Donations help USF assistant professor raise money to adopt her son

Christa Haring, a research assistant professor at the University of South Florida, is a new mom. Last year, she adopted her son, Carter, who was born with Down syndrome and a cleft palate. To Haring, he’s perfect.

“People with Down syndrome are guileless,” she said.

Carter’s adoption story is full of twists, turns, and a few miracles too. In just over 60 hours, friends and family donated the $12,000 needed for the cost of his adoption. From all over the country, 587 people rallied to make it happen and, ironically, Haring was the last to know.

“It just happened in a way we didn’t expect,” Haring said. “The second night we were in the hospital, we had $12,000 and we needed $18,000. On the last night—the night the money was due — people were texting me things like, ‘congratulations, congratulations!’ And I just sat there sobbing.”

Perhaps it does take a village, as the old saying goes. Haring has people around her giving unyielding support every day, including those she works with at USF.

“I think that Carter was never, ever, ever supposed to belong to one person, and I believe that with all my heart.” she said. “He has multiple moms and siblings. Carter’s story is just about people who saw something bigger than themselves and saw something better than all of us.”

Carter will have four surgeries over the next five years to help repair his cleft palate. Haring will have a whole army supporting his recovery after each operation. Just like a USF Bull, Carter is strong, brave, and, above all else, adored by his many fans.


Florida Focus 02-26-2015

In this Florida Focus episode: John Johnchuck’s defense agrees with the state; Hillsborough County’s fastest electric-vehicle charging station unveiled; Building partially collapses due to water main break; Three women are found squatting in a soldier’s home; Florida Strawberry Festival celebrates 80 years.



Video: C.R. Willey brings championship pedigree to USF disc golf team

C.R. Willey is not your average USF coach. He is a four-time disc golf champion.

And with Willey’s help, the USF disc golf team has a chance at the top 10 this year and — possibly — a national title.

Willey, a veteran of the Professional Disc Golf Association, has trained some of the top professionals in the league, including 12-time champion, Ken Climo.

“It’s nice that you are actually learning from somebody that has actually won (championships),” said Chris Crist, USF’s team founder and captain.  “He’s been playing for so long. He’s taught a lot of people how to play and a lot of pros how to play.”

While Willey was on the PDGA tour, he was approached by some of USF’s players, who asked him if he would be interested in coaching the team.

Willey didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

“Heck, yeah,” Willey said. “I would like to see USF win a national championship in disc golf. I’d like to see them win it in football, too — baseball or anything for the university. Let’s take it to the next level.”

Willey also played baseball at USF for a time. But one day, when he saw students playing ultimate frisbee, Willey knew his love and passion was for disc golf.

With more than 40 PDGA victories, he is considered the best thing that has happened to USF by its young group of players.

“We’ve qualified for the National Collegiate Championship, and we almost beat the reigning champs in a qualifying tournament that the USF team ran in Largo,” Willey said.

The National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship starts on April 15 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

President of USF’s Society of Automotive Engineers relishes showing what a girl can do

Amid the sawdust and graphite pieces, USF’s Society of Automotive Engineers is building an engineering masterpiece with an unsuspecting success leading the pack.

Jackie LeBrun is a 22-year-old Canadian native, a USF senior and an engineering major. LeBrun is the current president of the society and has been a member for four years. She was the first female to join USF Racing.

“She was definitely the most qualified for the position. She has all the passion to do the job,” says Christopher Smith, former president of SAE.

LeBrun will be graduating this May with an engineering degree in record time. To accomplish this feat, she aimed for 15 credits per semester, and some semesters she even took 19 credits with the help of waivers.

Smith was worried about how the current members would receive the freshman. Her membership was kept secret until the second half of the semester in which LeBrun was gradually introduced into the program. Other females have since joined SAE and currently, one of the lead engineers is a student named Nicole Santana.

The guys in the shop, however, have grown accustomed to the president’s presence and reminders to keep the shop in order. LeBrun has a meticulous touch with bookkeeping and organizing as well.

“I’m trying to leave a very detailed paper trail so that next year and years in the future, they can run it on their own,” LeBrun said.

LeBrun works at a bike shop and finds that customers are taken aback when she can do repairs on the spot in a few minutes.

“’Oh, you can do that?’ I hear that a lot. I love the challenge when people underestimate me,” LeBrun said.


Video: Christopher Hethcox turns lifelong passion for cheerleading into remarkable career

TRINITY — As an aspiring male cheerleading coach, Christopher Hethcox seemingly had the odds stacked against him early in life.

“The stigma of being a male cheerleader was something that was rough in the rural parts of Alabama,” Hethcox said.

But Hethcox didn’t let it bring him down. At age 13, Hethcox knew he had a passion for tumbling and gymnastics.

Twenty-two years later, Hethcox has turned that passion into a career as an instructor with All-Star Cheerleading at the Suncoast Gymnastics Academy in Odessa.

Though the profession does not necessarily have a large salary, Hethcox said he isn’t in it for the money — he just wants to help his athletes grow.

“I think I love the process of the training, performing, watching the development over the year of an athlete that’s had this place where they started,” Hethcox said.  “And then, where they end up.”

Hethcox coaches multiple levels of cheerleading with All-Star Cheerleading and has won multiple championships.

Competing at that level, Hethcox said,  is something that can give competitors butterflies. But for him, it’s all about keeping his team calm.

Mark Sczcepanik, whose daughter is coached by Hethcox, described him as passionate and driven.

“Coach Chris has done an incredible job with our daughter,” Sczcepanik said. “She went from never cheering ever six months ago to just doing an incredible job, thanks to his fine coaching.”

Hethcox doesn’t need praise, though. He just wants it to be about the kids.

“I want them to become sisters that they would do anything for each other,” Hethcox said.

Florida Focus 02-24-2015

In this Florida Focus Episode: A Tarpon Springs home catches fire; Tampa Police battle a new crime trend targeting food delivery drivers; Moffitt receives grant for cancer research; gas prices begin to rise; 19 manatees are rescued from a drain pipe.


Florida Focus 02-19-2015

In this Florida Focus episode: USF wants to bring its medical school campus to downtown Tampa; prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a Bradenton triple murder; a 16-year-old boy faces charges for manipulating a girl into texting nude photos; a Bradenton man is facing charges for a crime committed 20 years ago; Florida is number one for Obamacare enrollments; a freeze warning will be in effect for most of the Bay Area.


Florida mulls new texting and driving legislation

Staying connected is always crucial on campus, but it comes at a cost. A texting and driving law exists in Florida, but the House and Senate are trying to make that law easier to enforce.

Chris Daniel, assistant chief  of the USF Police Department, has experienced the difficulty of enforcing the law.

“I’ve pulled up to students at red lights and have had roll-down window conversations because I saw them texting and driving,” Daniel said. “Although I can see they were blatantly texting, I can’t stop them because they aren’t doing anything else for me to stop them.”

Daniel is talking about the current Florida statute that allows texting drivers to receive a ticket only as a secondary offense, not a primary offense. This means drivers can be ticketed for texting and driving only if they are stopped for another offense and the officer then sees they were using the phone.

USF has over 40,000 students generating both foot traffic and car traffic on campus. Texting and driving here is a bad combination.

“We have a small community with a lot of people in it. A pedestrian can walk out in front of you, a bicyclist can ride out in front of you in seconds,” Daniel said.

The law may need to be updated to include other social media platforms. People are now using applications like SnapChat while they drive.

“I definitely see a lot of SnapChatting while driving on campus,” said Carlos Garcia, a USF senior. “I think texting and driving becoming a primary stop would be ideal. It’s about safety.”

States like Delaware and New York have made it illegal to use a phone while driving. Florida may be next.

Machine Gun America in Kissimmee allows youths, adults to operate weapons

KISSIMMEE – Less than an hour from Tampa, a new attraction has opened, and it seems to be the most controversial of them all. At Machine Gun America, almost anyone older than 13 can shoot semi-automatic, and anyone over 15 can shoot fully automatic machine guns.

“A lot of that decision is made by the range safety officer on the range,”said Scott Brian, director of range operations. “If they feel that they can’t handle it, can’t safely control it, we’ll kind of switch it up to something that they can handle but still have a good time at the same time.”

Some disagree with allowing youths to operate weapons. However, a University of South Florida associate professor of psychology has another perspective.

“You would want a kid to be in a supervised environment if they are going to be learning how to use weapons,” said Joe Vandello.

According to Brian, all of the range safety officers at Machine Gun America have law-enforcement or military backgrounds. The range safety officer handles the weapon at all times until the customer is in full safety gear, inside the range and ready to shoot.

Machine Gun America held its grand opening  Feb. 7.


Video: High school hockey garnering support around Tampa Bay

Ice hockey has become one of the fastest growing high school sports in the Tampa Bay area.

There are 12 teams in the Florida High School Hockey Association’s Lightning Conference, which includes schools from across the region.

Ed de la Paz, president of the conference, attributes much of its recent success to the support of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The Lightning have been wonderful,” de la Paz said. “(They’re) really giving us that hockey perspective.”

Dan Bubley, head coach at Steinbrenner High in Lutz, which competes in the Lightning Conference, has been coaching in Florida for more than 12 years.

At first, Bubley said, it was difficult to find players.

“We used to have to go and drive around the Northdale area to find kids who skated on rollerblades,” he said.

Things have improved. Bubley predicted they will have up to 50 kids trying out for one team before the season starts.

“With all due respect, I think you have to recognize what we are: a non-traditional sport in a sunshine state,” Bubley said.

Bubley said he believes the next step is for the sport to become sanctioned, or “soft sanctioned,” as he put it, by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which sets the guidelines as the governing body for high school sports in the state.

For game times and more information about the FHSHA, visit Select games are also televised on Bright House Sports Network, Ch. 47.


Tarpon Springs church commemorates annual Epiphany celebration


Tarpon Springs is not your typical town. Known for its world-famous Sponge Docks, Tarpon harbors the largest Greek community within the U.S.

“In Tarpon Springs, we’re basically one big Greek family; we grew up together, go to church together, we fight and we argue, but at the end of the day, we all end up partying together,” Tarpon resident Kosta Pstefelis said.

In the heart of Tarpon Springs lies the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which commemorates the annual Epiphany celebration.

Pstefelis calls it “our way of showing off Greek Orthodoxy to the world.”

Pstefelis and fellow resident Niko Mahairas were two of the 50 teens to dive for the cross at this year’s event.

“It’s something everyone should experience, religious or not. The event is always a good time for everyone,” Mahairas said.

Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, 50 Greek boys, ages 16 through 18, dive into the water in hopes of retrieving a cross. Retrieval of the cross signifies a year of good luck for that individual.

“Everyone wants to be the kid that catches the cross,” Pstefelis said.

Luckily, this year he was able to do just that, describing it as a “once in a lifetime experience, something my family needed.”

Tampa-area Buddhist temple offers authentic Thai market

Add a new outing to your Sunday routine. The Wat Tampa, a Buddhist Thai temple, hosts its Sunday market each week, offering a variety of authentic Thai foods along with a wide selection of fresh produce and plants.

“There’s a little bit of everything for you to enjoy here,” said Terry Stephens, one of the volunteers. “They have plants and vegetables here, all kinds of fruits.”

The market also serves free coffee and tea. The temple volunteers prepare the Thai food themselves, and you’re guaranteed to never leave hungry.

“People love to come here because they love the food, and it’s cheap,”said Malai Suttikul, a volunteer.

Most of the food only costs about $5 a serving, and all proceeds are used to maintain the temple and market.

The Sunday Market started in 1993 with two tables. Now, the market flourishes with about 30 tables, a garden of potted plants and flowers, and tents offering different foods, such as fried chicken.

In 2011, the market added a seawall and benches for relaxing beside the Palm River.

The Sunday Market is open from 9:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. and is located at 5306 Palm River Rd.

Local business owner brings Nepal to Bull Market

Bull Market takes place every Wednesday on the campus of USF from October through May during the fall and spring semesters.  Student organizations, USF departments and even local business owners can have a booth outside the Marshall Student Center.

Like many other local business owners, Alex Gopali of Gopali Himalayan Imports tries as much as he can to come to Bull Market and sell his products to the USF community.

“I came to USF in early 2014 — it’s been little over a year now — and I come here every Wednesday as long as Bull Market is here,” Gopali said.

However, what separates Gopali from his competition is that he sells unique products — 95 percent of which are directly from Nepal, Gopali said.

“I have direct connection with the people who make these handmade, hand-crafted products: jewelry to singing bowls, to any kind of meditation, to rituals, to traditional cultural products,” he said.

Gopali doesn’t sell his products just to the USF community, but also goes to other markets around Tampa Bay, such as Dunedin, Shops at Wiregrass, Carrollwood, Hyde Park, Ybor City and St. Petersburg.

But the reason he said he comes to Bull Market is the younger generation.

“They’re always looking for some different ways to do meditation, how to find peace in their lives, which is going to help them to focus on their studies,” Gopali said. “The more we are peaceful, the more we can accomplish.”

If you want to bring your business to USF’s Bull Market like Gopali did, visit the Marshall Student Center website.

Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery showcases local talent

Bonnie Bratby-Carey is doing something that not many people get to do. She is living her dream as the art director at the Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery.

“The Gallery has been open since 2003,” Bratby-Carey said. “For a number of years, it was called the Progress Energy Art Gallery. After they were no longer involved with The Gallery, we changed the name and the branding to the Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery.”

Members of the community know it simply as “The Gallery.” Jose Cardenas is an art collector that spends half of his time here in Florida and the other half in his hometown of Houston.

“I did my search and found this little jewel, like Bonnie the art director calls it,” Cardenas said. “I was attracted to it because it exposes all these local artists that want to tell their (stories) about their hometown.”

This month’s exhibit, “Florida: Adventures in Paradise,” showcases artwork that features the beautiful scenes and landscapes of Florida.

“We really started the year off with a bang,” Bratby-Carey said. “This exhibit has been enormously popular with the public.”

Patrons like Cardenas have come to love the monthly themed exhibits. They are constantly coming back to see what The Gallery has to offer.

“I bought from Patricia Watt, a local artist,” Cardenas said. “I’m actually really excited about hanging these pieces in my house and just having guests over and showing them [that] this is the local art that we have here.”

The Gallery also offers poetry readings, art workshops and other events to encourage community involvement.

Partiers don pirate costumes, celebrate history during Tampa’s Gasparilla parade

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa’s yearly parade, takes place in late January and is hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the city of Tampa.

According to legend, Gasparilla was a mythical Spanish pirate captain who operated in Southwest Florida. The event is considered a tradition to the area, yet not everyone knows about it or attends.

“I’m really excited about it, because out of the four years that I’ve been here at the University of South Florida, I have not participated in the Tampa historical event of Gasparilla,” Reggie Brown, former USF student and Broward County resident, said before this year’s celebration.

Gasparilla holds a reputation for the immense amount of alcohol provided, but it is also looked at as a fairy tale parade. Celebrants dressed as pirates are celebrated as royalty and flaunt their costumes in the streets.

In the past, public intoxication has been one of the only issues the public faced with the parade. Many didn’t expect the same problem this year due to the high level of security being provided.

The parade is full of “krewes,” or members of the same float, who share many of the same things in common. Together, the krewes prepare months in advance for the day. Most krewes consider themselves different from the rest.

“We believe that every day should be cherished, hence why our motto is seize the moment,” said Claudia White, member of The Krewe of Ann Jeffrey. “We’re not like other krewes; we actually enjoy the moment.”

Regardless of the reasons people come out to celebrate, Gasparilla is one of the largest parades in Florida and is constantly looking to expand.


USF baseball has high hopes under new head coach

First year head baseball coach Mark Kingston is optimistic about his team’s upcoming season.

“I think the No. 1 thing is that we want to make sure we reach our potential,” Kingston said. “What that means from a win-loss standpoint, we don’t know yet.  We have a really tough schedule.  We have a lot of returning players, so I’m expecting some guys to continue to progress and get better.”

Kingston coached the past five seasons at Illinois State, where he compiled a record of 173-102 and was named Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2013. He joined the Bulls last June.

The Bulls are led by senior captain shortstop Kyle Teaf and 2014 First Team All-American Athletic Conference pitcher Jimmy Herget.  The Bulls are looking for a bounce-back season after having a tough year in 2014.

“Last year we were 27-31 I think, and that’s not good enough,” Teaf said. “We need to win more ball games, and obviously Regionals is a good goal to have, but we’re just trying to win ball games any way we can.”

The Bulls opened their 2015 campaign Feb. 13 by beating Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in the Clearwater Tournament. For more information, visit


MOSI Mess Fests combine science, crafts

Science gets an art-themed makeover at this month’s Mess Fest, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Hands-on stations such as paint bottle pendulums, paint balloon slingshots and marble painting are all designed to teach children scientific concepts while allowing them to get messy and have fun. Media Relations Specialist Megan Haskins says the event is a creative way to reach these children.

“Those kids may block that information out in schools, but here they’re getting their hands in it, and they’re really starting to enjoy and learn about science,” Haskins said.

Sara Turner, MOSI director of guest experience and orchestrator of Mess Fest, says the future of the event is bright.

“I want bigger explosions, bigger messes. I want people to know, like, when you think of MOSI you think of Mess Fest,” Turner said.

Turner relies on her science army known as the S.T.E.A.M (Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Math) Punks to make Mess Fest run smoothly.

S.T.E.A.M. Punk Trey Poulos says that a S.T.E.A.M. Punk’s duty “is to bring science alive” for the children and families in attendance.

Throughout the afternoon, Turner organizes and hosts science shows that use materials too dangerous for children’s stations but too interesting to leave out of Mess Fest. These shows use science to make dish soap bubbles full of liquid nitrogen, turn Mentos and Coke into rockets, mix corn starch and water into slime, and conduct experiments with dry ice.

MOSI plans to hold its next Mess Fest Saturday, March 14, starting at 11 a.m., with a theme of Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday. The Mess Fest is included in museum admission.