ALACHUA – For the first time ever, Santa Fe Softball and Santa Fe Baseball are hosting the 12U 2014 Babe Ruth World Series.

Alachua’s assistant recreation director Damon Messina says that as of now, he knows the tournaments will take place a week apart at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex on the World Series field and three softball fields.

Winners from each of eight regions throughout the country will compete in the World Series tournaments in Alachua. Teams come from the Southeast, New England, Middle Atlantic, Ohio Valley, Southwest, Midwest Plains, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest regions.

Florida teams follow the same procedure as teams from other states. Each team competes in district competition to then move on to state level tournaments to qualify. The champions in the state play against winners from other states within their region. Each host location has a team that will participate in the World Series.

Aside from the regional winners, there are qualifiers throughout the country that get an automatic bid to play, Messina said.

The local baseball organization has not hosted the World Series since 1992, he said.

The softball organization hosted the 2010, 2012 and 2013 tournaments.

It is expected there will be at least 20 softball teams and 10 baseball teams participating in the tournaments.

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W - Craig Fugate

ALACHUA – When a natural disaster strikes, so does Craig Fugate.

Fugate has been on the hot seat under pressure of quick action when Mother Nature hits since President Barack Obama nominated him in March 2009.

Born in Jacksonville, the appointed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director was prepared by the skills and knowledge he began acquiring in his high school days in the city of Alachua.

The 1977 Santa Fe High School graduate was appointed FFA chapter reporter in his senior year.

He pitched ideas to local media on a regular basis for news articles relating to the Santa Fe FFA chapter.

He was handpicked by advisers as the chapter reporter due to his ability to communicate with the public.

FFA is a vocational student organization involved in the agriculture industry that helps develop student leadership skills and prepares students to be confident and involved in agriculture in Florida, the nation and the world, said Larry Reese, Fugate’s former vocational agriculture teacher at Santa Fe High School.

Fugate developed a good foundation through his leadership skills gained through the FFA, said Chuck Clemons, former Santa Fe High student and FFA member.

It helped him make sound decisions in the heat of chaotic situations.

Fugate took particular interest with parliamentary procedure, a method of conducting a business meeting in a prescribed fashion to maintain order, Reese said.

Fugate is a deep-thinking individual with a dry sense of humor, Clemons said. He jokes with a straight face.

He was focused on what he was doing and whatever task he had undertaken, said Bud Riviere, another of Fugate’s former teachers. He was a dependable student.

Fugate thrived on organization and did not tolerate inconsistencies, Reese said.

It was hard to miss the senior standing at about 6’2” with square-shaped glasses.

Forty years later, the people who have known him for a long time would say he hasn’t changed. His demeanor remains serious with a strict sense of leadership.

After high school he attended Santa Fe College. Upon completion of college, Fugate became a volunteer firefighter, then a paramedic and lieutenant for the Alachua County Fire Rescue.

Fugate served as the emergency manager for Alachua County for about 10 years. He was responsible for all local emergency response efforts. That effort included delivery of food, water and ice to disaster victims. But the process involved more than just delivery of much needed items, it also required that large quantities of food are broken down and mixed with other food products in local kitchens and provided to the public in mass feedings rather than disseminated in large containers to individuals, Reese said.

Fugate was also appointed bureau chief for preparedness and response for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. His position was to manage the state’s response to disasters and coordinate with FEMA and other federal agencies.

During the time Fugate served as the director of the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management, he also was Florida’s coordinating officer for 11 presidentially declared disasters.

It was under his leadership that four hurricanes devastated areas of Florida in 2004: Hurricanes Charlie, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne. Florida was struck again in 2005 with three hurricanes that touched land: Dennis, Katrina and Wilma.

Also, under Fugate’s leadership, the Florida FEMA program became the first statewide emergency management program in the nation to be awarded full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program.

It was this hands-on training that caught the attention of President Barack Obama when nominating Fugate as the FEMA administrator.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Fugate’s management of Florida’s hurricane seasons was a testament to his qualifications as head of FEMA.

Clemons said Fugate is the most qualified director he has seen in over 30 years, having honed his skills on the dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes that impacted Florida.

In a 2009 interview with Alachua County Today, Fugate attributed his successful leadership skills to his small town upbringing.

More recently, in May 2013, Fugate was a guest speaker at Santa Fe College’s commencement ceremony.

“American people are fortunate to have someone of his caliber leading FEMA,” Clemons said.

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W - Adam JoyHIGH SPRINGS – High Springs police officer Adam Joy, 25, turned in his letter of resignation July 29. He claimed the police chief, Steve Holley, treated him unfairly and created a hostile work environment.

Joy, who is also pastor of Fusion Temple of Joy Ministries in High Springs, wrote that Holley created an “intimidating and oppressive atmosphere” by singling him out and reviewing his police calls to “find violations on me” concerning those calls. His letter also charges that Holley is acting “in retaliation” for a formal complaint made against Holley to the city manager Feb. 17, 2013.

Nobody with the police department or city government would elaborate on the formal complaint Joy filed, what it regarded or on the allegations of a hostile work environment, so details remain sparse.

Although Joy followed up the next day with another letter asking to rescind his letter of resignation, Holley had already accepted it. Joy’s Police Benevolent Association union representative informed him that he couldn’t reverse it once it was turned in.

In a follow up email to Alachua County Today, Joy also complained that he had given the chief two weeks notice, but was removed from his post effective immediately and paid two-weeks salary by the city. “I was supposed to be there until the 11th, but Chief Holley had the city manager rush it so I didn’t have to come back anymore, and they just pay me for my two weeks,” he said.

Holley confirmed that Joy was paid for his two-week notice. “I had already accepted his letter of resignation,” he said. “It was not necessary for him to continue with the department at that point.”

In response to the allegations that Holley had been unfair and was acting in retaliation, City Manager Ed Booth said he conducted a fair hearing on the matter and was “unable to comment any further on a personnel matter.”

However, Holley was more forthcoming. “There were internal affairs investigations done based on conflicting information I received after specific incidents in which Joy was involved. The investigations were fairly and professionally done,” he said.

While Joy claims he was not notified of the charges in advance and could not defend himself adequately, Holley explained, “You do not know what you’re going to find when you begin an investigation. You may be looking at one aspect of an incident or situation and learn additional information you had not known about before the investigation began. That happens quite often in the course of an investigation,” he said.

Joy said he had been with the police department for two years and eight months. In an email to Alachua County Today he talked about his future, saying he plans “to pastor full time and am opening an after school and youth center in the old High Springs Herald building in a few weeks.”

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W - World Series Santa Fe DSC 1059The Santa Fe team eagerly watches the action on the field. Santa Fe lost to Pitt County, 6-5.

ALACHUA – On Sunday afternoon, parents and family members braved the incredible heat to cheer on the players of the Babe Ruth Softball World Series 12U Commissioner’s Cup. These teams didn’t make it into the regular World Series games, but that didn’t stop the parents in the crowd from cheering on at the spectacle.

“We are proud of you,” the crowd chanted in unison at the players.

During the last games of the day, Lodi Extreme, from California, played the Oakleaf Bandits, from Florida. Tri-County, from Florida, played Prairie Village, from Kentucky.    

Parents and players attended games until Tuesday night, as teams from around the country competed at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

“Seeing these girls improve and doing their personal best is the best part of all this,” said Shawna Ahlbach, from Lodi, Calif., mother of Madison Ahlbach, 13.

Despite the crowd of parents in the stands, even more people showed up for the regular World Series games.

Monday night at 7:30 p.m., the Santa Fe team, 2010 champions, played Pitt County of North Carolina, the 2012 champions. Both of the teams went into the game undefeated, but only Pitt County left unscathed. Pitt County won the game by a single point, 6-5. In double elimination play, going teams will go on to the finals.

Alachua City Commissioner Shirley Brown attended the game so she could support children and families she knows from her time as a teacher.

“We’ve got to be here to support our girls,” she said. “They’re serious about this game.”

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The Florida Department of Education released its preliminary school grades for elementary and middle schools late last month. Seven of the schools in Alachua County received a grade of A, down from 21 last year. Similar results are reported statewide, with the number of A-rated schools down by 39 percent, according to information from the Department of Education.

The difference in scores was predicted by state officials, due to a change in the way the schools are evaluated. The threshold for passing the FCAT writing test was changed from 3.0 to 3.5.

“What we have in this state is a constantly moving target,” said Jackie Johnson, public information officer for the Alachua County public school system. “We have a grading formula that has been changed more than 30 times in the last two years.”

This year, seven schools got an A, 17 received a B, six had a C, five had a D and four had an F. Only five schools, Alachua Elementary, Newberry Elementary, Caring and Sharing Learning School, Waldo Community School and Metcalfe Elementary improved their grade. Only Caring and Sharing rose by more than one letter grade, going from an F to a B.

The performance of Alachua County’s schools could have been worse if the board of education didn’t pass a safety net early last month, Johnson said. The safety net prevents a school from falling more than one letter grade per year.

Unlike the FCAT reading and math exams, schools cannot pass or fail a student based on the writing exam. Only the school is evaluated, not the student, Johnson said.

Had the writing requirement not changed, the results this year would have been largely the same as last year, she said.

Controversy surrounds the validity of holding teachers accountable by using constantly changing standards. Tony Bennett, commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, resigned last Thursday following accusations that he manipulated the formula for school grades for political reasons at his previous job in Indiana, equivalent to his job in Florida.

“That affects the credibility of the grading system if it can be changed for political reasons like that,” Johnson said. “It’s one thing to raise expectations for students, but it’s another thing to arbitrarily change the formula.”

Emails from Bennett uncovered by the Associated Press indicate he may have tweaked the grading formula in Indiana when a charter school run by a political donor was facing a grade of C.

“This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote Sept. 12, 2012. Bennett and his colleagues went on to discuss how to change the formula so the school would get an A.

The school grades aren’t just for bragging rights, there is bonus funding for higher grade levels.

The Alachua County School Board and the superintendent have voiced their concerns about the grading system to state leaders, but their criticisms have fallen on deaf ears, said Alachua Superintendent Dan Boyd.

“I think it’s a deplorable situation,” Boyd said. The state should compare the performance of Florida students to that of students in the same grade across the county, rather than comparing them year-to-year in the same state, he said.  

In the wake of Tony Bennett’s resignation from the Department of Education, nobody from that department was able to comment on why the formula for calculating school grades changes frequently, or how the grades are decided.

Governor Rick Scott released a statement showing his support for the decisions and contributions of Bennett, saying “Florida’s educational system continues to make incredible gains.”

Boyd said until schools across the nation have a common denominator, the students in the state will be the victim of constantly inflating statistical analysis. That common denominator might come in the form of the Common Core standards, which aims to make education consistent across the states by instituting common standards for the curriculums. As of January of this year, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards, including Florida.

Despite how the statistics look, Boyd said he is confident the students in the county are performing well.

“I think the children are learning in spite of what the pundits in Tallahassee prescribe,” he said. “The teachers do a good job in the schools and they are working hard.”

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W - Newberry JOADFront L-R: Abby Huffer, Ragan Oliver, Tyler Levanduski, Ryan Salom, Aidan Collins and Wesley Francis. Back L-R: Ryan Oliver, Wyatt Pogue, Taylor Gray, Tristan Hyde, Cade Pogue, Hunter Brant, Chris Francis, Olivia Huffer, Amye Francis Meghan Collins, Julia Francis and Emma Harris.

NEWBERRY – This year has been successful for Newberry’s Junior Olympic Archery Development Club (JOAD). As in years past, the members of this youth archery club have demonstrated their ability to compete successfully on a national level. Most recently, the team of 18 traveled to Hamilton, Ohio to compete with archers from across the nation. Over 400 archers, ages eight to 20, competed for four days. The competitions included a ranking round of 144 arrows, match play and team competitions.

The Newberry JOAD Club brought home a total of 10 awards. The strongest showing by the club was in the team rounds. Archers earning medals in the team round were Olivia Huffer: Silver, Abby Huffer: Bronze, Ryan Salom: Gold, Tyler Levanduski: Bronze, Hunter Brant: Silver and Ragan Oliver: Silver. Ryan Oliver, age 14, won third overall in the 15-17 year old division for Men’s Olympic Recurve Bow and Meghan Collins earned Silver in the Ranking Round, Gold in the Match Play/Olympic Round and First Place Overall in the 13-14 age division for Women’s Olympic Recurve. Archers Wyatt Pogue, Cade Pogue, Taylor Gray and Emma Harris had strong showings in their respective divisions. Aidan Collins competed for the first time at Nationals and enjoyed shooting with other archers his age.

Earlier in the year, the team brought home two Indoor National Titles earned by Ryan Oliver at the U.S. Indoor Nationals in Snellville, Ga., and a total of 19 South Regional Awards. The archers shot a total of 120 arrows. In the first ranking round of 60 arrows Gold Medals were earned by Wesley Francis, Amye Francis, and Chris Francis. Silver went to Tyler Levanduski, Tristan Hyde, Hunter Brant, Meghan Collins and Ryan Oliver. Hannah Collins and Bayleigh Bivens earned Bronze.

On day two and three of the ranking round, these club members brought home the following South Regional awards: Gold: Wesley Francis, Ryan Oliver, Amye Francis, Chris Francis, and Bayleigh Bivens. Earning silver were Tyler Levanduski and Olivia Huffer. Tristan Hyde and Meghan Collins brought home Bronze.

The club reached another milestone in January. Two members were selected to the National Junior Dream Team, which is comprised of the nation’s top youth archers. Chris Francis and Ryan Oliver were chosen to train with U.S. Olympic Coaches at the Olympic Training Centers in Chula Vista, Calif. and Colorado Springs, Col. Chris and Ryan attend coaching camps four times a year as a part of the National Team and receive weekly training from National Coach and professional archer Diane Watson from Hudson, Fla. Olivia Huffer attended the March camp as an invitee for observation and possible future selection. Archers chosen to the National Junior Team must meet a minimum qualifying score at a nationally ranked event, and maintain score and training requirements, while applying the national shooting technique. Several other archers in Newberry JOAD Club are striving to make the National Junior Dream Team.

While preparing for competition and training five days of the week, the archers were also busy fundraising. Their attendance at these events would not be possible without the support of local businesses. The archers sold website ads and banners for their practice location at West Park in Newberry, Fla. Over 30 businesses bought advertising from the club. Fourteen local businesses bought banners for West Park and major sponsor Nanoptics Corporation, a Gainesville-based fiber optics company, donated $2,000 for the travel to Ohio. With the help of the local businesses, LP Archery, NanOptics. Inc. and bagging groceries for tips at Hitchcock’s, the Ohio Nationals Team earned $10,000 toward travel expenses.

Most recently, several older youth club members gained their coaching certification by club leaders. Julia Francis, Chris Francis and Amye Francis will offer lessons to the public at club practices at West Park.

Newberry JOAD Club is a program sponsored by U.S. Archery. The local youth archery club was formed in 2010 by parents. JOAD offers both recurve and compound archers the opportunity to learn range safety and proper shooting technique in an environment that also fosters focus, increased self-confidence, and team-building skills. JOAD is open to any youth archer aged eight to 20, and is designed to grow with the youth archer. Introductory JOAD classes teach the fundamentals of proper shooting form. As the young archer develops, they will learn more advanced techniques. Newberry JOAD Club archers earn achievement pins and medals at monthly tournaments.

This fall, the club will turn its attention to giving back to the local community that supports its efforts. The club will host a Fall Food Drive for the Newberry community and host a Wounded Warriors Project Indoor Benefit Tournament in December. Newberry JOAD Club, a non-profit, volunteer-led 501c3 organization, wants to thank the many businesses and individuals that helped make this year so successful. The mission of Newberry JOAD is to promote a love of the sport of archery, while encouraging sportsmanship and volunteerism. To learn more about the club, get involved in youth archery or to become a supporter, visit www.newberryjoadclub.org, visit them on Facebook or drop by West Park to see their shooting skills in action.

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ALACHUA – Edward Bonfiglio was on a routine foot patrol in Afghanistan when he was ambushed. A bullet tore through his left leg, rendering it lifeless below the knee. That didn’t last, thanks to a regenerative medicine company in Alachua.

Alachua-based biotech company, AxoGen, located at the Sid Martin Incubator, recently announced that Navy Corpsman Edward Bonfiglio, a patient who regained the use of his limbs thanks to a nerve graft from Axogen, has been selected by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) to represent tissue recipients on the “Donate Life” float in the 2014 Rose Parade.

Since 2005, the AATB has sponsored the Donate Life Rose Parade float, which serves as a memorial to organ and tissue donors, according to the website. The theme of the 2014 float, “Light Up the World,” supports the organization’s mission of saving and enhancing lives through the gift of organ and tissue donation. The 125th Rose Parade, which features floats covered in flowers, will take place Jan. 1, 2014, 8 a.m. in Pasadena, Calif.

When he was shot, an injury to his sciatic nerve took away all function and feeling below his knee. Back in the United States, surgeons at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., presented Bonfiglio with surgical repair options that included amputation of his left leg or repair of the severed peripheral nerve using Axogen’s nerve graft, with the goal of restoring function. Bonfiglio chose the nerve graft and today is able to walk and jog, and is currently training for the Paralympics.

“AxoGen is delighted that Edward Bonfiglio has been chosen by AATB to represent tissue recipients in the Rose Parade,” said Karen Zadarej, CEO of Axogen. “He has bravely served our country, is an advocate for tissue donation and an inspiration to patients with peripheral nerve injuries.  It is an honor to have provided the processed nerve allograft that contributed to saving his leg.” 

AxoGen’s website describes the difference between processed nerve allografts, which they pioneered, and autografts, which have been the gold standard for repairing peripheral nerves in the past.

Allografts are taken from human cadavers and processed to remove cellular debris by AxoGen. The process sterilizes the tissue and creates a nerve the body will not reject. Therefore, no drugs are required to prevent the body’s immune system from attacking it.

The autograft procedure removes nerves from another part of the patient’s body for reuse at the injury site. Since tissue is their own, the body won’t reject it. However, an autograft procedure requires two surgeries and can create a second site where tissue may become infected. Another concern is that the nerve removal site will generally lack feeling and scarring can also occur. Nerve grafts taken directly from a patient are usually removed from the leg or foot.

Another benefit of the allograft procedure is that surgeons can obtain a variety of sizes up to seven centimeters. The nerves are kept frozen until needed for surgery. A recent study found that allografts up to 5 centimeters produced results similar to autografts and patients’ nerves re-grow at a rate of roughly an inch a month.

"Allograft has not been done in enough patients to say that it's the same as autografts, but there are advantages if it ends up being equal," said Dr. Ed Akelman, an orthopedic hand surgeon at Rhode Island Hospital and chairman of the council on education at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Akelman said he has used the allografts and called them promising, but is waiting to see the results of more surgeries before switching allegiances from autografts.

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