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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251

Email: miller@tampabay.com

  1. Team says goodbye to Odyssey of the Mind — but first, World Finals



    Some victories are bittersweet. That's the general feeling for a couple of members of the Odyssey of the Mind Division III team representing Wiregrass Ranch High.

    After six years of competing on various Odyssey teams together and making it to the state competition each year, Kayla Gutierrez, 17, and Kaden Robinson, 18, are about to go their own ways.

    Robinson, a senior at Wesley Chapel High, is graduating, and it doesn't make much sense to continue....

  2. Young saxophonist hopes his talent leads to a career in contemporary jazz

    Human Interest


    The afternoon sun streaming through the window bathed Kyle Schroeder in warm light as he gave a solitary performance in his parents' dining room.

    With eyes closed, foot tapping time, Schroeder, 18, moved his fingers over the brass keys of his alto saxophone while the family's pet pocket beagle, Olive, lounged lazily nearby.

    Kicking off the casual set was an old Charlie Parker tune called Billy's Bounce, followed by a little jazz improvisation, Stella by Starlight, and a song Frank Sinatra used to sing called Nancy (with a Laughing Face)....

    Kyle Schroeder, 18, of Trinity has made inroads in the local jazz scene and has gained notice for his alto sax talent.
  3. Pick your own a popular choice at new Starkey Blueberry Farm



    The season is ripe for blueberry picking, and the weather has been, well, downright perfect.

    That thought was not lost on Jen Barber, 35, of Land O'Lakes when she packed up her three sons and ventured into the new U-pick fields at Starkey Blueberry Farm.

    The plan was to pick enough to fold into pancake batter come Saturday morning, with a little left over to freeze.

    "We're doing pretty well, considering," Barber said, as her 9-month-old son, Cale, snoozed in his baby sling while brothers Jimmy, 6, and Josh, 2, scampered in and around the long rows of ripening bushes. "I think I would do better on my own, though. They keep eating what I pick."...

    Partners Trey Starkey, right, and Aaron Derksen have planted 47 acres featuring eight varieties of blueberries.
  4. Robotics team from River Ridge High prepares for world championships


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The competitive season isn't over for the engineering whiz kids from River Ridge High School.

    After two promising outings at regional competitions, the River Ridge Royal Robotics team is set to compete at the FIRST Robotics World Championships on Wednesday through April 30 in St. Louis. The team is one of two from the Tampa Bay area to move on, joining the well-established Minotaur robotics team from Middleton Magnet High in Tampa....

    The River Ridge High Royal Robotics team earned its berth through regional competitions.
  5. Boats, blues and lots more planned at 17th annual Cotee River Seafest


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Boats, seafood, mermaids and music will be among the highlights as the 17th annual Cotee River Seafest gets under way Friday for a three-day run in and around newly renovated Sims Park.

    The festival, presented by Bright House Networks and New Port Richey Main Street, offers something for all in a somewhat different setting, said Judy DeBella Thomas, the event's coordinator. "With the new layout of the park, we're kind of excited with how everything is placed this year," Thomas said....

    Lauren Mitchell and her band will belt out the blues at the festival on Saturday.
  6. Looking for something to do? There's still plenty going on at Chasco Fiesta


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The Chasco Fiesta continues through Saturday in downtown New Port Richey, and there's still a fair share of festivities to take in.

    You're in luck if you love a parade, or if your taste in music leans toward country or the oldies — maybe with a plate of ribs on the side. That would be courtesy of the West Pasco Sertoma Club, which will host its annual barbecue in Sims Park on Friday and Saturday....

    West Pasco Sertoma volunteer Gary Tinker pulls ribs from the smoker for the annual Sertoma BBQ on the opening day of the Chasco Fiesta last week.
  7. Looking for Something to Do? Chasco Fiesta promises something for everyone


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Carnival rides, boat and street parades, a steady lineup of music in Sims Park and the traditional Native American festival are just part of what's on the agenda as the Chasco Fiesta gets under way today in downtown New Port Richey.

    It's nine days of celebratory fun that's billed as an event that has "something for everyone" while providing a venue for more than 25 local non-profits to raise funds....

    This year’s Chasco Fiesta boat parade begins at 1 p.m. April 9 on the Pithlachascotee River. It starts in Millers Bayou and ends at Sims Park. Get there early for a good viewing spot.
  8. County's Outstanding Senior leaves big imprint, but ready to move on


    NEW PORT RICHEY — It was March Madness week at Mitchell High School, and Tyler Wetherill, in celebratory tropical garb, was enjoying the revelry of Hawaiian Dress Up Day.

    "I love dress-up days — that's one of the things I love about this school," Wetherill said as he took a seat and plunked a small coconut on the table in front of him.

    Graduation is nearing, and, like many high school seniors, the future is much on the mind of Wetherill, who in December was named the 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District....

    “Right off the bat in high school — and it’s hard to do this — I had a place. All the discipline I learned, all the people beside me were a huge impact on my life — especially the instructors. I tried to be a well-rounded student, but JROTC was my core.” Tyler Wetherill, 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District
  9. Want a taste of something different? The third annual Florida Loquat Festival kicks off in a new location in New Port Richey


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Come Saturday morning a small fruit with a fuzzy skin will take the spotlight as the annual Florida Loquat Festival gets underway at a new location.

    For a few short hours, it's everything loquats — jams to taste, trees to plant and educational offerings — all in a natural setting.

    The festival, founded three years ago to shed light on an under-appreciated, locally grown fruit, had been held at Rose's Market off Main, a homey restaurant alongside the Pithlachascotee River in downtown New Port Richey. When the bistro relocated to Grand Boulevard, organizers found a perfect alternative down river, at Frances Avenue Park....

    Travis Morehead, 31, left, and Dell deChant, 61, who is the founder of the Florida Loquat Festival, harvest loquats from deChant’s tree in preparation for this week’s event in New Port Richey.
  10. Band made famous on America's Got Talent to highlight Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — There are plenty of reasons to take in the annual Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival, which starts Wednesday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, and organizer Ernie Evans is proud to list a few of the big draws.

    It's all about the music, and there will be plenty of that, with highlights that include first-timers Mountain Faith, old-time favorite Marty Raybon and the Dixie Echoes, who will close out the weekend with a special Easter service. The festival also has a philanthropic twist as a fundraiser for various youth programs held at the ranch....

    After making it to the semifinals on the 10th season of America’s Got Talent, the bluegrass band Mountain Faith of Sylva, N.C., will perform at the Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival.
  11. Will McLean Music Festival returns for 27th year at Sertoma Youth Ranch

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — There will be some down-home pickin' and strummin' and plenty of singing about Florida's beauty and folklore as the 27th annual Will McLean Music Festival gets underway today at the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    What started out as a memorial for McLean — the late, great father of Florida folk who died in 1990 — has evolved into a three-day festival featuring more than 70 acoustic musicians across the state....

    Lauren Nicole Heintz, named winner of the 2016 Will McLean Song Contest, is one of 70 musicians who will perform.
  12. River Ridge team readies for big robotics competition in Orlando



    Amid a flurry of activity punctuated by the buzz of power drills and a working band saw, Allysa Allen, 17, slid her safety glasses up from her face and took stock of the cooperative effort going on in the River Ridge High School Academy of Engineering classroom and workshop.

    The six-week build season for the Orlando Regional FIRST Robotics Competition was drawing to an end. It was crunch time for the school's Royal Robotics crew, particularly Allen, who was overseeing the building of the team robot with her co-leader, Zachary Babcock, 16....

    River Ridge Royal Robotics team members,  from left, Zackary Babcock, Thomas Rimos and Gavin Dearsman, measure  prototype components.
  13. High school reading mentors help elementary students improve their skills


    HUDSON — Bentley Zerwas has a fine sense of humor, something that has not escaped the notice of Natalie Santos, who gets a taste of it during their Thursday afternoon reading sessions in the media center at Northwest Elementary School.

    "I like reading with Bentley because he's really funny," Santos said as the two pored over a National Geographic children's book, One World, One Day, that was filled with beautiful photographs and some meaningful text by author Barbara Kerley....

    First-grader Bentley Zerwas, 6, reads with Hudson High sophomore Natalie Santos, 16, during the weekly Teen Trendsetters literacy program.
  14. In need of larger venue, Florida Bluegrass Festival relocates to Brooksville

    Music & Concerts

    BROOKSVILLE — Local bluegrass lovers are in for a treat, and a shorter ride, as the Florida Bluegrass Classic rolls into town next week for the first time at Florida Classic Park, east of Brooksville.

    Aficionados might be familiar with the annual event, which previously was known as the Roscoe Canaday Festival and had a 30-year run at the Dixieland RV Park in Waldo.

    "We outgrew the venue and had to move it, which is a great problem to have, I guess," said presenter Ernie Evans of Evans Media Source. "We really landed in a nice place."...

    The renowned Blue Highway is one of several nationally touring bands that will perform at the Florida Bluegrass Classic starting Wednesday at Florida Classic Park, east of Brooksville.
  15. After two-year hiatus, Suncoast Harmony Chorus returns to the stage Saturday

    Music & Concerts


    Two years have passed since the Suncoast Harmony Chorus last performed an annual concert, featuring the voices of women singing four-part harmony.

    This year, the 17-member chorus is ready to entertain once again — and they're bringing along some guest performers.

    The Magic of Music at 2 p.m. Saturday at First Methodist Church of Hudson is the comeback concert for west-central Florida's chapter of Sweet Adelines International....

    Members of the Suncoast Harmony Chorus rehearse for their upcoming concert, The Magic of Music.