Jonathon Norcross

Jonathon Norcross

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tickets for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival sold quickly this week. Presale began shortly before noon on Wednesday, while tickets for the general public went on sale at 10 a.m. on Thursday. As of 11:20 a.m. on Thursday, single day seating was sold out. About 30 minutes later, single day general admission tickets had also sold out. All tickets for Saturday, June 8 (Belmont Stakes day) were gone by the end of the week.

Some presale buyers were fooled by an advertisement on the Belmont Stakes tickets page, which featured a green “Continue” button that linked to another site asking for credit card information. A message above the advertisement that read “paid banners below are not related to Belmont Stakes Ticket Sales” appeared to have been added later. Other prospective presale buyers said that when they tried to buy specific tickets, the Ticketmaster website suddenly said the tickets were no longer available. Some reported they were unable to buy tickets at all, despite having access to presale.

WILTON — A Wilton resident and maritime archaeologist who studied Lake George shipwrecks was admitted as a Fellow into the Royal Geographical Society earlier this month. 

In the 1980s, Joseph W. Zarzynski was a Saratoga Springs school teacher whose life took an unexpected turn when a friend of his found a World War II bomber in Loch Ness. Zarzynski took a leave of absence from teaching, went to Scotland, and thought “wow, I want to be an underwater archaeologist.”  Zarzynski went back to school and earned a second master’s degree in Archaeology and Heritage from the University of Leicester in England.

While in upstate New York, Zarzynski took up recreational diving in Lake George, and became fascinated by the shipwrecks there. “A group of British shipwrecks were put into the lake in what is called a ‘wet storage’ in the winter of 1758,” Zarzynski said. The British decided to sink the fleet in shallow water and raise them in the spring of 1759 for a campaign against the French in the Champlain Valley. “It was pretty difficult raising vessels, so there were probably four dozen plus that were not recovered,” Zarzynski said. “So they became the focal point of some research we did in earnest from 1987 right up until I stopped diving in the lake in 2016.”

From 1987 until 2011, Zarzynski directed Bateaux Below, a nonprofit that mapped dozens of Lake George shipwrecks.  In 1990, he led the team that used a Klein side scan sonar to discover the 1758 Land Tortoise radeau, a floating gun battery from the French and Indian War. In 1998, the Land Tortoise was listed as a National Historic Landmark. A few years ago,  Zarzynski’s book, “Ghost Fleet Awakened: Lake George’s Sunken Bateaux of 1758” was published by SUNY Press. It was Zarzynski’s use of geography in studying the famed “Sunken Fleet of 1758” that helped land him in the Royal Geographical Society after a lengthy application process.

Zarzynski will be teaching several workshops at the Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George later this year. Museum visitors can also visit the underwater archaeology exhibit room to see a painting of a 31-foot long shipwreck created by a nonprofit that Zarzynski spearheads. His eight book, “Fort William Henry’s Moments in Time” was published in August of last year. 

The Royal Geographical Society was founded in London in 1830. According to the organization’s website, “the Society’s purpose remains the same today as when first founded, namely the advancement of geographical science.” In addition to Zarzynski, other Fellows include Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Clive Cussler.

SARATOGA SPRINGS —At the February 15 Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education meeting, Director of Budget and Program Integration Joe Greco stressed the need for the district to cut substitute teacher costs.

Greco said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the district was spending around $1 million on substitute teachers. In 2022 and 2023, substitute spending was subsidized by COVID funds. “Now that the Covid money is going away,” Greco said, “we have to change our behavior, otherwise we’re going to keep directing a lot of our funds into substitute costs.”

Greco said that reducing reliance on substitute teachers is one of the district’s biggest budget priorities. 

Thursday, 22 February 2024 12:52

Adirondack United Capture Regional Championship

UTICA — With a 14-0 record, and a dogged determination to capture a state title, the Adirondack United have concluded one of the most impressive seasons among all local sports teams. At the Nexus Center in Utica last Friday, the United was crowned New York State regional champions after a 7-3 win over Kenmore-Grand Island.

The United started the title game on the wrong foot, falling behind 2-0 in the first period. But it wasn’t long before the team rebounded and finished with a dominant victory.

The bout capped off a busy post-season week for the United. On February 14, they advanced to the state final four after an 8-1 win against the North Avalanche at the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. Then on February 16, they defeated Skaneateles 6-1 in Utica in the state semifinals.

This season was only the second year that the United have existed. In their inaugural season, they finished with a 19-2 record but lost to Clinton in the state title game, 2-1. Earlier this season, the United got a taste of revenge when they beat Clinton 4-1.

“I don’t think we’re really getting caught up in any individual game because their goal is really pointing toward the end of the season,” Coach Jeff Willis told Saratoga TODAY after the United’s win against Clinton. It appears the team’s focus on winning a state championship paid off.

BALLSTON SPA — “Baseball is undoubtedly a pure American game, and its birthplace Cooperstown, New York, and Abner Doubleday entitled to first honor of its invention.” Abner Graves wrote these words in a letter to the editor of the Beacon Journal newspaper in 1905. Graves’ letter changed baseball history, but it was all a lie.

“This is a great example of fake news,” said Ballston Town Historian Rick Reynolds. “Fake news can take on its own life and become reality.”

Graves’ letter was written in response to Albert Spalding, founder of the Spalding sporting goods company, who was attempting to discover baseball’s origins. “Spalding felt that there needed to be a beginning for baseball, so he established a commission,” Reynolds said. Graves heard about this commission and “made up this story that Abner Doubleday was the beginning of baseball.”

Not only was Doubleday not the inventor of baseball, there’s scant evidence he had anything to do with baseball period. “He kept incredible diaries and journals of his life,” Reynolds said. “Never in any of his journals or any of his writings is baseball or anything like baseball ever mentioned.”

Doubleday is a significant figure not just in American history, but also in Ballston Spa. At 28 Washington Street stands a yellow house, now The Real McCoy brewery, that a historical marker declares is the birthplace of Major-General Abner Doubleday. The sign calls him “the founder of baseball.” 

The sign might be inaccurate on two counts. Not only is Doubleday not the inventor of baseball, but recently there’s been some doubt as to whether the house was actually his birthplace. “There’s pretty much definitive evidence that he lived there at some point, but whether he was born there is another issue,” Reynolds said.

Regardless of where Doubleday was born, he is probably the most consequential figure in American history to have lived in Ballston Spa. Doubleday was second-in-command at Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. He was wounded at the Battle of Antietam. He commanded the second infantry division at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, Doubleday was a steadfast supporter of Abraham Lincoln, and accompanied the 16th president on a train ride prior to the Gettysburg Address. 

Despite this remarkable life, Doubleday is most remembered for Graves’ fictionalized account of baseball’s invention. “The Ridiculous 6,” a Netflix comedy starring Adam Sandler, lampoons Doubleday as making up baseball’s rules on the spot. In 1939, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was established in Cooperstown, thanks in large part to Graves’ letter. As recently as 1957, Ballston Spa featured a float in its sesquicentennial parade proudly declaring the Civil War hero to be the “founder of baseball.”

The true story of baseball’s creation is complex. Some historians point to 1840s New York City as the origin. Others believe the game evolved from 18th-century England, where a similar game called rounders was played. Hundreds of years ago, in both Massachusetts and the Carolinas, athletes were hitting balls with something resembling a baseball bat. The truth is that baseball probably evolved over time, in multiple places, as games played with bats and balls grew in popularity. 

Nonetheless, the sign declaring Abner Doubleday to be the sport’s founder still stands in Ballston Spa. Also still standing is Doubleday Field, a stadium at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, where baseball was not invented.

“Americans like finality,” Reynolds said. “We like to know answers to things, and sometimes there are no answers for sure.” 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It feels like Skidmore baseball is everywhere these days. 

Last year, Thoroughbreds catcher Jackson Hornung became the first athlete in school history to be drafted by a professional team when he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the MLB Draft. Last week, former Skidmore pitching coach Mike McFerran was hired by the Oakland Athletics. As the college’s baseball program steps into the spotlight, recruiting talented players is getting easier. “We’ve seen just in terms of the overall quality of recruits, I think it’s gone up a tick certainly,” said Head Coach Ron Plourde.

With a bright horizon, Skidmore is preparing for its first game of the season on March 2 at Baruch College. “I think we have very high expectations,” Plourde said. “Despite graduating a really talented group of seniors, the bulk of our pitching is back, and we have a really good core of returners.” Although the Thoroughbreds have won recent division championships, their goal this season is to “make a good run at a Liberty League championship,” Plourde said.

With only a couple weeks until opening day, the team is looking to solidify a few positions. “Our middle infield had a complete turnover so that’s an area that we’re looking to replace,” Plourde said. “Aside from first base, we’re wide open at short, second, and third.”

The third spot in the starting rotation is also up for grabs. “We should know by the end of our Florida trip who that third guy is,” Plourde said. Skidmore is scheduled to play nine games in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers, Florida beginning March 10.

This year’s roster also features a whopping 11 freshmen, at least one or two of whom may earn some significant playing time this season.

Coach Plourde shared his team’s full roster with Saratoga TODAY:

OAKLAND, CA — Another Skidmore baseball alum has made it to the major leagues. Mike McFerran, an assistant coach and pitching coach for Skidmore College from 2017 to 2020, has been hired by the Oakland Athletics, the team announced last week.

“Mike is a phenomenal coach and an even better human being,” said Skidmore’s head baseball coach Ron Plourde. “He’s one of the brightest coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

McFerran has joined the A’s player development staff as the pitching performance coach. Prior to his new role in Oakland, McFerran was the pitching lab coordinator and director of player development at Wake Forest University.

Thursday, 15 February 2024 14:49

Milton Citizens Push Back On Massive Project

BALLSTON SPA — The Milton Community Center was packed last Wednesday with citizens concerned about what’s been called “the biggest project in Milton ever.” A town hall-style event hosted by Milton Citizens for Responsible Development allowed locals to ask questions and express concerns over the Mill Town Centre project, which could bring 507 residential units, more than 1,200 parking spaces, and multiple new businesses to the area.

Dan Galvin, a member of Milton Citizens for Responsible Development, began the question and answer portion of the event by saying he “could care less about government. My opinion is the less government, the better. I want to be left alone to go to my job to provide for my family and come home and live my life in peace. That’s where I stand. But when I started to see the development that is happening in our area, it started to scare me.”

Peter Nelson, a Milton resident for 33 years and another member of Milton Citizens for Responsible Development, said one of the top concerns with the mixed-use project was increased traffic. In a Powerpoint presentation, Nelson displayed a photo of a traffic jam near Northline Road. “I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure if there’s another thousand cars or so from Mill Town Centre, it’s not going to help,” Nelson said. 

A long-time Milton resident named Mary said she “would have been here a lot earlier, but it took me ten minutes to back out of my driveway. With all the new traffic that this project will bring forth, I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like.” Another local said that traffic in Milton “has been a nightmare in the last ten years.”

To help manage the additional vehicles that the project would bring into Milton, infrastructure upgrades such as traffic circles are being planned. The project developer is supposed to pay for the upgrades, although some citizens were concerned that their taxes would be increased in order to fund these upgrades in the future.

A traffic assessment prepared in August of last year by Creighton Manning Engineering stated that the project “is expected to generate 365 new vehicle trips during the AM peak hour, 281 new vehicle trips during the PM peak hour, and 340 new vehicle trips during the Saturday peak hour.” The report recommended that a traffic signal be installed at the intersection of Rowland Street and Grand Avenue, that Rowland Street be widened to create a left-turn lane, and that multiple stop signs be installed.

Attendees also expressed concerns over the potential impact of bringing more students into already short-staffed school districts. However, data cited by Ballston Spa Central School District Clerk of the Board and Records Access Officer Brian Sirianni at a recent Board of Education meeting indicated that renters of one and two bedroom apartments typically don’t have kids. Sirianni also said that commercial properties, like the ones planned for Mill Town Centre, usually benefit school districts financially. “Burnt Hills, south of us, really doesn’t have a lot of commercial property so they suffer and they have a much higher tax rate because it falls on the residents,” Sirianni said. 

John Bartow, Chairman of the Milton Planning Board, said that the Mill Town Centre site is currently divided between the Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs school districts. He said that it would be up to the districts and the developer to decide where Mill Town Centre kids would attend school.

Other concerns raised during public comments included the potential impact on water supply and the lack of affordable housing units. 

Bartow, who answered a number of questions from attendees, provided an update on the project’s status. He said the application was recently deemed complete, and there are now two stages left to the process: a rezoning request that’s before the town board, and a site plan review that will be conducted by the planning board. Bartow said this whole process would take a minimum of four to six months.

In addition to Bartow, other local officials in attendance included State Senate candidate Minita Sanghvi and Ballston Spa Mayor Frank Rossi. Mill Town Centre developer Malta Development Co. was invited to attend but did not send a representative. Wayne Samascott, vice president of Malta Development Co., previously told Saratoga TODAY that he hoped to begin construction this year.

The Milton Citizens for Responsible Development will meet again on February 21 to “decide what our next steps are.” The meeting will be held at the Kaydeross Rod and Gun Club at 706 Geyser Road from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Detailed documents regarding the Mill Town Centre project can be found in the Planning Board section of the Document Center at Milton Citizens for Responsible Development maintains a Facebook page that has nearly 200 members.

MOREAU — Last week, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hosted a pair of public hearings, one virtual and one in-person, regarding the proposed Saratoga Biochar project in Moreau. Participants were given three minutes to submit for the record their comments on whether Saratoga Biochar should be granted a permit to build a biochar manufacturing facility in the Moreau Industrial Park.

Of the 24 people who spoke at the virtual hearing, 20 opposed the Saratoga Biochar project. Dozens more spoke at the in-person hearing, with the vast majority again opposing the construction of a biochar facility in Moreau. 

Moreau resident Thomas Masso said that the Moreau Planning Board “approved the project 4-2 based entirely on the information submitted by Saratoga Biochar. That information consists of unproven theories, cherry-picked excerpts from various studies, and small sample tests.” 

David Walker, a professor at the Columbia Climate School, said that he reviewed the project two years ago but believed that unresolved concerns had not been addressed. “Given these unresolved and potentially devastating issues, it’s not surprising that the use of sewage sludge-derived biochar as an agricultural soil amendment is banned in countries like the U.K. New York should also ban that sort of use,” Walker said.

Myles Gray, program director at the U.S. Biochar Initiative, spoke in favor of the project. “In general, the process of converting biosolids into biochar is a climate solution, and it also is a pathway to eliminate forever chemicals from agricultural systems.” Kathleen Draper, who described herself as a “longtime advocate of carbonizing underutilized organic material” also spoke in support of Saratoga Biochar.

Following the public hearings, Saratoga Biochar released a statement from its president, Bryce Meeker. “Let me be clear: Saratoga Biochar Solutions is a green, environmentally and socially conscious company,” Meeker said. “We are here to alleviate the pollution burden by remediating biosolids and enabling them to be beneficially utilized as bio-fertilizer to restore soil.”

Thursday, 15 February 2024 14:24

Our Educators: Julie Leffler

Julie Leffler is a special education teacher at Schuylerville High School. She teaches a life skills and work-based learning class. The course teaches functional academics, independent living skills, and job skills. She and her students go on several community-based instructional trips each month. During these trips, students explore the local community and utilize skills they’ve learned in the classroom.

Saratoga TODAY asked Leffler about being an educator, as well as her future plans.

What is your favorite part of being an educator?

My favorite part of being an educator is having the opportunity to watch my students grow into independent young adults during our time together.

What are some things about your job that the general public might not understand?

The pandemic changed the way education looks and the ripple effects are still being felt. In the case of my students, many programs and services they could be entering into after graduation are understaffed and not fully operating. This has been a challenge as they move into adulthood.

What are your future plans/goals?

My plan for the future is to continue teaching at Schuylerville High School.

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