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.

4 days 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)

5 days 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)

5 days 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)

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)

1 week 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

1 week ago

Watch: Talladega Superspeedway unveils ‘The Garage Experience’

(Screenshot/YouTube)

Last year, track officials at Talladega Superspeedway announced they were putting $50 million toward an infield renovation that would upgrade the existing offerings to put in place an area that will allow fans to experience the sport from a different perspective.

Immediately after last October’s event, the track broke ground on a 6-foot-8-inch-tall, 28-foot-wide, 208-foot-long tunnel that would allow RVs and other oversized vehicles to come in and out of the track during race activities.

On Monday, the track released a video showing a flythrough view of the new features that are scheduled to be completed in time for October’s weekend of speedway events.

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According to a release put out by the track, the new additions will feature:

  • Access inside all of the MENCS garages via an “up-close” fan viewing walkway – It’s like getting in the locker room on game day as fans will be under the same roof, just feet away from the teams and cars of NASCAR’s premier series as they are prepped for the track.
  • Open Air Social Club – The 35,000-square-foot venue is just steps away from each of the top 22 MENCS garage stalls and will feature a bar, a large 41-foot diagonal video screen, lounge chairs, tables, televisions and more.
  • Celebration Plaza – Be a part of the Gatorade Victory Lane celebration once the winner of each race takes the checkered flag.
  • Iron Alley – After entering the Talladega Garage Experience, take a stroll down memory lane, filled with iconic track facts, historic race cars and memorabilia.
  • Social Areas – Watch Zone with a magnificent 40×80 foot video board, a Kids Zone and a Beer Garden. A total of 140,000 square feet of engagement areas with plenty of seating for relaxation.
  • Wi-Fi – Free Wi-Fi access available only in the Talladega Garage Experience.
  • Other enhancements such as Concession Stands, Restroom Complexes, Guest Services Center and fan First Aid Facility are throughout the Talladega Garage Experience.

Those interested in attending next October’s event to experience the new features are encouraged to visit the Talladega Superspeedway’s website.

@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.

2 weeks ago

Hoover Met Complex scores with nearly $15 million in economic impact in 2018

(Hoover Met Complex/Contributed)

The Hoover Met Complex knocked the ball out of the park in 2018, bringing in $14.86 million in total economic impact from out-of-town visitors and local events.

The sports tourism complex in Hoover, operated by Sports Facilities Management (SFM), hosted more than 1,700 teams, 22,000 athletes and coaches, and 48,000 spectators at traditional and nontraditional sports events. There have been numerous sporting events and tournaments at the 155,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Finley Center since it opened its doors June 16, 2017. Blue Chips BasketballWorldwide Spirit Association (WSA) Cheer, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Super Regional Volleyball Tournament and Future 150 Basketball were among those events.

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A large part of the economic success is due to nonsports-related meetings involving companies including Alabama PowerBirmingham Association of RealtorsBlue Cross Blue Shield and Spectrum. The facility has also welcomed multiple gun shows, Sysco Food Shows and Market Noel.

“We are pleased that the Hoover Met Complex contributed more than $14 million in economic impact through a variety of events in 2018,” said Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato. “With the completion of construction at the Hoover Met Complex and all facets open, we look forward to welcoming more visitors to the city of Hoover to enjoy and compete in many events throughout the new year.”

During 2018, phase two of the construction project was completed. It was marked by the opening of baseball/softball fields, as well as the addition of Hoover Climbing and Adventure, a new interactive Finley Center entertainment option for kids of all ages.

The final phase began on Feb. 1, 2019 and will include the construction of 16 tennis courts and five multi-purpose fields, which are National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulated for football, lacrosse and soccer. Finally, the new Explore Playground and splash pad will be added, and are expected to open in March.

“We are excited to announce the completion of the final phase of the Hoover Met Complex,” said John Sparks, SFM general manager of the complex. “There are already many positive indicators that 2019 could yield even more impressive results for both the complex and our community through economic impact and local programming. We look forward to providing more options for residents and increase tourism as we host additional tournaments throughout the new year.”

Many new and returning events are scheduled at the Hoover Met Complex for 2019. These include the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Baseball TournamentEast Coast ProPerfect Game Baseball Association and Adidas Gauntlet.

For more information about upcoming events, visit www.hoovermetcomplex.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

This Alabama football coach had the winning formula

(AHSAA/Contributed)

The following is the second in an 11-part series featuring members of the 2019 class of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.

When Brantley High School hired David Lowery as a football coach and mathematics teacher, it quickly added up to be a successful formula.

Ten of his 14 teams at Brantley won 11 or more games. The 2012 state championship squad set a school record for wins, finishing the season 15-0 and scoring a near-state record 730 points. There were 14-win seasons in 1999 and 2009 and 13-win seasons in 2005 and 2006.

Lowery is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet is March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.

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Lowery graduated from nearby Georgiana High School in 1983. He played football at Troy University, earning a bachelor’s degree in math and social studies in 1988. He also earned a master’s degree in education administration from Auburn University at Montgomery in 1998.

He began his teaching and coaching career at Evergreen High School in 1988, serving as assistant football, head baseball and junior varsity basketball coach. The following year, he went to Elba High School where he spent 10 years as assistant football coach, defensive coordinator and head baseball coach. He was also head football coach for two years, compiling a 12-10 record.

He moved to Brantley High School in 1999 as athletic director and head football coach. Over 14 years, he compiled a record of 156-27 overall, 88-3 in the region. His 2009 and 2012 teams were Class 1A state champions. He had runner-up teams in 1999 and 2005. Every one of his teams made the state playoffs.  His overall career record was 168-37. Every team he coached reached the state playoffs and only two failed to win the region championship.

Lowery was named Class 1A Coach of the Year in 1999 by the Alabama Sportswriters Association. In 2012 he was the Alabama Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year. He was named an assistant coach for the 2000 North-South All-Star Football Game and for the 2010 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game.

In 2013, he retired from coaching, accepting a central office position as director of operations. On Sept. 6 of that year, the Brantley stadium was renamed David Lowery Stadium. Lowery was inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

RELATED: Claborn Campbell spent most of his life on the right track in Alabama

Kathi H. Wallace, executive coordinator of the School Superintendents of Alabama Association, remembers the day she recommended that Coach Lowery be hired at Brantley.

“I was the principal at Brantley School in 1999 when I made the recommendation to our superintendent at that time, Dr. Craig Pouncey, to hire Coach Lowery. I thank God the day he walked in for the interview because I needed a math teacher/football coach combination. He fit that bill perfectly. But he made an impression on me that day that proved to be accurate. He was more than a math teacher and a coach.

“He was the kind of man every parent wanted his/her children to be around; not only in the classroom and on the playing field, but also for life.

”Speaking about him being the football coach, I said many times that he was a good man to have in charge of our young men. His demeanor on the field and in the classroom was the same. He was always in pursuit of excellence.”

Wallace said the longer she knew Lowery, the more she learned about this special man.

“After leaving Brantley School, which by the way, is my alma mater, I became school superintendent of Crenshaw County,” she said. “As superintendent, I gained a greater appreciation for Coach Lowery. He was an exemplar for other employees for always doing what was right. His integrity in this area was impeccable. It still is. David Lowery is a wonderful family man and community leader. He continues to make this world a better place because of the positive impact he has on those with whom he comes into contact.”

Tony Stallworth, former associate executive director of the AHSAA and administrative assistant for Crenshaw County Public Schools, worked with Lowery as a principal and assistant principal. He said: “Coach Lowery served as head coach and athletic director for many years. He also served as a classroom instructor and system administrator. He has provided leadership and character throughout his tenure at Brantley High School and the Crenshaw County Board of Education.  Coach David Lowery exemplifies all qualities and leaderships deserving for this outstanding and prestigious award.”

Lowery is an active member of Mount Zion Baptist Church and is a Woodman Life Insurance representative.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Claborn Campbell spent most of his life on the right track in Alabama

(AHSAA/Contributed)

The following is the first in an 11-part series featuring members of the 2019 class of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.

Little did Claborn M. Campbell realize that something as simple as coaching track and field could have such a resounding impact on others’ lives.

The veteran Cold Springs High School track coach did just that over the course of 31 years – leaving a lasting and positive impression on all who crossed his path along the way. His impact did not go unnoticed. Campbell is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame at the annual banquet March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.

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The AHSAA and AHSADCA established the Hall of Fame in 1991.

A native of Cullman, Campbell graduated from Cold Springs High School in 1971 and Southern Benedictine College (formerly St. Bernard College) in 1977. Born to be a teacher and coach, he began his teaching and coaching career at Winston County High School in 1978, compiling a 30-22 record in varsity basketball.

In 1979, he returned to his alma mater, Cold Springs in Bremen, as varsity basketball coach. Over the next four years, he won several county championships. Next, he went to West Point High School for seven years, coaching boys’ and girls’ junior varsity basketball. He won county championships with each team. Although quite successful as a basketball coach, Campbell’s real calling was in track and field, where his girls won 12 county championships.

In 1990, he returned home to Cold Springs, accepting the job of varsity track and cross-country coach, a position he continued until recently. His success has been extraordinary. In track, his boys have won two state championships, five sectional titles and 10 county championships. His girls have won three sectional and 12 county championships. In cross-country, the girls won one state championship, five sectional and 12 county championships. The boys won two state, nine sectional and 14 county championships. He also served as athletic director. He retired in 2016.

His Coach of the Year awards include the National Federation of High School Association (NFHS) in girls’ cross-country in 2007 and boys’ cross-country in 2016. He was U.S. Track and Field Coach of the Year in boys’ cross-country in 2014.

Keith Wilemon, retired track and field coach at Falkville High School, had this to say about Campbell: “I can honestly say that Coach Campbell is the most outstanding coach and rival that I have faced in my 31-year coaching career. His coaching talents go beyond track and field and cross-country. He has always stressed doing what is right and exhibiting great sportsmanship, regardless of the outcome of a race or game. His core values of faith, family, academics and athletics are what makes him so successful.

“I know that he had a tremendous influence on myself as well as many other coaches and athletes in North Alabama. I have had the privilege to work with Coach Campbell for many years as section track directors, and he has always done an outstanding job. His teams have always shown class and great sportsmanship,” Wilemon said.

Like most outstanding coaches, Campbell’s career produced not only successful seasons but also successful and productive citizens.  Dr. Palee Myrex wrote a letter supporting the Hall of Fame nomination. She said: “I’ve known Clay Campbell my entire life, but it was not until I entered the seventh grade that he became my coach. Showing up for my first cross-country practice as a timid, unconfident, overweight adolescent, I had no idea how much the man in the wide-brimmed hat would alter the course of my life and become one of my most influential mentors, even to this day.”

“Throughout the course of the next six years, Coach Campbell coached me to 14 Alabama high school state championships in track and cross-country and campaigned for me to college coaches, allowing me to get a scholarship (at) the University of Alabama. I am a first-generation college student and that athletic scholarship opened doors for me that would have never been possible. My college career catapulted me into medical school, and now, as a physician. I cannot help but to think he indirectly helps every single one of my patients. … For that I am eternally grateful.”

She credits her high school coach with teaching her how to set goals and work to accomplish them.

“You see, I learned how to be a champion, not by the workouts Coach Campbell told me to do, but by watching him live the principles that he taught of dedication, integrity, hard work and refusing to give up,” she said. “Prior to Coach Campbell, there was no cross-country program at Cold Springs, and the track program was struggling just to field an entire team. Through his determination and commitment to high school athletics, he turned Cold Springs into a household name for track and cross-country, especially the realm of long-distance running. During my short six years, I saw our team go from running loops around the parking lot to being able to train on one of the state’s top cross-country courses, which he designed and built himself because he wanted what was best for his athletes. The course is such a phenomenal race venue that while I was an athlete there, we hosted the largest cross-country meet held on a high school campus in the entire state.

Campbell went above and beyond coaching state championship teams and athletes, Myrex said. He did unnoticed things like mowing the cross-country course, stocking the concession stand, timing all the home cross-country and track meets and raising money to resurface the track, she said.

Campbell, who also served as athletic director at Cold Springs, was inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He has been a music director for 30 years at his church and has served as a deacon and youth director.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks 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.

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“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 weeks ago

Alabama’s Xtreme Concepts Racing riding high after first NASCAR win

(Xtreme Concepts/Contributed)

Xtreme Concepts Racing owner Landon Ash had been in victory lane as a guest of Kyle Busch’s following the popular driver’s win in Charlotte last year.

Less than a year later, Ash got back into victory lane with Busch, but this time he did not need a guest pass.

This time Ash was there as the winner.

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Ash’s Xtreme Concepts Racing team and its iK9 car notched their first-ever NASCAR Xfinity Series win last weekend at the Boyd Gaming 300 in Las Vegas.

“It’s great to actually be back in victory lane with Kyle Busch’s first win of 2019 under the iK9 Xtreme Concepts brand,” Ash told Yellowhammer News. “It’s amazing to be there and experience the excitement and everything that’s going on.”

Xtreme Concepts fielded its iK9 car as part of its alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Coming off a sixth-place finish the previous week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the team could feel the momentum building.

And, yet, Ash views Saturday’s win as only the beginning for his team.

He thinks the team’s lineup of drivers is the best it has ever been.

In addition to Busch, Xtreme Concepts will have Jeffrey Earnhardt back behind the wheel at Talladega in the 81 car. Brandon Jones and racing prodigy Hailie Deegan, whom Ash calls “the most talented female driver” in motorsports, will both be driving for Xtreme Concepts this year.

“We’ve really spread out the brand,” Ash said. “Kyle is out there killing it, and we’ve got Jeff doing the same things.”

Jones has also built up quite a resume for a young driver with two top-five finishes already this year and 36 total top-10 finishes in the series.

If there is one win Ash really wants to see, it might be when Earnhardt takes the checkered flag.

“Jeffrey is not just my driver, he’s my brother,” said Ash. “He’s been grinding for a decade now, and I can’t wait to see him there, too.”

As an Alabama-based racing team, Ash appreciates what a unique situation his team is in and the effect Saturday’s win could have on the state as a whole.

“We are serious about bringing racing back to Alabama,” he said. “Hearing the slogan ‘Made in Alabama’ really resonated with us. We try to do as much business as possible with other Alabama companies, and we really want to highlight the success that Alabama has as a labor force and a location for businesses globally.”

ISM Raceway in Phoenix is the next stop on the Xfinity Series schedule.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

3 weeks ago

Thom Gossom Jr.’s legacy with Auburn football is everlasting

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Thom Gossom Jr. is an actor whose credits include the “Fight Club” movie and “In the Heat of the Night” television series.

Gossom also owns the public relations and communication firm Best Gurl Entertainment. He has even written a trio of books of short stories, “A Slice of Life,” “Another Slice of Life” and “The Rest of the Pie,” along with the autobiographical “Walk-On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University.”

But there have been many actors, businessmen and authors.

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Thom Gossom has one legacy that is and always will be his alone: He was the first black athlete to graduate from Auburn University.

Gossom is a Birmingham native who graduated from John Carroll Catholic High School and walked on as a wide receiver for the Tigers football team. He graduated from Auburn in 1975 with a bachelor’s in communications. He went on to earn a master’s degree in communications from the University of Montevallo.

This weekend, the 67-year-old Gossom will receive the Auburn University Lifetime Achievement Award. A ceremony is scheduled for March 2 at the Hotel at Auburn University Dixon Conference Center.

Alabama NewsCenter sat down with Gossom to reflect on the significance of his accomplishment decades ago and how it forever changed the landscape for black athletes on The Plains.

Thom Gossom Jr. reflects on his days playing football at Auburn and his legacy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham Iron making case as best team in Alliance of American Football

(Birmingham Iron/Facebook)

Birmingham Iron safety Max Redfield was appalled when he saw the initial Vegas odds.

Heading into the inaugural season of The Alliance of American Football, the Iron were given the longest odds to win the championship.

Redfield, the team and the coaches all stored it away as bulletin-board material.

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“As far as the odds and all that, all I wanted to do when I saw the odds was bet on (the Iron) because I knew what our team had,” Redfield said with a smirk. “Fifteen to one is downright disrespectful to the talent we have on this team. We know that. We knew the odds going into it, and it added a little bit more motivation.

“When you have all of that talent and you have the coaches that dial up good schemes, you don’t want to give us any motivation because we’ll come out fired up and ready to make it happen.”

Through Redfield’s comments and the Iron’s play each time out, it’s clear the entire team and coaching staff have something to prove. The Iron are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and continue to make their case as the top team in The Alliance.

The Iron, who improved to 3-0 after a 28-12 win over the Atlanta Legends on Sunday, return home this Sunday when they host the San Antonio Commanders. The first snap is scheduled for 3 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. Purchase tickets here.

Only the Iron and the Orlando Apollos remain undefeated through three weeks.

The Arizona Hotshots, who were favored to win the title before the season began, are 2-1.

The updated odds give the Iron the second-best shot of winning the title behind the Hotshots, via MyBookie.

A case can be made that the Iron’s defense has been the strongest individual unit in The Alliance. As a team, the Iron has forced eight turnovers (five interceptions, three fumble recoveries) on defense and another on special teams (fumble recovery).

What’s more, the Iron is allowing just seven points per game, by far the best mark in The Alliance. Opponents have scored only two touchdowns against the Iron, one coming after a special teams turnover against Salt Lake in Week 2 and the other by Atlanta in garbage time on Sunday.

Offensively, the Iron is seemingly unstoppable in goal-to-go situations because of Trent Richardson’sphysical running style. Richardson found the end zone three times on Sunday to push his season total to six rushing touchdowns.

Alliance co-founder/Head of Football Bill Polian witnessed what Richardson can do to an opposing defense firsthand on Sunday.

At any level of football, Polian believes it takes an offense five weeks before it is fully clicking, which is especially apparent in the red zone once the field shrinks. Having Richardson has negated some of that for the Iron.

“Richardson, man, is he a weapon in the red zone,” Polian said with a smile. “He’s a bulldozer in there.”

In the first head coaching opportunity of his career, Tim Lewis has the Iron playing at a high level in all phases, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Polian.

“Nothing but positives, obviously,” Polian said of what he’s seen from Lewis. “When you’re 3-0, you’re doing a great job. His defense is close to stifling. They play really good football. … Tim is doing a great job, as we thought he would.”

Marq Burnett covers the Birmingham Iron for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Recent top-10 finish boosts Alabama-based NASCAR team

(Contributed/Xtreme Concepts)

Xtreme Concepts Racing and its iK9 car recently enjoyed its highest-ever finish in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

Driver Jeffrey Earnhardt took the iK9 car to a sixth-place finish at the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday. This top-10 came after his 15th place finish at Daytona, a race in which he led the first 29 laps.

These strong runs come on the heels of an early February announcement that Xtreme Concepts had expanded its deal with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).

For Xtreme Concepts founder and CEO Landon Ash, his company’s jump into racing and alliance with JGR was an easy choice given the nature of the company’s business.

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“We are firm believers in the power of motorsports as a marketing platform, and it’s why we’ve expanded our partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing to promote the iK9 brand for the majority of the Xfinity Series schedule,” Ash said. “We’re investing in young talent in Jeffrey Earnhardt and Brandon Jones, and also proven talent in Kyle Busch. These three personalities can deliver for iK9 on the racetrack and interact with our customers off the track. They’re specialized athletes who align very well with iK9, as we provide the skills and support necessary for our clients to care for their highly specialized dogs.”

And with the company located in Alabama, it made even more sense.

“I believe Alabama helped start NASCAR and we have a huge NASCAR base here in Talladega,” Ash told Yellowhammer News. “’Made in Alabama’ resonates with me, and I don’t believe we should have to move to Charlotte to have a NASCAR team.”

Ash sees these early season finishes as a product of the team’s commitment to a long-term process.

According to him, some of the growing pains the team experienced last year were important to setting the team up for success this season.

He has also worked well with Earnhardt based on what he says is a shared story on how they broke into their respective businesses. Both came in with much to prove and had to make due early on with less than the best equipment.

Ash called Earnhardt “a phenomenal driver” who, for a while, could not get the equipment he needed to take his driving skills to the next level.

He had seen the work Earnhardt had done for the military and knew he would fit well behind the wheel of their car.

“We wanted to get behind him because we know he is a great brand ambassador and not just in NASCAR but across the board in what we look for in our people,” said Ash.

“I’m so proud of him and our whole team for what we’ve accomplished,” he added.

Earnhardt is not the only big-name driver behind the wheel of the iK9 car.

Veteran driver Kyle Busch takes over as part of the JGR deal beginning this week at the Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion will drive the No. 18 iK9 car the next four races.

Busch is the winningest driver in Xfinity Series history having driven to the winner’s circle 92 times.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

Legally blind Huntsville high school wrestler wins state championship

(WZDX/YouTube)

This weekend, Jay Spencer became the first wrestler in his school’s history to win a state title. And even more impressively, he did so while being legally blind.

“[D]on’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think,” Spencer told WZDX. “As long as you believe you can do something, then you can.”

Spencer, a senior at St. John Paul II in Huntsville, is wise beyond his years. However, the inspiration he is providing people comes from more than his words alone.

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A multi-year starter as the football team’s center, Spencer has constantly lived out his own words after being diagnosed with an inherited retinal degenerative disease when he was only three years old. The state title is just the crowning achievement on a high school athletics career that anyone would be proud of.

“He’s probably the hardest working wrestler I’ve coached in 25 years,” St. John Paul II coach Duke Labasi told WZDX. “He puts in work on the mat, in practice, on his own personal time – his work ethic is really incomparable.”

The coach added, “Jay has never let any type of impairment that it may seem he has affect him on the mat.”

Watch:

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

Trent Richardson’s redemption: ‘I’m back to a place where it’s just fun’

(Birmingham Iron)

Trent Richardson never played a snap inside Legion Field before Sunday afternoon, but he had experienced joy there.

Prior to the rebirth of his football career with The Alliance of American Football’s Birmingham Iron, Richardson was just a football dad in the stands, watching his son Trent Richardson Jr. playing youth football at Legion just a few months ago.

T.J. scored the first touchdown of his young career that day, a moment dad will always cherish. So when the elder Richardson crossed the goal line for the first touchdown in Iron history on Sunday, his mind immediately flashed to his son and the rest of his family. It is T.J. who has helped motivate Richardson on his path toward regaining his football career.

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The Birmingham Iron return to the field on Saturday, Feb. 16, hosting the Salt Lake Stallions. The first snap is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be televised on TNT. Tickets can be purchased here.

“Every time I go training, he go train with me,” Richardson said, beaming from ear to ear. “If he do an extra rep, I have to go do an extra rep, too. (Former Alabama receiver) Mike McCoy, my trainer, will tell you, ‘My hardest worker in this gym is the 6-year-old.’ And that’s T.J.”

Richardson ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns in the Iron’s 26-0 shutout win over the Memphis Express in the Alliance opener for both teams Sunday afternoon.

It was a reintroduction of sorts for Richardson. He gained national stardom at Alabama, becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011. The Cleveland Browns selected Richardson third overall in 2012 NFL Draft after he opted to forgo his senior season.

Richardson had a successful rookie season, but was traded early in Year 2. Things were never the same as Richardson spent time with three teams over the next three years and was out of the league in 2016.

Now, Richardson is playing carefree as he has rediscovered his love for the game with the Iron.

“It’s not even for the world, it’s for myself,” Richardson said of his performance on Sunday. “I never got a chance to actually play for myself and play for my kids. I’ve always had a lot of stuff on my shoulders and a lot I was running for. Now I’m back to a place where it’s just fun. It’s fun, man. I can play for myself, my small family, my fiancee and that’s it. That’s all I need.”

While the Express contained Richardson for three quarters, he eventually wore down their defense, punishing them with run after run in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 23 carries.

“If you’re going to turn around and give him the ball 20 or 30 times a game, he’s going to be effective,” Express coach Mike Singletary said. “We didn’t do a good job of taking him out of the game.”

Iron safety Max Redfield witnesses Richardson’s “relentless” running style every day in practice.

“He’s obviously hard to tackle because it takes two or three dudes every single time,” Redfield said. “He falls forward every single time. The way he was running in the first quarter and the fourth quarter were the same. He might have even gotten stronger. You love to see that.”

Not everything went perfectly for Richardson. He had a third-quarter fumble that almost led to points for the Express, but the Iron’s defense clamped down on a fourth-and-1 attempt from the 6-yard line to thwart the drive. Richardson used the turnover as fuel.

“Trent’s an unbelievable person and player,” Iron quarterback Luis Perez said. “He works very hard. He’s very hard on himself. After that fumble, he gathered us and said, ‘Guys that’s on me. I’m going to come back, and I’m going to win us this game. I’m going to run the ball down their throats, and we’re going to get this win.’ He did that.”

The Iron will continue to lean on Richardson as the season continues. Run lanes will get bigger as the offensive line continues to gel. If he’s healthy, Richardson has an opportunity to put together a strong season and garner the attention of NFL personnel.

For now, though, he’s focused on the building up the Iron.

“We’re going to do what we can to keep this league going, and keep Birmingham (Legion Field) packed,” Richardson said. “We’re trying to be in Vegas (for the Alliance championship) in April.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month 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.

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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)

1 month ago

Birmingham Iron coach Tim Lewis embarks on a new chapter of his career

(Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

Cut Day is a painful day on a pro football team, and Tim Lewis knows that as well as anybody.

The 57-year-old has been on the staffs of football teams – either as an assistant or as a coordinator – for 30 seasons. Twenty-two of those seasons were in the pro ranks, where men’s hopes of living the dream of a professional football player were dashed when they were called into an office and told their days with the team were over.

This year was tougher for Lewis than any before. As the head coach of the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football, he was the one who delivered the bad news to the men who didn’t make the 52-player roster.

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“There were a couple of moments where I got choked up and had a difficult time saying goodbye to certain people,” Lewis said. “It is a difficult time. It’s a difficult thing. I’ve never had to do that.

“Although I will say it is a very necessary part of the game and I understand it and they understand it, there’s still a human element to it,” he said. “None of us like to experience it, but it’s a very real part of the game.”

Lewis is experiencing a new part of the game as he prepares to lead the Birmingham Iron into its first game in the AAF, taking on the Memphis Express at 3 p.m. Sunday at Legion Field. As the new league kicks off without a kickoff – as part of league rules – the former Green Bay Packers cornerback embarks on a new part of his professional career.

“When they say that you’re the head coach and you’re responsible for all of them — I care very much about all the players that we’ve got. I care very much about the staff. I try to keep it in perspective. It’s really not about me. It’s really about the team,” he said.

Against the oddsmakers

Lewis is ranked eighth of the eight coaches in the AAF, according to thelastwordonprofootball.com. His lack of head coaching experience is cited as the main reason. Birmingham’s coach says he understands.

“I figured as much,” he said. “When we had the draft over in Las Vegas, they gave us 15-1 odds on winning. I don’t know anything about gambling or odds or anything like that, but I do know that we were dead last.

“I get it,” he continued. “It’s not because of the players. We’ve got a really good team and we’ve got really good players at all the different positions. It’s just because of the coach. I’ve never done it before, so I get that. That’s natural.”

It’s also natural, Lewis said, for those odds and that website ranking of him to be motivation. But thelastwordonprofootball.com isn’t discounting Lewis, either.

“Although Lewis might not have as much experience as the other coaches listed here, he is what this league should best represent,” the site said. “He is a coach that is looking for an opportunity and he will get that shot coaching in the AAF.”

League of opportunity

Iron running back Trent Richardson said it’s about time for Lewis to step into the top role.

“Really, I don’t see why he wasn’t a head coach in the beginning,” the former Alabama Crimson Tiderunner said. “He should have been a head coach a long time ago because of the values that he has, and what he brings to the table is really bringing this team together.”

Lewis teaches his players like he does his three kids, Richardson said, and he cares about all his players.

“He’s a player’s coach and he really listens to the players,” Richardson said. “He actually played the game, so you look at stuff the way he has done stuff, growing up and the great players he has played with and coached … he’s one of the smartest guys out there.”

Lewis relishes the AAF’s nickname as the league of opportunity.

“(That’s) what they’ve been touting and that’s what I believe that they’ve given me, a wonderful opportunity to showcase, to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity and I plan on making the most of it.”

A life in football

Lewis’ football life took off as a college player at the University of Pittsburgh and continued when he was drafted in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft, taken 11th overall by the Green Bay Packers.

As a player, Lewis led or shared the lead on the team in interceptions in 1983 and 1985, finishing with a career total of 16. His 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 18, 1984, remains the Packers team record.

Wearing jersey No. 26, he played four NFL seasons before his playing career was cut short by a severe neck injury suffered during a Monday Night game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 22, 1986.

The Quakertown, Pennsylvania, native knew from the time he was drafted into the NFL that football would be his life. By spring 1987, the former Pittsburgh Panther was a grad assistant at Texas A&M.

But there were flirtations with other careers. After getting an undergraduate degree in economics, he had stints with Shearson Lehman and EF Hutton. He also fielded a call from Chris Berman and the late Tom Mees about a 24-hour, all-sports cable station, ESPN.

“I didn’t think it would work,” he admitted. “But I did call live from the Packer locker room the year that we drafted Brent Fulwood from Auburn. But I just didn’t follow up on it. And I had interviewed with ABC and NBC but didn’t follow up with it. Of course, I became a coach.”

Lewis’ coaching career began at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant under Jackie Sherrill, who had been his college coach at Pittsburgh. From there, he was:

Football family

With so many coaches in his past, which one has influenced him the most?

“Oh, my goodness, that’s a tough question,” Lewis said. “Bill Cowher was the one that I was with the longest, so I probably pattern myself after him the most. I like coach Jackie Sherrill; he was my college coach. He is still a mentor to me today.”

Lewis and his wife, Shawn, have three children – a 12-year-old son, Bryce, and two daughters, 14-year-old Erin and 10-year-old Chelsea. His cousin is ESPN personality Louis Riddick, who followed him at the University of Pittsburgh. Rob Riddick, Louis’ brother, played professional football with the Buffalo Bills.

Lewis has a sister who lives in Atlanta and a brother, Will, who has one son playing with the Buffalo Bills and another at the University of Colorado prepping for the NFL Draft.

“We’ve come from a long line of football players,” the Birmingham coach said. “In fact, Alan Page is a distant cousin. He played for the Minnesota Vikings, of course, and was one of the Purple People Eaters.” Page began a legal career after his playing days and retired as a Minnesota Supreme Court justice.

Lewis will renew his acquaintance with his brother on Sunday, as Will Lewis is the general manager of the Memphis Express.

“He’s very talented at what he does and he’s been very close to the mountaintop, if you will,” the Iron coach said. “He’s done a fantastic job every place he’s been, and I’m very proud of him and happy to say he’s my brother. But I plan on beating him.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Paul W. Bryant Museum to close for renovations

(Paul W. Bryant Museum)

The Paul W. Bryant Museum will close temporarily for renovations beginning Friday, Feb. 1. The renovations include facility updates and a new interactive video wall that will allow visitors to access museum databases for all of Bryant’s teams.

“We are excited to modernize our display while keeping true to Coach Bryant’s wish to honor all his teams and players from his 38-season head-coaching career in one place,” said Ken Gaddy, director of the Paul W. Bryant Museum. “Technology allows us to deliver much more information and let visitors select what they see.”

The museum’s online store will remain in operation while the museum is closed. All merchandise can be found at bryantmuseumstore.com.

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The Paul W. Bryant Museum is on the University of Alabama campus at 300 Bryant Drive in Tuscaloosa, directly across the street from Coleman Coliseum. For more information, call toll-free 866-772-BEAR (2327) or visit bryantmuseum.com.

The museum, which opened in 1988, exhibits artifacts and memorabilia that trace the long history of University of Alabama football. Displays highlight great players, plays and games.

The renovated exhibit hall is expected to reopen March 1.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama Gang’s Davey Allison Highlights 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

(Talladega Superspeedway PR)

On Friday night, the late Davey Allison will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., joining his father Bobby Allison, who was inducted in 2011.

Long before NASCAR “teams” dominated the upper echelon of the sport, Davey and Bobby Allison, along with drivers Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer and others, made up the Alabama Gang, which functioned at the time the same way NASCAR teams operate today.

Allison died in a tragic helicopter crash in the Talladega Superspeedway infield in July 1993 at the age of 32.

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Davey Allison holds off Morgan Shepherd to win 1992 Daytona 500 (Screenshot/YouTube)

“Davey Allison was one of the most talented race car drivers our sport has ever seen,” said Grant Lynch, chairman of the Talladega Superspeedway said in a statement released on Thursday. “He loved the sport and was willing to do anything to promote it. He was so genuine and he resonated with fans everywhere. We are so happy for the entire Allison family, who mean so much to us here at Talladega.”

Joining Allison in the 2019 class are four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, auto racing mogul Roger Penske, long-time Cup series owner Jack Roush and the late NASCAR Cup Series champion Alan Kulwicki.

@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.

2 months ago

Saban scores a win over the IRS

(Alabama/Facebook)

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has added a new type of adversary to his list of victories: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Tax Court ruled on Thursday that Saban will get to claim a bad-debt deduction that the federal government tried to deny him.

The deduction reportedly stems from a real-estate investment the coaching legend made in Baton Rouge through a property developer he met when he was head coach at Louisiana State University.

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It was reported that Saban loaned the developer, Joseph Spinosa, $2 million in 2006 for the construction of a shopping center and office complex in Lousiana’s capital city.

The project eventually ran into financial trouble, and Saban began asking Spinosa about a plan to repay the sizable loan. The two men then agreed to contribute that debt so Saban could get a 15 percent stake in 2590 Associates, a partnership that owned a different real-estate venture in Baton Rouge.

“Mr. Saban did not want to directly own 2590 Associates because of privacy concerns,” Judge Joseph Goeke wrote in the opinion. “At the time he was the head football coach at the University of Alabama and felt there was negative public sentiment toward him in the Baton Rouge area because of his decision to leave LSU. He wanted to receive his interest through a business entity.”

2590 Associates claimed a worthless debt deduction of $2.9 million for that loan, plus interest, in 2011. The IRS challenged that deduction, arguing in part that Saban’s receipt of the stake in 2590 Associates satisfied the loan.

“While the transaction may not have been typical of a normal business relationship because of Mr. Spinosa’s personal relationship with Mr. Saban, it was a transfer of a legitimate debt,” the judge concluded.

The Wall Street Journal noted, “Even as he has built a veritable football dynasty at Alabama, Mr. Saban has also quietly built a business empire off the field, a collection of investments and projects in multiple states, public records show. Those projects have included, in recent years, a collection of Mercedes-Benz dealerships, apartment complexes around Houston, an upscale residential development in Tuscaloosa, and a strip mall outside East Lansing, Mich.”

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

2 months ago

‘They’re my guys forever’: Saban discusses caring for his players

(James Light/Twitter)

While the national media loves to portray University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban as a bit of a grouch, the truth is that Saban’s historic on-the-field success has come in part due to how he treats his players off-the-field.

The coaching legend recently spoke about his leadership philosophy at the American Football Coaches Association’s 2019 convention in San Antonio, Texas, stressing that good coaches have real, meaningful relationships with the members of their team.

As seen in a video of Saban’s keynote address that has received significant acclaim on Twitter, he first shared that a former coach of his had a significant impact on shaping his own success in life. Fast forward, and that is exactly what Saban has tried to do for young men for decades. He motivated coaches across the nation to do the same, saying that if you treat players right, good things will follow.

“[T]he impact that you have on every young man that you affect – and we all worry about winning and losing games, but those guys are depending on us,” Saban emphasized. “They care about us.”

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“There are three guys that played for me at Michigan State way back when, standing back here waiting to see me. And I’m happy to see them, and I’m concerned about them,” he told the convention attendees. “Because they weren’t my guys for three years, four years or five years. They’re my guys forever. And that’s the way we should all feel about what we do.”

Saban added that he believes coaches have “a responsibility and an obligation to help” their players.

He said, “They need us. I mean, how many guys do you coach that have two parents at home? How many guys do you coach that don’t have any parents at home? That’s us. That’s who we are. That’s what we need to take responsibility for and be there.”

“And there’s really only one way you can do it: develop relationships with these people. You gotta develop relationships,” Saban continued. “How much time do you spend developing relationships with your players?”

In what might be an especially noteworthy statement for Crimson Tide fans given the coaching turnover set to take place in between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Saban revealed a potential shortcoming with some of his most recent assistant coaches.

“You know, if there’s one thing different about our team this year, [it] is I don’t think our coaches spent enough time developing relationships with the people on the team,” he shared. “It was the biggest difference in our team.”

Saban then said that while he can and does give inspiring speeches to his team as a group in order to motivate them, it is individual conversations and relationship-building that has the most positive impact on-the-field and off of it.

“If I’m going to talk to a group of guys, they may or may not listen. I may make all the right points, but if you make it about them and you sit down and have that relationship with them, they’re going to respond to you. Because these players don’t do what you tell them just because you tell them to do it. They don’t do that anymore. I would do that when I played, alright. But they don’t do that anymore. You gotta have a relationship with them. They gotta trust you, they gotta respect you, and you gotta build that,” Saban explained.

Watch:

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

2 months ago

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

(Dennis Washington)

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.

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Lance Taylor, president of Taylor Corp., said the company has installed a special drainage system underneath the tunnel, which has already pumped about 25 million gallons of water.

“The groundwater down there was terrible — we knew that when we got into the job, that’s part of what we’re dealing with,” Taylor said. “It’s something we’re having to fight all of the time along with rainwater.”

In addition to the special drainage system, Taylor said workers have placed 15,000 tons of stone and a 4-foot-thick mat of concrete underneath the tunnel to stabilize it.

“That tunnel is a different animal,” Taylor said. “It will be something I will remember for years to come.”

The new tunnel has been on the wish list for decades. Legendary NASCAR drivers Red Farmer and Donnie Allison said during the news conference that many of their friends would have to wait for races to conclude before being allowed to drive their RV’s or vehicles into the infield.

“Now they can just load up, drive on out through there,” Farmer said. “It’s going to be a blessing.”

“It’s going to make a world of difference,” Allison added.

Allison drove his first lap at Talladega Superspeedway 50 years ago in 1969 — the first stock car driver to drive a lap at the track. Allison said Talladega is the best track in NASCAR.

Talladega Speedway has always had the best race,” he said. “I know I’m a little prejudiced, but it’s the best.”

In addition to the new tunnel, the track will feature a new premium RV section this spring called the “Finish Line Premium RV.” It will include 69 paved RV camping spots for both motorhomes and fifth wheel travel trailers. Each spot will be 21 feet wide by 50 feet long and offer full hookups to power, water and sewer. The area will be secured and have designated quiet times.

“We feel good about how we are positioning ourselves to market to our fans,” Lynch said. “Seventy percent of our fans come from outside of Alabama. Half of our crowd comes from more than five hours away. That’s the draw of Talladega.”

After the April race, construction will begin on a new Fan Zone building. Fans will be able to interact with the top 22 teams in a new Fan Zone building where drivers, crews and cars will be parked.

“It’s going to be a spectacular experience for them because the No. 1 through No. 22 teams are going to be garaged on both sides of that big building,” Lynch said. “You’re basically in the middle of the sport with the greatest stars of the sport just a walk to the left or a walk to the right.”

Lynch, who announced last fall he will be retiring as chairman of the track at the end of the year, said he is thrilled to be leaving the track better than how he found it.

“To get $50 million to rebuild my favorite race track is a thrill for us and the whole team here at Talladega,” Lynch said. “We’re going to do things never been done before in the history of NASCAR.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

How the Birmingham business community pitched in to help save UAB football

(Zach Bland/UAB Athletics)

It may have been the turning point for the return of University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) football. And it came with support — and, more importantly, money — from the metropolitan Birmingham business community.

The meeting, held in a large conference room in the office of UAB President Ray Watts, M.D., was attended by about 30 of Birmingham’s most prominent business leaders. Also in the room were UAB Athletics Director Mark Ingram and UAB Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Allen Bolton.

The UAB football program had been terminated after the 2014 season, and the meeting was in May 2015, one month before football was reinstated in June 2015. The institution needed about $17 million to help with the return of the program, but only $12 million had been pledged.

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The meeting began cordially but turned chaotic until Mike Goodrich Sr., a lifelong Birmingham resident and former CEO of an engineering and construction business, stood up and said, “I’m not a UAB fan. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a game. But I’ve seen what this has done to our community, and I want to make it right. I’m in for a million.”

His pledge was followed by another businessman who said, “Yeah, I can do that.” Somebody else said, “I can’t do a million, but I can do $250,000.” Within an hour, the money was raised.

“I’d never seen anything like that before or been a part of anything like that before,” Ingram recalled. “I’d never heard of anything like that before, and that’s how we got to the finish line from a fundraising perspective. The way the community came together to make that happen was remarkable.”

$250,000.” Within an hour, the money was raised.

“I’d never seen anything like that before or been a part of anything like that before,” Ingram recalled. “I’d never heard of anything like that before, and that’s how we got to the finish line from a fundraising perspective. The way the community came together to make that happen was remarkable.”

This season, the UAB Blazers finished 11-3; captured their first Conference USA (C-USA) championship and first division title; made their first back-to-back bowl trips; and won their first bowl game. UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark, in addition to winning the prestigious Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award, was also named the 2018 Sporting News Coach of the Year.

The return is significant for the way disparate parts of the community rallied behind the UAB football team. Ingram said the outcry after the program was terminated caught many off guard.

“There were a lot more people who came out in support of football than most people believed would happen,” he said. “It surprised people that there were that many people, so many who really wanted UAB football to be here.”

The AD said money was definitely needed to upgrade the facilities.

“Our practice field sloped 10 feet from one end to the other, and it was on the side of a sloping hill,” he said. “Most high schools have a flat practice field. We didn’t even have a flat practice field. Our locker room was in a building that used to be a maintenance shed. Half of it was the locker room and half of it was an empty room of folding chairs. That was the only meeting space.”

‘Jaw dropping’

With support from business leaders and others, the university now has a state-of-the-art $22.5 million football headquarters and practice facility. The city of Birmingham and Jefferson County pitched in to build a $174 million, 45,000-seat stadium, which is expected to be ready for the 2021 season.

“In my opinion, building the practice facility was the single best decision we made because it’s here to stay,” Ingram said. “We’ve raised the money for it, we built it, and it’s sustainable. We don’t have to go raise the money for it every year. … It’s the best practice facility in our conference.”

There are other benefits to having a world-class facility, Ingram said: “We’ve always had a great school, great city, great weather. Combine [those things] with this great facility, [our] great coaching staff [that] finds these players and brings them here to show them this [facility], and it’s jaw dropping. These kids show up and say, ‘I had no idea.’”

The future is bright for the Blazers, Ingram added.

“The city is building a new football stadium in the Uptown District with the expanded and renovated Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena, so all this momentum has helped us recruit great players,” he said. “It’s a combination of all those things we had, and now layer in this practice facility … [and] what this means is for the kids. They see the commitment that football is important [at UAB and say], ‘This is the kind of place committed to helping me be my very best.’”

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)