Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bradenton girl Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen

A bow to Leah Roddenberry, who will assume the title of Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen Sunday at a crowning ceremony in Jacksonville.
The Cardinal Mooney High freshman was first runnerup at the state pageant last July, but when winner Leah Sykes captured Miss America’s Outstanding Teen a month later, the crown automatically passed to Leah.
Sunday’s function makes it official for the Cougar JV cheerleader.
• Check out Wild Root from 7-10 p.m. Friday at Blue Marlin, 121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. Lead singer/guitarit Paul Fournier played drumline for the Manatee Marching ‘Canes. Bassist Andrew Waltrip is a Sarasota High grad and Sarasota County firefighter. Saxophonist Justin Green is a Riverview High grad and attends State College of Florida. Drummer James Hershey moved to B’town from New York City to play for Wild Root.
• Good to hear Brent Laudicina is back to work at the Manatee County Water Department. Krystal Weaver’s fiancĂ© was injured burning a brush pile outside their Myakka City home last month and had to be hospitalized at Tampa General Hospital.
• Ballard Elementary kindergartener Rashad McCall was dressed up as a pirate Thursday.
When asked where his pirate ship was, the 6-year-old frowned and said, “They wouldn’t let me bring it to school.”
Read more Friday in Vin's People on

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Red carpet treatment for Bradenton mom, blogger

Who wouldn't want to trade places with Kelly Stilwell?
Two years ago, the married mother of two started a blog, Virtually Yours, focusing on travel, entertainment, product reviews, giveaways and other family friendly content.
She figured it'd be a good way to make some part-time income and, hey, maybe get some cool products, too.
But then Kelly got an invitation via email from Disney, Marvel & DreamWorks that knocked her socks off.
What was it?
Why, a personal invitation from the entertainment titans to attend Saturday's Hollywood movie premiere of "Thor: The Dark World."
"We would like to invite you to a very special Disney, Marvel & DreamWorks hosted event in November -- exclusively for our top Bloggers!" it read. 
Kelly would be getting the red carpet treatment and interviewing the stars!
“It took reading that email a couple of times before I could believe it,” she said.
Kelly will be among 24 national bloggers and get the chance to interview Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in the movie, as well as Jaimie Alexander, who plays Sif.
Not only that, but Kelly will also meet and interview Vince Vaughn and Chris Pratt, who star in the upcoming movie, "Delivery Man," due in theaters later in November and visit the sets of "Trophy Wife" and "The Neighbors."
She will also get a look at the In-Home releases of "Planes" and "Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United."
Sounds like a few busy but fun-filled days for  Kelly, whose interviews with photos should be up on her blog by mid-November.
Visit Virtually Yours at

Monday, October 28, 2013

I-75 rowing signage? Nah, makes too much sense

This is great.
Whether you're a fan of the sport, there's no denying the burgeoning Benderson Park rowing facility has the potential to be a regional economic engine.
So mounting a sign on Interstate 75 near University Parkway to let visitors know where the venue is, makes sense, right?
Not to the Florida Department of Transportation, evidently.
At a Monday transportation planning meeting, the Sarasota-/Manatee Metropolitan Transportation Organization board asked if such a sign could be erected along the interstate. With thousands of rowing enthusiasts expected for the 2017 World Rowing Championship, it might be a good idea to help these out-of-towners and tourists in general find the new rowing center.
No dice, said an FDOT official.
Apparently, the proposed sign doesn't meet state administrative guidelines -- whatever they are -- so it cannot be put up on I-75, according to the FDOT's Roxann Lake.
Such a sign, she said, must provide some benefit to motorists using the roadway.
Excuse me, but it isn't that the purpose of mounting said sign?
Florida has signage all along its interstates to assist tourism, the state's lifeblood.
But Benderson Park doesn't make the cut?
The FDOT official did say, however, state guidelines permit such a sign three days or so before  the event.
What do they think the 2017 World Rowing Championship is?
A neighborhood festival and fundraiser?
Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle pointed out there will be a host of national and international events leading up to it.
“We owe it to ourselves to capitalize on what we have there,” Bustle said.
Not to mention the fact the taxpayer has more than $5 million invested in its success.
The board passed a motion to ask FDOT to reconsider its administrative code to allow signage along I-75.
Good. There's time to make it happen and do it right.
Not three days before the main event, either.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ending gill net ban personal for Cortez matriarch

Plum Taylor spread butter on a slice of banana bread a neighbor brought over, poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down.
Sunlight streamed through the big living room window overlooking Sarasota Bay and the docks and fishing boats, their to and fro a constant in all her years in what she likes to call that “big ol’ shanty” at the end of 123rd Street West in the Cortez fishing village.
The 78-year-old matriarch had just heard about a Leon County judge’s decision to overturn the gill net ban that has been the bane of every Cortezian’s life and livelihood for the past two decades.
Hers and late husband Alcee’s included.
They’d poured themselves into the fight against the 1995 ballot amendment that brought about the ban and lost, a sting that lingers still.
So word of last week’s development in the Panhandle was a most welcome omen.
“It’s a start,” Plum said.
Read more Sunday in Mannix About Manatee on

Thursday, October 24, 2013

McKechnie Field in top 50 minor league parks

Cord Sandberg at Pirate City last summer in Gulf Coast Rookie League.
McKechnie Field, site of the 2014 Florida State League All-Star Game June 14, was ranked 45th out of 160 minor league ballparks in the 2013 Minor League Baseball Stadium Rankings. No. 1 was Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, which opened in 2012 and is home to Cincinnati’s Southern League Double-A Wahoos.
• Speaking of baseball, the Phillies are sending Cord Sandberg to the Dominican Republic instructional league for three weeks.
• Saxophonist Dr. Melvin Price and his band, NuJazz, are playing at the 2013 Doctor Idol, which begins 7 p.m. Friday at the Sarasota Hyatt Regency. Visit
Heather Hacket, author of “The Pretty in Me,” will address Buffalo Creek Middle School students Nov. 6. Her book is about a girl who is made fun of by others because of her body size. A victim of bullying herself, Hacket is an advocate for building self confidence in children and will speak to students about that issue, individuality, respect and self-esteem.
Read more Friday in Vin's People on

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Marching Canes three-peat as Lions Pride champs

Manatee High School's Marching ‘Canes warmed up for Saturday night's Florida Bandmasters Association district festival in fine fashion.
They pulled a three-peat, earning top honors as Grand Champion award winners for the third straight year in at the Lions Pride competition at Tampa King High School Oct. 19.
Manatee High topped 13 bands from  Hendry, Hillsborough, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk as well as Manatee County.
“These students strive for excellence in every area and it pays off,” said Jim Bruce, Manatee High's director of bands. "We are very proud of their talent and hard work.”
Each band was evaluated for music performance and effect, general effect, marching and maneuvering, percussion, auxiliary and drum majors.
The Marching ‘Canes band comprises 155 students under the direction of Bruce, Linda Boone and Amber Platowski.
Manatee will host the annual Florida Bandmasters Association district festival at Hawkins Stadium.
The event begins 5 p.m. Saturday.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A heartening homecoming for family's warrior

The soldier’s homecoming was unannounced.
No loved ones at the airport with homemade signs and balloons.
No TV camera crews.
Nothing like that.
Rather, Staff Sgt. Kevin Haddon’s welcome home after a long flight from Afghanistan and a long taxi ride from McGuire Air Force Base came in the emotional embrace of his grieving grandmother in South Jersey.
Kevin is my nephew and served with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Marjorie Haddon is his paternal grandmother, who just lost her husband. Robert Haddon was 86.
A wonderful couple, they were married 63 years.
Since my dad had passed when Kevin’s mother, my sister Maureen, was a teenager, Bob Haddon was the only grandfather he knew.
A good man.
His health had deteriorated lately, and being concerned for their oldest grandson in Afghanistan probably didn’t help.
It’s understandable.
We all were.

Read more Sunday in Mannix About Manatee on

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Parishioners collect $4,500 for brave 4-year-old

Pastor Joe Connolly had a surprise for 4-year-old Davien Martinez and his mom, Diana Lopez. It was a check for $4,500 from their fellow parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church.
Davien was accidentally shot in the head during a drive-by shooting July 27 and is on a long road to recovery.
While Mom teared up over the money, her resilient son was more interested in the M&Ms in Father Joe’s office.

• Bayshore High 2012 grad Olivia Trevorrow recently met a genuine American hero. Now a third class (sophomore) midshipmen at the Naval Academy, Olivia had her photo taken with Jim Lovell at a Human Space Flight forum.
The Annapolis Class of 1952 grad and former NASA astronaut commanded the dramatic Apollo 13 (“Houston, we have a problem”) mission. 

• Palmetto High School’s Class of 1970 will hold its inaugural “Saturday in November” reunion dinner at the Riverhouse Reef & Grill, 995 Riverside Drive, Palmetto, 6:30 p.m. Nov.2. Contact Chris Billeris-Boast at for reservations.
Read more Friday in Vin's People on

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marching Band Festival at Manatee Oct. 26

Marching Canes to host 26th straight festival
 If you enjoy high school marching bands, you’re in for a treat.
The Manatee High School Marching ‘Canes will host the Florida Bandmasters Association District 11 Marching Band Festival Oct. 26 at Hawkins Stadium.   
More than 1,400 performers representing 15 marching bands will perform.
Besides Manatee County, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough and Sarasota will also have talented scholastic bands on hand.
It is the 26th year the festival is being hosted by Manatee High, 902 33rd St. Ct. W.
The big show begins at 5 p.m.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to see our area’s high school bands at their best,” said Jim Bruce, Manatee High’s longtime band director. “The bands work all season toward this event. We encourage our community to come out, support the kids and watch some impressive performances.”
Each band is evaluated by two music judges as well as judges in the categories of marching, general effect, percussion and auxiliary units.
Tickets will be available at the festival.
Prices are $7 for ages 13 and up and $5 for ages 6-12.
Children six and under are free.
Parking is $3 per car.
Middle school band students may get a voucher from their band directors to attend the festival free of charge.
All gate proceeds go to support the bands in District 11 of the Florida Bandmasters Association.
For details, call Manatee High at 941-714-7300, ext. 2182 or 2093.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chowdown for Charity raises funds for future chefs

Renaissance on 9th's Lobster Mac & Cheese.

The fifth annual Chowdown for Charity was a scrumptious affair Oct. 10 at the Riverhouse Reef & Grill in Palmetto and raised $11,332 for school culinary programs and the Food Bank of Manatee County.
The results of the event were:
Restaurant Division
Judges Choice
'CTQ's Maverick Johnson was a judge
1st: Walnut Crusted Yellowtail Snapper, Riverhouse Reef & Grill
2nd: Short Rib Sliders, Anna Maria Oyster Bar
3rd: Lobster Mac & Cheese, Renaissance on 9th
People's Choice
1st: Peach's
2nd: Anna Maria Oyster Bar
Best Booth Display
1st: Riverhouse Reef & Grill
2nd: Anna Maria Oyster Bar

School Culinary Program Division
Judges Choice
1st: Peach Almond Crostata, Manatee Technical Institute
2nd: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Southeast HS
People's Choice
1st: Southeast High School
2nd: Manatee High School
Best Booth Display
1st: Manatee Technical Institute
2nd: Manatee High School

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Shutdown's indignity toward fallen angers vets

The image of young soldiers solemnly carrying a flag-draped coffin down an Air Force transport ramp always gives pause to area veterans wherever they might be watching a TV.
Some at Kirby Stewart American Legion Post 24 on 75th Street West.
Some at Disabled American Veterans Chapter 18 on 63rd Avenue East.
Some at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 10141 on 51st Street West.
There may be a moment of silence, a bowed head, or a raised glass in a toast to another departed warrior.
Last week, however, circumstances surrounding that too familiar TV scene triggered entirely different reactions around our nation, including here.
“I’m outraged,” said Don Vecoli, a Navy veteran.
“I’m disgusted,” said Russ Otto, who was in the 101st Airborne.
“I’m pissed off,” said Dick Alvarez, a Vietnam Army Ranger veteran.
Read more Sunday in Mannix About Manatee on

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Southeast FFA team District 10 forestry winners

Kaylee Betts, Zach Butler, Colt Travis and Luis Solorzano.
Props to Southeast High School’s FFA chapter, winners in the 2013 District 10 Forestry Career Development Competition at Punta Gorda.
Among the categories Kaylee Betts, Zach Butler, Paula Strasser-Dykxhoorn, Luis Solorzano and Colt Travis aced were identifying trees based on leaves, tree disorders, forestry tools, the amount of wood in a plot of trees based on diameter and height and how to interpret a topographic map.
Next up for advisor Mike Buckley’s quintet are the November state finals in Perry.

• Big ups to Bella Winter, who won the G.T. Bray Junior Slam’s Girls 12 division. She never lost a set, finishing first in a field of 39 in the USTA Tennis tournament.
Mary and William are proud.
Bella trains at Elite Tennis Development in Bradenton.

• The crosstown volleyball showdown between the Braden River Pirates and Manatee Hurricanes JV and varsity takes on added meaning Oct. 14 at the Manatee gym. It will be the annual Volley for the Cure breast cancer research fundraiser.
Everything and everybody will be in pink — ball, players, referees, etc.
Games begin at 6 p.m.

Read more Friday in Vin's People on

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Grabbing a chance to help another working man

The man's name was McDaniel.
Nate was his first name, I think.
I never saw him before and may not see him again, even in a small town like ours.
But our chance meeting Wednesday evening was one of those moments that make the world go 'round.
I was headed home, driving east on Cortez Road and turned right on Fifth Street.
As I slowed for the stop sign at Orlando Avenue, I spotted McDaniel in his beat up work van, ladder on top, trying to get the beast restarted.
He nodded at me. I nodded at him.
I drove on for a few seconds and slowed down.
Got to give the man a hand, I said to myself.
I looked in the rearview mirror and he was out in the street, driver's side door open, trying to push the vehicle to a safer location.
I wheeled my pickup into an apartment complex parking lot, locked it and ran toward the man and his van.
Before I got there, a young man had joined McDaniel, using the passenger side door to push.
When I got there, I just leaned on the van's caved-in back door and pushed, driving my legs like I did hitting a blocking sled many, many moons ago.
It felt good.
"Where we going?" I yelled to McDaniel, who shouted something about getting his van into the driveaway just ahead.
We made it a few minutes later, safely.
McDaniel thanked us and asked if he could get us anything.
Not a chance.
The kid, whose name I didn't get, shook hands with me.
"Just helping another working man," he said to the McDaniel, who wore a Sherwin Williams T-shirt.
I asked if he needed a lift somewhere.
"No," he said. "I got my boys coming to help me."
I shook hands with McDaniel and headed back to my truck and home.
Just helping out another working man.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rays rule on this couple's TV arrangement

For the past several weeks, Sherri and I have had both TVs in the living room.
One is usually in the bedroom and we used to bring it out only on Saturdays for college football, then move it back inside.
Not lately, though.
Not with the Rays.
Especially the Rays.
It doesn't matter what we've got on the other TV --- "The Voice," "MNF," "Bluebloods," etc.
The Rays have been on the other TV, even with the sound turned down.
Not Monday night.
No "Voice," either.
Monday Night Football was on the other TV with the sound off.
The only other sound was either or both of us yelling when something good or bad happened in the game.
Like when the umpire called the Red Sox pinch runner safe at second.
Or when Longo smacked his 3-run homer.
Or when Matt Joyce struck out with bases loaded.
But definitely when Jose Lobaton went yard in the bottom of the ninth, bombing the rays' fish tank in dramatic fashion, keeping the Rays postseason alive another game.
Did you catch the look on those Red Sox fans' faces when the game-winning home run ball sailed over their heads?
Oh, yeah.
Can't wait for Tuesday night's game.
Who cares what's on the other TV?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

North River firefighters give Lincoln an assist

Lincoln Middle students get busy  in Urban Farm Program.

Props to North River Fire Department Chief Ken Cluley, Capt. Jeff Dirling, Capt. Donald Bathje and firefighters Tony Cioni, Matt Stone and Zach Steinberg, who provided a big assist to teacher Kimberley Lough’s Lincoln Middle School Urban Farm Program.
Charmian Miller and Debbie Pinkley will be selling “AMI Day Tripper” stickers at Tarpon Pointe Grille, 801 Riverside Drive E., Bradenton, 4-7 p.m. Saturday. All proceeds go to the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
• Just for Girls Alternative School still has room for middle school students. Call Dee Ralph at 941-722-1475 for details.
Matt LaVallee and Gary Theiler want to spread the word to fellow former high school coaches in the area to drop in 6 p.m. Oct. 23. for some fellowship at LaVallee’s Boiler Room, 5600 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
Call him at 941-792-7176.
Read more Friday in Vin's People on

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A journey back in time 40 years in the making

Barry Zimbler flanked by Mike Knecht, Jeff Corenblum, Alex DeCubas, Jeff Cutler and Julius Pratt.

It was high school wrestling season in the early 1970s and a chartered bus carried the Miami Palmetto Panthers to a Saturday night dual match on the other side of the state.
Some place called Bradenton.
Coach Barry Zimbler's team was going to wrestle the Manatee Hurricanes at the Manatee Junior College gym.
One of the people on the bus was yours truly, then a 23-year-old sports editor for the South Dade News Leader, a small evening newspaper in Homestead.
What a ride it was covering those guys, a wonderful memory that was recently rekindled in their company once more 40 years later.
They were kids no more.
None of us were.
They were all gathered in a South Miami restaurant to present Zimbler with the inaugural John and Helen Vaughn Award on behalf of the Florida chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
It was a poignant occasion for another reason.
Zimbler was battling throat cancer.
"I'm going to beat this," he said softly, cradling the award at the podium.
His old wrestlers expected no less.
They were honoring the man who'd instilled a genuine never-give-up attitude in each of them.
Barry Zimbler wasn't just their coach, but a mentor and a father.
What a team of surrogate sons he had, too.
An astronaut.
A commercial airline pilot.
A former Marine fighter pilot.
A corporate  lawyer.
There was a black sheep there that night, too, a former drug smuggler who'd just gotten out of prison.
One of his former Palmetto teammates was a DEA agent.
Go figure.
They were all coach's kids again that evening, one filled with hugs and kisses and tears, too.
Zimbler coached just 11 years at Palmetto before moving onto a new school as an administrator.
But what a legacy.
Two state championship teams.
Numerous individual state champions.
Eight of them were there that night, kids who went onto wrestle at college programs like Appalachian State, Florida, Georgia, Northern Illinois and Ohio to name a few.
What meets they wrestled for Palmetto, especially the dual matches with Coral Park.
Like the 49-7 bludgeoning the Panthers gave the Rams in their own gym, scoring a series of thunderous pins that rocked the house.
I can still see Julius Pratt running across the mat, thrusting his index finger at the packed Coral Park stands before Zimbler and an assistant dragged him away lest there was a riot.
Ironically, Coral Park went on to win the 1973 state championship.
But then came 1974 and my favorite and final memory of Palmetto wrestling.
The state meet was back at Fort Lauderdale Stranahan High School.
As fate would have it, Palmetto trailed Coral Park again and needed a pin at heavyweight to win that coveted crown.
It was up to Alex DeCubas, a sophomore who normally wrestled 188 and was pitted against a big kid from Jacksonville Ribault.
The match went down to the final seconds in a packed gym.
The crowd was on its feet, roaring.
Incredibly, DeCubas pinned his opponent and ecstatic Palmetto fans rushed the floor, mobbing the young hero who held Zimbler in an emotional bear hug.
It still gives me goose bumps.
Forty years later they were all together again, Zimbler and his champions.
A beautiful night.
After the dinner ended they were taking more pictures, but it was getting late and I said my goodbyes.
I had a long drive ahead of me to get home.
Home to Bradenton.

P.S.: Doctors recently told Barry Zimbler his condition had improved so much he didn't need any more chemo or radiation. No surgery, either. He celebrated by enjoying his first steak in two months.