By Luke Pepper
Torrington, Connecticut. A town that has been called down and out and past it’s prime for so many years. Those who make those statements don’t understand the great community that resides within this town’s borders. Being born at Charlotte Hungerford in 1995 and subsequently being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, nothing means more to me, than this town. For over a decade, our teachers, business owners, and residents rallied, bringing awareness to the disease that most knew little about. They came together to support a child and a charity, making this little town a guiding light for those who suffered from this disease. This town and this community have something that so many others are missing, heart.
Growing up, I first attended Torringford School, right up the road from my childhood home. I can distinctly remember the overwhelming anxiety that plagued me at such a young age. I was terrified of being in school. Being away from home and with a group of strangers was too much, and the first three days I spent sick to my stomach. My first-grade teacher, Miss Hague though, greeted me each day with open arms, helping me get through class. She was truly the one that solidified what I wanted to do in life, teach. The lessons she taught were far more then math or reading, they were the basis of becoming a good person. She was the most influential educator in my life and was the epitome of what Torrington stood for, love and support.
Second, third, fourth and fifth grades flew by, each day strengthening the truth that this community is unlike any other. During my brief stays in the hospitals and the challenges of having IV therapy while being an elementary student, my teachers never wavered. They were always the ones to step up and be the first to help whenever it was needed. The students were also unlike any other. They were accepting. Seeing another student go through challenges and assisting where needed was humbling. They truly wanted what was best for their classmate.
Middle school came with its own set of challenges. Not only did I have to contend with the changing of classes, making of new friends, and my routine of medications and appointments, but I had to deal with the embarrassment of my father being the legendary physical education teacher he thought he was. A day would not pass without a fellow student telling some story of him making the class laugh. Little did I know, his antics could never be escaped. Years later, in college, people would still approach me telling stories of the nicknames he gave them or the hilarious things he would do in class. I had learned just to smile and laugh, even though it’s still embarrassing to this day.
Middle school came and went, and through it all, Torrington showed its true colors of support and care. Community leaders, principals, and teacher each came together to support my journey. Each day, these committed individuals would establish environments of growth and care, providing opportunities for not only me and my battle, but my peers and each of their own struggles. While I poke fun at what my father would do, it is the teachers like him that make us different. That heart and passion he had, was the same charge that so many others continue to have today.
Following middle school, I made the choice to join my brother and attend Oliver Wolcott Tech, “the school across the street.” By this time, I knew that I needed a change. While Torrington High School provided great opportunity, I was looking for something else and as added benefit, they also had a boys’ volleyball program. Being the family sport, with my mother having played in college and my brother eventually going on the become an All American, I had to play. This venture into athletics was when I first found my stride. On top of academics, shop, working, and sports, I knew I always had to stay busy and push myself outside of my comfort zone. The rigor of the school’s programming and the need to stay on top of assignments while also constantly promoting strong work ethic and applying yourself, gave me an edge. These skills learned in school bleed right into our volleyball program and our team, my senior year, went to the Final Four in the State Tournament. We finished out the year as one best teams in school history but beyond this achievement, all of those I played with, showed that same heart that is apparent throughout this community.
Fast forward to today, and Litchfield County Sports. I had made the choice after college, to move back to the town that supported me through everything. My work wasn’t done, and it was now my time to provide the same opportunities to others that this town had given me. I began a teaching position at Torrington Middle School and shortly thereafter, my phone rang. Word had gotten back to Tim Gaffney that I was in the area and alongside teaching, was beginning a budding career in the visual media realm. Our conversations were brief at first, catching up, discussing life and how things have been, but quickly they turned to talking about this community. It had been his dream to start a magazine focused on those great young athletes and positive stories that he knew came right from this county. While sports were always a passion of his, his true passion was the people. He was ready to change the game and give them their own platform.
I first met Tim Gaffney many years ago, as he helped lead the charge for awareness. Just as he has done countless times since, he pushed forth, using his platform of positivity to bring light to a cause. He always led with a smile and showed so much respect for those he spoke with and supported. His energy was palpable and with him providing the wind in the sails, this community gave support again and again. I agreed to join him on this journey.
Our projects started small, a few cover shots for a monthly magazine. He would send me the contact information for the shoot and help coordinate, and he gave me a shot. As time passed, the challenges grew. From a few assignments to now multiple magazines featuring everything from athletics, music, students, and teachers, it is a great blessing to be a part of a progressive moment of positivity. He has given a voice to the people of this town and through this platform has brought about incredible change, giving the most important part of this community, heart, a platform.
Outside of Litchfield County Sports, I am currently working at Torrington High School teaching in the tech ed department, covering course such as photography and drones. My business, Luke Pepper Creative, LLC focuses on producing high quality content for small to medium sized businesses. Last year, it doubled in size and now work with companies across the Northeast. I am heavily involved in dirt modified racing at Lebanon Valley, New York and when I have a free moment, I still enjoy getting together with my family who have all remained close. My mother, Claire, works down the hall from me at THS, my father, Jim, still coaches and teaches at TMS, and my brother, Lance, is an incredibly talented teacher and coach in Bristol.