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Sewanhanka staff, students shave off beards for charity

Olimpia Nicholls, a cosmetology instructor at Sewanhaka High

Olimpia Nicholls, a cosmetology instructor at Sewanhaka High School, shaves teacher Mike Sakowich's head at the Sewanhaka High School 2012 Beard and Mustache Shave Off. (Dec. 19, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Anthony Vasquez, who works for the Village of Stewart Manor Department of Public Works, was climbing into a truck one day at the end of September when a man came up to him and yelled out, “Nice beard!”

Vasquez, 58, was accustomed to his thick, scraggly beard attracting attention -- both good and bad -- but not usually from complete strangers.

Then the man introduced himself as Robert Anderson, a teacher at Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, who was organizing a “Shave Off” to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

He was in the midst of handing out flyers about the event when he ran into Vasquez, who coincidentally has shaved off his beard habitually for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation over the past three years.

“He said, ‘I’ll take one of those flyers,’” Anderson said. “And then I have not seen or heard from him since.”

That is, until he showed up at the high school Wednesday afternoon for Sewanhaka’s 2012 Beard and Mustache Shave Off, where his beard fell to the floor in thick patches.

About 30 members of the faculty and students grew considerable beards and mustaches for the event and each donated $20 to get it shaved off, and some also raised money from outside donations. The high school’s cosmetology department also gave out manicures to involve the female students and staff.

TRIMZ Barber Shop in Freeport donated its time and staff for the event and set up shop on the stage in the high school auditorium.

Nick Montoni, 17, of Floral Park, described his first experience with a full beard as “having a rug on your face.” It came in handy, though, when people in school routinely mistook him for a teacher, he said.

“I knew I could grow one, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” he said of participating. “It’s pretty itchy, though.”

But still, when it was Montoni’s turn in the chair, he ended up leaving some of the facial hair intact -- as did many of the men participating. In place of the bushy beards on display at the beginning of the event, toward the end there were goatees, an attempt at handlebar mustaches, and mutton chops.

Social Studies teacher and football coach Mike Sakowich, 32, of New Hyde Park, had never had facial hair before, but grew a full beard and mustache for the event.

When he sat down in the chair, he opted to shave his head instead.

“I’ll leave this for now,” he said as he had his facial hair trimmed. “We’ll see what my wife and kids say.”

Anderson, 37, of Lynbrook, said Sewanhaka is a close-knit high school so he was pleased, but not surprised, that so many of his colleagues wanted to participate. Anderson got the idea for the event from a similar shave off he participates in on Coney Island every year, and chose the American Cancer Society as a recipient because his grandfather died of prostate cancer six years ago.

“They always see me coming in bushy and bearded,” he said, “and now it’s their turn.”

He said they had raised about $1,800 for the American Cancer Society and more donations were coming in throughout the event Wednesday.

Michael Buffalino, a teacher’s assistant from Mineola, also grew a beard for the first time for the event. He said he surprised himself by growing such a substantial beard. He even named it -- Beardy Beards-a-Lot -- although he hated it, as did his wife.

“I can’t wait to get it off,” he said as he waited in line.

Still, he was the first to ask Anderson whether the shave off would become an annual event.

“If we can get everyone involved,” Anderson said, “I’d love to keep doing it.”

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