(ran EO edition)
On Dec. 19, the earth around the course at Tampa Bay Downs began to tremble as 1,500-pound thoroughbreds broke away from the gate, racing full tilt toward the finish line and into a 91-day racing season.
That day saw a marked increase in attendance over opening day 1997.
"Our opening weekend was up 14 percent over last year," public relations director Margo Flynn said.
She also is thrilled that the crowd is not only watching, but betting _ heavily.
"On-track money waged has increased," she said. "Last Tuesday, $3,214,516 was waged from around the country. It was our all-time high bet."
You don't have to be close to Tampa Bay Downs to make a bet, Flynn said. You don't have to be in the same state or even the same country. Millions of dollars are being waged by long-distance gamblers because the track's simulcast network has grown, she said.
Wherever there is a parimutuel outlet _ even in the Caribbean and Canada _ someone can bet on a horse running at Tampa Bay Downs.
Not only are more people watching from the stands and the restaurant, and betting from faraway locales, there are more horses residing for the season at the track, where 1,462 stalls are filled.
"We're usually full, but we've built 50 new stalls, so it's the most horses ever on (the) track," Flynn said.
On Saturday, Flynn was betting that a brushed-cotton hat stamped with a Tampa Bay Downs logo would bring in the fans. Five thousand were available at the gate.
The feature race on the schedule was the Pelican Stakes, where horses 4 and older would go nose to tail for six furlongs, battling for a $25,000 purse.
Teacher honored for igniting aviation interest
When she was in the sixth grade, Jeri Antozzi sat transfixed, gazing with awe at a flickering television set as astronauts first walked on the moon.
She wondered the same things many kids and adults wondered then and now. How high are the moon mountains? How can a rocket can fly miles into space without falling back to earth? And can an astronaut survive in zero gravity?
So she set out to learn about the mysteries of flight and now passes along her knowledge to fourth- and fifth-graders at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Oldsmar.
She relives the wonderment she felt watching the Apollo 11 crew place a flag on the moon every time one of her students stares as a handmade rocket shoots into the air or when one of them takes control of an airplane and flies over a virtual city in a flight simulator.
Or when, tired after traveling all night to Kennedy Space Center, the kids watch the space shuttle lift off, poke a hole in the sky and disappear.
Last summer she won the 1998 Janice Marie Dyer Aviation Education Award from the Aviation Distributors and Manufacturers Association International for teaching children about flying. On Nov. 13, she traveled to Palm Springs, Calif., to pick up her prize.
The award committee wanted to honor Antozzi for starting the Young Astronaut Club, making state and local presentations, and working with fellow teachers to present the Reach for the Stars Aerospace Day.
Antozzi got the idea to start a young astronauts club in 1986 after reading an article on the subject in Parade magazine. She was teaching at Oldsmar Elementary School then.
"I wanted to see if there was any interest," she said.
There was. A hundred students signed up, and 10 adults stepped forward to help guide them.
Five years ago when Forest Lakes Elementary School was built, she started teaching there and formed another aviation club for fourth- and fifth-graders. This year, 105 students signed up.
"I enjoy it. I try to spark their interest, then they go and read and get excited about aviation and space," Antozzi said.
The children meet once a month and participate in some lofty activities. They make plaster craft models of the Mercury capsule Friendship, using the same material doctors use to make a cast for a broken limb. They create water rockets and launch them.
"I like to do hands-on activities. With John Glenn going (into space), we talked about John Glenn," Antozzi said.
On Jan. 23, she and her club members will travel to North Shore Elementary School in St. Petersburg for the Ninth Annual Young Astronaut Aerospace Day. Six schools and 13 clubs are involved this year. The students will rotate through seven centers, experiencing a different space-age activity in each.
On March 13, she will lead the club to "Journey to the Future: An Aerospace Summit for Students and Teachers" in Tampa. Samuel Durrance, an astrophysicist who has been into space twice, will be there, as well as Brian Cooper, creator of the Rover Control Workstation for Mars Pathfinder and the primary driver of Sojourner, a remotely driven vehicle. NASA Robotics Specialist Steve Van Meter will bring large robots to dazzle the kids.
It's starting to dawn on Antozzi that her lessons will never be forgotten by most of her students. Some were inspired enough to continue their space education and enter into a career in aeronautics. One is a freshman at Embry-Riddle University.
And once recently, she was standing in line at Winn-Dixie waiting to check out when she spied a former student. The student asked what she was buying and she said "space food" for the club.
Antozzi said it took the student back to the days he was in her club eating space food.
Young actors present
"Hansel and Gretel'
Actors from OPAL Juniors, the Oldsmar Performing Actors League, will soon find themselves in the gingerbread house, with a yawning oven radiating hot breath and a vexatious witch with an enormous appetite for young flesh inside, hungry and waiting.
How will they get out of this one? Voracious birds made a meal out of their bread-crumb trail. They've been imprisoned by a cannibalistic witch in a candy house in the middle of a forest where bizarre things exist.
To see how the youngsters get out of their predicament, attend the OPAL Juniors' classic story of Hansel and Gretel at 7 p.m. Jan. 13, 14 and 15 in the new Oldsmar Arts Centre, 402 St. Petersburg Drive.
Tickets are free, but donations will be accepted.
OPAL Juniors cast members are all between the ages of 8 and 13.
Danny Harrigan of Oldsmar will portray Hansel, and Jessica Cournoyer of Oldsmar will be Gretel. They look to Oldsmar residents Theresa and Alex Balley for inspiration and direction.
The OPAL Juniors are involved in every aspect of the ambitious stage production.
At rehearsal, they learn self-confidence, poise, teamwork and stagecraft. Several past members have gone on to national and cable television, community theater groups, magnet schools for the arts and professional modeling.
Call Oldsmar cultural arts assistant Laure Day at (813) 855-5940 if you would like to help the Oldsmar youth theater programs grow and thrive.
Oldsmar Little League
sign-up starts Tuesday
This is it, procrastinating baseball players. The last pre-season, in-person full registration for Oldsmar Little League will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Canal Park.
Boys and girls ages 5 to 18 are invited to join Little League baseball teams.
The $80 registration cost can be paid in installments. Twenty dollars is due upon registration, with the balance due the third week of February.
New players must also present proof of age and residency.
If you cannot make it to the Canal Park registration drive, Grates, Grills & More in the Winn-Dixie shopping center, Oldsmar, has registration forms available.
Contact Bill Schneider at (813) 855-2784.
_ We are on the lookout for news for this Oldsmar column. If you have news about Oldsmar organizations, churches, schools, businesses or residents, please contact Eileen Schulte at the North Pinellas Times. She can be reached by phone at (727) 445-4229, by fax at (727) 445-4206 or by mail at 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.
Lunch break in the lake
An egret searches for food in the marshy waters of R.E. Olds Park in Oldsmar on Wednesday.