Saturday, February 28, 2015

Students prepare for Regional One Act Festival - By Elizabeth Richards

A dedicated group of students is gearing up to perform at the Regional One Act Festival in Falmouth on March 6th and 7th
Schools are categorized as either A or B, and perform in regional competitions. This year, WHS students will perform the show The Chronicles of Jane, Book 7. A panel of three judges will give each group a 20 minute critique and then pick the top two shows to move on to the state competition. 

The show must run less than 40 minutes or the group will be disqualified. “Usually you’re very alert to timing, and you have a couple of timekeepers. If you are heading towards 39 minutes and 58 seconds you tell your actors to just get off the stage,” said Director Rob Juergens. “That’s going to hurt your score, but it’s better than being disqualified.”  

The Chronicles of Jane, Book 7 is about a high school girl who has put off writing a term paper until the very last night before it is due. It details the obstacles that come her way in trying to complete the paper, with characters like procrastination, time, the computer and the nymphs of slumber. 

A unique feature about this show is that the student actors become most of the set, said Juergens. They create desks and chairs, computers, plugs and walls with their bodies. “They do the whole set,” he said. “The only real big set piece is the book that holds the Chronicles of Jane and all her nefarious stories.”
The show is as much student driven as possible, Juergens added. There is a student assistant director, a student rhythm director who also oversees the pit band, students who have composed music and done the choreography and blocking. The group works together to brainstorm ideas and solve problems. “It’s a huge group involvement,” said Juergens.

Another interesting element of this particular cast, said Juergens, is that many students who are normally “techies” working behind the scenes on productions are in the onstage cast. “We made a concerted effort to get them into the show and do something onstage for once, which they thought was pretty cool,” he said. 

While not part of the official One Act festival, in Windham the students hold a preview weekend that is open to the public. This serves a few purposes, according to Juergens. It allows the cast a chance to do the show in front of an audience. They also invite guest judges to come and give critiques like they will receive at the festival. Finally, the preview weekend serves to raise a little money, since extracurricular theater activities are not funded by the school beyond paying Juergens’ salary. “We actually have to raise money if we want to do anything,” said Juergens. 

The preview weekend will take place at the Windham High School Auditorium on the weekend of February 27th and March 1st. Friday and Saturday will feature 7 p.m. shows, with a 4 p.m. show on Sunday, March 1. On Friday, the group from Gorham High School will also perform their play, giving audience members two shows for the price of one. Tickets to all performances are $5 per person. 

“We’d love for people to come to the preview weekend and support us,” said Juergens. It’s not a large investment of time, he added, since the show is only 40 minutes long. And the students love to see a big audience when they perform. “They want to be seen. They want to share what they are doing with people,” he said.

Despite arctic temperatures, annual Shaw's Polar Dip participants rally to raise $25,000 for Maine Cancer - By Elizabeth Richards

The 15th annual Sebago Lake Rotary Club ice fishing derby was cut short by cold temperatures and blizzard warnings. But Saturday’s Shaw’s Polar Dip to benefit the Maine Children’s Cancer Program went on as scheduled, and there was still an opportunity for anglers to land a winning fish on Saturday.
The event got started on Saturday, February 14th, with an icy cold dip in the water for many hearty souls. Ten teams and a few individuals leapt in waves of two to eight people at a time into the frigid water at the 13th annual Shaw’s Polar Dip. 

A small crowd gathered to watch the jumping, with many spectators commenting on how cold they were just to be outside. The jumpers, often in bikinis or shorts, looked cold but exhilarated as they acclimated to the outside temperature and took the plunge. While an occasional jumper had to be coaxed into the water, most leapt enthusiastically and came out smiling.

The Auburn Lewiston Boys and Girls Club Basketball Team was on hand to jump. Youth Resource Coordinator and team coach Lee Klarman said two teams raised $1,100 for the cause. As part of the basketball program, the youth participate in community service as well as fundraising for money to pay for jerseys and referees. The team members were enthusiastic about their participation in the Polar Dip. Player Amgad Mohamed said, “It felt good because we did it for a good cause, for the kids.” 

According to Tara Studley at the Maine Children's Cancer Program, participants in the Polar Dip raised $25,000 for the program. An additional $35,000 was raised by Shaw's Supermarkets through sales of polar bear icons at their registers, bringing the grand total to $60,000.

Many of the planned activities and vendors for the derby were cancelled due to the temperatures and blizzard warning issued. Deb McPhail, president of the Rotary Club, said that registrations were lower than last year, and on Saturday morning said they were watching the weather closely to determine what would happen for Sunday.
Aiyanna Maciel, Emily Algeo, and Davis MacDonald were on hand from the Interact Club, the high school group sponsored by the Rotary Club, to help out. “We do it every year. It’s a fun way to experience winter,” said Maciel. “Without having to do the polar dip,” she added with a laugh.
The group was holding up a sign encouraging people to head to the food booth run by the Rotary Club. “It’s really cold but we’re doing what we can,” said Algeo.

One vendor that did not cancel their participation was Shaker Hill Outdoors. They were present with outdoor items for sale, and an enticing fire pit. Russ Estes said this was their second year at the derby. He said they participate in order to promote ice fishing and their business. “We are ice fishermen and snowmobilers, so we enjoy events like this,” he said. He added that they always bring some small things that can bail people out in a pinch, like snowmobile hitches and hats that can make the day much more enjoyable for someone who forgot to bring one. 
Spectators Cherie Thomas and Matthew Vackiel said there were a lot less people in attendance than in prior years. Part of that was the weather, and part of it was the cancellation of the snowmobile trials, they said. Thomas said they came to the event to see what the biggest fish was, and to see the polar dip.

On Saturday afternoon, on the recommendation of the Warden Service, the club made the decision to cancel fishing on Sunday and postpone the awards ceremony until February 21st. It wasn’t a popular decision with some participants. Comments on the derby Facebook page showed displeasure and frustration from some who didn’t agree with the decision to cancel Sunday’s event, especially after the snowfall was far less than anticipated. 

At the same time, there were several comments in support of the decision the club made. McPhail said it was disappointing after months of work on the part of the 25 member club, but they had no control over Mother Nature. “The warden service informed us that holding the derby Sunday would be a safety issue for the public and first responders. We were very sad to have to shut down early, but felt that we had no choice,” she said.

The event is entirely run by volunteers, and proceeds support local charities. “We run this event because we love the community and want to help others,” said McPhail. She added that the club hopes everyone will join them for the awards ceremony at 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 21, at the Windham Veterans Center.

Windham Radio Shack will remain open for business - By Elizabeth Richards

Despite the news that Radio Shack Corporation has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will be closing approximately 2,000 stores nationwide, it will be business as usual at the Windham store. Co-owner Michael Esposito Jr. said his store, which is an independently owned and operated franchise, will not be affected by the filing, except that it may cause people to think they will be closing. 
Esposito’s father purchased the store in Windham 40 years ago, and operated it along with several other locations. Esposito and his brother, Neil, now own and operate the Windham store. 

According to Esposito, the Chapter 11 filing will affect the retail side of the business, but Radio Shack will continue to distribute products for sale. While he says the news of the corporation’s filing could hurt them, in that a lot of people will think all Radio Shack stores are shutting down, he adds that there may be a benefit as well since products will be shipping to fewer stores. “I can only see that helping me, having them have products on hand,” he said.

As a franchisee, the Espositos have always had some flexibility in how they operate. “I always felt like we had an advantage being a franchise store,” Esposito said. If there was a product that Radio Shack didn’t carry, but they felt was important to stock, they could order from another vendor, said Esposito. At the same time, they have been loyal to the Radio Shack brand over the years, he added, stocking 

approximately 75 percent Radio Shack products. They have also had the freedom to do things their own way, including adding an extensive record department in the back of the store, with a stock of over sixty thousand albums. 

Many corporately owned Radio Shack stores will be closing, including several in Maine, according to a list put out by the company. The store at the Maine Mall, for instance, is slated for closure. Esposito is hoping that some of the customers from those stores will find their way to his door. 

He said they don’t anticipate any changes in what they are able to offer. “We will still have access to all the products I’m carrying now,” he said. He anticipates the store operating just as it always has, and wants customers to know that they will be there offering support and products for all of the customers’ needs.

15th annual ice fishing derby to honor Toby Pennels - By Elizabeth Richards

This annual Sebago Lake Rotary Club Ice Fishing Derby is both celebrating a big anniversary and being held in honor of a very special person. 2015 marks the event’s 15th year. The derby this year is being held in memory of Toby Pennels, a long time rotary member and past organizer of the event, who lost his life in a motorcycle accident last year. 
 “I’ve got some big shoes to fill and I’m trying hard to honor Toby and make the derby a success,” said Deb McPhail, president of the Rotary Club and director of the derby this year. Sweatshirts will be sold in his memory, and Pennels' daughter, Taylor, will be at a booth raising money for a scholarship fund in Toby’s name.

The main weigh station and most of the events are held at Raymond Beach on Saturday, February 14th and Sunday, February 15th. The ice this year is good, according to McPhail. “We have 12-18 inches of ice, which is great,” she said.
Though the main focus of the derby is fishing, there will be plenty of other activities to occupy those who just want to come as spectators. There will be helicopter rides available for a fee. A kid’s zone will be set up for sledding on a large snow pile, ice skating, a putting contest, face painting and temporary tattoos. 

At noon on Saturday, the annual Shaw’s Polar Dip will occur on Raymond Beach, to raise money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. A variety of vendors will be set up, including the Naples Fire Department, Kittery Trading Post, Shaker Hill and more.

This year, the club has decided not to do the snowmobile race trials, in order to keep the focus on the ice fishing aspect of the event, said McPhail. While they hope to create even more of a festival atmosphere in future years, McPhail said, “It’s going to be a fun family event. Come on down!”

Because it’s free fishing weekend, no fishing license is required to participate in the derby. Prizes will be awarded for the top three largest togue and top three largest pike. There is a top prize of $100,000 for catching a togue on Sebago that is larger than the state record of 31 pounds, 8 ounces. There are also a variety of fish pool prizes. Every togue and pike weighed gets one chance in the drawing for these prizes.

Registrations are coming in quickly, and historically the week before the event is the busiest for registrations. Last year, said McPhail, a large portion of the 1,400 registrations came in the final week before the event. Registrations are accepted online and via mail until 12 noon on Saturday, February 14th. Fees are $25 per individual registration, $35 for a family of two adults and up to four children. More information on the derby is available online at

Windham welcomes new animal control officer Trista Comtois - By Elizabeth Richards

Windham’s new animal control officer, Trista Comtois, is settling into her new role after coming on board full time in December. Prior to being offered the full time position, she had been working on a part-time trial basis since October. 
Comtois is originally from Vermont. She has been involved with animals from a very young age, and was raised to be very compassionate towards both people and animals, she said. Her mother raised six kids on her own and worked in the nursing field, but also found the time to help animals in the community. “If someone had an animal they couldn’t take care of, we would take it and find where it needed to go,” she said.

Comtois first came to Maine for college. She earned a degree in psychology at Saint Joseph’s College, then moved back to Vermont to get married and start a family. Last year, her husband’s job brought them back to Maine. 

After working in the mental health field for close to ten years, Comtois said she had a “life awakening” and realized she would prefer to work with animals as well as people, rather than continuing on the path she was on. “I knew that I could use a lot of my education and experience in the mental health field while working with animal welfare,” she said. She attended training academies through the National Animal Control Association in both Connecticut and Idaho. Then, she began pursuing opportunities in the field.

Comtois worked as the animal control officer in Buxton for close to a year before the Windham job became available. She applied for the job in Windham because it was both closer to her home in Standish, and a full time opportunity, rather than part time as she was working in Buxton.

Animal control is a developing field, and there’s more to the animal control program than catching stray dogs, said Comtois. “It’s evolved a lot,” she said, adding that Maine has particularly good animal rights laws as compared to many other states.

Her job as Windham’s animal control officer means that she must uphold all state laws pertaining to animal welfare, as well as any town ordinances. While she deals with typical dog at-large issues and barking dog complaints, she also conducts investigations into possible animal cruelty cases. When someone has a concern about the welfare of animals in their community, a call comes in and Comtois does an investigation the same way any law enforcement officer would. She has to follow all the same procedures in obtaining information to move forward to protect the animals.

Another facet of her job is to do community outreach and education programs. In Buxton, for instance, she did a presentation on animal safety for students in the summer recreation program. While she hasn’t been on the job long enough to start these programs in Windham, she is planning on offering the same type of outreach, with the goals of reducing dog bites and raising awareness about safety issues in the community.

Officer Comtois said it’s important to let people know that a dog bite doesn’t automatically mean the dog will be euthanized. Sometimes, she said, there is that misconception which leads to people not telling anyone if they get bitten. But that is not the first step in the process, and it’s important for people to let someone know if they have been bitten. This is partly so that it can be verified that the dog has had a rabies vaccination, and also to ensure that the family, and the dog, get support if needed. Additionally, if there is an ongoing issue with a dog, but no one has called to let animal control know, there isn’t much they can do. “If we don’t know, then we can’t help,” said Comtois. 

Another thing that is important for people in the community to know, especially at this time of year, is that it is not illegal to leave a dog outside. “As an animal lover, I would love for everyone to keep their dogs inside, but they don’t have to legally,” said Comtois. As long as state laws are being followed and the dog has proper shelter, tethering, water and food available, they can be outside. It’s still important for people with concerns to call, she added, so that she can check and be sure the dog is being properly cared for. 

Another thing to understand is that in most states, pets are property rather than being seen as living creatures with rights. So if someone sees a dog outside and takes it, thinking they are doing the right thing, that person can be charged with theft.

While she believes it is ideal for cats to be indoor pets, Comtois said there are no laws restricting the movement of cats. This means that if a cat is in your yard, there is nothing the animal control officer can do about that. It is up to the property owner to keep the cat off their property, and in a way that is safe for the animal. 

Feral cats can be an issue, and Comtois said if people know of feral cat populations, they should call for support from animal control. Though the cats won’t necessarily be removed, animal control can help ensure that these animals have rabies vaccinations, are neutered, and have shelters. It’s important for people to know that they should never touch a stray or feral cat, due to the risks of disease if they are bitten or scratched.

Comtois said that everyone in Windham has been very helpful in getting her acclimated to the position. She feels fortunate to be a part of the police department, and said that the officers are very supportive of the animal control work. In some towns, animal control is not affiliated with the police departments, which means less access to resources, training and equipment. 

Comtois lives in Standish with her husband, two children and two dogs. She said she loves being back in Maine. They are a family of skiers and snowboarders, and spend time at Shawnee Peak every weekend in the winter.