The 3rd annual Chelsea Free Back-to-School Haircut day took place at the Jordan Boys & Girls Club on Monday, Aug. 27. Six area barbers cut the hair of boys and girls in preparation for the first day of school Aug. 29. Here, event founder Luis Rodriguez and Councillor Yamir Rodriguez with William Arvarbo, who has a fresh trim.
Role model Umemba steps up for the kids of Chelsea
By Cary Shuman
Kyle Umemba has modeled on runways around the world, but his real work as a [role] model is here in Chelsea.
Umemba is one half of the co-founding team with Cesar Castro of the Let It Fly Basketball Tournament that will be held on Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Jordan Boys and Girls Boys Club on Willow Street. The fourth annual basketball extravaganza brings to Chelsea some of the best talent in the area.
Umemba, 25, was once one of those aspiring players who carved out an impressive basketball career at prestigious Buckingham Browne and Nichols in Cambridge. A product of the Chelsea Youth Basketball League (CYBL) and an AAU standout, the 6-foot-3-inch guard/forward caught the attention of college coaches.
He thought of walking on at Division 1 George Washington but chose to focus on academics. He graduated with a degree in finance and currently works as a consultant for Price Waterhouse Coopers – in addition to his celebrity appearances as a fashion model in New York, London and Milan for major designers.
“It’s a good balance,” said Kyle.
This month, Kyle is busy working with Cesar on the finishing touches for what has become the most anticipated summer youth tournament in the area.
What was the inspiration for Let It Fly?
“We saw that there was a lack of basketball leagues for the kids,” said Umemba. “We wanted to help out the players and also Chelsea graduates.”
And Umemba and Castro have done that in a big way, presenting $500 scholarships to 11 graduates of Chelsea High School and the Phoenix Charter School.
The unsung hero of the Let It Fly Basketball Tournament is none other than Joan Cromwell, Kyle’s mother and the president of the Chelsea Black Community (CBC).
“Without CBC and Joan Cromwell, this tournament would not be possible,” credited Castro.
Joan’s company, Brown Sugar Catering, is the official
caterer for the tournament.
Kyle Umemba was asked whether he considers himself a role model for Chelsea kids.
“I don’t really look for that – if my actions determine that, so be it, but I’d rather just have some type of positive effect on people,” said Umemba.
Former hoop star Castro mentors players as a coach at CHS
By Cary Shuman
Cesar Castro could dribble, drive, shoot, and pass – but what he did best in his four years on the basketball court for Chelsea High School was: score.
Twelve-hundred-and-fifty-two-points worth, which makes him the second-leading scorer for boys in school history behind the legendary Craig Walker. He was the Commonwealth Athletic Conference MVP and led Chelsea to the conference title in his senior year (2010).
The 6-foot-guard is still very much active in the game. He is an assistant coach on Judah Jackson’s staff at Chelsea High School. Interestingly, the Red Devils won the CAC championship this season.
“It feels good to win a championship as a coach and a player,” said Castro, who went on to become an All-Region player at Bunker Hill Community College.
He is a paraprofessional aide at the Wright Middle School in Chelsea and is close to receiving his bachelor’s degree from Salem State University.
Because of daily interaction with Chelsea students in the schools and in the CHS basketball program, Castro, 27, saw the need for a summer tournament that could unite the community and bring some excitement to young players.
And he’s not resting on the past success of the Let It Fly Tournament that filled the gym to capacity last year with a succession of exciting games. There are free refreshments, musical entertainment by DJ Max Max, and Raffles.
“We’re going to start something new this year with a middle school division with four teams,” said Castro. “And we still have an eight-team high school division. It should be another great tournament.”
Teams from Lynn, Boston, Cambridge, and Chelsea will compete in the older division. Some of the top prep school players in New England will be playing in the tournament.
“It’s a one-and-one format so they have to come ready to play,” said Castro. “There’s no time for feeling it out. The players were talking about this tournament on social media back in December so they’ll be ready to compete.”
Castro said he and Umemba were members of the Jordan Boys and Girls Club in Chelsea while growing up in the city.
“We want to thank [Executive Director] Gina Centrella, Jonathan Perez, and John Perez for all their cooperation and allowing us to hold our tournament there,” said Castro. “That’s our home and we thank them a lot.”
Castro also thanked Chelsea Police officers Sammy Mojica, David Batchelor Jr., and Keith Sweeney, and Chelsea firefighter Jonathan Morilli for their assistance at the event, along with City Councillors Damali Vidot and Jamir Rodriguez, who have been big supporters of Let It Fly.
The question of being a role model for Chelsea youths was posed to Castro.
“It’s not my intention to be a role model,” said Castro. “I just try to be genuine. And when I grew up, I truly appreciated someone pointing me in the right direction and that’s what I try to do in the schools and in the basketball program.”
After six years of hosting diners from Chelsea and the surrounding areas, the Dockside location in the Mystic Mall announced this week that it would close as of this Saturday, April 7.
Jack Urbaczewski and his daughter, Lisa Urbaczewski McKenna, made the announcement on Wednesday.
“I think we are very grateful to have had the opportunity,” said Lisa. “It’s bittersweet in a sense. We’ve had some really great employees and customers there. The business can be very demanding. Where we are a family business, it makes sense to consolidate. As this chapter is closing, my dad is just really enjoying more family time and being a grandfather…Chelsea is very special to our family.”
Jack had operated a restaurant in the old Mystic Mall many years ago, and he also served on the Chelsea Police Department for 20 years. When he created Dockside Restaurants in Malden and Wakefield, then City Manager Jay Ash recruited Jack to be part of the new Mystic Mall shortly after the new Market Basket opened.
“Having grown up across the street from this spot and serving 20 years on the police force, our time here in Chelsea will always have special meaning to me,” said Jack. “I, along with our entire Dockside family would like to sincerely thank our regular guests for their patronage, our hardworking staff for their dedication and the entire Chelsea community for their loyalty and support over the years. We are very grateful to Market Basket and former City Manager Jay Ash for this opportunity.”
The business will not become vacant, though, as Lisa said they have sold it to a Mexican restaurant from Malden that they are familiar with.
The El Potro Mexican Grille will open in the spot soon after Dockside leaves.
Lisa said they will continue to support efforts in Chelsea like the Boys & Girls Club road race, and the Salvation Army on Chestnut Street.
A farewell get-together for the Dockside location is planned for Saturday, April 7, from 1-3 p.m.
The Chelsea High Volleyball team takes a knee during the National Anthem on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 3, in a game at home against Notre Dame, who chose to stand and salute the flag. The girls, including (L-R) Arianna Pryor, Xiana Herasme, Masireh Ceesay and Guidairys Castro, plan to continue taking the knee all season to highlight inequities the lives of minority youth and immigrants. One school in Methuen has asked that they do not come and take a knee at their venue, choosing to forfeit the game instead.
The Chelsea High School girls’ volleyball team – a team loaded with seven seniors – has been together for several years and so it is that they’ve developed a family-like bond and a chemistry that sometimes helps them to act in unison.
It’s almost telepathic, they say.
In fact, when they first decided to take a knee during the National Anthem to make a statement on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Whittier Tech, it was something they didn’t rehearse or plan in advance.
It just happened, and now it has happened two other times and – like other National Anthem protests – is sparking a robust conversation in Chelsea High, outside in Chelsea and even into the other cities and towns where they play.
All 11 players on the team are now taking the knee and did so as recently as this past Tuesday afternoon at Chelsea High.
“When it happened first, it wasn’t planned and it was just spontaneous and we all went down,” said Arianna Pryor, who pointed out that they took the knee before it became something much greater with the NFL protest on Sept. 24. “We gave each other the look and then it happened. It was just a natural thing. We had talked about it, but never planned on doing it. It was almost like mental telepathy.”
Leaders of the team say they are all taking the knee for several different reasons – whether it be for immigration issues, discrimination, economic opportunity, or better resources – but in general they seem to want to draw attention to the fact that they don’t see the country as being “free” or all of created “equal.”
“For me, a majority of us have immigrant parents and they came to the country to provide a better future for us,” said Rym El Mahid, a first-year player. “. What kind of American Dream is there if things are working against our parents all the time?”
Ruchellie Jimenez said she also takes the knee because she has seen how others are treated, how people treat her. She wants that to change, and this was one way to draw attention to her cause.
“I don’t think it’s fair how we have systematic forces against us and are always in the backseat of America,” she said. “We struggle and get the scraps of everyone else. My parents were immigrants and I see the way they are treated and the way I am treated. That’s why I take the knee. It isn’t fair.”
She added, as an example, that she recently wanted to improve her SAT score and went to a counselor outside Chelsea for help.
“I was sitting with the counselor and they looked at my score and said I was a minority and from a low-income area, so I was all set; there was not need for me to try to get better,” she said. “That’s not how I want to be treated. I just want to do better on my SAT.”
Pryor said others have been taking a knee to make a difference, and she saw that and brought it up to the rest of her team. They had talked about it, but made no plans. As time went on, she said she wanted to be one to make things known, to let people know that things are not right.
“I take a knee because I want to be there with the others that are trying to make a difference,” she said. “I take a knee because things need to change.”
All agreed that they don’t mean disrespect to any soldiers, and are grateful for the service of veterans – those who have died and who have returned injured. They said, however, they picked the National Anthem because it was a non-violent and because it was one of the few outlets they had as high school athletes.
“Our team is very ethnically diverse and culturally diverse,” said Capt. Jessica Martinez. “We feel strongly about how our country has been going, and we wanted to make our point in a way that wouldn’t seem violent or aggressive, but rather intelligent. We wanted to do something that showed we took a lot of time thinking out our actions.”
She added that if they had made their protest at City Hall or another public venue, it could have taken a violent course – which they didn’t want.
Added Jimenez, “We’re very grateful for what the veterans have done and they have given us freedom of speech to take the knee. I don’t think there is any other way for us to do this publicly. Everyone knows what taking a knee is.”
At school, it’s been a mixed reaction.
A lot of students don’t agree with it, they said, while others are wholeheartedly behind them.
Already, last Friday, the Chelsea High cheerleaders took a knee before the home football game.
Coach Serena Wadsworth said when it became obvious how her girls felt about taking the knee, and that they planned to do so the rest of the year, she sent out a letter to other schools. Most, she said, understood, but one school in Methuen preferred that the girls not come to their school and take a knee. The school indicated it didn’t feel it respected its school values. They were willing to forfeit the game, and also were willing to play at Chelsea.
Interestingly, the girls said their message isn’t really for those in Chelsea as much as it is for the other schools they play, many of which aren’t as diverse or understand the life that they lead.
“Our message isn’t really to be taken to only those who are doing the discrimination,” said El Mahid. “People who aren’t minority – the white and well off – don’t know the discrimination we face. It’s a way to get the discrimination out there.”
When the 2017 Chelsea High volleyball team is remembered, all of them agreed that it will probably be for their stand. They hope that it helps people think about what they did, and perhaps is something that’s continued.
“There are other teams and other seasons,” said Masireh Ceesay. “They will see what we did and see it as an example, I hope, and carry it on and find ways to go forward with our statement.”
Damali Vidot, popular councillor-at-large, knows from first hand experience the trouble that Chelsea youths can encounter in their formative years
“As someone who used to get in to trouble and who lost a friend a few days ago that I met when I used to get in to trouble, I know the importance of being there for these young people – just to have someone that they can count on to lead them in the right direction.”
That’s one of the reasons that the 39-year-old Vidot, along with City Councillor Yamir Rodriguez, Danny Mojica, and Isidra Quinones, founded The Movement, a summertime youth basketball league. The league held its playoffs and season-ending pizza party Saturday at Highland Park.
“The Movement was born out of some shootings that were happening in the community and we wanted to provide an outlet for kids 13-20 because I feel that’s an age that really doesn’t have enough supportive services that we wanted to engage them in during the summer,” said Vidot.
The Movement has grown to close to 100 youths who participate in the outdoor basketball league Wednesdays and Saturdays at Highland Park across from the Jordan Boys and Girls Club.
The mood was festive as the basketball players were united in spirit and celebrating the league’s second successful season. Police officers Keith Sweeney and David Batchelor Jr. were on hand to coach a team and affirm the support of Chelsea’s finest.
Vidot understands The Movement is only in touch with its players a few hours a week on the basketball court and that the players must take responsibility for their actions beyond the court.
“Even though we’re with them a limited number of hours during the week, I’m hoping it sets the tone for the rest of the week and they remember that there are grown-ups out there that actually care,” said Vidot.
Betsy Vicente, mother of 14-year-old, 6-foot-2-inch aspiring basketball player Christian Rios, said her son likes the competition and atmosphere of The Movement.
“He loves it. My son absolutely adores coming here. He looks forward to playing here every weekend and hanging out with his friends.”
Vicente said The Movement is like “a second family.”
“This is his neighborhood family,” said Vicente. The kids feel safe and the league is bringing them together in a good environment.”
As for rising community leaders Damali Vidot, Jamir Rodriguez, Vicente said what many at the Highland Park basketball courts were thinking, “The leaders of The Movement are doing a phenomenal job. I like the new Chelsea.”
The extensive improvements to Highland Park’s basketball courts and playground are now being expanded to include lighting improvements and a rehabilitation of the parking lot – at an extra cost of $230,000.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino broke the news to the City Council on Monday night, June 5, and told the Council that the scope of work needed to be expanded.
While the original work included just refurbishing the basketball courts, playground and sitting areas at Highland, once the City’s Planning Department began designing the improvements, they realized there was a desperate need to make additional improvements.
“As the City began to look more carefully at this park during the design phase, it determined that the parking lot area was likewise in desperate need of repair,” he wrote. “
The lighting fixtures were outdated and the irrigation system was not working.
The added improvements include paving the lot, replacement of the perimeter irrigation system, landscaping, an putting in modern lighting to illuminate the area more effectively. He also suggested installing new lighting on the Willow Street side of the park to help illuminate that busy area as well by the Jordan Boys & Girls Club and the Al Huda Society Mosque.
In the original scope, the City received a state grant for $400,000 and contributed $170,000 to the project through the City Capital Improvement Plan.
He called for the Council to tap into the $34 million Free Cash fund.
The full expenditure will now be $800,000.
The Council filed the request and will take it up for a second reading at Monday’s meeting.
Valedictorian Ashley Salazar (left) stands beside Salutatorian Tracey Flores at Chelsea High School this week. The duo will lead the Class of 2017 into Graduation Exercises on Sunday, June 11, at the high school.
Both Ashley Salazar and Tracey Flores have become accustomed to being side by side – starting out together in kindergarten at the Early Learning Center (ELC) and finishing up neck and neck for the top two spots in the class at Chelsea High School (CHS).
On Monday, June 5, CHS revealed that Salazar was the Valedictorian and Flores was the Salutatorian of the Class of 2017, sending a shock to both girls who didn’t expect the honors. “I was completely shocked,” said Salazar. “My parents were sobbing.”
Salazar, 17, went to elementary at the Kelly School and then to the Wright Middle School before coming to CHS. In the fall, she said she will be attending Cornell University in Ithaca, NY to study food sciences.
“My sister is a nutritionist at the MGH so I always had that as an influence in my life,” she said. “Growing up in Chelsea, I was always known as a health freak to everyone. I’m the one who checks all the nutrition information labels and tells people we shouldn’t be eating these things. I knew I wanted to do something around food. I also knew I wanted to do something in high school that involved the sciences. I decided I should just combine the two.”
Salazar said she was first introduced to Cornell though a program called Newton Scholars that she participated in early in her high school years. However, her main inspiration was teacher Matthew LaBranch, who taught her to be authentic. She said he teaches desktop publishing at CHS, which she has no interest in, but the character lesson was the thing that stuck with her.
“He taught a subject I’m not interested in , but he always preached to us about being your real authentic self. He made me realize that we control our own destinies. I needed to hear that because I’m reserved. When you hear that message in the back of your head it helps you to keep going and take more risks.”
Salazar, 17, said she wasn’t able to participate in extra-curricular activities because she was busy taking care of extended family at her home.
She said she was worried that would hurt her college process and acceptance, but after explaining her situation, it wasn’t held against her.
“It all worked out,” she said.
Flores, also 17, said she has worked really hard to be second in the class, and credited others with giving her the confidence to work harder so that she can achieve the success.
“I was always very quiet and I”m not confident in my intelligence at all,” she said. “Mr. (Wes) Peacock taught me to believe in myself and have confidence…My mom was very proud. She sees me stay up late and doing my homework. I don’t have the natural talent for academics, so I try to work even harder. I put in the time and worked really hard for this.”
Flores plans to attend Tufts University this fall, and will major in biochemistry with the idea of becoming a doctor. She said her two siblings have autism, so growing up she was always going to appointments with them. Then, two years ago, her father passed away. That was followed by her mother developing cancer, which was caught early and eliminated.
Those experiences, she said, gave her an appreciation for those in the medical field, and impressed upon her to go in that direction.
“I don’t want anyone to have to watch someone die of cancer,” she said. “I wanted to do something with my life that makes a difference for others so that they don’t go through what I went through.”
She also credited Teacher Ilana Asher with influencing her at CHS.
“She’s like my high school mom,” she said. “She helped me with the college application process and my essays. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
Flores participated in the Mock Trial, Girls Track, the ALS Walk, InterAct, National Honor Society and Girls 101.
Salazar is the daughter of Julio and Giselle Salazar.
Flores is the daughter Ruth Flores and the late Carlos Flores.
CHS girls capture CAC track title; Martine Simon is named meet MVP
The Chelsea High girls track team scored a dominating 154 points — a total that was more than the second (Essex Tech with 97 points) and third-place (Shawsheen Tech with 54 points) schools combined — to capture the 2017 championship of the Commonwealth Athletic Conference in a meet held Saturday at Shawsheen Tech.
Martine Simon was named the Meet MVP in recognition of her three CAC title-winning performances in the 100 meter dash (12.96), 200 dash (26.72), and the long jump (15’-10”). In addition, Martine took third in the triple jump with a distance of 33’-5”.
To put her feat into perspective, Martine’s total of 36 points for the Lady Red Devils was more than what half the other teams at the meet scored.
Senior Sylvia Agywaa was another standout for Chelsea. Sylvia took first in both the high hurdles (16.20, a new meet and CHS school record) and the low hurdles (1:11.86).
“Sylvia has had an amazing season and is getting stronger heading into next week’s state meet,” said CHS head coach Mark Martineau.
Sophomore Amanda Dias continued her winning ways, taking first place in the two mile and adding a third in the one mile for 16 points.
Fellow sophomore Jocelyn Poste enjoyed a fine day, taking second places in the 800 (2:36.39) and the 400 hurdles (1:13.19) to post 16 points in the Chelsea column.
Senior Owliyo Mohamud took second in the 400 in a personal record (PR) time of 1:01.48 and third in the 200m (27.75). Freshman Stephanie Simon also turned in a splendid day, grabbing second in the high jump with a PR leap of 5’-0”.
The throwing events continued to be a strength for Chelsea. The Lady Red Devils took second, third, and fourth places in the shotput, led by Alex Martinez and Michena Eugene.
Chelsea also grabbed three places in the discus with Masireh Ceesay taking second (87’-7”), Tracy Flores third (81’-0”), and Jessica Martinez fifth (77’-2”).
“This was a great way to cap off a record-setting season for this girls’ squad,” said Martineau. “This is an amazing and special group of girls. Graduation will hit us hard on the track and in terms of leadership. We will be looking for new girls to step up and continue the winning ways.”
The 2017 crown mark the second straight CAC Meet title and the third straight undefeated duial-meet season for the CHS girls.
“The graduating seniors will have finished their career with a record of 40 wins, one loss, and one tie,” added Martineau. “Not bad for four years of work.”
CHS boys take second at CAC; LeClerc named MVP
The Chelsea High boys track & field team turned in a superb performance, scoring 78 points to place second, behind only Shawsheen Tech, at Saturday’s Commonwealth Athletic Conference championship meet.
“This was an amazing day,” said CHS head coach Mark Matineau. “What makes this accomplishment really amazing is the fact that we only had 12 individual boys compete at this meet.”
Leading the way of Chelsea was league MVP Jose Leclerc, who won a tough double, taking the two-mile (10:45) as well as the 800 (2:09).
“Jose has been undefeated in both events this year and had to be really focused and disciplined to pull off the tough double in a big meet like this one,” said Martineau.
Adriel Cedano also had a big day, winning the 400m (52.53) and finishing second in the triple jump with a new CHS school record jump of 41’-4”. The old record had stood since 1973.
Nick Ieng had a big points-day, finishing fourth in the 100 (11.6), third in the shotput, third in the javelin, and fourth in the 200m.
“Nick’s performance sums up the story of this team — kids working really hard, competing in multiple events, and leaving it all out on the track,” noted Martineau. “I can honestly say that this is one of the toughest squads ever to come through our program. They refuse to quit or give in. Like the girls, the boys will graduate much of their leadership and points. We have a strong young distance core that is progressing well, we will need to fill some sprints and jumps to round out this team.”
This Saturday the girls and boys travel to the MIAA D2 state championships at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School.
“With 10 girls and six boys going, this looks to be the biggest squad we have ever brought,” said Martineau.
CHS baseball team ready to wrap up 2017
The Chelsea High baseball team was set to conclude its 2017 campaign this week. Coach Alan Beausoleil’s Red Devils were scheduled to play at Essex Tech this past Tuesday and will play their season finale today (Thursday) against Whittier Tech at Carter Park.
The CHS squad dropped both of its contests this past week, falling to Greater Lawrence, 10-0, and to St. Clement’s, 11-5.
In the latter contest, Luis Jimenez had a hit, stole three bases, and scored a run. Andrew Falcon banged a double for an RBI and drew a base-on-balls.
Chelsea had closed to within 7-5 by the middle of the sixth inning, but St. Clem’s pulled away with four markers in the bottom of the sixth.
Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters on Everett Avenue gives a free haircut to Adin Bahan during a special event at the Boys & Girls Club on Monday. Rodriguez and Councillors Yamir Rodriguez and Damali Vidot worked together to start the event this year and hope to make the free haircut day a fixture of Back to School in Chelsea.
The costs of getting kids back to school is a tough bill to pay for parents, and many parents are in situations where they cannot afford all the things that kids need.
In those times, they must pick and choose what kids go back with on their first day.
And often, when it comes down to new shoes or a haircut, the sneaks win out most years.
This year, though, many parents didn’t have to worry about that decision as five local barbers corralled by Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters, and organized by City Councillors Yamir Rodriguez and Damali Vidot, set up shop in the gym of the Boys & Girls Club on Monday for many hours and gave free haircuts to Chelsea kids just before the first day of school, kids who might otherwise go back to school not looking their very best.
“When I was going to school here in Chelsea, I didn’t have much money for a haircut, so I know what it feels like on the first day of school,” said Luis Rodriguez of Blade Masters on Everett Avenue, a 2015 Chelsea High School graduate. “I’m licensed and I can do this and I wanted to give back to these kids and to the community. I know how they feel and it feels good that I can give back by giving free haircuts. It can be tough for parents in Chelsea to pay for everything. This is one less thing, and I’m glad I can do it.”
Councillor Rodriguez said Luis Rodriguez had been a student at Chelsea High School when he was coaching on the basketball team. The two got to know each other well back then, and last spring, Luis Rodriguez said he wanted to do free haircuts.
“He wanted to give back somehow and had this idea to give free haircuts before school started,” said Councillor Rodriguez. “I told him it was a great idea and we got on the phone and got a couple of barbers to join us and help out. We always talked about helping out in the city and this was one very good way…It’s something Luis can do and it’s something that we know some kids cannot afford.”
On Monday, at least four, sometimes five, barbers were hard at work in the gym cutting hair for one kid after another. All of the barbers were local and said they were really glad to give back to the community and remembered going back to school every year with a fresh haircut on the first day.
Councillor Damali Vidot said it’s something that a lot of people don’t think about, but something that really helps parents who are trying to get kids ready for school.
“This is something we know helps the kids and these barbers wanted to give back and they’re all from Chelsea,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for everyone.”
Councillor Rodriguez said next year they will continue the effort and perhaps do more advance planning to make it a bigger event and to help more people.
“We do plan on making it a yearly event and next year we’ll make it bigger and maybe try to tie it to the Williams School celebration,” he said.