Fall short 55-52


The Newberry Lady Panthers defeated Wildwood in regional playoffs at Newberry High School Saturday night, sending the team to the final four state championship series in Lakeland, Fla.

NEWBERRY – The small town of Newberry has only one stoplight, but the size of the town doesn’t characterize the extraordinary success of Newberry High School’s girls basketball team.

The team won their regional finals and state semifinals in their Class 1A. They pulled up just short of bringing home the state championship Wednesday morning with a loss of 52-54 to Ponce de Leon High School. Though they didn’t win the state championship, their journey became a focus in the school and community.

As time ticked down in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s basketball game, it was anybody’s win. Though the Newberry Panthers were up at the beginning of the fourth quarter in the FHSAA girls basketball regional finals, Wildwood Wildcats were catching up.

Newberry managed to close out the game with a score of 49-40. Newberry High School player Jasmine Walker said the key to their team’s success is really their defense.

Dawntavia Davis, who scored 16 points in Saturday’s regional final game, said that part of the team’s strategy in the state semifinals and finals has to do with a state of mind.

“We have to go in with a positive head,” Davis said.

After the team’s win on Saturday night, they moved on to the next Class 1A State Semifinals at The Lakeland Center. At 3 p.m. Newberry residents lined the street to wish the Panthers good luck. Some had signs, others were dressed up in the school’s colors, but all had hope that the team would represent Newberry well in the state championship.

The Newberry Panthers were ranked No. 3 in their class this season. Coach Ray Parrish has been at Newberry High School for four years, and the success the girls had this season was four years in the making, he said.

“This isn’t something that just happened overnight,” Parrish said.

In the first round of the state championship, the Newberry Panthers defeated Hillard Red Flashes with a score of 49-45. Lasharrah Nattiel and Tayla McGee brought in over 75 percent of the points that game, with 19 and 18 points each, respectively.

On Wednesday morning, the team played in the state finals against the Ponce de Leon Pirates. The team lost 52-55.

Scoring 28 points in the first half gave Ponce de Leon a halftime lead of 19 points.

In the second half, the Panthers began to gain ground, scoring 43 points in the second half. When there were only 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Newberry managed to narrow the gap to 6 points. Only seconds later, Nattiel stole the ball and scored another two points to make the score 50-54.

With 33 seconds left on the clock, Newberry scored another two points, but unfortunately, the second half momentum was not enough to bring home the state championship.  The final score was 55-52, with Ponce de Leon wnning the game.

Nattiel was the team leader in the game with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 2 assists.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An alcohol ordinance that has been reviewed and changed several times over the last year may get yet more changes.  During a brief workshop on Feb. 16, High Springs commissioners debated whether or not the city’s law governing establishments serving and selling alcohol needed to be adjusted again.

At issue is a rule in the ordinance that requires an establishment selling alcohol be at least 500 feet from a church and 600 feet from a public or private school.  Those distance requirements had been removed in the summer of 2011.  They were reinstated, however, at the behest of Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin during a Dec. 8, 2011 meeting.  Commissioner Sue Weller and then Commissioner Eric May opposed that measure.

Weller cited concerns at the Feb. 16 workshop that the current ordinance presents a problem to property and business owners.  Under the current law, if a church or school were to locate within the distance requirements of a business selling alcohol, that establishment could only continue to sell the alcohol as long as it is operated continuously and is not sold.  Weller contends that the city would effectively being tying the hands of businesses.

Davis, meanwhile, suggested that “temporary” churches would not have the ability to affect an existing establishment.

“We cannot expect as a church community for somebody to spend as much money as has been spent in High Springs on some restaurants, several million dollars, and then a little church move in next door to them and tell them they have to shut down,” Davis said.

He said distinguishing a church that might rent space as a “temporary church” would prevent any confusion.

Speaking to Weller’s concerns, Davis said, “I think it’s a non-problem,” adding, “We’ll deal with it when the problem comes up.”

Weller, on the other hand, said that by the time it comes up, it may be too late.

City Attorney Raymond Ivey agreed with Weller in part, noting that he also didn’t believe the City could make a distinction between a temporary church and permanent church.

As the discussions evolved, so too did the potential changes to the ordinance, as Barnas suggested creating a downtown zone that would allow a business selling alcohol to continue doing so even if it were sold or not continuously operating, even if a church were to locate within the distance requirements.

That begged another question from Weller.  “Why would we want to limit it to the downtown area,” she asked.

“What’s the difference between downtown and 441,” she further inquired.

Gestrin meanwhile said she didn’t want to specifically address the alcohol ordinance.  “We are dealing with the land development code and Comprehensive Plan issues, not just this one ordinance,” Gestrin said, adding, “I feel like we need to address the whole pie.”

Gestrin, who approved the latest round of changes to the alcohol ordinance, appeared to regard the issue as a low priority.

“We need to keep this on the back burner and move forward with the things that are crucial,” she said.

Ivey said he would review the ordinance and the land development code and return to the commission with suggested changes that might remedy the matter.

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HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Fire Department is expected to get a new fire by year end.  That came as news during a Feb. 16 special meeting in which City Manager Jeri Langman informed commissioners that the $283,000 fire truck could be placed into the budget through a budget amendment, which has already been set for a final hearing on Thursday, Feb. 23.

The new truck would become the department’s primary engine.  The department currently uses a 1991 model year engine as its primary truck while a model year 1985 truck is secondary.  After delivery later this year, the new truck would become the primary engine with the 1991model year truck serving as a secondary.  The department would decommission the 1985 model year truck.

The first annual payment on the truck would not come until 2013.  It would be financed over several years.

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ALACHUA – In the future, the City of Alachua may see an easier method for electric and water billing for both the consumer and the city’s public service department.

During a Tuesday workshop, the Virginia-based company Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) presented a plan for the city to implement a Smart Grid, which would bring improvements to the city’s operations and increase energy efficiency.

According to the United States Department of Energy, “Much in the way that a ‘smart’ phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means ‘computerizing’ the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid.”

If the city agrees to the company’s plan, SAIC would cover the initial costs of deploying Smart Grid technology to Alachua’s nearly 8,000 electric and water meters located throughout the city. For SAIC, this means replacing nearly 80 percent of the current meters and updating the remainder. The company would also be responsible for managing and gathering the data that the new meters would produce.

The process of considering a move to smart grid technology is still in the preliminary stages at the city. SAIC will provide a business plan for city staff to examine, and the plan would have to be approved by the Alachua City Commission. Once approved, SAIC said it would take about four months for the company to deploy the Smart Grid infrastructure, and the city to see benefits.

The city would be responsible for paying SAIC either through a five-year or a seven-year plan. Steve Root of SAIC said the Smart Grid would cost the city an estimated $3.3 million. If the city chooses to continue with the SAIC management and security after the initial contract expires, the city would pay an annual fee.

Mike New, the Public Services director, said that the plan intends to be implemented without passing any costs to consumers and without firing any current employees.

SAIC installed a Smart Grid in Lakeland, Fla., and the city experienced an estimated 14,000 ton carbon footprint savings. It is also estimated that the grid technology could save the city an estimated $400,000 a year. SAIC also provided the Smart Grid technology to four Alaskan villages, including Kipnuk.

The Smart Grid increases meter accuracy, remotely connects and disconnects electric accounts and remotely reads water and electric meters. The technology will allow the city to deploy fewer servicemen to houses for meter-related needs. Smart Grid technology provides hourly updates so a utility company can be ready to bill a customer on a day-to-day basis, unlike current systems in Alachua that require a 10- to 15- day window.

With the system, the city will be able to see instantly the moment an outage occurs. Currently, the public service department waits until a call is received to find out that an outage has happened. With the Smart Grid, cities can be proactive instead of reactive, said David Smith of SAIC. The city would also receive tilt alerts if the meter was tampered with or moved. Tilt alerts can be triggered by a person attempting to tinker with the system or a tree falling on the meter.

Concerns were raised by the City Commission about security issues. SAIC said that the security provided was top of the line, that they work with the Department of Defense and Department of Energy and employees work to ensure that no one can hack into the system. The Smart Grid system requires three forms of identification to access the program.

“I’m excited as can be because I’m a technology guy,” Mayor Gib Coerper said.

He said he firmly believes that giving the consumers the ability to go online and manage their own electricity and water usage would be a good tool to have in the community.

The Smart Grid system allows customers to access their own website that would provide hourly, daily and monthly electricity use. From this site, customers can see how different energy-saving ideas, such as cutting off all the lights or keeping the AC off, can lower daily energy use and save them money.

SAIC was established in 1969 by Dr. J. Robert Beyster and a group of scientists. The company now employs more than 40,000 people and works with the federal government and the military to create innovative solutions to a wide range of questions. SAIC is working to find cures for cancer, set up advance tsunami warning systems and build next-generation robotics that will help protect and support military troops abroad. The company aims to improve national security, health, cybersecurity and energy usage and environmental protection.

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Irby_Jump_Rope_Heart_IMG_3241_copyIrby Elementary students were joined by University of Florida cheerleaders and Albert and Alberta to help raise funds for the American Heart Association’s annual Jump Rope for Heart held at the school Wednesday.

ALACHUA – Facing a mid-life crisis, Gainesville Police Department Sergeant Donald Geelhoed left the fancy new convertible at the dealership and challenged himself to run a marathon.

He didn’t make it. Instead, he had heart surgery for a genetic defect in his aorta valve.

Geelhoed was just one of the many service men and women honored at Irby Elementary School’s Jump Rope for Heart on Feb. 15 where the theme was “Be a Heart Hero.” The American Heart Association coordinates the event every year.

“I’m honored and I’m humbled,” he said. “But I think the real heroes on that stage are the military veterans.”

While Geelhoed trained for his marathon, he experienced shortness of breath and numbness. After his surgery in October 2005, he accomplished his pre-surgery goal by running two marathons – the Marine Corps Marathon and the Gainesville Five Points of Life.

He shared his story with Irby students during morning announcements and donned a gold medal during the Jump Rope for Heart event, which labeled him the Heart Ambassador.

In addition to Geelhoed, military personnel, city officials and law enforcement officers representing the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua Police Department were recognized as heroes.

Physical Education teacher Ray Crone, who organized the day’s events, was inspired to bring the service men to Jump Rope for Heart during a recent trip. While waiting at a Dallas, Texas, airport gate, he noticed military men and women boarding a plane. The people waiting at the gate started to clap for them.

“So I decided to bring that to Jump Rope for Heart to teach our students to appreciate service people,” he said.

Irby has a long history with Jump Rope for Heart, Crone said. Since starting the program, the school has raised over $100,000. This year, a new Internet e-card was available online for children to send to long-distance relatives or friends. The e-card pictured a superhero with a space for the children to place their face on the superhero. The school’s Internet fundraising increased donations from approximately $400 a year to about $1500 for this year’s event.

Megan Weinstein, representative from the American Heart Association, said the Jump Rope for Heart program has been going on for 35 years.

Using a jump rope is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, and it encourages children to see that exercise can be fun, she said.

“This school goes above and beyond in everything they do,” Weinstein said. “They put a lot of heart behind it – pun intended.”

The University of Florida’s Albert and Alberta joined in the fun, along with Gator cheerleaders and Gator Dazzlers. Jessica Prentiss was given an award for her volunteer work. Michele Faulk, Santa Fe High School’s athletic driector, was also given an award to recognize her contributions. Faulk’s Interact Club, a service organization at Santa Fe High School, participates every year in the Irby Jump Rope for Heart by helping teachers entertain the children.

First and second grade students competed in a jump-rope contest to see who could last the longest. The American Heart Association provided prizes to the first, second, third and fourth-place winners. Prizes included a sports water bottle, a speed rope and a soccer ball.

For the first-grade class, Amari Ray took first place. Nathan Kemph came in second, followed by Everett Melvin and Joanna Scott in third place. Fourth Place was awarded to Tristan Rivera.

For the second-grade class, Serenity Carrodus won first place. Anthony Rollins came in second, and Raynard Robinson won third place. Savannah Terrell won fourth place.

Crone imparts three lessons to the students of Irby during Jump Rope for Heart. First, help yourself by exercising. Second, help others by fundraising. Last, help your school. For every $2000, Irby gets $100 in P.E. equipment.

“Kids get so excited for this event,” Crone said. “What’s really rewarding is when a high school senior told me a week ago that the Irby Jump Rope for Heart event was one of her favorite memories of going to this school.”

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Irby_100_6441_copyALACHUA – When life gave six-year-old Caleb the chance to save lives, he made lemonade.

For Irby Elementary School’s Jump Rope for Heart event, Caleb wanted to raise $100. Showing remarkable patience and business skills, Caleb sat outside his apartment for six hours, said Casey Ludlam, Caleb’s mother. When a particular location slowed down, Caleb would want to move.

He went through an entire container of Country Time Lemonade, but he raised $10. When he ran out of lemonade, Ludlam said Caleb asked if he could sell water.

In total, Caleb raised $140 for the cause.

But he was just one student among many at the elementary school trying to help those with sick hearts for the Jump Rope for Heart event that occurred on Feb. 15.  Overall, the school is working toward a goal of $8,000, although an actual total was unavailable as of press time. Last year, the school raised $8,787. The goal had been $7,000.

The school will honor the top individual in each grade with lunch at Moe’s with Ray Crone, Irby’s physical education teacher. The top class will be awarded a Planet Smoothie party. If the school meets its goal, the top five students from each grade will get a chance to dunk Coach Crone by throwing balls at a target.

The Jump Rope for Heart event is sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Since Irby started participating in the fundraising event, the school has raised over $100,000. For every $2,000 the school raises, Crone said the school gets $100 in physical education equipment. Lately, he said the school has been averaging $400 worth of equipment.

This year, the school has gained significant online support, said Aimee Pricher, Behavior Resource Teacher. Jump Rope for Heart has always had an online element, but this year’s superhero e-card increased internet donations, she said. Children were given a chance to place their face on the body of a superhero in the e-card for the theme “Be a Heart Hero” and then e-mail the card to long-distance relatives and friends.

“We’re extremely proud of our students for any amount that they contribute to the American Heart Association,” Pricher said. “The envelopes that are just 38 cents are important because that means the student went into his or her piggy bank or allowance.”

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HIGH SPRINGS – In an unannounced move Feb. 9, the High Springs Commission appointed Jeri Langman to the permanent position of City Manager.  Although it was not on the agenda, commissioners made the appointment during the final moments of the meeting, raising concerns among several people in attendance that the matter should have been deferred and taken up after being advertised to the public.

Despite harsh criticism from some, on a motion placed on the floor by Vice Mayor Barnas and seconded by Commissioner Linda Gestrin, commissioners approved the measure in a 3-1 vote.  Mayor Dean Davis also supported the appointed while Commissioner Sue Weller cast the only vote against it.

“I’m not happy with the way this is going,” Weller said during a workshop prior to the meeting.  “I’m not happy with the fact that we have a manager in here that, in my belief, does not have the experience or the knowledge as a city manager to bring us forward,” she said.

It was during that workshop before the regularly scheduled commission meeting that it was reported that the only remaining candidate in the running for the job, W.D. Higginbotham, Jr., withdrew from the process.

Langman was hired as the interim city manager in December at a salary of $4,000 monthly without benefits.  She replaced Jenny Parham, who served as interim city manager and was compensated about $1,500 monthly in addition to her role as city clerk.  Langman will drop the interim from her title, but will see a marked increase in compensation.  In approving the change, commissioners also gave Langman an annual salary of $55,000 plus benefits.

The appointment did not come without heated criticism from several people calling on the commission to reconsider the action.  Most of those speaking out in opposition to the appointment urged the commission to restart the city manager selection process.  Others, however, lauded the commission and encouraged their fellow residents to stand behind Langman and the city.

Barnas said he was pleased with Langman and didn’t want to search for another city manager.  “I have no other process to start,” Barnas said.  “I wouldn’t do another process until…the upcoming election in November,” he added.

But numerous people spoke out against aborting the search for a city manager, including resident Laura Graetz who said the city needs a city manager with the proper qualifications to run a city.

Graetz referenced an employment advertisement for the city manager position, in which the desired qualifications are outlined.  Among them are 3-5 years of responsible municipal government experience, professional management experience and economic development experience.  “I asked for a public records request for Mr. Langman’s qualifications that were submitted for this and there is none of that on here,” she said.

“She may have many good qualities, but not those that are required for city manager,” Graetz said.

Linda Jones said she voted for Barnas and Gestrin but accused the duo of switching their positions.

“I’m sorry to see they’re taking a different position,” said Jones, adding, “I think this has come up as a payback.”

“That’s the way it appears, and I’m very disappointed,” she said.

Other residents, including Bob Hallman, supported the commission’s move and blamed the city’s prior administration for harming its financial position.

Hallman also said unrest in the community might be explained by what he considers inaccurate news reporting.  “You’re going through an experience where it’s not unusual for the people in the community to come up because, well, the information they’re getting is through the newspaper, and the information may not be accurate.”

Hallman did tell the commission that he thought there was some “serious staff problems” at the City.  But he supported the appointment of Langman saying, “I think you have a good situation.  You should hang on to it.”

Resident and employee Don Alderman said he was pleased with the direction of the City, but warned that the commission’s swift actions on Thursday might not be perceived by the public in a positive light, and therefore, motivate people to replace commissioners.  “Most of you have your positions up there due to the perceptions,” Aldermand said.

After Barnas made the motion during the City Commissioner Comments portion of the meeting to appoint Langman, former City Attorney and High Springs resident Thomas DePeter sharply criticized the move.

“Commissioners comments is the point where you choose to make the most important decision that this commission can make, the person who is going to run this city, be the most powerful person in the whole city.  No interview process.  No vetting,” DePeter asked of the commission.

“Your vice mayor didn’t want to interview anybody from your list of candidates until the person has been vetted,” DePeter said of Barnas.  “My question is, what vetting having you done for the current person you’re going to name as your city manager?”

“You haven’t even allowed an interview for this person.  No public interview. No demonstration of the qualifications.”

“You can’t wait two weeks, put this on the agenda, so at least people can come and know that the most important position in their city is going to be filled permanently by somebody?” he asked.

“Just put it on agenda for the next meeting; then you can get some feedback.”

Noting that the motion was made at the end of the meeting, DePeter said, “Wait until people actually leave the meeting, then at the last minute, make a motion to appoint the city manager.”

In perhaps his most harsh criticism on the matter, he said, “I’m just not sure whether you don’t realize what you’re doing, or you realize what you’re doing and you just don’t care.”

Barnas responded, saying DePeter did similar things while sitting on the dais as the city attorney.  Standing by his motion, Barnas said, “This has to be done for the city, and we’ve been elected to do it.”

Another criticism came online as former commissioner Eric May noted on his blog site that in making the appointment during commission comments, they violated the city’s own rules.  According to section 4(L) of the city commission’s Rules of Procedures, “Final action can only be taken if the City Commission waives its Rules of Procedures.”  That waiver never occurred.  Although there appears to be a violation of the city’s own rules, the appointment of Langman is unlikely to be successfully contested as the rules are not state law.

Langman’s appointment was effective immediately.

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