North Stonington - When the school board gave Todd Rapoport an award at a recent meeting, Wheeler High School Principal Steve Bickford stood to tell board and audience members about the graduating senior's achievements.
Bickford needed a list to keep everything straight.
Four-time class president. Captain of the basketball and golf teams. National Honor Society member. Middle school tutor. Volunteer basketball coach. Barbecue-sauce creator.
”I think they all feel too much pressure to live up to being a Todd,” said business teacher Linda Farinha, who has taught Rapoport for four years, of other students she teaches. She and others noted that Rapoport is respectful to elders and excels at cultivating a sense of inclusiveness among his classmates.
”He's very outgoing, very comfortable with different age ranges of people and types of people,” Farinha said.
Or as Rapoport's mother, Cathy Rapoport, puts it: “He's very easy to parent.”
Rapoport, 18, is overscheduled - but not overwhelmed - between school, extracurriculars and fitting his favorite activity, basketball, into a part of every day. He loves the sport because it's never repetitious or dull, he said.
”You're involved in everything in the game. You're playing defense; you're playing offense,” he said. Players work with different teammates and encounter unique situations every moment.
Basketball is Rapoport's life in game form.
Rapoport enjoys the uncertainty so much that he plans to open his own business after college. With this future goal in mind, his mandatory senior-year project paired him with a local restaurateur. The result was “The Creation of a Signature Barbeque Sauce.”
The Wheeler senior project, in its first year, required students to create their own independent projects that included working closely with faculty and community mentors as well as writing a paper and making a presentation.
Rapoport worked with Jon Kodama, a North Stonington resident who runs five area restaurants, including Steak Loft in Mystic. They dreamed up a project in which Rapoport explored people's barbecue-sauce taste preferences with a goal toward making a sauce to use at Steak Loft.
”What I told him was if he came up with a good sauce, we would produce it, or have it produced,” Kodama said. “I don't know about commercially successful, but it would be successful in terms of people being interested in it,” he said, as “a lot of people are interested in local products.”
Without prior cooking experience, Rapoport mixed, combined and tested in his mother's kitchen. He surveyed the Wheeler High School/Middle School faculty to learn their favorite brands and flavor combinations. He even held a taste-test session at Steak Loft in the winter that drew 16 teachers to test 15 of his concoctions.
”They might have had palate fatigue by the end, but they seemed to be having a good time,” Kodama said.
Rapoport was enjoying the experience too. He is entering Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall, where he was recruited to play on the basketball team. He hopes to major in management engineering before starting his own business.
Perhaps he'll begin with barbecue sauce. The senior project is over, but Rapoport continues tinkering with his recipe, trying to recreate the whole thing without using any existing brands in the ingredients. When he finds his flavor, he already has a name selected: “Sweety Todd's BBQ."