Huntsville Championship Golf Tourney to Benefit Cyber Scholarships

The first Huntsville Championship golf tournament on the Korn Ferry Tour was planned for last April before the pandemic brought the sports world to a halt.

But, from the silver lining category, there is a positive as the Huntsville Championship plans to once again hold the inaugural tournament to be played April 29-May 2 at scenic Huntsville Mountain course The Ledges.

The delay permitted the formation of the Fore Cyber Progress Scholarship Program, which according to a press release from marketing agency Knight Eady, the tournament is working “in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama A&M University, Huntsville and Madison City Schools, Madison County Schools and corporate partners in the Department of Defense or government contracting space on this new initiative.

“Through the partnership, the tournament seeks to create a more cost-efficient engagement solution for the DoD/government contracting community of the Rocket City, support strategic cyber development initiatives, encourage high school level students to participate and excel in cyber education curriculum as well as maintain a positive GPA and develop a sustainable financial scholarship fund for Huntsville’s higher education institutions,’’ the release said.

The professional Korn Ferry Tour is to golf what Triple-A is to baseball. The tour, sponsored by a management consulting firm based in Los Angeles, began in 1990 as the Ben Hogan Tour and is considered a launching pad to the PGA.

“We are proud to partner with Knight Eady and the Huntsville Championship to launch the new Huntsville Championship Fore Cyber Progress Fund at the Community Foundation,” said Melissa Thompson, CEO/president of the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. “This fund will provide much-needed cyber security scholarships at Alabama A&M University and at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, while at the same time providing an additional community benefit from sponsorships for the Huntsville Championship.”

The scholarship is available to students graduating from Huntsville and Madison City Schools or Madison County schools who apply to UAH or A&M with an interest in cyber related fields. According to Knight Eady media contact Katie Stotts, the scholarships will be awarded by students’ “institutions/bursar’s office and are based on requests for financial aid.’’

According to the press release, local companies involved include Strata-G, PPT Solutions, Sierra Nevada, Cintel, HigherEchelon, IroquiSysmtems, Qualis, Torch Technologies, Freedom Real Estate and Bridgeworth Wealth Management.

“When I first heard about the Huntsville Championship Fore Cyber Progress program, to me it was a ‘no-brainer,’” said Jim Reeb, president of PPT Solutions. “The program brings a focus on cyber course work through the totally unrelated venue of professional golf. I hope more companies in the Tennessee Valley community will see how they can help make a positive impact for high school and college students through this scholarship funding opportunity.

“The Huntsville Championship clearly provides an excellent networking opportunity between the students, companies and the golf communities to increase attention to this growing and evolving field of cyber – and for sure we will witness some great golf along the way.”

The week of the tournament, attendance at venues such as hospitality tents will be restricted and social distance enforced.

“We will continue to monitor the available information and restrictions from the CDC as well as state and local governments.’’

 

Huntsville Tour de Force Trio Helps Land SEC Gymnastics Championships

Alabama and Auburn have played basketball games at the Von Braun Center, and both have faced each other in baseball at Joe Davis Stadium.

But while the sport will be different, the stakes will be a lot higher when the Southeastern Conference comes back to town when the gymnastics championships will unfold at the VBC’s Propst Arena on March 20.

The tournament was relocated from New Orleans because of COVID-19 concerns. With crowd-spacing part of the crowd equation, the conference didn’t see a need to rent the spacious Smoothie King Center. Propst Arena has seating for 6,000.

Once the SEC decided to move the championships from the Big Easy, one of the first calls that went out was to David Knight of the marketing agency Knight Eady. The Birmingham agency has worked with Huntsville brokers in the past, including for the Korn Tour’s Huntsville Championship that was cancelled last year and will tee off for the first time the week of April 26-May 2 at The Ledges.

Knight said a tour de force trio of the Huntsville Sports Commission, the Huntsville Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the VBC made a strong bid and he wanted to “brag’’ on them.

“Those different groups of people really came together and made a strong pitch,’’ Knight said. “Ultimately, the SEC and the institutions selected Huntsville to be the site of this year’s championships.’’

Huntsville had an ace in the hole in Knight. He worked for the SEC for nine years until 2013 before he started his marketing agency. One of his roles was to work and even manage the gymnastics championships.

“We made it a priority to have gymnastics as one of our kinds of events or sports that we would conduct as a company,’’ he said. “So the the exciting thing about it is we’re hosting elite gymnastics in Huntsville.’’

Only eight of the league’s 14 members will bring teams: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Missouri. But all eight are among the top 25 in the nation, including No. 1 Florida and No. 2 LSU.

The championships were cancelled last year because of COVID-19. Prior to that, LSU won three straight titles, the last coming in front of over 10,000 fans in New Orleans.

“We enjoyed an electric environment with an SEC-record crowd in New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center when it hosted this event in 2019 and we look forward to returning there when we can provide our student-athletes a similar experience in the future,’’ SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “A geographically central location is appropriate in the current COVID-19 environment. We appreciate the support from the Huntsville community and the Von Braun Center to provide an excellent venue for this year’s Championship.’’

COVID-19 protocols will be in place as far as controlled entrances, distancing and masking.

“We are honored to step up and host the SEC Gymnastics Championships in Huntsville,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “We promise participants will find a high-caliber venue and a welcoming community, and we look forward to seeing this outstanding competition in the Rocket City.’’

In the current www.roadtonationals.com rankings, Florida is No. 1, LSU No. 2, Arkansas No. 5, Alabama No. 6, Georgia No. 12, Kentucky No. 15, Auburn No. 19 and Missouri No. 25.

Trash Pandas Unveil Inaugural Season Schedule; Home Opener is May 11

MADISON – After a yearlong postponement, Minor League Baseball returns to North Alabama.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas finally launch their inaugural season in May at Toyota Field.

Opening Night is set for May 11 at 6:35 p.m. against the Tennessee Smokies. The festivities will feature a spectacular fireworks show, a Toyota Field stadium replica model giveaway, and much more.

“Since we broke ground on Toyota Field in June 2018, through the naming of our team, ballpark construction, almost $4 million in merchandise sales, and an entire season lost to the pandemic, our fans have steadfastly stood behind this team like no other,” said Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “In turn, we have worked extremely hard to create a fan experience deserving of the unprecedented support our fans have given us.

“The 2021 season will be very special, and we can’t wait.”

The overall 120-game schedule as part of the new, eight-team Double-A South League begins May 4 with the Trash Pandas on the road against the Chattanooga Lookouts. Each series during the season will be played Tuesday through Sunday, with every Monday an off day. There are 60 home games and 60 away games.

The full home slate is:

  • May 11-16 vs. Tennessee Smokies
  • May 25-30 vs. Birmingham Barons
  • June 1-6 vs. Chattanooga Lookouts
  • June 15-20 vs. Biloxi Shuckers
  • July 6-11 vs. Montgomery Biscuits
  • July 20-25 vs. Tennessee Smokies
  • July 27 – August 1 vs. Birmingham Barons
  • August 17-22 vs. Chattanooga Lookouts
  • August 31 – September 5 vs. Tennessee Smokies
  • September 14-19 vs. Pensacola Blue Wahoos

The Tuesday through Saturday home games will have a 6:35 p.m. first pitch. Sunday games in July and August will also start at 6:35 p.m. while Sunday games in May, June, and September will start at 2:35 p.m.

The promotional schedule includes postgame fireworks every Friday and Saturday, dog-friendly nights every Wednesday, and pregame happy hours every Thursday. The complete promotional and giveaway schedule will be released in the coming weeks.

“It’s been a long year and we’ve done everything but host Trash Pandas baseball,” said Trash Pandas Vice President of Marketing, Lindsey Knupp. “We couldn’t be more excited to finally welcome and entertain fans here at Toyota Field.”

Ticket policies, including timelines for purchasing individual game tickets, should be announced next week. However, single-game box seat vouchers are available for $16 per ticket and can be purchased online (www.trashpandasbaseball.com) and at the Emporium at Bridge Street and Junkyard at Toyota Field team stores. Once single-game tickets go on sale, vouchers are redeemable for any game during the 2021 season, excluding Opening Night.

Toyota Field safety protocols, including fan capacity, seating structure, mask ordinances, and more are still to be determined. These regulations will be announced closer to the start of the season.

Minor League Baseball ‘Modernized’; Trash Pandas in Double-A South League;

As part of the modernized Minor League baseball system, the Rocket City Trash Pandas have officially accepted their invitation as the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.

This new “Professional Development League” license is a 10-year contract with the Angels organization, and sets the Trash Pandas as one of the 120 affiliated clubs in the revamped structure. Rocket City is in the eight-team Double-A South league with Birmingham, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Biloxi, Mississippi, Montgomery and Pensacola.

“We are thrilled to continue our strong relationship as members of the Angels family,” said Trash Pandas President & CEO Ralph Nelson. “We can’t wait to finally bring professional baseball back in North Alabama in 2021.

“We’ve been working more than three years on developing a one-of-a-kind fan experience at Toyota Field, and are excited to be part of the elite player development system of the Los Angeles Angels.”

With all 120 Minor League Clubs now signed, more announcements are upcoming, including the release of the Trash Pandas’ inaugural schedule and field staff. Ticket policies, safety procedures, and promotions are in the works, as well.

“We are excited to unveil this new model, which not only provides a pipeline to the Majors, but continues the Minor Leagues’ tradition of entertaining millions of families in hundreds of communities,” said Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. “We look forward to demonstrating the best of our game throughout local communities, supporting all those who are working hard to grow the sport, and sharing unrivaled technology and resources with minor league teams and players.”

 

Huntsville to Host the 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championships

BIRMINGHAM – The Southeastern Conference announced Tuesday it is adjusting the site of the 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championship from New Orleans to Huntsville due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

The 2021 SEC Gymnastics Championship will be held March 20 at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was last held in New Orleans in 2019 before a crowd of 10,505.

“We enjoyed an electric environment with an SEC-record crowd in New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center when it hosted this event in 2019 and we look forward to returning there when we can provide our student-athletes a similar experience in the future,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “A geographically central location is appropriate in the current COVID-19 environment. We appreciate the support from the Huntsville community and the Von Braun Center to provide an excellent venue for this year’s Championship.”

Huntsville is hosting the SEC Championship for the first time. For 20 years beginning with the inaugural event in 1981, SEC campuses hosted the Conference championship until it moved to a neutral site in 2001. It has since been held in seven different locations.

“We are honored to step up and host the SEC Gymnastics Championship in Huntsville,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “We promise participants will find a high-caliber venue and a welcoming community, and we look forward to seeing this outstanding competition in the Rocket City.”

A&M and UAH Athletics Tackle Financial Challenges During Pandemic

The pandemic created unique challenges for college athletic programs throughout the country, and the Division I Southwestern Athletic Conference came up with an original answer for its football programs.

The SWAC moved the regular season to this spring.

Players at Alabama A&M – the school is a member of the SWAC – reported for COVID-19 testing the week of Jan. 11-15 and football operations began Jan. 18.

The Bulldogs open a six-game schedule at home Feb. 27 against Alcorn State. They have only one more home game when Grambling State visits the Hill on March 27.

Alabama A&M Director of Athletics Bryan Hicks

Bryan Hicks, Alabama A&M’s director of athletics, said the coronavirus could dictate the success or lack thereof of regular-season spring football.

“It all depends on where we are as it relates to the pandemic,’’ he said. “That’s the really big concern. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play. T

“The question is, ‘Is it safe and secure?’ And ‘can we provide the safety that is required?’ We’re gonna do the best we can under the circumstances.’’

A&M has already restarted its athletic program in other sports such as basketball. All collegiate sports activity was halted last March.

The same is true across town at UAH, a member of the Division II Gulf South Conference.

During the shutdown, the two city schools underwent separate paths to financial survival since neither have the independent financial resources in reserve as Power Five and Group of Five programs do.

Dr. Cade Smith, UAH director of athletics

Dr. Cade Smith, UAH’s director of athletics, said one key to surviving for the Chargers during stoppage of play was to rein in all spending and plan accordingly.

“It was trying to be as prepared while dealing with it, working with our overall institutional administration and with the different leagues that we are involved in,’’ he said. “I think all those commissioners and other athletic directors all really work together. And we just met a lot to share ideas and talk about how to get through it. We spent months not playing and just talking about, ‘What is it gonna look like’? (When play resumed).

“Then, as we got closer to playing it was a lot of developing policy, looking at what we’re going to do working through and how is this going to impact eligibility and seasons of competition and things like that? But it’s definitely been collective, and no one knew how to do it at the beginning. We’ve all just kind of learned as we worked together.’’

Being in a Division I conference helped A&M overcome financial shortfalls, particularly in the area of COVID-19 testing.

Alabama A&M will play a six-game SWAC schedule this spring. (Alabama A&M Photo)

“Along with our conference office, the state and the programs that we have with the university, we’ve been able to find enough money to have testing available,’’ Hicks said. “So that hasn’t had an impact on us as much. And we have enough to test the students going forward.’’

Though seasons have resumed, the dark cloud of postponements or cancellations because of multiple positive virus tests on a given team looms. With crowd capacities already limited, that could create taller obstacles for schools outside of those with TV contracts and such.

“The key is communicating with your staff and proper monitoring and testing, I think,’’ Hicks said. “We have an excellent medical team that assists us with this unbelievable protocol and we’re really able to support our student/athletes and our staff that are working in this environment.

“We make every effort; we take no risk at all. We’re very conservative trying to ensure the safety of our student/athletes.’’

UAH and A&M won’t recoup lost gate money despite resumption of play because of the crowd limitations.

The UAH men’s and women’s basketball teams have been playing on separate dates instead of the usual doubleheaders. (UAH Photo)

There are also future monetary concerns when it comes to scholarships — the NCAA has granted all athletes another year of eligibility because of the pandemic, something that could squeeze a budget like the one at UAH.

But, Smith said, that’s something that will be dealt with in time.

“That’s trying to take care of the student/athletes, so I appreciate that,’’ he said.

There are silver linings.

Though the Von Braun Center is restricted to 30 percent capacity for hockey, and Chargers basketball season tickets (500 are usually sold) have been reduced to 90, the Chargers men and women’s basketball teams play on separate dates instead of playing doubleheaders as in the past.

“I think we’re going to work through our universities, which have been really supportive,’’ Smith said. “Our university has been good to us. And we’ve done a good job of being good stewards of the budgets that we have and not spending in some areas that we normally would spend in. We’ve decreased our budgets overall for the year, trying to save money as we go forward.

“So, I think we’re going to be OK when we get to the other end of this. We’re just hoping that comes soon.’’

Get the Inside Scoop Out in the Yard; Milkshake Bar to Open at Town Madison

MADISON — Freak /frēk/ noun – to behave in a wild and irrational way.

Featured last fall on Shark Tank, The Yard Milkshake Bar is opening its first location in North Alabama in early April. It will be at 503 Town Madison Boulevard, across from Toyota Field. 

Dessert and ice cream lovers will have to see it and taste it to believe it.

Known as Freak Shakes, these milkshakes are wilder than Tim Tebow’s college football Freak of the Week. They are too deliberate to be a freak accident; so delicious they have been called freaks of nature; and served to overflowing in pint, quart, and half-gallon iced souvenir mason jars that freaking defy gravity.

“The first time we experienced the Yard in Gulf Shores, we knew we had to bring one to Huntsville and Madison,” said franchise owner Rodney Cottingham. “We called The Yard corporate office as soon as we left the store and we both knew our next business venture would be bringing The Yard Milkshake Bar to North Alabama.

“And it didn’t take long to choose Town Madison, right across from the new Trash Pandas’ stadium as the perfect location.” 

He and his wife and business partner Shanen are Huntsville residents and entrepreneurs who have owned businesses in the area for several years.

“We are both so excited about breaking ground in the coming days and being open by early April in time for baseball season, if everything goes as planned,” said Shanen Cottingham.

The Yard Milkshake Bar will be a lesson in indulgence.

There are menu choices such as Donut Touch My Coffee & Cream; Monkey Meets the Moose; the Cereal Killer, the Mermaid, and the Unicorn with its cotton candy ice cream. 

And, there are more than 100,000 possible combinations for The Yard’s Build Your Own Specialty Milkshake, including 35 ice cream flavors and some 50 toppings.

The Yard will offer seasonal and monthly specials such as February’s Super Bowl Fundae Sundae with chocolate and birthday batter ice cream and chocolate drizzle; a dessert nacho waffle bowl filled with whipped cream, mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce, all piled into a chocolate iced jar and rolled in sprinkles. Or the Yardi Gras with its Graham Central Station ice cream with purple, green, and yellow marshmallow cream, Mardi Gras sprinkles, and topped off with a slice of King Cake.

Other menu items include 10 mix and match edible cookie dough flavors made with heat-treated flour and no eggs.

They also make ice cream bowls and cones; hot chocolate, coffee and specialty sundaes and floats; ice cream cakes and pies; cookie dough pops; and Grab & Go ice cream pints.

The Yard Milkshake Bar was started in 2017 by Logan and Chelsea Green. There are shops in Gulf Shores and Fairhope in South Alabama; and in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia.

To quote the legendary Crash Davis in the movie “Bull Durham: “See ya at the Yard …”

Take Me Out to the Ballgame … to Work: Trash Pandas Hosting Job Fair

If you wanted to work for a baseball organization – and not just any baseball organization but the team with the most popular name in baseball – here’s your chance.

The Rocket City Trash Pandas are hosting a job fair Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. at Toyota Field.

As they prepare for their COVID-delayed inaugural season, the Trash Pandas are looking for energetic and enthusiastic team members to work during home games. Positions are available in all departments: Food & Beverage, Retail, Ushers, Ticket Takers, Promotions, Production, Parking, Security, and more.

During the job fair, applicants can interview for a maximum of three positions. However, those who are not hired in one of their choices may be offered a spot in another department. Each interview will take about five minutes. Candidates must be at least 16 years of age with legal work status.

Applicants must have a completed job application before the interviews.  The application can be downloaded and filled out here, and there will also be forms available on site. Job preference sheets will also be available for those interviewing for multiple positions.

CDC and Madison County COVID safety mandates will be followed at the job fair. Masks are required and interviews will be socially distanced.

Attention all Thrashers (Even Grommets): A Skatepark is Planned for John Hunt Park

In a few months, you’ll be able to go to John Hunt Park and grab some air with your crew on a half-pipe.

That’s right, thanks to a $1 million anonymous donation, the city of Huntsville moving ahead with plans for an innovative skatepark that will challenge skaters, from professional to novice.

The proposed $4 million facility will be Olympic quality and include restrooms, pavilions, sunshades, lighting, landscaping and expanded parking. It is slated to be built on a three-acre site between Kids Space and the championship soccer fields.

“Skateboarding continues to grow in popularity and is a sport the community has long wanted to see in John Hunt Park,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “We’ve been holding a space in the park for skaters, and thanks to the generosity of a local donor we’re able to start moving forward on a project this year.”

The skatepark will be on a three-acre site between Kids Space and the championship soccer fields.

Fueled by the anonymous donor’s gift, the city is working in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. An account has been established to continue fundraising to support the total cost of the project.

The city of Huntsville and Community Foundation team is also reaching out to a charity established by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk to help with the design.

“The Community Foundation is proud to help our donors put their philanthropic dreams into action,” said Melissa Thompson, CEO and president of the Community Foundation. “We strive to help our donors be generous, however that looks for them.

“We are excited to help bring to life the John Hunt Skatepark, which will enhance the quality of life and bring new opportunities to a diverse group of people in our community.”

For the donor, having spent formative years enjoying the former Get-A-Way Skatepark on Leeman Ferry Road, the goal is for others to have the opportunity for physical fitness and to learn important life lessons.

“Skateboarding is not easy … you have to fall a lot,” said the donor. “I used the focus and dedication harnessed from my skateboarding experiences throughout my business life, understanding you have to be dedicated and work hard to succeed; and you have to learn to fall and get back up.”

The city and the Community Foundation will work with The Skatepark Project, Hawk’s national skatepark advocacy charity, to ensure the project is completed efficiently and up to contemporary standards.  It will incorporate elements of the Get-A-Way Skatepark and offer areas for Olympic and street-style skateboarding.

“We are extremely happy to be adding another attraction to John Hunt Park,” said Steve Ivey, director of Huntsville Parks & Recreation. “We know the new skatepark will be a huge success and thank the Community Foundation for helping us make this become a reality.”

The process for the city to begin working with the Community Foundation will be sent to City Council for approval on Jan. 14.

Business Execs, Make your Pitch at the Rocket City Trash Pandas Business Blast Off

MADISON – It’s time to play ball – B2B style.

Toyota Field will feel the roar of the inaugural Rocket City Trash Pandas Business Blast Off from 6-8 p.m. Thursday in the SportsMed Stadium Club. The deadline to register is Tuesday. Visit https://www.milb.com/rocket-city/events/business-blast-off

Sponsored by the Rocket City Trash Pandas, this B2B networking event is a chance for companies and executives to step up to the plate and take their swings at this year’s business outlook. Opportunities to meet prospects and build long-term business relationships and partnerships will be in the lineup. 

Companies will also hear about ways to have their logos displayed on the videoboard during Trash Pandas games and events; and a chance to win Trash Pandas gear.

The event is CDC compliant and a cash bar will be available as well.

For information, call Cory Ausderau at 256-325-1549 or email causderau@trashpandasbaseball.com, or Mareca Watson at 256-325-1548 and mwatson@trashpandasbaseball.com.