NORRISTOWN – Judge Gregory Scott knows about the powers books possess.
Not only from a judicial perspective and the “throw the book at him” cliché.
Growing up in poverty in Norristown, Scott spent hours after school at the Norristown Public Library where he did his homework and read. Inside the pages of books, he was transported to far away lands and key points in history. He would go onto make history himself in 2015 when, at 28-years-old, he became the youngest sitting judge in Pennsylvania. He also is the first African-American district judge.
“I didn’t know I was in poverty. My vacations were in a book. I would go to the library travel section and go to Paris, Italy and London. I envisioned myself in those places,” recalled Scott.
On a windy, snowy Friday afternoon, Scott visited Marshall Street Elementary School. It isn’t only an alma mater, it is a place where his love of reading was developed and it allowed him to give back to his former teacher, Donna Freeman.
It was Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and Freeman had a day planned for her fourth graders around the theme, “Dr. Seuss travels through Black History Month with us.” It featured visits and readings from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Scott, Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence and Norristown community advocate Buck Jones.
“Black History is American history. I think it’s great schools can integrate it into their teaching curriculum,” said Lawrence, a devout fan of Dr. Seuss, who donned the signature Seuss “Cat in the Hat” headwear. “Dr. Seuss teaches kids and adults a love of reading. He teaches about life, too,”
Scott spoke about the challenges of running for judge, the duties of his position and what inspires him. The students, equipped with biographies of their guests, asked informed question of Scott and the other visitors. For Freeman, it is integral her students ask questions of what they are reading.
“I encourage them to ask questions and not sit and wait. Questioning empowers you,” said Freeman.
Scott explained to student, dressed in pajamas for the special day, the importance why he makes time to give back.
“I’m successful in part because of a woman like Ms. Freeman. I used to think she was really hard but you’ll appreciate it later,” said Scott. “If she calls and asks me to do something it will get my attention. I think very highly of her. Those types of people who help you, you want to pay them back.”
‘I’m not here for you to like me,” said Freeman. “I’m here to make sure you are educated and can walk out as a strong student.”
Freeman, a first grader teacher when Scott was a student, recalled how he always wore a suit and tie, even in grade school.
“He was always meticulous about everything he did. I always knew he was going to go far,” said Freeman.
“Ms. Freeman made a mark on my life. The time she spent with me has helped shape me,” said Scott. “It’s important to show kids who grow up in the community where I was raised, and still live in, that you can be successful and not be a football player or basketball player and be successful by doing good things.”
Norristown Area School District held events in each school to celebrate Read Across America Day.
NORRISTOWN – Don’t let the Muppet costumes fool you.
If you are waiting for Kermit to make a cameo during Avenue Q you are going to be either sorely disappointed…or pleasantly surprised depending on your sense of humor.
In May, the Center Theater in Norristown will be presenting Avenue Q, the raunchy, raucous, Muppet musical.
Presented by special arrangement with Music Theater International, the Broadway hit makes it’s way to DeKalb Street this spring. According to Playbill, Avenue Q ranks 24th on the list of longest running shows in Broadway history with more than 3,000 performances.
Described as, “a laugh-out-loud musical that tells the timeless story of a bright-eyed college grad named Princeton. When he arrives in the city with big dreams and a tiny bank account, he has to move into a shabby apartment all the way out on AVENUE Q. Still, the neighbors seem nice. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Lucy (the slut), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the internet entrepreneur), superintendent Gary Coleman and other new friends! Together, they struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life.”
How far is it from Sesame Street?
During recent rehearsals, the actors were practicing, “Schadenfreude,” a number about taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. It isn’t even close to the show’s most risqué tune – “The Internet is for Porn.”
“It’s Sesame Street meet South Park,” says producer Matt Durkin.
“Puppets can get away with more than a human being,” commented director Carmen Rossi.
Durkin, a 24-year-old Norristown resident who is also the co-founder of Starving Artist Prevention, was adamant in his suggestion that The King of Prussia Players next production be the wildly popular title.
When he first started researching, Durkin liked the idea of poking fun at social normalities and oversensitivity.
“Just enjoy life. I understand there are certain things that need to be brought to light but the show is also about getting a good laugh,” said Durkin.
Director Rossi conceded that the irreverent comedy is different from other musicals she has helmed such as Bye, Bye Birdie and Oliver. But it is one of her favorites.
She pointed out how the actor has to become the puppet. If it is done correctly, the audience won’t think the person is doing the voice. Also, unlike the actors who handle them, the puppets have costume changes.
“It is a little difficult. It’s a challenge but a lot of fun. Working with the actors, they are a great and talented bunch of people between singing, acting and handling the puppet.”
“It’s Muppets. Who doesn’t like to see Muppets on stage,” said Durkin. However, he recommended the two-hour show for mature 16-year-olds and up.
The cast includes: Princeton: CJ Nave, Kate Monster: Alex Gregory, Trekkie Monster: Jim Fryer, Rod: Kevin Durkin, Nicky: Rob Frankel, Lucy the Slut: Jenn Smith, Brian: Brett Brashers. Mrs. Thistletwat: Patrina Harding, Bad Idea Bear: Paula Urmson, Gary Coleman: Meredith Bell, Christmas Eve: Ashley O’Connor. Choreography by Dr. Lauren McGinnis.
UPPER MERION – Inside of Angelo’s Pizza, a spot regularly recognized as one of the best in the area for pizza and cheesesteaks, you would hard pressed to find a picture on the wall of owner Tony Capone. The walls are covered with pictures of youth teams Angelo’s has sponsored, Italy’s national soccer team, an old map of King of Prussia, and some autographed sports memorabilia.
Capone’s presence is undeniable since he is almost always behind the counter and greets regulars with a hearty hello.
On Super Bowl Sunday, things changed when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33. Not just for the franchise when they claimed their first title, or for the long-suffering fans, but for Capone.
He has been an Eagles season-ticket holder since the mid-eighties and has experienced the many lows – “Kotite,” he says, simply. The highs, “Reid…winning the NFC Championship game.”
Capone got tickets to the Super Bowl through the Eagles Season Ticket Lottery. He flew to Minneapolis with his nephew, Gennaro Bifulco, where he experienced the pinnacle of fandom when the Eagles won the Lombardi Trophy.
When they arrived for Capone’s first Super Bowl, he was happy to discover it was definitely Eagles Country.
“10 to 1. We saw way more green shirts than red and blue shirts,” commented Capone.
Unlike some Eagles fans, Capone is ever the optimist. He never calls for the coach’s head or benching of players. His pre-season prognostications are always 16-0. His feelings about Big Game were positive.
“Honest to God, I really thought we were going to win,” said Capone. “I thought it was going to be 31-27. When they were going back-and-forth…I didn’t know if we could keep up with it.”
Like Eagles fans at home or at their favorite bar, at U.S. Bank Stadium, Capone was nervous and anxious throughout the game.
Bifulco upgraded their tickets, and when the game started, a lady with an orange shirt kept walking up and down the aisles.
“Stop it, you’re distracting us from the game,” Capone good-naturedly, said.
“Be nice. Somebody very special is going to stop here,” she replied.
A few minutes later the security guards began filling the section followed by halftime act Justin Timberlake.
“Crazy…Crazy,” said Capone.
A few minutes into Timberlake’s performance, Capone appears on television, to over 103 million viewers, next to the pop star. He is on the other side of Timberlake when he snapped a picture with “Selfie Kid” Ryan McKenna. Although the image McKenna and Timberlake went viral and was turned into a meme, Capone enjoyed his brush halftime airtime. His inbox was immediately flooded with messages.
At home in King of Prussia, his daughters Immacolata, 10, and Sofia, 8 along with wife Becki were watching the game and immediately recognized the familiar face.
Immacolata wanted to scream when her father popped on the screen but was hoarse, like many, from cheering the Eagles, during the first half.
“It was surreal. I said, ‘it’s daddy! It’s daddy!” and we all jumped up and started screaming. Then the texts started coming in,” said Becki.
Capone recovered quickly from the halftime excitement because he knew that despite the Eagles leading by ten points, the game was far from over. The moment he knew his beloved Eagles were finally champions didn’t come until the clock hit all zeroes.
“The last four downs, he (Brady) was right there. Not till this morning did it hit me,” said Capone of the realization that his home team was World Champions.
Capone joined other excited and tired Eagles fans, including Governor Wolf on a flight back to Philadelphia in the morning.
On Monday evening Capone was in his familiar spot behind the counter at Angelo’s serving up slices and talking Birds.
“It was mind-boggling. To do that in that moment!” he was said about Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s gutsy “Philly Special” call when Nick Foles turned into a receiver.
The Super Bowl afterglow doesn’t show any signs of fading for Capone (or any of the Eagles faithful). He also can’t escape Timberlake.
A full size framed poster of the moment of halftime fame greeted him when he returned to Angelo’s and will soon find its way on the wall.
On Saturday, Sofia is having Trolls-themed birthday party. A movie which included the Timberlake chart-topper, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
He doesn’t seem to mind. For diehards like Capone who suffered through Kotite and NFC Championship heartbreakers, the feeling they have now is one that they have never experienced and don’t want to ever stop
Before the Super Bowl, Fan’s Make their Picks
WEST NORRITON –
The First Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds
in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep…
The shepherd is one of the oldest professions. Today, very few make a career of tending to actual sheep but the qualities of a shepherd – setting a positive example, trust, and sacrifice – are needed in both professional and personal life.
Bill Sheppard, a seventeen-year veteran of the West Norriton Police Department and a School Resource Officer for ten years, guards the largest flock in West Norriton Township with 1700 people on the Norristown High School campus on a daily basis.
“My number one job is obviously for the safety and security of everybody in this building. It’s a job I don’t take lightly,” said Sheppard.
As a School Resource Officer, Sheppard has several different roles. It’s part law enforcement, social worker and mentor.
A modern day shepherd.
A few weeks ago, Sheppard was in a monthly meeting with juvenile probation where it was brought to his attention that a young man, “John,” who Sheppard knew from his time at the high school (he currently does not attend NAHS), lived in a home that he and his three other siblings had no beds and slept on the floor. “John’s” parent is a single father who is raising four children ranging in age from 10 to 16.
Children sleeping on the floor in the winter prompted Sheppard to action.
“That was first and foremost,” said Sheppard thinking about the cold temperatures. “I had no idea that was the case in the home. If I could help I wanted to try to help as much as I could.”
Sheppard mentioned to the people in the meeting that a few years ago, juvenile detective, Mark Wassmer, with his connection to Donna Mengel, who is founder of the North Wales-based Lamb Foundation, was able to get a young man in a similar situation furniture. Sheppard mentioned it to Wassmer after the meeting who put him in touch with Mengel. The Lamb Foundation also operates the Sweet Repeats Family Thrift Shop to generate funds to cover operating expenses. Mengel agreed to help and within less than a week, a delivery of mattresses, beds with frames, dressers, lamps, a kitchenette, utensils and dishes were delivered to the residence.
“We trust the WNPD. They do a lot of good work. We are particularly fond of Det. Wassmer,” said Mengel. She’s known him over thirty years and was his junior high school principal. “We meet needs as we can where we have relationships and for things that have a heart for a our mission.”
Sheppard has known “John’s” father for about three years. He reached out to Sheppard looking for a mentor for his son and Sheppard became familiar with the family. He admits “John” has been in some trouble but calls him a, “respectful young man, a nice kid.”
Instead of traffic stops or a patrol which might involve mostly adults, Sheppard deals with teenagers. Teenagers riddled with hormones and a not-yet-fully-developed-brain.
“One of the things I see kids doing when they interact with law enforcement is making things into an issue that aren’t necessarily an issue. Stop. Think for a minute,” reminds Sheppard.
At a traffic stop if he pulls you over because you have a light out, his intention may be to give you a warning.
“If everything’s good you are on your way with a warning, but it turns into, ‘I’m not giving you my I.D. You stopped me for no reason,” explained Sheppard of certain situations.
Sheppard also serves as a guest speaker in classrooms where he discusses bullying, drugs and alcohol, drinking and driving, and other topics.
When dealing with juveniles, Sheppard tries to keep things in perspective.
“I know I did stupid stuff as a kid. Maybe I didn’t get caught. I try to use diversion programs and maybe give verbal warnings unless I feel kids need the help.”
Sheppard pointed out that the juvenile program is structured to get kids the help they need, especially if they can get community service.
In terms of the heightened security at schools since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, Sheppard says that many security measures were already in place before the Connecticut hooting in 2012.
“This district was already ahead of the game,” he commented.
It’s the first bone-chilling day of the winter and Sheppard sits in his nondescript office at the high school. It’s a Friday, and the students shuffle between classes with an upbeat tenor anticipating the weekend and upcoming winter break.
For Christmas, no one wants to end up on the “Naughty List” and it could be easy for people to deduct that “John” belongs on such a list since he had contact with law enforcement.
“I understand,” said Sheppard. “This is a good family, good kids…the other three siblings never had any contact with law enforcement. Even the older brother is respectful with me and adults, he just finds himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. He’s making a conscious decision to do that but…the way he carries himself versus the way someone else who has had contact with law enforcement is much different.
“A lot of time the reason these kids are in this position is the fact they want for things,” continued Sheppard. His voice is calm and thoughtful. It’s firm but is tinged with obvious care for the members of his flock.
“A lot of times it’s why they have contact with law enforcement. They see kids have things they don’t have and want what other kids have and choose the means of getting it the wrong way. Maybe by donating to these causes, it will prevent these kids from taking these things from somebody else.”
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you news of great joy.”
Sometimes a shepherd needs the help of an angel. None of these items donated by Mengel and the Lamb foundation are items a kid would ask Santa for.
“These are basic essentials and things we take for granted. These are critical for building a nest. Toys are a luxury,” said Mengel. “This was a perfect thing to do this time of the season.”
UPPER MERION – Lisa Salters dream was not to be a sideline reporter for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Growing up in King of Prussia in the early eighties she aspired to be Action News anchor and reporter Lisa Thomas-Laury.
Salter’s local roots run deeper than her on-air idol. She still commutes to the area a few days a week so her parents can be with her son she adopted four years ago. Although you can’t tell from her unbiased sideline reports, Salters is a life-long Philadelphia Eagles fan.
On Friday night at the Valley Forge Casino Resort, a humbled Salters was honored in her hometown as a member of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame during their 7th annual induction ceremony.
“I was a kid running around the fields and the track. It was a fun part of my childhood. I never thought that it would end up here,” said Salters. “It’s incredibly humbling to be considered good at what you do but to be considered Hall of Fame worthy means a lot.”
“She’s excited about this because she’s back home,” said her mother, Helen, who was by her side before the ceremony started along with her father, Glen. In her acceptance speech, Salters credited her father for teaching her about sports including showing her how to throw a curve ball.
“Dad, this is for you. We made it into the Hall of Fame.”
Salters scored 1,000 points in three years as a member of the Upper Merion basketball team. A journalism major at Penn State, she was a walk-on and at 5-foot-2, the shortest player in school history.
Earlier in her career, Salters served as a general assignment reporter for WBAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore, where she covered national and international news, including the conflicts in the African countries of Rwanda and Somalia. Salters worked for ABC News from 1995-2000. Based in Los Angeles, she was named the first West Coast correspondent for the ABC affiliate news service, NewsOne, in February 1995. She covered the O.J. Simpson civil and criminal trials, the Oklahoma City bombing trials, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and the crash of TWA flight 800, among other major stories for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and other ABC News outlets.
“I thought I reached the pinnacle,” said Salters of reaching the role of network correspondent at 28-years-old. “I thought sports were for fun. I didn’t think it was something you did for work.”
It didn’t cross her mind until ESPN began courting her for two years to join their network. Salters joined ESPN as a general assignment reporter in March 2000. She has covered the NBA since 2005 and was the sideline reporter for ABC’s Saturday Night Football college football games for five seasons (2006-10). An E:60 correspondent since the series launched in 2007, Salters earned both a Gracie Award from the Association for Women in Radio and Television for best feature in 2009 and a Sports Emmy nomination for the touching story “Ray of Hope” in 2008. She also traveled to Haiti for a powerful story on the U17 national women’s soccer team just months after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.
Salters was named the sideline reporter for ESPN’s Monday Night Football in April 2012. She joins play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough and analyst Jon Gruden on the weekly MNF game telecasts and also provides live stadium reports during ESPN’s Monday afternoon studio shows.
“E:60, Monday Night Football, the NBA…they are all journalism that requires flexing a little bit of different muscle but I love them all,” said Salters.
When she told her father about her the MNF job, she said, “Dad, guess what I am doing next,” then hummed the unmistakable introduction of MNF, “Dun dun dun dahhh.”
She called it appointment television when she growing up and remembers watching her cousin, Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsettt, on MNF when he had his 99-yard touchdown run in 1983.
“In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football,” she said.
Salters called the football season a “runaway freight train.” She doesn’t have time to wallow in a (personal) bad game. She flies home on Tuesday. On Wednesday she receives a research packet on each team. Thursday is spent on conference calls and Friday she flies to the city to conduct interviews with the home team. On Sunday, she meets with visiting team and writes out scripts. Monday requires hours of pregame coverage along with the main event.
ESPN launched 24-hour sports coverage and journalists have been required to be active on social media, Salters recognizes another difference since her beginnings.
“The biggest change is a the blurred messy line that journalism has crossed over into entertainment. I’m a journalist so it’s just the facts. You will never know my opinion about anything,” said Salters. “Now the people in front of the camera are supposed to have opinions and charge people up. They are supposed to be controversial. I want nothing to do with it and stay in my own box as a journalist.”
Last week, Charlotte Observer reporter Jordan Rodrique asked a question to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton which he replied, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.” Newton apologized for his comment but was dropped by the yogurt manufacturer Dannon as a sponsor.
Salters says, as a woman, she doesn’t feel like she is treated differently. She has had interactions with Newtown and said he has been “nothing but great with me.”
“Other women before me paved the way. It’s not unusual to see a woman in the locker room.”
Salters will be on the sideline for the Eagles next game, a Monday nighter against the Redskins. She was excited last year when they started 3-1 and is more optimistic about the team this year.
“I thought (Carson) Wentz did well last season but it’s just how he leads and picks up the team,” said Salters. “(Nelson) Agholor is catching the ball which is great to see. It seems like they believe and it’s always fun when the Eagles are doing well. I grew up watching them so I will always be an Eagles fan.”
And, of course, a Lisa Thomas-Laury fan.
FAIRVIEW VILLAGE – A mother of a five-year-old daughter with autism is using her passion for fitness to benefit Autism Speaks.
Mary Henderson will lead a Pound workout at Aim High Studio in Fairview Village on September 16th at 1 p.m. to raise funds for Autism Speaks, which is dedicated to promoting solutions across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan for the needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support. The event will feature a forty-five minute class, light beverages, snacks, and representatives from Autism Speaks, and Pound.
The Pound workout uses Ripstix, lightly weighted drumsticks engineered specifically for exercising. It is a full-body workout that combines cardio, conditioning, and strength training with yoga and pilates-inspired movements.
“It’s a rock out workout,” Henderson says of the workout that was seen on the first season of the hit show This is Us. “You’re doing a ton of moves and you burn a lot of calories. It’s been so well received.”
Mary Henderson’s five-year-old daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with autism in January. Her mother says it was not a surprise but may have been to outsiders who did not see her quirks or breakdowns.
Hannah Henderson loves animals, especially horses and dogs. She had a birthday party at a farm and rode a horse for hours. Her dogs instantly offer an instant calm. She also enjoys playing with her older sister Zoey, 7.
Henderson researched autism and ways to contribute to the community when she came across Autism Speaks. She calls them a wonderful support to her family in finding a therapist and emotionally through their online community.
“Autism is one part my life. It isn’t my whole life,” explained Henderson. “When she stims I hold her and get her to calm down and breathe. We are going through it together. As much as my husband contributes, it’s her and I. I’m the one who can calm her down. Embrace what makes them different. Different is special.”
Henderson, a part-time fitness instructor, approached Aimee Sala, owner of Aim High Studio and they brainstormed ways they could do something to benefit Autism Speaks.
“My passion is to encourage others to exercise compassion for others and for themselves,” said Sala, of Aim High Studio which hold events to benefit the community on a monthly basis. “I think there is beautiful correlation of wanting to be healthy, fit and serving your community.