Birmingham has become a city of revitalization and promise over the years. That’s why it’s no surprise that it’s home to one of America’s growing sports, women’s flat track roller derby. The sport now has over 451 leagues worldwide, according to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) website, since it’s beginning in 2005.
Birmingham’s Tragic City Rollers were also founded in 2005 and joined the WFTDA as a full-time league member in 2010. President of the Tragic City Rollers Diana Bostick, also known as Lana del Slay, ensures that the league is operating under the guidelines of the WFTDA.
Bostick fell in love with the sport because of the strength and diligence of the derby women. “I was in awe how these women moved, fought and displayed amazing talents and skills. I knew immediately I wanted to be apart of such an ensemble,” she said.
Another one of Bostick’s role is to manage the organization’s presence within the community. The Rollers have seen growing attendance at their bouts, according to Bostick, and the organization is excited about the support. “People now realize roller derby is much more than circus theatrics. They recognize derby to be a legitimate athletic sport,” she said.
Even though roller derby women skate hard on the rink, they have a soft heart for issues in the community. The skaters enjoy participating in local events and stresses the importance of supporting small businesses and charities in the area.
“TCR strives to always be relevant and maintain a presence within the community. We try to find local sponsors as much as possible so that not only do they support us but we in turn do our best to support them,” Bostick said.
Their 2017 charity partner is Girls Rock Bham Camp, an organization that teaches girls to play instruments and showcase their talents in the community.
The Tragic City Rollers host their meets at the Zemora Shrine Temple in Birmingham against league members from across the Southeast. The team is ranked 223rd in the WFTDA.
This is the third installment of a three-part series that explores the nature of successful businessmen and women in Birmingham.
“Pray about [starting a business]. Pray for God’s guidance and diligence.”
Heidi Elnora came to be one of Birmingham’s most well- known bridal gown designers by accident.
Soon after she was eliminated from Lifetime’s Project Runway series, Elnora was in a car accident. She was living in Atlanta at the time and moved to Alabama to recover and be close to her mother. While she was here, she met the man who would become her husband.
The couple settled down in Birmingham and a new realm of work opportunity opened up for her. “How can I take what I love to do and make it special for someone else? And what’s more special than a wedding dress?” she said.
Design has always been a passion for the Morris Ave. business owner. As her bridal store, hiedi elnora Atelier, continues to grow, she is driven every day to give the boutique a welcoming atmosphere. “The best part about the job is the brides.” Elnora said. “It’s about how good they feel in their dress, and I want them to feel con dent in what they are wearing.”
While business plans and loans can be intimidating, look for organizations that can assist you in making these rst crucial steps. Elnora used a local business-training organization that helped her get her feet on the ground. “They helped me write my business plan, and I was also able to get my very rst loan at 25,” she said.
Eagerness to engage with customers and diligence to create the best product can evolve into incomparable opportunities. With Elnora’s success in the Magic City, she has been involved in numerous projects including starring in her own television show on TLC, Bride by Design. “I loved doing it because I really got to showcase my work,” she said.
Passion can be contagious, especially when you have a celebrated product. In Elnora’s case, her craft’s in uence is not con ned to the borders of the United States. “I’ve had people as far as Dubai y in,” she said.
While business owners are always looking for ways to expand and grow, milestones are convenient points when you can regroup and look ahead to the future. Elnora continues to look to the future, as this year marks the boutique’s 10th anniversary. “We are moving to e-commerce and have just opened up our new 8,000 square-foot shop,” she said. But this expansion will not push away her end goal. “I want to live a happy life. No amount of fame or notoriety will fulfill me.”
Jerick Hamilton is a student farmer that finds the farm behind his school to be a quiet respite from the chaos of the city. He starts his afternoon with a careful plant inspection. Moving row to row, Hamilton bends down to pull away stray, dead leaves to ensure the livelihood of the crops.
Hamilton loses track of time as he moves deeper into the sunflowers, or gets lower to the earth’s soil with the radishes and turnips. His eyes light up as he is asked to differentiate an array of brightly colored produce—produce that he helped grow.
“Amazing. Jaw-dropping. Fun.” These are the words Jerick Hamilton, a junior at Woodlawn High School used to describe the school’s recent partnership with Jones Valley.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm empowers students to grow, sell and eat their own produce. By inviting students at Woodlawn High School to participate in the farming process, Jones Valley is equipping change makers.
Each weekday, Hamilton can be found carefully weeding one of the 10 beds of vegetables in Woodlawn High School’s Urban Farm.
Among the sunflowers, turnips, radishes, mustard greens, chard, broccoli, cauliflower and kale, are the fingerprints of student farmers who stay behind after school and diligently tend to this plentiful garden.
He is eager to share his new passion for gardening with others.
“Ever since I’ve started doing it, I feel like I can take it anywhere I go, it can even help me in the long run,” he said. “Maybe one day I will want to have my own farm in my backyard, or a garden.”
For Hamilton, this opportunity has presented more than just a new hobby—it has given him vision for the future.
“I want to be a little bit of everything. I feel like you can’t just choose one thing and stick to it, you are gonna always change. Change is good. But if I could pick one thing, it would be industrial engineer.”
Hamilton is one of the students at Woodlawn participating in an early college program established through Jones Valley. This partnership allows him to work for payment while also receiving school credit for his three-hour afternoon shift at the farm.
Woodlawn High School Urban Farm sits just behind the school and is equipped with two farming acres, a greenhouse and an outdoor teaching area. This is where Scotty Feltman, the school’s environmental science teacher who doubles as the farm program director, brings his classes to expose students to healthy foods.
Feltman’s hands-on approach to teaching aligns with Jones Valley’s mission to “connect discoveries in the classroom to action in the community.”
Jones Valley originated as an urban farm in downtown Birmingham to provide better access to fresh produce. It has since evolved into a teaching farm through the implementation of a specialized curriculum model, Good School Food, in several Birmingham city schools.
In that program, students experiment in Farm Labs designed to provide learning environments that engage the senses.
With seven teaching farms across Birmingham, Jones Valley exposes students to nutrition as they interact with fresh food daily. This creates a greater awareness of where food comes from and emphasizes the value of healthy lifestyle choices.
The leap to Woodlawn High School happened last year in an effort to create a K-12 learning experience where children participate in the growing process in different stages throughout their education. The program culminates in Feltman’s high school environmental science class, where the urban farm is used as a tool for engagement.
Feltman was a fifth grade science teacher at Avondale Elementary when the idea for the urban farm began to formulate. He committed to the role of farm program director after realizing it would be a great opportunity to impact a lot of students.
Feltman impresses upon his students the fact that they can help others through farming. His ultimate goal is that students leave the farm experience with a confidence in who they are and what they can accomplish.
“I want students to be able to graduate knowing, ‘If I grew 200 pounds of radishes and I was able to feed my neighborhood, I can do a lot of stuff. Maybe college isn’t so scary,’” said Feltman.
Senior Taylor Witt felt that empowerment. Witt uses her time on the farm to evaluate her lifestyle. “Maybe I can change my ways of eating and influence my friends and family members. I want to influence my nephews the most because they are young, the oldest is 7 and the youngest is 5,” she said.
Witt got involved with Jones Valley after her ninth grade biology teacher encouraged her to attend an interest meeting. That meeting introduced the urban farm concept to the Woodlawn community.
Witt worked with a group of students to brainstorm, provide input and contribute to the planning process as this idea materialized. The farm came to life last year, and it taught Witt a great deal about patience.
“It’s a learning process. It’s building up your skills. I feel like each day I am out here is a day I am learning something new,” said Witt.
Like Witt, the student farmers at Woodlawn have played an integral role in the process of building the garden from the ground up. Starting work in August, the team works in a student-driven manner where everyone’s voice is heard.
Feltman, who oversees the co-op, is in a position to hear those distinct voices, as he develops personal relationship with the students involved. One of these voices belongs to Hamilton, who met Feltman as a student in his fifth grade class. His message to Feltman is one of profound gratitude, “Thank you, thank you for hiring me. Thank you for believing in me and showing me there is more to life,” said Hamilton.
Clearly the art of farming transcends health to benefit students in areas of attitude, success in school, family life and relationships. Jones Valley uses fresh food as a powerful tool to apply disciplines of patience, responsibility and teamwork to real-life situations.
Through the process of farming at Woodlawn High School Urban Farm students find vision, purpose and an outlet for personal growth. The influence of the program extends far beyond growing plants, to the change taking root within the lives of students.
The band lounged around on the couch after a late night practice session, visibly exhausted but genuinely in love with the opportunity they have to make music.
However, The Timid Sons, comprised of Trip Wood, Frank Robertson, Tré Mason and Luke Brown, only get to make this music after their full days of work and school. They come together late at night to practice and develop new songs, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.
The band’s only studio-recorded album to date, a self-titled work, includes its most popular single, Cocaine Lips. This up and coming band loves to play shows in the Birmingham area, but also likes to travel as well.
“It all started when Frank walked up to me in the food court and said he had a song idea,” Wood said. “We weren’t in a band yet, but he proceeded to pull out a napkin with the words ‘cocaine lips and a hurricane smile.’ I was expecting a chorus or something at least, but all I got was a phrase.”
“That ended up being all I needed though; I took the napkin back to my apartment, sat down and wrote the whole song that day. In that moment The Timid Sons were born,” said Wood.
The band’s name, The Timid Sons, came about when Robertson was reading a book called “I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son” by Kent Russell. The book itself is based off a famous Davy Crockett quote.
With a band name and one song under his belt, Wood was ready to churn out music at a rapid rate.
“This book really resonated with us,” Wood said, “The idea that a father would really rail their son and be that openly disappointed with him made the realization that we are all born into expectations. People naturally have expectations of us. While you are born into a world of disappointment, that doesn’t mean that you are a disappointment. While we are imperfect, and while we aren’t necessarily a band with full time musicians, we accept it, move on and make music we want to hear.”
Wood said he had a handful of ideas already in his head from the previous few years. At the time he didn’t think he would actually use them. Some of the lyrics he had were from experiences that happened that month and others were just things he thought about and wrote down.
Following their first song, “Cocaine Lips,” the band spent about a month recording eight songs at Mountain Brook Community Church. The album came together so quickly because Wood would spend days on end recording music, often times sleeping in the studio to maximize histime.
“Back when we were recording, a few days would pass,” Robertson said, “and I wouldn’t have seen Trip, so I would stop by the studio. I found him there multiple times, tucked away by himself, with lots of cups of coffee, some fresh, and some not so fresh. Trip would have this twitchy, kind of crazed look about him, but he was producing our songs at a ridiculously fast rate. Sometimes you just let the man work and appreciate the results.”
At this time, the band was moving quickly and Wood was rushing the entire thing because he wanted to have a couple of singles to release right away. Because of this, only three of the band members actually recorded on the album. It was challenging for their old drummer from Atlanta to drive to Birmingham every so often to record so they began to reach out to find a new drummer.
The Timid Sons faced several challenges in its early days, such as finding a permanent drummer in the Birmingham area, recording for the first time and singing in front of an audience for the first time. Wood said he was unsure of how to carry himself in front of others and found the experience of playing live nerve racking at first.
They are currently working on two new songs including one Trip wrote about a blind man called Jim James. The song, he explained, is about how easily we can get wrapped up in our own frustrations while much worse things happen in the world.
“I was driving back from my Spanish test and was obsessing about how bad I had done. I was drinking my Starbucks, listening to my favorite music, and just being super self-indulgent,” Wood said, “I was going down Lakeshore Drive and reached the part where there isn’t anything for about a mile and that’s when I saw this guy at the bus stop. He was blind, and he was sitting out there on the bench, in the sun, during the hottest part of the day, in the middle of the summer.”
“In that moment it became really obvious how self-indulgent I was being. Some of the lyrics I wrote were completely bashing myself and I had to refrain from keeping them in the song. How could I be so self-obsessed? This man is probably going to work right now, and probably not to his first job, more than likely, to his second one and he is blind. There was just a lot of things going through my mind at that moment and I was able to get it out on paper.”
What does music mean to you?
It’s meant a lot of different things to me, especially in the last few years. If I’ve learned one thing about music, it’d be this: Music can be a stress reliever, a medium to express yourself and so much more. However, once you start expecting something from it, you start to lose it.
How does your music reflect who you are as a person/musician?
Sometimes I worry that it reflects who I am a bit too much: fast, irrational, and not thought through.
Describe a typical day for you.
My average day changes frequently. Right now, the only things that are constant are how much I eat and that I write two songs’ worth of lyrics a day.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What role does your music play in that plan?
Hopefully I’ll still be pursuing music as a career. Like I’ve said before, the men and women that do this full time are incredible. It takes a lot of guts to decide to make your living off of something so inconsistent.
What do you play in the band? How long have you been playing?
I play guitar and have been playing since about 7th grade
What do you do when you are not playing with The Timid Sons?
I work part time and am trying to figure out if I want to go back to school this coming year or pursue full time work.
Is it hard to balance music and work?
The biggest challenge is to feel like I’m being responsible in my pursuit of both. It seems like practices can only happen later at night, but I have to be up by 6 a.m. in order to start my morning for work.
What is your best memory with the band?
One of our first shows back from the summer at a venue called the High Note. It was one of our first shows at a legitimate venue with a real sound guy and PA system, and this stage that was so tall but not very wide. It was one of the first moments that “we’re a real band” clicked in my head.
Over the past few months Birmingham has seen several new businesses open their doors all over the downtown area. A handful of those are eateries, but a few of them are one-of-a-kind retailers offering only the finest of goods, services, and clothing. The Local got the chance to sit down with a few of the owners and hear a little about the driving force behind these new ventures.
The first is Small Box Co. started by local entrepreneur and architect, Eric Tasker. Located at Railroad Park, the space is unique in its very nature. Eric created a retail space out of a shipping container in an effort to house local startups. The idea is for Small Box to act as a springboard for retail startups in the Birmingham area, allowing new entrepreneurs to test out markets, locations and products before moving into a brick and mortar location. First to fill the box is Rainy Day Studios, a retail collective of southern artists.
Eric was kind enough to answer a few of our questions over some Red Cat coffee.
Q: Describe your business in a single mantra:
A: Small boxes for big ideas.
Q: Why this current venture?
A:I wanted to create a space to help people achieve their vision. Small Box works as a building block for new retailers to gain customers, build their lines, and work towards acquiring a brick and mortar location in the future. Downtown is growing and as it is growing more retailers need to be brought downtown, Small Box helps these retailers gain the necessary sales and market leads in order to gain enough financing to eventually move into a brick and mortar.
Q: Any more boxes in the future?
A: I have the one for now; I’m hoping to open a few more located all over town, in effort to allow tenants to test their markets in different districts and neighborhoods.
Q: Favorite downtown activity?
A: I have two kids and my wife and I love to take them biking on the Rotary Trail.
Follow Small Box Co. on Instagram: @smallboxco, as well as current tennat: @rainydaybham.
Opened in September 2016, Winslet and Rhys located in Avondale is a one-of-a-kind mercantile shop that was created out of two women’s dreams to provide Birmingham with a store of high quality, handmade goods. Both women spent much of their lives traveling around the world where they grew to appreciate the beauty in simplicity. That lifestyle resonates throughout Winslet and Rhys. The store has an exquisite line of household goods, women and children’s clothing and an array of locally hand crafted letterpress prints.
Between checking out customers and stamping letters, Brittany Baker the “Winslet” of the duo answered a few questions for us.
Q: What is the story behind the store name?
A: General Stores back in the day were generally names after the owner’s surname, and if it was a woman, her maiden name. We loved the idea of using our maiden names as the store name. ‘Winslet’ is me and ‘Rhys’ comes from Mallory’s maiden name Rice.
Q: Inspiration for the store?
A: Both Mallory and I moved to Birmingham and saw a need for a store curated for woman, so we designed a store we would want to walk into and shop!
Q: Favorite items in the store right now?
A: Yield Design Co.’s French Press, Hackwith Sweater in Peach and the House Candle.
Q: Most amazing place you have traveled?
A: Fez, Morocco. It’s Morocco’s hidden secret.
Q: Best part about being located in Avondale?
A: The neighbors (MAKEbhms.) It’s like having a little family all for each other!
Follow Winslet & Rhys on Instagram: @winsletandrhys. Visit their website: http://www.winsletandrhys.com/
Artefact Supply was created out of one man’s void to find a local brick and mortar store where he could buy well crafted men’s apparel. Brandon Hays, a lawyer at Second Row Law, has a passion for any and all well crafted products. He made it his “passion project” to create the essential men’s apparel shop in downtown Birmingham. Artefact Supply is committed to supplying men with quality timeless apparel and goods, such as denims, chinos, sweaters and button downs.
While opening the store, Brandon Hays took sometime to answer a few of our questions.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born and raised in Birmingham. I graduated from Vestavia High School and attended the University of Alabama for my undergraduate. Later I graduated from Cumberland School of Law and opened up Second Row Law firm with a few of my colleagues.
Q: Where did you draw inspiration from for your store?
A: On a trip to Austin, TX where I stumbled across a men’s store names STAG. Artefact Supply is really a passion project of mine, I’ve always been passionate about well crafted store’s and there wasn’t one available on this side of the mountain, so I opened one.
Q: How did you choose the brands you would include?
A: I searched for brands who were unique and cultured, but also had a good price point. Just to name a few: Life After Denim, 3Sixteen, Billykirk and Red Wing Heritage.
Q: Why 2nd Avenue?
A: 2nd Avenue is the heartbeat of downtown right now. Dining, bars, and retail are filling the area. A great place to gain foot traffic.
Q: Favorite place to be in Downtown Birmingham?
A: At Urban Standard drinking coffee and eating cupcakes or catching a concert at Iron City or WorkPlay.
Follow Artefact Supply on Instagram: @artefactsupply. Visit their website: http://www.artefactsupply.com/
As Birmingham continues to be a city of exciting new things popping up everywhere, people are staying engaged through the art of blogging. Here, local writers are able to share ideas, thoughts, and opinions on anything from new restaurants to wardrobes to match the season. Jessica Stroud started her own blog, “Daily Brunch,” and has been featured on The Birmingham Bloggers website multiple times. You can tell right away in her posts her love for the city of Birmingham and how to communicate that through writing.
Q: What was your reasoning for starting your own blog site, specifically about the Birmingham area:
There are two main reasons I started blogging:
To enhance my creativity. Let’s get things straight, I am by no means creative in an artistic sense. I cannot play an instrument, paint a picture, or do any sort of d.i.y. crafts. What I can do is explain myself through writing. I figured if I started posting I’d have to come up with new ways to explain myself, and also create new material through trial and error. Managing and writing a blog has been a personal challenge that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has helped me find new ways to think about things and challenge my brain.
Express myself better. At first I felt funny asking my husband to take pictures of my outfits (see Instagram husband on YouTube for accurate review of our relationship) or write like I was talking to a friend on the blog, but now I feel more inspired and I’m just like “WHO CARES?! Come take this picture of me while I pose looking off into the distance.” This has been an extremely inspiring year for me. I have felt more like a woman in charge than I ever have! I feel my insecurities melting away. Thank you older age and wise mind! I feel like Birmingham has grown so much since I’ve been out of college, I love that there are always new places to see and new restaurants to try, it is the perfect city to expand your mind and get creative.
Q: What has the reaction to your blog been like?
When starting anything there will always be trial and error. Depending on the post and content it holds there will always be fluctuation in how many people click on the post and how many views it gets. I find that my outfit posts and recipes get more attention than any other post. People like to see pictures and something they can scroll through fast while waiting in line somewhere or browsing before they go to bed.
Q: Are there certain areas of interest that you feel most passionate about focusing your blog on?
ARE THERE?! I want my blog to be about supporting women and encouraging them to follow their dreams. I want my blog to empower women and have those women empower women. I love it when girls are nice to each other for no reason, putting aside all the insecurities and jealousy, and just be raw with one another. That is what I am most passionate about and hope my blog displays that with every post.
Q: Why do you think blogging has become so popular for cities like Birmingham?
I have been blogging for almost three years and I am still a baby at it. I think the way readers and followers like to get their information is by seeing others display it or try it out and blogging does that. I also think people like to follow bloggers who are interesting and give them entertainment.
Q: How do you think the skill of blogging can help young college journalists?
It is a great way to explore yourself and writing styles that you may want to adopt or try on. It also challenges you and keeps you accountable, especially if you have followers who expect you to post!
Q: How have you seen the blogging community grow in Birmingham?
The Birmingham blogging scene is still growing and it’s fantastic. Ther
e are communities such as Birmingham Bloggers and Home Grown Bloggers that have gatherings and conferences that allow bloggers from all over the south come and learn techniques and ways to grow your blog. It is a great way to learn and meet people that can support you!
What is the biggest thing you will take away from your time here at Samford?
I learned so many things during my time at Samford about my major, life, and myself. The experiences I had here made me into a better person and prepared me for my future career. The biggest thing I would take away from my time here are the relationships I’ve made. Whether it is with a fellow classmate or a professor who becomes a great mentor, these are relationships I wouldn’t change for the world.
What is the best piece of advice you would you give to undergraduates?
If I had to give advice to undergraduates, I would say that it’s ok to do things on your own. It’s always fun to do things with your friends, but it’s also important to do an activity on your own. It allows you to focus on yourself and after college everyone starts to go do their own things and won’t be just down the hall from you.
What are your plans after for graduation?
My immediate plans after graduation is to move back home for the time being while job searching. I hope to soon be working as a graphic designer in a big city like New York or Boston.
What is the biggest thing you will take away from your time here at Samford?
The biggest thing that I will take away from my time at Samford is the growth and maturation that occurred in many areas of my life. I matured spiritually so much through so many mentors and friends’ counsel and encouragement and through so many opportunities to study the Bible and worship with other believers. I matured academically as I learned how to really study and research and through the professors who I was able to glean so much knowledge from. I matured practically through being independent, making decisions, and facing tough circumstances.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to undergraduates?
The best piece of advice that I would give to undergraduates would be to make the most of the you have time at Samford as well as in the city of Birmingham by intentionally fostering and deepening relationships – relationships with people who are wiser and can mentor and guide you, relationships with peers who can build you up and hold you accountable, and relationships with those who you can pour into, mentor, and disciple.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation I am getting married and moving to Wilmore, Kentucky to pursue a Master of Divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary.
The Samford University women’s soccer team has clinched its second straight Southern Conference regular-season championship.
Despite falling 1-0 at Western Carolina on Sunday, the Bulldogs finished the 2015 regular season with a 13-5 overall record and an impressive 8-1 SoCon mark. The goal that WCU scored was the ONLY one allowed by Samford in the SoCon regular season.
The combination of offensive production from key players and consistent goalkeeping has propelled the Bulldogs to another successful year.
On Friday, Oct. 23, the Bulldogs won 1-0 at ETSU 1-0. Junior forward Malcanisha Kelley scored with only 3:30 remaining in the game. With her goal, Kelley tied the school’s single-season record in the goals category (11) and Samford’s all-time goals record (26). Junior forward Taylor Borman tallied her 10th assist of the season, which is tied for best on the team in the assist category.
“As a team we have goals, we want to make it farther than last year,” stated Malcanisha Kelley. “We celebrate our victory of winning SoCon regular season a little but continue to stay focused on what’s ahead that’s winning a SoCon Championship and giving us a change to compete in the NCAA Tournament.”
As a team, Samford Soccer is ranked No. 10 in the nation in assists (40), No. 11 in points (120) and No.18 in goals (40).
Senior defender Hallie Georgi is second on the team with 6 goals, followed by junior forward Sara Smeltzer (5) and Borman (4). The Bulldogs will look to these key players to carry them to victory in the conference tournament.
The Bulldogs terrific season has not only been displayed by its offensive playmakers, but also by stellar goalkeeping. Sophomore goalies Anna Maddox and Katie Peters have been rotating starts and have combined to record nine shutouts, while only allowing 14 goals in 18 matches. Samford has outscored its opponents by a total of 40-14 this season.
SoCon-champion Samford will next be in action Saturday at 7 p.m. as it will host either the No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the quarterfinal round of the SoCon Tournament.
For score updates and breaking news, follow @SamfordSoccer and @Samford_Sports on Twitter.
Cool, crisp air. Color-changing leaves. Pumpkin everything.
All signs point to the delayed arrival of fall in central Alabama, and for the Samford men’s and women’s cross country teams that means one thing: championship season is here.
After logging hundreds of miles, enduring tedious workouts and persevering through the wear-and-tear of a long season, the time has finally come to reap the benefits of a training cycle that began nearly five months ago.
Scheduled for the morning of Oct. 31 on the Furman University Golf Course in Greenville, S.C., the 2015 Southern Conference Cross Country Championships represent the season’s pinnacle.
“It’s always our No. 1 focus,” first-year head coach Kevin Ondrasek said. “We’ll have a couple individuals who will progress past that, and we’ll train for that, but as a unit we’re trying to put it together at conference first.”
Both teams will face a talented field when they toe the starting line for the season-defining race, as the hometown Paladins enter the meet as two-time defending champions for both the men and women.
In fact, the Furman men enter the meet with a national ranking, earning recognition in the latest poll as the No. 10 team in the country.
But that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs will be running with decreased expectations, especially on the men’s side. After tying their highest finish position in program history by placing fourth at the 2014 conference meet, the Samford men are focused on reaching new heights.
“I think if we’re not on the podium we’ve failed, or I failed, either way,” Ondrasek said. “How far up on to the podium is up to them. I don’t think Furman is necessarily in reach, just being realistic, but I’ve seen some crazy things happen. Cross country’s a crazy sport, you never know.”
Individually, the men will be led by star sophomore Arsène Guillorel, the 2015 SoCon outdoor track and field 5,000-meter champion who recently notched a 19-second cross country personal best, cruising to a fourth-place finish at Friday’s hypercompetitive Crimson Classic.
Severely affected by graduation and hampered by a mix of injury and illness, the Samford women will enter the conference meet with a slightly different approach. Though they’ll arrive in Greenville with an expectation of reaching the podium as a team, Ondrasek is placing an elevated importance on each runner’s individual performance.
“They’re working on just finding some consistency, and just kind of celebrating improving as individuals,” Ondrasek said. “If we come out feeling good about what we’ve done as individuals, I’ll be happy with the team performance.”
The sophomore duo of Karisa Nelson and Emma Garner will set the pace for the Bulldog women, as each will look to improve upon their performances from a year ago. Both Nelson and Garner earned spots on the 2014 All-SoCon Freshman Team after placing 12th and 24th, respectively.
As the Samford men and women continue to make their final preparations for the championship meet, ensuring full health across the board, Ondrasek said he’s been pleased by each group’s collective improvement over the course of the season, fulfilling the vision established on day one.
“I mean we’ve had little hiccups here and there, but they’ve progressed along beautifully,” Ondrasek said. “They’re right where I hoped they would be.”
In 2011, the immigration law HB-56 was passed, and it caused a lot of problems for the Latino population of Alabama. As some Latinos fled the state, others came together to combat the prejudice against them. It was these groups’ lawsuits pressed that led to the dismantling of the harsher parts of the law.
One group in Birmingham, Immigrant Alabama Movement (IAM) Birmingham, has taken a stance to help immigrants. Cesar Mata and Cindy Garcia are some of the community organizers for the group, which is made up entirely of volunteers.
Garcia said the group was “created to help the people of the community with information about the laws and the things that are happening in Alabama.”
The group was founded in July 2011. There were many volunteers in the area wanting to help with the same thing and many people trying to find out more information about HB-56. The volunteers all got together to work for the same goal and IAM was created.
The majority of the people the group assists are from Mexico, like Garcia and Mata, and other parts of Central America.
“We try to educate them so that they can defend their own rights,” Mata said. “Before HB-56 Alabama was ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ but after this it changed a lot.”