In the winter of 1997, Lila Picozzi and Maura Regan had been elected as co-presidents of the Shelter Island High School Student Council, and wanted their group to leave a significant gift to the school.
Both girls were on the track team I was coaching, and felt it would be nice to replace an old Universal Gym system that was all the school had for athletes to work out on. It was located in a 12-foot-by-12-foot storage room at the south end of the gym. Lila and Maura had looked into the cost and found it to be around $3,500, but had been told by teachers and other adults that figure was too ambitious.
We discussed it after track practice one afternoon. They came away dreaming of building an entire workout room onto the school with multiple cardio and strength stations. After several meetings, the cost was estimated at $125,000.
In one of the meetings, we were informed that Jim Read and Chuck Kraus had already begun raising money for public tennis courts, and Dave Clark, Jay Card, Chuck and Ken Kraus were developing plans for new Little League fields.
The three groups joined forces to form Project FIT (Fitness Center, Improved Ball Fields and Tennis Courts). Michael Coles was asked to chair our fundraising committee. We met at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club for lunch with Michael and he informed us that his wife Joan had already told him he would support the students in this; he had no choice.
They hosted our first fundraiser at their beautiful home in Hay Beach. Maura and Lila made the appeal for help and knocked it out of the park. They were poised, articulate, knew their subject, the costs and the need. It was an amazing presentation. Over $100,000 was raised that evening.
School Board President Bob Reylek, School Superintendent Lydia Axelrod and Town Supervisor Hoot Sherman were all present and on board. They, with the FIT Committee, presented the concept to community groups and private donors. Fundraising events were held and by October of that year $285,000 was raised in donations and pledges.
Bob Reylek and James Eklund oversaw the construction. Tens of thousands of dollars of in-kind donations were added to the cash donations by contractors and citizens to help construct the 25-foot-by-50-foot Center. The Center, tennis courts and the two Little League fields were all constructed with no tax dollars. There was enough money raised to add the construction of the girl’s softball field on the upper level behind the school building.
The Little League fields were constructed on Fiske Field and the tennis courts on the eastern school property. Fiske Field was named then as the result of a generous donation by the Fiske family toward Project FIT.
A contract was created between the Town and the school to provide support services for all the facilities to ensure the equipment and fields were maintained and cleaned on a regular basis.
The FIT Committee Members were:
Co-Chairs Lila Picozzi and Maura Regan
Fundraising Chairs Michael and Joan Coles
Community Coordinators Jim Read and Cliff Clark
Little League: Jay Card, Ken Kraus, Chuck Kraus, David Clark
Tennis: Jim Read and Chuck Kraus
Construction: Bob Reylek and James Eklund
Fundraising Advisor: Mel Mendelssohn
Finances: Kay Devlin Degnan
School Superintendent Lydia Axelrod
Town Supervisor Hoot Sherman
Recreation Director Garth Griffin .