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.

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.


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


Local martial arts gym offers training in many fighting styles

World Class Martial Arts is the place to train if you’re looking for a gym that features a little bit of everything. Located in Tampa, World Class Martial Arts offers all the fight styles you’re looking for in order to become a complete, well-rounded fighter, including boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and many more. The gym is led by head instructor Ralph Garcia, who possesses a list of noteworthy accomplishments in the martial arts realm, which is why Garcia feels World Class Martial Arts is one of the premier gyms in the Tampa Bay area.

“I have four black belts right now. I have a 4th degree black belt in taekwondo. I have a 1st degree black belt in Aiki jiu-jitsu. I have a 2nd degree black belt in American jiu-jitsu, and I have a black belt I recently received in Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” Garcia said. “I incorporate pretty much everything. My fighters are usually the most well-rounded fighters in the Bay area, probably.”

This year, the gym grew even stronger by adding another world-class martial arts instructor for their fighters to learn from. With the addition of Judo instructor Marc Maciel, he believes his fight style transitions very easily to MMA.

“Judo is a quick, safe way of teaching jiu-jitsu,” Maciel said. “Once you get your black belt, then you have the rest of the techniques of jiu-jitsu included, and kicks, punches, as well as weapons.”

World Class Martial Arts has trained fighters who have become commercially successful in the sport. Luis Zequeira, an undefeated professional MMA fighter training at World Class Martial Arts, credits his recent success to Garcia and his gym.

“If it wasn’t because of him and the whole team and the other teammates and everyone, you know, we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now as one of the best gyms in the state of Florida,” Zequeira said.

Zequeira isn’t the only student who feels that way. Sarah Kleczka, an amateur MMA fighter at World Class Martial Arts,  believes her gym is best place to train in the area.

“I feel like that our fighters come so much further, so much (more) quickly,” Kleczka said. “I feel like we get all sorts of training and not just one part of training, but we get it all.”

So if you’re an upcoming fighter and looking for a place to train and get in shape in the Tampa Bay area, check out World Class Martial Arts and see if it’s the right place for you.

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Video: Leto High boys basketball on the upswing

The Leto High School boys basketball team hadn’t won more than four games in a season since the 2005-06 season. This immediately changed when coach Mike Heben came to Tampa from Cleveland in 2013 and the Falcons finished the season with a 5-19 record.

While coaching is widely considered the first attribution to the team’s success, the talent on this team should not be overlooked.

Leto’s standout player is junior guard David Jones, who is averaging 24 points and nine assists per game.

“I do everything,”Jones said. “I’m not just a scorer. I use my talent to lead by example for my teammates.”

Helping Jones with the leadership of the team is senior guard Joe Bergollo.

Heben recruited Bergollo off Leto’s baseball team midway through last season. Heben said Bergollo, who previously had no basketball experience, quickly stepped up and set an example for his teammates.

“I’m looking to win, and I think this attitude is contagious to my team,” Bergollo said.

This team has come a long way under Heben’s guidance. With a team of mostly inexperienced players, sticking to a playbook of 10 plays has allowed the Falcons to progress toward their goal of a winning season for the first time in eight years.

Jones said that the family dynamic of the team has been the driving force behind its progress.

“We’re a family, both on and off the court,” Jones said.

That chemistry has helped earn Leto a spot in the district tournament, which started Feb. 2.

This would be Leto’s first Class 6A, District 9 title since 1997.

Lily Simone balances two careers: elementry teacher and Orlando Magic dancer

Lily Simone was once an ordinary girl with dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Now, she manages two careers: 3rd-grade teacher and dancer for the Orlando Magic Basketball Team.

“It has been difficult managing two careers,” said Simone. “However, I think I have gotten better as time goes on managing my schedule and doing both things at the same time.”

Simone works approximately 40 hours per week, but after school, instead of grading papers, she heads to Amway Arena to practice with her team, the Orlando Magic Dancers, or to perform on the sidelines and at quarter breaks during home basketball games.

The 20 members of the Orlando Magic Dancers, according to Jeanine Klem-Thomas, the Entertainment Teams Manager and dance coach, are all full-time students or have full-time careers.

“These are the strong, independent, intelligent women who are more than just big hair and red lips dancing on a court,” said Simone. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to dance on that court and manage an outside career and I don’t think the public understands that.”

The University of South Florida SunDolls dance team played a large role in Simone’s ability to manage a full time teaching schedule and a full time Magic schedule.

“Even though Lily is rookie, she has been fantastic on the team,” said Klem-Thomas.  “She is always smiling and goofy but she knows when to work hard and she always gives 200 percent.”

You can watch Simone and her teammates perform on Nov. 7th at Amway Arena as the Orlando Magic take on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I love teaching and interacting with my kids and I love performing for the Magic” said Simone.

Bangin’ Bungee provides flight at Wiregrass

The Tampa Bay Fresh Markets, locations found on, are a favorite event of people in the Tampa Bay area interested in food, fun, and great shopping. Bangin’ Bungie chose to participate in the market, which took place on the morning of October 18th at the Shops at Wiregrass. This slideshow shows the construction of the entertainment complex, as well as a 4-year-old Esperanza Bernal’s first experience on the Bangin’ Bungee.

USF Quidditch Club practice shows magic, hard work

The USF Quidditch Club has been bringing the fictional sporting event from the Harry Potter series to life since the club’s inception in January 2011. The club boasts an active roster of approximately 30 members, as well as official membership status in the International Quidditch Association. Major achievements for the team include seventh place at the 2011 Quidditch World Cup and second place in the 2012 Swamp Cup. Take a closer look at the magic that happens during USF Quidditch practice.