Lakeland High School and
Walter Panas High School
Lakeland Central School District graduates can be found in a wide variety of occupations throughout multiple geographic areas. On this page, we will be highlighting some of those graduates while providing a glimpse into their lives after graduating from Walter Panas or Lakeland high school.
Visit our Alumni in Action Digital Magazine, it highlights more Alumni and their stories. If you are a Lakeland High School or Walter Panas graduate, please share your story with us.
He has a thriving personal training business and a shiny new Guinness World Record. If it sounds like Christopher Spell is on top of the world, well, he would simply tell you that he is “just on the top of the box.”
That box would be the 67-inch-high surface that he jumped onto and rose to a standing position, all on his own power and without the use of his hands. That feat, accomplished at a gym in Shrub Oak on Feb. 7, earned him the Guinness World Record for highest standing jump.
This was the second time that Spell, a 2013 Walter Panas High School graduate, set the record. He first earned the record in 2019 with a 64.3-inch jump, but it was snatched away within weeks with a 65-inch jump, leaving Spell with “a chip on my shoulder.” Winning it back was sweet relief.
“I felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders,” Spell, 25, of Cortlandt Manor, said in a recent interview. “I felt like I got a little bit of a piece of me back.”
“I’m definitely joyful that I have it,” Spell said. “It’s something that’s in that back pocket. I always will feel that joy until someone takes it from me, but even just the act of continuing to push the boundaries of what humans can do, that’s what it’s all about.”
At Walter Panas, Spell played football his junior and senior years as a wide receiver and went on to play Division III at Hartwick College for two years, and Division 1 at the University at Buffalo for two years. He graduated from Buffalo in 2017 with a degree in sociology.
He became a certified personal trainer and launched his in-home personal training business, Against Odds Athletics, last year as gyms were closed during the pandemic.
After college, the 5-foot-9-inch Spell stayed in Buffalo, employed as a youth soccer coach and personal trainer as he worked toward his dream of being drafted into the NFL. One day in 2019 he was at the gym performing box jumps and a small crowd gathered to watch his giant 5-foot leaps.
“One person shouted out, ‘That has to be a Guinness World Record. That’s amazing,’” Spell recalled, adding that he looked up the record and realized his jumps were not too far off.
“That person kind of sparked an interest,” he said. “It was, wait a minute. How cool would it be to say I’m the best in the world at something. Right then and there, I kept my sights on it. OK, I'm going to train to get this Guinness World Record.”
Back in Cortlandt Manor, he did just that in July 2019, after months of training and sacrifice.
He credits his years at Walter Panas with helping him reach these extraordinary heights. In addition to being a captain on the football team, he also ran track, competing in the long jump, the high jump, the triple jump and the 4x100 relay. In his senior year, he set the school record for the long jump at 22 feet, 4 inches.
His high school experience, he says, “gave me the opportunity to grow into a man.” It taught him about hard work, having patience and realizing that you need to work for what you want. He is grateful to his track coach, Ryan Johnson, for teaching him about the fundamentals of jumping.
“I had a great high school experience,” Spell said, adding that he was the kid who loved football. “I guess that still shows to this day, that athletic side of me is still going strong. My high school experience is exactly what it needed to be to be where I am now.”
For now, he is focused on building his business and large social media following with the hope of motivating people to realize their dreams. “My goal is to inspire people to get past that obstacle and achieve what they might not have thought was possible,” he said.
After all, jumping to new heights can be an apt metaphor for life.
“When you have this big obstacle that you have to somehow get on top of, and you keep on trying and then you bust up shins and you start bleeding, and then you get frustrated but then you re-evaluate it, you keep on trying, you bleed again, you keep on trying,” he said. “Eventually, you get on top and you can achieve your goals and you achieve greatness by just pushing through and continuing to believe in the process.”
Lakeland Alum is Hoping to Pitch His Way to the Top
Since graduating from Lakeland High School in 2011, Jonathan de Marte has played Division I college baseball, pitched in independent leagues across the United States and competed around the globe. He qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics with Israel, and last year signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs.
But the coronavirus pandemic put the career of this former high school standout on hold last year as the Tokyo Games were postponed and the minor league season was canceled.
Now, with spring training due to start soon for minor leaguers and the Summer Games back on (for now), de Marte is beyond ready to return to the mound.
“I feel really accomplished when I get to lay everything out and talk about the past and the ins and outs of my career that have helped me get there,” the right-handed pitcher says. “But I am very hungry for more.”
De Marte, 27, has dreamed of becoming a major leaguer since before he can remember, and now has an additional goal: winning an Olympic medal.
“Representing Israel on a world stage was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to do that again,” said de Marte, who was born and raised Jewish and gained Israeli citizenship, a point of intense pride, in 2018.
And he is grateful to be part of the storied Cubs organization. “But I’m very, very hungry and eager to get started and see what I’m capable of, and hopefully be at a higher level of minor league ball with the Cubs, and having a chance to be so close to the major leagues,” he said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to see where I stand against everybody else.”
His journey has been years in the making.
De Marte grew up in Yorktown Heights with his parents, Vinnie de Marte and Dorrie Derfler, and triplet siblings, Julie, Anthony and Matthew, who graduated from Lakeland in 2014. He began playing baseball around age 4 or 5 with the Shrub Oak Athletic Club.
He was a four-year varsity starter at Lakeland High School, and won a slew of major awards, including Gatorade New York Baseball Player of the Year in his junior and senior years.
De Marte remembers his time with the top-ranked Hornets fondly. “I would not trade my high school sports experience for anything in the world,” he said.
He credits his Lakeland coaches, Mike Robinson and Dennis Robinson, for motivating him to be the best player he could be. “I really learned what it meant to work hard and grind through the hard parts of a season, dealing with playing while you’re sore, playing while you’re tired and really just pushing through as best you possibly can because we’re doing what we love,” said de Marte, who also appreciated the support of Bill Casey, Joe Knapp and Matt Novak.
While he thought he might get drafted out of high school, de Marte played for the University of Richmond, where he earned a bachelor’s in communications and a master’s in human resources management. Serious injuries kept him off the field for his freshman and senior years and part of his junior year.
Again, he believed he could get drafted after college, but he played independent minor league ball instead. From 2017 to 2019, he played with the Normal CornBelters of Illinois, the York Revolution of Pennsylvania and the Quebec Capitales in Canada. During the winter of 2019-2020, he pitched in Australia’s major leagues for the Perth Heat.
After Australia, he flew to Israel in preparation for the Olympics, and on to Arizona for workouts with several teams ahead of spring training.
When he learned he would be getting an offer from the Cubs, he pulled over to the side of the road to take it all in and shed a few tears. “That was one of the most fulfilling sports moments of my life,” said de Marte, who signed on Feb. 26, 2020. “I never really lost the confidence that I had what it takes to play at that level.”
He is thankful for the strong foundation he gained at Lakeland, and for the sense of community and support from his coaches, teachers and teammates.
“I don’t think I would be at this point in my career if I was not a part of a district as strong as Lakeland in every way possible,” de Marte said. “It felt very special to put on the green and gold uniform every single day, as a ballplayer and a regular student. It was a collective group where teachers, faculty, staff and everybody involved clearly wanted all students to make the most out of their high school time by preparing for whatever was next and also enjoying everybody’s company while trying to become the best individuals that we can be.”
Joe Poandl - Lakeland High School Class of 1989
As a graduate of Lakeland High School (Class of 1989) to an employee of the Lakeland Central School District, Joe Poandl will always greet everyone with a friendly smile, is respectful to anyone who comes in contact with and takes pride of his work. “I am honored that my children attend the schools where I was lucky enough to receive my education too,” said Joe.
In all his positions, Joe has touched the lives of administrators, staff, students, and the community with his friendly personality and his positive attitude. He started his career in the district in 1994 as a night custodian at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School. In 2000, Joe moved to Walter Panas High School where he worked for eight years. In 2018, he began working for the Building and Grounds Department. Before Joe’s new position as Groundsman for the district, he worked as a custodian at Lakeland High School, bringing his excellent work ethic and interpersonal skills with him.
“The best thing that ever happened to me was I met my wife, Michelle, a Thomas Jefferson Elementary School third grade teacher while working at the school,” Joe says with great pride.
Joe makes a positive impact wherever he goes. These are just two of many quotes from graduates that knew him as a student. He says Lakeland is his second family, which is why he feels very close to the Lakeland community.
“Joe was one of the friendliest people in the Panas staff. He was always smiling and interested in our day-to-day lives and future plans. He is one of the genuine people that are hard to come by,” said Adrian Prodan, NYPD PO Highway 1, Class 2006.
“Whether it was 5:30 am when we arrived for training or 8:00 pm at a school function, Joey was all smiles. He was a huge part of the fabric of our day to day lives. He would ask us about our everyday pains and aspirations, colleges we are evaluating, and everything in between. His inquisitive, encouraging, energetic, and genuine nature shines through effortlessly with every interaction. Joey’s undeniable authenticity and sense of character are attributes that I admire,” Andrew Carcova, Enterprise Solutions Architect, Class 2006.
Retired teacher, Amy Penna-Walker, and Math teacher, Sally DiBartolo were teachers that had a vested interest in his success at Lakeland High School. Joe stated, “They were dedicated teachers that would help me in any way to succeed and raised my confidence, making me realize I could accomplish anything if I worked hard.” Lakeland High School teacher aide, Eli Brown, was another person who Joe remembers as always willing to help him. Retired Lakeland High School counselor, Henry Weitman, was someone who always gave him good advice.
“Joe was the student that teachers dream of - hardworking, polite, and dedicated. Lucky has the Lakeland Central School District been to have Joe return to the District as a member of staff. He continues to strive for success in each project he is involved in and truly makes Lakeland a special place to be,” Sally DiBartolo, Lakeland High School teacher.
In the fall, after school, you could find Joe on the football field getting ready for Saturday’s game. Joe loved being part of the team, building relationships, and knowing we were there for each other. You can still find Joe and his family at the games, but as a spectator and a dad watching his daughters cheer for the team. His wife, Michelle, coaches the cheerleading squad at Lakeland High School.
"Every morning, you can count on it that Joe will greet you with a smile and a handshake or a hug. He will ask you about you and your family, and when he does, it is evident that he truly means it. When he speaks about his family and his girls, he lights up as he speaks about their trips and accomplishments. Joe is respectful, responsible, hardworking, and caring. Wonderful traits to have in a fellow alum,” Chris Cumming, Lakeland High School Principal.
Today, we can find Joe in the District with his crew maintaining fields, pruning, planting, removing snow, maintain drainage systems, etc.
“I would like to say adding Joe to our grounds staff was probably one of the best staff changes we have ever made. He has been a tremendous asset. His work ethic is phenomenal; he will do whatever it takes to complete a job. His “can do” approach and a great attitude are infectious and have been great for morale, not only within the department but districtwide,” stated Chris McCartney, Assistant Director of Facilities.
The accolades from former students, administrators, teachers, and supervisors are a testimonial of Joe’s exemplary work throughout the District, and his approachable, friendly demeanor makes Joe an asset to the District.
Debbie Speedling - Walter Panas High School Class of 1983
Lincoln-Titus Elementary School (LTES) is very fortunate to have a caring and dedicated secretary, Debbie Speedling, who is a primary individual in the front office; she greets and assists students, staff, and the L-T community. Debbie can remember as a shy young child walking with her father down the hall to her kindergarten classroom at LTES. “My teacher, Mrs. Graham, and the staff were very kind to me, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t wait to begin my day at L-T,” Debbie remembers.
Since 2000 Debbie has been an important part of Lincoln-Titus. While the school’s main office can be a busy place, Debbie always makes everyone that enters her number one priority, and somehow, she gets her work done, too. “As an administrator in various districts throughout my career, I have worked with many support staff. Debbie is the best professional secretary a principal could ask for. She makes me strive to be a better principal and person.” said Elizabeth McGowan, LTES Principal.
Debbie’s K-12 education was in Lakeland schools and she is a graduate of Walter Panas High School, Class of 1983. She remembers her high school accounting teacher fondly, Mr. Piermarini, who inspired her to pursue a degree in accounting at Pace University. Ms. Schultz retired English teacher helped Debbie to become a better writer and to enjoy reading. A large part of her life is Lincoln-Titus Elementary School and the Lakeland Central School District.
Debbie and her husband, Gary, moved their young family to the Town of Cortlandt so her children could attend Lakeland schools. “I loved growing up in the Lakeland community and wanted my children, Stephanie and Steven, to have the same wonderful experiences and opportunities while receiving an excellent education,” said Debbie. Her daughter, Stephanie, who received a Masters in Elementary Education at Mercy College, is an L-T second grade teacher. Growing up, I always admired my mom’s hard work and dedication to Lincoln-Titus. I am happy to be able to work with her, and I try to bring the same work ethic into my teaching every day that she does. She is always there to help out when needed and has the answers to our questions,” Stephanie said.
A few years ago, a teacher’s son waited with Debbie until his dad completed his day. While he was waiting, Debbie would help him pass the time by finding him things to do like make paper clip necklaces for his sisters. Recently, he visited Debbie and thanked her for being so nice and spending time with him.
"The L-T PTA is so very grateful to have Mrs. Speedling as a part of our school community. Her dedication and commitment to our school are unsurpassed. She is the voice and smiling face of LTES. Whether she is assisting students, parents, teachers, staff, or anyone, Mrs. Speedling gives a smile and isn’t satisfied with her effort until the job is done. She goes more than the extra mile; she puts her heart into every student she helps, and every person who relies on her expertise,” commented Benedetta Mazzanti and Carolyn Maykut, PTA Co-Presidents.
"Since the first phone call I received from Debbie for my interview, I could tell from her tone and kind words that L-T was the place for me. She welcomed me in and always has looked out for me. For that, I am truly grateful. Debbie is one of the important pieces to our Lincoln- Titus puzzle," Megan Quinn, Instructional Coach commented.
It might be Debbie’s job, but she feels like LTES is her second home, she enjoys helping the staff to make their day a little easier and watching the students flourish while at Lincoln-Titus.