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RAY CARSON/The High Springs police and fire departments delivered gifts to seven different locations for the annual Operation Holiday Cheer giveaway. Since 2008, High Springs first responders have been delivering presents to selected families who may be having financial difficulties during the holiday season.


HIGH SPRINGS – On the morning of Dec. 21 a convoy of emergency vehicles gathered in front  of the High Springs Police station. They were on a special mission called Operation Holiday Cheer. At 9:30 a.m., a convoy of four police cars and a fire truck left the parking lot with emergency lights flashing and a police siren to alert traffic at crossroads. One police vehicle towed a trailer full of presents. These first responders were on a mission to make Christmas special for kids that might otherwise receive little. It’s a chance to give to others and help keep the excitement and joy in a child’s heart for this special time of year.

Since 2008, the High Springs police and fire departments have asked for donations of new toys, pajamas and books from the community so they can provide them to local children. Several local businesses, the Rotary Club and the High Springs Community School are also involved in the effort.

The High Springs Community School notifies the police department of families they feel could use the help, and the police department then contacts the child’s parents to get approval for a delivery and find out if there are other children in the house. They don’t want anyone to feel left out, so if there are other children in the house they are also added to the list. This also gives the police an opportunity to see what the children want and they try to match the gifts to the children.

Once the visit is approved by the parents, the families are added to the list. For some families, the delivery date did not work, so they were able to pick up the gifts at the police station or a day care center. However, part of the total experience for the children is the delivery. It’s not often that a child has a convoy of police and fire vehicles come to their home with lights flashing and a trailer full of wrapped presents.

The event is organized by High Springs Police Officer Jason Taylor and on the morning of Dec. 21, Officer Taylor, his son Jason Jr. and friend Noah Brock were joined by fellow officers James Yakubish, Tony Pakala, Assistant Chief Antione Sheppard and Chief Joel DeCoursey. Lieutenant Kevin Pearson also arrived with the fire truck and crew.

The first delivery was to a boy living with his mother and grandmother. They both knew what was to happen, but the boy did not. As the convoy pulled into the apartment parking lot the boy had a surprised look on his face, which only grew as Jason Jr. and his friend Noah brought a large box of wrapped presents to him. As his mother and grandmother looked on, he excitedly began opening the presents one by one. After all were opened, he thanked everyone and shook hands with Chief DeCoursey and Lt. Sheppard.

At the next stop, both parents were working and the two middle school kids were home on Christmas break. They were hesitant to open the door and come out with all the police cars there with lights flashing. A call to their parents resolved the issue and they came out to a crowd of uniformed officers in Santa hats complete with a box of presents for each of them. They opened them in a stunned silence, unable to believe it was happening, with smiles growing on their faces with each present.

The next stop was two boys living with a guardian. The initial reaction was the same as the others, a disbelief that this was happening to them. Accompanied by a friend, they opened the presents. At the end they thanked all the officers thinking it was over, but the crew had an additional surprise for them. Officer Taylor pulled two new bicycles off the trailer and presented them to the boys. As the boys climbed on the bikes, Taylor halted them and explained that as police officers they had to make sure that these two riders met the legal safety precautions and produced two helmets for them as well. After the officers put the helmets properly on the boys they were allowed to ride, with a reminder that they should always wear a helmet.

The next delivery was a house with five children. They all gathered on the front porch as the convoy pulled up. The eldest had her hands clasped together and a smile on her face. As dad looked on, she walked down the steps to greet Jason Jr. as he approached with a large box of presents. Like the previous stops, she had a look of shock and joy mixed on her face. The box was brought back to the porch and the name on each present was called out. One young boy stopped opening presents when he got a drum. It was what he wanted and nothing else mattered as he picked up the drum sticks and began hitting the drum.

The five kids were not the largest delivery. Next was a house with six children. Their excitement showed as they each opened presents leaving the yard strewn with wrapping paper. But this was still not the largest group. The final stop of the morning was a day care center, where about 15 young children gathered in the fenced yard to be handed presents by police and firemen. For one police officer, this stop had special meaning. His young son attended here.

Operation Holiday Cheer has brought happiness for nine years for children who have little  For those children, these gifts made a huge difference. Operation Holiday Cheer is well named, bringing joy and happiness by the simple act of compassion and giving to children who need it.

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Email rcarson@alachuatoday.com

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With more than 16 years at the City of Hawthorne, LaKesha McGruder is a mainstay in the local government.


HAWTHORNE – LaKesha H. Hawkins-McGruder, MMC of City of Hawthorne, has earned the designation of Master Municipal Clerk (MMC), which is awarded by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), Inc.

IIMC grants the MMC designation only to those municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua Branch Library was filled with candy, laughter and enough icing to fill a small pool as children of all ages were accompanied by family and friends to the Alachua Branch’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Workshop, Sunday, Dec. 18. Each person attending the event received a free pre-made gingerbread house and a cup filled with their choice of candy with which to decorate.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – For two days, robots took over the gym at Gainesville's Lincoln Middle School, as over 90 student teams competed to represent the Alachua County School District in statewide competitions.

The Second Annual VEX Robotics Competition featured more than 350 elementary-, middle- and high-school students demonstrating their skills at developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks against other student teams.

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1-MapSR26WtrWwtrExtension DCC Nov2016 copy


Map of State Road 26 corridor, east toward Northwest 202nd Street, showing the four large properties leading to Destiny Community Church at 420 S.W. 250th Street, Newberry. The City of Newberry and the four property owners, are slated to pay a share of the costs to run water lines along that route to serve the church and encourage future economic development along the corridor. (Illustration special to Alachua County Today)


NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners took a giant step forward in their efforts to make their city more attractive to commercial and industrial development at their Dec. 12 meeting. Commissioners voted to extend water utility lines eastward approximately 1.5 miles toward Jonesville at an estimated cost of $684,273.

Four property owners on the north side of the State Road 26 corridor have been approached to consider paying a fair share of the cost of laying water lines across their rights-of-way. “Generally speaking, they all feel this is a fair way to assess their properties,” said City Manager Mike New. “There has been no push back from those owners to indicate that they are not in favor of this project.”

According to City records, the property owners are Gary W. Weseman, who owns approximately 45 acres, Canterbury Showplace, Inc, who owns 37 acres, Norita Davis, who owns 171 acres and Glaeser Tract Investment, Inc., who owns 272 acres.

Each would pay a share, leaving $230,164 for the City's share. The “fair share” assessment for each property is the estimated cost to construct an eight-inch water main across the property, according to supporting documentation by the City. “The assessment would eventually result in $454,000 of the $684,000 project cost being refunded to the City. The $230,000 balance would be funded appropriately from development fees as system expansion. Staff notes that the $230,000 expense to the City will be recouped by future connections to the water system.”

During the meeting Stephan Davis, acting on behalf of his mother, Norita, addressed commissioners to encourage the City to move ahead with this project. He also indicated they had no plans to use their property for residential development. No other property owners attended the meeting to speak for or against approval of the planned extension.

The impetus to take this step was two-fold. The most urgent of the two reasons to move forward with this plan at this time has to do with Destiny Community Church (DCC), located at 420 S.W. 250th Street. The church petitioned for a Special Exception by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board on Dec. 5, which recommended approval and sent it to the Board of Adjustment (BOA) with certain conditions.

Conditions cited had to do with provision of water and wastewater utility services and they state that the development must connect to the City's water system upon completion of their construction project, if the water line extension is approved by Commissioners, which it was. If the extension project had not been approved at this meeting, the church could have constructed an on-site well to provide water for an adequate fire suppression system until such time as water lines became available to the site by the City.

The BOA is expected to consider the Special Exception application in January. If approved, it is expected that DCC could complete construction in one year. That also means that the City's water main extension must be completed within one year as well.

Although DCC's request is more immediate, the City was already considering a plan to extend utility services eastward. Many believe the lack of water and wastewater infrastructure east of the downtown area along SR 26 has limited development, particularly commercial and industrial development.

In 2015, a group of property owners along the SR 26 corridor commissioned a report to analyze its potential for economic development and the factors which would facilitate development. Among its findings, the State Road 26 Corridor Study identified provision of water and wastewater infrastructure as a primary driver for economic development along the five-mile corridor between the downtown area and Jonesville.

City staff had developed a conceptual plan to provide water and wastewater infrastructure along this corridor. The estimated cost for the water and wastewater utility infrastructure along the five-mile corridor totaled $10 million. In December 2015 the City transmitted a Community Based Inclusion Request (CBIR) to the Florida legislature seeking funding to further plan the infrastructure needs of the corridor. The Florida legislature allocated no funding during the 2016 legislative session.

Commissioners requested that the City Manager continue to pursue some funding avenues he mentioned at the meeting to help pay for the eventual construction of wastewater lines eastward along the same corridor at an estimated $1.5 million to complete.

In addition to the wastewater issue, changes to the City's Land Use Map and zoning categories along SR 26 also must be modified in the near future to change both to allow for commercial and industrial use.

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W - HS Parade - Carson  DSC6712

A group of riders on horseback glimmer with lights adorning their outfits and their horses as they make their way down the parade route. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – Hot cocoa, miniature candy canes, festive attire, cheerful Christmas music and a pygmy goat named Matilda filled Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 10, on one of the coldest winter evenings so far this year.

The 19th Annual Twilight Christmas Parade, sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, attracted hundreds of area locals. Although the parade itself didn't begin until 6 p.m., people came as early as 4:30 p.m. to find a great viewing spot.

“We have more floats than usual this year,” said Eyvonne Andrews, President, High Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We’re also hoping for a grand turnout. The Chief of Police redesigned the parade route this year,” she said, “It’s coming out near the Civic Center and ending at the Christmas tree.”

Some organizations involved in this year's parade were High Rock Riders Motorcycle Club, Pampered Paws, the Woman’s Club, First Christian Academy, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Tumblemania, just to name a few.

Before the parade, Archer resident Patty Hannon walked her pet pygmy goat, Matilda, complete with pink bows and a pink sweater. Youngsters flocked around to get a better view and to pet the goat.

“I take her everywhere,” Hannon said. “She’s very friendly.”

River Run, a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that opened on Main Street in March of this year, had its doors open, welcoming the public. Outside their front door they distributed free hot cocoa and cookies. Lollipops were given to the children.

The Santa Fe High School Marching Raider Regiment band glowed with bright, festive lights adorning their outfits, and Santa himself brought up the rear end of the parade in bright, shiny red High Springs fire truck. Families and children were encouraged to visit with Santa at the city’s decorated Christmas tree located near Railroad Avenue for photos.

“I love this time of year,” said Michael Loveday, event Co-Coordinator. “It’s interesting that we have over 50 floats this year. Last year we had about 44. It’s just a fun time.”

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W - ARU - Team IMG 8745

ALACHUA - Last Saturday the Santa Fe Pop Warner Junior Varsity Raiders defeated the Valrico Rams 18 - 12 for the North vs South 2016 Southeast Regional Division 3 Championship at Hickory Tree Community Park, St. Cloud, Florida. Congratulations to Head Coach Bill Lang, assistant coaches Naron Curtis, Chuck Jenkins, Bronson Lang and Pearson Hilton for their commitment and dedication toward local youth athletes.

Santa Fe Pop Warner Football and Cheer is a volunteer based organization, so we would like to take this time to thank all the coaches, team mom's parent/volunteers, and of course, the participants for another successful season.

Santa Fe Youth Basketball sign-ups for the 2017 Season are available at the City of Alachua Hal Brady Recreation Complex Lobby area. Deadline is Saturday, Dec. 3. If you are interested in coaching or need additional information please contact Sam Markowitz or Charles Wakeley at 386-462-1610.  

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W - ARU - Team image4 1

The Santa Fe Pop Warner Peewee team shows their enthusiasm after defeating the Palatka Pirates to take the conference championship. Players are joined by coaches, Back Row L-R: Assistant coach Casperson, assistant coach McCormick, coach Kade, assistant coach Lewis and assistant coach Massias. (Photo special to Alachua County Today  

ALACHUA – Last Saturday Santa Fe Pop Warner hosted its final home games at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex. Coach Rob Kade and his Pee Wee team won its Conference Championship defeating the Palatka Pirates 25-0.

This coming Saturday, Nov. 5, the Alachua Youth Soccer League will host games at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex with over 50 teams competing. The following weekend, Nov. 12, they will host the 2016 Fall Season Tournament.

Santa Fe Youth Basketball is now accepting registrations for the 2016 – 2017 Season. The deadline is Dec 1. For more information please call the recreation center at 386-462-1610.

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Q - Community Roundup Ball ParkHIGH SPRINGS – It was a busy weekend in High Springs with spectators peaking at over 1,000.

This weekend the City of High Springs hosted the ACTFOR (Alachua County Task Force For Recreation) soccer games which included teams from High Springs, Alachua, Newberry, Williston, Bronson and Hawthorne.

Games were held all day at the High Springs Sports Complex as well as the High Springs Civic Center Park. The New Civic Center playground also experienced heavy use as the siblings of many players as well as local residents chose to utilize the new playground facility.

The Soccer season runs in the fall and spring and provides an opportunity for boys and girls aged 4-14 an opportunity to participate in this organized recreation program.

Meanwhile, at Memorial Park in High Springs, Santa Fe Babe Ruth hosted its opening day for fall ball. Games were held from morning to late afternoon for individuals of all ages.

Between Baseball, soccer, playgrounds, open recreation, and some newly renovated basketball and tennis courts; it’s safe to say the City of High Springs was immensely active on such a beautiful weekend.

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Q - 8U Santa Fe All Star Photo 2016


RAINA BARNETT/Special to Alachua County Today


TheSanta Fe Babe Ruth Softball Girls 8 and Under team has qualified to play in the World Series in Jensen Beach on Aug. 8 - 11. Now they are raising money and looking for funding ot make their dream a reality.


ALACHUA – The Santa Fe Babe Ruth Softballs girls 8 and under team has qualified to play in the World Series in Jensen Beach on Aug. 8-11.

The only problem is finding the funding to get there.

Between jerseys, helmets, and other expenses linked to traveling, food, and team equipment, the team has to find creative ways to support themselves.

The cost for the 11 girls and their families to travel and stay for six nights at a hotel in Jensen Beach is $3,500.

“We’ve been doing a lot of fundraising the last two months,” said head coach Brian Mallard.

Mallard said money for the team comes from helmet drives, raffles, and sponsorships from places like Wal-Mart and local construction companies.

Local Babe Ruth President Bubba Burnham, who has been involved with coaching, said the coaches and parents often volunteer their own time and effort for the sake of the kids.

“The majority of this effort is run by volunteers, parents, and we even have volunteers show up who don’t have kids playing that just love the sport and want to help,” Burnham said.

The World Series takes superb effort from a united team and support system.

“We won districts, state, and then there’s the World Series,” said Mallard. “We won a world series qualifier about six weeks ago.”

The regular season runs from the last week of February to the first week of May.

Burnham explained what the World Series signifies.

“I don’t micro-manage, I just make sure everything goes as planned for the season, but getting all the way to World Series signifies you have competed with teams all over the country, like Washington State, North Carolina, even California.”

The farthest the team has travelled is Jacksonville for World Series Qualifiers.

If you want to find out more information about the team and how to help fundraise or donate, please contact Brian Mallard at 352-425-2902.

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Kirby Snead

KIRBY SNEAD/Special to Alachua County Today

GAINESVILLE – Kirby Snead, a UF baseball player and former Santa Fe High School standout, has been drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB) and will be headed to play with the team – most likely a minor league affiliate – in a few weeks.

Snead, a pitcher in his third year at UF, said he had meetings with scouts from various teams, but the Blue Jays selected him in the 10th round of the MLB Draft.

He said a scout he spoke to praised his pitching style.

“Well, my position is left-handed pitch,” he said. “There’s not many of those that come around, so I think I’m very unique in the way I pitch - I’m very good at coming into close games and keeping it close.

“I’m pretty excited for it. It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life. I’m just ready to get started.”

Snead said he started playing baseball when he was about 5 years old, and fell in love with the game. He said he tried football and basketball growing up, but didn’t enjoy either of them.

He also said he wouldn’t consider baseball a family sport – his father ran track in college and also played football for a time.

There’s a difference between the mindset of playing during high school versus college, he said.

As a baseball player in high school, he said he was only aware of what team he was playing against, while college baseball taught him that it’s important to fully understand the opponent in order to have an advantage.

“Coming to UF is probably the best baseball program in the nation,” he said. “[It] just kind of got me to realize how different aspects of the game work – more from a mental standpoint than the physical – just understanding the game more and learning more about how the game’s played.”

Some advice he would impart to any young players who are interested in pursuing baseball is simply to persevere.

“There [were] definitely days where I thought baseball wasn’t for me,” he said. “But I just stuck with it and it really got me to where I am now.

“Baseball is a game of failure – you’re going to fail more times than you succeed. I guess I would say stick with it. No matter how many times – you’ve just gotta stick with it.”

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Q - ARU - G0055255

Photo special to Alachua County Today

ALACHUA – Bill D’Amico suddenly passed away a couple of weeks ago. Bill was instrumental in working with Florida Senator Kirkpatrick and the Governor of Florida in overseeing the stadium committee for the first ever Florida Babe Ruth Baseball World Series, which was held in Alachua.

Working with Julian Davenport, Robert Hartley, and Fred Nobles, Bill got volunteers to tear down the South End Zone at the Florida State University football field in Tallahassee.

Bill, with the help of the Florida Army Reserve, transported the entire 2,500 seat stadium to the Alachua Recreation Center.

Bill directed volunteers, local companies, and city staff and completed the stadium for the first ever Florida Babe Ruth Baseball World Series. The 1992 World Series was important to the Alachua – High Springs area, setting the stage for ongoing tournaments, and Bill played a major role in this success.

Bill was also a big part in hosting the first T-Ball tournament ever for Santa Fe Babe Ruth.

Bill’s legacy remains as a reminder of his dedication to youth sports. In that spirit, Lawrence D’Amico and the family donated $500 to the Babe Ruth program in memory of Bill D’Amico.

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Miami United States Clear (night), 72 °F
Current Conditions
Sunrise: 7:26 am   |   Sunset: 7:32 pm
91%     11.0 mph     1012.000 in
Mon Low: 69 °F High: 82 °F
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Tue Low: 69 °F High: 79 °F
Wed Low: 67 °F High: 79 °F