Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Ouch with an asterisk for the City

Editorial, The Decatur Daily

Decatur residents should appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that Tami Reist puts into her leadership role as president of Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Her attitude is so positive that she is turning the loss of the city's biggest tourism event into a seemingly good thing.

The loss of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in May will open hotel rooms for people attending the SoulStock one-day outdoor concert at Point Mallard, she said.

The softball tournament is leaving the city after a 13-year run. Reist and board members wanted, and received, quick feedback on why the teams left for Gulf Shores. With that information they can regroup and go after the tournament in two years.

In the meanwhile, the city has state tennis championships in 2011-13 and the Southwest Athletic Conference men and women's tennis championships next year.

It also has a three-on-three soccer tournament next year.

The Bureau also is working on hosting a rowing regatta at Point Mallard, and more tennis, softball and soccer championship events.

Reist said the Bureau was looking for a "wow" and wound up with an "ouch."

It was, however, a ouch with an asterisk — overall the ratings that team members gave the facilities and accommodations were good.

Now she has a goal to improve them, which based on her record will happen because people want to buy into her enthusiasm.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting ready to row, row, row their boat

Not going gently down the stream
Germans, Decatur educators enjoy time on Tennessee
Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Dailt

You won’t find centuries old castles on the Tennessee River like the ones that line the Rhine River, but a group of German rowers gave rave reviews for their week-long trip from Chattanooga to Huntsville.

And based on that feedback, local rowers from the Rocket City Rowing Club, including five Decatur teachers, hope they’ve started a river excursion that will catch on with more Europeans and Americans seeking new scenery and cultures to explore from their long, slender boats.

“You have much better water than we have in Germany,” said Olaf Ehses, 46, a German rower, who came to Alabama with four other Germans last week.

He explained while Germany’s largest and best-known river, the Rhine, has its stately castles and manicured vineyards and farms, it has far more commercial traffic, making for more choppy waves with which to contend.

“Here, maybe, we pass two or three barges while out rowing. In Germany, you pass 10 barges an hour,” he said. “It’s like biking on the interstate.”

Because the water is smoother, the rowing group can use sleek, 45-foot long racing shells, which was an extra incentive to lure the Germans to Alabama.

They started Sunday in Chattanooga and rowed to Nickajack Lake. On Monday, they rowed from Nickajack to about five miles south of Scottsboro. On Tuesday, they continued to Guntersville State Park. On Thursday, they drove to Tennessee to try whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River. On Friday, they rowed from Guntersville to Honeycomb Creek, and Saturday, they rowed to the club’s boathouse near Ditto Landing in Huntsville. They carried their boats around the dams instead of using the locks.

In addition to dealing with less traffic and getting to use faster boats, the Germans said they have enjoyed the calming scenery and varying wildlife, such as ospreys and herons.

“To see the green,” German rower, Christian Krause, 52, answered when asked what drew him to row the Tennessee River. “When I go on the river, I enjoy the quiet and the nature. That’s why you go touring.”

Ehses said he even enjoyed the hot humid weather because it is so different from rowing in Europe.

The German rowers said they got accustomed to the heat and humidity after a couple of days, but added they limit rowing to three or four hours each day on the Tennessee River, whereas in Germany they regularly row six hours. They also row at a less intensive 18 strokes per minute compared to 30 for racing.

Ehses got to know local rowers when he worked in Huntsville for nearly two years until 2008. A rower since age 9, he eagerly joined the Rocket City Rowing Club and made lasting friendships. In 2009, he invited a Huntsville group to row on the Rhine for a week. That led to the idea of bringing German rowers to Alabama.

Diane Winters said it took a good deal of planning to coordinate the trip and find places where they could launch and land their fragile boats as well as hotel accommodations that gave them a truer sense of the region.

The group spent nights on the Delta Queen river boat, a bed and breakfast, cabins at Camp Maranatha and Guntersville State Park.

“Part of the plan is to market it to other clubs,” Winters said, noting they can use fees to buy new equipment for the local club. “There’s huge interest in Chattanooga to join in something like this, Nashville, too.”

Ehses said he thinks more European rowers would like to visit the Tennessee River because of its natural scenery, noting that rowing tours are popular back home.

Krause said every German city has a rowing club, and major cities have as many as 10. His hometown of 25,000, has one club with 300 members. Almost every rowing club in Europe sponsors tours, some as short as a day and others as long as three weeks, he added.

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau has begun efforts to stage a rowing regatta at Point Mallard with a course set up on Flint Creek in front of the beach.

In November, Chattanooga was host to 1,620 boats for the annual Head of the Hooch rowing regatta.

Need for Decatur club

Kim Qualls, 50, International Baccalaureate coordinator for Decatur City Schools, was one of five Decatur teachers who rowed with the Germans last week.

She said she’d love for Decatur to start a rowing club so they wouldn’t have to drive to Huntsville to practice.

She said she grew up on the river, and loves boating and water skiing, so rowing made perfect sense.

“I’m also a runner and this is better than running, Qualls said. “When I ran, I had to go to a weight room for an hour for an upper body workout. With rowing, I can get it all, upper and lower body and in half the time.”

The other Decatur teachers who rowed with the Germans were Cindy Moore, a Decatur High career tech teacher; Alice Evans, a Decatur High math teacher; D’Arcy Harder, a Decatur High math and science teacher; and Sabrina Helm, a Cedar Ridge Middle School science teacher.

Moore, 46, who has rowed for five years, said the week with the Germans was a true cultural exchange that all the teachers can take back to their classrooms.

“It’s funny how you can get one thing to unify you, which in our case is rowing,” she said. “It just brings you together and you see how you’re more common than different. So I will be able to explain to my students that all over the world, although the cultures are very different , we as people are really the same.”

Interested in rowing?

The Rocket City Rowing Club will have its next

Learn to Row class starting July 30. It starts that Friday night going over safety rules, and the next morning puts students in the boats. Students will learn the fundamentals of sweep rowing, equipment, terminology and common commands.

The cost of the class is $100, and $25 of that cost can be applied to club membership should students choose to join after the class. For more information, send an email to mastersdirector@rocketcityrowing.com.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

City gets 'Ouch!' from NAIA survey

By Paul Huggins, phuggins@decaturdaily.com, staff writer, The Decatur Daily

NAIA softball officials and participants felt Decatur lacked several keys to successfully host the annual national championship series, which could explain why Decatur’s biggest tourism event will move to Gulf Shores in 2011 and 2012 after 11 straight years at Wilson Morgan Park.

The teams and officials specifically listed a lack of quality hotel rooms for 32 teams, a lack of practice space/batting cages at Wilson Morgan Park, a lack of a nearby NAIA school and a lack of community attendance at games during the week-long event.

“We were looking for a Wow! and wound up with an Ouch!” Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said of the survey results.

Decatur was host to the softball championship tournament for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics 13 of the past 15 years. The past two years, it expanded from a 20-team field to 32 teams, making it the city’s biggest tourism event with an economic impact of more than $1.5 million, according to the visitors bureau, which factors in the trickle-down effect of how tourism spending creates other jobs and spending.

The 12 teams who filled out surveys reported spending a combined $116,870 while in Decatur.

Reist said the most common weakness the survey participants listed for Decatur was a lack of practice space and batting cages at Wilson Morgan Park.

Several teams listed the quality of the playing surfaces and grounds crew as tournament strengths, but complained about having to schedule practice times, not having batting cages and a lack of rain tarpaulins. The team from California also said Wilson Morgan lacked stadium seating one would expect for a national championship.

“The report was favorable for parks and recreation, but they said they needed a new complex,” Reist said. “If we want to be competitive in this market, we got to keep upgrading our facilities. We can’t get complacent.

“I feel like in two years, we need to look at something new or make some improvements.”

Decatur Parks and Recreation already has a new, $12 million baseball/softball complex on its wish list to handle the city’s growing demand for fields. It would be at Beltline Road Southwest and Trinity Lane and feature six softball fields and eight baseball fields.

But there are other issues, unrelated to Wilson Morgan, that drew complaints from NAIA teams and officials.

Comments about some Decatur hotels included: “not quite what we expected;” “jacked up prices just for tournament;” “outdated;” “under-staffed;” “mildew and water damage;” and “some hotels don’t have a free breakfast.”

Each hotel received copies of the survey and the specific complaints listed for its property.

Overall, the teams gave Decatur a good score when rating their visit on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). Three teams gave a 5 rating, five teams gave a 4 rating, two teams gave a 3 rating and one team gave a 2 rating.

When reviewing the survey Thursday, there was sentiment among bureau board members that the tournament moved to Gulf Shores simply because it wanted a change of scenery and felt it needed to take place where NAIA member colleges were nearby to support it.

Athens State was Decatur’s NAIA representative until it dropped its athletic programs in 2004.

Some of the board also expressed hopefulness that the tournament going away for two years will show NAIA officials how special Decatur is and they’ll want to come back.

Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Tom Chappell inspected the softball complex in Gulf Shores and said while the facility is new and larger than Wilson Morgan, the playing fields are not as high quality as Wilson Morgan.

Reist said the bureau staff is having success in luring new sports events to Decatur to help make up for the loss of NAIA. It recently secured the state tennis championships for five classifications from 2011-13 and the men’s and women’s tennis championships for the Southwestern Athletic Conference next year. It also booked a three-on-three soccer tourney for July 2011 that will serve as a regional qualifier for the national tournament.

The bureau also has begun efforts to host a rowing regatta at Point Mallard, has bid to host the Alabama Community College Conference tennis tournament for its fourth straight year and is working to get the state high school softball and soccer championships.

In addition, Reist said the loss of the NAIA tournament opens Decatur hotels that third week in May to accommodate SoulStock, a one-day outdoor Christian concert that made its debut at Point Mallard this year after outgrowing Athens State. It attracted 12,000 to 15,000 attendees.

The bureau has mailed out SoulStock invitations to 900 churches in the region in hopes of filling up local hotels.

Meeting Notes

The Decatur Daily, by Paul Huggins

Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau conducted the following business at its monthly meeting Thursday:

Passed a resolution supporting a new state bill to push back the school start date 10 days.

Reported May had a net income surplus of $13,080 and June had a net income surplus of $5,209. For fiscal 2010, the bureau now has a negative income of $42,933.

Reported the city collected $72,340 in lodging taxes in April. The bureau receives 75 percent of that for operating and promotional expenses. The amount was 13 percent less than the same month last year, and bureau treasurer Wade Weaver noted two hotels had yet to pay their taxes when the report was made. Lodging taxes are down 15 percent for fiscal 2010.

Reported the $2-per-night room occupancy fee generated $39,351 in April, down $4,874 from the same month last year. The fee has generated $308,300 in fiscal 2010, down 6.5 percent from fiscal 2009.

Reported April’s occupancy rate was 49 percent, down 6 percent compared to the same month last year.

Set Sept. 17 as the ground-breaking ceremony for the new pavilion at Ingalls Harbor.

Announced it has contracted with 21 hotels in Decatur, Madison and Huntsville to handle 850 of the 1,400 room nights needed to host the three-day Governor’s Cup soccer tournament next May.

Announced that the national 17-and-under soccer team from Ghana has cut six days from its planned three-week stay in Decatur during August as part of its preparation for its age group’s World Cup in Trinidad in September.

Announced Lindsey Wilson and William Carey colleges’ men’s soccer teams will play against each other in a fall preview at Jack Allen Soccer Complex.

Announced it will put a digital photo frame in local hotels with pictures of top attractions and places to eat with handouts next to the frame that give full details about the pictures.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thrice is nice for triathlete Krichev

Huntsville physician fastest Wet Dog for third straight year
By Paul Stackhouse, Sports Writer, The Decatur Daily

The 11th annual Wet Dog Triathlon at Point Mallard Park on Saturday looked more like the Spirit of America Festival, with parking near the J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatic Center at a premium an hour before the 7 a.m. start.

A record 600 competitors registered for the event, which benefits Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Morgan, Lawrence, Cullman and Winston counties. The number could have been even higher.

Huntsville’s Jonathan Krichev, a family and sports medicine physician, finished with a time of 47 minutes, 30 seconds to win in the overall male category for the third straight year.

Last year, he finished with a time of 46:30, and in 2008 he covered the three-sport event in 46:47.

Krichev’s training partners, Ryan Hensley and Chris Roberts, also from Huntsville, came in second and third, respectively, with times of 48:52 and 50:01.

First place in the overall female division was Donna McCullar of Leesburg with a time of 56:24. Decatur’s Jennifer Dunn claimed second place at 57:41.

Rachel Eubanks of Harvest was third among the females with a 57:56 time.

The triathlon consists of a 400-meter swim in Flint Creek, where the athletes hit the water from the beach at the aquatic center. From there, the contestants go on a 15-kilometer bike ride, followed by a 5K run.

“We all do a lot of training together,” Krichev said of Roberts and Hensley. “I really enjoy running the triathlons. We all do. This is my 14th triathlon, and I hope to be in a lot more. I swam at Emory, and maybe that’s a reason why, but myself and my wife (Alicia) enjoy doing this. My wife is usually running with me, but we just had our fourth baby, so she’s taking a hiatus.

“Our group tries to train as much as we can. Really, we do something just about every day. We decided a while back to take Sundays off, but every other day, we are doing something to train.”

Dunn, a former Austin High track standout and now a rising junior track-and-field athlete at Florida State, said running a triathlon wasn’t much different than usual for her.

“I’m primarily a runner, but I do a little swimming and biking every now and then,” Dunn said. “I don’t do a whole lot of the other two, so I just sort of winged it out there today. I have to say that I did enjoy it. It was more of a challenge than just running.”

The top local finisher was Kari Salomaa of Somerville with a fifth-place overall time of 51:28.

Other area athletes finishing in the top 20 were Andy David of Athens, ninth at 52:54; Bill Gannaway of Decatur, 15th at 54:31; and Patrick Fagerman of Decatur, 19th at 55:23.

Madison’s George Dewitt, 51, won the male masters division at 52:51, and Huntsville’s Cynthia Fuller, 54, won the female masters at 1:08:54.

Emily Rutherford, 23, of Town Creek won the female first-timer award with a finish time of 1:07:15. Cody Moore, 15, of Huntsville won the male first-timer at 59:27.

The Flying Dutchmen won the male relay team competition at 49:49. Team Zing had a 1:04:31 to win the women’s relay team title.

Two Twigs and a Berr recorded a 59:38 to capture the mixed relay team award.

Leah Brown, chief executive officer of Big Brothers, Big Sisters, was all smiles following the event.

“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” Brown said. “I am so pleased. Everything has gone so well. You know, the weather could have been excruciating hot, but it wasn’t. It was cloudy and overcast, and you could tell everybody was enjoying that, even the spectators.

“We had 87 people run in the very first one, and this time we had to turn some people away,” Brown said. “This has been so great. We probably could have had 700 or 800, but we were not prepared for that. We had 508 last year. This time, we had runners from 10 states and three countries. I just look around at all the people, and it gives me such a warm feeling.

“I can’t say thank you enough to the Decatur Jaycees and everybody else who helped with this. Last year, we made $12,000 for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and I don’t know what it is this time around yet, but it all stays here. This is such a great event for such a great cause.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the event’s charity agency, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, may still do so. You can send your donation to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, P.O. Box 2171, Decatur, AL 35602 or you can telephone 256-353-0157.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Misti Palmer looking for better marks in Wet Dog

By Michael Wetzel, Assistant sports editor, The Decatur Daily

Decatur’s Misti Palmer isn’t afraid of water. She proved that to a nationwide television audience in 2003.

Then in last year’s Wet Dog Triathlon, she swam the 400 meters in Flint Creek in a swift 7 minutes and 16 seconds. It placed her second in her age division in swimming — not bad for her first triathlon.

She finished 86th overall in the female division and 14th in the 30-34 age division.

Now the 34-year-old counselor at Calhoun Community College is trying to better her marks in the swimming, biking and running events in Saturday’s 11th annual event at Point Mallard.

Hosted by the Decatur Jaycees and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the triathlon begins at 7 a.m.

This time, Misti says her husband Jason will be competing, too.

He’ll be swimming during a team competition, she said.

The Palmers have been swimming laps regularly at the Aquadome Recreation Center’s pool.

Misti said the training helps, but conditions are different on race day, especially your first time in such a grueling event.

“Last year, I was a bit surprised with the swimming portion,” she said.

Misti added: “There is quite a bit of difference swimming in a pool and swimming in the river with a current and plenty of other swimmers starting at the same time.”

The former cheerleader at Austin High and Auburn said she is expecting to improve her time on the bike this year, too.

She said she used a mountain bike during last year’s 15-kilometer ride from Point Mallard to Rhodes Ferry Park and back.

“I’ve been out on the bike a bunch this year,” she said. “I’ve got a bike now more built for speed.”

The Palmers finished second on an episode of ABC’s “Fear Factor” on Feb. 10, 2003. They won $25,000 winning two of the three events of the show.

On the show, they transferred 204 Madagascar hissing cockroaches from a box to their mouths to another box in three minutes. In a water stunt, Jason swam underwater, unlocked three locks of a Plexiglass box holding Misti, who swam to the surface and pulled a flag in 30 seconds.

Misti said competing in events such as the Wet Dog and “Fear Factor” keeps her motivated to set goals and try to reach them.

“It’s a way of testing yourself physically,” she said. “Having a race on the calendar forces you to work at it.”

The Palmers have changed their sleeping habits, too, preparing for the race. Misti said they have been working out each morning before their children, ages 7 and 3, wake up.

“We’re getting an early start every morning,” she said. “We don’t want this to steal time from our children.”

A regular in 5K races, Misti called the Wet Dog a “great event.”

“It’s a great fundraiser for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and it is a great to train for and compete in. Two great things in one.”

Big Brothers, Big Sisters executive director Leah Brown said the triathlon’s field is maxed out with 600 competitors from 11 states and two foreign countries.

Last year’s overall winner Jonathan Krichev of Huntsville did the 400-meter swim, 15K bike race and 5K run in 46 minutes and 30 seconds. He’s back to defend his title for the third time. In 2008, he won with a 46:47.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters serves Morgan, Lawrence, Winston and Cullman counties.

Spectator admission is free.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wet Dog Triathlon has full field of 600

By Michael Wetzel, Assistant sports editor, The Decatur Daily

Leah Brown admits she has a problem. But it’s a good problem to have.

The executive director of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program is forced to turn away entrants into the agency’s 11th annual Wet Dog Triathlon set for Saturday morning.

For the first time in the Point Mallard event’s history, it is sold out, she said.

“We have a 600-person limit,” Brown said Wednesday afternoon. “We hit that number Tuesday, and I’ve already had to turn away about eight to 10 people, and I know more will be trying to get in. I hate to turn anyone away. But we’ve got a full field.”

The triathlon, which includes a 400-meter swim, 15-kilometer bike race and 5-kilometer run, is the Big Brothers Big Sisters largest fund raiser of the year, she said.

Last year’s Wet Dog drew 508 participants, Brown said. She said the inaugural Wet Dog event 11 years ago attracted 87 athletes.

She credits the event’s growing success on the more than 65 hard-working volunteers, the Decatur Jaycees and local organizations such as the Morgan County Rescue Squad and Decatur Parks and Recreation.

Back this year is last year’s winner Jonathan Krichev of Huntsville. He covered the three-sport distance in 46 minutes, 30 seconds. Huntsville’s Tina Eakin won the women’s event in 2009 with a 50:48 time and is not in this year’s field.

Trying to better those times will be athletes from 11 states and two countries, Brown said.

She said two athletes from Army-Asia and another from Army-Europe have entered. “We’ve got entries from California, Texas, Louisiana and Florida, too,” Brown said.

The athletes will begin at the Point Mallard beach area by swimming 400 meters in the Tennessee River. The biking portion will begin in the parking lot of the Aquatic Center. The athletes will bicycle to Rhodes Ferry Park and back. The 5K run will be along the running trail at Point Mallard with the finish line being in the parking lot of the T.C. Almon Recreation Center.

Starting the triathlon at 7 a.m. will be master of ceremonies and new Decatur police chief Ed Taylor.

Spectator admission is free of charge.

The local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency serves Morgan, Lawrence, Winston and Cullman counties.

Didn’t get in?

The 11th annual Wet Dog

Triathlon is sold out, but you can still donate to the event’s charity agency, Big Brothers Big Sisters. You can send your donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters, P.O. Box 2171, Decatur, AL 35602 or you can telephone 256-353-0157.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going, going, gone After 11-year run, NAIA softball championship leaves Decatur

It lasted longer than The Doors, LeBron James’ career as a Cleveland Cavalier and “The Cosby Show.”

But after 11 straight years, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Softball Championships is leaving Decatur for the Gulf Coast.

Earlier this month, officials announced that Gulf Shores, in association with the Alabama Gulf Coast Sports Commission and the University of Mobile, would host the 2011 and 2012 softball championships.

For Gulf Shores, the tournament means an economic boost to an area facing hardship in overcoming the oil spill and attracting tourists.

“Hosting an event such as this will allow Gulf Shores to demonstrate our city’s spirit and showcase our beautiful beach community to the rest of the nation,” said Grant Brown, Gulf Shores Director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

For Decatur, the tournament’s departure is a loss of more than $1 million.

According to Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tami Reist, the 2009 NAIA Softball Championships generated an economic impact of $1.1 million and filled 1,965 hotel rooms.

What lured the championship away from Decatur? It could be the beaches, a new softball complex or the desire to give a new city a try.

“With the number of quality bids that came in this year, we felt confident that a change in venue and atmosphere would enhance the student-athlete’s experience,” NAIA Manager of Championship Sports Dennis Green said.

The NAIA left Decatur before but returned after two years. After Decatur hosted the 1996 and 1997 tournaments, the softball championship traveled to Tulsa, Okla., and Palm Beach County, Fla., before returning to the city for 11 straight years.

“We’ll try to get them back. I don’t believe they will ever go anywhere where the public service will be as good as we have here,” Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap said.

Of the 30 previous national championships, the Wilson Morgan Softball Complex hosted the event 13 times.

“We certainly are not turning our backs on Decatur, and we know they still have interest in hosting this great event in the years to come,” Green said.

Although Decatur lost the long-standing tournament, other city facilities are attracting new tournaments.

Last year, the NAIA named the Jack Allen Soccer Complex as the host for the 2009, 2010 and 2011 women’s soccer national championships. And last month, the Alabama High School Athletic Association designated the Jimmy Johns Tennis Center as a tennis championship site for the next three years.

Dunlap said running state-of-the-art facilities and providing top-notch public service were the keys to attracting and retaining tournaments.

At the Wilson Morgan complex, with no more room to expand, officials have focused on the quality of the fields.

“We’re pretty much land-locked and have done everything we can with the area so we are at the point of maintaining the fields to make sure they are good enough. And they have been good enough to host the NAIA tournament for 11 years,” Dunlap said.

For the 2011 and 2012 NAIA softball tournament, the 25-year-old Wilson Morgan complex competed against the one-year-old Gulf Shores complex.

Since opening last year, the Gulf Shores softball complex, which features five diamonds, hosted the AHSAA softball regional and the United States Specialty Sports Association World Series.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Soccer dream comes true

Officials want more out of Jack Allen
By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

It happens every four years. Fans from around the world converge in one city for one sport and one event. For 90 minutes, the fans, their painted faces displaying their loyalty, watch intently, every goal producing joy and every penalty, anguish.

It is the World Cup, the premier tournament for the most popular sport in many countries, but not the United States.

In America, soccer lags behind football, baseball, basketball and auto racing.

But in Decatur, 8,000 miles away from South Africa, the sea of painted faces and buzzing vuvuzelas, the sport is growing.

The World Cup gave soccer a boost nationally, as televisions in offices, homes and bars across the country tuned to the sport the world calls football.

Decatur, officials said, received an extra jolt, one five years in the making.

In 2005, the city built the 10-field Jack Allen Soccer Complex as a resource for the community and a revenue generator for the city.

“Our goal was to get to the point where we could pick and choose what tournaments came,” said Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap. “We built a first-class, state-of-the-art facility, so there was no doubt in my mind tournaments would come. It was just a matter of how fast it would happen. I thought it would take eight years.”

The facility is three years ahead of Dunlap’s schedule.

“We are at the point where we are having to turn people away,” Dunlap said. “We cannot meet the demand of the tournaments and travel teams.”

“There are people from all over the Southeast wanting to come use the field,” said Parks and Recreation Board member Patrick Hillis. “We’re the Joneses, and everyone is trying to keep up with us.”

The quality of the fields combined with a stream of tournaments translates to money.

Since opening, the soccer complex has generated more than $5 million in economic impact from state, regional and international tournaments. And more are coming. Earlier this year, the city secured hosting duties for the 2010 and 2011 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics women’s championship, the 2010 to 2012 Alabama Youth Soccer Association State and Governor Cups, and the 2011 President’s Cup.

When Decatur previously hosted the President’s Cup, teams, fans and families filled 1,057 hotel room nights, said Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

While the facility is gaining attention from tournament officials, it also has caught the eye of potential rivals.

“What we are doing here is getting attention,” Hillis said. “There is a new complex going in at Liberty Park in Vestavia that has 10 fields. People are jealous of what we have.”

Although considered one of the top soccer complexes in the Southeast, Parks and Recreation wants more.

Bigger is better

Officials envision more fields, a playground and splash pad, locker rooms and a recreation center.

“At the top of our list is fields. We need more fields. We have a shortage of fields right now with the Decatur Youth Soccer Association, club soccer and the tournaments,” Dunlap said.

River City United President DeLayne Dean said participation in club soccer continues to grow with 19 teams confirmed for the 2010 season.

“We look to have 230 to 250 in the River City Club, another 300 in the recreational program and 20 to 30 in the Hispanic youth team,” Dean said. “While the numbers have not increased by huge amounts, the areas where we are drawing players has increased.”

The soccer complex is luring players from Athens, Cullman, Guntersville, Arab, Huntsville and Madison to Decatur clubs.

While adding two fields would cost $2 million, they would meet an increased need and expand tournament capacity by 15 percent. The extra room, officials said, could attract extra tournaments.

And Dunlap has his eye on two specific tournaments, the Alabama high school state championship, currently held in Huntsville, and the SEC championship, now held in Orange Beach.

Hosting the tournaments would add to what leaders define as an already-accomplished résumé. In the past five years, the Jack Allen Soccer Complex has hosted international competitions, featuring the Mexico and Argentina women’s teams, Olympic development programs and college squads including Alabama, Ole Miss, Duke, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lawrence delays schools' start

Board pushes start date back to Aug. 19 in nod to legislator
By Bayne Hughes, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

At the request of a high-ranking state legislator, the Lawrence County school board voted Tuesday to push the start of the 2010-11 school year back eight class days.

But superintendents of neighboring school systems said Wednesday they do not plan to follow Lawrence County’s lead.

Lawrence County will start Aug. 19, instead of Aug. 9 as planned.

Lawrence Superintendent Heath Grimes recommended a new calendar that eliminates four of the five days from the fall break. It also adds four school days to the end of the school year, stretching classes to June 3.

Grimes estimated Wednesday the move could save his school system about $24,000 in utility costs.

State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, chairman of the House Education, Finance and Appropriations committee, sent an e-mail June 24 to selected superintendents asking them to consider delaying the start of school because of the Gulf oil disaster’s impact on the state’s tax revenues.

Lindsey writes that he wants to push the school year back two weeks so the public education budget can benefit from a $260 million increase in revenue from the travel and tourism industry because there would be time for more vacations in August.


Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston called Lindsey’s use of the oil disaster to promote the tourism industry “pure exploitation of a very tragic situation.”

Lindsey and the tourism industry have been trying for at least five years to pass a state law that mandates the school year start later in the summer.

Hartselle Superintendent Mike Reed and Limestone County Superintendent Barry Carroll said it’s too late to change their school calendars. Morgan County Superintendent Bob Balch said he wasn’t aware of the letter, but would forward it to his school board if he receives a request from Lindsey.

All four school systems do not have a weeklong fall break to eliminate as Lawrence County did.

Carroll, Reed and Houston favor keeping the school calendar as a local decision. Most local school boards form calendar committees and let school system employees vote on multiple calendar options.

Houston said he doesn’t see how changing the start and finish dates of the school year would generate more tax revenues. He said holding a fall break generates revenues at a time when tourism is usually slow.

“This whole thing is being push by folks in industry who want the cheap labor in the summer months,” Houston said.

Carroll and Houston said they don’t see the utility savings either because June can be as hot as August. Grimes said his saving estimate comes from looking at the starting and ending months of the school year.

“June was one of the hottest on record,” Carroll said. “I’ve seen no data that show we would save that kind of money.”

Grimes said many educators like the fall break because it gives them a mid-semester break, but there’s also the negative that the break comes just as everyone is getting into a routine.

Houston said one reason he starts the school year on Aug. 9 is to get as many instructional days as possible in before spring standardized testing begins. He said most prefer to end the school year before Memorial Day.

Lindsey said in his letter that he will try again next year to pass legislation setting a state-mandated start day for the 2011-12 school year.

2010-11 Lawrence County School Calendar (7 Period)

Late Start/Institute Labor Day

August 17
Teacher In-service

August 18
Teacher Workday

August 19
First 9 Weeks Begins

September 6
Labor Day Holiday

September 7
Teacher Institute / Faculty Meeting

September 20-24
Graduation Exams

October 11
Professional Development Day

October 22
First 9 Weeks Ends (44 days)

October 25
Parent/Teacher Conference

October 26
Second 9 Weeks Begins

November 11
Veteran's Day

November 24-26
Thanksgiving Holidays

December 6-10
Graduation Exams

December 21
Last Day before Christmas Break

December 22-January 2
Christmas Holidays

January 3
Begin School after Christmas

January 13
Second 9 Weeks Ends (46 days)

January 14
Teacher Workday

January 17
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

January 18
Third 9 Weeks Begins

February 21
Teacher In-service/Flex Day

February 16-22
Writing Assessment

February 28-March 4
Graduation Exams

March 7
Weather Day

March 18
Third 9 Weeks Ends (43 days)

March 21
Fourth 9 Weeks Begins

March 21-April 1
SAT & ARMT Window

April 11-15
Spring Break

April 22
Good Friday

May 30
Memorial Day

May 31-June 3

June 3
Fourth 9 Weeks Ends (47 days)

1st 9 Weeks
August 16 - October 22
44 days

2nd 9 Weeks
October 26 - January 18
46 days

3rd 9 Weeks
January 18 - March 18
43 days

4th 9 Weeks
March 21 - June 2
47 days

180 days

First Semester
90 days

Second Semester
90 days

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ghana soccer visit a coup for Decatur

editorial, The Decatur Daily

Decatur enjoyed another coup last week when a youth soccer team from Ghana chose the city as the site of a three-week training session.

Ghana’s under-17 women’s soccer team will train at Jack Allen Recreation Complex from Aug. 7 to Sept. 1.

The team, known as the Black Maidens, will travel 6,500 miles to reach Decatur. The group will include 21 players and 14 coaches. The team, which qualified for the World Cup in 2008, will be training for another World Cup.

Ghana’s choice of Decatur is a major endorsement of our world-class soccer fields. In addition to the favorable publicity, Decatur will enjoy an economic impact of $300,000 from the visit.

Decatur was one of only four sites recommended to the team by a U.S. soccer coach. Lower costs and a climate similar to the Trinidad-Tobago climate where the World Cup takes place put Decatur on top.

Kayla Riggs, special events director for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was instrumental in attracting the team. The bureau’s success should come as no surprise. Under the leadership of President Tami Reist, it has been remarkably successful in attracting major sporting events to the county.

The event also is a reminder that city expenditures can bring major returns. Like Ingalls Harbor, Jack Allen Recreation Complex manages to bring in tourism dollars while improving the quality of life for local residents.

Annual run honors woman who battles cancer

Wendy Lang Beck, Columnist, The Decatur Daily

Running on

Brooke Hill was a young, vibrant wife and mother of two precious young girls when her life was cut short by ovarian cancer. Each year events are held in memory of Hill to raise awareness for the disease, to raise funds for ovarian cancer research, and to keep her spirit alive.

This year the annual Brooke Hill Run for Awareness will be Aug.14. If you are a runner, this 5K and 1-mile fun run is for you. Sponsored by the River City Runners, this year’s event will utilize a chip timing system to score the races. Pre-registration forms can be downloaded from www.rivercityrunners.org or you can obtain them by contacting Jon Elmore at 351-7426. Forms need to be postmarked no later than Aug. 11 and pre-registration packets may be picked up on Friday prior to the race at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center on Church Street.
Other event sponsors include Pepsi of Decatur, Whimsy Blobs, Apple Lane Farms, Kroger, McWhorter Communications, Fleet Feet of Huntsville and the Carnegie. The run will begin near the Carnegie as it weaves its path through Old Decatur and ends at the Old State Bank. Mark it down and sign up today. Make a difference!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ghana Under-17 soccer team to train in Decatur

By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The nation that knocked the United States out of the FIFA World Cup last week will send one of its youth teams to train in Decatur for three weeks in August.

The Under-17 Ghana women’s team will use the Jack Allen Recreation Complex from Aug. 7 to Sept. 1 in preparation for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad-Tobago during September.

Getting the Ghana national soccer team was a collaborative effort between Kayla Riggs, special events director for the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics officials, said Tami Reist, bureau president.

“Her persistence should lead to an economic impact of over $300,000 for Decatur and Morgan County and further elevate the Jack Allen Recreational Complex as a world-class facility,” Reist said.

Ghana will travel 6,500 miles to Decatur, bringing 21 players and 14 coaches. The team, known as the Black Maidens, qualified for the inaugural U-17 World Cup in 2008 but failed to get past the opening round. It will be one of 14 teams in Trinidad-Tobago.

It’s common for a national team to train outside its borders when preparing for international competition, said Kurt Melcher, Robert Morris University women’s soccer head coach, who assists the Ghana team and recommended Decatur as a practice site. He said he also recommended the IMG Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and Empire United Soccer Academy in Syracuse, N.Y.

Ghana coach Alex Asante wanted to train in a humid climate similar to the Caribbean island nation, and Decatur was one of three facilities that met that requirement as well as being affordable, available and high quality, Melcher said.

“They were looking for a quality field, and I know that championship field is immaculate,” he said, noting his NAIA school played at Jack Allen. “And they’ll be a big fish in a small pond, and I think they’ll appreciate some of the media attention and youth attention.”

Riggs said getting a national team to stay in Decatur for three weeks is a happy accident that grew from a November brainstorming session with Lori Boger, the bureau’s group sales director, about how to get NAIA teams competing in the national championship to return. Their plan was a Fall Preview, in which the city would allow NAIA soccer teams free use of Jack Allen for a game in exchange for spending the night in a Decatur hotel.

The NAIA sent that invitation to its participating schools. William Carey College and Lindsey Wilson University are two teams that accepted the offer. Then Melcher inquired whether the same offer would apply to a long-term visit.

“It was just a shot in the dark that led to something greater than we ever imagined,” Riggs said. “And it never would have happened if we hadn’t have hosted NAIA soccer.”

Ghana is not the first national team to play at Jack Allen’s 10 international size, lighted soccer fields with laser-graded turf. The soccer complex was host to exhibition matches between the Mexican women’s national team and Duke University in 2006 and Mexico and Argentina 2007.

Parks credited with establishing Ingalls

By Paul Stackhouse, Sports Writer, The Decatur Daily

As a child, David Parks knew he wanted to call Decatur home. His wish came true in August 1955, when he was only 11.

Not only was it a good move for Parks, it was a great move for Decatur.

Last summer, the city named the boat launch at Ingalls Harbor in Parks’ honor.

Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, credited Parks with spearheading the effort to build the boat launch.

“David was sitting on our board back then, and he was instrumental in getting the board to bring up the venue for Decatur that is now Ingalls Harbor,” she said. “He put a lot of hard work into it. He knew who to call and who to bring in, and he put everything on the table. Last year, David wasn’t on the board anymore, but a member brought up the idea to name the launch after him. We all agreed. Because of David, we now have one of the finest harbors in the Southeast, if not the U.S.”

Ingalls Harbor has been the site for several fishing tournaments, including Bassmasters and FLW. But that’s just the beginning. Riverfest, the Decatur/Morgan County Alabama Wild Game Cookoff and a long list of smaller bass and crappie tournaments look to Ingalls to host their events. And you can’t forget the locals who use the facility regularly.

Some of the biggest names in bass fishing have praised Ingalls Harbor.

They can’t believe the 10-boat launch ramp and all the docking facilities where tournament anglers can park and weigh their fish without having to rush to load

Big-name fishermen such as Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese have spoken highly of the harbor.

“When I was 11, we came to Decatur for a visit,” Parks said. “As we approached Decatur from Huntsville on old Highway 20, and I could first see all the water, my first words were, ‘Look at all that water. Please, Daddy, let’s move here.’ ”

When asked about how his name became part of Ingalls Harbor, Parks didn’t have to think too long.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t ask for the boat launch area at Ingalls to be named after me. I have asked about that, but nobody will tell me whose idea it was or how it came about.

“I would like to quickly add that I am very proud of Ingalls Harbor and being part of the team that brought it from idea to reality. To have your name associated with Ingalls is very humbling and proud at the same time.”

Parks pointed out the importance of Ingalls Harbor to our area.

“It’s very important to us,” he said. “A good, safe access to the river was in short supply before Ingalls. Now our boaters have the best facility that I know of anywhere. Many of the tournament people say it is the best facility they visit.

“The best part is the facility cost the local folks almost nothing. The debt on the facility is covered by the $2 a night motel or hotel room tax. Tournaments and visitors using the facility are generating an economic impact that is hard to calculate it is so big and far reaching. ...

“Ingalls will pay for itself many times over.”

Not only did Parks have the drive to bring such a facility to Decatur, he also uses it. He enjoys fishing in some of the big-name bass tournaments, but he only casts on the non-boater, amateur side.

“I’ve thought about going pro, but never seriously,” he said. “When you fish on the pro side, it becomes a job — a good job, but still a job. I don’t want the demands and schedules of a job in my favorite pastime. I will stay an amateur. That’s where I want to be.”

When asked what he gets out of fishing, he doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“Everything! Fishing can be relaxing, and it can also give you a big adrenaline rush when catching a big one or when you are competing for a top spot in a big tournament,” he said. “Fishing puts you close to nature, and I like that. I have enjoyed more sunrises than most, and I have had many experiences with nature. One such experience is something I’ll never forget. One morning I noticed a fox easing through the woods. I cast a plastic worm out in front of it. I shook the worm and the fox put a great sneak on the worm. Just as the fox was ready to pounce, I pulled the worm into the water. The fox was so excited it followed out into the water. I can still see the look on that fox’s face when I said, “Boo!’ ”