Looking back at 2013, Part 1

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Ellington/Tolland - posted Thu., Dec. 26, 2013
Rockville High School senior Jessica Petrius demonstrates the proper way to hold a cat, at the Agriscience Department's Supervised Agricultural Experience Education Program (SAEP) fair on Feb. 6.  File photos by Steve Smith.
Rockville High School senior Jessica Petrius demonstrates the proper way to hold a cat, at the Agriscience Department's Supervised Agricultural Experience Education Program (SAEP) fair on Feb. 6. File photos by Steve Smith.

The year 2013 began with local residents still feeling the effects of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, which hit many close to home.

Towns in the area began almost immediately making improvements to their schools' safety. In January, for example, Tolland's Town Council approved pooling of funds from several other accounts to add upgrades that fit in with an assessment that had been performed by emergency officials.

“Those findings are being assembled within a spreadsheet and being segregated into three different categories,” said Town Manager Steven Werbner, “policy and procedure changes, structural changes, and the third being security camera improvements and related equipment.”

Contiuned slow growth was predicted for the economy by expert Dr. Nick Perna, when he spoke to the East of the River Chambers of Commerce Association in January. Perna said that partially has to do with the fact that it takes longer to recover after a financial collapse is coupled with a recession.

“It takes a long time to de-lever or reduce the debt that was built up during the boom,” he said. “The other thing is that when something like housing gets hit real hard, you end up with people underwater. Normally, housing is the first to bring you out of recession, but when you have so many people on the cusp of foreclosure, housing couldn't, despite low interest rates, perform the task it has done in the past.”

Winter was full of the usual events, including an indoor Agricultural Fair at Rockville High School. Students in Rockville High School's Agricultural Department had the chance to show off their knowledge at the Supervised Agricultural Experience Education Program (SAEP) fair in February. Senior Jessica Petrius, who works at a cat shelter, demonstrated the proper method to pick up a cat, which she said surprisingly few people know how to do. “Some people think that scruffing a cat is an okay way to pick them up, but it's not,” she said. “It's okay when they are kittens because they are small and they don't weigh as much, but when they are bigger, their weight pulls on them the wrong way and hurts them.”

Of course, plenty of snow fell in the area, causing damage to some structures, including the Star Hill sports dome in Tolland. As opposed to the dome being crushed by the weight of the snow, co-owner Mike Smida said it appears the damage was caused by heavy clumps of snow sliding down the inflatable, curved dome, tearing holes on the way down. No one was hurt, and the dome was repaired fairly quickly. Meanwhile, much support came from the community, wishing the staff the best as repairs took place. “It's really been overwhelming,” Smida said. “It's really nice to hear.”

Rockville crowned a new queen when Gina Salvatore earned the title of Miss Greater Rockville on Feb. 16. Jeanette Porcello, a 15-year-old sophomore at South Windsor High School, won the title of Miss Greater Rockville’s Outstanding Teen. Both ladies later competed for the titles of Miss Connecticut and Miss Connecticut's Outstanding Teen at the state pageant in June, and made several appearances in the area in 2013, while promoting public service causes.

Also doing a public service, the student council at Northeast School created a "Hugging Hearts" project in which they cut out paper hearts and allowed members of the school community to purchase them and personalize a positive message. The hearts were then displayed in the entrance hall of the school and proceeds went to create a  “sunshine garden” in the spring, as a remembrance of those lost at Sandy Hook.

“We just brainstormed ideas, and it just kind of happened,” said Desirae, 11, a fifth-grade student council member. “We thought of the idea of hearts, and then putting positive messages on them and how it will 'hug' our school when we're finished.”

VCMS students also took a spin on activism. In this case, via art. Hand-crafted, clay facsimiles of human bones cover most of the floor in an installation room at the Vernon Community Arts Center in February. The hundreds of femurs, ribs and radii were sculpted by students at Vernon Center Middle School, as part of a project that began in November, and were later transported to Washington, D.C., as part of the One Million Bones project,  which is helping to raise awareness as well as funds to aid families of victims of genocide in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Local high school sports teams fared well in the state tournaments. The Ellington and Tolland boys' basketball teams both made it to the second round in the Class M tourney. The Ellington girls' team captured its third-straight NCCC title before going to the second round of the state tourney. The Tolland girls hoops squad just missed playing for the Class L title, dropping the semifinal, 33-27 to Bacon Academy.

The Rockville-Bolton-Coventry co-op hockey team took out rival E.O. Smith-Tolland-Windham in the quarterfinal round, on its way to fighting it out with Newington-Berlin-Manchester in the finals, and just missing the title by a score of 1-0. That exciting game was called “one for the ages” by some, and although BCR lost heartbreakingly, coach Christian Stevenson said his players should still feel good about themselves.

“They should be proud,” he said. “That's what we talked about – just how proud we were of them.”

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