The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 month ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

(Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham/Contributed)

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

241

Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Wheelchair Football League team comes to Alabama’s Lakeshore Foundation

(Reed Hoffmann/Move United)

Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation announced last week that it has been selected as an expansion team in the new USA Wheelchair Football League (USAWFL).

The Birmingham Hammers will play wheelchair football, a full-contact sport played by both men and women with a permanent disability.

While wheelchair football has been played for more than 20 years across the country, a new, organized form of the game began under the direction of the USAWFL in 2020. The league was established through a Salute to Service Grant from the National Football League (NFL) and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

“We are excited to be an expansion team in the USA Wheelchair Football League and to add a new high-impact sport to Lakeshore’s athletic program,” said Lakeshore President and CEO Jeff Underwood.

645

Birmingham joins Cleveland, New Orleans, Tampa, Buffalo, Chicago, Kansas City, Phoenix and Los Angeles in fielding teams in the league. The Magic City is thus the only league city without a team in the National Football League.

But Susan Robinson, the team manager of the Birmingham Hammers, said Birmingham is more than suited for playing “with the big boys.”

“In the adaptive sports world,” she said, “Birmingham is one of the big boys.”

Underwood agreed, saying Lakeshore’s experience in adaptive sports made it “an attractive candidate for a team.” For almost 30 years, Lakeshore Foundation has recognized sports as a life-changing activity that empowers individuals and changes attitudes about disability.

“We have trained thousands of athletes from across our country and from around the world as an Olympic and Paralympic training site and continue to serve as the high-performance maintenance organization for USA Wheelchair Rugby,” Underwood said. “We look forward to representing Alabama in this national wheelchair football league.”

Why I Play — Move United from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Robinson said the new league is for men and women who have permanent disabilities below the waist. She said it is exciting for those who may have been born with their disability and never played football, as well as for those who suffered an injury, illness or disability and thought they’d never be able to play competitive football again.

“This kind of levels the playing field,” she said. “Nobody really has an upper-hand advantage with this new league.”

WD Foster, 59, played center and linebacker in high school football, first at Birmingham’s Jones Valley High School and then at Bessemer’s Abrams High. He’s excited about the prospect of playing with the Hammers.

“I believe in teamwork,” Foster said. “That’s something I did with the (Birmingham) Police Department and military. Of course, I enjoy playing football. You just put all that together by being a part of a team and playing sports and that competitive edge, getting back into the game. When you bring all that to me it’s a lot of fun.”

Foster is a former Birmingham police officer and an Army veteran who was deployed twice, to Qatar and Iraq. He was getting ready for another deployment in 2007 when doing sit-ups as fast as he could during a physical fitness test. He came down on a rock that punctured his spine and ultimately wound up paralyzed from the waist down.

The former police officer visits Lakeshore Foundation four or five times a week. He previously played a form of flag wheelchair football there, but the USAWFL format is different. Teams play 7-on-7 on a hard surface. There are no flags; a tackle happens when a player does a one-hand touch between the shoulders and waist.

“One big difference is that everyone is going to be eligible for a pass,” Robinson said. “Once the quarterback gets the ball, you can have your linemen go out for a pass just as much as any of your receivers.”

That suits Foster, who said he’ll be content blocking and rushing the quarterback.

“I don’t need to be the one to make the touchdowns,” he said. “I’ll let (other players) do that. I would not be surprised if I’m playing on the line, although I can catch the ball pretty good.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the community is thrilled to welcome the Hammers.

“Birmingham is not just a town filled with die-hard sports fans, it’s a city that embraces its legacy of inclusion,” Woodfin said. “We can’t wait to see these incredible athletes in action.”

Alex Martinez and Rob Welty, staff members from Lakeshore and the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, served on a committee to develop rules for the league and a certification curriculum for coaches and referees.

For more information on the USA Wheelchair Football League and the sport of wheelchair football, go to USA Wheelchair Football League – Lakeshore Foundation.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Nick Saban hosts annual Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament in Alabama

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr. / Alabama NewsCenter)

Nick Saban relishes a return to normal. The coach of the Crimson Tide football team is glad players are coming back to camp, back on campus doing normal workouts.

Thursday, Saban was off campus but back on familiar grounds as he welcomed participants in the 15th Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament. The annual fundraiser returned to normal operations after a year where it, like so many things, were at least scaled back because of COVID-19.

“We’re excited to be able to get back to normal with a lot of things,” the coach said on the front lawn of Old Overton Golf Club. “Anything that we do that gets us back to normal makes me really, really happy. This is an event that we always look forward to and really missed being able to do last year so it’s great to be back here.”

594

Nick Saban shares thoughts on a number of topics at Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

One feature of the tournament is a pair of contests on the 17th hole. Golfers take their chance at putting their tee shot closer to the hole than the Tide head coach. Additionally, a hole in one nets a golfer a new Mercedes-Benz.

Taking on the first set of golfers, Saban was not only closest to the pin. He nearly put the ball in the hole.

Asked if he would have claimed the car with a hole in one, the seven-time national championship coach said yes. Saban, who co-owns several Mercedes dealerships as a partner in Dream Motor Group, said he formerly rooted against someone acing the hole. He has since rethought the situation.

“We pay insurance on the car” possibly being won, Saban said. “We pay it no matter what so you might as well have somebody win it.”

The Nick’s Kids Foundation is the official charity of Nick and Terry Saban and their family. The nonprofit is dedicated to raising awareness and resources for deserving organizations throughout Alabama and the Southeast.

The couple invest their time and energy hosting luncheons, golf tournaments, scrimmages and other events to benefit the foundation. It culminates in the Annual Fall Giveaway, when proceeds are given in support of children, family, teacher and student causes.

“This is something that we look forward to every year,” Saban said. “Miss Terry’s done a great job sort of orchestrating help for a lot of young people to have a better opportunity to be successful in building 18 houses for needy families with Habitat. It’s something we really have been committed to.”

The 18th house is under construction. When this year is done, more than $10 million will have been raised since the couple arrived at the University of Alabama, the coach said.

“The legacy of this Nick’s Kids thing is all about my dad,” Saban said. “I’ve told this before many, many times, that he drove a school bus and picked up kids and let them participate in athletic events to have a better chance to go to college and get an education, which a lot did. This is kind of an extension of his legacy that we’re happy to be able to promote.”

Notable Nick’s Kids projects include:

More information about Nick’s Kids is available online at www.nickskidsfoundation.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nickskidsfoundation, @NicksKidsFdn on Twitter and @nickskidsfdn on Instagram.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

3 months ago

Alabama A&M football earns national championship among HBCUs

Alabama A&M coach Connell Maynor, center, celebrates his team’s 40-33 victory in the SWAC championship game vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff. (Alabama A&M Athletics)

The spring 2021 football season was a series of working and waiting for the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. Time and again, the squad got ready for a scheduled game only to have that game postponed or canceled because of COVID-19.

But with the season ending May 1 with a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and then Monday’s announcement that A&M is the champion among historically Black colleges and universities, coach Connell Maynor said the frustration was definitely worth it.

“We just try to control what we can control, keep our guys safe as possible and just keep fighting and working and being prepared,” the third-year Bulldogs coach said. “We didn’t have a lot of game action and game speed, so we just had to try to do some extra running and stay prepared and fight.

551

“Now that the season is over with, of course it’s worth it,” he continued. “That’s why we practice, why we watch tape and lift weights and do what we do, to have an opportunity to win a championship. Yes, it’s well worth it.”

For the third time in his athletic career and second time as a head coach, Maynor can answer to the title of national champion. He becomes one of the few coaches to lead at least two teams to an HBCU national championship, having led Winston-Salem State to the crown in 2011 and 2012.

Maynor also won the national championship as a player in 1990 with North Carolina A&T. The coach was hesitant to rank one national championship over another, saying each has its place.

“All of them are different,” he said. “This was a different program, a different level, FCS. This is right up there, even though it was a shortened season.

“We still had to play the games and everybody had to deal with the same issues,” Maynor said. “We had no advantage and no disadvantage on anybody because we all played under the same circumstance. A championship is a championship and this ranks right up there with them all. They all are special.”

A&M finished No. 1 in the final Spring 2021 Boxtorow FCS HBCU Football Coaches Poll and the final Spring 2021 Boxtorow FCS HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll.

The Bulldogs opened the spring season hoping to win the SWAC East Division and the resulting berth in the Spring 2021 Cricket Wireless Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Football Championship. The path to an HBCU national title was to have then gone through the Celebration Bowl, where the SWAC champion would face the winner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

“We already knew if we won the SWAC then we would have a chance to play for a Black college national championship in the Celebration Bowl,” the coach said. “Since they didn’t have a Celebration Bowl and we were already ranked No. 1 in the Black college polls, and we won again (Saturday), of course that made us Black college national champs.

“At one time,” Maynor said, “it just became the normal that we weren’t playing, so we just tried to work on the fundamentals and stay ready.”

In the coaches’ poll, the Bulldogs (5-0) were first with 150 points with all 15 first-place votes, followed by the 130 of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which A&M downed 40-33 in the SWAC title game Saturday in Jackson, Mississippi. The SWAC rivals were 1-2 in the media poll, with the national champions again grabbing 150 points and 15 first-place votes and the runner-up 134.

Alabama State of Montgomery was No. 6 in both polls.

Maynor wants to make national championships an every year bid.

“We want to be able to sustain it,” he said. “We don’t want this to be the first and the last. We want to make this thing to be annual.”

“The national championship is an historic accomplishment and we are very proud of our coaches, student-athletes and staff,” said Director of Athletics Bryan Hicks. “This year they have faced not just challenges on the field but the challenge of competing during a pandemic that has changed how we do things. It is a credit to them to have accomplished this in that environment.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama draws crowd of 63,690 — ‘This place is absolutely gorgeous’

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Jeff Wynn said he was in heaven Sunday as he was finally able to take in the spectacle of IndyCar racing at Barber Motorsports Park.

The Eutaw resident said it has been five to 10 years since he’s attended an IndyCar event, but never at the Birmingham track just outside Leeds.

“Every single time, something happens that week,” Wynn said. “I was supposed to come two years ago and it rained out and I couldn’t get a chance to go that Monday. Last year with all the restrictions and everything, I didn’t really want to chance it.

“Even now, I’m kind of skeptical,” he continued, “but everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so I’m kind of happy about that.”

789

Wynn and his nephews Cameron and Brenden were among the estimated 63,690 who took in at least part of the three days of racing of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama fans enjoy a great day at the races from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The marquee event of the weekend produced an unanticipated finish as Spaniard Alex Palou recorded the first victory of his career. It was his debut in the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, the team’s first win at Barber and its 114th in IndyCar.

Palou is the 14th driver to stand atop the podium for Ganassi. He crossed the finish line 0.4016 seconds ahead of Will Power, who has twice won at Barber. It was the tightest margin of victory in the 11 IndyCar races on the 17-turn, 2.3-mile course.

But Palou was hardly the only victor. Counted among the winners were the fans who came from far and wide to take in a live sporting event, something many have missed since the pandemic first spanned the globe.

There was no fan shuttle this year and thus no remote parking at the Outlet Shops of Grand River. That reduced the crowd by about 25%, said Gene Hallman, CEO of Zoom Motorsports.

This was the second live event of the weekend in which Hallman and the Bruno Event Team were involved. They also coordinated the McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola, the football meeting between Alabama State and Alabama A&M universities that was pushed back from October 2020.

“I would give them A-pluses in terms of people feeling comfortable being back out in crowds,” Hallman said. “I believe we created an environment in both where there were many COVID restrictions in place. Secondarily, there’s a real sense people want to get back out. They really miss the human interaction that comes from attending a live sporting event.”

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama had a mix of first-timers and frequent visitors. Count the Formentano family among those who long ago learned the route to Barber.

Chris Formentano, 33, of Chelsea said Sunday was the second time his family has come to the track. Sons Peter, 3, and Walker, 2, played on the grassy hill while his wife, HannaKate, held their third son, 1-month-old Oliver.

The family always comes with Chris’ father, Alfredo Formentano of Hoover. The seeds for his love of racing were planted by his father.

“I’ve been coming here from the beginning, the first time they had the Indy race,” the elder Formentano said. “It’s just kind of a family thing. I’ve been watching car racing – like Formula 1 and Indy – a long time. My dad got me into Formula 1. This morning, I got up at five minutes to 8 and the Formula 1 race in Italy raced live. I watched it and then we all packed up and came here. All-day racing.”

Sylacauga High sophomore Brooklyn Leonard said her first trip to Barber was like a minivacation. Her boyfriend, Justin Love, introduced her to the sport.

“It’s really, really exciting,” the 16-year-old said. “I’m pumped up about it. I’m also really, really nervous, but I love the atmosphere here. It’s been really, really nice. To be around all these people and watching the racing, it’s, like, so fun.”

Christy Reynolds of Wabash, Indiana, attended races at Barber for the first time. She was with her husband, Dylan, who’s been to four or five, and their 2-year-old son, David.

“I love IndyCar and this place is absolutely gorgeous,” Dylan said. “Combine the two things and it’s a great trip, worth the trip from Indiana every time.”

Especially as everyone crawls out from COVID-19 isolation.

“That’s the great thing,” Dylan said. “We’ve all been cooped up for most of the year, but out here if you want your space, it’s easy to find. There’s pretty good masking in front of the trams and crowded areas, but you can find a seat where you’re on your own and feel safe with your family and watch some great racing.”

Michael and Myra Campbell relaxed on the grassy hillside as cars zoomed by. A Texas native, she was thrilled that her move to Pelham meant being close to a track where open-wheel racing is done.

“It’s my favorite,” she said. “We love this park.”

“The beautiful thing about Barber’s is it’s outdoors,” Michael said. “Literally, they call it the Augusta of Racecourses. As you look around, everyone’s able to come outside, enjoy a beautiful day here in springtime in Alabama. It’s just so refreshing to see folks finally able to breathe without a mask, mask if they choose, sit outside and finally get out and enjoy the day.

“It’s a wonderful day and it’s a wonderful way to spend it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Bass Pro Shops announces US Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championship

(Bass Pro Shop/Contributed)

Bass Pro Shops is celebrating its 50th year, and amateur anglers and the waters where they practice their craft will net the rewards.

Founder Johnny Morris today announced what he called the grandest fishing tournament in history – the Johnny Morris Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championships.

The tourney will have more than $4 million in cash and prizes for anglers and is expected to reel in at least $1 million for conservation.

“This is just for amateurs,” Morris said. “It’s just for you.”

The tournament, which will air internationally on NBC, invites owners of TrackerRangerNitroTritonSun TrackerTahoe and Mako brand boats to compete in two-person teams. The event is exclusively for amateurs, including serious weekend tournament anglers, parents, grandparents and youngsters.

543

The national championship team will win a $1 million cash prize.

“Never before has there ever been a freshwater tournament like this,” said legendary angler Bill Dance. “And that’s just the beginning. Participants will be rewarded with a total guarantee purse value (of) $4.3 million in cash prizes.”

But the big winners, Morris said, will be the habitats of the fish.

“About a third of your entry fee will be donated directly to conservation (through) a fish habitat initiative that supports habitats and freshwater lakes that’s so important,” Morris said of the National Fish Habitat Initiative. “Also, we’ll match that at Bass Pro with another third and then our great conservation partners at Toyota are going to match that a third.

“We’ll all be like partners in this conservation effort of this tournament,” the Bass Pro Shops founder said. “That’s one of our big motivations – celebrate our 50th anniversary, have a lot of fun, have some great prizes to get you excited, have a chance to win some really big awards and recognition of prizes, but also do a great deal to support conservation.”

To grow the sport of bass fishing, regional and international qualifier events will feature division payouts for youths, family teams, all-female teams, veterans and more. Additional prizes will be offered for the biggest bass and other categories.

Also, Morris is awarding a junior angler age 11 to 18 a $250,000 scholarship toward a conservation-related area of study.

Following a series of regional qualifying tournaments beginning this spring, 350 two-person teams will compete in the televised championship finale this fall at Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake, home of the “granddaddy” Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield, Missouri.

The competition will include teams from Japan, Spain, Germany, Romania, Mexico and Holland.

John Paul Morris, the founder’s son, joined him in making the announcement.

“We’ve been working really hard on this and the main thing is it’s just a great way to kind of give back to our customers to show them a great time,” the younger Morris said. “We’re going to have eight qualifying events and if you’re one of the top 40 finishers in any of our qualifying events, you get your entry fee completely paid for (in) the final event.

“But more so than just the tournament, all these are fun events for the whole family,” he continued. “It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun, the prizes are almost triple, if not over triple, that of the leading national professional bass fishing tournaments and the coolest part is, it’s just for you. No pros allowed.”

Here’s the tournament schedule:

  • Lake Okeechobee, Florida, March 13.
  • Lake Ray Roberts, Dallas, April 17.
  • Lake Mead, Nevada, April 24.
  • Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, July 17.
  • Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Aug. 21.
  • Old Hickory Lake, Nashville, Sept. 11.
  • Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oct. 16.
  • Last Chance Qualifier: Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas, Nov. 17.
  • Grand Championship finale for those who qualify: Table Rock Lake, Missouri, Nov. 19.

Participation in the qualifying tournaments is limited and will be determined by lottery. Entry details are available at basspro.com/usopen. Registration opens Feb. 10.

Bass Pro Shops is a chain of large, wilderness-themed stores with a wide array of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear. The chain includes stores in Leeds and Prattville.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Lettermen of the USA provides Laptops for Heroes to Alabama Gold Star Children

It was seasonally appropriate that Darryl Fuhrman and his son Miller motored from Homewood to Huntsville in a red 2016 Dodge Charger. Like Santa and an elf riding in his sleigh, the two were delivering holiday cheer in the latest project of Lettermen of the USA.

Of course, the Fuhrmans weren’t the only ones. And their helpers weren’t necessarily in a red vehicle, much less a sleigh.

Based in Alabama, the nonprofit Lettermen of the USA (LotUSA) gave new laptop computers to Gold Star Military Children on Tuesday, doling out five at a ceremony at Shades Valley American Legion Post 134 in Homewood and 20 at American Legion Post 237 in Huntsville.

416

Secretary of State John Merrill was on hand for both presentations. He added signed copies of “Alabama: Bicentennial,” the history book he coauthored to benefit fourth-grade students.

Children of fallen heroes get laptops from Lettermen of the USA from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

LotUSA was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Alabama Coronavirus Relief Fund to purchase laptop computers for Gold Star Children of Alabama’s military families. American Gold Star Children are survivors who have a parent who was either killed in action or died while serving in the U.S. military.

“It’s an amazing time of the year,” said the elder Fuhrman, founder and president of LotUSA. “I know it’s unprecedented times too, but we still have the Christmas cheer in our community and in our state. That’s what it’s all about, us being able to give back to Gold Star families and extend our programs.”

Laptops for Heroes is the latest effort of LotUSA, joining Wheels for Heroes, Homes for Heroes and Autographs for Heroes.

Madison’s Lori Woeber, a homeschool mom, was at the Huntsville luncheon event. LotUSA had laptops for her sons Owen and Nathan, but Nathan was sick. Their brother Jacob stood in for him.

“At the beginning of the school year, I had enough money to buy one laptop for my three children,” she said. “They’ve all been sharing, so they have to take turns, so the school day goes really long. We got two more laptops today and my children don’t have to share anymore, so it’s amazing. It’s an amazing gift.”

Earlier, Bailee Stone was at the Homewood breakfast event with her daughter Elyza Grego, a third-grader at Springville Elementary.

“This means so much to us,” Stone said. “It’s amazing for them to do this and be able to give her a laptop to help with schoolwork. Her school is now online and starting back in January they’re going half and half, with half traditional and half at home.

“Instead of all of us trying to do her schoolwork in one little area, she can now get on there and do her work.”

Darryl Fuhrman said Tuesday’s laptop giveaway was amazing, especially since it was at Christmas time.

“We’ve never done anything around Christmas time, so we’re very excited about this new program and what it can mean,” he said. “We hope we can do it every year. That’s the way we look at it. We hope we can continue to do this every year with these Gold Star families.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

8 months ago

Homewood Police renew hardwood rivalry with Exceptional Foundation

A Homewood police officer with a basketball player from the Exceptional Foundation in Homewood. Police have a friendly annual basketball game with the foundation team to raise awareness and money for the foundation. Because of the pandemic, the game this year was replaced by a basketball skills competition. (Solomon Crenshaw/Alabama NewsCenter)

A global pandemic didn’t stop the Homewood Police Department from fulfilling its annual trip to the Exceptional Foundation to join mentally challenged people in some basketball.

The event wasn’t the actual game they’ve played the past several years, but no one on the court Nov. 24 complained.

“We love to do it every year,” Homewood Police Lt. Andrew Didcoct said at the foundation’s Jay Harbert Youth Center. “It’s one of our favorite days of the year. We come out here and support the Exceptional Foundation. It helps them raise money and raise awareness.”

The feeling is mutual for the Exceptional Foundation staff and clients.

388

“We look forward to this every year,” said Robbie Lee, the public relations director. “This is a way for us to really connect with our community in a unique way. We feel like we’re a pillar not only of the Homewood community but the Birmingham community. Any time we can connect with others who serve people, that’s a win-win for us.”

Normally, Homewood officers go head to head on the basketball court against a team of young adults from the Exceptional Foundation. In that sense, the police play the role of the Washington Generals, the team that usually falls in exhibition games against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Concerns about COVID-19 squelched the traditional game but not the event.

Instead of a regular game, Exceptional Foundation guests took on officers in some basketball skills competitions. Those ranged from a basketball dribbling relay race to a layup competition to a 3-point shooting contest.

The festivities concluded with Exceptional Foundation guests taking part in a slam dunk contest on a peewee basketball goal. Police officers acted as judges, occasionally flashing 10s with their scorecards.

And, as always, the guests of the Exceptional Foundation came out on top. But Didcoct said that’s the way he and his fellow members of the Homewood force like it.

“We’re all winners today,” he said. “We had a great time and we enjoy coming out here.”

Exceptional Foundation President Tricia Kirk said Homewood police play basketball with their guests every year. But this year may be more special, she said, because it brought happiness to both parties.

“The police’s jobs are so much harder. Our job, to be honest, is so much harder just trying to understand today’s world,” she said. “For them to come in here and to see the smiles on their faces and to see our people jump up and down saying we’re going to take down the police in basketball is outstanding.”

The Exceptional Foundation is a nonprofit established in 1993 to serve people with special needs in the greater Birmingham area. It targets social and recreational objectives not met by educational institutions or the community at large.

Kirk said Exceptional Foundation serves 760 people at its location in Homewood. She said the foundation has programs in Atlanta, Auburn and Fairhope.

“We are continuing to serve the mentally challenged population (beyond) Birmingham,” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 months ago

Football preview: Troy treks to Murfreesboro for season opener vs. Middle Tennessee

(Troy Athletics/Contributed)

Troy football coach Chip Lindsey knows that Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will make his Trojans defend the whole field when they open the season at 3 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

But Lindsey says that nothing is making his squad “defend the whole field” like the novel coronavirus.

“It’s definitely made you rethink some things,” the second-year Trojans coach said, referring to the need to adapt if players or coaches contract the virus. “It’s made you rethink some things from the standpoint of personnel. If you’re down to your third or fourth quarterback, what do you do then? If you’re short wideouts, does that change the way you play on offense? Or defensively if you’re short D-linemen? Does that make you play more odd fronts?

300

“All those things are scenarios that we definitely had to think through,” Lindsey continued. “Even coaching-wise, what happens if one of our coaches tests positive for corona? We’ve got a play for that as well. I think the best thing we can do is just try to plan for the unexpected and somewhat hope it doesn’t happen. At the same time, if it does, we’ve got to handle that and move forward.”

The Troy coach calls 2020 the Year of the Unknown. “We’re gonna need everybody at some point,” Lindsey said.

Middle Tennessee opened its season last week with a 42-0 loss to Army.

The pandemic has left the college football schedule in the state with slim pickings this week as the Trojans are the only state team taking the field. UAB and South Alabama are off this week before they face one another next Thursday in Mobile.

Troy coach Chip Lindsey, players talk about their team and the season ahead from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Class 7A: At 4-0, coach Cris Bell’s Oak Mountain team has climbed to No. 9 in the latest Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. The Eagles will be tested in their quest to remain undefeated as they leave the friendly confines of Heardmont Stadium to visit No. 3 Hoover.

Class 6A: Minor is 3-1 following its 33-28 fall to No. 4 Pinson Valley. This week, the Tigers welcome No. 5 Clay-Chalkville.

Class 5A: No. 5 Faith Academy hosts No. 2 St. Paul’s in a battle of unbeatens. Each is 4-0.

Class 4A: No. 1 American Christian (4-0) heads to No. 2 Bibb County (4-0).

Class 3A: No. 5 T.R. Miller (3-1) entertains No. 9 Bayside Academy (4-0).

Class 2A: Aliceville (3-1) welcomes Cold Springs (3-0).

Class 1A: No. 4 Maplesville (3-1) hosts Loachapoka (2-1).

AISA: Tuscaloosa Academy (1-2) ventures to No. 9 Patrician (2-1).

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Homewood mural delivers a masterpiece message

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Shawn Fitzwater was confident his latest mural wouldn’t hang around very long.

“If I got in trouble over it,” the owner of Fitz Hand Painted Signs said, “I could easily cover it up.”

But a funny thing happened on the painter’s trip to buy whitewash. The feel-good message of his mural – We Are All In This Together – struck home and, for now, the mural has a home, not just on a building in downtown Homewood but on T-shirts that provide food for health care workers.

635

Shawn Fitzwater talks about his uplifting Homewood message mural from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Like many small business owners, Fitzwater has seen potential clients hit the pause button as the economy ground to a halt because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Beyond his bottom line, he wanted to inspire others.

“What can I do to give back through my business or give back through my skill set?” the 41-year-old wondered. “I thought, ‘What if I just paint a message somewhere, a positive message, maybe an uplifting thing for people to see and put a smile on people’s faces?’”

And the painter knew just where he wanted to put his message, on the north side of the building that houses Battle Republic, a boxing-inspired gym. He had talked previously with the business owners about using their bare white outside wall as a canvas.

However, this rendering would be an unsanctioned job, without their permission.

“I kind of know those people,” Fitzwater said. “Once they figure out it’s me (and), if they’re mad, I’ll cover it up.”

But the emotion evoked by the mural wasn’t anger. Fitzwater’s work, done under cloak of darkness and secrecy, brought a smile to the faces of the business owners, even if they worried about their landlord’s reaction.

Lindsey Miller, an owner of Battle Republic, said she was lounging at a lake when she got word of the mural from one of her coaches. He snapped a picture and texted it to her.

“I was, like, panicking a little bit because I didn’t want the landlord to think we did it and get upset,” she said. “My first instinct was definitely, ‘This is so freakin’ cool,’ but I really hope nobody gets upset.”

Miller alerted her landlord Pronce Acker, explained that it wasn’t her doing and asked, “Can we keep it?”

“He was like, ‘Oh man, this is such a great message,’” the gym owner recounted. “Once he was cool with it, I kind of got to where I could appreciate it a little bit more than be worried about it.”

The inspiration of Fitzwater’s mural hasn’t stopped at the wall. Vulcan Apparel Co. owners Michael Whitten and Drew Binkley have carried it further.

“Obviously with everything going on, it was just kind of an uplifting moment,” Binkley said. “Honestly, every time I’ve passed, it’s kind of been one of those things that you pass by and it kind of lifts your spirits a little bit.”

The business partners decided to lift more spirits by putting Fitzwater’s alternating black and white block text on T-shirts.

“What better way to combine both of our efforts and start a campaign,” Binkley said. “We can let people wear that mural and have that good feeling when they’re wearing it, and maybe help somebody that’s maybe going through a tough time.”

And the shirts have done more than just uplift. Vulcan Apparel sold the white T-shirts, giving all the money raised to BHMcares to provide food for health care workers.

“We haven’t heard the final number,” Binkley said, “but I’m pretty sure we ended at 255 (shirts sold). That’s just over $3,300 in money raised for bhmcares.com. It has exceeded our expectations.”

The campaign has fed medical workers through multiple restaurants, providing a boost to those struggling businesses. And while that campaign ended April 17, another one could launch if demand prompts it, the Vulcan Apparel website said.

As a result, Fitzwater said he feels the love.

“Just knowing that it is helping people,” he said. “To see people post and tag the mural (online) so many times during the day and then just put messages like, ‘Whoever did this, thank you so much.’ That made me smile.

“And with the T-shirt sales and the campaign, that’s probably right up there with it. That’s what it’s meant for and that’s what means a lot to me.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Food companies serve free meals, treats to those in need and front-line workers during pandemic

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Mary Drennen said she didn’t really understand the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic until she and others handed out free meals March 30 on Birmingham’s Southside.

“It’ll tear your heartstrings up,” the Nourish Foods co-owner said. “It’s a greater purpose that we didn’t even realize that we could serve until this disease came about, or virus, however you call it. It is certainly rewarding for us to know that our business can step in and provide something for people that they literally have no access to.”

Nourish Foods is one of several companies – local and national – that have stepped in to help where they can to support those who are on the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus.

564

1918 Catering helping others during COVID-19 pandemic from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Drennen and her business partner, Tiffany Davis, have connected with students who are not attending school for the rest of the year.

“Now that they’re without that one or two meals that they would have gotten at school, that’s obviously not an option,” she said. “We’re trying to work through that problem with Avondale, Woodlawn, Gate City areas in particular. Those are the first ones that we’re working with to find a solution for that.”

And they’re not alone. Every Monday, Krispy Kreme is giving a dozen doughnuts to each healthcare worker who visits.

Brittney Payne, a sterile surgical technician at UAB Highlands, said the sweets give healthcare providers their due.

“It’s nice,” the wife and mother of three said, “because healthcare workers don’t get enough credit for the things they do, especially when you work and go home to your family.”

Cristin Buentello said it’s not uncommon for her to pick up a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts on her way to or from her job at Brookwood Hospital and Women’s Center.

The 12 glazed rings she picked up this week at the Hoover Krispy Kreme location were for her co-workers.

“It helps us all out and gives us a little treat,” said Buentello, a surgical assistant. “Any little thing is nice, like food, getting water. Everything’s helping us right now: a little pick-me-up.”

Starbucks is giving a free tall brewed coffee – hot or cold – to front-line responders through May 3. In addition, the Starbucks Foundation is donating $500,000 to support front-line responders.

The $500,000 comes in equal donations to Direct Relief to support the delivery of personal protective equipment and essential medical items, and to Operation Gratitude to deliver 50,000 care packages and handwritten letters to first responders and health care workers.

Similarly, companies and volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to help people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, including children who might not otherwise be fed because their schools have closed for the school year.

Nourish Foods is among companies offering gifts for healthcare providers at UAB. Some community philanthropists are donating money to be used at area restaurants to provide food for health care workers.

UAB’s Food Services staff is organizing this project through its Meals For Heroes link.

Full Moon Bar-B-Que established its Feed a Friend program, accepting nominations for families to receive a free meal. That program was to have ended this week but is being extended indefinitely until the shelter-in-place order is lifted.

The barbecue restaurant chain’s Tuscaloosa location gave 180 lunches to staffers at Druid City Hospital, while its Montgomery restaurant gave 500 lunches to schoolchildren through the Mercy House nonprofit. The company also gave 100 lunches to the Levite Jewish Community Center and served lunches at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

“Serving our communities is always a top priority at Full Moon Bar-B-Que and we are dedicated to providing meals in this trying time,” co-owner Joe Maluff said in a prepared statement. “Now more than ever, people need hope and we believe a warm meal can do just that. Full Moon Bar-B-Que aims to serve the communities surrounding each of our locations the best way we can throughout this pandemic.”

Last week, J&R Bar & Grill – formerly Peyton Place Restaurant – gave free lunches to first responders. On April 2, 1918 Catering gave free lunches to healthcare workers with ID at its location in Homewood.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Lakeshore Foundation weighs in on postponed Olympics, Paralympics

(Lexi Branta Coon/Contributed)

Joe Delagrave grew up in Wisconsin but was raised on a staple of a Southern breakfast – grits.

“My mom used to make those growing up, so I have no problems with grits,” said Delagrave, the captain of the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair rugby team. “She had a Southern heart. She always made some good home cooking.”

For 12 years, Delagrave and his fellow wheelchair rugby players have feasted on the home cooking at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Facility at Lakeshore Foundation in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Lakeshore is home for this U.S. squad as it prepares to contend for Paralympic gold.

513

But that team and athletes in other Olympic and Paralympic sports learned this week they’ll have to put the brakes on their chance to represent their country with the announcement that the 2020 Summer Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lakeshore Foundation CEO Jeff Underwood said the likelihood of that decision seemed more and more likely as the Tokyo Games drew closer to their scheduled July 24 to Aug. 9 competition window.

The Paralympics were to have been Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

“It just underscores the seriousness of the situation and the fact that it’s having impacts on every aspect of our lives,” Underwood said. “On the other hand, it was not a cancellation; it was a postponement. That’s an important distinction. The games will go on, just not on their predicted schedule.”

A few days before the announcement to postpone the games, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee surveyed American athletes on the matter. They overwhelmingly suggested postponement and USOPC formally supported that move.

While Lakeshore staffers were disappointed by the needed delay, Underwood said the true pain is felt by athletes who put their lives on hold the past four years in pursuit of a dream.

“They put their families, their jobs, their careers on hold with the idea that as of this summer they would have maybe moved on to other things,” he said. “Now they’ve got to decide whether they want to keep their lives on hold for another year.”

The delay will benefit some who weren’t quite ready for 2020. Some had circled 2020 as the end of their career, one last shot. “Who knows,” the Lakeshore leader asked, “whether they’ll be able, willing to participate again?”

Underwood particularly feels for the wheelchair rugby team that lost in double overtime to Australia in the 2016 gold medal game in Rio de Janeiro.

“My sense is they were at the top of their game,” the Lakeshore CEO said. “They had just come back from the tournament in London a couple of months ago, where they won handily over some of their top opponents.

“We watch these guys train so hard,” he continued. “They’re hungry. And they’ve been working darn hard and everything seemed to be falling in place for that team, leading up to the games this summer.”

Delagrave had even more motivation. He was an alternate in 2016 and didn’t get to compete. The captain of the current squad compared his anticipation to being a child waiting all year for Christmas.

“We were almost at that Thanksgiving point where ‘Man, it’s here. It’s coming quick,’” he said. “Now it’s postponed.”

It’ll be a while before athletes have a definitive new target for the games. Delagrave said they’re caught in limbo amid rumors the Olympics and Paralympics may be in the spring or perhaps on the same dates in 2021.

“Once we find that out, I think it’ll add some more clarity,” he said. “We’ll get our schedule down from the administrators and from our head coach and we can start to circle some dates and then get really re-excited and re-energized about everything.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Mel Kiper assesses Alabama, Auburn players in his mock NFL Draft

(Kent Gidley/University of Alabama Athletics)

Mel Kiper Jr. called Tua Tagovailoa the most intriguing player in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Kiper, the NFL Draft analyst from ESPN, released his NFL Mock Draft 3.0 on Tuesday and fielded questions from media during a teleconference today. Easily, the player about whom the most questions swirl is the Heisman Trophy runner-up whose season was cut short by a dislocated hip, his third lower-body injury of his career in Tuscaloosa.

That history of injury – which includes procedures on each ankle – has some scratching their heads about making a trade to move up in the draft to get him. Tagovailoa’s injury kept him from participating on the field at the NFL Combine although he met with team executives.

790

The draft analyst has the Alabama QB pegged to be taken fifth by the Miami Dolphins. He acknowledged in releasing his mock draft that he did not factor in trades because that is wildly speculative.

Tuesday, the Tide signal-caller released a 10-second video that showed him going through a fast-paced, drop-back passing drill. And while Kiper acknowledged that Tagovailoa looked good, questions would persist.

“Tua would be the most intriguing because of … the limited ability to see and the limited knowledge with the medical and what’s going on in the world right now and in our country,” Kiper said. “If everything would have been perfect and everything was done the way it’s always been done, you still have the durability concerns.

“Even if he’s medically cleared and everything looks OK with the hip and progress has been made and all that, you still have three separate injuries that all occurred,” he continued. “Can he take hits? Can he sustain hits, come back and then be healthy from those hits? Durability for Tua would still be a question regardless if this was a perfect draft scenario or draft process scenario.”

While not factoring trades into his mock draft, Kiper acknowledged that “it would be a great opportunity” for Detroit to move down from No. 3 to No. 5.

“If you’re Detroit, it would be a great opportunity to go from three to five and still get Jeff Okudah, the cornerback from Ohio State or Isaiah Simmons, the linebacker from Clemson,” he said. “You don’t lose anything if you’re the Lions.”

He mentioned Miami and the Los Angeles Chargers among teams that might consider moving to get Tagovailoa.

Kiper was asked who among the potential draft selections is the most NFL ready. After Simmons, he cited Auburn’s Derrick Brown, who could have bolted for the pros in 2019.

Brown “got another year of experience and did a great job at Auburn,” Kiper said. “I think with Derrick Brown you know what you’re getting out of the defensive tackle.”

Another NFL-ready player, he said, is Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.

“He’s a solid player, he’s technically sound (and) he was consistent,” Kiper said. “He didn’t have any hiccups at right tackle this year. He’s the kind of guy who’s a plug-and-play right tackle.”

Kiper repeated that the deepest position in this draft is wide receiver. He compared this draft to other years in which three wideouts distanced themselves from the rest. Among those, he has Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy set to go 13th to the San Francisco 49ers and Henry Ruggs III 15th to the Denver Broncos.

“I think Henry Ruggs III is right there for some teams as the top receiver,” he said, noting that the New York Jets might make a move for him. “Michael Irvin and all those different receivers in (that) draft, they were very hard to separate and that’s the thing with Jeudy, (Oklahoma’s CeeDee) Lamb and Ruggs. I would still go Jeudy, Lamb, Ruggs, (Clemson’s Tee) Higgins, in that order.”

Speaking of Oklahoma, Kiper was asked if former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts could follow in the successful footsteps of 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.

“In terms of where he is right now, I think he’s a late second, early to mid-third (round selection),” Kiper said, calling claims that Hurts would drop into the sixth round “way, way low.”

“He threw the ball well at the combine,” the analyst said. “He had a heck of a year at two different big-time programs. He won a ton of games, he rushed for a lot of yards, he scored a ton of touchdowns.”

Hurts’ value is enhanced, Kiper said, because of the many things he can do. Even a team with a great starter in hand can put packages in place for Hurts, Kiper said.

“That’s going to help him to be a late second, early third round pick.”

Kiper said Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson is close to being a first-rounder in his mock draft. He’s got him pegged in the late first round or early to mid-second round.

“You’ve got versatility and you talk about production in Senior Bowl week. All that adds up,” he said. “There’s really not much else there (below him at that position), so if you need one, you better take him early — late first, early second.”

Kiper has Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene penciled in at No. 31, going to the San Francisco 49ers. He said he likes his versatility.

“He’s helped out on special teams and the return game,” the analyst said. “He keeps getting better and better. His tackling improved and his instincts in coverage made progress this year.

“He still has some work to do in terms of his coverage technique, but he’s got awesome talent,” Kiper continued. “He’s just touched the surface of what kind of player he can be at corner.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Bassmaster Classic makes itself at home with ninth visit to Birmingham

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

You couldn’t blame B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin if he lobbied to make Birmingham the permanent host of its flagship event – the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

Personally, Akin would be very comfortable with that move.

“I would love that,” the Homewood resident said. “I could stay in my own bed every night. Fortunately, it’s become very popular in recent years, the Classic, and there’s been a lot of competition for it.”

723

Through today, 53 anglers are taking part in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. The 50th championship event of the Bassmaster Elite Series returns to Birmingham for the ninth time.

This is the 13th time the classic has been in Alabama and the third time it has been on Lake Guntersville. Once again, the weigh-in and expo will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Birmingham drew 90,000 fans when the Magic City was weigh-in central for the Bassmaster Classic in 2014. Last year, Knoxville, Tenn., established a record with 153,000 fans.

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, Tenn., was recognized as a 2019 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism (Mid-Market Division) by Sports Destination Management.

The award honors organizations and local partners who “worked together to produce events that have made our industry a more vibrant, more exciting, more varied and more interesting place.”

Akin is rooting for Birmingham to show up and show out.

“Let’s beat the record that was set last year,” he said. “I’m ready to shatter that record. This is something Auburn and Alabama people can come together on, beating Tennessee.”

Record attendance is nothing new for the Classic. Before it was in Knoxville, a record crowd of 145,000 were at the championship event in Greenville, S.C.

“Each year it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” Akin said. “We do have people coming from all over the country – and all over the world, really – to the Bassmaster Classic. They put it on their calendar, and they make it a family vacation in many cases.”

Those visitors are expected to have an economic impact of $30 million.

“It’s a big number,” said David Galbaugh of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but again, when you’ve got this many people that are coming to an event, it really adds up. I am in awe sometimes when we talk about these numbers. It’s very impressive and that’s what makes the event so special to be in Birmingham.”

Alabama Power partners with B.A.S.S. on conservation projects from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

While Birmingham has been part of the Bassmaster Classic more than anywhere else, fans who were here in 2014 might feel they’re in a new place.

“We didn’t have all of Uptown in place,” Galbaugh said. “We didn’t have things going on in our downtown renaissance with Second Avenue and all the new restaurants that we have.

“We’re like a new product,” he continued. “I’m going to be really excited for people that are accustomed to coming to the Classic and being in Birmingham. If they haven’t been here in six years, they’re going to find something that’s really special. And I think they’re going to be very impressed.”

Hosting athletic events has become something Birmingham does. Faye Oates, commissioner of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of sports and entertainment, said the Classic is a huge opportunity for the metro area.

“It’s a really big deal,” she said. “It has a great following. They bring a lot of folks to the city. Their expo alone is big. Without any fishing, the expo is huge.”

The expo, like the daily weigh-in, is free. It features 200 exhibitors and is what Akin calls the largest fishing consumer show in the world.

“People laugh that you’re just going to see fish being weighed, but it’s really quite a show,” the B.A.S.S. CEO said. “It’s a Hollywood-style production, and it’s truly made for TV. It will be broadcast on ESPN2 in about a month.”

A lot has changed in professional bass fishing since B.A.S.S. began 52 years ago and hosted its first Bassmaster Classic two years later. Since then, rival professionals tours – including FLW and MLF — have come on the scene.

Akin said the industry is very strong now, but B.A.S.S. and the Bassmaster Classic provide the biggest stage.

“We have everything from websites to magazines to television to a radio show to the events themselves,” the CEO said. “Throngs of people want to come out and see fish being weighed but also to sample the sponsor products. We don’t want to rest on our laurels by any means, but we’ve been the leader for 50 years and plan to continue to be the leader.

“We are the big fish in a big pond too,” Akin continued. “The industry is very vibrant and very strong now, but we are the biggest organization in bass fishing.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama, Auburn football stars among those supporting veterans and wounded warriors

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

The oft-told joke is that you have to pick a side when you arrive in this state. You’re either for Alabama, someone will say, or you’re for Auburn.

More than 200 people gathered as one team Feb. 21 at The Club in Birmingham. They weren’t divided by Roll Tide and War Eagle, although each battle cry could be heard. The second One Yard at a Time Gala was the latest effort of Lettermen of the USA, sports rivals who’ve united under a common banner to help veterans, including wounded warriors.

Darryl Fuhrman, a former Alabama linebacker and founder of the organization, called it a celebration of the accomplishments they’ve had and a chance to let supporters help them do more.

574

“Since last year’s gala, we’ve given a motorized scooter for a World War II veteran and a down payment on a Chevrolet Avalon,” Fuhrman said. “Also, we did an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant renovation on a veteran’s home in Florence.”

That veteran is U.S. Army Airborne Private Jason Melhiser, who was permanently disabled with a broken back and leg, and torn knee during a mission in the first Gulf War.

Lettermen of the USA puts former Alabama, Auburn players on one team to score a win for veterans from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Lettermen of the USA grew out of the tornado outbreak that raked across Alabama on April 27, 2011. Former football players from Alabama and Auburn got together for a fundraising flag football game at Hoover’s Spain Park High School, raising $150,000 for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund.

Former Auburn offensive guard Todd Boland said the effort “kind of evaporated for a couple of years” until Fuhrman had the vision to pick it up and continue to carry the torch.

“Since that time, Darryl and I have worked closely with Desmond (Holman, vice president and director of operations) and all the guys who are part of Lettermen of the USA to organize events like this,” Boland said.

The effort began with giving autographed footballs and memorabilia to veterans but has grown to being more impactful.

“It started as an Alabama vs. Auburn thing,” Fuhrman said, “and it’s turned into a whole slew of athletes in general, guys who are here to support the veterans and wounded warriors.”

Birmingham native and former Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett spoke at the 2019 gala and was back Friday.

“It’s a tremendous experience to be here serving,” Bennett said. “My father was a veteran, and having a chance to give back to the community, not only to veterans but also former football players. I’m always happy to come home and to serve.”

Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Gary Rose and UAB football coach Bill Clark were honored during Friday’s event. Clark said he got involved in the effort about four years ago, autographing footballs before his Blazers returned from a shutdown of their program.

“I was able to go to Huntsville and really hang out with veterans and give them some footballs,” he said. “You talk about heroes of mine, these guys who have served and fought for our country. I’m glad to help out in some small way.”

Clark applauded what LotUSA does for former college athletes. “It’s great this organization has a heart for these guys, especially those who have fallen on hard times,” he said.

Fuhrman said the first football given by LotUSA was autographed by former Auburn quarterback and Samford football coach Pat Sullivan, who died on Dec. 1, 2019. Patrick Sullivan Jr. was on hand to aid in the fundraising effort.

“We always knew that if we could prove that rival fan bases could work together, there was much more undiscovered country that we would be able to traverse,” Fuhrman said. “It’s because of that flag football game and what it started that we are here tonight.”

Friday’s event exceeded its $20,000 goal. On stage was a new motorized wheelchair and a motorized scooter; one was donated by a radio listener and the other a viewer of a Birmingham morning television show.

Saturday, Fuhrman and others traveled to Huntsville to give the wheelchair to Vietnam veteran Gary Hallman, a former tail-gunner with the 281st Assault Helicopter Company.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

UAB faces giant-killer App State in R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Appalachian State has made its reputation as a giant-killer in college football, including what’s been called the greatest upset in history – its 2007 34-32 victory over Michigan when the Mountaineers were still an FCS program.

These days, App State is among the giants. It is No. 20 in the College Football Playoff ranking, is a two-time champion of the Sun Belt Conference and is the defending champion of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

That leaves UAB playing the role of David as it faces the Mountaineers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.

512

“It’s almost like it’s flipped for us if you look at them being a top-25 team and what they’ve done, beating South Carolina, North Carolina and winning their division and conference again,” Blazers coach Bill Clark said, calling the first meeting between UAB and App State a preview of next season for his two-time Conference USA West Division champions.

“I was sitting there yesterday and asked the seniors to raise their hands, and it’s a small number of guys,” Clark said. “We want to see what our group does next year. Obviously, we’ll get a few guys back that have been injured.

“We’re really excited about our recruits,” he continued. “I think this has kind of been a preview of next year’s team, with us going up against a top-25 team. It’s a huge deal for us. What a great job done in that program through the years.”

The UAB Blazers talk about their New Orleans Bowl face-off with Appalachian State from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Blazers are 9-4, coming off a 49-6 loss to Florida Atlantic in the Dec. 7 Conference USA championship. Clark and his players say they are eager to make it clear that loss doesn’t represent who they really are.

“It didn’t go like we wanted it to, but it’s also good for us that we have an extra game to redeem ourselves and show the world that wasn’t us that game,” junior linebacker Kris Moll said. “This is a good team, so we have a great chance to show a lot of people otherwise.”

Appalachian State is 12-1 this season, with its lone loss a 24-21 defeat at the hands of conference foe Georgia Southern. Coach Shawn Clark said it all goes back to tradition, what App State was built on and what coach Jerry Moore built there. Moore stepped down after the 2012 season.

And as App State welcomed word of its bowl location, it said goodbye to the man who had been its head coach. Eliah Drinkwitz took over a year ago and guided the Mountaineers to the Sun Belt championship before becoming the head coach at the University of Missouri.

“We take a lot of pride in what we do, and we expect to win every football game,” Clark said. “I don’t care who we’re playing. If we were playing the Dallas Cowboys, we expect to win. We don’t go anywhere to be second fiddle, so that’s what makes us special.”

UAB’s ninth-ranked defense will be tested by Appalachian State’s offense that ranks ninth nationally in scoring, at 39.4 points per game, and averages 435.5 yards per contest. Darrynton Evans is the Sun Belt’s second-leading rusher, with 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns, while quarterback and Hewitt-Trussville product Zac Thomas has thrown for 2,576 yards and 26 touchdowns.

UAB wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr. is just  67 yards away from joining Roddy White and Derrick Ingram as the only players in Blazer football history to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Watkins enters the bowl game with 47 catches for 933 yards and five touchdowns.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Charles Barkley’s pep rally talk at Miles College less rah-rah, more role model

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Thursday, on the campus of Miles College, Charles Barkley was the very thing he said years ago that he wasn’t.

He was a role model.

Barkley, voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, spoke during a Miles College pep rally. But the Round Mound of Rebound’s message was less about rooting on the Golden Bears as they host Lane College in a 6 p.m. football game on Saturday and more about rooting on the students of the historically black college in Fairfield.

606

The product of Leeds and Auburn University told a few hundred students gathered outside the George T. French Jr. Student Activity Center that they can write their own stories by getting their education.

“Control your future,” he said. “Control your future.”

Barkley cited the 1980s Nike commercial in which he said, “I’m not a role model.”

“The reason I made the commercial was I felt too many young black kids think they’re going to play in the NBA,” he said. “First of all, there ain’t but 400 of them (NBA players). You ain’t gonna be one of those 400 but you can be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, fireman, policeman.

“You can use your brain,” Barkley continued. “I wish everybody could play in the NBA. But you have to be realistic … but you can be anything you want to do academically.”

The former NBA great said his message at colleges and universities is always about education. He said becoming a player in the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball is “a lucky life miracle.”

Charles Barkley visits Miles College from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“I’m 56,” Barkley said. “I’m the only one from my hometown. There’s one in every hometown. That’s it. The rest of the people gotta get a real job. I always tell kids when I speak to them: There’s nothing wrong with digging ditches, but it’s gonna be hot or cold. But if you get that education, you can go to work in a nice suit and control your future. Control your future and your destiny.”

Barkley left Auburn University after a three-year playing career. He was selected with the fifth pick in the first round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, two slots after the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan.

But Barkley, who is a studio analyst for Turner Network Television (TNT), understands the importance of education, particularly the education provided by historically black colleges and universities. He said he’s contributed to Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and Alabama A&M here in his home state.

And he plans to add Miles College to his list.

“I haven’t figured out what I’m gonna do with Miles yet,” he told the crowd, “but I’m gonna do something.”

Interim Miles President Bobbie Knight said she has known Barkley for a while but the two have recently talked about projects in which he can get involved in and around Birmingham.

“When he found out I was coming to Miles as interim president, he reached out to me,” the former Alabama Power vice president said. “You normally don’t get people that say, ‘What can I do to help?’ Normally, it’s “How can you help me?’ That was amazing to me.”

Knight said Barkley wanted to visit and tour the campus. The two have talked about potential growth on the campus, including the need for a new gymnasium.

“He’s really interested in seeing how he can help us with that,” she said. “He’s giving back. Being a student-athlete is critically important to him and he likes the idea of giving back to other student-athletes and students in general.”

Among those in attendance at the pep rally was Miles professor Ethel B. Hill, who taught Barkley chemistry when he was a student at Leeds High School. She remembers him being an excellent student who “sometimes liked to play a little bit.”

She recalled him being “a little shy” as a high school junior and senior. Clearly, the fellow who was known by his middle name, Wade, in those days is shy no more.

“He got a little help from home and me,” Hill said with a laugh. “I can’t tell you what but from home and me.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Keeping score: Manual scoreboard at Birmingham’s Rickwood Classic keeps it old school

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

When teams score 13 runs in a baseball game, you might say they are lighting up the scoreboard.

Unless you’re talking about Wednesday’s 23rd annual Rickwood Classic game, in which the Montgomery Biscuits beat the Birmingham Barons 9-4.

The high-scoring contest didn’t light up the scoreboard at Rickwood Field because the scoring on the board beyond the outfield fence isn’t kept by electrically powered light bulbs. The old-time manual scoreboard is one of the unusual features of the ballpark that drew 7,015 to the 12:30 p.m. contest.

Volunteers from the Friends of Rickwood scaled a 30-foot ladder and stood on a scaffold to change the score each time a baserunner crossed the plate.

627

That was tough, 18-year-old Carson Weldon said, since you can’t see what the fans in the stands are seeing. Tougher still, he said, is updating the men on the mound and behind the plate.

“Pitchers and catchers are hard because you’ve got to see the (jersey) numbers from all the way back here and you’ve got to put it up fast enough for everyone to see,” he said.

Weldon and his brother Connor were among the volunteers working with the Friends of Rickwood. Dan Weinrib, a board member with Friends of Rickwood, couldn’t have been more pleased with drawing scoreboard duty for the Classic.

“The best part of doing this job is you get to watch the game,” he said. “All the other volunteers have to tend to other duties, but the job of the scoreboard folks is to keep current. We get to watch the game, but we also welcome visitors to come up and take in a view of the game.

“They can’t do this at Wrigley or Fenway because those are working areas for staff only,” he said of the major league ballparks in Chicago and Boston. “We’re a living museum. We want people to explore and experience Rickwood from all 360 degrees.”

Scott Marona was among those who scaled the ladder behind the scoreboard. In doing so, he took a trip down memory lane.

The Huntsville resident played at Rickwood as a 15-year-old ninth grader in a state Dizzy Dean all-star tournament. At 45, he was back at the venerable ballpark playing in a 35-older baseball league.

Rickwood Field even transcended generations for him. His son played there as a 17-year-old and the ballpark is where his father saw his first pro baseball game in 1948.

“I come back here every year,” Marona said. “You love the nostalgia of this park. This is one of the meccas of baseball. You don’t see many old-time things that are kept intact, that are kept outdated on purpose, and this is one of them. Unless you go to Fenway Park you don’t experience what It’s like to go back in old-time baseball.

“It’s a great venue, a great atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a shame they only do it once a year. We love it and it’s really worth coming down here for it.”

Birmingham native Richard Kaley drove from Mobile Wednesday morning to take in the game. Well before the first pitch, he ventured beyond the outfield fence to see the X that marked the spot where a mammoth home run hit by Walt Dropo made contact.

Hal Burton, 70, drove Tuesday night from Key Largo, Florida. He snapped pictures of the X, thinking about a time when home runs were no big deal on the diamond.

“Home runs weren’t popular before Babe Ruth,” the Jasper native said. “Babe Ruth made it popular. These old walls were moved in to the current walls. At this (original) distance, nobody could hit it over the wall.

“That’s how baseball has changed over the last 100 years,” Burton said. “I used to come to Rickwood in the late ‘50s. I grew up in Jasper and we’d come over and watch the Barons at Rickwood Field.”

Weinrib, the Friends of Rickwood board member, noted that the current outfield wall was designed for the movie “Cobb” with a 1948 style.

“The scoreboard that was put up by movie studios wasn’t meant to last decades, but it lasted close to 20 years,” he said. “We replaced it but made it look like it did in 1948 once again. People think this is the original scoreboard; it isn’t. It’s a recreation of what was here in ’48. Incidentally, the remnant of chain link fence here was part of the outfield fence in the 1980s when the Barons last (regularly) played here. It’s all part of history.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Baseball legend Lou Piniella is guest of honor for Birmingham Barons’ Rickwood Classic

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Lou Piniella recalled spending one year as a student at the University of Tampa, where he played basketball and baseball.

“I saw I wasn’t going to be a Rhodes scholar in college,” Piniella said, “so I signed (a baseball contract) after my freshman season.”

Piniella, 75, would go on to play 1,700 games and manage 3,000 games in the major leagues, earning three World Series championship rings.

626

The former major leaguer was the guest of honor for the 2019 Rickwood Classic, which pits the home-standing Birmingham Barons against the Montgomery Biscuits.

Levy’s Fine Jewelers sponsors the annual return to Rickwood Field on Birmingham’s westside. Tuesday, Piniella visited with baseball fans at the jewelry store and recorded a conversation with Curt Bloom, the radio voice of the Barons.

Piniella signed autographs during his visit to the jewelry store Tuesday. Most of his signatures were placed on baseballs, with a few going onto baseball cards, a replica baseball jersey and one on an old magazine.

Perhaps the most unusual item Piniella signed was a base from his final major league baseball game, Aug. 22, 2010. The autographed base will be a surprise birthday present for the brother of the man who got the autograph.

“The Cubs sold a lot of their stuff to a group called Steiner Sports,” the man said. “He’s a big Cubs fan.”

The former major leaguer said that while his baseball career took him to several stops, he’s “always a Yankee.” Will that bother the man’s brother?

“Nah,” he said with a laugh. “We’re not Yankee haters. We’re big fans of (Piniella). We love his style.”

Mike Eady, 66, had the replica jersey of the Kansas City Royals, the team with which Piniella played his rookie season.

“They were giveaways at the Kansas City ballpark last year when they honored Piniella on his rookie year,” said Eady, a retired school teacher. “I’ll always keep it.”

Eady was at Levy’s because a visit from the Barons’ special guest is an annual part of the Rickwood Classic.

“I haven’t missed one yet,” the Irondale resident said of the Barons’ annual return to the vintage ballpark. “I just love the atmosphere and coming down here and meeting a former ballplayer who’s probably going to be in the Hall of Fame as a manager or a ballplayer.”

An outfielder in the major leagues, Piniella played 16 seasons with the Baltimore OriolesCleveland IndiansKansas City Royals and New York Yankees. During his playing career, he was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1969 and captured two World Series championships with the Yankees.

Following his playing career, Piniella became a manager for the New York Yankees (1986-1988), Cincinnati Reds (1990-1992), Seattle Mariners (1993-2002), Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2003-2005) and Chicago Cubs (2007-2010). He won the 1990 World Series championship with the Reds and led the Mariners to four postseason appearances in seven years.

The former player and manager also captured back-to-back division titles (2007-2008) during his time with the Cubs. Piniella was named Manager of the Year three times during his career (1995, 2001 and 2008) and finished his managerial career ranked 14th all time on the list of managerial wins.

He was nicknamed “Sweet Lou,” both for his swing as a major league hitter and, facetiously, to describe his demeanor as a player and manager.

Tuesday was not Piniella’s first trip to Alabama. He was a member of the New York Yankees team in 1978 that traveled to face the Crimson Tide in a preseason contest.

“They came to Tuscaloosa because George Steinbrenner and Bear Bryant were close,” Eady recalled. “Bear wanted them to come up and they did.”

Piniella recalled that his first minor league stint was for a team in Selma in the old Alabama-Florida League. Well after his playing days, he had a small piece of the Montgomery Biscuits for about 10 years.

While Piniella earned three World Series rings in his baseball career, he wears only one ring, the one he got with the 1977 Yankees.

“I would think the first one is more special,” he said. But even without a ring to show for it, Piniella has fond memories of his managerial stop with the Seattle Mariners.

“We won 116 (regular season games in 2001),” he recalled. “That’s an all-time American League record.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Saban’s fireside chat with students yields sage wisdom

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Nick Saban had just told nearly 2,200 people how he ultimately became a football coach when Jeremiah Brown stepped to the microphone, asking Saban’s inspiration to be a coach.

Rather than repeating his earlier comments, Saban ultimately provided the 10-year-old member of Boy Scout Troop 478 with some advice.

614

“Nobody’s ever going to remember anything about what you said (or) did,” the coach said. “They’re only going to remember how you made them feel. I hope you can live your life and make people around you feel good about you being a part of their experience.”

Jeremiah, a Tuggle Elementary student and resident of Elyton Village public housing community, was among hundreds of Scouts on hand as Saban was the featured guest at the annual American Values Luncheon of the Boy Scouts of America Greater Alabama Council.

The Crimson Tide football coach and Alabama broadcaster Eli Gold sat in elevated crimson armchairs for a fireside-styled chat, fielding questions from Scouts and providing life lessons for the youngsters in attendance.

Ten-year-old Ellison Hicks of Troop 86 Green and Homewood’s Hall-Kent Elementary School inquired about the toughest part of being a coach. That, Saban said, is creating a mindset in which “a whole bunch of people” buy into being dedicated to doing what they need to do, what he calls “The Process.”

“Self-discipline is really what I’m talking about,” Saban said. “It’s the decisions and choices we all make. There’s something I know I’m supposed to do that I really don’t want to do. Can you make yourself do it? Over here, there’s something you’re not supposed to do, but you want to do it. Can you keep yourself from it?

“If you can make those choices and decisions from a self-discipline standpoint, you’ll always be able to stay on a path to accomplish the vision and the goal that you have.”

Saban said that boils down to choice.

“You have to choose to do the things you have to do to accomplish the goals that you have.”

Walden Knott, another Troop 86 Green member, asked Saban whether he likes being famous. “I don’t see myself as being famous,” he replied.

Later, the coach said a loss of humility can cause people and teams to not do what had made them successful.

He said he thinks last year’s team, which remained undefeated until it lost the national championship game to Clemson, “got to the point, down the stretch,” where it became focused on winning itself more than on doing the things it needed to do to win.

Saban recalled that a repeated theme of Alabama football seasons had been climbing the mountain.

“What people also have to understand is if you’re in a successful organization and you have a successful company … you become the mountain,” he said, trying not to sound arrogant.

“That’s a different mindset. Now everybody tries to do it the way you do it or do it better than you do it. That’s very challenging.”

Time didn’t permit all the Scouts with questions to query the coach. Alabaster’s Jon Baggette, 15, was among them.

The Thompson High freshman plays euphonium in the school band. The Life member of Troop 548 wanted to know Saban’s favorite genre of music.

“I feel like he might like country,” Baggette said.

Gold asked a few questions of the coach, including an assessment of ongoing spring practice on the Capstone. Saban’s answer included his concern about the future of college football.

That concern is centered on the sense of free agency created by graduate transfer rules and the increase of players leaving school early to declare for the NFL Draft.

Half of the players who left college early either went undrafted or had very short careers. And most of those, Saban surmised, didn’t go back to get a degree.

“There’s not 140 first-round draft picks. I can tell you that,” Saban said. “I don’t think it sends the right message for people who make commitments, that they can just jump ship as soon as things don’t go the way they want them to go.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Lori Locust takes coaching prowess from Birmingham Iron to NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs

(AAF/Contributed)

Lori Locust just wants to be one of the guys.

Specifically, she wants to be one of the guys coaching a pro football team.

After beginning the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football as the defensive line coach of the Birmingham Iron, Locust recently stepped into a bigger spotlight as an assistant coach with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

705

The Bucs became the first NFL team with two female full-time assistant coaches when head coach Bruce Arians hired Locust to be an assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

In a video interview with Buccaneers.com, “Coach Lo” was asked about being an inspiration to girls who aspire to do what she’s doing. She said that has never been her motivation.

“I’ve always just wanted to coach and hoping that my hard work would get me here,” the 54-year-old said. “I hope that that’s an example that anybody can follow. But, yeah, there’s another responsibility to it.

“I want to be an effective coach,” she continued. “I want to be seen as somebody who’s here for the right reasons, and not for, you know, publicity or anything like that.”

Before Locust moved on to the Bucs, Birmingham Iron head coach Tim Lewis said he never hesitated having her on his staff. It’s all about the opportunity, he said.

“It was absolutely on the forefront of my mind that everybody should be given an opportunity,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter about whether female, male, what color, race, creed, so forth. (AAF founders) Bill Polian, Charlie Ebersol saw the vision of this being a league of opportunity. They’ve bestowed the opportunity on me and there’s no way that I would exclude anyone from being a part of our staff.”

Locust began playing football when she was 40 on a women’s team in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When she was sidelined by a knee injury, she turned to coaching her team, and later joined other teams as an assistant, including the varsity team at her alma mater, Susquehanna Township High School in Pennsylvania.

Locust has coached for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the National Arena League, the Keystone Assaultof the Women’s Football Alliance, the East Preps talent showcase and the DMV Elite community football program. In fall 2018 she interned with the Baltimore Ravens under a Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship.

Lewis said Locust wanted him to make no concessions for her when she was with the Iron.

“’Coach, I just want you to know that you don’t have to make up any accommodations for me,’” he said, recalling their first telephone conversation. “’I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been coaching men’s football for a long time. You can say, do whatever you want. I’m good.’”

Lewis acknowledged that a locker room can have some salty language, and that Locust helped make it that way.

“She’s one of the guys,” he said. “No one holds back anything that they want to say or do. It’s really funny how football kind of transcends. You go from being teammates to family and brothers. That’s what we’ve done here. And she’s one of the guys.”

After 13 years as a coach, Locust said an opportunity presented itself with the Bucs, which gave her a chance to renew acquaintances with Arians. They crossed paths when she was a student at Temple University and he was the football coach.

“I was gonna say five or six years ago in college, but it’s been about 35, 36 (years) since we were at Temple,” she said, laughing. “I was there … when he first came in. And that’s how I know a lot of the assistant coaches — coach (Todd) Bowles, coach (Kevin) Ross and coach (Todd) McNair and coach (Keith) Armstrong.

“That’s another added bonus of being here now, to be reunited with a lot of the guys I knew from Temple and being part of this program.”

Speaking to ESPN.com, Arians said it’s about time females join the ranks of NFL coaches.

“It’s time, and I’ll be happy when it’s not news anymore. … That’s where it should be heading,” said Arians, who hired the NFL’s first female training camp intern, Jen Welter, with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.

“They’re what we need. The fact that their gender’s different, who gives a s—?” said Arians, noting that players gravitated toward Welter because of her unusual method of teaching.

“I always go back to Dot Murphy at Hinds (Community College) when I was at Mississippi State. She was one of the best receiver coaches I’d ever seen. This was 25 years ago. So my answer (when asked), ‘Can they coach?’ Hell, yeah. I’ve seen it. It’s just getting opportunities.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

NCAA Division I track and field championship shows Birmingham’s potential as sports host

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Beth Monson sounded a four-fingered whistle as her daughter Alicia Monson rounded the track Friday night at the Birmingham CrossPlex. The mother of the Wisconsin junior said she tried to remain calm as Alicia competed in the women’s 5,000 meters.

But that didn’t last, especially as Alicia advanced through the lead pack on her way to overtaking the leader in the final lap to win the race.

“I was really cool coming into it, but, when she starts running, I swear I’m out there with her,” the Amery, Wisconsin, resident said. “Any parent is feeling the same way for their kid, whether they win or are just here participating. It’s all the same. It’s just a little sweeter when you win.”

612

For two days, parents, friends, teammates and fans rooted for athletes as they competed in the 2019 NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships. For the record, the Southeastern Conference dominated with the women of Arkansas and the men of Florida winning national titles, the second consecutive indoor national crown for the Gator men.

But even before the first shot was put, the first race was run or the first hurdle was cleared, metro Birmingham was already a huge winner.

“That’s a big event for us, obviously,” said David Galbaugh, the vice president of sports sales and marketing at the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve had a great relationship with the NCAA for a while now with their winter championships. We’ve also hosted this event before, but we hosted across all divisions – Divisions I, II and III.

“It’s the premier athletes in terms of indoor track and field that come to your town over the span of this week, so it’s great for us, and it’s great for economic impact,” he continued. “It is significant.”

The estimated economic impact of the championships was nearly $5.4 million. It was livestreamed via ESPN3.

But the impact spanned a greater time than the presence of the top track and field teams in town last week.

“Whatever division we have that year … since it’s Division I this year … we’re going to see more Division I programs coming during the regular season to get acclimated to the track,” said Preston Kirk, the marketing and development manager at CrossPlex. “Next year when we have Division II national championships, we’re going to see a lot of Division II programs coming.”

That pattern was evident last year when CrossPlex was the site of the 2018 Division III national championships.

“It’s not the fact that they’re all coming during the week of the national championship,” Kirk said. “They’re all coming during the regular season because they now know where the national championship is each year.”

Taunita Stephenson, the director of Birmingham CrossPlex, chimed in.

“As we’re having meets leading up to this, then those teams will say, ‘Hey, that’s a good meet for us to hop in because the national championship will be there,’” she said.

Kirk said there is a trickledown effect that goes all the way into high school and club events.

“They want to come and compete where the national championship is,” he said. “When we have a Division I national championship that year, people want to come and compete. No matter if you’re in college, high school or club. They want to come compete where the national championship is that year.”

Faye Oates is commissioner of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office of sports and entertainment. She said last week’s championships demonstrate what the city of Birmingham can do with the right support.

That support, she said, comes from the corporate community, government and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It is truly a partnership,” she said. “That’s what this DI national championship is. Everybody’s involved to make it happen. As we build this resume, it allows us to go out and recruit more events, and we can show we’ve done lots and lots of comprehensive events.”

Oates said Birmingham has only scratched the surface of its potential to host sports events.

“It’s a teeny, teeny tiny scratch,” she said. “We’ve got a long way to go and I think a lot of that is in our own head. The World Games is a great example. When that was talked about, it was said, ‘Birmingham can’t do that.’

“Here we are two years out,” Oates continued, pointing toward the 2021 World Games coming to Birmingham. “So, it’s a teeny, teeny tiny scratch, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Birmingham’s first professional soccer franchise set to launch Sunday

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Chandler Hoffman has played soccer since he was 5 years old and has experienced the opening of soccer seasons for more than two decades.

But Sunday’s beginning is so much more for the Oak Mountain High product. It is the first United Soccer League game ever for the new Birmingham Legion, which hosts the Bethlehem Steel FC at 4 p.m. on BBVA Compass Field at UAB in a game that can be seen locally on My68. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed because of a forecast of bad weather.

675

“This one means the most to me because it’s an opportunity to play professionally in the place that I grew up,” said Hoffman, the first player selected for the team. “It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. This will be the only chance to play the first game for the Birmingham Legion and to be a part of that history and to hopefully make my mark on the game and create a memory that the club can continue to build on.”

Legion President and General Manager Jay Heaps has been involved in tennis most of his life. His father played the sport in college and he has embraced the sport since he could walk.

The 42-year-old played soccer collegiately and professionally before being head coach of Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution and then taking the reins of Birmingham’s USL expansion club.

“It is a bigger undertaking than I had imagined, more fulfilling than I imagined, but also pretty exciting because everyone here has kind of a startup feel,” Heaps said. “Everyone that’s been hired from Day One and then as we add (staffers) has a real impact on what we’re doing. That’s a unique culture to have. Everyone in the office is impacting what the team is doing in the stadium and on the field.”

The plan is for gates to open about 2½ hours before the game begins. The plaza behind the grandstand will feature a festival environment with beverages, food and music.

“The game is what we want everyone to really fall in love with,” the GM said. “Every roll of the ball matters and I think that’s what’s great about soccer. I’m really excited that these fans walk in, experience the pregame plaza. And hopefully will be inspired by our team.”

Heaps said several teams in Major League Soccer, especially reigning MLS champion Atlanta United, reached out to the Legion, wanting to affiliate with the new club. While the offer was flattering, club owners opted to decline.

“We would rather build our own independent team (so) that when we sign players, we know they’re coming to Birmingham because they want to be in Birmingham, not on loan,” Heaps said. “All the players on loan from Atlanta United (would be) coming here and their real job is to get back to Atlanta.

“We want players that live in your communities, are in your schools, their kids are in your schools, their wives are working in your churches,” he continued. “We want to be a fabric of the community, not just in and out during our season.”

Hoffman, 28, was inspired by the notion of coming back home. That was a huge goal of his, he said, to not only be successful on the field but to continue to push soccer forward in the communities of Birmingham.

“Whether it be camps or clinics or working with local clubs, (I want to) help kind of build the next generation of talent and players in Birmingham,” he said, “and give kids something. They can go downtown and see a game and aspire to play at that level one day and to see it’s tangible and to see someone from their area or from their local school that has gone on to do it.”

Hoffman admits it’s a huge responsibility to be the face of a new pro sports operation. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve always been the type of person and player that enjoys the pressure,” he said. “Whenever there’s a penalty kick or there’s a big moment, I’ve always been the one that wants to step up. And whether I make it or not, I’ve always been the one that wants to deal with the repercussions and the consequences, or the glory, that comes with that. For me, (Sunday) is a huge opportunity. It’s a home opener and a first in the club’s history. And for me, there’s a lot of excitement about having the ability to score a goal and to give people a reason to come back and to enjoy seeing the Birmingham Legion arrive.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Auburn AD Allen Greene doing a job that’s ‘rewarding beyond measure’

(Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

Allen Greene had it all figured out.

“My plan was to be a Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player,” he said. “I had that plan in high school, which is why, when I got to college, I majored in finance because I wanted to manage my money. And I knew I was gonna have a lot of it.”

Baseball was the sport for which Greene, now the athletic director at Auburn University, had been known. He had played football, basketball and soccer, too, but the diamond was where he expected to make his bones.

978

And the native of Bellevue, Washington, in suburban Seattle, was on his way, earning a baseball scholarship to Notre Dame and getting selected by the New York Yankees in the ninth round of the 1998 MLB draft. But after three seasons in the minor leagues, Greene’s plan appeared to derail when he was told he didn’t measure up.

“It was the first time that … I wasn’t good enough,” the 41-year-old said, sitting in his office in the Auburn Athletics Complex. “The reality of me not being good enough, that was the first time I’d ever experienced that. It creates chaos internally because my identity had been wrapped up into sports, baseball specifically, since I was 5 years old. To be 20, 22, 23 years old and my identity had been erased, truncated, if you will.

“How do you navigate that? You’re used to going to a locker room, being with teammates, playing a game, getting paid to play a game,” Greene continued. “Your world revolves around this lifestyle. When that abruptly comes to an end, you find yourself trying to figure out who you are and what you’re going to do.”

This is why Greene, the guy who dreamed of joining Micky Mantle, Willie Mays and Joe Morgan in the Baseball Hall of Fame, wanted to get his college degree. He knew this moment would come.

“I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could be, to be able to navigate it,” he said. “The plan didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but it worked out the way that it was supposed to. And I’m very fortunate, fast forward to right now, I’m here today.”

Greene is a year into his tenure as the director of athletics at Auburn. He is the first African-American to be in that position on the Plains and just the third to join that fraternity in the Southeastern Conference.

Greene’s love of baseball and his study of finance could have put him on a path to the front office of a pro franchise. But his experience in professional baseball opened his eyes to how much of a business sports is, and how professional sports wasn’t a fit for him.

“I would much rather spend time helping shape young people and helping shape their lives as opposed to the transactional side of professional sports,” he said. “Honestly, some people want to be a GM, and that’s great for them. But it wasn’t for me. I recognized that intercollegiate athletics was the way for me to have that impact, particularly at a time in my life that I cherished so much as a student athlete. To have the ability to impact 500-plus student athletes. … It’s rewarding beyond measure.”

Greene began his walk beyond the basepaths in the athletics department of Notre Dame, working in development and NCAA compliance from 2003 to 2009.

From there, he was an assistant athletic director at Ole Miss and then was the athletic director for the University of Buffalo.

As an athlete, Greene can relate to that euphoric time when a player of a sport is “in the zone.” He recounted his most memorable game, a basketball contest in which he took a knee to the head as he dove for a loose ball, proudly pointing out the scar over his right eye.

He’s not sure if he lost consciousness then, but he played that way when he returned to the court.

“I came back in the game and I shot the ball like I wasn’t conscious,” he said. “I remember coming back from that injury and playing better, being in the zone. That was a really unique feeling that most athletes don’t get a chance to experience.”

The Auburn AD paused when asked if athletic directors get that feeling, too.

“I find myself moving on quicker than other people,” he said. “If we win, that’s great. But I’m on to the next thing. It’s hard to try to slow down and smell the roses. It’s hard to slow down and just take it in.”

With 15 programs under his charge, Greene is always moving on to the next thing. In truth, there is no offseason for an athletic director, which makes it tough for Greene to follow the “other” seasons in his world.

His 13-year-old daughter, Rian, is playing travel volleyball. His son, Sammy, 11, just wrapped up basketball and is on to baseball while daughter Seneca, 7, is in T-ball. All three play piano.

“I’ve got my three kids and wife (Christy) at home. That’s one family,” he said, “and I’ve got then the Auburn family. For people like me, in order to do our jobs really, really well, we have to sacrifice a whole heck of a lot.”

But the Auburn athletic director isn’t complaining. He accepts it. He embraces it.

“I get up ready to come to work every single day excited because I know that I get to have such a large impact on everybody else, and (what I) try to do is bring my family into my work world as best as I can.”

Greene said being the first African-American athletic director at Auburn “never, never crossed my mind.” He thought carefully about simply being African-American.

Even now, he said, it doesn’t affect his role on the campus. But he acknowledges it could have an impact on student-athletes at Auburn, and beyond.

“I do recognize that me, a person of my profile in this position has a ripple effect throughout not only our league, but our country,” he said. “I’ve gotten more emails than I could guess with young people of color or females wanting to reach out to connect with me just to have some professional development discussions.

“Our student athletes, particularly our young black men, are probably surprised by the hire but I think welcome it because they see someone who looks like them in a prominent position that isn’t necessarily participating in sport or in entertainment.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)