North by Northwest: FLN’s Latest Weekend Journey; Lacrosse Heaven & Hotel Hell!

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When Rivalry on the River was announced I knew it would make a great weekend road trip for FLN.  It’s an area of the state I haven’t ventured into for a high school game yet the readership was pretty strong in the area.  The games scheduled were top-notch and the school looked gorgeous on the images.

 

 

 

So I thought about what game I could watch on Friday on the way and the three that stood out to me were Lake Highland hosting Cardinal Mooney, Oviedo hosting Lake Mary and Cocoa Beach hosting Viera.  I had already seen both LHP and CM so that was out.  Oviedo and Lake Mary was very interesting to me and in retrospect was the best choice strictly from the standpoint of an important game, which it certainly turned out to be, as Oviedo garnered their biggest win in program history.

But there was more of a mission for me in choosing the Treasure Coast matchup.  I rarely get to see teams from that region coming down my way and it’s the area, along with the Panhandle, that is the last region to go all in on the sport and I thought I could help a little by going there.

It was the right choice for me personally.

The last time I was in that area was when my son was about 4 and we took him to the Kennedy Space Center, staying pretty much near the ocean for the weekend.

I left the house and hit I-95 North about 2:00pm, on the way to Cocoa Beach Jr/Sr High School.  Yep, one of the few I know of that has both at one location.  Cocoa Beach is a little difficult to get to, as it seems to be on a promenade part of land about a mile from the ocean and quite east of 95.  It’s not easier to get to from the North either.  But when I got to the equivalent of A1A I was surprised to see myself driving right next to Patrick Air Force Base (newly renamed Patrick Space Force Base), and it was MASSIVE.

A little further north and a left turn and I found the school on the left side of the road.  The landmass was pretty impressive for a school this size and there is plenty of unused land behind the stadium.

 

You can see the field in the bottom left.

 

I got these with plenty of time to acclimate and the first person I ran into was Viera Assistant Coach Bob Nunn, who’s been a fixture in the area for many years and we had a chance to talk at length about his experiences.  I also had time to talk with Cocoa Beach HC Larry Holmes and eventually Viera HC Bo Bartlett.  We focused on the scene in the area so I could get a feel for how far developed the lacrosse is.

It’s pretty clear that the interest is building but they are really only about 8-10 years in so the depth isn’t there yet and the youth programs are finally taking hold, with Nunn mentioning how the Brevard association that oversees things has been providing better players, so the future looks brighter.  To add something from last night, I watched Holy Trinity Episcopal last night and they seem to be in a similar growth path (one example is that I noticed John Combs’ son playing last night).

The game itself was close for a while but Viera pulled away in the 2nd half, as I expected from the power rankings and the flow of play in the 1st half.  But the game was hardly the highlight for me, it was the crowd and the lacrosse fanatics I met in the press box.

I wonder how many of you know that the AAU (the Amateur Athletic Union) is still going strong?  Heck, I had kind of forgot about them myself.  But who was in the booth performing duty as the PA announcer?  Jennings ‘Rusty’ Buchanan . . . the President & CEO of the AAU!  The funny thing is that I mentioned to him that one AAU event I attended many times as a teen was the Milrose Games in Madison Square Garden and he responded that I might have well seen him run there!

 

 

He was a contemporary of Edwin Moses, Renaldo Nehemiah and Mike Shine, all Olympic level hurdlers (Moses is probably still considered the greatest 400M hurdler ever given his winning streak and Olympic Gold Medals) and I believe that is him on the right based on a Google search.  If it isn’t I’m sure I’ll hear about it . . .

I was also sitting next to a grandmother of one of the players as well as a number of Lacrosse Moms and Dads and they were more than happy to talk about the sport and I had a great time talking to them about what was going on during the play.

This is clearly one of the great joys of our sport.  Meeting new people who are new to the sport and just happy to learn more about the game.  They were very interested in the origins of the sport and I was more than happy to talk with them about it.

As I mentioned, Viera pulled away in the second half and here’s the after-game interview with Coach Bartlett:

 

Viera HC Bo Bartlett on their 14-8 Win at Cocoa Beach – YouTube

 

It was time to get going towards Jacksonville and I left the school around 8:15, heading through downtown Cocoa and turning north.  Cocoa seems like the type of place a SMART Spring Breaker heads to instead of all the chaos of Miami Beach, Daytona, etc.; quieter, cleaner and full of charm for relaxing.  A little further up was a bigger density of restaurants, bars, etc., but for chilling out it’s this area for me.

As I turned to head back to I-95 I passed Port Canaveral, where a lot of Disney cruise ships would normally be anchored.  As a big fan of cruising, it hit a nerve as I have always debarked from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and it was nice to see the port itself.

 

 

The goal was to get as close to Jacksonville as possible and then finding a room for the night.  As a user of Hotel Tonight, I wasn’t as worried as I should have been about finding a room and that was a MAJOR mistake.  Around Daytona I started looking for rooms but found none.  A little further up and only one room at a Best Western in Palm Coast at $300 for the night.  St. Augustine was completely sold out.

Okay, I guess all the way to Jacksonville . . . there couldn’t be a complete sell out of rooms in the largest city area-wise in America, right?

1 hotel, 2, 4, 6 . . . no rooms.

Starting to panic a little . . . how do I do a full day of broadcasting after sleeping in the car?

Ponte Vedra HC Tom West sent me a late text asking where I was staying and when I told him of my plight started to check on places with his wife and they called around too.  They are moving soon so there wasn’t any place to crash in their place.

A room available in Kingswood, Georgia about 45 miles away.  Clicked to take it and it was gone.  Similar to another place a similar distance.

And finally, a Motel 6 in Starke . . . Historical Starke, near GAINESVILLE.  Historical for WHAT?  Hysterical for me.  When you click on the History of Starke on the City website, it ENDS in 1890.

Which pretty much coincides with the construction of the hotel I stayed at.

Here’s what my bathroom looked like.  God knows what resides behind that hole . . .

 

 

But it had to take it or I was going to be staying in Tallahassee at this rate.  So I put up with having to wipe the floor with the thin bath towel since it was feeling like sand and hopped onto the 1950’s bed spread, set the phone alarm and tried to sleep quickly.  Managed to get enough sleep to not feel out of it when I woke up.  Showered (no shampoo provided, but soap works when you are older) and got out of there ASAP, going back towards Highway 301.

Highway 301.

In 1972 (January 2nd I think) my family started driving home to New York and we got stuck in a FIFTY-MILE backup on I-95 due to a horrible accident.  For those not old enough to remember, in those days I-95 was not a completed road; you’d get off it for a while and get back on where it re-started.

And one of those roads was Highway 301.

We only got halfway through Georgia and needed a motel room for the night and the only one was one of those Norman Bates types that you saw in a Hitchcock film.  Checked in and was greeted by every bug you could think of.  Including under the covers.

Sleeping in the car made more sense but there were four of us.  We gutted it out for about 2 hours so my Dad could get a nap and it was right back on the road.

Yep, Highway 301.

Never again.

I did find a Waffle House . . . the only chain in America where EVERYONE working there greets you with “Hi Honey!”

Felt great to hear.

Felt even better after the thick slice of grilled ham, potatoes, two eggs over hard and wheat toast . . . for only $7.65!

 

 

All you brie and wine snobs can drop dead.

Finally, all filled up and on the way to the Episcopal School for the event.

Got there pretty early, ran into Joel Lamb right away and Ray Colaiacovo soon after.  Got the tent set up . . . probably should have just left the table and chair in the SUV since I didn’t spend 5 minutes in the booth but the name recognition was fine.

 

 

One of the first people I saw that day was Bartram Girl’s HC Megan Jackowiak.  She reminded me that we hadn’t talked since the 2016 FHSAA championship win over Vero and when I asked how her young child was (she was pregnant at the time) she mentioned she was working on her THIRD at this time.

Her own private feeder program.

I started reading up on some names for the broadcast, which was going to have some practice with the equipment and taping some pregame things at 11:00am.

 

 

And then a really neat thing started happening . . . Lacrosse Moms coming up to me and talking about how great it was for them to see FLN giving time to the Girls’ game.  I didn’t really think too much about this before because most readers knew how little time I had in the past to cover it.  But it really hit home to me that even being able to dedicate 5% of FLN’s time really made an impact.

I won’t forget.  And THANK YOU to all of you who stopped by to say Hi!.

As the games went on it got a little easier for me, as it takes a little time to get acclimated to live TV/Streaming, with an earpiece talking to you all the time.  The only real screw up was the very last segment, when I completely forgot to move the earpiece cord behind me, even as Ray was voicing his displeasure in my ear . . . frankly, by then, in the hot sun for a lot of the day, I wasn’t able to concentrate like I should have.

 

 

The games themselves were great, with one exception.  We did have one blowout and I felt bad for the losing team in that one.  It’s one thing to get beat badly but to have it happen on a live stream had to hurt more.

As the day went on the production seemed to get better for me and I’m pretty happy with my analysis as the day went on.  This is not easy, you don’t get a second chance to say something.  Joel kept cueing it up for me and I’m happy he didn’t get into a few of the things I wasn’t very knowledgeable about, which in this case was player names and Girl’s rules.  I could have studied more about the former but it takes YEARS to learn the latter.

Halftimes were fun and post-game even better.  A chance to talk with coaches I’ve only known by picture and name.  I had only met Coach Alford once before and Coach Theiss once too.  Coach Carter not at all.  Next time, I’m buying the adult beverage and the four of us can talk.  We’ll invite Tom too, but if the Rangers get the #1 overall pick again this year, he’s buying.

Of course, the night cap of Ponte Vedra and Creekside was a great way to climax the event with.  The game was fabulous . . . intensity off the charts.  And just like the Plant game, PV was able to come from behind late to pull out the game, but Creekside now knows they can truly hang and the District re-match will be something to see.

 

 

After the final wrap-up, complete with a vociferous crowd of parents and players, it was time to take the tent down.

The Taraboletti’s, fresh off Joe’s game tying and winning goals, gave me a hand.

Just so like this sport.

Scored twice late and finished with the assist.

Thank you to Airstream Ventures, all the sponsors, the Episcopal family for hosting, Ray for producing a terrific event and all the players, parents and coaches for playing their hearts out.

No Starke repeat for me.  No Highway 301 for me.  Just cruise control until Boca Raton.

Tired but happy with FLN’s latest road trip.

If I ever win Powerball, look out!