World-renowned soccer player bringing his camp to Central Florida in July.

Xavi Hernandez, a top contributor to Spain’s first World Cup victory in 2010, is coming to Auburndale in July.

AUBURNDALE – When the Polk County Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to launch a marketing plan to figure on how best to spend tourist tax dollars, the agency wanted to get feedback on the new attractions that the county has to offer visitors, said Kris Keprios.
Keprios, the Polk County tourism sales and marketing manager, ticked off the enormous changes that have happened to the county’s tourism market since the last destination analysis was done in 2003, two years after the industry was still struggling to overcome the devastating impact of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the shutdown in the nation’s airspace.
In the past decade, Keprios noted, Legoland Florida has replaced the former Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Northeast Polk County has become a booming area for vacation homes rented to tourists and business travelers, Haines City has opened the new Lake Eva Banquet hall, and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport has expanded commercial air travel options.
He cited one other very positive development for Polk County’s tourism industry.
“We have the Lake Myrtle Sports Park now,” Keprios said. “That’s one of many, many good things that have changed for us.’’ Continue reading

Prison inmates turned dog trainers take part in graduation ceremony next week.

The former New River O work camp in Raiford had sponsored the ADAPT program, where inmates provide obedience training to dogs from a local humane shelter. (Photo by Dave Raith).

WHITE CITY – Once a month, if not much sooner than that, Sandi Christy’s office on the Florida gulf coast gets calls from people looking to adopt a dog.
And they’re usually from New Jersey.
The fact that Christy’s humane shelter office is in the Florida Panhandle and the callers are in the Mid-Atlantic doesn’t surprise her a bit. It started when a woman from a town in New Jersey called Basking Ridge adopted one of Christy’s dogs, then decided to help spread the word about the dogs at the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society.
“She went to the local Starbucks,” Christy said. “And she just made a flyer, and she took pictures off our Web site and posted a flyer with those little tear offs, and we get applications every month, if not every week, by people who happen to see this flyer in Starbucks.”
What’s unique about the shelter, said Christy, its executive director, is that the dogs are given obedience training before they’re put up for adoption, and spend months learning how to be friendly and relaxed around people.
And they learn it from inmates in a Florida state prison – by living in the dorms with the inmates. Continue reading

Pirate show brings out enough students to fill two classrooms.

A cast of 35 youngsters ages 5 to 16 will perform in the HCCT KIDS! production of "A Pirate's Life For Me" in Haines City in June. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

HAINES CITY – When Kristy Moots first started HCCT KIDS!, a children’s theater program and division of the Haines City Community Theatre, she and the other adults running the summer program held auditions for children to perform in their first production.
And then held auditions — again.
They had a problem: not enough response to their casting call, Moots said.
“The first year, we had seven kids show up,” she said. “We didn’t even have enough to fill the cast. We had to call friends to get their kids to attend.”
Times have changed. When HCCT Kids! stages its summer production in June, they’ll have a cast that’s quite larger than the average school classroom – and all of the actors will be under the age of 17.
“Our children start at age 5, and the oldest we have is 16,” Moots said. “We have a cast of about 35 children. That’s a lot of children.”
HCCT Kids! is also hoping that translates into a lot of adults in the audience as well – including parents eager to see their little ones perform on stage.
“Then we get grandparents, aunts and friends who come, too,” she said. “We should do pretty good with this show.”
The production that HCCT KIDS! is performing on the Haines City Community Theatre stage in the Clay Cut Centre at 801 Ledwith Ave. in downtown Haines City is a musical-comedy-adventure-romance called “A Pirate’s Life For Me,” written by Craig Sodaro, with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur. It’s the tale of aristocrat Roger Goodman and his true love, Sarah Huffington, who decides Roger is boring and she’d would rather marry a brave and adventurous pirate.
Roger responds by hiring Long John Sliver to tutor him on the ways of pirate life.
“It’s a fun show,” Moots said. “The boy is in love with the girl, but the girl wants to marry an exciting pirate king, so they both set sail. She has her own crew and he has his, and they end up on Treasure Island with Bluebeard. There is music, too, all kinds of pirates songs.”
The reason they needed such a large cast, she said, is because there are three different pirate crews in the show – so HCCT KIDS! needed to recruit plenty of young pirates.
“Last year we did ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and it was kind of a small group, but this year we have the Long John Silver crew, and Bluebeard’s crew, and the Pirate Queen’s crew,” Moots said. “They all come on stage in their different groups.”
If it sounds awfully ambitious to be directing so many child performers under one tent, Moots said Polk County is lucky to have such a large number of talented and enthusiastic children to tap into for a production like this one.
They drew some of the kids from the nearby Davenport School of the Arts, which has a theater program, Moots said, but also from a host of other local schools.
“We have kids in the show from schools in Davenport, Winter Haven, Haines City and Lakeland,” she said. “The students do pretty much everything. Most of our back stage crew is made up of high school and middle school students, and the young man who runs our lighting attends high school in Lakeland. A lot of this production is done by the kids. We have a lot of really talented kid. It’s nice that we have this.”
This year’s production is unique in a couple of ways, Moots said. First, there are a lot of new young faces taking part in the production, who have not performed with HCCT KIDS! in the past.
“A lot of times we get the same kids back every year, but we got new children this time, too,” she said.
Also unique is that traditionally, it’s easier to recruit young girls who want to act in a theater production than boys. Again, this year it was the exact opposite.
“I was surprised, because a lot of times you find girls who want to come out to the auditions, but this year we had a lot of boys come out as well, and that’s how we did it this year,” she said. “We had them fill all these pirate roles.”
The large cast includes Tray Davis, Brendan Woods, Carly Farrens, Hailey Potts, Morgan Valentine, Logan Cook, and Lorena Ervin.
Also in the production are Adam Schumacher, Taylor Valentine, Dusty Garcia, Sophie Leniz, Reese Tittel, Savannah Taylor, Eric Moots, and Gaby Longchamps.
Jocelyn McIntee is also in the show, along with Ebony Martin, Taylor Rountree, Brice Brewer, Anthony Petrocelli, Conor Shano, Alex Leniz, Jason Tisdale, Tristan Malloy, Caiden Shano, Breynna Dierker, Eva Garcia, and Roman Shano.
Moots directed the play, along with Tracy Miller.
The show will be performed from June 15-24, on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7, and with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children, and $8 for adults.
For reservations or more information, call 863-421-1893 or log on to www.hainescitytheatre.com.

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