Archive for February, 2009

Spirit Week

Thursday, February 26th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

It’s Spirit Week at Oxford High School, a time when each of the four current classes compete in a week long knock-down-drag-out fight to determine who’s got more school and class spirit than anyone else.

When the schedule for the week’s events crossed my desk on Tuesday, I was over run with memories from my own four years at Oxford. Spirit Week was the only time in which my year, the Class of 1993, showed any shred of spirit as a class. I believe we went down in the annals of the school as the only class to ever win all four years.

We weren’t that tight knit, but we were as competitive as hell. And in the immortal words of Mr. T, I always ‘pitied the fools’ that went up against us.

Traditionally, the senior class took top honors in the competition. But we bucked that trend from day one. When we beat the seniors our freshman year, it was considered quite the coup. We knew it was just the beginning.

We were nothing less than a powerhouse; a force to be reckoned with. We dominated in all those silly relays, like dizzy izzy. Dressing up in school colors? Please! Piece of cake. (We’d bring in extras to make sure everyone was fully resplendent in the requisite red and black.) Academic Challenge was hardly a challenge at all with brainiac Dave Micha on our team. And the banner contest? With the artistic talent of John MacRae, we were unstoppable.

Air band may have been our weakest event, but we still held our own. I vividly remember dressing up in hip waders for our lip-synched rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s classic hit, “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” (Which had required hours of rehearsal in Melissa Burrell’s family room.) Ahhh…good times.

Year after year we pulled together to decimate the opposition. But it never got old. No, each victory was savored to the fullest. In fact, I think I’m still savoring them.

You are probably thinking that I should just let it go already, I mean it’s been a long time. But think of the thousands of songs about times and days to remember. Sometimes it’s the silliest things that we look back at and appreciate. My memory box is filled with randoms, like those long ago Spirit Weeks. And every once in awhile it’s fun to pull them out, dust them off and enjoy them all over again.

Frank will be heading down to the high school tomorrow afternoon to take some photos of the festivities. I might just tag along. I hear there is a new mascot. And it would be interesting to see how these current high school kids would have stacked up against the Class of ‘93, back in the day.

Go Blackhawks!

Can you say peppermint patty in Spanish?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

When I read yesterday that Hershey was laying off workers and closing the plant which makes the York Peppermint Patties, I was astonished. If you knew the extent of my chocolate fixation, you would understand why. I was confident that my addiction to all that is chocolately and good single-handedly supported the North American operations of several candy companies, including the icon of American chocolate, Hershey itself.

Apparently, I was wrong.

My mind started to race frantically as it searched for an explanation. Did too many people limit their consumption of chocolate confections as part of misguided New Year’s Resolutions? Had the sluggish economy lead fewer people to indulge on “sweets for their sweet” this Valentines’ Day?

Or maybe it’s the fact that Lent is approaching, when at least 50 percent of all Catholics swear off chocolate. (The remainder will probably be split between booze and Facebook this year. I’m still deciding.)

The chocoholic in me hit panic mode, suddenly wondering where my next chocolate fix would come from. All I could think was, “Oh my god they’re going under! Quick, buy more chocolate.” I went immediately for my emergency stash of Mallo Cups.

When I had stopped hyperventilating, I continued reading the article. You see, I hadn’t yet made it to the second sentence. Where it was explained that Hershey was closing its Reading facility and putting 300 people out of work not because it was struggling financially, but because it was moving the operation south of the boarder. And I’m not talking about that anticlimactic amusement park off I-95.

That’s right. The company, which has served as a model of American industry and introduced the world to the Hershey Kiss, is moving more of its production to Mexico.
Now, Hershey having foreign manufacturing plants is nothing new. They have about 20 plants in total across the US, Canada, Mexico and even in Brazil.

But the layoff of 300 workers in Reading, PA is just the beginning of their restructuring plans, which they just after Valentine’s Day. You know, when we were all evidently too busy indulging in all that chocolate to pay attention. 1,500 employees could lose their jobs as a result of this plan, which will shift even more production out of the US and ultimately cut 11.5 percent of the company’s total workforce.

How do I feel about this? I’d say I’m not happy. Our economy is struggling, people are losing their jobs and companies are closing. And Hershey is shifting production out of the US. I know, not all of it, but still.

I never thought I’d say it, but for once, the thought of a Hershey Bar leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I will give up chocolate for Lent after all.

A loss isn’t the worst thing

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
Patrick Newell

Dave Gorton made a simple comment that was plainly obvious, and one all good teams should remember: After last Saturday’s game against Harpursville, one in which Gorton’s Trojans lost a 55-52 decision in the MAC championship game, he said: “Any loss that does not end your season is not the worst thing.”
The worst thing that can happen, clearly, is a setback that does indeed end a team’s season, and Greene will play another day in 2009. Sure, it lost the opportunity to finish the regular season at 20-0 and repeat as league champions, but the Trojans’ eyes have been on a bigger prize all along, as Gorton pointed out as well: “This is disappointing, but it doesn’t take away from the ultimate goal: To win a sectional title.”
Harpursville’s victory also proves that the timing of a loss doesn’t mean much at all. With its MAC divisional title all but wrapped up, the Hornets lost to Oxford over a week ago, 34-31. It was just the third loss for the Hornets all season, and it kept them from a perfect run through division play. That defeat was already forgotten by the time the Hornets stepped on the floor Saturday at SUNY Oneonta.
Rewind three years ago to the 2006 Norwich Tornado girls’ basketball team. Norwich dropped its last regular season game to Owego, and fell in the first round of the STAC playoffs to Elmira Free Academy. Back-to-back losses didn’t dissuade or discourage the Purple, who won three playoff games, the final one over Oneonta for the program’s second-ever Section IV title.
Coaches will never turn down the opportunity to win a league championship, but most mentors will quickly trade a loss there for the opportunity to be the best team in the section.

More on Groundhog Day

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
Jessica Lewis

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the absurdity of Groundhog Day, but at the time, I had no idea exactly how pointless the holiday was.

Sure, it seems to make little sense to base our weather forecast on whether or not a groundhog sees his shadow (especially when he always seems to), but until I spoke with an eyewitness who had actually traveled to Punxsutawney to witness the event, I couldn’t have realized how absurd it actually is.

After I wrote my column, I had a conversation with a college friend who, on a whim, decided to drive to Punxsutawney to witness Phil himself in all his glory. While she apparently enjoyed the experience, I couldn’t help but sigh as she recounted the actually sequence of events that unfolds each year.

According to my friend and former roommate, the event unfolds around a large stage with a fake tree stump on top. When the appropriate time rolls around, the infamous Phil is pulled from the stump, allowed to look around and then “whispers” into the ear of a special groundhog translator whether or not he actually saw his shadow. The translator then announces Phil’s weather prediction to the world.

The only thing that seems crazier than letting a furry rodent predict whether or not we’ll see an early spring, is having a furry rodent “whisper” his prediction to a third party who then is supposed to give that message to us. I’m not a skeptic or a scrooge when it comes to most things, but I think Groundhog Day is now officially dead to me. And so is that translator if he keeps predicting longer winters for those of us on the east coast.

Ford- The end has finally come

Friday, February 20th, 2009
Tyler Murphy

The strain and tension of a murder trial is unlike anything I could described.
It’s graphic, depressing, exciting, interesting, intense, draining, boring and climatic.

This last case marks the end of the second full murder trial I’ve had the opportunity to sit through, beginning to end.

Above all I love getting the whole story, the entire story, so full of information that it would take a book to convey the entire breadth of the experience and the information contain within.

It’s a strange experience for a reporter, talking to the mother of victim one day to the wife of the accused the next. Hearing every grim detail, facts and images so graphic that I am not even allowed to present them to the public without censorship and discretion.

But in the courtroom those two factors are mute when compared to the search for the truth. Thankfully the absence of a jury in this trial spared many in the court from having to view the images of the slain 12-year-old girl on a medical table during autopsy or the pictures of the bloody crime scene. Already I feel I’ve revealed too much and been too graphic but these types of things are common in a murder trial courtroom.

The photography of violence may have been absent from the public’s eye in this case but not the detailed descriptions from the medical, forensic and investigative experts.

Listening to Forensic Pathologist Dr. James Terzian for example describe the victims injuries on the stand including, multiple fractures- a broken sternum, all the rids, skull, face and femur, to name a few.

Or hearing long and detail explanation on the medical investigation into possible sex abuse evidence.

It can be difficult at times because often the most relevant information is buried deep in gruesome facts.

Watching George Ford Jr. take the stand was an incredible experience. To see a man with everything to lose desperately attempt to convince a judge they’ve got it all wrong.

To watch a prosecutor, who by the way is under the complete and utter opinion that the defendant is a murderer, tear into him on the stand with the victim’s family and police investigators in the crowd. I can’t even imagine what the experience must be like for District Attorney Joseph A. McBride or Defense Attorney Randal Scharf.

When the end of a long saga comes, like it nearly has in this case, I’m always left mulling the experience over in my mind for weeks after.

It’s been a privilege to be able to bring it to the public through my writing and words. I hope my enthusiasm and passion in witnessing these events has been properly prescribed though them.

The end has finally come may peace follow it for the sake of the Somers’ family.

Getting Match-ed up

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

We’ve all seen those commercials for Match.com, eHarmony or Chemistry. They have tag lines like, “It’s OK to look,” and feature happy couples living in wedded bliss after meeting their soul mate on one of those online dating sites.

In my doubting-Thomas of a mind, these suspect examples of success have always been far outweighed by the horror stories I’ve heard from people who have tried dating someone they’ve met online.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to learn one of my own college friends had met and married the love of her life through “Match,” as she affectionately calls it. Yep, a mere “two winks,” a couple of phone calls, an 8-hour first date and in a little over a year they were headed down the aisle. It’s too cute for words. I can’t be happier for her.

I learned all this and more about their courtship and wedded bliss, including how he left her a series of “countdown to first date” messages in the days and hours leading up to their first meeting. When I told her I thought that was a little freaky, she patiently assured me this was wonderful in a Christmas Advent Calendar kind of way. (There was definitely a “poor single Melissa, some day you’ll understand” undertone, which I tried to ignore.)

I have always kind of scorned people I know who have looked online for love, because I knew that their motives were probably not as pure as the driven snow. But I have nothing but kind things to say about this one. She genuinely sounds happy and I sincerely wish her and her new husband the best as they begin their life together.

As I shared this story with my coworkers, they had some stories as well, including that of a sibling who was happily dating someone they’d also met on Match.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. I heard on the radio this morning on my way in that while many other businesses are struggling, online dating sites are booming. Match, it seems, had a record 4th quarter. Why? Apparently it’s normal in times or economic and emotional hardship for people to reach out for companionship. And with money tight, these sites are easier and cheaper ways to meet others with similar interests.

No offense, but I still don’t think it would be for me.

Impressions of a murder trial

Monday, February 16th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

Growing up in the peaceful surroundings of the Otselic Valley, you develop a sense of ease. It’s not that you think bad things can’t happen to you, it’s just that living in such a small town, it’s too easy to believe you know who is safe and who is not. I think that’s why the community was so stunned by the death of little Shyanne Somers in June of 2007.

Despite the fact that South Otselic is a small town, I didn’t personally know the Somers family. My sisters knew Shyanne’s brothers and my niece was a member of the same cheerleading squad that Shyanne was on, and although I was never formally introduced to the family, those connections were enough for me to want to see for myself what George Ford, the accused murderer, had to say for himself on Friday in Chenango County Court.

I can’t honestly say that I went into the courtroom with an open mind, or that I believed the strange, random stories originally told by Ford in his statements to police. Luckily for me, I’m not the reporter in charge of reporting the case in a fair and unbiased manner.

I can honestly say, that I hoped seeing the defense’s case and hearing Ford’s story would make me believe that what happened was an accident. I hoped I could believe the man wouldn’t intentionally murder a little girl, the daughter of a friend. I left feeling less convinced than ever that any part of Ford’s story was true.

The prosecution’s case hinges on a key piece of evidence, a GPS tracking unit that Ford’s wife installed in his car because she suspected an affair. The unit showed Ford’s route on the night in question, including a three hour period behind an abandoned house on Will Warner Road in Otselic.

Anyone familiar with the South Otselic area would know that to get from Ford’s summer residence to the Somer’s home would probably take less than five minutes in the worst of conditions. The homes are only about a mile apart on the same stretch of County Route 26. Yet the defense would have us believe that at midnight Ford decided to drive the long way around, going up Stage Road and down Will Warner Road to eventually come back out on 26, a trip that during the best of conditions would probably take an extra 20 minutes.

Ford listed reasons for the indirect route. He wanted to see if a friend was home and the little girl wanted to see his horses. Of course there is no way to verify either reason as Ford passed by his friend’s house, claiming he didn’t see a car outside and the little girl is the only one who could validate the claim about wanting to see the horses. However, I would think it nearly impossible to see much of anything on a darkened road, lined with trees in the middle of the night.

Ford would also have us believe that the only reason the GPS tracking device showed no movement at an abandoned house on Will Warner Road for three hours was because he took it out of the truck, threw it out at the house and then went back to retrieve it after accidentally running over the little girl. Is that possible, sure, but it hardly seems likely. Even if you could find the small device in the middle of the night on the darkened lot, why would you go back to find it, only to try to throw it away at the police station the next day.

Ford cried on the stand as he recounted his version of the story from that night, but I didn’t feel any sympathy for him. I felt sorry for the family of the little girl who went to sleep that night trusting in a friend to keep their daughter safe and woke up to devastation and questions that remain unanswered.

In the words of George Ford Jr.

Friday, February 13th, 2009
Tyler Murphy

In a few minutes I will be filing into the Chenango County Courthouse to watch what is expected to be the final day of testimony in the George Ford Jr. murder trial.

We have been told that the defendant himself has been compelled to take the stand in his own defense.

After the oath is administered and Ford sits down in the witness’ chair the scenes to follow will be the most tense and emotional moments than any other in found Chenango County. Ford has not told his side of the story since the first day he arrived at Chenango Memorial Hospital with the broken body of 12-year-old Shyanne Somers.

People have asked me throughout the trial if I thought if he was guilty or innocent. Honestly I’ve trained myself not to think about it but in the spirit of balance I’ve always tried to stave off my final judgments until I’ve heard both arguments and all the facts.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say how Ford performs on the witness stand today will go a long way to determining the outcome of this case.

After all it is a case with gruesomely compelling circumstantial evidence and definative contradiction. However there seems to be a gap in direct evidence of motive or intent.

The weight of Ford words will indeed have to potential to tip the scales of justice, one way or the other.

I’d better get going now security is heightened at the court and I don’t want to miss a single word of today’s proceedings. This will be one of those moments that I’ll look back on later in my professional career as one of the most intense and exciting moments I’ve had the privileged to witness, first hand.

Don’t worry though, I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

V Day approaches

Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

When you’re a kid, you love Valentines Day. You make little mail boxes for the front of your desk and everyone gives you valentines. There are little parties with heart shaped cookies, pink frosted treats and punch bowls filled with, well, punch. If you’re lucky, one of the moms would make those cupcakes in ice cream cones, topped off with sparkly sugar and conversational hearts.

But at some point, your classmates are no longer required to bring a card for everyone. That’s when you realize life’s not all frilly hearts and candy confections, and start to fully appreciate just how tenuous your social position can be as, say, a fourth grader.

As you get older (middle school and beyond), the holiday, and I use that term loosely, becomes almost a competition with your friends. It takes all the fun out of something that use to be joyous and carefree. Soon you’re bitter, dressed in all black and scowling at happy couples exchanging valentines in the hallway. As a young adult, you graduate to marking the occasion as an anti-holiday to celebrate your independence.

Gradually, you and your friends defect. You find soul mates and rediscover the joys of Valentine’s Day. (And it’s a good thing, too. There’s way too much bitterness in the world.)

But it seems that life never works out quite as we plan. This year is the first in many in which I find myself without a valentine on Feb. 14.

I’m taking it in stride though, and will celebrate to the fullest. Yes, I’ll be wearing black. But only because the fabulous dress I found didn’t come in a more holiday-appropriate hue, I swear. I fully intend to check any and all bitterness at the door.

Clad in said dress, and a pair of even more fabulous shoes, I will spend the evening with a hundred or so of my (soon to be) closest friends at the Chenango County SPCA’s Annual Fur Ball.

Maybe I’ll even pass out a few valentines while I’m there.

Recycling and state revenue

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Jessica Lewis

I know I should recycle, and I do it as much as possible. It’s never fun or easy. I hate cleaning out plastic cans of peanut butter or mayonnaise to put in the recycling bin, but I feel a sense of obligation to do it. However, a lot of people don’t. Studies show that recycling rates (especially for non-redeemable beverage containers) are down, so they’re looking at ways to provide a little incentive.

Governor David Paterson has proposed a new bottle recycling bill that could encourage recycling of more materials and provide the state with some revenue for every bottle that goes unredeemed. No that doesn’t mean you’ll get a nickel for every peanut butter jar you clean out, but it does mean that you may start getting some change for previously non-redeemable containers, like water bottles, sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages.

I’m sure there will be some people who dislike the idea of forking over an extra five cents for every beverage they purchase, but frankly I think it’s a great idea. Encouraging people to recycle is always a plus in my book, and in addition, the state could receive a little extra revenue for every bottle that goes unredeemed. If the bill passes, it would require beverage companies to transfer all unclaimed bottle deposits to the state. Initial estimates show that the new bill could grant the state $118 million in a year.

So the bill will either encourage more recycling or give the state a new source of revenue. Probably it will do both. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.