, Pingry Robotics is ready to take on a bigger role in the community and in the movement towards a more advanced and technologically-oriented world!
By Noah Bergam ’21
The Pingry boys’ soccer team is aiming high this season. With expectations to win the county championship and make a run at the Non-Public “A” title, the team has maintained an impressive record so far.
Captain Drew Beckmen (VI) recognizes that “alhough we lost our goalkeeper and two all-county defenders to graduation, we have an extremely talented junior class and strong senior leadership leading the way this year. Hopefully, we can combine our strong defense and dynamic attack to be one of the strongest teams in the state.”
The team looks promising, but the hardest is yet to come. Hunterdon Central, a big Group 4 school, and Peddie, which Pingry has not beaten in two years, will provide some serious competition in coming weeks. Recently, the boys defeated Staten Island Academy with a score of 6-0 during Homecoming, on the 90th anniversary of the program’s inception.
Beckmen added that in regards to the Non-Public “A” championships, “We have come up short to Delbarton two years in a row in States, so we are determined to beat them this year. Though Non-Public “A” features the best soccer talent in the state, including the boys attending Seton Hall Prep, Christian Brothers Academy, and Delbarton, we are confident that we can compete with these teams. Hopefully, our good play will continue, and we can continue to show the state that we are a team to be reckoned with.”
By Ryan Geller ’20
The Pingry football team is heading into its second year in the Metropolitan Independent League with a new sense of confidence and excitement. Coming off the team’s first winning season since 2003, head coach Mr. Christopher Shilts looks to continue his recent success alongside senior captains Nate Hefner (VI) and Zach Dobson (VI) as well as co-captains Jack Baulig (VI) and Joe Shilts (VI). The team replaces the position of Obi Nnaeto ‘18, who rushed for 1,526 yards and 18 touchdowns, with a new group of running backs led by Hefner and Brian Benson (VI). “It’s nice to have a different kind of mindset, not hoping to win anymore, but expecting to win. Our goal is to be the best Pingry team ever,” said Mr. Shilts. He means business.
The team has started the season 2-2 after beating Newark Academy and Morristown-Beard. Pingry lost 43-42 to Pennington in a hard-fought battle at Homecoming. Next, the team will face Montclair-Kimberley Academy at Friday Night Lights. However, Mr. Shilts’ philosophy remains the same, which is to always focus on “the next one.”
By Josie Jahng ’19
The girls’ varsity field hockey team is off to a solid start. Led by captains Avery Didden (VI), Josie Jahng (VI), and Margot Present (VI), the team has held an even record as they head into county games later this month. Despite graduating a strong senior class, many players are stepping up and taking advantage of the newly-open opportunities. Didden addressed this development by saying, “this first month, we have been getting back into the swing of our play and re-bonding as a team again after the summer.” By focusing on fundamentals during each practice, “such as stick skills, as well as game-like positioning,” everyone on the team has greatly improved their play in recent games. This growth was clearly highlighted in a recent Homecoming game against Pennington; the team won 7-0 and six different players scored. The players are optimistic about the rest of the season, with important games against Basking Ridge High School, Bridgewater-Raritan High School and Hunterdon Central High School coming up. Didden noted that “everyone on the team this year is very committed, and we know this intensity is going to take us far, especially during those big games and tournament time!”
By Josie Jahng ’19
Starting off the season with a winning record, the varsity girls’ soccer team is off to a strong start. Led by Captains Abby Beckmen (VI), Ava Dziadzio (VI), and Caroline Friend (VI), the team has held their own in the Skyland Conference. Dziadzio noted that “our team has clearly proven that we are up there with some of the big-name programs.” Recent highlights include crucial wins against Ridge High School and Hunterdon Central High School, as well as a hard-fought 2-3 loss against Bridgewater-Raritan High School. The team has been working hard on the field and in the weight room, which has translated to strong performances in games.
“This season should be particularly successful, especially with the return of several skilled players from the Academy program and an overall deep, talented roster,” said Dziadzio. As for now, the girls are putting in lots of effort to prepare for their upcoming games as well as for the county and state tournaments that start later this month.
By Walker Johnson ’21
The girls’ varsity tennis team is off to a remarkable start this year, winning the Somerset County Tournament on Saturday, September 22. In addition to their tournament win, the team holds a winning record. Their goals, according to Coach Marion Weber, “are to finish in the top 3 of the conference, win the county tournament, win sectionals, and make it to the group finals.”
The team has changed considerably since last year, with key seniors graduating and three talented freshmen joining the team. Captains Nicole Kloss (VI) and Allie Matthias (VI) are focused on working with the new team to achieve the goals set by their coach. However, in light of their early achievements, it seems that the team has a good chance of not only achieving their goals but exceeding them.
With much of the season still to be played, the team looks to carry its earlier success into sectionals and the group finals. Above all, Coach Weber is most excited about having “a fun and competitive season.”
By Justin Li ’21
In a few ways, varsity co-ed water polo has been reborn.
Weeks before preseason started, previous Head Coach Misha Klochkov unexpectedly departed to coach water polo at the Lawrenceville School. With a number of strong seniors and underclassmen leaving as well, much of the team’s firepower and leadership seemingly vanished. However, under new Head Coach Aleksander Brezikar and captains Kevin Ma (VI), Grace O’Mara (VI), and Ben Ingrassia (VI), the team is ready is bounce back and rebuild its ranks.
They opened the season with convincing wins against St. Peter’s Prep and Choate Rosemary Hall, performances that have allowed Kevin Ma to state with confidence, “Despite the setbacks we have faced, we may be capable of much more than first expected.” When it came time to face their former coach and his more experienced Lawrenceville team, Pingry held down a tied score into the third quarter. Although they ultimately did not emerge from the competitive game with a win, the team will train for their home rematch later this season.
To onlookers, water polo may seem to be only a shell of last year’s team, but the resilience the young team has exhibited so far proves there is more than meets the eye.
By Lauren Taylor ’20
Led by captains Cathleen Parker (VI) and Nicole Vanasse (V), the varsity girls’ cross country team is looking forward to another fantastic season. “Expectations are high for this team,” Head Coach Tim Grant remarked, with the girls coming into preseason ranked ninth in the state. Unfortunately, the team has faced some challenges along the way, with Ryan Davi (IV) and Elina Irvine (IV), two of the team’s strongest runners, both currently injured.
Still, Coach Grant and the team captains have ambitious goals for the season. Coach Grant declared, “Our main goal this year is to qualify for the Meet of Champions and to try to advance to Non-Public A State Championships.” To do this, the team will have to have strong performances at the Shore Coaches Invitational in early October, the Prep State Championship at the end of October, and then the Groups Meet in November. The team placed at all of these meets last season and they hope to defend their title at the Prep State Championships.
Captain Nikki Vanasse, along with the rest of the team, is “really excited for the upcoming meets. . . The team has been training hard and we’re excited to see it pay off!”
By Jeffrey Xiao ’19
Despite losing two varsity runners, the boys’ cross country team, led by captains Tom Drzik (VI) and Jeffrey Xiao (VI), is looking forward to another successful season.
Even after last year’s record-breaking season, the team still fields one of its strongest teams in recent memory, thanks to its chemistry and depth. According to Drzik, “the team currently has a tight pack consisting of 8 or 9 runners. During all practices, everyone works to stay as close to each other as possible.”
The team has already shown strong potential when it opened the season on September 11th with a home meet win against Bernards, Somerville, Immaculata, and Gill St. Bernards. Since then, Coaches Matt Horesta and Tim Lear have helped the team gear up for October’s championship meets through a variety of road runs and workouts.
“As for the rest of the season,” Xiao said, “the team hopes to win the Prep ‘A’ championship for the third consecutive year and break the top three at Non-Public ‘A’ Championships, among others.”
By Chase Barnes ’21
There were many constants for me this summer. Begrudgingly rolling out of bed every day at 6 AM, relentless heat and humidity, crazy parents, and, of course, children. This summer, for seven weeks, I was a camp counselor at a local YMCA. Reflecting on my experience, I think about all the times I complained and how close I was to quitting after three weeks. It was a lot of responsibility and repetition mixed with some stressful unpredictability, and at some points I just couldn’t take it. At the same time, I honestly cannot put into words how amazing it was to have so many positive, and sometimes quite strange, interactions with parents and kids over the course of those seven weeks. Some of those experiences were so crazy that you wouldn’t even believe me. Just trust me on this one; I have quite some stories to tell from that camp.
And while there were both highs and lows, I learned a lot about myself as well as about working with other people. I feel that I have become more proactive, flexible, and patient. One day it would be sunny all day, and then at noon it would start pouring, so we had to spontaneously figure out what activities to do next. Day by day, situation by situation, we had a responsibility to continue the fun for the kids. I guess this is a good transition into the rather poor management of the camp itself. From what I heard from returning counselors, there was really no organization and activities were not thought out very well. Luckily, the kids didn’t notice, but there were times during the day when we, the counselors, literally had nothing to do with the kids. We would have to make up a game or find another activity to do because we weren’t provided with a great schedule or alternative activities. For example, one of the themes of the summer was STEM, and every Wednesday we were supposed to do some science-related arts and crafts. By that I mean we did one arts and crafts project the first week, and the rest of camp there was no activity.
It all cycled back to a lack of proactiveness, considering that what we did do instead was go to the playground for three hours and watch the kids tire themselves out until it was time to go home. Another day, one of my campers was stung by a bee and while she was screaming and crying the other campers were crowding around us and jumping around yelling, “Chase, Chase, Chase.” I had to deal with all of the kids as well as write an incident report, call a parent, and take the stinger out of her leg.
This was one of the many challenging situations I faced at the camp, but of course, everything worked out in the end. I learned quite a lot and wouldn’t change it for anything. I made a lot of friends, met a lot of great kids, and went to places I’ve never been. For that, I can say it was a good experience.
By Noah Bergam ’21
The Big Blue football team had an impressive 20-0 win against MKA at the PSPA’s annual Friday Night Lights event on October 12. Students and Faculty from both the Lower and Upper Schools came to support and cheer the team on to victory.
Middle and Upper School singers kicked off the evening with the National Anthem, and, thanks to Middle School Athletics Director Gerry Vanasse, young fans enjoyed a variety of games, activities, and prize giveaways before and during the game. Middle Schoolers ran an impressive flag rush, as well as a Mega-V-Ball game, at half time.
Nate Hefner (VI) and Zach Dobson (VI) led the team to an impressive +4 on turnovers. Scorers included Luke Engelke (III), James Wang (V), and Joe Shilts (VI) in the 2nd quarter, and Peter Nicoletti (VI) in the 3rd quarter. Pingry football had a great showing, on both offense and defense, according to Head Coach Christopher Shilts.
Meanwhile, under the tent, students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni enjoyed a mouth-watering tailgate of pizza, meatballs, mozzarella sticks, pigs in a blanket, wings, hot apple cider, and a wide range of desserts, all provided by the PSPA
It was a fun night for everyone. Congratulations to Big Blue football, and thanks to all the Pingry fans for their support!
By Noah Bergam ’21
Upon re-entering Pingry during this back-to-school season, I noticed that, in my discussion-based classes, I tend to find myself fighting total classroom silence. That’s not to say I am the only one participating – there are plenty of other students who add to the discussion without qualms. But there are also so many students who rarely, if ever, speak up. Some are shy outside the classroom. Some are pretty talkative once you get to know them. Some work hard, some hardly work, some are outright geniuses.
This lack of participation did not totally surprise me, but it struck me as rather impractical. I understood, however, after discussing it with some friends, that the reasoning behind staying silent was simple: why risk failure and judgement from others? I could certainly grasp the fear; after two failed campaigns for class president and plenty of slip-ups in class of which I am not particularly proud, I’ve had some taste of public failure. Those experiences were not pleasant in the moments immediately following but in the long run, I feel they have helped me improve in various ways and ultimately build up my confidence.
So, I believe that a fear of failure that hinders class participation – and participation in general – is one that can and should be conquered. Failure is what matures us. We learn what we do wrong and we chase the correct answer or thought process that may prepare ourselves for future slip-ups. This cycle of failure can lead to success inside and outside the classroom, an enlightening and motivating process once fully set in motion.
The problem that many face is how to begin the cycle: how do you put yourself out there and risk judgement? This can be difficult at our school, where we are constantly pressured to fit the model of the elite Pingry student. I’m referring to the all-star scholars, athletes, and artists we see all around us – the kids who are called ‘exceptional’, who win awards in Hauser auditorium, and wield an almost legendary status for us, even if they have already graduated from Pingry. These figures both inspire and intimidate us; they set a precedent of excellence that can drive us to try harder but can also scare us away from following in their footsteps.
In order to beat the pressure present in the classroom and beyond, one must accept failure as a prerequisite for greater success. These inspirational student figures had to experience failure to get the results they desired. If they did everything right every time, there would be no progress.
We have a limited time in the small Pingry community. High school makes up a practically insignificant portion of our lives. So, why not speak up while we’re here? Why not learn and make the most of this experience while it is still in our fingertips? The classroom is the best place to start.
By Noah Bergam ’21
In the last few weeks of summer, as bored as anyone on a lazy August afternoon might be, I decided to intern at my local Democratic congressional campaign.
In some ways, I felt pressured; my parents kept telling me I should try something new – something that was not about technology or robotics. I was hesitant at first, although deep down I felt that taking a break from my tech-oriented agenda would be good for me. I have always had an interest in politics, which had thus far only manifested itself in reading news on my phone. I decided to take that a step further.
Ironically enough, upon starting my internship, I felt more robotic than I had ever before. Upon my entrance into the paper, poster, and map-ridden headquarters, barely welcomed and surrounded by strangers who seemed to know exactly what they were doing, I was immediately tasked with three and a half hours of phone banking.
Without knowing much of my candidate’s policies aside from the fact that he was a Democrat, I was responsible for calling lists of possible voters (most of whom did not pick up), and convincing them to vote for Tom Malinowski. I was equipped with a script, mediocre conversational skills, and a roughly ten-minute training.
It was a humbling experience. I had always seen politics as something uplifting, something active that puts you in the news and brings about change in society. However, I had somehow found myself here, on the bottom of the campaign staff hierarchy, making calls to convince people to vote for a man I had never met, who I supported (at least in the beginning) solely due to a (relatively weak) party affiliation.
Call after call (and house after house, when we went into the real world for canvassing), I discovered so many different people and reactions. I proved to myself the importance of slow and clear speaking, welcoming body language, and smiling and staying optimistic even when faced with challenging reactions.
I also spent time during my lunch breaks learning more about my candidate’s politics through online articles and conversations with fellow interns. In doing so, I came to better appreciate the cause for which I was fighting. I was more determined accomplish my task of contacting voters. I might not be Tom Malinowski, but I could still appreciate the fact that my work might make a difference in who represents my congressional district next year. And if not, so be it. I would still get so much more out of the experience than that.
Calls and canvases became personal endeavors; I was no longer a robot, but a dedicated person trying to respectfully convince others of my beliefs. That is a skill that I appreciate developing– making a difference in the world means changing minds, little by little, and this internship was just the beginning.
As I continue to volunteer with the campaign, I am more than ever glad that I took the chance apply myself to it in the first place. I feel that my work is rewarding, not only because Tom Malinowski may win a spot in Congress this November, but because of my own personal confidence, rhetoric, and knowledge of American politics have benefitted.
If I learned one thing with the campaign, it’s there’s always more to discover once you leave your comfort zone. I was able to pick up on skills that I now know I was lacking in the past because I dove into my personal unknown.
By Vicky Chen ’19
This fall, Mr. Richard Fulco joined the Upper School English department where he will be teaching a wide variety of students. He is teaching two sections of ninth grade English, three sections of twelfth grade World Literature, and Creative Writing in the spring. He is the advisor of the creative writing club, plans on coaching baseball in the spring, and hopes to get involved in Pingry theater at some point.
Mr. Fulco received a Bachelor of the Arts at Pace University, a Masters Degree from CUNY College of Staten Island, and a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting from Brooklyn College. He has been teaching for 20 years, and he began his teaching career in the New York City public school system, teaching at Brooklyn Tech High School and Hunter College. He also worked as an adjunct professor at Pace University, Columbia University, and Montclair State University while he was finishing up his book and raising his children before moving to the Wardlaw-Hartridge High School in New Jersey.
When asked why he decided to teach, he said, “I knew when I was a senior in high school that I wanted to teach. I didn’t teach right when I got out of college, but I always knew I was going to end up teaching. I like the performance element of it, I like the literature element, and I enjoy working with young people.”
Mr. Fulco spends the bulk of his free time writing. He is currently editing a second book, and he hopes to publish it in the upcoming year. He writes every day, sometimes at 5 AM before the start of school. He loves hanging out with his 7-year-old twins and playing games, reading, writing, and playing piano with them. Mr. Fulco plays guitar, as well, and tries to work music into his life. He was playing in a band last year. On the topic of music, he reflected that, “I love music and it is a big part of me. I wish I could do more of it.”
This upcoming school year, Mr. Fulco hopes to “keep up with the students’ motivation, intellect, capacity, and enthusiasm for learning.” He has been focusing on acclimating to the culture of Pingry among both the student body and his teaching colleagues. When reflecting on his transition into the community, Mr. Fulco said, “I love it. I feel like I fell right into this place. I haven’t had much of an adjustment period — I felt ready to be here and work with Pingry students. My classes have really trusted me from day one, and they accepted my idiosyncrasies and teaching style.”