The Recreation League Heroes Of Westchester County
Three county residents fill their sports quotas at local recreation leagues—and you can, too.
Jenn Milani tosses a frisbee at Westchester Ultimate Disc, Inc.
By Kasara Brandman
We’ve finally completed our tedious trudge out of the polar vortex, and all eyes are turned to the green fields that the soles of our feet have so desperately missed. And, as summer approaches, many of these beckoning views will be seen through the windows of Westchester County’s public, private, and non-profit organizations.
But some of these enterprising employees longingly looking outdoors also handle their business on the court, field, or even in the bar. They’re the recreation league heroes of Westchester County, and you (and your co-workers) can be, too.
Jenn Milani, a 25-year-old Ossining resident, spends her days sifting through old newspaper clips and fulfilling research requests as a librarian at the New Canaan Historical Society, a quiet organization in Connecticut with only three full-time employees.
But for 10 weeks of the summer, Milani can be found with 15 teammates on the main fields of SUNY Purchase tossing and catching a Frisbee at Westchester Ultimate Disc, Inc. (WUDI), a local organization supporting ultimate Frisbee.
For the past five summers, three of Milani’s weekdays transition from late 19th-century fact-keeping and maintaining government records to playing an up-tempo sport that requires wrist mobility and a whole lot of endurance. “I would like to think I’m the same person at work and on the field, but it’s hard to say,” Milani says.
WUDI offers two leagues; a Thursday night co-ed rec league and a twice weekly draft league that is geared towards the more experienced disc hurlers. Milani plays in both. The rec league, which she says allows her to enjoy the game a bit more and assume responsibility as a captain, comprises eight teams, each served by two co-captains. Seven players per team aim to move down the field, passing the Frisbee towards an end zone similar to that of football, and each time you make it there your team gets one point. The first to reach 15 points wins—something Milani’s squad had trouble accomplishing in previous seasons. That’s not to say she’s deterred: “I couldn’t care less about the score of the game. I’m just making sure everyone is playing as much as they want to and, most of all, having fun.” To that end, says Milani, “They just welcome you in; you’re part of the gang immediately.”
Milani previously worked as a library clerk at both the Dobbs Ferry and Greenburgh Public Libraries. She is also currently a second-year graduate student at the Pratt Institute, pursuing her Masters in Science of Library and Information Sciences in Archives. She credits WUDI with giving her a much-needed boost in her professional life. “Being a captain has helped me gain leadership qualities and a sense of confidence at work,” Milani says.
One of her newfound Frisbee friends is Sabina Sujak, Milani’s co-captain last summer, who has gotten to know Milani well both during play and away from the disc. “As the summer went on, she spoke up more,” says Sujak. “But her actions are much louder than her words are on the field.” The volume is also raised during tailgates, something of a tradition after games. “A lot of our players will show up and change out of their work clothes into playing gear in the parking lot,” says league coordinator Kyle Friedrichs. “It really is a friendly, comfortable environment.”
If you want to throw a disc with Jenn Milani this summer, visit www.wudi.org or email Friedrichs at email@example.com. If you want to join with co-workers, WUDI's rec league is your best bet—league coordinators accommodate those who wish to play together.
John Nunziata, second from left, with teammates.
The wait between fall and summer—or even spring—can be a tedious one, so John Nunziata gets his winter sports fix through the Westchester County Darter’s Association.
Nunziata, 57, captains Yonkers’ Bryn Mawr Tavern’s dart team, which participates in the league’s 15-week summer and winter seasons. A Yonkers resident for more than 30 years, Nunziata lives a mere three blocks from the Lockwood Avenue pub, where he tends bar on Wednesday nights. He also works as a short-order cook at George’s Luncheonette, where he whips up favorites like pancakes, French toast, and turkey sandwiches that are delivered to nearby Saunders Trade and TechnicalHigh School during lunchtime.
Nunziata was hungry for something else this past winter season: a division title. And that’s exactly what he and his teammates got, defeating Larchmont’s Cellar Bar on their home turf to win the Division C championship. “You should have been there to see us after we won," Nunziata says. "We were shooting bottles of beer in the air.”
Nunziata’s 32-year-old son, John Nunziata Jr., began playing on the team several years ago. And in that time, the two have became “much, much closer,” Nunziata says. The team’s other co-captain, Frank McDonald, also recruited his namesake, Frank McDonald Jr. The two elders now take a backseat to watch their legacies perform.
Family, friends, and casual drinkers drop by Bryn Mawr Tavern to see their team in action on Tuesday nights, which helps drive income at the neighborhood establishment. Each bar in the league pays a $175 annual fee that covers game equipment and eliminates any entry costs for players, leaving just a bar tab for them to pick up at the end of the night. “It’s really good for all the bars,” says Nunziata. “It’s a booming business the nights we’re out here, [nights] that would be dead otherwise.”
The league features squads from 21 bars across Westchester, and each team plays about half of their 15 matches at their home tavern. The teams are divided into six divisions, A-D, with the overall level of skill increasing parallel to ascending alphabetical order. Though Bryn Mawr Tavern played in Division C - East this past season, the team recently made the jump up to Division A/B for the upcoming summer season.
The statistically driven league requires all players throw their 30.5 cm darts at an 18” regulation-size board from a toe line 7’9¼” away. “It’s a very frustrating game. If your arm is off a centimeter, you’re going to miss,” says Nunziata. But his team did not miss often, finishing with just one loss this past season. Weekly matches are divided up into a series of singles and doubles matches, each game worth one point. In total, 18 points are on the line and 10 are needed to declare a winner.
“John and the rest of [the team] went crazy when they won it all. They looked like they just won the World Series,” says Bryana MacDonald, manager of Bryn Mawr Tavern.
It was a long time coming for Nunziata, who has taken on a player-coach role for a team dominated by players nearly half his age. He passes on one lesson to his prodigies as well as those interested in joining. “The only prerequisite is to drink,” he says. “After a couple of drinks, it’s not as hard to throw the thing.”
To find a list of participating taverns, head to www.wcdarts.com or contact corporate secretary Tracy Feiertag at (914) 497-1484.
Joe Santana spends his days protecting New York from domestic and foreign threats as a detective for the NYPD. “Every day is a different problem,” says Santana, 34. “But every day, I impact someone’s life.” It’s a “clean job” that does not require protective gloves, he says, a far cry from what’s portrayed on television.
Santana, a Cortlandt Manor resident, works what he calls “gentleman’s” hours—10 am to 6 pm on weekdays—freeing up time on the weekends to police the outfield.
Last summer, he was the centerfielder for I’d Hit That, a co-ed, slow-pitch softball team in the 20-and-over league run by the Yorktown-based Yorkville Sports Association. The 14-person team was a melting pot of athletes, with a teacher, a musician, a consultant, and an account manager at the New York Times taking the field.
“Every Sunday, I woke up [excited] like a school kid,” says Santana, whose team played at the Navajo Fields at the Yorktown Sports Complex.
The lefty’s 5’5” frame, combined with power at the plate and outfield agility, draws comparison to the Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner. “Playing with Joe was always fun except when I was running ahead of him on base,” says co-captain Stephanie Gaudinier, who works part time for YSA. “He is so quick, it's unreal. This guy could turn a single easily into a triple or home run just by running.”
Santana gets his competitive drive from growing up in the Bronx, where he and his closest friends would spend hours playing no-holds-barred football, basketball, and baseball. “There was a lot of trash-talking then that I definitely still carry now,” he says with a laugh.
This coming summer, though, Santana is trading in the softball mitt for a smaller one: He’s taking his talents to the Peekskill Tides, a baseball squad open to participants 21 and over whose skills are on par with college-level players. He says that softball is more for fun, but his longing for competitiveness is what is taking him to his next endeavor.
Gaudinier says Santana will be sorely missed for his personality, his scrappy play on the field, and his usefulness in a pinch. He served as the impromptu manager before the start of one game last season and set the team’s lineup, which stuck for the rest of the season. “Joe was always focused while having fun and always looking to find ways to improve himself and the team,” says Gaudinier. Al Morales, founder of Yorkville Sports Association, hopes for this type of camaraderie amongst teams both on and off the field. “We have anything from mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500 companies represented in the league,” says Morales. “The idea is that we want everyone to go out to the bar together after the game.”
If you and some of your co-workers want to start swinging, visit www.ysaleagues.com or contact Morales at (914) 962-8390, ext. 10. Team as well as individual registration is available for both 50 Plus Men’s and 20 Plus Co-Ed leagues, which begin June 21.