To honor veterans, Mall is the stage for a flag-waving night of patriotism, music

This story was my first A1 byline in The Washington Post. I also live-Tweeted the event.

 

Here’s the story:

By: Paul Schwartzman and Miles Parks

Beneath a vast night sky and billowing red clouds, award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson delivered a moment of harmonic splendor Tuesday night as she rang up the start of the national anthem, her soaring voice inspiring the first of many thunderous roars of applause along the Mall.

With the U.S. Capitol as its glowing, iconic backdrop, the Concert for Valorbegan as a somber and stirring tribute to generations of American veterans who sacrificed their lives and well-being through the years.

But the three-hour concert also was a rollicking showcase for a full panoply of American sound — from Rihanna’s passionate R&B to Metallica’s raging heavy metal; from Eminem’s sneering rap to Bruce Springsteen’s soothing acoustic strains. There was alt-rock from the Black Keys and country from Carrie Underwood.

“How you feel out there? The whole world is watching!” actor Jamie Foxx said as the show started at 7 p.m., leading the crowd in chants of “USA! USA!”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Washington Post.

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Courses turn to footgolf to raise revenue

My A1 feature about footgolf, a new sport designed to bring younger players and more revenue to golf courses, was picked up by the A.P. Here’s the story (with great photo from Ernst Peters):

ZACK SHRIVER KICKS A BALL off the tee box while playing footgolf at the largo golf course on Wednesday. the sport, which is akin to golf but played with soccer balls, has brought in a new demographic and more revenue. (Ernst Peters)

ZACK SHRIVER KICKS A BALL off the tee box while playing footgolf at the largo golf course on Wednesday. the sport, which is akin to golf but played with soccer balls, has brought in a new demographic and more revenue. (Ernst Peters/The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | Zack Shriver looked out of place.

In a land of bland polos and tan khakis, the 21-year-old sported a red, white and blue jersey and a tattoo sleeve.

He jogged up to his tee in shorts. The noon sun glinted off the grass at Largo Golf Course, but it looked dim compared with Shriver’s neon cleats.

A Budweiser perspired in his right hand as he readied for his first shot. Shriver stepped back, placed the beer on the ground, and then:

BOOM!

A beauty.

He kicked his ball straight down the fairway.

Shriver and his two buddies, Hunter Maricle and Danny George, are soccer players. Shriver plays for Louisberg College in North Carolina, George plays at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Maricle played the last three seasons at Virginia Tech.

The three headed out to the Largo course at about noon Wednesday, at a time when the course would have been empty, said Jason Wilson, the course’s golf supervisor. The three brought their own soccer balls.

In October, Largo began offering a new sport, footgolf, at its city golf course. Footgolf has brought in a new demographic as well as a new revenue stream.

The sport is coming to Polk County and Winter Haven’s Willowbrook Golf Course in August.

“Right now we are the only course in Tampa Bay offering this, but soon we won’t be,” Wilson said. “And that’s almost a good thing, to help the sport grow.”

When asked if he was sure other courses were going to begin offering the sport soon, he said he didn’t have any proof but had a hunch.

“It would be foolish not to,” he said.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.

Winter Haven Legal Fees Skyrocket

The old fertilizer plant site had been scheduled to be part of The Landings redevelopment in Winter Haven before plans fell apart. (Pierre DuCharme/ The Ledger)

The old fertilizer plant site had been scheduled to be part of The Landings redevelopment in Winter Haven before plans fell apart. (Pierre DuCharme/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | The city’s legal bills for the failed Landings development have exceeded original expectations and now eclipse $600,000, according to records obtained by The Ledger.

As of the week of May 15, the city’s total bill for legal fees related to a lawsuit over The Landings was $609,478, city records show.

A small fraction of that amount is being reimbursed by the city’s insurance policy. A larger percentage of future bills will be covered, said Donna Sheehan, a city spokeswoman.

Just over a year ago, when the city was pondering whether to settle the lawsuit, estimates of potential legal fees were $300,000 to $350,000.

The Landings was a mixed-use development proposed for the city-owned Chain of Lakes Complex. After the first phase of the planned project, which included adding three restaurants on Cypress Gardens Boulevard, things fell apart.

The City Commission cancelled its contract with financier Taylor Pursell, citing his failure to close on one-third of an acre and submit a list of covenants, conditions and restrictions by a May 5, 2012, deadline.

In his lawsuit against the city, Pursell alleged the city’s attorney, John Murphy, verbally agreed to extend that deadline when Pursell signed an agreement that allowed a college baseball tournament to be played at the Chain of Lakes Complex before Pursell began the next phase of the development.

Murphy has said he made no such verbal agreement.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 in The Ledger.

Jessie’s Lounge Could Redefine Polk Music Scene

Jessie Skubna, left, and Robbie Loftus, co-owners of Jessie's Lounge, are hoping to gain approval to develop a lot next to their business for a live-music venue. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

Jessie Skubna, left, and Robbie Loftus, co-owners of Jessie’s Lounge, are hoping to gain approval to develop a lot next to their business for a live-music venue. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | It’s enough to make Polk music-lovers salivate.

You can almost see it now. A breezy autumn night, the kind that defines Florida in late October.

Craft beer is flowing from taps inside the lounge, bass strings buzz and hum, and some 500 boys and girls trade dance moves and giggles in the grass.

The vignette might seem more California than Winter Haven, but the recent proposal of a large outdoor concert venue could redefine the Polk County live music scene.

THE PROPOSAL

It’s still months away from becoming a reality but the process has begun. Jessie Skubna, owner of Jessie’s Lounge at 118 Third St. SW, requested approval from the city to expand the 3,900-square-foot bar to include outdoor seating in the back of the building and to include a stage for live music on the vacant lot next to the bar to the south.

Skubna and her longtime boyfriend and co-owner, Robbie Loftus, said the proposed outside venue would be able to hold up to 500 people. The fire department does not set occupancy maximums on outside venues.

Skubna and Loftus do not own the vacant lot, and would lease the property for now.

The expanded patio in the back of the bar would hold 40 seats.

The city responded March 26 with a document that was to go before the Planning Commission for approval April 1. The document said that city staff is in favor of allowing the expansion but only if the bar and its owners follow certain conditions.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.

World Record Holder Scoops His Way to 2nd Ice Cream Eating Title

Champion eater Joey Chesnut , right shovels in some ice cream during the second annual ice cream eating contest at the Sun 'n Fun site in Lakeland, Fl. (Ernst Peters/The Ledger)

Champion eater Joey Chesnut , right shovels in some ice cream during the second annual ice cream eating contest at the Sun ‘n Fun site in Lakeland, Fl. (Ernst Peters/The Ledger)

LAKELAND | The brain freeze set in early, but Joey Chestnut persevered.

Scoop, swallow, sip, repeat.

Chestnut ate more than 1.8 gallons of ice cream in six minutes Saturday.

Chestnut broke his own world record at the second annual Florida Ice Cream Festival at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Hundreds watched in amazement at the man who in the past year has eaten 121 Twinkies in six minutes, 141 hard-boiled eggs in eight minutes and, most famously, 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

“The second container was when (the brain freeze) started,” Chestnut said. “You forget about it; there’s other pains. That’s what we do —we ignore feelings.”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.

Full Of The Devil: Eva Hobbs’ Battle With Her Son’s Mental Illness Ended in Her Bloody Bedroom; His Continues in a Jail Cell

Kris Hobbs, 36, son of Eva Hobbs, and Diane Wicker, 60, her lifelong friend, look through family photographs of Eva during a recent meeting at the Ledger Media Group office in Winter Haven. Hobbs' twin brother, Micah Hobbs, has been charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of their mother on March 9. (Michael Wilson/ The Ledger)

Kris Hobbs, 36, son of Eva Hobbs, and Diane Wicker, 60, her lifelong friend, look through family photographs of Eva during a recent meeting at the Ledger Media Group office in Winter Haven. Hobbs’ twin brother, Micah Hobbs, has been charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of their mother on March 9. (Michael Wilson/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | No one could have predicted the bloody bedroom that night, but Eva Hobbs had a bad feeling.

One can only imagine the tension swelling, the fear compiling, until finally, something snapped in a way it never had before.

Hobbs devoted her life, even her final hours, to taking care of her mentally ill son: going out after midnight into a cold night to take him pizza, making sure he had new clothes.

“If there was one thing anyone could say about (Eva), it’s that she loved her children,” said Jessica McLaughlin, Hobbs’ soon to be daughter-in-law. “Day or night, she was at that boy’s beck and call.”

Those efforts, had they been fruitful, might have saved her life.

Records acquired by The Ledger show Hobbs tried in vain to get police and mental health help for her son, Micah Hobbs, on March 8, but he wasn’t deemed a threat to himself or others.

Less than 12 hours later, police say Micah Hobbs stabbed his mother to death.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.

Polk County Works to Enforce ‘Three-Strike’ Panhandling Ban

LAKELAND | Beg for money in some counties, and you may end up with a few bucks.

Beg for money in Polk County, and you might end up in jail.

More than six months after the County Commission passed a “three-strike” ordinance on panhandling in roadways, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has made 15 arrests and responded to more than 200 calls for service based on the new county law, according to data acquired by The Ledger.

The ordinance, passed unanimously July 9, followed bans already in place in Lakeland and Winter Haven.

Winter Haven issued 15 civil citations for panhandling over the same time period. Lakeland’s last panhandling arrest was in June 2012, according to Terri Smith, a Lakeland police crime analyst.

William Herrington, 52, could be seen with a cardboard sign at Harden Boulevard and the Polk Parkway in South Lakeland on Tuesday. Homeless since 1999, Herrington said this was the first time he was out asking for money this month, but sometimes he comes out as often as five times per week.

He said the entire homeless community in Polk knows about the law change, and those who say they don’t are lying.

Although he stood within the Lakeland city limits Tuesday, the county line sits just south, at Alamo Drive, and he has asked for money at intersections in the county as well.

“It depends on the area; if it’s a hot spot, there is going to be a problem. If you’ve got a hot bed of tramps, you’re gonna get cops,” Herrington said. “It needs to happen, we know that. If you let everyone have their way, they’d be on every street corner.”

The full version of this article can be found here as it was originally published on page A1 of The Ledger.