Posts by Bobby Karalla
Five minutes into his first skeet-shooting lesson, 13-year-old Jack Palms had missed a couple of shots in a row. Palms, who hails from Highland Park, is no stranger to shotguns. He’s used his Remington 1187 20-gauge to hunt doves and coyotes, but he came to John Calandro Jr. for some skeet advice.
Palms misses again, and lets out a sigh.
“You’re fine; keep going,” Calandro said. “I’ll keep watching you.” He gave the beginner a few words more, then stepped back and let the birds fly. Palms nailed three straight.
“How’s it feel?” Calandro asked.
“Feels good,” Palms said. This time, his sigh was one of relief.
Calandro, 25, and his father, John Sr., also of Highland Park, are two-thirds of the coaching trio that instructs kids interested in clay sport shooting. The Calandros, along with another John (Harris), are looking to organize competitive shooting teams in Highland Park schools through the Scholastic Clay Target Program. The teams would compete against others around the state and, should they qualify, the nation.
John Jr. played soccer at Highland Park, and was district Co-Most Valuable Player in 2006. For five years beginning at age 5, he was coached by his dad on a youth soccer team called the Bombers. His teammates included Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
John Jr. himself almost turned pro as a Major League Soccer player, but injuries piled up and he instead turned his attention to the shotgun business. Chris, another of John’s sons, who played football at HPHS, was president of the school’s shotgun club until he graduated in 2009. Since then, there hasn’t been one at the school.
Each of the three coaches have years of experience. John Sr. said he shot 18,000 competition targets last year alone, and John Jr. has been shooting since he was 16.
“What I do is I try to help them get started and get a base fundamental program,” said John Sr., also president of the Texas Sporting Clays Association. “The thing that will get them to a higher level of shooting is seeing more targets. It’s just doing it. It’s getting out there and doing it.”
John Sr. primarily handles the organizational aspects, while John Jr. keeps the kids into it.
“He smiles all the time, and they love being with him,” John Sr. said of his son. “It’s like being out with buddies. He makes sure they have fun all the time.”
During their lesson, Palms asks his coach questions in rapid-fire succession, and often jokes with him in between shots. John Jr.’s age makes relating to the kids easier, as does his head of hair. His dreadlocks, he said, often lead others to believe he’s a gun novice.
“I might not look like I shoot, but I can,” he joked.
Each of the three coaches teaches 3-5 kids at a time, and lessons cost as much as $50 per hour. John Sr. plans on entering his teams into the SCTP state championship taking place next June.
When Tommy Shuey returned to Highland Park from Hofstra University, where he played lacrosse, he noticed something very different about the sports atmosphere. Lacrosse wasn’t just an unpopular sport in Dallas-Fort Worth — it was barely played at all.
The revelation wasn’t exactly surprising. Historically, lacrosse is played most in the Northeast and the Midwest.
When Shuey returned in 2010, high schools in the area had just begun launching lacrosse programs, he said.
“It was almost like lacrosse didn’t belong in Texas, and I didn’t belong [at Hofstra] playing lacrosse,” Shuey said. “When I moved back, I kind of had this goal of not letting Texas be the outcast state any more and growing the sport in Texas, because I knew we had much better athletes and a lot of potential.”
That same year, Shuey and a couple of coaching buddies kick-started Sentry Lacrosse, a youth program for area kids. Shuey spent a couple of years doing double duty while he coached in Highland Park High School’s program, but he eventually left the school to focus on Sentry full-time. At first, only around 30 kids took part in the program, but as many as 500 participated this year.
So far, the program is a competitive success. The Girls Under-17 team won a tournament in Vail, Colo., this month, and the U-15 team made the playoffs.
“I saw the need for that next level of coaching and was sparked by my wanting to get Texas players up there with the best of the best in the Northeast,” Shuey said.
Sentry takes teams to tournaments around the state and country — including locations in San Diego, Orange County, Denver, Baltimore, and Palm Springs.
Colby Kneese, a rising sophomore at Highland Park, has been in the program since it was founded. He said the atmosphere at Sentry is a little more laid back than his school’s team, but the coaches have helped him grow his skill set.
“They really help me improve my game and with recruiting,” he said. “The youth [program] is really good.”
Sentry also provides a connection between youth and university programs. Shuey said college lacrosse programs are slow to recruit in Texas because the state’s high school players are not as developed as Northeast players.
But one advantage Texas players have is their physical prowess, he said. College coaches recruit raw physical talent and hope to convert athletes into lacrosse players.
“It’s a different type of recruiting,” he said of coaches’ strategies in Texas. “They actually recruit more athletes than they do lacrosse players out of Texas, with hopes that once they get to college they can become great lacrosse players.”
That’s where Sentry comes in. Coaches teach simple concepts to first-time players before introducing more complex principles that separate the good players from the great ones. Many teens in Sentry’s program also play for their schools, so the two programs supplement each other.
And while HPHS has a renowned program, Shuey wants the sport to spread.
“Highland Park is great — they’re a powerhouse — but I’m concerned with Texas,” Shuey said. “I want every kid in Texas to get better, because that helps everyone.”
You have the chance to possibly save a life by donating 15 minutes of your time — and maybe even some bone marrow — this weekend at NorthPark.
Between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, stop by Dillard’s Court to take part in the Bone Marrow Donor Registry Drive.
The only requirements: You must be between 18 — 44 years old, in good health, and you must provide a cheek swab sample. Donations will not take place on-site; the event is meant to encourage joining the national registry. Donations from minorities are especially needed.
To learn more, check out www.BeTheMatch.org.
When most people pack for trips, they make sure to include the vacation necessities: beach towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a good book. But in Nan Porter’s suitcase, among other things, there is a Leatherman pocket knife and a parachute cord.
The Highland Park graduate has already spent more than a week at the U.S. Military Academy’s basic training. She’s taking her talents to West Point, where tense military drills and short rests in barracks are hallmarks of a lifestyle perfectly contrary to one normally associated with a nationally sought-after athlete from an area like Highland Park.
“So much good comes out of it,” she said. “It’s a tough four years, but you get to serve your country.”
Porter is ranked 164th among high school girls tennis players nationwide and 14th in Texas, according to tennisrecruiting.net. She’s given a four-star rating out of five, and is one half of the reigning Class 4A doubles girls state championship team. Army might be the last place you’d expect a player like Porter to end up, but she’s attracted to the career opportunities and lifelong friendships that come along with attending school in West Point.
Aside from the four years she’ll spend in school, West Point graduates are required to serve at least five years in the Army. Porter will also have the inside track to landing a job as an officer, though a long-term career in the military isn’t something she is seriously considering.
“I’m taking it year-by-year,” she said on the eve of her departure for basic training. She was slightly nervous, but excited to take on the challenge.
And according to Scots tennis head coach Dan Holden, Porter will be up to that challenge. Comparing the military academies to Ivy League schools in terms of academics, Holden said Porter is as hard-working off the court as she is on the court.
“She’s very dedicated to her fitness,” he said. “All that’s going to translate really well to the Academy.”
Porter’s parents weren’t exactly on board from the beginning, however. They joined her on visits to West Point, the Naval Academy in Maryland, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado, but were hesitant at first to offer their blessing.
“They were not too happy about it,” she said of their feelings at the start. But they’re beginning to come around. “My mom’s still pretty nervous about me going, but my dad is pretty much on board.”
A huge part of basic training is becoming familiar with difficult situations and embracing adversity. In that respect, Porter will be one step ahead of her peers. Her parents separated when she was younger, and she moved with her mother to Highland Park from Amarillo. She went to three different high schools, attending one in Amarillo and another in Plano before settling at Highland Park during her senior year.
Between constantly moving and her growing affinity for tennis, Porter didn’t have time to make many friends outside of the sport. Perhaps that’s why she finds the group mentality of the military so appealing. That could even be why she excelled in doubles, a game that requires individual success but forces the pair to be on the same brainwave.
“You’re working with your teammates, and that’s what the military is about,” she said.
Holden said life as a top tennis player can be a lonely one, as hectic training schedules and plenty of travel can alienate a player from her peers, but he said Porter never had issues connecting with teammates — all of whom were enduring the same challenges.
“Everybody here loved her,” Holden said. “Still do.”
Aside from the obvious lifestyle change, Porter said she must still improve her tennis game to succeed at the Division I level. She describes herself as a scrappy, aggressive player, but plans to work on her performance near the net. She’s not large in stature, but even a player of her size could overwhelm opponents if she can master that component of her game.
Porter said not many girls even try playing near the net. She could be one of the few who do.
She doesn’t mind being a little different, doing things her own way. That’s her style.
There aren’t many places where you can hold a fishing rod in one hand and a hot dog in the other while jamming to “Gangnam Style.” But this year’s Children’s Fishing Derby was one of them.
Caruth Park was filled to capacity on Saturday as parents enjoyed the weather and their kids experienced the thrill of catching anything from a bite-sized fish to a 2-foot catfish.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for kids in an urban environment to do some fishing,” University Park parks director Gerry Bradley said.
Kids received prizes by the hour for the largest and smallest catches. Dilan Parmer, 14, earned a trophy and a small fishing rod for his 3-inch catch during the 10 o’clock hour. The defending champion — he also won the award for smallest catch last year — doubled down during the next hour, catching a 3.5-inch fish that flopped out of in his gloved hand as he carried it to the measurement tent.
Dilan said he was going to keep fishing until the end, because he left early last year and missed out on his award.
“Last year I left before they could give it to me,” he said. But he was in luck this year, as his hardware was quickly piling up by where his family was hanging out.
Kate Goodman had one of the largest catches of the morning. Her 24-inch catfish was the envy of the competitors and adults alike.
“The fish was almost as big as she was,” emcee Bill Cody said as Goodman threw the fish on the measuring table.
Aside from the fishing, the event was one big neighborhood party. The Community Trust Bank handed out candy, Highland Park High School students volunteered as judges, the Park Department served up more than 500 hot dogs, and children hula-hooped with parents near the DJ booth.
The titles given to the La Fiesta de las Seis Banderas duchesses can sometimes be a mouthful, but they all tie in to the yearly theme. This year, France is the country on which most of the monikers are based.
Other than titles alluding to the six flags that have flown over Texas (those of the Confederacy, France, Mexico, Spain, Texas, and the United States), the only two titles used each year are the Duchesses of Highland Park and University Park. There are 40 duchesses this year, leaving board president Rebecca Beasley to find 32 titles for the remaining girls.
To do that, Beasley turned to history. While France’s flag flew over Texas, Louis XIV was its king. So the 32 French titles are based on castles, palaces, and cities prominent during his reign. Those titles include Duchess da la Lousiane, Duchess du Chateau de Chambord, and Duchess du Palais de Versailles.
Claire Leifeste is the Duchess of Saint-German-en-Laye, after the city in which Louis XIV lived for 20 years. While she’s “not sure how to pronounce it,” she said with a laugh, the name gives the event an added flair. Leifeste and longtime La Fiesta designer Laurie Haluska worked on her dress to give it more of a French look.
The Confederate flag flew for a short time over Texas in the 19th century. While La Fiesta will never have a Confederate theme, Beasley said, being assigned the title gives a duchess the opportunity to wear a huge, elaborate gown.
“Their mindset has a lot to do with the dress,” Beasley said.
One duchess with a familiar title is Haley Anderson, the Duchess of the United States. Anderson said she was excited from the start to be part of La Fiesta, but finding out she was given an easily recognizable title is a bonus.
“As soon as they told me that, I was like, ‘I’m perfect with that.’ No complaint there,” she said.
Beasley, who was responsible for writing the introductions for the La Fiesta duchesses, said there is a small downside to representing the Red, White, and Blue. The U.S. flag was, of course, the final one chronologically to fly over the state, leaving the Duchess of the United States as one of the last to be introduced.
“You may get bragging rights, but you’ve got to stay backstage for a long time,” she joked.