Archive for June, 2016

School is out, the temperature is rising and the beaches are calling – a typical summer in Alabama. Add to that summertime list an increase in black bear sightings outside the animal’s primary ranges in the state. Most recently, numerous sightings of a black bear were reported in both Oxford, Ala., and Tallapoosa County, where the bear was observed eating from trash cans.

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Black bear sightings are becoming more frequent in Alabama.

Seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, but it is no cause for alarm.

“All bears sighted this year have been behaving normally and exhibiting a natural fear of humans,” said Steve Bryant, District 2 Supervising Wildlife Biologist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “So far there are no reports of bears acclimating to human activities or causing any property damage.”

Alabama’s relatively low black bear population appears to be on the rise. A small population exists in Mobile and Washington counties, but bears migrating from Georgia have established a viable population in northeast Alabama as well. WFF is currently working with Auburn University researchers and other state and federal agencies to collect data on the state’s black bear population and movements.



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Smoke rises over Jordan-Hare Stadium during the 1996 Auburn-LSU game as the old Sports Arena, used by the gymnastics team, burns. (YouTube image)

Smoke rises over Jordan-Hare Stadium during the 1996 Auburn-LSU game as the old Sports Arena, used by the gymnastics team, burns. (YouTube image)

Thick smoke appeared above the Jordan-Hare Stadium stands growing thicker and darker. Fans in the southernmost end of the upper deck and above the student section alternated between watching the Auburn-LSU game on the field and the fire that quickly raged just a few hundred feet from the stadium.

Auburn’s gymnastics team trained in the university’s old gymnasium, officially named the Auburn Sports Arena. Made of wood and built in 1946, it officially seated 2,500. Unofficially, students and fans would cram into the little box affectionately known as “The Barn” to hang from the rafters, peer through doors over shoulders and try to watch the action of the men’s basketball team.

The Sports Arena had been painted many times with a white exterior. I passed it frequently while a student at Auburn and ducked into it a time or two for a glimpse. Old gym, for sure. When the Tigers moved into the bigger Beard-Eaves Coliseum in 1969, the little gym became secondary and largely forgotten.

Robert Dillard took over the Auburn gymnastics team in 1994 after a great run at Jacksonville State. Dillard died on June 13 after a long battle with cancer. Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com has a fine tribute here to Dillard and his career. He was a fine coach and good man.

About That Fire
The fire raged, quickly consuming the Sports Arena. Television sets in the pressbox showed wild images of flames and black smoke rising above the stadium.

Robert Dillard, former Auburn and Jacksonville State gymnastics coach.

Robert Dillard, former Auburn and Jacksonville State gymnastics coach.

I was working for the Huntsville newspaper at the time and covering the game with a co-worker. As the smoke worsened, I left my seat with a notebook and pens, popped out of the press box to the ramp and headed downstairs.

Ten years earlier I’d worked about a year with the Auburn Sports Information Department as a student assistant. Jordan-Hare Stadium, at the time, still had some little quirks. One was a gap in the fence between the inner walkway of the stadium concourse. Dart through the gap and you could skirt underneath the stands to get to the locker room or out of the stadium without moving through the fans.

I did this, popped out by the locker room, out the players’ gate and up the little hill of what is now Heisman Drive. In 1996, fans could still park around the stadium and tailgate before games. Atop the hill the heat from the fully engulfed Sports Arena could be felt. Vehicles near it were being damaged. Reports later indicated the sparks or heat from a tailgater’s grill likely were the cause of the fire.

I made a few notes and hustled back to the stadium, retracing my steps. When I reached the elevator, then-Athletic Director David Housel — the former Sports Information Director when I was a student assistant — was arriving at the elevator with Dillard. When the elevator door opened I motioned for them to go on, but Housel said for me to get on with them.

Rebuilding from the Ashes
Dillard was in shock. His entire program’s gear and facility were gone. Just a couple of years into the job, he surely wondered if gymnastics, a non-revenue sport he was trying to build (and did, successfully), would be saved. A fire like this, the cost of all equipment … it was devastating.

Housel offered him reassuring words and said without a doubt, the gymnastics program would rise from the ashes stronger and better. Dillard nodded but he likely wondered what, with a season at hand, would happen. He gave me a couple of quotes I scribbled in my notebook and the elevator doors opened.

We three walked into the press box, and Housel and Dillard gave formal statements to the media. A day later the Sports Arena was a dripping, smoking mess of black ashes with a few damaged cars nearby. That was a day that Dillard, no doubt, wondered again what would happen to his program, and the day that Auburn’s gymnastics team began rebuilding into the solid program it still is today.

I always think about the fire and Dillard’s determination, and Housel’s assurances, when I hear anything about Auburn gymnastics. From what seems like the darkest of times, light can shine. Rest in peace, Coach Dillard.

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Robby Shelton image from 2015 Barbasol Championship

Robby Shelton is forgoing his senior season at the University of Alabama to pursue a professional golf career. He finished third in the 2015 Barbasol Championship, and has been given an exemption for the 2016 tournament. (Photo: Courtesy Barbasol Championship)

Coming off a successful collegiate career at the University of Alabama, Mobile’s Robby Shelton turned professional May 30  and has accepted a sponsor invitation from the PGA TOUR’s Barbasol Championship.

Shelton recently completed his junior year at Alabama and will join four Master champions, two U.S. Open winners, a PGA Championship winner and other golfers in the field of 132 players for the Barbasol Championship. This PGA TOUR event will be played on the Lake Course at the Grand National site of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Opelika July 13-17, 2016.

Barbasol Championship LogoShelton tied for third last year in the Barbasol Championship as an amateur. The current field has a total of 114 victories on the PGA TOUR.

“I am excited about playing in the Barbasol Championship again this year and having it among my first PGA TOUR events as a professional,” Shelton said. “Thanks to Barbasol and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for inviting me back. I look forward to a great week of exciting golf.”

Shelton, who just completed his junior season at the University of Alabama, announced May 30 that he will not play his senior season. He made the announcement following his final round at the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships, where he finished tied for sixth.

Shelton is a native of Wilmer, Ala., leaves the University of Alabama golf program with a school record of seven victories, including three in the 2016 season. He also owns Alabama career records in stroke average (70.44) and average vs. par (-0.72), while his 67 career rounds of par or better (out of 103 total rounds played) rank third in program history.

Shelton also owns three of the four lowest single-season scoring averages in the Alabama record books. In 34 career tournaments, Shelton had 17 top-five finishes and 31 top-20 results.

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Landon Lomax of Owens Cross Roads, Ala., will be among the 49 anglers competing at the 33rd annual FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American on Barkley Lake in Cadiz, Ky., June 9-11.

Landon Lomax in the February 2016 BFL Tournament on Guntersville Lake

Landon Lomax (right) weighs his catch during the 2016 BFL tournament on Guntersville Lake in Alabama.

The tournament will feature the top boaters and co-anglers from across the nationwide 24-division BFL circuit casting for cash prizes of up to $120,000 in the Boater Division and $60,000 in the Co-angler Division, plus an opportunity to compete in the world championship of professional bass fishing, the Forrest Wood Cup.

Lomax punched his ticket to the event via his fourth place finish at a BFL regional championship on Neely Henry Lake in Alabama last season. The top six boaters and co-anglers from each of the six regional championships advanced to the All-American, along with six qualifiers from the annual Wild Card tournament and seven from the TBF National Championship.

The All-American will be internationally televised on the NBC Sports Network, the Pursuit Channel and the World Fishing Network this fall.

Anglers will take off from Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Cadiz at 7 a.m. CDT. Weigh-ins will be begin at 3 p.m. the first two days of competition. Saturday’s final weigh-in will begin at 4 p.m.

Fishing fans can follow tournament action at FLWFishing.com. Updates, photos and videos will be posted along with live streaming video feed of the weigh-in each day.

Coverage of the 2016 BFL All-American will premiere in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) Oct. 5 from 1 p.m.-2 p.m. EDT. The Emmy-nominated “FLW” television show airs on NBCSN, the Pursuit Channel and the World Fishing Network and is broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.

SOURCE: FLW Outdoors

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ATHENS, Ala. — Nowhere else is there a greater love for fried food than the South, and one North Alabama city has dedicated a day to celebrate all things dipped, battered, and fried.

Set for June 11, 2016, in downtown Athens, the Athens Grease Festival pays tribute to the Greek origination of the city’s name while celebrating America’s love for fried food and festival-goers are asked to don their best toga and join the festivities.

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 5.16.02 PMDuring the Athens Grease Festival, there will be food, crafts, children’s art and activity area, a best toga contest and more for festival-goers to enjoy throughout the day.

A variety of food vendors will offer traditional festival food and specialty items such as fried bologna sandwiches, fried bacon dishes, fried desserts, and barbecue. Organizers are not worried about encouraging others to indulge as long as everyone eats responsibly the other 364 days of the year.

Other features include a frozen turkey toss, appearances by Athena – Grease Goddess and a Dub’s Burger Eating Contest. Live music will be offered by Microwave Dave and The Nukes and Kush among a handful of other local bands.

This year’s Athens Grease Festival welcomes the Athens Saturday Market to the downtown area. Typically held at the Farmers Market Pavilion, the Athens Saturday Market will be held downtown on June 11 from 8 a.m. to noon in conjunction with the Athens Grease Festival.

All activities are held in downtown Athens. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children 3 to 12 years old ($1 off admission for toga wearers). Children 2 years and under get in free.

The Athens Grease Festival is organized and hosted by Spirit of Athens, a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Athens. For more information, visit http://www.athensgreasefestival.com or call 256.232.9040.

SOURCEAlabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association

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The preliminary field has been announced for the 2016 Barbasol Championship and is pretty darn strong given the number of major championship and PGA Tour winners among the names.

David Toms

David Toms is one of several major championship winners in the Barbasol Championship field. (Photo: Barbasol Championship)

I attended the 2015 Barbasol Championship, which is held at the Lake Course at the RTJ Golf Trail in Opelika, Ala. It was hot — the tournament is held in mid-July — and the course meanders through a portion of woods that traps heat and humidity. That may not be a proper atmospheric description but ask any good ol’ Southern boy and they’ll agree. Those woods on the back nine, especially the No. 10 green and holes 11, 12, 13 and 14, are like stepping into a sauna.

When I’m at a tournament I listen to the fans to hear what they think. A couple of times last year I heard “Who’s he?” or “None of the big names are here.” I’ve heard similar comments at the Regions Tradition, a major on the Tour Champions schedule in Birmingham. Usually those are “These are the older guys” kind of comments.


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