They Walked All Night

by Doug Robinson

Pink Panther Captain Betty Holt shares a fun moment with her co-walkers.

They walked.  Thousands lined up to walk.  And, they walked in circles.  They walked all night long.  As dusk closed in and as the moon shone from above, they just kept walking.  One step in front of the other; walk, walk, walk.  The walking track measured one quarter of a mile and was built of asphalt.  The walkers wore tennis shoes, sandals, flip flops, or sneakers.  Some walked with the bravado of a walker; others were helped, hugged, or held.  They did not walk for themselves.  They walked for others.  Selflessly, they walked for hours.  No one complained.  They shared the moment of love, life, and living.

The athletic track, which encircled the lush green lawn of the Alvirne High School football field, had been transformed.  The white lines, which had separated the length of 10 yards, had been eliminated by the Philadelphia-looking Row Houses created by the tents, the canopies, and the displays.

Tents and tables displaying the names Connors Conquerors, Pink Panthers, Charlie’s Angels, Teddy’s Team, and Don’s Walkers lined the quarter mile track.  Signs of hope, love, survival, and “We love you” were written, to be seen throughout the field.  “Don’t give up, Don’t give up” banners were hanging on the fence that encompassed the track.  White grocery sacks lined up circling the track; handwritten, these “illumination bags” stood as silent soldiers to the memory of those who have both lost and are continuing to fight the battle of cancer — lined up, side by side, each with their own tale to tell, giving honor to those who fought the fight and to those who continue to fight the fight.

The walk was sponsored by Relay for Life of the American Cancer Association.  Relay for Life has been connecting people and involving them in the world’s most powerful movement to end cancer.  The American Cancer Association answers nearly one million calls a year from people facing cancer.  Their phone lines are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Over 450 people, registered to 57 teams, had pre-registered for the Relay for Life walk.

“This is an increase of 24 teams over last year,” commented Relay for Life organizers.  “This year our goal is $85,000 and it looks like we are going to exceed our goal.”

“This year we raised over $5,000,” commented employees from Hudson Town Hall.  “We have participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life the past three years.”

They call themselves the Pink Panthers and the Hudson Town Hall team was captained by Betty Holt, who said “I had my last radiation today.  It has been a long road and I am happy to be over with the treatments.”  As she walked the laps, Betty was surrounded by her teammates: Donna Sommers, Pam Bisbing, Pam Lavoie, Chrissy Curtin, Cathy Voisine, Joyce Pike, Nancy Mier, Lisa Nute, Diane Morrissette, Deb Winter, and Deb Joyce.

Illumination Bags line the bleachers in silent tribute to those who have fought the battle of cancer.

Outrage Over Litchfield Curriculum

by Tim Mahoney

Parents discuss the assignments in question outside of the meeting room.

Last Wednesday’s school board meeting was not the average school board meeting.

Spurred on by discoveries of homework reading assignments that they considered offensive, a large group of parents filled up the small meeting room at Campbell High School in Litchfield to voice their concerns to the school board.

“I was so disturbed by the content of these stories that I had difficulty going to sleep that night,” said Sue Ann Johnson, the parent who first discovered the material in question.  “I can’t imagine how this material is affecting my child.”

In her speech to the school board, Johnson referred to I Like Guys by David Sedaris, an essay about his experiences at summer camp; The Crack Cocaine Diet by Laura Lippman, a short story about two young girls who buy drugs to lose weight and end up committing a crime spree; Survivor Type by Stephen King, a story about a shipwrecked surgeon who uses illegal drugs to allow himself to amputate and eat parts of his body; and Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, a well-known short story in which a man and woman have an argument that is inferred to concern abortion. The stories were assigned in the elective class The Short Story, an English course for junior and senior students.  In addition to adult-oriented themes, many of the stories also contained expletives.

The crowd at the meeting was bristling, with passionate speeches given by parents often accompanied by sounds of approval or applause from the audience.

“It’s no wonder that many parents have had it with the public school system and are opting out for either private schooling or home schooling,” said Kevin Smith, a Litchfield parent and executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research.  “They feel the public school system simply cannot be trusted.”

“I read some of The Crack Cocaine Diet today.  You had to pick me up off the floor,” said Laura Gandia, a state representative of Litchfield.  “I was beyond shocked, beyond amazed.  It was reprehensible.”

Through their presentations to the school board, parents explained the teachers’ reaction to their initial complaints.

“In addition to its tone and style, the message of the story I Like Guys was one of respect and acceptance, not advocacy of homosexuality,” said Kathy Reilly, an English teacher and curriculum coordinator, in an e-mail read aloud by Gandia.  “As respect is one of our school’s core values, we thought that it would be a good fit.”

In a written statement released later in the week, Superintendent Elaine Cutler agreed with the parents.

“School administrators have determined that these stories are not appropriate for a high school curriculum and will be removed from the curriculum immediately,” said Cutler.  “The Short Story course will be reviewed and revised over the summer months, with a team composed of the director of curriculum, teachers, and parent representatives, according to school board policy.  Administrative review will also occur before this curriculum is initiated.”

Cutler went on to explain that the school board would review the policies and procedures concerning parental challenges of curriculum, and that a “Program and Evaluation Review Committee composed of teachers, parents, and community members will be formed in the fall to help prevent undesirable experiences for our students.”

The school board members, for the most part, simply listened during the meeting.

“This is a topic for discussion at the next school board meeting on June 24,” said Dennis Miller, the chair of the school board.

One of the possibilities raised by parents at the meeting was an “opt-in” policy for questionable material, as opposed to an “opt-out” policy, but it remains to be seen whether or not this will be implemented.

“Thank you all for coming and sharing,” said Miller as the speeches drew to a close.  “It’s only when people are coming and voicing their opinion that we can understand what people are looking for.”

Litchfield Strawberry Festival

by Lynne Ober

Brandon, 3, and his sister Kayla, 8, show off their painted faces.

Finally, a sunny day — just perfect for the annual Strawberry Festival held at Litchfield Historical Society and Litchfield Presbyterian Church.  Once again, the strawberries came from McQuesten Farm and they were delicious.  Over 200 pounds of strawberries were cleaned and ready.  After enjoying a hotdog or sausage, attendees could choose to enjoy strawberries on top of a freshly baked biscuit or on top of cheesecake.

Two large sitting areas were available and people sat and chatted with friends and family while enjoying lunch.  Vendors were set up on the lawn, games were available for children to enjoy, and face-painting was a big hit.

As was last year, the Historical Society was open.  This year Litchfield resident Alice Morrill Dickinson, who is almost 90 years old, talked about her early remembrances of Litchfield.

“The first memory I have of going to church in Litchfield is when I got my shoe caught in the Electric Car tracks and my father had to quickly untie my shoe and pull me away from the tracks because the Electric Car was coming.  We were on our way to church,” she recalled.  “You either rode the electric car or went by horse and wagon.”  She talked about spring’s mud season and the fact that her mother carried extra socks because they had to walk from the Electric Car to the church and got their socks muddied.

Mrs. Dickinson offered three talks during the afternoon.  She not only remembers early Litchfield but she also talked about when the church building was severely flooded in 1936.

“It’s just a fun afternoon, and I’m so glad that it is sunny for a change,” smiled Cindy Couture.  “We lucked out with the weather.”

There was an efficient assembly line making strawberry shortcakes.

Former Litchfield Treasurer Found Guilty

On Friday, June 19, former Town of Litchfield Treasurer Horace Seymour III, 51, was found guilty after 45 minutes of deliberation.  Seymour was prosecuted on two felony charges of stealing at least $135,000 from town funds from November 2005 through March of 2008 and almost $2,500 from MassTech, a former employer, in 2005 and 2006.  Accused of stealing money through a multitude of transactions, including diverting funds through the Babe Ruth League and to his personal accounts, Seymour said they were all mistakes, and that a times the job overwhelmed him.  During the trial Seymour testified that he did pay the town back but agreed that there was no record that he did.  His attorney, Evan Nappen, argued that there was no evidence that he didn’t pay it back.

Because many from the town community were called to testify, town offices were closed in order for them to attend the trial.

Both felony charges are each punishable for up to 7 1/2 to 15 years.  Seymour is being held on $100,000 bail pending sentencing, which will be scheduled within the upcoming weeks.

Former Alvirne Coach and Paraprofessional Charged with Sexual Assault

A former wrestling and soccer coach, and also a paraprofessional at Alvirne High School, was arrested Tuesday, June 16 for sexual assault. 

Michael Palmer, 31, of Wichita, Texas has been charged with 120 counts of misdemeanors on no less than six teenage boys, four being students at the high school, one from Nashua, and the other from Manchester.  The assaults are said to have taken place at the high school, victims’ residences, and also at Palmer‘s Nashua residence.  These charges brought upon Palmer have him pleading “not guilty“ as of Monday.

According to the Telegraph, Randy Bell, Hudson School District Superintendent, said “The school district performed ‘due diligence’ in its hiring of Palmer, who worked for the school for several years.”  He also stated “We were caught very surprised, frankly, when police notified us there were potential issues going on.”

On May 5, Palmer resigned and headed back to Wichita.  According to the affidavit, an over-the-phone investigation between Palmer and Nashua Police Detective Steve Sweeny, Palmer admitted to reenacting pornographic movies involving people of authority striking naked teen males. 

Last week, Sweeny and Hudson Police Detective Jason Lucontoni flew down to Texas and agreed over the phone with Palmer to meet in a Lowe’s store parking lot for his surrender.  Palmer has since been flown back and held on $100,000 cash bail. 

An affidavit indicated that the investigation began last month when a victim’s mother saw a text message from Palmer and confronted her son. 

Two of the victims, 15- and 16-year-old students at Alvirne, were assaulted at both their homes and Palmer’s Nashua residence, though it was not said how or why the students went to Palmer’s residence or allowed Palmer into their home.

In the boys locker room, another victim, an 18-year-old soccer player, had been smacked ruthlessly in the face by Palmer‘s hand, leaving a mark, which was stated in the affidavit.  A few months prior to this assault, Palmer took the same student from lunch to the wrestling room, forcing him to sit on his lap.  Palmer also assaulted this teen in his Nashua residence home, where he made the victim undress under the assumption of taking his measurements, and using a paddle and comb to hit the teen in the thigh, police stated to the Telegraph.

Police say these acts done by Palmer were done as a form of ‘punishment’ from low class grades and bad behavior.

Bell said, because a coach from Alvirne is facing these types of charges, the future will create problems in the future.  “There will be heightened awareness of any potential behavior,” including issues that seem “quite innocent.”

The Telegraph indicated Palmer is scheduled for trial on July 15.

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