Six Months In, Speckled Pig Brewing Company is Thriving in Ballston Spa
BALLSTON SPA — The Speckled Pig Brewing Company opened its doors just under six months ago, and business has been strong for the local brewers.
Located at 11 Washington Street in the Village of Ballston Spa, Speckled Pig offers a variety of beers, seltzers, and pizzas, all of which are produced in-house.
Larry Heid, a partner at Speckled Pig, said the first six months have gone “better than we had expected,” noting the strong response from local community members.
“The Village of Ballston Spa, the residents here have been so warm,” said Heid. “They were super receptive to having a brewery. It’s become kind of like a home base for the village. We’re very happy with how it’s progressing.”
That progression has gone quickly, as Speckled Pig has already ventured into the distribution market, partnering with Saratoga Eagle to offer kegs of their beers at local bars.
“To be six months in and doing that is insane,” said R.J. Elliott, a partner at Speckled Pig. “So it’s been hectic, brewing as fast as humanly possible to keep up.”
The brewery is registered as a New York Farm Brewery, meaning that 60% of grains and hops used in the making of their beers must be sourced from within New York State. All of their beers and pizza are made on-site, with Elliott saying, “Local is kind of the name of our game.”
“Everything we do, we tie back to the people around here, supporting local businesses,” Elliott said, noting the Speckled Pig has a partnership with Coffee Planet, and has hosted a variety of fundraisers for booster clubs from Ballston Spa High School.
Elliott, a graduate of Ballston Spa High School, said it is meaningful to be able to establish a business in the village.
“It’s all anyone talks to me about now, ‘How’s the Pig?’,” Elliott said. “It’s the first thing that’s on everyone’s mind.”
Heid said the brewery is seeing “a lot of repeat customers.”
“On any given day, I will know, like, at least half the people that are here from just coming back,” said Heid.
The local support can be easily observed inside the brewery, as a wall across from the bar is covered with the names of members of the Speckled Pig’s ‘Founders Club.’ The Founders Club hosts private events and offers tastings of new beers, among other perks. Elliott said over 300 people signed up for the club within the brewery’s first two weeks of opening.
“And we capped it at that,” said Elliott. “We had a lot of people still asking us to join, but we stopped it because we want to be able to, on the Wednesdays that we do open for Founders, have them all get a seat when they come in.”
It has been a drastic turnaround for the property, which sat vacant for many years before Elliott’s family purchased it. However, they initially did not have any plans for a brewery.
“We just wanted to clean it up for the village,” Elliott said. “That was the only goal. For years, it had sat here. You’re talking 15 to 20 years without anything in it.”
Then Larry and Mary-Jo Heid came into the picture. Looking for a brewery in the area, they connected with Kelly Delaney-Elliott, R.J.’s mother and a real estate broker.
“We had no brewery intention in mind until we met the Heids,” said Elliott. “A year later, we were open. So it happened fast. It still feels like it was yesterday.”
The brewery came flying out of the gate, offering 11 beers and a seltzer on their first day of business, which Elliott said was “crazy.”
“Nobody told us we weren’t supposed to do that, we just kind of went for it,” said Heid.
“To do that right off the bat meant literally as fast as you could possibly turn the tank, we’re brewing the next cycle,” added Elliott. “For the first couple weeks, you’d look at the menu and you’d see a line through like three of them, because we just kicked the seven kegs we had, and we had three more days until we got the tank. Now, it’s a pretty huge achievement that we’ve got all our beers on tap and we’re ahead of it.”
The brewery also has big plans as the weather gets warmer, with Elliott saying the Speckled Pig is looking to open a rooftop deck in the summer. Currently, the brewery operates solely on the top floor of the building (roughly 4,500 square feet).
Looking further into the future, Speckled Pig also plans to deepen their roots in distribution. Heid said the company hopes to start selling cans of their beer “within a year.”
Ultimately, Elliott said being able to share the brewery with the people of Ballston Spa is “one of the coolest feelings.”
“I just get a ton of pride being able to do it in Ballston Spa,” said Elliott. “It’s my hometown, and it’s nice to be able to create a business that can manufacture right here.”
Gateway House Of Peace New Thrift Store Opens Doors
MILTON — The Gateway House of Peace Thrift Store officially opened its doors this month, helping to raise funds for end-of-life services provided by the Gateway House of Peace.
Located at 408 Geyser Road, proceeds from all of the thrift store’s sales go toward the Gateway House of Peace’s services. Elaine Pearson, director of the Gateway House Thrift Store, said they began renting the space in December before officially opening on March 1.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Pearson of the experience since opening. “We’ve been blessed with a lot of donations from the community. Our sales have been great. The community has been very supportive.”
The Gateway House of Peace offers end-of-life care at no cost to its residents or their families. Typically, the Gateway House has raised money through a variety of fundraisers. Pearson said the thrift store will allow Gateway to see a year-round revenue stream.
“We’re hoping the thrift store is going to help alleviate all the fundraising that we have to do,” Pearson said. “That was our ultimate goal. We’ve talked about it for five to ten years now, doing this, and we just never did it. Finally, we said, ‘We’re just going to do it.’”
After searching for a location for roughly two years, Pearson said the Geyser Road location became available “out of the blue.” She said having the space available is “a wonderful feeling.”
“It’s an accomplishment,” said Pearson. “We’ve been planning for so long, and for our dream to come true, it’s an absolutely wonderful experience and wonderful feeling.”
The Gateway House of Peace runs an annual yard sale to help raise funds, with Pearson saying the thrift store began as an extension of the yard sale.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of people that come through,” said Pearson of the yard sale. “That’s really why we wanted the thrift store, because the yard sales were such a big hit, and great fundraiser.”
Pearson said the funds raised at the thrift store will go toward day-to-day operations at the Gateway House, including paid nursing staff, utilities and bills, and more. The thrift store has just one paid employee, manager Cassandra Roner, who is assisted by a variety of volunteers.
Roner said it has been “amazing” to see how many volunteers have offered their time to the store.
“I’m involved in a lot of organizations, from sports to my church, and sometimes it’s hard to get volunteers,” said Roner. “So to see people come in here and want to volunteer their time, it shows you what the mission of Gateway House means to people.”
Pearson also mentioned the community has been very supportive, noting that many local businesses helped provide various donations when the store was being prepared for opening.
“So many of the businesses, there’s so many of them that have donated to us with paint, and jewelry counters, and shelving,” Pearson said. “They’ve been absolutely wonderful, donating items to us to get started.”
The store’s location on Geyser Road is also an advantage, just over a mile from the Gateway House of Peace. Pearson said that while the thrift store’s current location is “a little bit too small,” it provides strong connectivity between the two locations.
“I really wanted to stay close to Gateway House,” Pearson said. “I didn’t want to leave the area for a bigger space. It’s connected. People know, just go around the corner and there’s Gateway House.”
The store will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony “once the weather gets nicer,” said Pearson. She said they hope to eventually raise $100,000 yearly for the Gateway House of Peace.
“What I’d like to see is $100,000 a year,” said Pearson. “That’s my ultimate goal. If we make that, I’d be very happy.”
Ballston Spa’s Cole Evans Wins Boys Giant Slalom State Title
CANANDAIGUA — There’s a first time for everything, and Cole Evans’ first skiing victory couldn’t have come at a better time.
Evans, a junior at Ballston Spa, won the NYSPHSAA State Championship in the boys giant slalom event, posting a time of 2:14.10 across two runs at Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua. Evans said it was his first-ever race victory.
“I’ve had a number of podiums, but never a win,” said Evans. “I was pretty surprised, honestly.”
Ballston Spa head coach Mitch Huff said it is “gratifying” to see the team’s athletes have success. Evans was first coached by Huff after he began competing in ski races at Gore Mountain at a young age.
“That’s the whole purpose of why we do it, is to see these kids have success within the high school races,” said Huff. “That’s what it’s all about for us.”
Entering states off a strong regular season, Evans said he was hoping to finish in the top 10 in both the giant slalom and the slalom events.
“Obviously I’m very competitive, but I wasn’t going to be hard on myself at all,” said Evans. “Kind of just go out, have fun, see how I do.”
Evans started in 55th place out of 64 skiers, and his first run came in at 1:08.25, the top time for opening runs. Evans said his mindset for the runs was to “hold on and stay alive.”
“It was a pretty intense course, both with the weather conditions making the snow a little bit choppy, and just the length of the course being longer than any of the regular season courses that we were doing,” Evans said. “But there’s not a lot going on in your head while you’re going, you’re just kind of blacked out, going on ‘go’ mode.”
Huff, who was assisting other Section 2 skiers, said he did not actually get to see either of Evans’ runs, instead hearing of his early lead from another coach.
“As I get the athlete in his skis, (the coach) goes, ‘Hey Mitch, do you have Live-Timing?’, which is the app that you have for results,” said Huff. “I radioed, ‘No, I’m putting so-and-so in their boots,’ and he says, ‘Well, Cole just won the first run.’”
Evans’ second run was even quicker than his first, finishing with a time of 1:05.85. With a combined time of 2:14.10, Evans beat out Queensbury’s Hudson Montgomery (2:14.94) for the giant slalom state championship. Evans also finished 10th in the slalom.
Evans said “it feels good” to be recognized, noting that he is not only receiving congratulations from his school and classmates, but that it is also helping highlight the sport of skiing.
“I’ve had a lot of classmates congratulate me, my school has recognized me,” said Evans. “It feels good for the sport in general, which doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
Huff, along with other district parents, helped revive the Ballston Spa skiing program in recent years. The program had success in the past, with the girls alpine ski team (combined with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake) winning back-to-back state titles in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how many kids have shown interest in it,” said Huff, who noted he is in his eighth season as the team’s coach. “It’s very gratifying for me to see those kids progress, and have success.”
Evans said he found the balance and team aspect of the high school team to be a great fit.
“Throughout the whole season, the guys on the team are my closest friends, really, because we’re in the weight room every day,” said Evans. “We’re just spending a lot of time together, so you build the social relationship while you’re doing the sport. I think it’s really good.”
Ballston Spa Boys Basketball Rallies from 19-point Deficit, but Falls Short in AA Semifinals
GLENS FALLS — The Ballston Spa varsity boys basketball team was unable to finish a 19-point comeback on Thursday, but the game was yet another example of the Scotties doing what they did all season: fight.
“As was the case all year,” said head coach Ben Eldridge. “Just so proud of them. Trusted each other, worked hard, and they just never were going to give up.”
Ballston Spa fell 59-58 to Green Tech in the Section 2 Class AA Semifinals at Cool Insuring Arena. But the game seemed like it might be over early, with the Eagles soaring to a 31-12 lead midway through the second quarter.
Green Tech dominated the opening frame and the first minutes of the second, led by an 11-point first quarter from sophomore Haisi Mayben. The Scotties, on the other hand, couldn’t get many shots to fall despite having some quality chances.
“We’re used to a couple more of those going in,” Eldridge said of his team’s start. “I was proud, we didn’t start forcing them. Sometimes, when they’re not going in, you start forcing up a couple you shouldn’t. But I think we did a good job of still hunting for the right shots, and we were getting them.”
Eldridge said he “knew at some point” the Scotties would settle in, and settle in they did. The Ballston Spa offense started to come to life in the latter half of the second quarter, with seniors Nick Verdile and Mike Miller combining for 15 points in the frame.
Green Tech took a 37-27 lead into halftime, but Eldridge said he “felt great” entering the break.
“We knew we were starting to play the way we can,” said Eldridge. “We’re used to playing 32 minutes all season long. So we felt really good, and it showed in the third quarter.”
Verdile, the Scotties’ leading scorer, heated up in the third, scoring nine points in the frame. A three by Nico Savini cut the Eagles’ lead to six, and free throws by Ben Phillips trimmed Green Tech’s lead to 45-41 after the third quarter.
Ballston Spa took the lead for the first time with 6:41 remaining after a three-pointer from Phillips. But Green Tech seemed to always have a response, with a quick bucket by Mayben giving the Eagles the lead right back.
With 3:29 remaining, a three-pointer by Mayben extended the lead to five and sparked a short run for Green Tech, who got consecutive buckets from sophomore U’Mier Graham to extend the lead to 59-50 with 2:25 to play.
And just like they did in the first half, the Scotties simply kept fighting.
“Just a couple possessions didn’t go our way after we took the lead,” Eldridge said. “Got down by nine again, and again, didn’t give up.”
Miller stopped the Eagles’ run with a pair of free throws, and a three-point play by Savini made it a four-point game with 1:31 left. Ballston Spa pressed on the ensuing inbounds, and Savini stole the ball before finding Verdile for a quick three, making it 59-58 with 1:16 left.
The Scotties had several chances to take the lead in the final minutes, and ultimately had one last opportunity in the final seconds. Coming out of a timeout, a three-pointer from Verdile missed, and Graham pounced on the rebound for Green Tech, sealing the Eagles’ spot in the Class AA Championship.
Eldridge said despite the ending, he was “so proud” of his players. The Scotties finished 19-2 on the season.
“The ball bounces the wrong way sometimes,” said Eldridge. “Just goes to show what kinds of players and kids they are. They’re fantastic young men.”
Verdile had 27 points for Ballston Spa, leading all scorers. Miller had 15 points, while Savini added eight. Phillips had five points, and Mike Pritchard added three points. Mayben led Green Tech with 16 points, while Henry Perkins had 11 and Olivan Owens added 10 points.
Verdile said his teammates are “like family,” saying it meant a lot to have the season the Scotties had.
“Obviously, this loss hurts,” said Verdile. “But in a few days, we’ll understand, like, we won the league and we did a lot of stuff that no other basketball team from Ballston Spa has done. It means a lot, and I’m going to miss playing with all these guys. They’re brothers to me now. I’ve just had such a good time playing with them, and I’m just thankful that they made the season so good for me.”
Eldridge was complimentary of the team’s seniors, saying they have put “everything” into the program.
“Our message was, ‘If an end like this negates all of that work since they were in fourth grade, then they’re losing out on some of the stuff that they can gain from and learn,” said Eldridge. “It’s bigger than that. It’s not the way you want to end, but the journey, the process along the way, that’s the stuff they’ll remember for the rest of their life.”
Saratoga Boys Basketball Falls to CBA in AA Semifinals
GLENS FALLS — Stifled by a strong Brothers defense, the Saratoga Springs varsity boys basketball team fell 56-43 to CBA in the Section 2 Class AA semifinals on Thursday.
The Blue Streaks got off to a slow start, with CBA jumping to an eleven-point lead late in the first quarter. Saratoga was held to just 19 points in the first half, and the Brothers used a strong inside game to keep the Blue Streaks at bay in the second half.
Saratoga head coach Matt Usher was complimentary of the CBA defense, while acknowledging the Blue Streaks “missed some shots that we were capable of making.”
“Definitely got some shots that we are happy with, but their length obviously bothered us,” said Usher. “It’s one of those nights where the shots that you need to make aren’t dropping.”
Five points each from CBA’s Jayden Osinski and Oreoluwapo Odutayo helped the Brothers to an early double-digit lead. After being held to just four points in the first five minutes, Saratoga began finding more of a rhythm offensively, with a late three-pointer by junior Ryan Farr cutting the deficit to 15-7 after one quarter.
The trio of Farr, Hutton Snyder, and Andrew Stallmer combined to score all 19 of the Blue Streaks’ first-half points, with Usher saying the trio “have been phenomenal leaders” for the squad.
Consecutive buckets by Snyder and Stallmer cut CBA’s lead to three with 1:33 left in the first half, but a three-point play by CBA junior Aiden Wine extended the Brothers’ lead to 25-19 at the break. Usher said the Blue Streaks emphasized utilizing their speed to generate looks in the paint in the second half.
CBA, however, extended the lead in the third quarter, opening the second half with a 10-2 run to extend the lead to 35-21. The duo of Osinski and Odutayo shined in the quarter, combining to score 12 of the Brothers’ 15 points. The Brothers held Saratoga to just two made field goals in the quarter, and a pair of free throws by Odutayo in the final seconds sent CBA to the fourth with a 40-25 lead.
“Their defense was locked in. They altered some shots inside,” said Usher of the Brothers’ defense. “They definitely bothered us with some of their physicality on the perimeter. Credit to CBA and their players. They’re a good team.”
The Blue Streaks cut the lead to 10 points on a pair of free throws by Farr with 6:51 remaining, but were unable to get any closer in the fourth quarter. Odutayo led CBA with seven points in the final frame, helping close out a 56-43 victory.
Stallmer led Saratoga with 14 points in the loss. Farr had nine points, while Snyder added eight points. Caleb Casey scored six points, with Antone Robbens and Noah Friedman each adding three points.
Odutayo led CBA with 21 points in the win. Osinski had 15 points, with Matt Sgambati adding nine points. Wine had six points, while Kaelan Leak added three points. Matt Picard and Leonard LaVigne each had one point for the Brothers.
Usher said that, despite the loss, he is “so proud of these kids for their effort all season.”
“17 wins, a trip up here to Glens Falls. I think if you would’ve asked a lot of people in the league and the community, they might not have expected that before the season,” Usher said. “Our kids believed, they kept getting better.”
Usher said it is “always special” to earn a trip to Glens Falls, and said it was great to see for his current group of players.
“I just couldn’t be happier for this group of kids to get up here,” said Usher. “They’re a fun bunch of guys to be around. They enjoy each other, they work hard in practice. They’re a coach’s dream. They remind me why it is I like to coach.”
Adirondack Jr. Thunder Making Noise in First EHLP Season
GLENS FALLS — The Adirondack Jr. Thunder are making waves in their first season as members of the Eastern Hockey League Premier, and doing so with a roster made up almost entirely of local players.
The EHLP is a junior hockey league based in the Northeast. The Jr. Thunder have clinched first place in the league’s New England Division, with a record of 30-6-4-2 for a total of 66 points.
Several players said the team’s location was one of the things that drew them to the squad. Many of the team’s players spent previous seasons with other junior hockey teams.
“I live two minutes over the bridge, why wouldn’t I want to sleep in my bed every night and play at (Cool Insuring Arena), where I grew up watching games?” said forward Damon Warren. “It’s awesome.”
“It feels nice to be home,” added defenseman Jim Fitzgerald, a Queensbury native. “I know the area, I’m not going somewhere that I have no idea.”
Like the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder, the Jr. Thunder team practices and plays home games at Cool Insuring Arena. They are coached by Glenn Merkosky, who spent 11 seasons in professional hockey, including 66 NHL games.
Merkosky has an extensive history at the arena, spending parts of six seasons with the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings from 1985 to 1991, including Calder Cup championships in 1986 and 1989, and serving as the team’s head coach from 1996 to 1999.
Merkosky said he hadn’t coached since his stint with Adirondack, but was asked by fellow members of the Jr. Thunder’s board of directors.
“It wasn’t really something, to tell you the truth, that I had even thought about,” said Merkosky. “After I did think about it, I said, ‘Yeah, that would be something I would probably enjoy doing.’”
While it has been more work than he had anticipated, Merkosky said the job came around for him “at a really good point” in his life.
“To be honest with you, once I took this job, I kind of found you do everything,” Merkosky said. “It’s been probably three times as much work as I thought it’d be. But I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been good for me at this point in my life.”
He said the team’s overwhelming volume of local players has been “a little bit of a talk” around the league this season, with a majority of EHLP teams recruiting players from across the United States, Canada, and beyond.
“It’s a real feather in the cap for the youth hockey programs in this area, from Glens Falls down to Saratoga and in the Capital District area, that they’re producing some real good players,” said Merkosky.
This includes players such as Warren, a South Glens Falls native who said the decision to join the team was a “no-brainer.” Warren spent the previous two seasons playing for the NA3HL’s Bay State Bobcats in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
The team includes products of several local high school hockey teams: Saratoga Springs, Queensbury, Adirondack, and G/M/S/V/S. 17 of the 24 players listed on the team’s roster formerly played for one of the four high school squads.
Brockport native Zack Geitner, one of the few players hailing from outside the Capital Region, said Merkosky’s credentials were a large factor in his decision. Geitner spent the previous season with another EHLP team, the New England Wolves.
“I saw the credentials that Coach had, and I thought it was a good idea,” said Geitner. “Plus, it was closer to home to the Rochester, New York, area.”
The team gelled together quickly, with Merkosky saying the squad “built really good team chemistry early on.”
“Everyone’s just trying to make each other better,” said Kian Hodgins, a goaltender from Ottawa, Ontario. “If someone makes a mistake, we’re going to let them know about it, but it’s ultimately to make that person better.”
“It’s a very welcoming environment,” added Geitner. “You can definitely build off that and take advantage of it, and I think we’ve done that.”
And the opportunity to play at Cool Insuring Arena, a professional facility, has also been a major advantage for the players, they said.
“Even in practice, you look up and nobody’s in the stands, but you see all the seats, and it’s awesome,” said Warren. “You feel like you have to work. It’s just a different feeling than any other rink I’ve played in.”
And with the regular season coming to a close, the Jr. Thunder have capped off their inaugural season with a division title, but with the playoffs approaching, the team has larger goals.
“We do have a big goal, we do have a big picture,” said Geitner. “Sometimes it’s hard to get away from that, but we’re just focused on one game at a time, just winning.”
“Doesn’t matter our record, we’ve still got to go into the playoffs,” Warren said. “It’s 0-0 when the playoffs start.”
‘Let Our Residents Enjoy Saratoga Lake’: Town of Malta Buys Former Mangino’s Property, Plans To Build Public Park
MALTA — The Town of Malta has purchased the property of the former Mangino’s Ristorante, and the town has plans to turn the location into public lake access and more.
Mangino’s, a restaurant run by the Mangino family for 72 years, closed in 2018. Town of Malta Supervisor Mark Hammond said plans for the town to purchase the property were “long-awaited.” The town purchased the property for $1.9 million, Hammond said.
“This has been something that was on my radar nearly two years ago, when I was deputy supervisor,” said Hammond. “I really thought that property was something, that it would be a benefit to the town residents to obtain that and solidify and firm up any lake access we would ever have on behalf of our town to the lake.”
Hammond said he “breathed a huge sigh of relief” when the sale was finalized, emphasizing the importance of the town having public lake access.
“Really happy that we’re at this point,” Hammond said. “It’s step one. ...The major step is the first one, and that was getting the property.”
Hammond said he hopes to create office space and boat slips/launches for the Saratoga Lake Protection and Improvement District (SLIPID), the Malta Ridge Volunteer Fire Company, and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol.
Hammond said there are also goals to build a park for residents, and mentioned picnic spaces, a non-motorized launch, and a fishing pier as possibilities. Hammond said the goal is to allow the town’s residents to “enjoy the lake.”
“That’s our goal. Let our residents enjoy Saratoga Lake,” said Hammond. “It’s our way of affording them access to that body of water that a lot of people enjoy. But from the Town of Malta standpoint, we had nothing until now that guaranteed our residents access to that lake.”
Hammond said he envisions the park holding picnic areas, grill setups, and more, allowing a space where residents can relax by the water and “enjoy the serenity of the lake.”
“Basically, just relax, and enjoy one of the beauties that we have right in our backyard,” Hammond said. “It really, truly, is a gem.”
Hammond also said it would be beneficial for SLIPID, Malta Ridge, and the County Sheriff’s Marine Unit to have a presence on the lake. He said SLIPID “are the true stewards” of Saratoga Lake.
“I want them to have their own bonafide office space, where they can show the residents, and have a presence at this location, to show, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing to keep this lake healthy, and keep it safe,’” said Hammond. “I’d like to have those three entities have a means to say, ‘OK, this is where we can launch to and from, or slip,’ and also provide what small office space they may need to facilitate their operations daily.”
The property is roughly 2.65 acres in total, said Bonnie Mangino, daughter-in-law of former Mangino’s owners Richard and Pauline Mangino and a former employee of the restaurant. She said the family is “so grateful” to Hammond and the town for their purchase.
“We are so grateful to Mark Hammond. It’s really his vision to make that happen, and to make sure that property didn’t go to some sort of private development,” said Mangino. “He worked hard, and over a long period of time, to make that happen.”
Mangino said the family is glad the property will become a resource for local residents.
“Gratitude is the absolute feeling of the week, and the month, and the year,” Mangino said. “Toward a lot of people, but Mark is at the top of that list, for sure. ...Years from now, people won’t remember our name or his name, but they’ll know that park and they’ll love it.”
Hammond said the town is hoping to move quickly, attempting to maintain “forward momentum” with the project.
“Once we get pointed into a direction of what we should do, I’m going to move as quickly as I can,” said Hammond. “Not because I want to do it out of haste, but because I don’t want this opportunity to lose its steam. I want this to move forward, and I want it to be available for people sooner than later.”
‘Dare to Imagine’: Local Author Frank Gratton Hopes to Inspire Kids to Use Their Imagination With Sci-Fi Series
CLIFTON PARK — Frank Gratton has always let his imagination run wild. Now, through his books, he hopes to inspire kids to do the same.
Gratton, a Saratoga Springs native, has published two books, ‘Billbet’s Space Adventure,’ in 2020, and ‘Nula,’ in 2022. His third book, ‘Nula: Second Generation’ is planned to be released sometime next year.
The series details a group of children who become entangled in space adventures, traveling across the universe to save planets in distress. Gratton said the story begins in the first book, when the young Billbet, one of the main characters, accidentally lands on Earth. He befriends two human kids, Theresa and Kevin, who attempt to help him return to his home planet.
The second book, ‘Nula’, follows Theresa (now known as Nula) and Kevin (now known as Dauntless) as they travel across the universe on a ship they constructed with the help of Billbet.
“Of course, Nula is the star,” said Gratton. “She’s a young earthling who started off when she was 10 years old, and she became a hero. Not because she wanted to, she just kind of fell into it. The new book, she’s going on some real dangerous missions.”
Gratton said he is a science fiction fan who is particularly interested in space, and wants kids to simply have fun reading his books.
“I want it to be fun,” said Gratton. “I don’t want the reader to get scared, or anything like that. I just want them to have fun. I remember when I was reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, I just had a lot of fun.”
Gratton said his main goal is for kids to become excited about using their imaginations.
“My main hope is that I can get them to get excited about their imagination,” Gratton said. “Everybody’s got one. Most people just don’t do anything with it. … Imagination is what starts anything.”
The first book in the series was a long time in the making, Gratton said, with his first inspiration coming while he was serving in the U.S. Navy.
“I was in the Navy in the 1960s, and I was passing through the Mediterranean Sea, and I was on the midnight watch,” said Gratton. “It was a clear night, and there were a billion stars up there. I just started fantasizing, my imagination started running wild.”
Years later, while employed at G&H Hardware in Schenectady, Gratton said he began work on the book.
“There was a Stewart’s ice cream store right down the road. I went to work early every day, and I sat in that shop, and I wrote my first book,” Gratton said.
Gratton said he began writing the book during his time at the store, which came after a stint working at his father’s hardware store in Saratoga Springs. He eventually worked at Saratoga Casino Hotel from a year before its opening until he retired in 2016.
Four years later, in 2020, ‘Billbet’s Space Adventure’ was published, almost 25 years after Gratton began writing it.
“When I wrote the book, I wrote it by hand,” said Gratton. “Then I hired a guy to put it on a word processor. … He put it on the word processor, printed it out. I had the pages bound, and it laid in my closet. Then my daughter self-published it, which was a challenge all by itself.”
Theresa Gratton, Frank’s daughter and the namesake of the series’ main character, published the first book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, she said. While she admitted it was a “learning process”, the book is currently available on Amazon and can be ordered by request at bookstores.
Gratton said after reading ‘Billbet’s Space Adventure’, he wanted to continue writing about the characters. The second book in the series, ‘Nula’, was published by Olympia Publishers, a London-based publishing company.
“After I read ‘Billbet’ when it was in cover, I really got choked up about the characters,” Gratton said. “I liked the characters, and I wanted to make them go further. So that’s really the reason why I did it.”
And now, Gratton is working on the third book in the series, ‘Nula: Second Generation.’ He has no plans to stop in the future, saying, “As long as I can write, I’ll write.”
“Right now, I’m content with just writing and hopefully somebody reading,” said Gratton. “I want people to read it. I don’t even care about making any money, I just want people to read it.”
And ultimately, Gratton said he hopes the books can help kids “dare to imagine.”
“That’s the beauty of books. They can take you wherever you want to go,” Gratton said. “That’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Athlete Dominates Pro Debut Saratoga Springs Native Don Walton Wins MMA Match
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, Muay Thai. You name it, and Don Walton likely utilized it during his professional MMA debut on Feb. 18.
Walton, a coach and trainer at the Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts, defeated Jason LaPage as part of the Battle in Barre 9 in Barre, Vermont. The match was Walton’s first professional fight.
“It hasn’t become real yet,” said Walton of his victory. “It still is kind of sinking in a little bit. But it’s just nice to be able to watch all the years of suffering and hard work that I’ve been through finally come to fruition, and show something.”
Walton has been training at the Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts since 2012, beginning as a student. Walton is a black belt in Kyokushin karate, a four-stripe brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a yellow belt in judo, and will be receiving his jiu jitsu black belt soon, said Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts head instructor Jim Bruchac.
Eventually, looking to increase his skills, he headed west to advance his training at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, California. There, he worked with highly acclaimed trainer Rafael Cordeiro, who has trained fighters such as Anderson Silva, Maurício Rua, Wanderlei Silva, and more.
“It just was really amazing,” said Walton of the experience. “I just fell in love with it, I loved everything about it.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, Walton ultimately moved back to the Capital Region. Initially, Walton was unsure if he wanted to continue fighting, but said the itch eventually returned.
Walton’s professional debut would not come without its hurdles, however. His initial opponent dropped out due to an injury, and Walton’s first professional opportunity did not come until a year later.
Walton said in order to stay prepared, he simply tried “not to focus too much on the fight.”
“I tell people, if all you do is focus on trying to be a fighter, you’re going to burn yourself out,” said Walton. “You physically and mentally cannot be focused on fighting all the time.”
That’s where his role as a teacher comes in. Walton said he focuses most of his time on being a martial artist and a teacher at the Saratoga Academy of Elite Martial Arts, saying it is “more rewarding” to watch another person develop their skills.
“I really enjoy teaching more than anything else. Fighting is really fun, don’t get me wrong,” Walton said. “But it’s more rewarding to me to watch someone else develop themselves in a way, where I get to play a role in that myself.”
Walton runs the Academy’s muay thai programs for both adults and children, and is a camp instructor at the martial arts school at Ndakinna Education Center, Bruchac said.
“We have some very competitive kids in both those arenas,” said Bruchac. “Right after winning his fight, he was helping us run one of our youth camps, our nine-year-old group.”
Eventually, the day of Walton’s fight came, and saw him utilize a wide variety of moves in order to capture a win via leg lock in the second round. Walton said the skill learned from a variety of styles has been invaluable.
“In this fight, I got to use muay thai. I used karate, I used judo, I used wrestling, I used jiu-jitsu. Just everything that we do here,” said Walton.
Bruchac said Walton is ultimately fighting “for his students,” providing a real-world example of the moves and methods that the Academy teaches.
“To highlight what we teach at our school, to show things come to fruition in a real situation like a sports situation, and then be able to pass that on to his students,” said Bruchac. “He fully illustrated all that we offer at the school in brilliant fashion.”
“For me, I like to say this is the example,” Walton said. “You see now why I require you to understand judo, why I require you to understand wrestling. … It’s not just about punching people, you have to also be able to deal with every possible scenario.”
As for the future, Walton said that while he has been offered more professional opportunities, he will likely only fight “once or twice a year.”
“At the end of the day, my career is a coach and a martial artist,” Walton said. “I hope to get back in there again before the end of the year. But right now, we’ve got other guys on our team that I’m trying to help bring up. I’ve got some guys that might be fighting in March and April, so I want to help those guys first.”
Walton said that ultimately, professional fights are a way for him to test himself.
“For me, I like to push myself to the limit and just be able to find out, how far can I go? How far can I push my body?” said Walton. “Win or lose, I don’t care. It’s all about me testing myself and my skills. It’s not about me proving anything to anyone other than myself.”
Greenfield Bikers Learn the Rules of the Road- Elementary Students Receive Bicycle Donation from Saratoga Shredders
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Kindergarten students at Greenfield Elementary School received a surprise on Friday, with the donation of 24 Strider balance bicycles by Saratoga Shredders.
Saratoga Shredders is a local non-profit organization aiming to provide more children with the opportunity to ride bicycles. Anna Laloë, founder and executive director of Saratoga Shredders, said “It’s really a dream,” to see the students receive the bikes.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I started Saratoga Shredders, was to be able to be part of the school curriculum,” Laloë said.
Laloë said Saratoga Shredders currently offers after-school programs but wanted to expand to the school level to help reach as many children as possible.
“We thought that if we start at a school level, at a kindergarten school level, and they’re taught in P.E., that automatically it’s going to allow them to learn how to ride,” said Laloë. “Really, the whole idea of Shredders is to remove as many barriers as possible to get kids on bikes. If we can provide this to another group of kids to be able to have access to bikes for free, that’s really what our premise is.”
Saratoga Springs City School District athletic director Nick McPartland said approving the donation of bicycles was “an absolute no-brainer.”
“To make these kids feel like, ‘Hey, I’m getting to do something at school that I might not be able to do at home,’ it’s really exciting to think that’s going on in our district,” said McPartland. “There’s a lot of schools that don’t have this type of stuff, especially at the elementary level. It just makes you feel really good.”
Laloë said the school district was very supportive, saying the process came together rather quickly.
“There was no pushback from the district at all, so that was really, really special,” said Laloë. “For it to go from the first conversation with Coach (Ricupero) at the end of November, to basically two months later, the bikes are here in the school. It’s just an incredible process to be a part of.”
The Strider balance bicycles are not a typical bike. They come without pedals attached, allowing kids to practice their balance before eventually advancing to pedaling. Pedals can be manually added on to the bike once the child is comfortable. Greenfield Elementary P.E. teacher Mike Ricupero said this can make for an easier transition to a typical bike.
“The difference between a Strider and a bike with training wheels is that balance,” Ricupero said. “The balance is a huge part of riding a bike. Training wheels are great, but it slows you down to progress to actually getting to ride a bike. The Strider bike is a faster way to get kids on pedal bikes.”
“These Strider bikes allow kids to understand balance right away, by removing the training wheels,” added McPartland. “So now they’re forced to use their feet, but also when they feel confident, to get their feet off the ground and ride just on the two wheels. Over time, they’re going to become more and more confident on how to balance a bike and be able to ride it.”
The balance bikes also come with a curriculum for teaching students how to learn to ride. Ricupero said the lessons will help students build up their confidence and skills from one day to the next.
“The lessons are broken down for the kids to actually build upon the skills they already learned in the previous lesson,” said Ricupero. “We’re just excited that, by the end of lesson nine, most of the kids or all of the kids will be able to ride a bike with the pedals.”
Ricupero said he was initially contacted by Laloë, and their conversations led to the donation of the bikes, saying the opportunity “kind of fell in our lap.”
“We met one day, and we just kind of talked through some of the obstacles and some of the things that we needed to do,” said Ricupero. “There’s generous people in the community willing to donate money to these bikes, and for me, it was a no-brainer.”
The bikes were purchased as a package from the All Kids Bike program, said Laloë, costing about $6,000 total. The package was funded by donations from local families of Greenfield Elementary students and members of Saratoga Shredders.
Will and Jen Aldrich, Dr. Amy Knoeller, Dr. James North, Thad and Talara Hedgpeth, Peter Mulford, Jane Cramer Varian, and the Winter family all donated funds toward the purchase of the bicycles, according to a press release by Saratoga Shredders.
While the Greenfield Elementary kindergarteners will be the first to go through the curriculum, there are hopes of expanding the program throughout the district.
“If we do a pilot here at Greenfield, figure out if it works at a kindergarten level, and then maybe scale it up to all the other elementary schools and then K-5 over maybe year two or something,” said Laloë. “That would be the idea, would be a progressive step for them to learn new skills as they get older and the bikes get bigger for them.”
“Again, we’re very fortunate that we have this, and I’m confident that it’s going to be used a tremendous amount,” McPartland said.