Old Lyme — They are known as the Koski boys. They are also referred to as the Koski posse, a group of students who follow the lead of the Pied Piper of Lyme-Old Lyme High School, Ben Koski.
Trace the roots of just about any big project at the high school, and it almost inevitably leads back to the Koski posse. Trace the posse's actions, and they almost inevitably lead back to its namesake.
“Ben comes up with most of the brilliant ideas,” said posse member Tim Powaleny, “and we follow along and do it.”
There are some who envision Koski's influence as one day stretching far beyond the linoleum hallways of the high school.
“You know Turner Broadcasting?” said Jay Wilson, director of bands. “It's going to be Koski Broadcasting.”
Benjamin Koski will graduate as the 2002 valedictorian and attend Haverford College in the fall, but that hardly conveys what makes him special to those who know him. Instead, they said, Koski's distinguishing mark is his leadership ability.
“I think the greatest thing I could say about Ben is that he has made the district a better place,” said Superintendent David Klein. “And he has this unique ability to make everything he's involved with better and everybody around him better.”
As a sophomore, Koski looked at the closed-circuit televisions around the school and pictured something more than blue screens telling time with the occasional Weather Channel or CNN included. He saw a storage room in the library and imagined a television studio.
“There was just this great capability and no one was doing anything with it,” said Koski, who lives in Old Lyme with his parents, Raymond and Barbara, and his younger brother, Tom.
Two years later, the storage closet has been transformed. Three teams of students rotate morning shifts, broadcasting live announcements and news to the homerooms. There is an official anchor desk, a slew of cameras, soundboard and various monitors and computers.
More than 40 students work as producers, camera operators, news and sports anchors. The studio is as official looking as at any high school and many colleges. The start-up effort involved teachers, administrators, different departments, students — and a lot of time management, delegation and visionary skills by Koski.
“He has the leadership characteristics of somebody who's a CEO of a major corporation,” said Principal David Harriger. “He has it. I don't know if he knows he has it.”
Koski's second most brilliant moment at the high school may have been in taking over the Lyme Street Journal, the school's newspaper. In his freshman year, it could hardly be called a newspaper. It was four pages, photocopied, and “Journal” was once spelled wrong.
In his sophomore year, Koski established an editorial board, which he has headed. In just a couple of years, the newspaper has developed into an award-winning publication that comes out four or five times a year, printed on real newsprint.
“His goal always for the newspaper was to get a national award, which I frankly didn't see as possible,” said Powaleny, the head of ad sales and also a co-producer at the TV studio. “But we were finalists for one, which I find amazing.”
The award to which Powaleny was referring is the Pacemaker Award from the National Scholastic Press Association. The Lyme Street Journal placed in the Top 40 papers in the contest. The newspaper has also won awards for page design, editorial illustration, and news writing.
“That's a big deal for us,” Koski said. “That's really been a validation for what we've done.”
Koski's impact has been felt beyond the television studio and student newspaper. He was the one to learn how to use the new computerized lighting system in the auditorium. He created the labels and the covers for the CDs that are burned after band concerts, and he did the sound for the musicals.
“People hire out for that,” Wilson said. “All we do is rent the equipment and he runs it and does it, and it's better than a lot of people who you pay the money.”
Wilson was so impressed and grateful that he created an award named after Koski. Beginning this year, the Ben Koski Service Award will go to a student who exemplifies leadership and determination.
“What he basically did is going to take about 10 people to do,” Wilson said. “We're going to know he's not here. Things are not going to just flow. ... He truly is a special person. And he's kind as can be. He's one of the gentle souls of the world.”