By Rebecca Smoot
Westfield High School’s defending state-champion football team isn’t the only gridiron squad doing big things this year.
The town’s flag football league is taking the extracurricular scene by storm with 90 student participants. Eli Wirtshafter ’14 started the league in 2013. Now his younger brother, junior Joey Wirtshafter, has teamed up with senior Ethan Finver as commissioners and coaches.
The games take place on Sunday mornings at EIS from September until the championship game, held the day before Thanksgiving. The cost of participating for the season is $50. While some of that money goes to expenses such as team jerseys and weekly Sunday donuts, the rest is donated to the Special Olympics of New Jersey (SONJ). Over the three years that the league has been implemented, the donations have totaled upwards of $10,000 for SONJ.
Players of all grades are involved. This year, 90 students make up the 10 teams, the largest number of players the league has seen since it started. Seven teams are coached by a WHS varsity football player while the other three are coached by flag-football participants, including Wirtshafter and Finver.
Finver believes that the league has gained so much popularity because “it is a chance for the kids who don’t or can’t play tackle football to still play the sport they love. PAL Flag Football ends before you get to high school, so this league gives kids who have aged out of that league a chance to play again.”
A big draw to flag football is the chance to enjoy playing at a more relaxed pace. “Flag football has become such a big deal I think because it’s like a structured game of pickup football,” senior Phil Dwyer said.
Although there are no practices, the games are taken seriously. Intense competition and friendly rivalries are brought to the field, but the meaning of why they are playing football is not lost. Dwyer said, “All my friends play, which makes it fun. But the fact that all the money goes to the Special Olympics fund makes it even better.”
It may be all fun and games every Sunday morning, but the league is really about something bigger—a chance to give back to the greater Westfield community. While everyone’s eyes may be on the defending state champions, the flag football team deserves recognition, too.
by Ben Halevy
On July 27, rising WHS senior Ezra Kennedy passed away in a hiking accident in the Catskills at the age of 17. Growing up in Westfield, Ezra was a student, a teammate and, most importantly, a friend. Ezra played for the Westfield Ultimate Frisbee team for six years, played cello in the WHS orchestra programs for seven years, was a black belt in tae kwon do, and wrestled in middle school. Ezra was a family man; he often went on family vacations to the beach with his grandparents, aunts and uncles and served as an outstanding mentor to his younger brother, Wesley. The Hi’s Eye Staff would like to send its condolences to Ezra’s parents, Ms. Donna Kennedy and Mr. Kevin Kennedy, and are proud to honor his life through a collection of memories gathered from the WHS community.
Friends and Family Describe Ezra
Mr. Ryan Belline, Ultimate Frisbee head coach
“He really had a high spirit on our team. He brought a lot of energy, and he was one of our hardest workers.”
Mrs. Donna Kennedy
“If someone came off the field because they got hurt or missed a play, he would be the guy to put his arm around them and tell him that they’ll ‘get ‘em next time.’”
Mr. Anthony Nunez, Ultimate Frisbee coach
“[The frisbee team] won states last year, and they were focused on winning states this year. This year is an even more focused year because they want to honor his memory in the best way they possibly can.
Cole Feltman, WHS ‘17
“Ezra was one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever gotten to play with.”
Mr. Kevin Kennedy
“In wrestling, after winning or losing, he would always go and shake the other coach’s hand and shake his opponent’s hand.”
Jack Liebling, WHS ‘17
“He’d be happy to discuss and offer whatever knowledge he had, which was often very much, and that’s something I’ve really missed.”
Jackson Poindexter, WHS ‘16
“On my first couple of weeks of playing frisbee, nobody was really talking to me and I wasn’t really enjoying myself, and Ezra was one of the first people to make an effort to talk to me and get to know me”
Mr. Craig Stanton, WHS Orchestra director
“He was really funny. He was that kind of student that the kids and teachers thought he was funny.... He never had a bad word to say about anybody.”
Jacob Davis, WHS ‘17
“Ezra was my best friend since kindergarten; he was the first person I really became friends with. Throughout middle school and high school, I was really close with him the whole time. Life is definitely going to be really different without him.”
Memories of Ezra
Mr. Victor Alfonso, Tamaques School fifth-grade teacher
“He had a nice, pure heart, and he had this sense of right and wrong, and I remember him getting very frustrated and coming to tears one day. Here you have one of the biggest kids in the class, but yet he’s showing off a sensitive side to him. It’s just one of those things... I’ll always remember.”
Trevor Koleszarik, WHS ‘17
“When I first moved here in seventh grade, I obviously didn’t know anyone on the first day of school. I had history and I was sitting alone while everyone was with their friends. Then, Ezra walked in and sat at my table...He made me feel really welcome and he was one of my first friends here in Westfield”
Ms. Beverly Torok, Physical Education teacher
“There was a student in our class who was very nervous about climbing, and this student would stay and do his climbing after class, and Ezra was always the one who would stay after class and help the student emotionally and would be there for his support…. I don’t think he had a strong relationship with this person; he just wanted to help.”
Kevin Tsui, WHS ‘17
“One time in elementary school, Ezra’s parents took some of his friends to Arirang for his birthday. They do this special thing there where a chef comes out if it’s your birthday and celebrates with you, and what was funny about that moment with Ezra was that they thought it was my birthday instead of his. So when you look at the picture, you see the chefs raising my hands, with Ezra all the way over to the side like ‘What just happened?’
Ms. Donna Kennedy
“We really wanted it to be a celebration and I think that we accomplished that. Everyone coming together to talk about the memories they had about him and all supporting one another, especially for the team..We didn’t want it to be a downer. Ezra wouldn’t have wanted that.”
Jacob Davis, WHS ‘17
“I thought the memorial was a great way to honor his life. I don’t think a typical funeral would be the type of thing that Ezra would have liked.”