Jennifer Koszewnik, Pasco County teacher and mother of two, was honored by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a recent game as the AdventHealth Goal Getter of the Game. Koszewnik, during the pandemic, was diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing treatment. She and her husband enjoyed the full Bucs experience, and Jennifer was recognized during the game, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tourism is ramping up in Pasco County and considerable roadwork is underway, too, to make it easier for motorists to get around.
Those were the main messages delivered by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore at a meeting of the East Pasco Networking Group.
Moore, chairman of the Pasco County Tourist Development Council, described how well the 98,000-square-foot Wiregrass Sports Campus of Pasco County has been performing, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sports complex, at 3211 Lajuana Blvd., in Wesley Chapel, has been attracting youth and amateur sporting events year-round since its August 2020 opening.
The indoor space can accommodate up to 17 different sports — including basketball, volleyball and cheerleading, or pickleball, futsal, wrestling, mixed martial arts, karate and others.
This widespread flexibility has seemingly been put to good use, with weekdays set aside for residents and weekends generally reserved for large-scale tournaments that can become family affairs, as parents and siblings road trip together.
Moore observed the complex is “constantly full.”
“Every single weekend there is a tournament there where people are coming from somewhere else,” he said. “There’s weekends where we get over 2,000 room nights for those tournaments. So, what happens? Hoteliers are obviously happy, supplying those jobs for our hotels. Those small businesses, restaurants, retail, gas pumps – everybody’s benefiting when you bring those people here.”
Moore also pointed to AdventHealth Center Ice, which has continued to be a major draw since opening in January 2017, at 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
At 150,000 square feet, it’s the largest ice sports facility in the southeastern United States, with four full-size rinks and one kid-size rink.
It’s regarded for being the training grounds of the 2018 U.S. women’s national hockey team that went on to win an Olympic gold medal in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“The ice rink is incredible,” Moore said. “They have tournaments on the weekends, international tournaments, and people coming from Canada, South America, people coming from over in Europe to literally play hockey right here at Center Ice.”
Moore posited that such youth, amateur and community-focused facilities can yield very similar — if not greater — economic impact as a major professional sports franchise, such as the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which plays eight regular season home games, plus a few preseason and postseason contests.
“Those (facilities) have just as large of an impact as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing on Sunday, when you think about how many people are (cumulatively) traveling for those events, and especially when they’re every single weekend.
“Personally I think it’s so much better to have these types of facilities than a pro sports team, because it’s a year-round benefit for the businesses in Pasco County, not just eight times a year or 10 times a year.
“These people, they’re traveling with their families, too. These kids aren’t typically driving on their own, their whole family’s coming (to Pasco).”
Moore addressed other recreational and tourism developments, as well, such as the ongoing construction of a visitor’s center/bike hub in the heart of downtown Dade City, across from the Roy T. Hardy trailhead, at the corner of Church Avenue and Eighth Street.
The $250,000 project — expected to be complete in June — was funded by the county’s tourist development tax dollars.
The amenity is set to further motivate beginner and avid cyclists alike to stop in Dade City.
It also may serve as a driver for more organized road cycling races to the surrounding East Pasco area, too.
“We know how big biking is in this area,” Moore said. “You’ve got people coming from all over the country to Dade City, to ride those hills.”
Further on the tourism and recreation front, Moore mentioned an 18,000-square-foot indoor recreation center at Wesley Chapel District Park will be complete in July. The public-use facility will offer programming for basketball, volleyball and other activities for all ages. There’s meeting room space for clubs and other organizations, also. “That’s going to be beautiful,” Moore said of the forthcoming center.
Regarding road construction, Moore pointed out that many of the roads that traverse the county are state roads — and a considerable amount of work is being done to improve those roads.
Among them are construction projects on State Road 52, State Road 54, and an interchange improvement at State Road 56 and Interstate 75.
There’s also a new diamond interchange that will include a flyover ramp for westbound Overpass Road access onto southbound I-75.
To accommodate the new interchange, Overpass Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes between the interstate and Old Pasco Road, and six lanes between the interstate and Boyette Road. Blair Drive will be realigned to connect with Old Pasco Road. McKendree Road will be realigned to connect with Boyette Road.
The $64 million design-built project aims to provide more relief to other exits off I-75, Moore said.
“When you think about people living in Dade City and San Antonio, and coming and living in that area, they’ll be able to get off that new overpass interchange and go right through Epperson Ranch and Connected City, and get right into Dade City, if they don’t want to take the next Dade City exit.”
Moore added the project’s contractor, The Middlesex Corporation, “is moving really fast,” with an estimated completion of summer 2023.
Meanwhile, the commissioner mentioned the county has another $6 million in state funds to support connection and widening projects along the U.S. 98/U.S. 301 corridor.
These “important” roadway upgrades should help alleviate freight truck traffic and allow for the movement of goods without jumping major highways, he explained.
Combined with the proximity to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, CSX Transportation Railroad, and an emerging light industrial manufacturing hub, the roadway plan “really helps when you think about the economy in this area,” he said.
Published May 19, 2021
Brian Ford, the chief operating officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made a visit to the Pasco County Commission meeting on May 4, to thank the board for honoring the organization for being Super Bowl champions.
Commissioner Mike Moore read a resolution, which the board had approved at its April 20, meeting.
In part, the resolutions says: “During the 2020 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set franchise records for number of wins on the road, number of consecutive wins, points scored and touchdowns, and whereas the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were led by Coach Bruce Arians and record-setting performances” by quarterback Tom Brady and several other players.
The resolution also notes that “on Feb. 7, 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to play in and win the Super Bowl, in their home stadium at Raymond James Stadium.”
The team defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, to become champions of Super Bowl 55.
In his response, Ford said, “The support that we have received during a very unprecedented season is just remarkable.
“I’ve told people across the country that we have the best fan base in all of sports.”
He noted that during the pandemic, the team was united, along with Coach Bruce Arians, and the Glazer family’s No. 1 priority was “the safety of our team, the players, the coaches and the public.”
“But at the end of the day, to be able to win a championship, like we did, in our hometown — the only thing that we missed was having the opportunity to have all of our fans there.”
Ford expressed the organization’s appreciation for the board’s recognition through the resolution, and also for its efforts to keep things open during the pandemic.
He concluded by saying: “We’ve all learned something from the past year and I think we can build on that,” and he reiterated that the “fan support” in the Tampa Bay community is second to none.
Published May 12, 2021
Since 2003, IERNA’s Heating, Cooling & Plumbing has generated hundreds of positive reviews and thousands of satisfied customers. In a highly competitive industry, the Lutz-based company has established itself at the forefront of HVAC and plumbing in the Tampa Bay area.
For a company of fewer than 100 employees, what is the secret to IERNA’s success?
“Employee engagement,” says Charlene Ierna, owner and president of the 18-year-old company.
“We are known for our workmanship, customer service and brand,” says Ierna. “What many do not realize is the hard work and efforts behind the scenes to keep our employees’ morale and energy levels high.”
When Ierna founded her company, her sights were set on establishing a company that really takes care of not only its customers, but also its employees.
“We foster an environment where employees have room to grow and thrive in a culture where they want to be. If your employees aren’t happy, how can your customers be happy?” asks Ierna.
Ierna’s management team believes wholeheartedly that their customers are only as satisfied as their employees. That’s why they have frequent company events where employees can take a break, relax, enjoy great food and bond.
Through the years, IERNA’s has sponsored employee Christmas parties, other holiday-themed parties, cruises and random company outings, “just because.”
Most recently, the company hosted a Chili Cook Off for employees. The event was judged by three local celebrities and friends of the company: Anthony Becht, former tight end for the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Veronica Alfaro, former WQYK radio personality and voice actress; and Chad Wetzel, president of Carrier Enterprise Florida. Each tasted 12 varieties of chili to determine the winner of a $500 cash prize and lots of swag.
Another fun event was a photo contest where technicians showcased their artistic talents by taking pictures of interesting air conditioners and ornate plumbing fixtures. The top five photos were canvas-printed and proudly hung in the main office for all to see.
“Employee engagement isn’t all fun, games and prizes,” said Ierna. “It’s also deeper and more personal, and includes showing appreciation, recognition and making sure employees feel involved in what’s going on in our organization.”
Research shows that employees are more motivated when they feel recognized and believe that the work they do is meaningful. “Our management team takes this to heart tenfold and makes it our duty to let employees know their worth,” said Ierna.
Encouragement and congratulatory messages are shared across IERNA’s emails, Facebook pages and internal newsletters. Employee are acknowledged when they earn a certification, on their birthday, to welcome a new baby and other personal achievements.
Every time an individual technician is called out in a positive review, the customer service team adds it to the monthly “kudos” board. And, each month the technician with the most kudos gets a prize, their picture in the company newsletter and is praised all over social media.
Employees also value their company’s community support. This includes curbside blood drives, donating clothes to veterans, sponsoring little leagues and installing equipment for local community heroes.
“Employees want to be a part of a corporate culture that gives back and strives to make a difference in their community,” said Ierna.
All of this employee-focused engagement translates to satisfied customers.
“Who makes a customer feel more valued than an employee feeling the same way? Who gives a customer more legendary service than an employee whose company is constantly making sure their needs are met?” Ierna proudly asks.
Customer satisfaction is the goal for many companies. But at IERNA’s Heating, Cooling and Plumbing, its goal is employee engagement, because happy employees result in happy customers.
Published March 24, 2021
When conjuring up an image of a sports talent agent, the mind might wander to a sharp-tongued individual donning an expensive suit, wheeling deals and barking orders from an expensive downtown high-rise in Los Angeles, Miami or New York.
Think movies and television shows like “Jerry McGuire,” “Ballers,” and “Arliss.”
But, David Walkowiak and Andre Kirwan aim to defy that stereotype. They operate a boutique sports agency firm out of Walkowiak’s law office, off State Road 54 in Lutz.
Walkowiak and Kirwan partnered around 2014 to form DNA Sports Management, a full-service sports agency that primarily works with professional football and hockey players.
Kirwan jokes the firm’s name sometimes gives the impression the duo is in an entirely different line of work — with people frequently asking if it’s a medical tech company.
The DNA moniker takes on multiple meanings.
For one, it ties in the first initial of Dave and Andre.
And, like the biological DNA, the firm asserts the tagline: “With You for Life.”
It also signals the team is available to help their clients even after their athletic career — providing guidance into the public and private sectors.
They’ve helped clients break into coaching and scouting, have written law school recommendations, and have helped another launch a rap career and establish contacts in the music and entertainment industry.
They regularly assist with housing issues, financial literacy, athletic training programs and are just there, sometimes, to lend an ear.
“We stay with these guys, whether they’re making millions of dollars or nothing, because we take this seriously,” Walkowiak says.
Kirwan asserts the firm’s priority is “do the right thing by players and not compromise integrity.”
In essence, Kirwan and Walkowiak are on call 24/7, Kirwan says.
“It’s just a matter of when life happens, so when they need us, they need us,” he says of DNA’s athletic clientele. “We’re taking calls on weekends, on evenings. If they had a bad practice, they’ll call us for a pep talk, so really, we’re family. We tell the parents, ‘We’re an extension of you…’”
DNA Sports started from humble beginnings.
The very first negotiated deal was on behalf of a player for the Triangle Torches, a little-known and now defunct professional indoor football team based out of Raleigh, North Carolina.
It was far from a headline-grabbing, multimillion dollar deal.
League players made around $150 per week and were given a couple food vouchers.
Now, the pair is working with several athletes who’ve gone on to have stints or extended action in both the NFL and CFL.
A new addition to the DNA roster is former USF record-breaking quarterback Quinton Flowers, who plays in the Fan Controlled Football league. Flowers also enjoyed stints with the Cincinnati Bengals (2018), Indianapolis Colts (2019) and XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers (2020).
Another familiar face is former USF outside linebacker Nigel Harris. The former Hillsborough High standout is now on the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders negotiation list and has previous experience with the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans.
Walkowiak estimates DNA Sports has represented “close to 100 players” since its inception. He acknowledges many initial signings were reaches to have a legitimate shot in the pro football ranks, coming from the Division II and NAIA collegiate football ranks.
With time and experience, the firm now can be more selective with its client list.
“I think we learned a lot in the early years,” Walkowiak says. “We realized it’s not quantity. It’s not that you just sign everybody and hope one sticks, you know, it’s that we want to be a boutique agency, and one that really caters to all the needs.”
The firm has gone global to procure talent, too.
DNA Sports in November tabbed three Russian hockey player prospects to contracts — defenseman Artur Karmashkov, goaltender Ivan Veremchuk, and center Yuri Zholobov, respectively.
Karmashkov and Veremchuk have played in the KHL, the Soviet Union’s equivalent of the NHL, while Zholobov has had action in the Czech Republic’s premier professional leagues.
The signings were made possible with the help of former Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alexander Selivanov, the agency’s Director of European Scouting/European Agent.
Further beefing up its ice hockey portfolio, DNA Sports recently hired Adam Bennett, the No. 6 overall pick in the 1989 NHL Draft, to an advisory role.
Bennett, who bounced around professional leagues for six years, including playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers, will be consulting primarily Florida-based hockey talent, helping them latch on with junior teams, colleges and so on.
The numbers guy
Walkowiak and Kirwan each bring their own set of unique backgrounds and experiences to the sports management firm.
Walkowiak is a self-professed “geek that loves numbers,” and describes himself as “the guy behind the scenes.” He previously worked closely with the Lightning’s former ownership group led by Henry Paul and Phil Esposito, assisting on tasks like arbitration, trades and player contract evaluations.
His career feats include facilitating the trade of then forward Jason Bonsignore and handling the arbitration case of then goaltender Daren Puppa.
On negotiating player contracts, Walkowiak calls the process “very similar to doing a comparative market analysis in real estate.”
With a passion for sports growing up and hockey in particular, Walkowiak “always wanted to be an agent.”
A practicing attorney since 1997 who specializes in real estate law, circuit civil and family law, Walkowiak figured he’d revisit this dream knowing pro athletes have landed larger and larger deals in recent years.
The tipping point came when Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog in 2013 signed a seven-year contract extension worth $39 million.
The report piqued Walkowiak’s interest.
Someone he never heard of was now “making Wayne Gretzky money,” he said, referring to arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, who retired in 1999.
“For a period of about 15 years, to go from the greatest player that ever played the game, to almost the same amount of money for a guy that I had never heard of,” Walkowiak says. “I wanted to revisit that.”
Kirwan, meanwhile, takes on more of the role of relationship-builder and athlete mentor. He often reminds clients and others to “stay humble, stay hungry and prayed up.”
Kirwan was a decorated athlete in his own right. He played nearly nine seasons with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, where he won a Grey Cup Championship as a starting wide receiver in 1997. He even had an NFL training camp stint with the San Francisco 49ers after graduating from Stanford University.
Kirwan understands the importance of an agent being forthcoming, and transparent, with athletes.
He once had to fire an agent from a high-profile firm for lying to him about sending his highlight film to NFL teams who’d expressed interest at the height of his CFL career. It could’ve been what Kirwan needed to break into the NFL at the time.
Kirwan often ponders if he would have been better served by a smaller, more personable firm like DNA Sports.
“I’ve sat on both sides of the table now.
“The No. 1 question I’d always ask an agent when I was interviewing them was, ‘Who else do you represent?’ and a lot of times you go for the shiniest objects, the biggest names and that’s what I ended up doing,” Kirwan explains.
“In essence, I should’ve gone to a boutique firm like us that really fought for my cause. Having had to fire an agent for lying to me, it’s even that more personal to me to do what we say we’re going to do,” he said, noting athletes are placing their futures in the firm’s hands.
So, what does the future holds for DNA Sports?
Perhaps the firm will venture into additional professional sports, such as basketball, soccer or track and field.
“We’re not opposed to branching out,” Kirwan says, but, “we don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades and a master of none.”
Whatever path they take, Kirwan and Walkowiak are bullish on the agency’s future prospects.
“It’s just a matter of time before we start having those first-rounders, those second-rounders,” Kirwan says, referring to top-flight NFL Draft prospects.
Says Walkowiak: “We’re excited. We have a lot going on. We’ve picked up quite a bit of traction lately.”
For information on DNA Sports Management, visit DNASportsManagement.com, email , or call 813-962-3176.
Published February 24, 2021
Super Bowl LV has put an international focus on Tampa during the past week — with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers claiming victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, at Raymond James Stadium.
The impact of the Super Bowl, however, goes far beyond football.
Beyond giving Tampa a chance to show itself off to the world, the event is a magnet for megastars and offers the experience of a lifetime for many spectators.
It’s also a chance to gain a huge audience for special causes.
That’s where Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay comes in.
The organization — which covers an eight-county area, including Pasco and Hillsborough counties — has been using Super Bowl LV as its platform to recruit 55 men to become Big Brothers to boys, ages 5 to 13.
Heather Castle, director of activities and training for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, said finding more mentors is especially important during this difficult COVID-19 time.
The push for 55 men is in recognition of the 55th Super Bowl, Castle said.
“The reason for the big push on men is because we have many Little Brothers on the waitlist and not enough male role models,” she explained.
She knows the value, firsthand, of having a mentor take an interest in her.
Tyrone Keys, a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl championship team, became Castle’s mentor when she a 15-year-old attending Gaither High School.
After his football career, Keys founded All Sports Community Service Inc., which aims to help youths pursue college scholarships.
That’s how he met Castle.
Keys worked with her to help her achieve her dream of playing college basketball, which she did at Saint Leo University.
“He took me under his wing. He believed in me. He sat down with me and said, this is what exactly what you need to do,” Castle said.
He also taught her about the value of community involvement, and helping others, whenever possible.
And now, Castle has come full circle in her current role at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.
“Because Mr. Keys equipped me with the tools, I am able to help them.”
Besides helping youths pursue their potential, the organization provides opportunities for new experiences and fun.
Now, Castle is able to take youths to their first Bucs football game, just like Keys did for her.
She said Keys gave her two tickets to a Bucs game when she was 17, and told her to invite a friend. She took her mom, Kathy Castle, because her mom was her best friend.
She still relishes the memory of that day, especially since her mom passed away five years ago.
While the Big Brothers Big Brothers of Tampa Bay’s current campaign focuses on drafting 55 men, the organization needs the help of women mentors, too, Castle said.
The need for help is obvious.
Her organization currently has more than 500 kids on its waiting list, Castle said, noting mentors can make a profound — and life-changing difference.
Anyone interested in learning more about getting involved can visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay’s website at BBBStampabay.org.
Published February 10, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans were delirious with joy, after the Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Besides emerging victorious, the Bucs made history by becoming the first team in NFL history to play — and win — a Super Bowl game in its home stadium.
Both the season and the Super Bowl were altered considerably by the COVID-19 pandemic — which created a scene where 30,000 cardboard cutouts outnumbered the 20,000-plus fans at Raymond James Stadium.
The smaller crowd size didn’t diminish the experience in any way for Heather Stegmeier, of Wesley Chapel, one of the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers who received a free ticket to the game.
In a pregame interview on CBS with interviewer James Brown, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell explained why the professional football league provided the free tickets to health care workers.
“They’re our heroes,” Goodell said. “Today, the heroes are going to be sitting in the stands. Those heroes have been working day and night for all of us, and taking risks and showing us courage, and obviously being the incredible professionals they are, to keep us all safe.”
Goodell added: “We wanted to give them an opportunity to get away from all that for a day and just celebrate,” he added.
Stegmeier’s happy Super Bowl experiences began on Jan. 29 — when she received a surprise videotaped message from Rob Gronkowski, known as Gronk to football fans, personally inviting her to the game.
She was at work at AdventHealth Wesley Chapel, when the invite came.
“I was told that I had a conference call at 9 o’clock. That was my 9 o’clock conference call,” she said, laughing, and noting she was shocked.
On game day — Feb. 7 — she went through a flood of emotions, as she put on her jersey and got ready to go, she said.
As health care workers arrived at the stadium, they received a warm welcome, she said.
“The staff that were greeting us were all cheering for us. It was very surreal. It made you feel like you were really, really special.
“It made me so proud to do what I do. That so many people respect and appreciate what we do on a daily basis,” said Stegmeier, the manager of infection control and prevention at AdventHealth Wesley Chapel.
She not only got to go to Super Bowl, but she had a primo seat, too — sitting close to the field, at the 50-yard line.
The cardboard cutout near her, she said, was a “little kid Eagles’ fan.”
Also seated in her section were other health care workers — mostly from regional hospitals.
There were health care workers from all over the country, representing the NFL’s 32 teams, at the game.
The atmosphere was electrifying.
“You could feel the excitement. It never let down. You felt it from the minute you walked in, until the minute you left,” Stegmeier said.
The Super Bowl Bomber Trio flyover was impressive, she said.
“That whole part to me was very emotional. It was very loud. It was very cool, too.
“It was pretty powerful,” she said.
She enjoyed the performance of “America the Beautiful,” by H.E.R.; the rendition of the national anthem by Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan; and, the halftime show, by The Weeknd, too.
And, of course, she was impressed by the Bucs.
“They did so well. They couldn’t have played better,” Stegmeier said.
The whole experience is something she won’t soon forget.
She said she enjoys watching football on TV, but being at the Super Bowl was entirely different.
“It’s not something I ever imagined being able to be a part of, but to be a part of that, is just — it’s mind-blowing,” she said.
And, like Goodell said, it was a great way to decompress.
“It has been a very trying — you know — year,” said Stegmeier, who joined the hospital’s staff a month before it opened its doors.
She’s not sure how she was selected to attend the game, but she is grateful.
“I was so happy just to be part of it. I was so blessed that I could be part of that. And, I’m just so thankful to the Bucs and the NFL and AdventHealth, that I was able to go.
“For me, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s definitely a highlight.
“Everything to me, yesterday, was just perfect,” she said.
Published February 10, 2021
As Tampa gears up to be on the world stage during Super Bowl LV, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has ordered the use of face coverings within specific outdoor locations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
In a tweet, Castor said, “Let’s each do our part in keeping our community and visitors safe. Masks are the right defense. Masks and simple health habits will go a long way in ensuring a fun, safe #Super Bowl LV experience for all.”
Besides being the host city for this year’s Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the first team in NFL history to play the game in its home stadium.
The Bucs take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7. Kickoff at Raymond James Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. A host of activities surround the game, bringing large crowds to many venues.
In her executive order, Castor requires the use of face coverings within specific outdoor locations, within the City of Tampa — namely in areas defined as Event Zones and Entertainment Districts.
The Event Zones are defined as areas of downtown Tampa and surrounding Raymond James Stadium.
The Entertainment Districts include the Ybor City Historic District, the South Howard Commercial Overlay District, the Central Business District, and the Channel District.
The city also has a mask order in effect that requires that a facial covering be worn by anyone working, living, visiting or doing business in an indoor location — other than their residence — when not able to maintain social distancing from other person, excluding family members or companions.
There are some exceptions to the city’s mask ordinance, including children under age 5, people with health conditions and people working in a business that doesn’t require interactions with others, or allows social distancing to be maintained.
Masks are not required while people are eating or drinking.
Also, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced it will establish a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) to prohibit drones around Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, and around the Tampa Riverwalk for the NFL Super Bowl Experience during the days leading up to Super Bowl.
Drones will be prohibited within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the stadium up to 18,000 feet in altitude on game day, according to the FAA. The TFR will be in place from 5:30 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Drones also are prohibited for 1 nautical mile around Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. until the TFR for the game takes effect.
The FAA will restrict drone flights for roughly 2 nautical miles around Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park up to an altitude of 2,000 feet through Feb. 6, during event hours.
Pilots and drone operators who enter the TFRs without permission could face civil penalties that exceed $30,000 and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones in the TFR.
Drone pilots should check the FAA’s B4UFly app to determine when and where they may fly.
Published February 03, 2021
For Will Weatherford, co-chairman of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV Host Committee, this has been familiar territory.
With the NFL’s big game headed to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, it seems like Weatherford has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment.
After all, he’s primarily a football guy.
The effort has required an intricate game plan — with plenty of adjustments. Preparation has been paramount. It has demanded toughness, resilience and loyalty. In the end, a winning formula will be assured by teamwork.
“We have a gritty culture in our area,’’ Weatherford said. “We have faced lots and lots of challenges. But, we are very excited that our area will stage the best possible Super Bowl, a historic Super Bowl, and it’s going to provide a real lift for our entire nation.’’
Weatherford, 41, is part of a luminous Pasco County family, one with six football-playing brothers, all who competed at Land O’Lakes High School before heading off to various levels of college football.
Weatherford, a linebacker, played at Jacksonville University. He entered politics as a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006-2014, serving as House Speaker during his final term. He then founded Weatherford Capital, a private equity firm, with his brothers, Sam and Drew.
“But, my heart for public service didn’t go away,’’ Weatherford said. “I always tried to find ways to serve. What way can you have a bigger impact on the community than showcasing your city during the Super Bowl? I have watched what past Super Bowls have done for our community and now I am thrilled to be part of this process.’’
Weatherford was recruited to the position by Rob Higgins, the Host Committee president/CEO who also is executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Weatherford’s fellow co-chairman is Pro Football Hall of Famer and legendary former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Derrick Brooks.
“I was a linebacker in high school and college, and Derrick was my hero,’’ Weatherford said. “I was in middle school, he was at Florida State and he was my hero, and that continued to the NFL. To co-chair something significant with a childhood hero, I don’t have the words to describe what that means.
“Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer, but he’s a better person. The legacy he’s leaving in this community goes way beyond football. He’s always on point. His actions is where his leadership comes from. He leads a life of excellence in all things.’’
Brooks returned the compliment.
“We are very fortunate to be working with Will on this Super Bowl,’’ Brooks said. “He brings so much to the table. He’s so knowledgeable and he’s great at building relationships. Being part of this with him has really been a great experience.’’
The experience, of course, has been much different than what Weatherford and Brooks could have anticipated.
It’s the Pandemic Super Bowl.
COVID-19 has changed almost everything — from the lead-up activities to the events (some will disappear, some will go virtual) to the game itself (only a small percentage of fans is expected inside the stadium).
But, for television viewers in 180 countries, it’s still the Super Bowl. It’s still Tampa Bay’s vistas and attractions being front and center for an event that has become an unofficial American holiday.
The virus will severely limit the economic impact and hotel occupancy. But, the area will receive a huge boost from the $2 million “Forever 55’’ social legacy initiative ($1 million in corporate donations was matched by the NFL). It focused on local programs to aid the stated pillars of early childhood education, food insecurity, families, health and wellness, sustainability and systemic justice.
“Florida has been hit exceedingly hard by the virus and economic factors, but we’ve always found a way to rise up,’’ Weatherford said. “I don’t think this will be any different. Hopefully, people will visit us and see how much the Tampa Bay area has changed since our last Super Bowl.
“None of this happens without businesses and the community and the public sector getting on board. We’ve had five Super Bowls, absolutely amazing (only Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles have had more). The NFL knows when they come to Tampa Bay that we’re going to give it our all and put on a great show. Of course, there have been challenges. But, I’m confident that when it’s all done, we’re going to look back and be very proud of what our community has done. I’m so happy to be part of it.’’
Super Bowl Experience Presented by Lowe’s
NFL’s interactive football theme park will return to Tampa for Super Bowl LV from Jan. 29 through Jan. 31, and from Feb. 2 through Feb. 6, along the Tampa Riverwalk.
The Super Bowl Experience will offer fans the opportunity to virtually meet-and-greet with current NFL players and Legends, participate in games, and shop merchandise from the NFL Shop presented by Visa.
The Experience also will feature photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a 40-yard dash and vertical jump against NFL players on LED screens, and a Super Bowl rings display showcasing all 54 Super Bowl rings.
Fans can attend the Super Bowl Experience Presented by Lowe’s free, every day.
To attend, fans must register for the NFL OnePass app and book a session time. Fans also should bring their favorite face covering and prepare to maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from others.
To reserve your session time, download the NFL OnePass app at NFL.com/OnePass. If the session date/time that you are looking for is not available, there will be a standby queue available for walk-up fans at Julian B. Lane, but fans will still need OnePass to access.
There is limited capacity to the Super Bowl Experience, so entry is not guaranteed.
For fans without a smartphone, Technology Managers will be at the exterior of Julian B. Lane to assist.
Hours of Operation:
Jan. 29: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Jan. 30: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jan. 31: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Feb. 3: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 4: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 5: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Feb. 6: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Additional information about health guidance and prohibited security items can be found at NFL.com.
‘No Drone Zone’ during Super Bowl LV
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa is a “No Drone Zone” for Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, and drones also are prohibited around the Tampa Riverwalk for the NFL Super Bowl Experience during the days leading up to the event.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced it will establish a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) on game day that will prohibit drones within a 30-nautical-mile radius of the stadium up to 18,000 feet in altitude. The TFR will be in place from 5:30 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., EST.
Drones also are prohibited for 1 nautical mile around Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. until the TFR for the game takes effect.
The FAA will restrict drone flights for roughly 2 nautical miles around Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park up to an altitude of 2,000 feet from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, during event hours.
Pilots and drone operators who enter the TFRs without permission could face civil penalties that exceed $30,000 and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones in the TFR.
Detailed information for general aviation and drone pilots is available on the FAA’s Super Bowl LV web page.
Drone pilots should check the FAA’s B4UFly app to determine when and where they may fly.
By Joey Johnston
Published January 27, 2021
When it comes to melding professional sports and higher education, Saint Leo University has been known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ exclusive educational partner.
The partnership, which began in 2019, has featured traditional in-stadium and in-market advertising, digital and social features. and other unique fan elements. Most visible elements can be seen along massive interstate billboards and signage throughout Raymond James Stadium.
Over the last month, the university scored another professional sports franchise partner, albeit for a brief period.
Saint Leo’s on-campus Marion Bowman Activities Center served as preseason training camp host for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, from Dec. 1 through Dec. 11.
The Raptors journey to Saint Leo and the Bay Area came by way of circumstance.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the franchise was unable to start the 2020-2021 regular season in Toronto due to Canada-U.S. border restrictions.
Needing a temporary home in the U.S., the Raptors’ players voted to begin their 2020-2021 season in Tampa over cities such as Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Nashville and Newark.
Raptors “home” games — at least initially — will be played at Amalie Arena, the homesite of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, at 401 Channelside Drive in Tampa. The scheduled 72-game regular season begins Dec. 22 and is expected to run through May 16. The Raptors announced at least 17 home games will be played at Amalie Arena in the first half of the NBA season.
Besides the home arena, the Raptors, too, needed someplace nearby to hold its two weeklong training camps while construction was underway on a makeshift practice court inside a hotel ballroom at JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, in downtown Tampa.
And, that’s when some deep coaching ties came to assist.
Saint Leo men’s basketball coach Lance Randall has known Raptors head coach Nick Nurse for over 20 years.
It’s a relationship dating back to when the pair was coaching against each other in Europe, more specifically in the British Basketball League. Both also coached England’s Birmingham Bullets at separate times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They’ve remained friendly ever since.
“There’s not a ton of American coaches over there (in Europe),” Randall recently told The Laker/Lutz News, “so you tend to get to be closer with guys that are American when you’re over there and make some sort of connections and bonds.”
It was sometime in mid-November when Randall received a random text message from Nurse, inquiring about the college’s basketball facilities as a possible camp site, as the team made preparations for a move stateside.
Randall subsequently went into recruiting pitch mode, self-assured the Bowman Center would be a slam dunk for the Raptors.
The Bowman Center has 10 basketball hoops, two full-size courts and a 4,444-square-foot weight room.
The facility also has a balcony overlooking the practice gym, which allowed team scouts and management to get a bird’s-eye view of all the action.
Add to that a serene setting devoid of distractions in rural East Pasco County, off State Road 52, some 35 miles north of the team’s downtown Tampa hotel stay.
Raptors representatives were on-campus within a week of the original text conversation, touring the facility with Randall and other university officials. They also took a look at Lake Jovita and some of the surrounding areas.
The NBA franchise clearly liked what it saw from the in-person visit.
“We have a great gym for getting better,” Randall said. “We have a lot of baskets, we have a great floor, and it just kind of made sense. And, the students are off-campus, so from that standpoint, it just kind of fell into place.”
The timing also worked for Randall’s own program.
With the status of the NCAA Division II and Sunshine State Conference season and games in limbo, Randall had no qualms with having his team conducting some routine practices at Academy at the Lakes, in Land O’ Lakes. End-of-semester final exams also took place during the time of Raptors training camp, meaning Randall’s squad was due for a break anyway.
Home away from home
For the duration of Raptors training camp, buses shuttled players, coaches and officials to Saint Leo, generally between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., each day.
As many as four shuttle buses could be seen parked at any one time next to the Bowman Center.
Raptors management strived to normalize the temporary setting, wrapping the university’s fitness center, end mats and other portions of the arena in team logos and its signature red and black color scheme.
Practices were closed to the media and public, but both Randall and Saint Leo athletics director Fran Reidy were able to view some action from afar, at least in the early portion of training camp.
For them, it was a surreal experience witnessing an NBA team on Saint Leo’s hardwood floor, let alone one that won an NBA title in 2019 and has secured a playoff berth seven years running.
“It’s great to watch pros who really do work,” said Reidy. “You know, they didn’t get there by accident, right?
“When I was watching these guys, they’re working at their game, they’re not going through the motions. There’s guys that work out before the team practice or after the team practice on their individual part, and obviously they work on the team concept in the middle, but it is interesting to see how hard these guys work.
“To see guys that were winning an NBA championship a year ago (in 2019) in your gym with arguably one of the best coaches in the league, it was really fun to watch,” Reidy said.
Randall added: “They really just kind of locked in. They’re very professional about how they do things and they’ve been a great group, just a really classy organization. They’ve got a culture of winning and doing things the right way, and really it’s embodied everything they do, even just simple things like meeting and greeting.”
From a coach’s perspective, Randall also was captivated by the team’s “attention to detail, and the ability to facilitate those details on a moment’s notice.”
It was a valuable learning tool for his own basketball staff, he said.
On the flip side, Raptors players and coaches came away quite pleased with the university’s Southern hospitality.
In a recent Zoom media conference during camp, Nurse joyfully mentioned that Randall’s wife had baked chocolate chip cookies for the entire team.
“That’s how special the touches are around here,” said Nurse, the 2020 NBA Coach of the Year. “They’ve been gracious, gracious hosts.”
Nurse praised the Bowman Center’s basketball facilities, too. He noted how its 10 hoops are distinctly spaced out in the arena, which allowed the team’s 20-man roster to get adequate individual work in without encroaching on each other.
“We’ve got 20 players here, you’ve got a lot of bodies,” said Nurse, “so you need a lot of baskets to keep everybody active, and getting required shots in and form shooting work, and all that stuff going.”
He added: “The facilities here are perfect, really perfect, and we’re happy and fortunate we chose here and that they were able to accommodate us.”
Raptors all-star power forward Pascal Siakam likewise came away satisfied with Saint Leo’s digs.
“I think it’s been great,” Siakam said of the training camp experience at Saint Leo. “I would say we’ve been blessed to be able to have a facility like that. Definitely a shout out to Saint Leo for letting us use the gym and be a part of what they have here.
“I think it’s been great just being here and having everything under one roof. I just know, obviously, we appreciate it as a team.”
Those types of responses gratified Saint Leo’s athletics director, confirming the university’s sports facilities and amenities are top-notch and pro-caliber.
“We do have really good facilities. We’ve known that for a long time. Anytime we can get other people to campus, they realize the same thing. But, when a professional team comes to campus, I think it validates what you’ve been saying,” said Reidy.
Besides validation, the partnership in with the Canadian-based NBA franchise has yielded other benefits for the private Catholic university with an undergraduate on-campus enrollment of 2,000-plus.
Saint Leo naturally has gotten quite an exposure boost over the last several weeks — becoming the subject of much local, regional, national and international media attention.
Reidy believes it all could be a windfall for recruiting new student-athletes in the future.
And, not just in hoops, but even in sports like men’s lacrosse, which has seven Canadian-born players on its 2021 roster.
“We have a bunch of Canadians on our (men’s lacrosse) team, so this certainly is not going to hurt our recruiting,” Reidy said. “Because the Raptors have been here, now those kids will know that, ‘Well the Raptors were at Saint Leo, then it must be the real deal,’ so it has been a really good brand for us, really helped us at a time when we haven’t played any sports (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), we were kind of in need of a little spark, and this has been a very good experience.”
This is actually not the first time Saint Leo has played host to an NBA team.
The New Jersey Nets in 1996 held preseason training camp at the college, lodging at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel.
That partnership also happened by way of a coaching connection.
Then Nets rookie head coach John Calipari had served as a graduate assistant in 1982 at the University of Kansas under Ted Owens, Saint Leo’s athletic director at the time.
2020-2021 Toronto Raptors roster
- OG Anunoby, forward
- Aron Baynes, center-forward
- DeAndre’ Bembry, guard-forward
- Chris Boucher, forward-center
- Oshae Brissett, forward-guard
- Terence Davis, guard
- Henry Ellenson, forward-center
- Malachi Flynn, guard
- Jalen Harris, guard
- Alize Johnson, forward
- Stanley Johnson, forward-guard
- Alex Len, center
- Kyle Lowry, guard
- Patrick McCaw, guard
- Malcolm Miller, guard-forward
- Norman Powell, guard
- Pascal Siakam, forward
- Matt Thomas, guard
- Fred VanVleet, guard
- Yuta Watanabe, guard-forward
- Paul Watson, guard
Nick Nurse, head coach
Adrian Griffin, assistant
Sergio Scariolo, assistant
Jim Sann, assistant
Chris Finch, assistant
Scott McCullough, trainer
Published December 16, 2020