The following list of New Canaan’s biggest news stories in 2014 is based on traffic data as well as social shares and reach.
The summer of 2014 saw the first New Canaanite ever—catcher Curt Casali, a 2007 New Canaan High School graduate—make baseball’s big leagues. We spoke to Curt at the time of his promotion—turns out his old high school coach, Mark “2-5-0” Rearick, would travel to Minneapolis to see Casali debut against the Twins. The day after Casali’s first game (he lined a hit in his first AB) was the Sidewalk Sale of July 19, and in our tent we set up a video camera and asked locals to congratulate the hometown kid with a tip of the cap (in the style of the “RE2PECT” ads on TV for the retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter). See video above—appearance of New Canaan’s Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo courtesy of Steve Karl of Karl Chevrolet, a major supporter of New Canaan Baseball.
On a heads-up from beloved New Canaan Public Schools teacher Mike Patrona, we headed over to Saxe Middle School on ‘Colonial Day’ back in May. There, fifth-graders were getting a hands-on lesson what life was like in Colonial times, complete with a re-enactment troupe. Our question was simple enough: Based on what you’re learning, what would you miss most if you lived in New Canaan back then? So far, the video has had more than 15,000 views, catapulting the story to this list.
Though there are fewer each year, many New Canaanites will remember when the only telephone exchange in town was 9-6-6 (the 9-7-2 exchange didn’t arrive until 1972). And among those who do, some may recall instructing operators to connect them to a “Woodward 6” extension. In Terry’s debut installment of our local history feature, 0684-Old, he looked at the storied history of how the 9-6-6 exchange came to be, and it ended up as one of the most-read articles of the year (and the second-most among the local history pieces, there’s one more below).
If this isn’t meaningful local news, nothing is. Rightly, any change to the exterior of a structure in the Historic District that roughly encircles God’s Acre must receive approval from town officials in advance. And in the heart of the plot of land where stands the building around which New Canaan was founded (by the Congregational Church), itself literally sacred ground (some of the earliest settlers of our town likely still are buried at God’s Acre), stands the tree around which New Canaanites gather each Christmas Eve to carol. The evergreen that for decades has stood encircled in colored lights below the bandstand grew rather spindly, and so a fresh pine tree was ordered up and installed back in May. (The tree, despite some early concerns, appears to be taking root just fine.)
10. On Ponus, a Family’s Barn Restoration Project That’s Benefitting the Larger New Canaan Community
One of New Canaan’s most visible land use projects—directly across Ponus Ridge from West School—became one of the town’s most-read stories of 2014. The Larson family’s antique barn restoration salvaged as much wood as possible from the collapsing structure itself, and used lumber from trees that had died and needed to come down on the property itself. Something that really made this project stand out was the family’s commitment to a “waste not, want not” philosophy—what wood couldn’t be used for the restored barn was sold by one of the Larson boys at a roadside stand for kindling, and other pieces went to local artisans and even a woodworking teacher at New Canaan High School.
9. ‘There’s No Better Ending’: New Canaan Football Overcomes Darien to Win Class L-Large State Title
The headline on this one says it all. Especially in the wake of a heartbreaking loss during a Turkey Bowl that also served as the FCIAC championship game vs. rival Darien, the dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Blue Wave in the final game of the season was dramatic, and sweet.
The only arrest story on this list, this report of the 46-year-old New Canaan man who floored his sports car and bolted away from police during a motor vehicle stop somehow caught the imagination of locals, who read it in droves. Maybe it was the yellow McLaren, or the arrested man’s comment when police confronted him at home that “he did not understand why police were at his house, because he didn’t kill anyone or damage any property.”
Certainly real estate is New Canaan’s biggest business, and so this news feature about efforts to re-focus those who deal in that field from one area to another caught plenty of attention. Greater value in a part of town that perhaps has flown under the radar in recent years, with an undeniable focus of the “in-town” area as the most desirable—the news struck a chord with locals.
As a purely athletic feat, the unlikely county title that our NCHS varsity field hockey team won over Darien is itself huge, huge news. One storyline behind that story is perhaps even more compelling. About two weeks prior to the championship game, senior co-captain Isabel Taben was running out to South Avenue to flag down emergency responders summoned to her home, where her dad had suddenly and very unexpectedly suffered a heart attack. Isabel led her team through a tough field during the playoffs, telling them that they needed to keep winning so that her dad could come watch them play. And then scored key goals down through their championship push to help realize that vision. Also worth noting here that just a couple of weeks ago, the New Canaan police officers who first responded to the Tabens’ call and administered a defibrillator and CPR received recognition and thanks for their life-saving work.
One of the nation’s major stories of 2014 is also New Canaan’s. A Staten Island grand jury’s decision this month not to pursue criminal charges against a police officer whose chokehold on a 43-year-old Eric Garner led to that man’s death spurred protests nationwide. In New Canaan, students participated in a protest outside the school and also took their message of equal treatment to headquarters. An organizer of the protest noted during the rally that no one was targeting local police specifically.
One priority for local police in dealing with narcotics here—and a problem that has arisen in recent years, with the proliferation of prescription painkillers that linger in some medicine cabinets—is heroin. Our three-part series collectively was the most-read item in all of 2014, and this installment, which centers on one local parent’s journey before and after the loss of her son to heroin addiction and overdose, was the most-read of the three.
It’s how Dan’s Highway and Lost District Drive got their names. The foundations of the buildings that once formed the vibrant village of Dantown are still visible when the water level of the Laurel Reservoir goes down. Founded in the late 17th Century by Francis Dan and others at what was then a part of Stamford, a mill and basket-making industry soon grew to about 80 families, who founded a school and what historians call the first Methodist Society church in New England.
News of the declining popularity of the Homecoming Dance—for decades a touchstone among New Canaan adolescents—spread quickly in the community, including among NCHS alumni. A loss bemoaned by some, though no one could argue with lethargic ticket sales, it followed news that the Pep Rally had been cancelled earlier in the month.
The most-read single article in New Canaan is perhaps one of its most important and telling about the community. This senior class which will graduate New Canaan High School in June is Mikey Czech’s class—an East School boy who in January 2008 was diagnosed on his 11th birthday with an inoperable, incurable brain tumor, and died following the fifth grade at Saxe that year.
One of his schoolmates, senior NCHS football co-captain Jim Keneally, had the idea to dedicate a home game in November to his old friend and Mikey’s family. The players sported decals for The Mikey Czech Foundation on their helmets during the game and raised money for the nonprofit, also inviting Mikey’s dad, Steve Czech, to address the hometown crowd during halftime.
Here’s some of what Steve Czech told us during our interview:
“This means the world to us. The mere fact that somebody would volunteer to do something like this six years after the fact proves the point further, not just of people being ‘nice neighbors.’ They care.”
“We’ve been intimately involved in at least a couple dozen cases since Mikey died, and we’ve seen firsthand what happens when people reach out and ask for help and when people do the opposite, close down and wouldn’t ask for help and the ramifications of that decision have ranged from divorce to one person killing themselves because they couldn’t deal with it and had no support network. And I will be the first person to say it on Friday night, in front of everybody, and this is probably the last time we will be able to address so many of these kids and families that knew Mikey, that we could not have gotten through that without the support of everybody in town, because 90 percent of getting through it is what happens after the child dies, and we were just extraordinarily fortunate.”
“The takeaway is that when people are hurting, don’t assume they don’t want your help. And for people who may think it won’t make a difference, they should understand that people do want help, and don’t ever assume that they don’t want help, because it’s amazing how some of the smallest things can have the most lasting ramifications.”