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 week ago

Alabama Power Junior Clinic teaches lessons about golf and life

(Christopher Jones/Contributed)

Sunny, clear skies greeted participants in the annual Junior Clinic at Regions Tradition at the Greystone Golf Course in Hoover.

Nearly 200 students participated in the annual clinic, learning not only about golf but also about the game of life.

PGA Tour Champions professionals Ken Tanigawa and Shaun Micheel were the instructors of the clinic, held the morning of Tuesday, May 7.

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The clinic was ahead of the Regions Tradition, which will run through Sunday, May 12.

Children’s of Alabama is the tournament’s primary beneficiary. Since the tourney began in 1992, more than $17 million has been raised to benefit charities.

On Wednesday, the Celebrity Pro-Am featured sports celebrities, including University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, Auburn coach Gus Malzhan, former Auburn running back and pro football player Bo Jackson, former Alabama running back and pro football player Trent Richardson, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Regions Junior Clinic educates and entertains students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama Newscenter)

2 weeks ago

State rep seeks to allow popular fantasy sports games in Alabama

(W. Hui/Flickr)

Technology provides consumers access to most anything these days, right from their fingertips. Getting directions, finding out the weather, listening to music, watching movies and playing games have all been reduced to an app on your phone.

One member of the Alabama legislature wants to expand those game options for the state’s fantasy sports fanatics.

State Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) has sponsored a bill which will permit consumers in Alabama to engage in daily fantasy sports contests most often played through an app like the ones on a phone.

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In fantasy sports contests, participants choose a virtual team of real-world pro athletes to create lineups which then compete against lineups assembled by other game players. The competition occurs based on the statistical performance of those athletes.

The fantasy players whose athletes perform the best — statistically — win.

Among the sports from which a daily fantasy player can choose are football, basketball, baseball, NASCAR and golf.

South thinks much of the popularity behind fantasy sports games comes from the camaraderie between contestants.

“It’s an interaction between fans and the sports that they love and their peers,” he explained. “It’s a peer to peer game. It allows you to have an interest in a sporting event that you might otherwise not have.”

All of the states bordering Alabama allow for the playing of daily fantasy sports either through an app or online. The games are played in 43 total states.

While neighboring states have been able to gain a clearer understanding of fantasy sports, South believes some confusion still exists in Alabama about the nature of the games.

He points out that fantasy sports games require considerable skill and knowledge of the athletes and teams for which they play.

South says the difference between skilled and unskilled players matters in fantasy sports, and that’s what makes it different from sports gambling.

“No offense to my mom, but if we play ten times I’m going to beat her all ten times,” he contended.

He said that there is no doubt a clear skill requirement exists in fantasy sports, and he also sees a parallel between fantasy sports and the modern version of sports on the field.

“One thing you can point to are all these major league baseball teams, these professional sports teams are going to an analytics-based system for choosing their players,” South said. “And that’s all we’re doing here.”

The type of analytics-based approach South refers to has taken off in professional sports to the point where an MIT graduate with no professional baseball experience is now the general manager for the San Francisco Giants.

The legislation will simply allow people to play a game where they can be the general manager of their own virtual sports teams, South says.

The average fee to enter a daily fantasy sports contest and compete against other players is three dollars, according to industry data. An estimated 53 million people nationwide participate in fantasy contests. And, in Alabama, an estimated 700,000 people have played fantasy sports.

Aiming to clear up the confusion surrounding the games, South revised his legislation during the committee process to ensure that sports gambling activity would not pop up if his bill became law.

“We added an amendment that made the focus of it a lot more narrow,” he said.

Applying some of his own experience in sports to how fantasy sports are conducted allows him to make comparisons he hopes will help, as well.

“I’m a golfer but same goes for a fishing tournament where you pay an entry fee and the winner receives a cash or cash equivalent prize,” South pointed out. “Some variables are based on chance like conditions and water temperature but the dominant factor is skill. The same applies to fantasy sports.”

It all goes back to being smart about which players you choose and when you play them, South says.

“If we say that there is nothing to the science of analytics, then why does Bill Belichick and the Patriots keep winning every year?” he asked.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

3 weeks ago

Birmingham among top TV markets for most-watched NFL Draft in history

According to data released Monday by ESPN, this past weekend’s NFL Draft was the most watched in history — and Birmingham’s television market helped make that milestone possible.

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The 2019 draft was also big for the Yellowhammer State for other reasons.

According to Max Preps, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams’ selection as the third overall pick this year marked the eighth top-ten overall pick since 2009 for Alabama high schools. Williams attended Wenonah High School in Birmingham before starring at the University of Alabama.

UA produced more drafted players (10) than any other school this year after the Crimson Tide boasted the same accomplishment in 2018 when 12 of Coach Nick Saban’s players were selected by NFL teams.

Per Alabama Media Group‘s tally, 21 players in total with Alabama ties – having attended college and/or high school in the state – were drafted this year.

This did not include Washington State University’s star quarterback Gardner Minshew, who had a brief stint at Troy University at the beginning of his collegiate career and actually turned down a graduate transfer offer by the University of Alabama before heading to WSU to play his final season. Minshew was selected in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.

However, the 21-player total did include six players from Auburn University, plus defensive tackle Byron Cowart, who played on the Plains in the 2015 and 2016 seasons but for Maryland in 2018.

Another tremendous draft story for the state was offensive tackle Tytus Howard, the 23rd overall pick. Howard walked on at Alabama State in Montgomery after not having a star rating at all coming out of Monroe County High School.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Fan favorite Chase Elliott takes GEICO 500 win at Talladega Superspeedway

(Talladega Superspeedway)

TALLADEGA — It’s been 32 years since an Elliott has gone to victory lane at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway, but on Sunday Chase Elliott was able to follow in his father’s footsteps by winning the GEICO 500.

His win was well received by those in attendance. Given his deep roots in the sports by being NASCAR great Bill Elliott’s son, the younger Elliott is perhaps the favorite of modern-day NASCAR fans.

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman finished second, with rookie Ryan Preece and Ford driver Joey Logano in tow for third and fourth-place finishes and rookie Daniel Hemric rounding out the top five.

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The 23-year-old Elliott survived a crash-filled chaotic ending to secure his first victory of the 2019 season. He led 44 laps, the most of any driver for four different spans in his first superspeedway win.

Chase Elliott leads the field to the checkered flag, 4/28/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Elliott’s father Bill Elliott is a two-time winner at the track with wins in 1987 and 1985 and holds the track’s all-time speed record.

“It just kind of happened by happenstance,” Elliott said to the media following the race of his win and his family’s ties to the track. “It was what it was and the day worked out like it did, for sure. You know, dad’s history — very cool.”

Elliott lauded the fans in attendance for the event for their boisterous reception.

“I was blown away by the people and how fired up everybody was,” he explained. “That was an unbelievable experience. We are close to home, so that’s cool, and they made me feel that way. I couldn’t ask for much more there.”

NASCAR driver Chase Elliott speaks to the media after his GEICO 500 win, 4/28/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

“The post-race was unbelievable,” he added. “I’ve never had a crowd — it just felt like in the palm of your hands. I mean, it’s how it felt. You get excited, they get excited. You block, and they don’t say anything. You pump your arms up, and they get pumped up. That’s just something that I’ve never really experienced. That’s one of the coolest moments, I feel like, of my racing career. Hey, you don’t know if that will always be that way. People may not like you in a couple of years or whatever. Today was something I’ll never forget. I just appreciate all the folks making it feel like a home race.”

Elliott leaves Talladega eligible for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. His win puts him seventh overall in driver points. Kyle Busch holds on to the series’ points lead.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Alabama Gang’s Red Farmer makes pitch to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame

(Screenshot/FS1)

Sunday during Fox Sports 1’s pre-race coverage of Talladega Superspeedway’s GEICO 500, long-time race car driver and Hueytown native Red Farmer reflected on seven decades of competing in motorsports.

Farmer is an original member of the Alabama Gang, among which also include fellow Hueytown natives Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Neil Bonnett, Huntsville’s Jimmy Means, Calera’s Hut Strickland and Gadsden’s Steve Grissom.

Farmer, who still competes at the Talladega Short Track, a dirt track across the street from the Talladega Superspeedway, joked that some have been trying to retire him since his last ARCA win at Talladega in 1988.

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“I’m going on 87 years old right now,” Farmer said. “I’ve been racing for 72 years. [They’ve been] retiring me for probably 30 years, so I know the last time I won the ARCA 500 across the street over there at Talladega Superspeedway, and I was 56 years old. They said that was your last race probably, and that was, you know, that was 30 years ago. I still enjoy working on my cars, and I still enjoy driving them.”

“I’ve won 752 races,” Farmer explained. “I don’t have to win anymore. If I come here and have a good time at the race track, and have a good finish – I run ninth or tenth or something like that and I have a good race, I enjoy it. I don’t have to win anymore.”

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

Farmer insists there are only three actual members of the Alabama Gang, Bobby and Donnie Allison and himself.

“People don’t understand – everybody that’s a good driver in Alabama, they’re supposed to add them to the Alabama Gang,” he said. “There’s not – there’s only Bobby, Donnie and me. We always traveled together, two pickup trucks and I pulled a station wagon. We come in like a convoy. The three of us were bumper-to-bumper, and somebody said, ‘Here comes that damn Alabama Gang again.’ And a reporter heard it, and that’s kind of how it got started.”

Farmer made a pitch during his FS1 appearance to be inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I would like to get in the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Farmer added. “I think that would be icing on the cake. I’m in nine hall of fames right now, and I’d like to make it 10. It would be nice to get it while I’m on the green side of the grass.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Bassmaster Classic expected to lure economic boost to Birmingham region

(Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.)

The Bassmaster Classic will return to Alabama next year, marking its milestone 50th annual tournament and bringing with it an economic splash that will ripple from Guntersville to Birmingham.

Officials announced Monday the tournament hailed as the “Super Bowl of bass fishing” will be at Lake Guntersville with daily weigh-ins and the associated Classic Outdoors Expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex May 6-8, 2020.

The tournament is a sort of homecoming. Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) was founded in Montgomery in 1968. It is now headquartered in Birmingham.

“It’s fitting that the golden anniversary classic be held in Alabama, where B.A.S.S. was founded more than 50 years ago,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “Our plans are to make this the most spectacular celebration of bass fishing in history.”

The Bassmaster Classic will be the third held on Lake Guntersville, the 13th in Alabama and the ninth at the BJCC.

Coming off a record-setting classic in Knoxville this year that had more than 153,000 in attendance and an economic impact of more than $32 million, officials are hopeful that the 50th will be the event’s best.

“As a competitor – and I know everybody in this room are real competitors – I think we need to shatter both records next year,” Akin said. “Between Birmingham and Guntersville and the state of Alabama, I’m pretty confident we can. With the record we’ve got against Tennessee in all facets of things, I think we will.”

That’s the kind of talk that David Galbaugh likes to hear.

“The $32 million in the Knoxville area, that’s tremendous and we certainly hope to reach that number or surpass it,” said Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB). “Our community will work tirelessly to make this the best classic ever.”

The event will showcase Lake Guntersville and the surrounding area.

“The Bassmaster Classic is the Super Bowl of bass fishing and we are excited that Lake Guntersville was chosen as the fishing venue for such a prestigious event,” said Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar. “We are so proud of our beautiful lake city and can hardly wait for all of you to come visit next March and experience Southern hospitality at its best.”

As the home of the weigh-ins and expo, Birmingham stands to see a big benefit as well.

“We are so proud to once again host the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “We look forward to the great competition the classic attracts and the dedicated fans who will gather in Birmingham for this incredible event. While in the region, we invite everyone to experience the inspirational history, legendary food and world-class entertainment, which make us the Magic City.”

The classic will be covered live and streamed on Bassmaster.com, ESPN3 and the ESPN app, and five hours of original programming will be aired on ESPN2 and the Pursuit Channel following the event. In addition, the classic annually draws more than 250 credentialed media. The 2019 classic was covered by journalists from 28 states as well as Japan, China, Australia, Italy, Germany and Canada.

The entire state will benefit from the exposure, said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

“Having the classic back in Alabama is huge because it is going to give our state – and Guntersville in particular – a tremendous amount of advertising and media coverage,” he said.

There will be 53 anglers competing for a total purse of $1 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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3 weeks ago

Tyler Reddick wins Talladega’s MoneyLion 300; Earns $100k ‘Dash 4 Cash’ bonus

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

TALLADEGA — Despite early problems, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Tyler Reddick took the checkered flag at Saturday’s MoneyLion 300 at the Talladega Superspeedway.

Reddick rallied for the win after suffering early race penalties, aided by properly-timed caution flags that allowed him to get back into contention.

It was the first win for Reddick this season, the series’ defending champion. In 2018, he won the third driver championship in the series for JR Motorsports in five years.

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“It was just a wild day,” Reddick said in a post-race press conference. “We had a great car. The day started off great. We were doing everything we needed to do as a team.”

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

Saturday’s visit to victory lane was also the first for Reddick’s crew chief Randall Burnett.

“We feel like we gave up a couple this year so far,” Burnett said to the media after the race. “So it is kind of nice to redeem ourselves. It’s really nice to get your first win at Talladega, for sure. Never a dull moment and I think if anybody was watching that race today, they’d agree. It was one of the better Talladega races I’ve seen in a while.”

The race also came with a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus for Reddick. He was the first finisher of the four qualified drivers eligible for the award.

He led a top-five finishing order that included Gray Gaulding, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.

His Talladega victory was his fourth-ever victory in the series, which pushed him to a 32-point advantage in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Talladega Superspeedway’s new oversized tunnel opens

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

For the first time in the history of the Talladega Superspeedway, drivers and fans can now enter and leave the infield at any time they choose — even during a race.

“For the race teams and, more importantly, our infield guests, they are no longer ‘captured’ in here,” said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch.

Lynch cut the ribbon on the tunnel Wednesday morning with the help of drivers Jeffrey Earnhardt and Chase Briscoe, as well as Lance Taylor from Taylor Corporation, which managed the construction. They then waved to the first group of fans who entered the track’s infield through the new tunnel.

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“I guess it’s ironic that the biggest infield in motorsports is the last one to get a full-sized tunnel, but we’ve got it and it’s here now,” Lynch said. “You saw the fans, how much they were enjoying coming through it.”

In previous years, large vehicles such as RV’s and car haulers could exit the infield only when the track was not in use. Drivers are excited about the improved access.

“I think it’s incredible,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been in the situation where I might be in the XFinity race and you’ve got to wake up at the crack of dawn Sunday to get out before they close the gate before the Cup race.”

“It makes it way more convenient,” Briscoe added. “Not only for the teams, but also for the race fans.”

The completion of the tunnel marks the end of the first phase of a $50 million “Transformation” renovation project at the track. A new premium RV area and shower trailers were also added to the infield this spring.

“We’re changing the game again,” Lynch said. “We’re ratcheting the greatest infield in motorsports up another notch or two.”

As soon as Sunday’s GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is over, work will begin on the second phase of the project, which will feature a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” where fans can interact with the top 22 drivers inside of a new open-air arena.

“What we’re going to build is going to be — no one is ever going to do it again because no one has as much land as we have,” Lynch said.

Earnhardt and Briscoe said they are excited about the opportunity to interact more closely with fans.

“If we don’t take the time to spend with the fans, then why would they want to come back?” Earnhardt said. “They’re spending a lot of hard-earned money they’ve made to come out and support us and watch us race, and enjoy the experience at the race track, so Talladega adding this is only going to improve the experience the fans have when they come here.”

“If we don’t have these fans, we don’t have a job,” Briscoe added. “With Talladega doing all of these renovations, I think there’s going to be more and more fans coming out than there’s ever been.”

Both drivers said one of their favorite new features coming this fall in the VIP Garage area will be WiFi.

“The WiFi is huge,” Earnhardt said. “You come to the race track and you can’t get a text to go out, you can’t a post to go up, and now they’re going to have WiFi in the Fan Zone, and that’s going to make people look through their friends’ posts and be like, ‘Man, they’re having a great time. I’m going the next time.’ I think that’s the kind of things a lot of these tracks are seeing they’ve got to do.”

“Talladega is already the best fan experience,” Briscoe said. “When you come here, you can hang out. It’s just a good time, and now, for all of the improvements we are seeing, it’s just going to make it even better. I’m looking forward to coming back in the fall and seeing the complete renovation.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama Sportsmen’s Caucus helping build economic juggernaut

(Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division/Facebook)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus on Wednesday held its third annual luncheon on the State Capitol front lawn, celebrating and advancing one of the Yellowhammer State’s most important economic engines.

The luncheon perfectly captured the essence of what it means to be an Alabama sportsman, bringing that outdoorsman vibe directly to the Capitol so legislators could walk across from the State House during the busy legislative day.

Doing so allowed the state’s outdoor recreation community to come together with pro-sportsmen elected officials to highlight the crucial role hunters and anglers play as the driving force behind conservation. The luncheon also honored the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and all they do for the industry, which garners the state of Alabama a $14.8 billion economic impact from hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

This amounts to 135,000 Alabama jobs stemming from hunting and fishing.

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Fifteen different organizations hosted displays to represent their organizations, programs and policies at the luncheon, including: DCNR, National Wild Turkey Federation, Coastal Conservation Association, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation/Alabama Sportsmen’s Caucus, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Hunting Works for Alabama, Renew Our Rivers, Polaris, Alabama Black Belt Adventures, University of Montevallo Outdoors Scholars, Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences/Wildlife Enterprise Management, American Kennel Club, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Alabama Bass Trail, Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association and USDA-APHIS.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) attended the luncheon and blessed the food.

“As someone who built my business career in the hunting and fishing industry in Alabama, I’m a firsthand witness to the vital role it plays in Alabama’s economy,” Ainsworth told Yellowhammer News.

He continued, “The outdoor sporting opportunities that our state offers attract tourists from around the globe, pump billions of dollars into our economy, and directly employ roughly 135,000 of our fellow Alabamians. I’m proud to stand with the Alabama Sportsmen’s Caucus and the work it does to promote, preserve, and protect our proud hunting and fishing heritage for future generations.”

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) attended, as did Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who addressed the large crowd in attendance. Marsh is the Senate chairman of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), the House chairman of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, also addressed the crowd.

He later told Yellowhammer News, “The Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus continues to establish itself as a formal entity within the statehouse. I am honored to serve as the Chairman in the House and look forward to the continued growth of the caucus as we provide a voice for sportsmen in the statehouse as well as provide education and information to legislators on issues important to sportsmen and women.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship visited with the crowd throughout the event, also speaking from the podium at one point.

“Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are true economic drivers for the state of Alabama,” Blankenship told Yellowhammer News. “From the Gulf Coast, through the Black Belt to North Alabama, our state is blessed with abundant natural resources.”

“ADCNR is proud to support the annual Sportsmen’s Caucus Luncheon and appreciates the commitment to conservation exhibited by the various groups in attendance. We are excited to see the recent growth of the Sportsmen’s Caucus and look forward to continuing to work with them on issues impacting our natural resources,” he concluded.

What is the caucus?

The Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus was formed on April 22nd, 2009 with the help of many organizations in the sportsmen’s community.

The caucus has become rejuvenated in recent years and continues to grow in size and functionality each year. It is currently comprised of 80 members but expects to have over 100 state legislators signed on before the 2019 regular session ends.

Crawford is the House chairman, while that chamber’s vice chairman is State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and executive committee contains State Reps. Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley), Rodney Sullivan (R-Northport) and Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn).

Marsh is the Senate chairman, while that body’s vice chairman is State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville).

The caucus exists to educate and inform legislators about sportsmen’s issues; protect and advance the traditional rights of Alabama’s citizens to hunt, fish, and pursue outdoor activities; recognize the importance of hunting, angling, outdoor activities, and our natural resources to our state’s and nation’s economy and support the maintenance and growth of outdoor-related industries and activities; support efforts to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat; ensure that Alabama’s sportsmen and women have reasonable access to public lands to enjoy outdoor pursuits; and protect the investment of sportsmen and women in wildlife and fisheries management by safeguarding the integrity of the American System of Conservation Funding.

The Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus is part of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC).

NASC is a network of state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses that began in 2004 and is staffed through the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). CSF works on the federal and state level to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

Currently, 49 state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses (and over 2,000 state legislators across the country) are united under the NASC umbrella.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

Pearl: Auburn men’s basketball team a lesson in how ‘we can govern’

(Gov. Ivey/Twitter)

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey honored the Auburn University men’s basketball team at a ceremony on the governor’s mansion front lawn on Wednesday afternoon, calling them “a fantastic team” who had “a fantastic season.”

Ivey, who attended the Final Four game against the University of Virginia, talked about how confidence and preparation were key to the team’s late-season success.

“This team said, ‘Why not us?'” the governor said.

She also lauded their character and how they modeled what Auburn – and the state – stands for.

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“On the court and off the court, these team members of the Auburn’s men’s basketball team brought dignity and determination to everything they did – they did it with class,” Ivey emphasized. “And y’all, it was noticed and is noticed – first class Auburn men’s basketball team.”

Ivey told the seniors that they had especially helped set the stage for the program to be a consistent national powerhouse.

“We want to do this again and go all the way,” the governor emphasized.

Pearl, speaking after Ivey, first reminded the players how unprecedented their season was.

“Remember this, that in the history of the NCAA Tournament, in the history of the Final Four, you were the first team from the state of Alabama to ever play in the Final Four,” Pearl crowed.

“Governor Ivey, when my guys were listening to that talk, they were ready to play right now for you. I’m just telling you right now,” he added.

With a crowd of state legislators in attendance, Pearl said that his team was so successful because “they worked together” so well.

“These young guys taught us how maybe we can govern, about how maybe we can lead,” he continued. “And the difference we can make in this country.”

Ivey presented the team with a proclamation naming April 24, 2019, in their honor.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) presented the team with a resolution from the Senate, along with State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) did the same on behalf of that chamber, along with State Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn).

Multiple leaders from the team spoke, thanking the governor and all of the tremendous supporters and fans who were with them every step of the way. They presented Ivey with a team jersey with the number 54 recognizing her legacy as the state’s 54th governor.

Powerful members of the Auburn Board of Trustees were in attendance, including Great Southern Wood Preserving’s Jimmy Rane and Alabama Power’s Quentin Riggins, who was a standout football player at Auburn.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 weeks ago

Birmingham, Lake Guntersville selected to host 2020 Bassmaster Classic

(Lake Guntersville State Park-Alabama,Facebook)

Alabama is set to once again host “the Super Bowl of bass fishing.”

B.A.S.S. announced Monday that the 50th Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods will be held in the Yellowhammer State — the world championship bass tournament in Birmingham, with the fishing competition itself taking place on Lake Guntersville.

The iconic fishing tournament in 2020 will be held March 6-8, with daily weigh-ins and the Classic Outdoors Expo taking place at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). This brings the competition back to its roots.

“It’s fitting that the golden anniversary Classic be held in Alabama, where B.A.S.S. was founded more than 50 years ago,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said during a press conference Monday afternoon at the BJCC. “Our plans are to make this the most spectacular celebration of bass fishing in history.

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“Throughout the current Bassmaster Elite Series tournament season, we are celebrating ‘The Year of the Fan’ — our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the millions of bass fishing fans who make this sport so great. The celebration will culminate in the Classic here in Birmingham,” he added.

The competition has been held in Alabama 12 previous times, eight of those in Birmingham.

“We are so proud to once again host the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin remarked. “We look forward to the great competition the Classic attracts and the dedicated fans who will gather in Birmingham for this incredible event. While in the region, we invite everyone to experience the inspirational history, legendary food and world class entertainment which make us the Magic City.”

Fishing has previously taken place on Lake Guntersville twice — in 1976 and 2014 — for this prestigious competition, which has become synonymous with bass fishing mastery over the past half-century.

“We are excited that Lake Guntersville has been chosen to be the fishery for this anniversary Classic,” Katy Norton, president of Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau, commented. “The interest the Classic generates has positive impact for months, even years following the tournament, and we expect Lake Guntersville will be at the top of the list for anglers and B.A.S.S. fans to visit following next spring’s competition. We look forward to the tournament and to continuing our partnership with B.A.S.S.”

The payout has grown significantly over the years, now sitting at a whopping total of $1 million for a 53-angler field with $300,000 going to the winner.

“The Classic is literally a life-changing event for the angler who wins,” B.A.S.S. Director Chase Anderson stated. “It exemplifies what Bassmaster competition stands for: ‘Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams.’ It honors the angler who can catch the biggest bass of the week, and weigh them on the biggest stage in bass fishing, and fulfill the biggest dream any angler can have. No title in professional fishing holds the same clout as ‘Classic champion.’”

Lake Guntersville has hosted 22 major B.A.S.S. events in general.

The 68,000-acre Tennessee River fishery, which is a popular destination for bass fishing enthusiasts from across the country, will also play host to a regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series tournament June 21-24. That 23rd major B.A.S.S. event will make Guntersville the second-most visited lake in B.A.S.S. history, behind only Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas.

The Bassmaster Classic is expected to draw major tourism dollars into the state, as the 2018 Classic attracted 143,323 fans to all activities, including the Get Hooked on Fishing activity center, morning takeoffs, weigh-ins and the Expo. That was an all-time record until this year’s event on the Tennessee River in Knoxville drew 153,809.

The 2020 Classic will be covered live and streamed on Bassmaster.com, ESPN3 and the ESPN App, and five hours of original programming will be aired on ESPN2 and the Pursuit Channel following the event. In addition, the Classic annually draws more than 250 credentialed media. The 2019 Classic was covered by journalists from 28 states as well as Japan, China, Australia, Italy, Germany and Canada.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Michelob Ultra Terrace announced for new University of South Alabama stadium

(CDFL Sports Architects + Engineers/Contributed)

The University of South Alabama and Budweiser-Busch Distributing Co., Inc. have reached an agreement on a commitment to the new Hancock Whitney Stadium that includes recognition of the terrace in the facility’s south end zone.

In recognition of a $1 million gift, the Michelob Ultra Terrace will feature several rows with walk-up drink rails that offer an intimate and immersive view of the game action near field level, bringing tailgating to the field. The Michelob Ultra Terrace is expected to emphasize social interaction among fans, with the middle sections being an ideal setting for group events.

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When the Jags are not at home, the venue has the ability to transition to large-scale concert staging.

“Since our inception on April 1, 1965, the Budweiser-Busch Distributing family has always supported the greater Mobile community. We are very excited to be a part of the University of South Alabama and its commitment to Mobile, our citizens and students,” said Alexis Atkins, Budweiser-Busch Distributing Vice President and a 1977 USA graduate. “We strongly believe the new stadium will play an important role in continuing to grow the university and greater Mobile as well as increasing our student enrollment. Go Jags!”

The date of the announcement coincides with the 54th anniversary of the founding of Budweiser-Busch Distributing Co., Inc., which made the first corporate gift dedicated to the Jaguar football program when it donated $50,000 in unrestricted funds in March 2008.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with the local company that was the first to commit to supporting the Jaguar football program over a decade ago,” said University of South Alabama President Dr. Tony Waldrop. “We are looking forward to seeing the excitement and game-day atmosphere the Michelob Ultra Terrace will provide in 2020 and beyond after the new Hancock Whitney Stadium opens.”

The 25,000-seat Hancock Whitney Stadium will be on the west side of campus, adjacent to the Jaguar Training Center, football fieldhouse and football practice fields. Included in the plans are a state-of-the-art video board and sound system, an end-zone terrace and concert stage, 18-seat suites, a club level with 800 seats, and premier chair-back and bench-back seating options. The site will include hospitality areas for tailgating, events and recreational vehicle parking.

“We are forever grateful to Budweiser Busch Distributing and their leadership for their ongoing support and belief in the University of South Alabama, Jaguar Athletics and our emerging football program,” USA Director of Athletics Dr. Joel Erdmann stated. “Gifts such as this do not happen without the personal commitment from Budweiser Busch Distributing individuals such as Alexis Atkins, and Jim and Chris Fuchs and others.”

Fundraising for the stadium continues, and additional sponsorship and donor opportunities are available. To support Hancock Whitney Stadium, contact Erdmann at jerdmann@southalabama.edu or 251-460-7121, or Jacob Ludwikowski at jludwikowski@southalabama.edu or 251-461-1553, or visit GetOnCampus.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama high school students get accelerated learning at Barber Motorsports Park

(W. Byrd/Alabama NewsCenter)

Cars were racing fast and furious at the Barber Motorsports Park April 4 – even before the IndyCar drivers started practice.

It was the annual Education Event, where 150 students from five high schools partner with Alabama Power engineers to build and race miniature Pinewood Derby cars down a 20-foot slide.

Before the competition, they heard from Zach Veach, an IndyCar driver with Andretti Autosport, on the use of math and science in racing.

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The Education Event coincides with the annual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama every April. High schools attending this year included LeedsAnniston CityPell CityHewitt-Trussville and St. Clair County.

“For some of these kids, it’s the first opportunity they’ve had to get out and see why math and science are so important,” said Leeds High counselor Lisa Hudson. “It’s also a chance to see the skills used from what they are learning.”

While Leeds doesn’t have an engineering academy, Hudson brought students expressing interest in the profession and auto mechanics.

The race had a somber tone for the Pell City team, whose No. 14 car represented the football jersey of ninth-grader Kaden Johnson. Johnson died over spring break March 26 in a traffic accident in the Florida Panhandle. The car also bore his nickname “Tater.”

Leeds, meanwhile, won the playoff race with a bit of ingenuity.

“We had some extra glue bottles on the table, so we decided to create added weight by pouring on extra glue,” said Leeds senior David Watkins.

Watkins learned from Veach’s presentation that many aspects of a race car are monitored by computers, and how they play such a pivotal role on race day.

As for building the winning derby car, “I learned I break stuff a lot. But you have to learn to think about how to fix it,” Watkins said, noting he broke more than one wheel, but the car won a playoff with only three wheels anyway.

“Our objective is to help kids start the process of thinking through and considering what they want to do from a career-preparation standpoint,” said master of ceremonies Robin White, a Marketing specialist with Alabama Power. “And we’re always looking for good employees for our own organization.”

White and Alabama Power engineers will be back at Barber’s April 15 to handle the same duties at the annual Electrathon, where homemade battery-powered cars from high schools and colleges in the South race on the big track.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

CNN White House reporter: ‘Priceless’ seeing Auburn lose

(CNN/YouTube)

Even reporters aboard Air Force One were enthralled by Auburn’s Final Four nail-biter on Saturday, with CNN’s White House correspondent sharing her joy when Bruce Pearl’s Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion.

Immediately after the game against the Virginia Cavaliers concluded, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, who is a graduate of the University Alabama and native of Prattville, tweeted, “Watching Auburn get beat on Air Force One? Priceless.”

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The Crimson Tide fan’s crowing did not go over too well on the Plains.

Collins was not the only White House reporter to tweet that members of the media had watched the game aboard Air Force One.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 months ago

Xtreme Concepts Racing rides into victory lane again

(@NASCAR_Xfinity/Twitter)

Alabama-based NASCAR team Xtreme Concepts Racing saw Kyle Busch drive the iK9 No. 18 into victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch took the checkered flag in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday.

It was Busch’s 95th overall win in the series and third this year in the iK9 car.

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An exuberant Busch jumped out of his car in victory lane, thanked iK9, a division of Xtreme Concepts, and then gave an honest assessment of an up and down day on the track in Fort Worth.

“This Toyota Supra was awesome today,” Busch said. “It was really fast on the long run I could just never get people away from me on the front side of the run to get settled into my rhythm and be able to go. Every time I got to the outside, people would just drive by me on the bottom. Then when I’d get to the inside, somebody would bust it on the outside on me and make me loose.”

Busch ended up getting out of it what he needed.

“A fast race car once I could get rolling,” he described.

The alliance between Xtreme Concepts and Joe Gibbs Racing has paid off well, with wins in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The Xfinity Series heads to Tennessee this week for racing in close quarters at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 months 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.

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“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 months ago

New tunnel opens at Talladega Superspeedway

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

A new, larger tunnel opened Tuesday underneath Talladega Superspeedway, giving fans and crews the ability to enter and exit the infield at any time before, during or after a race.

NASCAR driver Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, officially opened the tunnel. He rode through it inside John Ray’s iconic big rig, which has carried an American flag around the track for every race since 2001.

“Anytime I get to participate in anything here at Talladega, it’s guaranteed fun,” Earnhardt said.

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The new tunnel in turn three is 28 feet wide and more than 16 feet tall, enough clearance for two RVs or two car haulers to move through the tunnel simultaneously. Without this tunnel, oversized vehicles could only enter or exit the infield across the track when it was not in use because the tunnel in turn four is not big enough.

Track Chairman Grant Lynch praised Taylor Corporation for staying on schedule despite the wet winter.

“They (Taylor Corporation) worked 11 straight days over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, 24 hours a day, and they did that to get a jump start on the project, and I would say if you hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Taylor Corporation President Lance Taylor praised his crew for getting the work done on schedule.

“It was a team of us out there getting that done,” Taylor said. “We fought that thing from the first week.”

The new tunnel weighs about 3.2 million pounds. It sits on a 4-foot-thick layer of concrete. A special pump system is in place to keep groundwater from flooding the tunnel.

Taylor said his crews are now focused on repaving the section of the track cut open for the tunnel. The first of three layers of a special mix of asphalt has already been paved. Taylor said his team is working extremely hard to make sure the track will be smooth and safe for racing.

“Before we took the track out, we took a laser scan image — over a million shots of the track. We built a computer image of exactly what was there so when we back-filled the tunnel going back up, we knew the specifications to eliminate the settlement that can cause dips,” Taylor said. “When these guys are running across it at 200 miles per hour, we don’t want them to feel anything.”

The tunnel is the first of several projects happening this year as the track celebrates its 50th anniversary. A new Finish Line Premium RV area and infield shower trailers are scheduled to be complete in time for next month’s NASCAR race. After that race, a VIP “Talladega Garage Experience” will be constructed in the infield for fans to interact with drivers and crews. Fans inside the Talladega Garage Experience will have:

  • “Locker room” access to NASCAR’s top drivers and crews inside a new infield garage bay.
  • Open Air Social Club featuring a bar, a large 41-foot diagonal video screen, lounge chairs and tables.
  • Celebration Plaza featuring victory lane.
  • Watch Zone featuring a 40-foot-by-80-foot video board, a Kids Zone, a beer garden and plenty of seating.
  • Free Wi-Fi.
  • Enhanced concession stands, restroom complexes and guest services.

The Talladega Garage Experience is scheduled to be built before the October race. Earnhardt said he’s most excited about the Wi-Fi.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the track and you just can’t get nothing to go out,” Earnhardt said. “Now y’all can tweet and Snapchat and send everyone all kind of videos of how much fun they’re missing out on.”

Xtreme Concepts of Birmingham will serve as the “presenting sponsor” of the Wi-Fi in the new Talladega Garage Experience. The company’s founder, Landon Ash, was on hand today to announce a partnership between Talladega Superspeedway and 1st Foundation, a volunteer organization he oversees that assists first responders in foreign and domestic conflicts. First responders can get tickets for next month’s races at discounts up to 60 percent off the regular price.

To learn more about the Transformation project, the Talladega Garage Experience or to buy tickets, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months 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.

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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 months ago

Regions Field named one of America’s best minor league ballparks

(Birmingham Barons/Facebook)

Birmingham’s Regions Field has been recognized as one of the best minor league baseball ballparks in the nation.

In a list of the top 15 such stadiums published this month by StadiumTalk.com, the home of the Birmingham Barons was lauded.

The Barons are the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and have played at Regions Field since it opened in 2013.

StadiumTalk.com’s writeup on Regions Field as follows:

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Less than six years old, Region Field is among the newest parks in the minors, but it was designed to reflect the town’s industrial past by incorporating brick and steel into its facade.

It also is among the most family-friendly parks in the minors, featuring a Youth Sports Zone housing a mini Wiffle ball field, a family fun park and batting cages.

The “Switchyard on 14th,” opened in 2017, offers food, beverage and outdoor game space. For adults, “The Barstream” includes 20 draft beers on tap and a full bar selection.

The Yellowhammer State is home to two more minor league baseball teams: the Montgomery Biscuits and Mobile BayBears.

The BayBears are the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels and play home games at Hank Aaron Stadium. They are relocating to Madison County as the Rocket City Trash Pandas next year.

The Biscuits play at the capital city’s Riverwalk Stadium and are the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 months ago

Phil Lazenby combined military experience, athletics to teach life lessons to kids

(AHSAA/Contributed)

Phil Lazenby learned some valuable lessons playing sports and serving in the military. He has spent the remainder of life in education sharing those lessons with the students he has been entrusted to coach.

Lazenby will be inducted as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame on March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Phil Lazenby graduated from Bessemer High school in 1968 and from Samford University in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology. He also earned a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Montevallo in 1979.

He served his country in the U.S. Army, graduating first in his class from the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. During his service, he received two commendation medals and had tours of duty in Europe and Central America. He retired as a first sergeant.

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He began his teaching and coaching career at his alma mater, which was renamed Jess Lanier High School. He was an assistant football coach from 1976-80. He also coached varsity tennis and junior varsity basketball. He moved to Mountain Brook High School from 1981-90 where he served as an assistant football coach, defensive coordinator and assistant principal.

He accepted his first head-coaching job at Guntersville in 1991 and compiled a 38-18 record and won three regional titles in five seasons. Included were three state playoff appearances, advancing to the second round each year. Also, during his tenure at Guntersville, he was head track coach and taught Spanish, U.S. and world history and psychology.

In 1996 he became head football coach and assistant principal at Southside-Gadsden. He directed the Panthers to the state playoffs. He left the following year, however, and became head football coach at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City. Over the next four years, his teams made four consecutive state playoff appearances, including two trips to the state finals, and went 41-12 overall. The Wildcats were also 10-4 in the state playoffs.

From Alexander City, he went to Mobile as an assistant football and strength coach under Hall of Fame coach Terry Curtis at UMS-Wright. “I hired Phil to be the offensive line coach,” recalled Curtis. “We won three state championships in football while he served in this position.”

In 2007 he accepted the head football coach position at Bayside Academy in nearby Daphne, adding head golf coach in 2007 and athletic director duties in 2015. At Bayside he has compiled a record of 87-55. His teams have been in the playoffs nine times, including a runner-up in 2015. Lazenby’s overall head-coaching record is 172-91 – taking four different schools to the state playoffs and compiling a 27-17 playoff record in 17 trips over 23 years to the postseason.

Lazenby is among the most respected in the profession.

“Every year when I attend the AHSAA Summer Conference, it amazes me the number of people that gravitate over to embrace Phil,” wrote Bayside Athletic Director Jamie Ferguson. “Whether they are former players who have become coaches or just coaches that Phil has worked with or against, they all embrace Coach Lazenby with affection. I can truly say that I have seen the impact that he has had on football, coaches, and more importantly our state.

“Phil requires student-athletes to demand more of themselves and their teammates, both on and off the field,” Ferguson added. “This is a vital life-lesson as these students are our country’s next generation.  Phil is passionate about teaching respect – whether it is respecting one’s self, teammates, or opponents.”

Ferguson says Lazenby’s unselfishness makes a strong impact on others. “Phil does not carry out good deeds for any other reason than it is just the right thing to do,” he said. “Phil does not list his accomplishments on a resume as they are just ordinary aspects of his day-to-day life.  I think it is safe to say that every program in which Coach Lazenby has been involved is a better program because of his influence.”

For all his coaching successes, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said nothing compares to what happened one day at Bayside.

“Phil’s legacy is not confined to his educational or military service only,” Savarese said. “Most importantly, his legacy involves saving someone’s life. One day at practice, Mark Lasseter, an assistant coach at Bayside Academy, had experienced cardiac arrest, and his heart had stopped. He was found lifeless by a student. Immediately after being notified of the situation, Phil began providing CPR and continued for over five minutes until an AED revived his heart. Because of his quick reaction, he saved Mark’s life! Phil epitomizes what every American should be, a servant to those he encounters, as well as, a professional in his craft.”

Bayside Head of School Michael Papa agrees. “No matter whether you have played for Phil or been a member of his coaching staff, he will leave you with a number of life lessons that you can take with you for the rest of your life. He shows us that your role is a single piece of a much bigger thing. Mistakes are inevitable, but your response to them in the moments that follow are what truly matters.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama basketball coach to join husband in High School HOF

(AHSAA/Contributed)

Carolyn Mae Wright’s induction into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame carries an historical distinction. She joins her husband, Bobby Wright, to become the second husband-wife members of the prestigious group of individuals enshrined. They follow Tom and Lenette Calvin who were inducted in 1991 and 1992, respectively.

Wright is being inducted as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Sports HOF on March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.

On Dec. 8, the Central-Phenix City Lady Red Devils presented Carolyn Wright with her 500th win. She finished the season reaching the Southeast Regional finals and now has a career 517-294 career record, Bobby Wright’s career slate is 645-202 – making the duo the winningest husband-wife basketball coaching tandem in state history with a combined 1,162 victories

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A native of Tuskegee, Wright graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1974 and from Alabama State University in1978. She also holds a master’s degree in specific learning disability. She was first a teacher and later decided to also go into coaching. She began her career at St. Jude Home for Children in Montgomery. She also taught special education students in Georgia and at Stanhope Elmore High School. She spent her summers working with the Upward Bound Programand the National Sports Youth Program at Alabama State.

In 1986 she accepted a position at McIntyre Junior High School, where she added coaching basketball, softball, track, volleyball and bowling to her teaching duties. She held that position until 1991 when she moved to Phenix City as chair of the Central High School Department of Health and Physical Education.

At Central, she has coached girls track and basketball and was an assistant in boys track. She added volleyball to her duties in 2002. She gave up track in 2011 but continues to coach basketball and volleyball.

She coached more than 30 individual boys’ and girls’ state track champions. In 16 years of volleyball, she has won more than 200 games. But it is basketball that she has had her greatest impact. In addition to her 517 wins, she has guided the Lady Red Devils to area championships and 15 state and sub-state tournament appearances. Three teams advanced to the state tournament semifinals. She has averaged 18 wins per season, won numerous Coach of the Year honors and has also coached the South team in All-Star Week.

Former player Stephanie Pedersen wrote about her relationship with Coach Wright in the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer. In part, she said: “When I was in the 8th grade, I was scared to death to go to Central High School, and it wasn’t because the school scared me. The ladies’ basketball coach was my fear. I remember going to games in the late ‘90s and seeing coach Carolyn Wright stomp around in her coach’s box with her fancy heels and nice outfits. She scared me to death. When she became agitated, she would take off her jewelry. You didn’t want to be the referee if she had to take of her suit jacket. Someone was getting chewed out if that happened.”

“I played for coach Wright for three years,” Pederson added. “She was strict when she needed to be, but she also stood up for her players when we needed it. During one lunch break, a boy at my table hit me with his folder. It tore my top lip open. When I went to her office to get some ice, she did what any good coach would do. She forced me to tell her his name, went to the lunchroom and blessed him out. She had my back when I needed it.”

She said her coach always had the players’ best interest at heart.

“She showed tough love when I needed it as well,” she said. “If one of us twisted an ankle, coach Wright’s prescription always was a bucket of ice water. I’m certain that medicine hurt worse than the ankle rolling. And if we didn’t keep our foot in the bucket, she’d sit in our laps until it went numb. As you can imagine, we rarely complained about ankles after a few frozen buckets.”

Pedersen explained that her beloved coach teaches the lessons the students need.

“She taught me discipline, and she showed me how to be a leader. She made us better people.”

Another former player, Jimecheia Banks, shared a letter she wrote to coach Wright.

“It has been four years of play with you as my coach,” she wrote. “The years have been a great learning experience, not only from your coaching and guidance but also from the different players and assistant coaches that you’ve mentored along the way. Your positive coaching, guidance, and convincing encouragement have made a larger and more sentimental impact on my life than any other teacher or administrator I know. You’ve disciplined me with love and coached me with passion. At times you’ve had more faith in me on the floor than I’ve had in myself. You’ve always told me that God is the way to everything.

“I want to thank you for allowing me to fulfill the role as the conductor and captain on the floor as a sophomore to a senior. It was one of the most influential acts that I could ever experience growing up. I want to say thank you for molding me into a confident, God-fearing, passionate young black woman. I love you and value your life in mine. The value of the influence you’ve given me is priceless. I plan to take it into the world ahead of me to go above and beyond my limitations and exceed abundantly through Christ.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama High School Athletic Association website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Street named for Ronnie Sikes memorializes impact of coaching legend’s career

(AHSAA/Contributed)

The city of Notasulga went the extra mile, sort of, to honor former Notasulga High Coach Ronnie Sikes’ impact on the small Macon County town. The City Council renamed a street Sikes-Taylor Loop for the much-loved football coach.

Sikes had two stints as a coach at Notasulga, one as an assistant and the other as a head coach, with both being memorable rides to success. Sikes, who also had successful coaching tenures at Lanett, Valley, Beulah and Mortimer Jordan high schools, is a member of the Class of 2019 being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame March 18. The banquet will be held at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center at 6:30 p.m. A press conference with all 11 members of the 29th class will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Renaissance.

A native of Wedowee and a 1977 graduate of Randolph County High School, Sikes attended Southern Union Junior College and Auburn University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1981. He earned a master’s degree from Auburn in 1987.

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He began his teaching and coaching career at Valley High School in 1981.

“During my first year as head football coach and athletic director at Valley High School, we hired Coach Sikes,” recalled Dwight Sanderson, who was enshrined into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. “He was fresh out of college, but we hired him even though there were two other applicants that had eight and 10 years of experience. He was that impressive.

“His football assignments were running backs on offense and the secondary on defense. He was the B-team basketball coach (the 1984 team was 17-3) and head track coach. Valley had never had a track program, but, by the second year, Coach Sikes’ track program was solid.”

Next, he went to Notasulga High School as an assistant for four years, then moved to Mortimer Jordan High School as an assistant. He took over as head football coach the following year, leading the Blue Devils to a 7-4 season and a berth in the AHSAA state playoffs. The school had been 5-25 the previous three years. Sikes moved to Beulah High School in 1990-91 as an assistant.

In 1992, he returned to Notasulga, this time as head football coach. Over the next 12 years, his teams compiled a 91-51 record with 10 state playoff appearances. He had undefeated regular seasons in 1998 and 1999. The 1999 team advanced to the semifinals in the state playoffs. Notasulga had four straight seasons of 10 or more wins and put together a 25-game regular-season winning streak during that stretch.

Sikes accepted the head football coach’s position at Lanett High School in 2004, taking over a program that had been struggling. He remained there for five years, compiling a record of 36-23. The Panthers reached the state playoffs four straight years, with the 2007 team finishing the regular season undefeated and advancing to the quarterfinals. That was the first Lanett team to go undefeated in its first 12 games in school history.

Sikes retired from the Alabama Public School System in 2009. He was at Springwood Academy from 2009 to 2013. Since then, he has coached at various schools in Georgia. His record in Alabama is 161-96.

In 1998, he was named Coach of the Year by the Opelika-Auburn News. He was twice named Coach of the Year by the Valley Times-News. He was selected as a coach in the North-South All-Star football game three times.

Christopher R. Martin, assistant police chief in Dadeville, shared his grateful experience with Sikes. “I would not be an assistant police chief today if it were not for Coach Ronnie Sikes and his leadership,” Martin said. “I would not have been a sergeant first class in the United States Army with 16 years of service, a Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals and three successful deployments to some of the most hostile places on planet Earth if it were not for Coach Ronnie Sikes and his leadership, mentorship and discipline.

“What Coach Ronnie Sikes gave to me, I’ll never be able to repay. It has allowed me to mentor others, succeed beyond what I ever thought I would. It allowed me to come from some of the most inhospitable places imaginable. With all he has given me, the least I can do is write this letter to you all, telling you that this man, this coach, this father figure, this coaching genius, and this all-around great man should have his place in the Hall of Fame.”

Martin said his world was turning upside down when he first met Sikes.

“I became acquainted with Coach Sikes during my junior year while I attended Reeltown High School in 1999,” he explains. “I was taken in by Karey Thompson of Notasulga after I had an unfortunate set of circumstances that left me without a guardian. Mr. Thompson introduced me to Coach Sikes, and we immediately began talking about football. Football was my passion. At that time, for a child like I was, football was one of the only structured things that I had in my life. It was what I looked to in an effort to stay out of trouble and keep me straight in my endeavors.

“Coach Sikes was more than happy to welcome me to the team and give me a chance to play. Many of the words spoken to me when I was a teenager still carry on with me today. I attribute my success in life to what Coach Ronnie Sikes instilled into me with a football helmet and adrenaline in my blood.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months 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.”

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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 months ago

Hot streak: Alabama NASCAR team on a roll after two straight wins

(Xtreme Concepts/Contributed)

For Alabama’s Xtreme Concepts Racing Team, heavy are the trophies when they start running out of hands to hold them.

That was the enviable problem for team owner Landon Ash when he went back to victory lane for the second week in a row in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

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Ash’s iK9 car driven by Kyle Busch had pulled into victory lane at the same race where Ash’s company was the title sponsor.

This presented a dilemma for Ash.

He had duties as both the owner of the company whose name was on the car — and on the race.

“We got to walk up there and present the trophy to Kyle Busch,” said Ash. “And it was great to be there with Kyle while he got his 198th win.”

That is when Ash realized the trophy was too heavy for him to hold in one hand while he held an iK9 dog in the other.

“They came up to me and handed me this big trophy,” explained Ash. “I’ve got the trophy in one hand, the dog in the other. So I said, ‘Ford, you have to help me, man. I can’t work the dog and hold this huge, heavy trophy with just one hand.”

So Xtreme Concepts team member Ford Brown got called on to present the trophy to Busch.

The opportunity to serve as title sponsor came up once the original sponsor backed out.

Ash jumped at the chance to have his iK9 brand sponsor the race.

“We worked something out to raise awareness for service dogs and name it the iK9 Service Dog 200,” he said. “We have a good relationship with the group that owns all those tracks, including Talladega where we are doing a partnership for the race coming up with veterans and first-responders.”

To take home the checkered flag in a race sharing the same name was a rare occurrence.

“It was great to have our car win a race and also be the main sponsor of the race,” said Ash. “We talked to a few people at Joe Gibbs Racing, and they didn’t remember the last time that ever happened.”

With Busch getting his 199th win the next day in the Cup race, Ash hopes his team can be part of history.

“We might be his 200th win in California,” he added.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News