There are several notable events going on in area college sports this week.
One of the more heartening local sports stories of 2013 is the rapid ascendance of Jacksonville University's men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. The programs haven’t been around long, yet they are reaching national power status quickly and dominating the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the process.
JU’s men’s team suffered its first MAAC defeat, 14-11, to Marist College on April 13, snapping the Dolphins’ four-game winning streak. JU’s conference in other sports, the Atlantic Sun, prepares to add lacrosse to its roster next season. The Dolphins are a resilient bunch, as their recent trip to Virginia Military Institute indicates. The Keydets rallied, even tying the game at halftime, but the Dolphins came out of the break strong and finished off VMI.
In the 13-8 victory, two Dolphins with international backgrounds — Paraguay native Ari Waffle and Cameron Mann of Hamilton, Ontario — did hat tricks. Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz each scored twice, and Will Crenshaw, Dakota Rohlin and Brian Kensil each added a goal.
In addition to all of those scoring threats, JU’s defense was equally solid — especially in the final minutes. Pete DeLuca stopped 15 shots on goal, including seven in the fourth quarter. The JU team won in Lexington, Va. — a tough place to play. It’s easy to imagine them making a deep run in the MAAC Tournament the first week of May.
The same can be said for the women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins routed the University of Detroit Titans on April 14, improving to 11-4 overall. The JU women are 3-0 in coverence, clinching at least a share of the A-Sun title.
The women’s squad is a family affair. Head coach Mindy McCord is married to an assistant, Paul McCord — a relationship that only adds to the storybook quality of this program and …
When considering how successful the Jacksonville Suns have been over the decades, it's a good idea to allow for more than just the win/loss record. The Suns — owned by the Bragan family since Jacksonville was a much smaller, more provincial city — have adapted with the times. Still, some things remain the same. One thing is a robust schedule of crowd-pleasing promotions designed to keep people coming to the park all season long.
The team just wrapped up its first homestand against the Jackson (Miss.) Generals, and the promos were all centered on Peter Bragan Sr., the legendary owner who died last July. Bragan was honored with a talking bobblehead giveaway and a distribution of Bragan Field baseballs. These are the kinds of keepsakes that diehard Suns and Minor League Baseball fans will cherish for years and are great kickoffs for what will be a special season. There'll be many events, and while there's not enough space to cover them all, a few highlights should be noted.
All-Star Blitz: Why not showcase some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues — the Southern League All-Star game in July? Bragan Field is the crown jewel of the parks of the Southern League, as locals know, and the Suns are among the minor league's preeminent franchises. So it makes a perfect locale for the All-Star game on July 17, as well as the Homerun Derby, a favorite of kids of all ages. The day before the game, go by The Jacksonville Landing and check out the MLB All-Star Game “Watch Party” on the big screen.
Rocker Around the Clock: The team is bringing two former Atlanta Braves from back in the day. A hero to every 30something Southern male who ever played outfield and swung for the fences every time he stepped to the plate … Dale Murphy hits town May 6. On June 6, fireballer-turned-conservative-flamethrower HYPERLINK "http://www.johnrocker.net/"John Rocker visits. He made some controversial comments about New York City’s ethnic …
The Age of Austerity is upon us, and legislators at all levels want to make cuts. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) is currently in the crosshairs of the Florida Legislature, and it’s hard to see how it will escape.
House Bill 1279 would cut FHSAA revenue and executive director Roger Dearing's $151,000 salary. Dearing would be terminated at the end of June. All 16 board members would be replaced at the end of September. The proposal passed a legislative subcommittee unanimously, and it’s easy to see why.
From the outside, especially considering what used to be traditional conceptions of amateur sports as an adjunct to the educational process, it’s hard to understand why the FHSAA executive director would have a higher base salary than the Florida governor – even before factoring in Dearing’s car and cellphone allowances.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported the proposal would “chop in half the FHSAA share of revenue from the preseason classics and postseason playoffs it sanctions. That is $2.5 million in 2012-’13, almost half of a $5.2 million budget.” Dearing maintains the FHSAA has a right to this money.
“The misconception is that we’re taking tax revenue," Dearing said. “That’s not the case. The money we get is from gate receipts of events we put on. We receive nothing from regular-season games. That stays with our schools.”
The bill would also change student-athlete eligibility, requiring the FHSAA to presume a student is eligible unless proved otherwise, opening the door to students no longer being barred from receiving benefits from schools, changing the language to the more subjective “significant benefits” — a phrase that will undoubtedly be open for discussion if HB 1279 passes.
The FHSAA has been on the ropes in recent years, with legislative efforts designed to make it easier for transfer students to be eligible to play …
"What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveiled secret of the father." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Ric Flair's son was found dead March 29, according to WrestlingObserver.com. There is no good way for a man in his mid-20s to die, and the speculation — given his predilections — was that his death was due to a drug overdose. A sad end to a life that seemed to have so much potential.
The American public's first introduction to Reid was on an episode of "WCW Monday Nitro," in which the young man appeared in a segment with Eric Bischoff in 1998, in which he showed a remarkable sense of timing and ability, even at the age of 9, to move as a pro wrestler should. I thought at that time that Reid would be a future world champion. It never came to pass. He spent most of his life dealing with what are so euphemistically called demons. And there seemed to be plenty.
Having Ric Flair as a father certainly must have been a mixed bag. For Reid and his brother David, they elicited instant interest from wrestling fans; in the parlance of the game, both were pushed "too hard, too soon." In the 1980s, Reid's drug use might not have been a dealbreaker — as any survey of YouTube indicates, there were no shortage of wrestlers with obvious issues. In the more corporatized world of 2013, however, his rep seemed sealed as that of a washout.
Ric had worked a deal with a Japanese federation to help get Reid some ringtime, and with Reid's sister Ashley in WWE Developmental Territory NXT, it seemed logical that Reid may join her. Obviously, that won't come to pass.
Ric's own career is in serious jeopardy. He has been working as a non-wrestling performer for WWE of late, but a blood clot in the leg ensured that he couldn't work TV this week, and he has been advised not to fly going forward. It is terrifying and heartbreaking to imagine what is going on in Ric Flair's mind right now, and the closest analogue this …
Some folks believe — mistakenly — that football is inextricably linked with autumnal chill or frozen tundra. Not so! Football is a year-round occupation now. For NFL fans, free agency and the impending draft take pride of place. And for those who'd rather watch live action, the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League and the Arena Football League have offerings worth checking out.
Ladies first, as the aphorism goes. At first glance, the Legends Football League struck some observers, like me, as willfully exploitative. That reputation might stick. However, if one looks at this brand of women’s football from a different angle, the precise analogue for it may not be the NFL, but something like roller derby — a sport that defied its roots long ago and has become a vehicle for genuine female empowerment.
What I’m saying is, don’t let the pretty faces and the taut bodies fool you into thinking there's anything soft about this version of the game. With a name change and an alteration of the uniforms, the LFL is moving toward legitimacy, in a WWE diva sort of way. The women will still be wearing short shorts and exposing their midriffs, but garters — which haven’t been used in the NFL in some time — are now gone. This makes it easier, in theory, for sports fans to know these women for the athletes they are.
And just like athletes in any other sport, there are legitimate rivalries — though, admittedly, they fly below the SportsCenter radar. And smack talk galore.
“Everyone thinks we are looking forward to the Atlanta game this year because everyone is talking a big game about them. [They] are the least of my worries right now,” said Jacksonville Breeze linebacker Adrian Purnell on LFL360.com, an indispensable Legends Football League resource.
It's hard to say, given the paucity and opacity of information about the league, how good the Atlanta team coming to town March 30 might be. …
The Jaguars made it known heading into free agency that they would play their cards close to the vest. General Manager David Caldwell made no secret of that in his interview on 1010XL before free agency began.
“Every year, after this first week of free agency, they come out with the ‘big winners and losers’ of free agency, more often than not, the big winners in free agency are the big losers during the season, so it's just based off past history,” he said on March 9. “We're looking for good solid players that fit our age bracket [who] can provide not only some leadership capabilities, but some depth for our guys if we draft some young guys and have to play young guys early on, that these guys are going to be the bridge and help us get to the next level.”
Depth. Youth. Leadership.
These are the hallmarks of the Atlanta Falcons, the organization from which Caldwell hails, and the hallmarks of the Seattle Seahawks, the team for whom current head coach Gus Bradley worked as defensive coordinator.
As it turned out, the releases — not the signings — were the most notable aspect for the Jaguars in the days after free agency opened.
Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis — gone, if not forgotten.
Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton — allowed to “test the market.”
Knighton’s first stop was Denver, where former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is now defensive coordinator. It remains to be seen if Knighton — whose weight and conditioning have been recurrent issues throughout his career — can handle the thin air of the Mile High City. The Broncos signed him almost immediately, though.
Last year’s free-agent splash, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, is gone after one season in the black-and-teal. A big year exploiting favorable matchups with the Cowboys earned him a $14 million bonus — a number widely ridiculed at the time of the signing …
Being a fan of Division I college basketball in Jacksonville can be a frustrating experience. For fans of Jacksonville University's Dolphins, the last moment of real glory was more than 40 years ago, when big man Artis Gilmore led the squad to the national championship game at the end of the 1969-’70 season.
Fans of University of North Florida's Ospreys, meanwhile, can’t count on even a sepia-tinged memory like that to keep their memories sweet. In a sense of real achievement, every season is frustrating … and 2012-’13 was no different: Both teams were bounced from the Atlantic Sun Tournament in the first round.
The less-surprising of the two eliminations was the first — No. 7 seed UNF fell 73-63 to Florida Gulf Coast in Macon, Ga., in front of a reported crowd of 683 souls.
In any given year, the Ospreys haven’t inspired excitement, and this year was more of the same: UNF finished with 13 wins, eight in conference play. The Macon game was actually rather competitive, though; UNF led by five in the first half, and was within three points with less than six-and-a-half minutes to play. Then Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson scored nine consecutive points to effectively seal the victory.
The scrappy Ospreys did earn the respect of their opponents, however.
“Give UNF a lot of credit. They are an excellent basketball team, and I’m very happy with how hard we played to get the win,” Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield told FGCUathletics.com afterward. “We had different guys step up at different times in the game and when that happens, we are a dangerous team.”
Guard Parker Smith, an all-Atlantic Sun Conference second-team selection in 2011-’12, put up numbers that, as always, made observers wonder what would happen if UNF had more players of his caliber. Smith, a senior, scored 29 points, but given the Ospreys’ issues with turnovers and production inside the paint, he would’ve needed to score a few more to take the …
Have you ever wanted to sing the national anthem at a Suns' game? You will have an opportunity to demonstrate your chops. Below, the missive from the Suns on the subject:
"With the regular season only a few weeks away, the Jacksonville Suns will hold an open casting call for National Anthem performers at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on Saturday, March 16th, from 1:00 P.M. until 4:00 P.M. The Suns have seventy dates to fill with National Anthem performers. Auditions will be held on the field and singers will be asked to perform the song in a traditional fashion and in its entirety. Instrumentalists will be given more flexibility with their rendition. Vocal groups are also encouraged to perform."
The team also needs batboys.
"Applicants for batboys for the 2013 season must be at the Baseball Grounds by 1:00pm sharp on Saturday, March 16th. Potential batboys must be 14 years of age or older, be accompanied by his parent/guardian and must bring a copy of his most recent report card and a copy of his baseball playing schedule, if available, to apply."
These are great opportunities for singers looking for exposure and for high school aged ballplayers looking for a connection to one of the most respected organizations in the minor league system. Check them out!
It's hard to fault the Jacksonville Jaguars for finally parting ways with Rashean Mathis, and it's equally hard to fault most of the sports media for looking at Rashean's tenure in Jacksonville through teal-colored glasses. But let's be real about his legacy.
For the last few years, Mathis was the guy on the field who could be targeted with the deep ball and beaten, time and time again. There was good reason for talk throughout the media of possibly moving him to safety — a position shift familiar to cover corners who can no longer cover. The fact is that Mathis wouldn't have started for at least the last two years — possibly more — on a team where he had real competition for his role, which by the end, given the emergence of Derek Cox, was as a No. 2 cornerback.
What's next? Obviously, he will explore the free agent market, get a camp invite, maybe a roster spot. But will any team with real aspirations be able to use him? He's not really a nickel back type; at his age and with his mileage, a shifty slot receiver would school him on many routes, and burn him deep.
I know — Mathis is a classy guy, a fan of Burrito Gallery, and one of the best football players from Duval County. I wish him well. But I have to give general manager David Caldwell credit for making a personnel move that was divested of the sentimental hogwash that seemed to drive moves in previous eras. In the case of Mathis, we see an illustration of the principle "addition by subtraction." Keeping him on the roster would be fuzzy math, unless he somehow could tap into the Ray Lewis "fountain of youth."
Since the death of the wrestling territories, such as the then-local Championship Wrestling from Florida in the late 1980s, national wrestling promoters have faced a conundrum: How can they give their talent the necessary ring work so they look polished before putting them on the main roster? For World Wrestling Entertainment — far and away the leading outfit on Earth — the solution has been farm leagues; it's had them for the last couple of decades.
Over the years, WWE has had arrangements with a variety of outfits, like Louisville's Ohio Valley Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association of Memphis. Those companies had plenty of success stories emerge from their bare-bones indie rasslin loops. Despite this, none of these solutions was permanent. This explains why WWE moved its training to Tampa, Florida, using the cryptically named NXT territory as its instruction base.
Why Florida? Why Tampa? The simple obvious reason: Wrestlers gravitate to Tampa after retiring, and so a lot of those who could teach greenhorns the ins and outs of the game are there already. Plus, Tampa has traditionally been a hotbed for pro wrestling. It was the spiritual center of the CWF decades ago; more recently, it's the spot from which all indie Florida wrestling emanates organically – again, due to the natural migration patterns of wrestlers, who enjoy the climate and the adult entertainment, to name two of the city’s main amenities.
NXT has television – only in Tampa. But, as has happened historically with Tampa promotions, the company's branching out, running shows throughout the state, as it did on Feb. 22 at the National Guard Armory on Normandy Boulevard. Now, this is Westside, way past I-295 — and the drainage reflected that. My subcompact car navigated a lot of standing water along the way.
Local event promoters know that rain kills crowds. Not pro wrestling, though; not on the Westside. Perhaps the marks were drawn in by the promise of meeting …