Sunday, July 20, 2014

Local gymnast places first at Nationals - By Michelle Libby

Sam Roach is only 13 years old, but already he holds a National Championship title in the all-around gymnastics category, which he earned in May during the meet held in California. 
Sam will be in the eighth grade at Greater Portland Christian School is South Portland. Sam and his mom, Renee, and father Gary and his two brothers Ben and Josiah, live in Windham.
Sam has been involved in gymnastics since he was 3 years old. 

“He was active from the time he was born,” said Renee. “At 2 years old he was doing somersaults on the floor and climbing on things.” She decided to take him to an open gym in Westbrook to climb on things that would be safe. When he was five, Sam was asked to join the boys’ team, but Renee said “no”. The following year, she said “yes” and Sam never looked back. 

He competes in all six mens events: Floor event, pommel horse, still rings, vault, parallel bars and the high bar. “I do all the events. I like the rings the most. I came in second in rings at Nationals and second in vault,” Sam said. 

Scoring in gymnastics takes some practice to understand, but the family has it down and knows what moves earn an athlete extra points and what moves deduct points. An A-skill is the easiest, like a backflip with no hands. A G-skill is the hardest, like a round off, back handspring, an Arabian, half turn, two flips laid out with a full twist. 

Sam was competing at a level eight for this past season. Next year he will move up and compete with 13- and 14-year-olds at level nine. Although he has to compete in his age division, he trains five times a week three and a half hours a day with juniors and seniors in high school at Kennebunk’s gymNation. Twice a week he travels to Massachusetts with his team to use equipment that his gym doesn’t have. His coach, Steve Randall, is friends with the Massachusetts coach, Sam said, giving the team the ability to workout with them.  

To qualify for the national meet, Sam had to do well at the state level, since he was the only one competing in his level he moved on to regionals. At the regional meet in Braintree, Massachusetts, he completed against 60 to 70 guys from New England, placing second in the all-around. 

Going into Nationals, he had one goal. “I wanted to hit all my routines without falling,” he said. Nerves were not a factor. “Nobody expects anything from me because I’m from Maine.” 

Sam’s routines are generally 45 seconds to 1 minute long and he designs them himself. He knows the element groups and what skills are in them and what he is good at. When he learns a new skill, he tries to put it into his routine.  

After the first day of national competition, Sam was in fourth place, one point behind the leader.
“We talk tenths of points and hundredths of points in these competitions,” said Renee. 

 Sam does each routine one step at a time, he said. “If think ‘hmmm, this stadium is really nice’, you’re not going to be focused on your routine.” 

After the fifth rotation, he was still in fourth place. “I hit all my routines. It was the best I’ve ever done,” he said. His last event was the pommel horse. He nailed his routine and won by .75. 

“A tenth of a point could be two or three places,” said Renee. Sam earned a gold medal for his efforts and he brought it home to his closet full of medals, trophies and ribbons from his other competitions He plans to add to those in the future. 

Sam is a year-round gymnast. He competes from December to May. And already has one special meet on his calendar. “I would really like to go to the Olympics in 2020,” he said. He also plans to go again when he’s 23 years old. Sam has thought about colleges and has picked out a few with good gymnastics programs. However, he’s not sure what he wants to study.

“Gymnastics is my commitment,” he said. 

“Sam doesn’t have a lot of time for other stuff,” said Renee. “Gymnastics is definitely an all body sport. Not just muscle. It’s flexibility, coordination and mind. All these have to come together. Gymnastics is his choice, not ours. There are a lot less expensive sports.” 

The best part of gymnastics for Sam is “Being on a team with all my friends and being able to workout with them and have a good time.”

Windham resident, Adam Johnston, first maine Maritime Academy graduate with disability - By Elizabeth Richard

Adam Johnston has faced his share of challenges, but never let them slow him down. 

When Johnston was two and a half he was run over by a lawnmower while playing in the yard at daycare. He was taken to Shriner’s Hospital for Children by helicopter, where they had to remove the lower part of his leg. Early on, he showed incredible strength, said his mother, Sue Johnston. Three months after the accident, he got a prosthetic leg, and was walking on it within 24 hours.

 The care Adam received at Shriner’s Hospital for Children was amazing, said Sue. They treated him with the upmost respect from the beginning. There he was, scared to death and sitting on the floor, and the doctor told everyone else to get down on the floor with him, bringing everything down to his level, said Sue. “They told me to treat him like any other kid,” she said. That advice turned out to be just what Adam needed. “We have never told him you can’t do something, and he has never asked for any special treatment,” she said.

Adam said he doesn’t remember a lot about the accident or the early surgeries, though he does remember having surgery the summer before his freshman year in high school. The end of his leg basically needed to be remodeled, he said, since his skin had stopped growing but the bone had not. He spent that very hot summer in a cast, and began high school on crutches due to the tenderness in his leg. But, he said, he didn’t make a big deal of it. This is an attitude he’s had all along, said Sue, recalling that he chose to have the surgery in the summer so he would be able to snowmobile in the winter.       
“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Adam of life after high school, until Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) in Castine caught his attention. He and his father visited the campus for an open house and tour, and he was hooked. “The ship was really what sold me,” he said. 

His first year of college was a difficult one, he said. There was a lot of strenuous physical activity at the beginning, and his prosthetic leg caused a lot of blisters and chafing, making walking difficult. 

Sue said that in those early days, she worried about him at school. “It was difficult for us,” she said. “It’s hard to let him go. I want to keep him safe,” she added. Though there were some bumps that first year, Adam came through them and thrived. “We are really proud of him,” Sue said. 

Adam acknowledged how important his family support system was for him when he began school. “I don’t think I would have made it through school without my parents,” he said. 

In the end, he did more than just make it. In his sophomore year, he had joined the school’s training program, working with incoming freshman as a mentor. He continued with this program in his junior year, and in his senior year he landed the Senior Mentor position, an officer position. This meant working hand in hand with the regiment operations officer, organizing and running the training operation. This position, he said, helped him understand himself a little better. “It really felt good to pass on what I learned,” he added. 

During his time at MMA, Adam switched from the type of prosthetic he’d always had to a different style. The newer technology alleviated some of the issues the previous prosthetic caused. Though he said the transition between styles was a little difficult, MMA made accommodations when necessary, giving him rides up and down the hill when walking was too hard. 

Most of the time, however, accommodations weren’t really something he needed. “I didn’t really struggle. I was the same as everyone else. It was just one more step. I had to put on my prosthetic,” he said, adding that it really only added 30 seconds to his routine.

After graduating, Adam took his final trip with the school, spending two months travelling to Italy, Iceland and Germany on the State of Maine. This week, he leaves for New York to do an internship with the company, where he will once again spend two months at sea.

“When I look back at what I’ve done, I’ve surprised myself sometimes. I didn’t think I’d be doing any of this. I’m glad this is where I’ve ended up,” he said.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lippman Park takes shape and seeks additional funds - By Michelle Libby

The changes to Donnabeth Lippman Park in a year are staggering. The road has been improved and a parking lot has been added. A new clearing made space for a playground and picnic area to be added in 2015/16. This weekend a Boy Scout Eagle project added a raised walkway over a marshy patch of trail around Chaffin Pond. 
The park, located behind Sherwin Williams in North Windham, is an unspoiled slice of nature in the center of North Windham. The town owns the property after purchasing it from the Portland Water District. Local resident and businessman Martin Lippman reimbursed the town the $400,000 it paid and asked that the park be named after his late wife.

Parks and recreation director Brian Ross plans to go before the Windham Town Council on July 22 to ask for approval of $36,000 for more improvements to the 123 acre property. The recreational revenue fund will add $8,811 to the grant. In addition to that money a $4,300 grant from the Recreational Trails Program through the State of Maine will go to pay for the Conservation Corps of Maine to build two bridges and a boardwalk at Donnabeth Lippman Park 
The park is intended to be used by families, pet owners and active members of the community, said Ross.
The 10-acre pond is not for swimming, however Sebago Trails Paddling Company is using one of the existing building to store kayaks that can be rented by the hour. Community members are invited to use their own non-motorized boats as well. 

The improvements are only helping the public access the park and the over 60 species of birds, which was counted by Ben Smith, the Town of Windham planning director. 

There is a well on site that could be used eventually for drinking and the buildings are wired for electricity.  Arrangements just need to be made with the utility company, said Ross. 

The first part of the improvements like the road, parking lot and open area cost approximately $150,000, Ross said. 

Ross hopes to encourage more Scouts looking for Eagle projects to consider creating more raised walkways, add fishing docks and possiblely work on the playground and picnic areas. There is a section of the park that is earmarked for a Boy Scout camping area and will need work. There is a plan to also add benches along the trails. 

A trail that leads away from the pond is being readied to add an interactive picture book, where children can read one page of the book every 20 feet or so. The book, according to Ross, takes the children on a bug safari. That is being paid for with a grant from Opportunity Alliance.  

In addition to the birds, other wildlife includes snapping turtles, deer, beavers, pickerel, bass and trout. Fishing during the summer is allowed as long as live bait is not used. 

The park is available for use in the winter as well for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. No ice fishing is allowed on the pond. 

Ross encourages the community to stop by for a walk and to see the progress.

Fiddler on the Roof musical premiers in renovated Schoolhouse Arts Center - By Molly Olsen

Fiddler on the Roof is the sort of musical where the songs have seeped so deeply into the public consciousness that we don't even necessarily associate the tunes with the show anymore. I once saw "To Life" performed at a wedding, in Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams parodied "Matchmaker", and "If I Were a Rich Man" was  even sampled for a 2004 Gwen Stefani hit. So although these songs have perhaps morphed into something completely separate from the show, the Schoolhouse Arts production (directed by favorite of the theater, Bruce Avery) reminds us of the truly great story and characters from which these songs are derived.

In the beginning of the show we meet Tevye, played by (the perfectly cast) Chris Roberts, who leads us through the story of his village, 1900's Anatevka, with grace and humor. He explains that the town bases most decisions upon the teachings of ancestors— rituals and historical conventions are the building blocks of their lives. The opening song, "Tradition", lays out the time-honored roles of husbands, wives and children, and reminds the audience of how cemented and pre-planned most of these people's lives are.

As the show continues we meet Tevye's family. First is his wife Golde played by Danielle Raitt, who is a great partner to Roberts, with her own comedic timing and strong dramatic moments. Then we are introduced to the pair's five daughters; the oldest Tzeitel (Kim Drisko), followed by Hodel (Lauren Bamford), Chava (Katie Stoddard), and the two youngest Shprintze and Bielke (played by Ashley McBreairty and Meghan Reidy). Because the girls come from a poor family, the very funny, busy-body matchmaker, played by Sabrina Luy, attempts to find them each a suitor. This leads to the song "Matchmaker", which was among my favorites as it nicely showcases the three oldest girl's strong voices.
From there the audience is taken through the story of how Tevye's three eldest daughters meet and choose their future husbands, instead of being "matched" as is the norm. And so the couples ask the girls' father to accept the marriages despite their uncommon circumstances, which is not an easy thing to do for such a devout Jewish man. Following the requests, Tevye's faith is tested even more deeply, and eventually his whole village must face change whether they like it or not.
When it comes to this show's music, I've always loved "The Sabbath Prayer" as well as "To Life", and the casts renditions did not disappoint— the former a beautiful hymn, and the latter the upbeat tune you'll leave the theater humming. "Sunrise, Sunset" is another gorgeous song that will make many a parent in the theater cry. But then there's a song that I feel often gets overlooked: "Far From the Home I Love", which is unfortunate, because when done well, it can be incredibly moving. Luckily, Bamford delivers with a pitch perfect, near-flawless rendition. Although the cast clearly brought their own talents to the table, it should be noted that the show was under the musical direction of the incomparable Victoria Stubbs.

The first half of the show is a bit more high energy and bright when compared to the second act. But "L'Chaim" means "to life", and life is something that has to be experienced through ups and downs, both light and darkness— and we are all better for seeing those parts in between. This show will lead your heart back to moments when your own children got married, when parts of your family struggled to stay together, and when big changes were coming in the world, so all you could do was stand by your beliefs and hope for the best. I've always felt that the best kinds of shows were ones that could really made you feel something, and this story certainly does.

It seems appropriate that Fiddler on the Roof should be the first show to open at Schoolhouse after some recent renovations, as the show tackles the big question of when should tradition should be upheld, and when should we welcome change? Schoolhouse Arts Center is a wonderful example of history meeting change. This is the theater's 26th year, during which time it has hosted classes for all ages in everything from puppet-making to Zumba, and has put on show after show filled with heart, and powered by community. And lucky for the theater, that community (as well as the grant-giving Naragansett Foundation) saw its value, and helped it to make some much wished-for changes to the building's facilities. 

After 12 weeks of construction, the old school house now has a new floor in the theater, 20 more seats (with room for more should the show sell-out), new curtains donated by Gorham schools, and has even been made handicap accessible with a ramp from the outside straight to the theater, paired with a door from the gathering room (where most patrons spend intermission) which opens to the same platform the ramp comes up to. Although the entire building has the charm and history that only a school built 100 years ago can, it's nice to have some options for those who wish to avoid the stairs, but still want to see one of the wonderful shows which Schoolhouse has become known for.

Show Dates:
July 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 at 7:30 p.m.
and July 6, 13, 20, 27 at 5:00 p.m.
Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors.
Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Road (Route 114) in Standish, just north of the intersection of Route 114 and Route 35.
Call 642-3743 for reservations or buy tickets on-line at