Last updateSun, 23 Oct 2016 8pm


Olympic Archery Trials in Newberry

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

Jake Kaminski, 27, first became interested in archery at age 5. He was on the U.S. team that took the silver at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

NEWBERRY – Khatuna Lorig raises her bow to her cheek, and she is a woman on a mission.

Her gaze fixed on the yellow bullseye dozens of feet away, a silence that is tense with anticipation falls on her and her spectators as she pulls the arrow back.

While the other archers around her are doing the same, she is only focused on the target – her unspoken competitor.

After its airborne journey, the razor-sharp edge wedges its way dead into the center of the circle – a small victory the five-time Olympian is used to.

Lorig was one of the 16 archers who participated in the final nomination shoot for the U.S. Olympic team trials at the Easton Sports Complex in Newberry from May 26 to 30.

The event served as one of the final qualifiers for the U.S. team in preparation for the games in Rio de Janeiro, which will take place in August.

The archers began accumulating points last September, when over 400 archers competed in the first stage of trials said Sarah Bernstein, the media and public relations specialist for the USA Archery team.

After that, the number came down to just 16 – eight men and eight women – who competed last month at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

“And now those archers are here competing today for the official Olympic team,” she said.

Brady Ellison and Jake Kaminski, who were on the U.S. team that took the silver at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as well as Olympic newcomer Zach Garrett, secured the places on the team for the men’s side.

McKenzie Brown, 21, filled one spot for the women’s team. The hopefuls will have another chance to make the team when they compete again at the Archery World Cup in Antalya, Turkey.

“We should know by June 19 whether we’ll be sending one or three women [to the Olympics],” Bernstein said.

To get to this advanced stage in competition is a journey and adventure in itself.

Khatuna Lorig

Lorig, 42, was born in Tbilisi, Georgia.

She said she remembers becoming introduced to archery when she was in sixth grade.

When she was pregnant with her son, Lorig competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics representing Georgia and won the gold, Bernstein said.

She took home the gold again in 2010 in Edenburgh at the World Cup Finals, the silver in Guadalajara at the Pan American Games, a silver medal in Belek in 2013, then a gold in 2015 at the Pan American Games in Toronto as an individual and a bronze with the team, according to the Team USA website.

Lorig is also known for being the coach who trained actress Jennifer Lawrence in archery for her role in the “Hunger Games” movies, according to the Rio 2016 website.

She said she considers her mindset while she is competing to be crucial in a sport that is mostly about concentration and focus.

“[It’s] unacceptable to think negative,” she said. “And your mind keeps going that way. Trying to block it, concentrate on your shot. Archery is very difficult, so it’s all how you process the shot.”

Being older than many of her competitors, she said she’s learned how to train smart by preventing injury and being mindful of what she can and can’t do.

“I can’t do certain things the young kids can,” she said. “I have to be careful because I can get injured very easily, and I take care of my body really well to not get injured.”

Jake Kaminski

Kaminski, 27, said he became interested in archery when his dad won a hunting bow at a raffle when he was five. Then, he got one of his own from K-Mart for his birthday.

He said he got better at the sport growing up with help from his dad to cultivate an athletic, competitive mindset, as well as from good coaches. Then, in 2006, he moved to the training center in Chula Vista, California.

It was there he said his more traditional, old-school USA style was torn down and replaced by a new technique, pioneered by one of the team coaches, Kisik Lee.

“Now, it’s a lot more biochemically engineered so you’re using bigger, stronger muscle that are less affected by the tournament,” he said.

“We use what you call angular motion, so it’s a more efficient technique…as opposed to making the linear motion of just pulling the bow straight back, which is– you’re using smaller muscles,” he said.

He feels the key to his success has been practice – one arrow isn’t going to make a big difference after shooting a thousand at the end of trials, he said.

Kaminski, who lives in Bronson, said he individually coaches a few people right from his backyard.

He’s also helped develop an iPhone and Android app called APPtitune, which is similar to an ebook that helps users set up and tune a bow from top to bottom, he said.

“The only other resource of it is an old tuning manual from Easton that’s from the 70s,” he said. “So, we revamped it and basically put our own spin on it – critical fine touches that really help separate a good setup from a better setup.”

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Former Police Chief Wolfe Dies at 89

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

Former High Springs Police Chief Thomas Wolfe.

HIGH SPRINGS – Thomas W. Wolfe, one of the longest serving police chiefs in High Springs' history, died Saturday at the age of 89 under Hospice care following a six-year battle with a long-term illness.

Wolfe was hired by the City as a police officer on Aug. 1, 1966 and was appointed Chief of Police in 1973. He served until June 30, 2003, when he retired at the age of 76.

City Clerk Jenny Parham said when Wolfe retired, he still acted like he was 23 instead of 76. “He had a lot of energy,” she said.

During the early part of the City's history, the Police Department and City Hall were housed in the same building. Parham remembers him as an up-beat, optimistic person who was always in a good mood. “He always had a story or two to share, and his presence was the highlight of the day for us,” she said. “The police department was just across the hall at that time and we dispatched for them during the day until the night-time dispatcher came in at 4 p.m.”

Wolfe presented a clean-cut, military-like appearance. A short crew cut and uniform were his standard attire. The city's current police chief, Joel DeCoursey, Jr., said he ran into him recently and he was as sharp as ever.

“Chief DeCoursey always came over to say ‘Hi’ to us whenever we would run into him in town,” said Wolfe's wife of 48 years, Myrna.

Wolfe was responsible for hiring Lt. Antoine Sheppard on April 26, 2001. “I was the first African-American officer hired in at least two or three decades,” said Sheppard, who also is the last remaining full-time officer hired by Wolfe. Sheppard described Wolfe as humble and a great police chief. “The City's flags are at half staff and we are wearing our morning bands in honor of Chief Wolfe,” he said.

“When we came back to High Springs after my husband died, Lt. Sheppard stopped by to express the whole department's condolences,” said Wolfe's wife. “I don't know how he found out, but he was there.”

Former City Manager Leonard E. Withey, Jr. said he saw Wolfe a little over a week prior to his death. “He told me at that time that his life was coming to an end,” said Withey, a long-time friend. “We talked very little about his illness during our two-hour visit, but much more about the old days and laughed about some of the things that had happened on our watch. Tom and I worked together for 20 years. He was chief when I was hired on Jan. 1, 1980. I always told him I will be retired and gone and you will still be here...and he was.”

Wolfe was a pilot in World War II, flying planes in the Pacific as he transported troops and goods throughout the war. “He landed at an airstrip that had been taken by the Japanese, which at the time was unknown to the Americans, and was held as a prisoner of war for two years along with his crew,” Myrna said.

“He somehow got in with the Chinese underground and he and his crew eventually escaped,” she said. “He had been reported as dead after all that time and scared his mother near to death when he walked into the house after being released from service.”

In addition to World War II, his wife said he was also drafted into the service again to fight in the Korean War.

At some point after his service, Wolfe went to work as an air traffic controller at Washington National Airport, retiring in 1965, said Withey.

Wolfe became a member of the High Springs Police Department sort of “through the back door,” according to Withey. “In 1965, one of our three officers, Mr. Nettles, was out sick,” he said. “Wolfe went to the police station and offered to work the night shift so the two remaining officers could work days. He said he would quit the minute Nettles was back at work. We took him up on it, and Mr. Nettles never returned to work, so Wolfe stayed on."

Withey pointed out that Wolfe and his officers cleared 50-70 percent of their cases. “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement came a couple of times a year to make sure everything was properly documented and on track,” said Withey. “They never found anything wrong with his record keeping.”

His wife described Wolfe as strictly a family man. “He cared about his children and grandchildren and enjoyed them tremendously,” she said.

Wolfe requested no funeral when he died. The family and the City of High Springs are honoring his request.

Wolfe is survived by his wife, Myrna, three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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Local Teen Runs 'Monster' Reptile Business

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

Fifteen-year-old Santa Fe High School student Thaddeus Beavers holding a baby Burmese Python durin ga local Repticon event.

ALACHUA – One local teen is single-handedly running his own online reptile business.

Thaddeus Beavers, a 15-year-old freshman at Santa Fe High School (SFHS), launched his reptile business, Mini Monster Reptiles, around 2013 – a total of three breeding seasons.

Currently, he owns more than 70 reptiles, including ball pythons, kingsnakes, hognose snakes and bearded dragons from parts of the world like California, Africa and Mexico. All the snakes are non-venomous, his mother, Sarah Beavers, said.

Mrs. Beavers said her son’s love for reptiles began when he was about 9 or 10.

He got his first leopard gecko when he was in the third grade. Then, he got straight A’s in fifth grade and his parents rewarded him with his first ball python.

In addition to running his business, Beavers continues to make straight A’s in advanced classes at SFHS, actively participates in the school’s FFA program and works part-time at a local landscape company.

Despite the fact that this venture is a business, Beavers said he does it out of pure love for the animals.

“It’s a good bonus, but it’s more of – it’s just fun to work with them and be that weird person that people think of when they hear the word ‘snake’ or ‘lizard,’” he said.

Beavers said he’s learned that running his own business takes lots of patience.

“You’re going to have to put in money in order to make money,” he said. “And this is a hard business to make money in. If it’s something you love, don’t do it for the money, just do it because you love it.”

Admittedly a big spender himself, he said he’s learned that, in order for a business to be successful, the money that is made needs to go right back into it.

“You can’t get the money and use it for yourself,” he said. “It’s going to fail if you don’t put your money back into it, which also ties into the ‘you may not make a lot of money’ [idea].”

He said they buy most of the reptiles from display shows like Repticon or private breeders.

Repticon Reptile and Exotic Animal Conventions is the national leader in producing reptile and exotic pet shows throughout the country, according to the convention’s official website.

“A Repticon show would be like going to a car show,” he said. “You’ve got the various vendors showcasing what they sell and breed.”

He cares for them as if they were his pets – taking measures to make sure they’re healthy before being sold to their new owners.

This process, which includes feeding the reptiles properly, takes about three weeks for the snakes, while lizards take six weeks, but there is no standard – the amount of time is just his personal preference, he said.

All of the snakes are carnivores, while bearded dragons and crested geckos eat both insects and plants.

Mrs. Beavers, who holds a Class III license from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is interested in helping take care of the lizards, while her son focuses on the snakes.

Surprisingly, Alachua County has a high concentration of reptile breeders, Mrs. Beavers said. They’ve worked with local businesses like The Hogtown Reptile Shop and the Rowdy Reptile Shop, as well as private breeders in the area.

She said they also rely on a veterinarian at Hilltop Animal Hospital in Alachua, who has some experience with exotic animals, while referencing books and online resources when they have a question about an animal’s condition.

Specialists at the teaching hospital at the UF Veterinary School have also been great, she said.

While he understands not everyone will view reptiles with the same level of ease that he does, Beavers said it would be advantageous for community members to be more educated.

He said that his parents have given him a lot of support throughout this endeavor, and it also helps that they are not scared of the animals.

“I think it’s amazing that they’re not scared of them,” he said. “And they will support me with the ability to do these things that I like.”

For more information about Thaddeus Beavers’ business, visit

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Disabled Veteran and Family Have Home Thanks to Habitat

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BEN PHILLIPS/Photo special to Alachua County Today

L-R: Tommy and Frances Rooks and their children, Katie and Noah, received a blessing and dedication of their Habitat for Humanity home in Newberry. Father John M. Phillips of Holy Faith Catholic Church, Gainesville, performed the dedication ceremony.

NEWBERRY – A brand new Habitat for Humanity home was dedicated Sunday in Newberry. The home, owned by the Rooks family, replaces a rundown trailer formerly located on the property at 29317 Northwest 46th Avenue.

“Community members dedicated countless hours of volunteer labor to build the new home,” said Jocelyn Peskin of Habitat for Humanity.

According to a Habitat press release, the new home, sponsored by an anonymous Catholic donor with matching funds from the local Catholic community, was built in honor of Pope Francis for his commitment to social justice and reinvigorating the Catholic Church.

Rooks’ new home was constructed at Santa Fe College’s Charles R. Perry Construction Institute and transported by truck to the family’s land, where volunteers and community partners worked together to complete the home by adding a front porch, back porch, driveway, landscaping, and other final touches.

The mobile home the Rooks family lived in had mold problems, along with rodent and insect infestations. Tommy Rooks, a disabled veteran, needed a safe home for his own health as well as that of his family. “I have tried all of my life to provide for my family and to give them what they need to survive in life,” Mr. Rooks said. “I can’t say how wonderful it is to have people helping my family out. I’m at a loss for words with how thankful I am for these people giving their time to help my family.”

Alachua Habitat for Humanity supports its home-ownership program through donations, grants, and principal payments from family partners. All homeowners assume an affordable mortgage for their homes at the end of their 400 committed sweat equity hours. The principal paid by Habitat Family Partners is then used to build more homes, allowing families the opportunity to pay forward the gift of home-ownership.

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Sun, Fun, Watermelons and Festival Queens

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Photo special to Alachua County Today

L-R: Logan and Emma Marlow, along with Misty Robertson, enjoy fresh slices of sweet and juicy watermelon.

NEWBERRY – Folks who attended this year's Newberry Watermelon Festival enjoyed fun, music, games and watermelon in the sun. The weather was wonderful and the predicted storms never came as the Newberry Watermelon Festival got underway.

The parade began at 9 a.m., headed up by the Color Guard and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Motorcycle Brigade. Next came the Honorary Grand Marshall Riley Maddison. Queens of all kinds, floats, Shriners, tractors, trucks and Grand Marshall ACSO Sheriff Sadie Darnell were on hand as well. School Board representative April Griffin rode the antique fire engine and candidates for upcoming elections were there to meet the public and participate in the excitement.

At the festival itself, K-Country's Lewis Stokes and singer/entertainer Mark Copeland emceed the afternoon program. Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad formally opened the festival as he spit the first watermelon seed of the day. Free slices of watermelon, an auction, dunking booth, seed spitting and watermelon rolling contests were all part of the fun. Food and craft vendors had a myriad of items for sale to quench appetites for food and shopping. Music and fun were the highlight of the day.

The Florida Watermelon Queen, Katie Mae Harrison, was on hand, and the National Watermelon Queen attended the festivities as well. Felicity Majeris, last year's festival queen, crowned Shelby Blackwell as the new 71st Annual Watermelon Festival queen. Raychel Thomas was named first runner up.

The Festival Committee works hard all year in order to keep this tradition alive. Since the beginning it has been organized and run by local individuals who donate many hours to keep this community event active.

The City of Newberry, city commissioners, churches, businesses and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and others are an integral part of the event.

The original festival began decades ago as a welcome home for returning soldiers after WW II. At first it was just a barbecue, free melons, cake walks, and bingo with the queen contest. At night a band played and friends square danced inside the old skating rink. It is a tradition that has been ongoing ever since.

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