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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: [email protected]

  1. With new sponsor, tradition of Rattlesnake Festival continues in San Antonio


    SAN ANTONIO — About this time last year, everyone was preparing to bid adieu to a long-held tradition that was famous for giving some the creepy crawlers.

    But thanks to a new presenter, backed by a slate of sponsors, the annual Rattlesnake Festival will be held as usual on the third weekend of October, marking 51 straight years of entertainment, education and altruism. Organizers are expecting about 10,000 to come out for the festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at San Antonio City Park....

    The Thomas Promise Foundation, which assists school children in need, is the new sponsor for the annual Rattlesnake Festival.
  2. Expanded Cinderella Project assists students for prom, and now homecoming


    HUDSON — About 7:30 a.m., Julie Rockwell hits the road, dressed in business attire and driving a U-haul loaded with two racks of formal dresses and plastic bins filled with jewelry and high-heel shoes.

    It's the third day of the Cinderella Project fall road trip, and after two days at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Rockwell is destined for a drop-off at Fivay High before heading to her job at Raymond James....

    Homecoming dresses on the rack are courtesy the Cinderella Project.
  3. Sweet rides and a lot more on tap at annual Cotee River Bike Fest


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Downtown streets will be closed off this weekend as thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts blow in for what has become one of the biggest events in Pasco County.

    The West Pasco Chamber of Commerce Cotee River Bike Fest gets under way Friday in Sims Park and downtown New Port Richey. The three-day event, presented by Kemp Ruge & Green, Team Farrell and Harley-Davidson of New Port Richey, features live music on two stages, American Combat Wrestling bouts, a Revolution Roller Derby exhibition match, motorcycle and bikini contests, vendors, food, beverages and, of course, an abundance of sweet rides that will line the streets. ...

     The West Pasco Chamber of Commerce’s Cotee River Bikefest will take place today to Sunday in downtown New Port Richey.
  4. Frank Starkey: Renaissance man with a vision for downtown New Port Richey



    There's a recipe for fueling an urban renaissance, and real estate developer Frank Starkey is betting the city of New Port Richey has the ingredients. He is backing it up with a big investment in three downtown projects.

    "New Port Richey has the bones in place. It has the synergy and structure to allow anything to happen," said Starkey, 48, an avid advocate of new urbanism....

    The Central project at Orange lake will include 85 upscale apartments meant to appeal to empty-nester baby boomers and millennials.
  5. JROTC students at Hudson High get an up-close look at military options


    HUDSON — It was like a touch-a-truck event for teenagers, and the main attraction was a M119A3 Howitzer and the high-mobility multi-wheeled vehicle that towed it.

    For the first four periods of the day, National Guard Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Pelfort showed Hudson High School's Army Junior ROTC students in the Cobra Battalion some of what it takes to be an artillery officer, even giving a few the opportunity to fire a blank round in an empty parking lot outside the school gymnasium....

    Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Pelfort recently shared with students in the Army JROTC program at  Hudson High what it takes to be an artillery officer in the National Guard. That  came  with a hands-on experience that included the opportunity, for some, to load and fire parade blank rounds of a newly digitized M119A3 Howitzer. Here, Pelfort, left, guides Cadet Second Lt. Ezekiel Mercado, 16, right, through the process.
  6. Richey Community Orchestra announces plans for six-concert season

    Music & Concerts

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The Richey Community Orchestra kicks off its 2017-18 season with what promises to be a rousing offering, featuring American music that's sure to please.

    "We're kicking it off in a good way. The first concert is going to be pretty exciting. It's going to be like taking a Route 66 road trip across the country, featuring different music all over the country," said orchestra executive director Denise Isaacson, who is starting her 45th year as principal clarinet player....

    Las Vegas trumpet virtuoso Charly Raymond will be a featured guest artist for the 2017-18 season of the Richey Community Orchestra.
  7. Sertoma foundation helps with early identification of hard-of-hearing children


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The handwritten sign on the portable classroom door says "Quiet Please." That can be a difficult task for antsy youngsters who are lined up along an outdoor walkway at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School.

    Inside, where conversation is kept to whispers, Peggy Macedi, 77, a volunteer with the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation, gestures for the next kid to come forward — a tow-headed kindergartner with a sweet disposition named Caden Graham....

    Mittye P. Locke Elementary kindergartner Caden Graham, 5, responds to hearing “the beep” during a hearing test administered by Peggy Macedi, 77, a volunteer for the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation of New Port Richey.
  8. Even a weakened Irma leaves its mark on Pasco


    It was a Category 5, a Category 3, a tropical storm. It was Hurricane Irma, and she turned out to be a little fickle by the time she touched Pasco County.

    But she had strong breath.

    The eye of Irma passed over Dade City early Monday morning, and the majestic oak trees around town couldn't withstand the fierce gusts, even though the wind didn't reach the velocity levels originally predicted....

    Owner Todd Batchelor kept his Beef ‘O’Bradys in Dade City open as late as possible.
  9. Saturday festival will celebrate the sweet potato


    NEW PORT RICHEY — It's harvest time for the sweet potato.

    And for those who have a hankering, the 2017 Sweet Potato Round-Up and Fall Farming Market will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the West Pasco Habitat for Humanity Restore on Madison Street.

    The Sweet Potato Round-Up is part of a larger project that harmonizes with other annual events, such as the Okra Occasion, now in its third year, and the Loquat Festival, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in March, said Dell deChant....

    “It’s almost like a treasure box, digging them out of the dirt,” said Sylvia Spencer of the heirloom sweet potatoes from local organic growers. Spencer is manager of the Habitat garden.
  10. School year brings new orchestral sounds at Mitchell High, Seven Springs Middle


    NEW PORT RICHEY — In a small portable classroom at Mitchell High School, a group of players tuned their stringed instruments. There was a sense of anticipation flowing through the din, a captured opportunity heralding the birth of an orchestra.

    It starts with a blended group of talent, where awkward novice plays alongside a more seasoned musician. When it comes to enthusiasm, however, it's an equal playing field....

    William Brightman, 14, plucks his new viola during an orchestra class at Mitchell High School in New Port  Richey.
  11. Anclote River floods southwest Pasco neighborhoods


    ELFERS – Hurricane Irma's rainfall turned to stormwater surge Tuesday, pushing the Anclote River into neighborhood streets in southwest Pasco County.

    The river, measuring more than four feet above flood stages late Tuesday morning, covered streets within Anclote River Estates and neighboring Anclote River Acres, communities with a combined 224 homes just south of State Road 54.

    The river was projected to crest at 25 feet during Tuesday evening's high tide. That is 5 feet above flood stage, but nearly 2 feet lower than what had been predicted earlier as Irma approached Florida....

     The Anclote River was four feet above flood stage late Tuesday morning and was expected to crest Tuesday evening.
  12. Pasco: The remnants of Hurricane Irma



    Hurricane Irma means six days off from classes for Pasco public school students.

    Twenty-one schools were converted to shelters and housed 18,842 evacuees, many bringing along pets. On Monday, five high schools remained open as temporary shelters to aid people who may have returned to homes without electricity.

    Superintendent Kurt Browning, who toured schools in east Pasco, said he decided to let parents know early that classes won't resume until Monday, Sept. 18. That will give the staff a chance to clean up the schools used as shelters....

    A group of neighbors worked to saw a tree that had fallen during Hurricane Irma, blocking the entrance to the Park Lake Estates community in west Pasco. [Photo by Michele Miller]
  13. New performance stage in Land O'Lakes was a community effort


    LAND O'LAKES — A long-awaited project fueled by a collective desire to showcase the arts and family-friendly events has come to fruition, raising the curtain on a variety of cultural offerings expected to come to the new Heritage Stage at the Land O'Lakes Community Center.

    On Aug. 17, those who helped make it happen, as well as local dignitaries, school officials and community members, gathered on the grassy lawn surrounding the stage for a grand opening ceremony hosted by the Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department....

    The new Heritage Stage, which cost $250,000 to build, will play host to a variety of cultural events, including school and theatrical performances, cookoffs and pageants.
  14. At Bayonet Point Middle School, solar eclipse becomes a lesson



    At 2:30 Monday afternoon, students and faculty members streamed out of their classrooms and onto the athletic fields at Bayonet Point Middle School. The attraction: the solar eclipse.

    That this was something special was not lost on students like Kevin Esquivel and Andy Shaw, who donned filtered glasses and craned their necks upward as the cloudy sky turned a dusk-like hue....

    “It looks awesome,” said Bayonet Point Middle student Abby Keith, 13, left, while watching the solar eclipse with classmate Julisa Vega, 13, at Bayonet Point Middle School.
  15. Students, staff, parents celebrate opening of two new schools in Pasco


    After months of anticipation, Pasco County's two newest schools made their debuts Monday to largely rave reviews.

    Both Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel and Bexley Elementary School in Land O'Lakes rose to ease crowding at nearby schools, where subdivision growth pushed the student populations beyond capacity.

    Even with the new schools' arrival, other campuses continued to grow, with overall district enrollment expected to increase by 1,600 children — largely along the State Road 54 corridor....

    Diane Wakeman, right, the front office administrator, helps Mike Young, 39, center, and sons Tyler Young, 15, Carter Young, 13, Alberto Cardenas, 12, and Adam Cardenas, 13, on their first day of school at Cypress Creek High on Monday.