On Friday, March 11th, at Frank A. Berry Elementary School, the famous Bethel Sharks Skipper and Sharkira received a proclamation for their efforts to uplift the Town of Bethel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many know the Bethel Sharks from surprise encounters around town and the Facebook group created by The Bethel Grapevine’s founder, Hannah Lipman, which is what ultimately inspired the Grapevine’s creation. The Sharks are celebrities in town, always bringing a smile to everyone’s faces. To see the video of the proclamation event go here.
Berry’s second-grade class was in attendance, and Superintendent Dr. Christine Carver and Principal Danielle Legnard conducted the opening ceremony. First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and State Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan presented the proclamation to the Sharks. After the introductions, Skipper and Sharkira entered the gymnasium and the entire room erupted with excitement and applause. The Bethel Sharks received a warm welcome from everyone. Dr. Carver introduced the Sharks and recognized how they helped during COVID. She said, “They were there at graduation, the immunization clinics, and helped give out meals.” Mr. Brennan said a few words about how the Sharks had a positive impact on him and added, “They lifted our spirits during some of the darkest times.” Mr. Knickerbocker presented the proclamation and read it to all in attendance. Dr. Carver read the Sharks’ acceptance speech in which they said, “We thank you, Bethel, for this tremendous honor.” To end the ceremony, Maureen DuBlois, the music teacher, played her guitar and led the second graders in singing the school song. The Sharks danced along to the melody and the kids were mesmerized by their presence. The Sharks are truly a wonderful asset to our town and have such a positive influence on everyone.
Now, hold onto your [beach] chairs and get out of the water because the biggest “shark attack” yet is coming: the Bethel Grapevine has been given the exclusive honor to reveal all of the people behind the Shark costumes…What we’ve all wondered about for almost two years will finally be answered…
The face behind Skipper is…Kyle Stejskal!
And the face behind Sharkira is…Laurel Stejskal!
Additionally, you might remember seeing Grandma and Grandpa Shark around town, too. Grandma Shark has revealed her identity to us as…Allison Rodriguez-Brown!
Grandpa Shark has revealed his identity to us as... Jillian Paulin!
The Bethel Shark phenomenon all began as a small idea that Kyle had while he was sitting at home during virtual school in April 2020. He was a junior at Bethel High School. He decided it would be funny if he took his dog for a walk in his neighborhood wearing a silly costume. Audrey Stejskal, mom of Kyle and Laurel, said, "It was hysterical. The neighbors got a huge kick out of it. Kyle thought of getting a variety of costumes; the ghost from Ghostbusters or a dinosaur, but settled on the shark costume. After being a shark was a huge success in the neighborhood, he thought that maybe he could go bigger. He got his sister involved, who was a freshman at Naugatuck Valley Community College at the time, and the two of them went downtown. People honked, yelled out their car windows, and gave them thumbs up.”
It was a huge hit. Soon, all kinds of shark swag was sold: t-shirts, car magnets, backpacks, plushies, and face masks, too, sewn by Dorothy De Nigris. All of the profits from the merchandise were donated to the Bethel Food pantry helping those in need during the pandemic which totaled over $7000.00! Audrey continued, “So many people helped the Sharks without even knowing who they were. We probably went a solid five months before some people started to figure it out, but they were kind to keep it to themselves because to this day, not a lot of people know who they are. The mystery of their identities added to the fun.”
After quarantine ended and social gatherings were reintroduced, the Sharks’ presence became highly requested; they visited birthday parties, retirement parties, graduation parties, anniversaries, and nursing homes. The Stejskal siblings were fully booked! Audrey said, “We were always going ‘Sharking,’ as we like to call it. We became masters at it, and it was so much fun. I would drop the kids off a block or two away from where they were visiting so they could suit up without being recognized. They had to start wearing disguises underneath the suits.” Kyle and Laurel would wear backpacks inside the inflatable suits and they were able to drink and eat inside in between “Shark Attacks.”
A naming contest was held in the “Bethel Shark Sighting” Facebook group. One of the parameters was that the names had to begin with the letter “S.” It was intended that way because of Kyle and Laurel’s last name, however, people thought it was because of the word shark. “It was our little hint at who they might be inside the costumes, but no one really caught on!” Audrey added.
Aside from The Bethel Sharks, you might recognize Kyle and Laurel Stejskal from their community service in Bethel. Laurel was a Girl Scout who designed and built two Little Free Libraries for her Gold Award. One of them looks like the Plumtrees School and is located in front of the Municipal Center and the other is a replica of the Methodist Church and is in front of the church on Greenwood Avenue. Kyle was a Boy Scout whose Eagle Scout Project was designing and building display cabinets for the Bethel Historical Society. He gathered several volunteers, and they painted the interior space and installed the cabinets.
The Stejskal siblings have done marvelous things for their community. Kyle is now studying architecture at Marywood University and Laurel transferred to the University of New Haven, where she studies Criminal Justice with a concentration in Forensic Science. Ironically, Kyle and Laurel are both lifeguards and swim instructors during the summer – there’s just no getting them out of the water! Their friend and Grandma Shark, Allison Rodriguez-Brown, is now studying Speech-Language Pathology at Southern Connecticut State University. She is bilingual and aspires to work with children who have special needs. Jillian Paulin, AKA Grandpa, is studying Astronomy/Physics at Colgate University and aspires to be an astrophysicist.
It is incredible how a small idea blossomed into a wonderful movement in our town. Anything is possible, and Kyle, Laurel, Allison, and Jillian showed us that. They brought out the generosity in people, as evidenced by the hundreds of people who donated to their cause and helped make their efforts a success. We wish the Sharks continued success in their endeavors. Thank you for your kindness and dedication to Bethel. You have made a huge difference in all of our lives.