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  1. News at Noon: Strawberry Festival and Southern charm; USF lauded for black students' success; Rubio slams Dems; small plane crashes in St. Pete


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on


    With no booze, tobacco or other vices, the Florida Strawberry Festival may be a quaint piece of Americana. But it's also the second-most attended fair in the state, outpacing the Florida State Fair and bigger metropolitan festivals. The festival, which opens Thursday and runs through March 12, keeps its old-fashioned charm with an 80-ride midway, farm animals, corny contests, agriculture exhibits and lots of food on a stick. And of course, strawberries in every form are abundant at the winter strawberry capital of the world. Click here for a complete guide to the festival. ...

    Plant City, which bills itself as the winter strawberry capital of the world, has been holding the Florida Strawberry Festival since 1930. [
JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times (2012)]
  2. Milestone watch: King baseball coach Jim Macaluso approaches 600 wins


    King High baseball coach Jim Macaluso can reach a milestone Thursday night. With a win over Hillsborough, Macaluso would earn 600 wins for his career. He is in his 42nd year as the Lions’ head coach, a tenure that started in 1976.

    Macaluso, 69, has led the Lions to two state tournament appearances, 2010 and 2013. King is 3-0 this season. Macaluso’s career record is 599-375. That’s 974 high school baseball games at King. Should the Lions make a run in both the Saladino Tournament, districts and regionals, Macaluso will reach the 1,000 total games coached mark....

    Jim Macaluso has seen a lot of baseball over the years. The veteran coach is in his 42nd season coaching at King.
  3. YMCA offers swim lessons during spring break


    To continue to help prevent childhood drowning, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is offering Safety Around Water lessons between March 13 and 16 to coincide with Hillsborough County Public Schools' spring break.

    This annual program comes on the heels of new data which showed the drowning rate among children in Hillsborough County, ages 0 to 6, was reduced by 50 percent in 2016.

    Safety Around Water will be open to beginners and non-swimmers, ages 3 to 12 years....

    Two Safety Around Water classes in session at the Central City Family YMCA.
  4. Student pilot escapes injury as small plane crashes while practicing landings at Albert Whitted Airport


    ST. PETERSBURG — A student pilot escaped injury Wednesday morning when his small plane crashed while attempting a landing at Albert Whitted Airport.

    St. Petersburg police said the unidentified male pilot was practicing landings and takeoffs when he crashed in front of the airport tower while attempting a landing around 11:20 a.m....

    A pilot escaped injury on Wed., March 1, 2017, when his small plane crashed while attempting a landing at  Albert Whitted Airport. [St. Petersburg Police Department]
  5. Reeves had no cuts or blood on face, investigator testifies


    DADE CITY — The forensic investigator who photographed Curtis Reeves after a 2014 shooting in a movie theater said Wednesday that his face was free of cuts, despite reports that he was hit with a cellphone.

    Susan Miller of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office was the prosecution's first witness at Reeves' "stand your ground" hearing. Reeves shot Chad Oulson, 43, after a confrontation about phone use in the darkened theater....

    Defense attorney Dino Michaels presents a photograph of Curtis Reeves to display during State of Florida vs. Curtis Reeves "stand your ground" hearing at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City, Florida, on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Reeves, a retired Tampa Police Department captain, shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, over the use of his cellphone during a confrontation inside the Cobb Grove 16 theaters in Wesley Chapel, Florida in 2014. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  6. Presenting the winner of the Tampa Bay Times Reader Photo of the Year poll

    Human Interest

    Every day in the Tampa Bay Times we publish a reader-submitted photo on the front page of the BayLink section. Every month we conduct a poll that lets you vote for your favorite reader photo. When we put all 12 monthly winners up in a poll recently, the photo that garnered the most votes was . . .

    Bobcat kittens. Submitted by Patrick McMillan, Clearwater, FL. (Winner of the August 2016 Reader Photo of the Month poll.)...

  7. Art Planner: Gasparilla Festival of the Arts returns, plus remembering Andy Warhol

    Visual Arts




    Tampa's largest and most anticipated arts festival, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, returns to Curtis Hixon Park on Saturday and Sunday, bringing a top-notch selection of artists working in categories including painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, fine crafts and of course, jewelry. The festival also features up-and-coming artists in the Emerging Artist Showcase and a Scholastic Showcase, which features work from students. Kids who may be inspired by the festival can try their hand at making things in the activities tent or get a feel for collecting through the Art Collectors in Training program. Artists showing at the festival donated works to be shown in a Kids Only tent, most of them running $5 to $10. Live art happens with the Chalk Walk, when 10 commissioned artists create drawings on the sidewalk....

    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15:  Musicians Margaux Whitney (L) Charly Charles of Chargaux attend E!'s The Arrangement Event on February 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for E! Entertainment) 700002145
  8. New history exhibit holds memories for Palm Harbor resident

    Human Interest

    PALM HARBOR — JoAnn Tilley, 84, climbed the steps, one hand on the rail and one hand on her cane. Once inside the tiny house, she showed other visitors where she had slept as a toddler.

    "I don't remember a lot because I was very, very young, but I do remember where my bed was,'' she said. "Another thing. There was (a swing) on the porch. It was my very favorite.''

    Tilley, a longtime Pinellas County math teacher who retired from Countryside High in 1985, is a descendent of one of the area's pioneer families, the Suttons. Recently, she paid a visit to the Palm Harbor Museum to see the renovated, 550-square-foot Depression-era grove house, where she lived for a time with her mother and father. ...

    Jo Ann Tilley, 84, of Dunedin, lived in this grove house as a child. The house was moved to the Palm Harbor Museum's grounds by the Palm Harbor Historical Society.
  9. Things to Do Planner: Tampa Pro skateboard contest, Nude Nite, Carl Hiaasen





    Tampa Pro


    The best skateboarders in the world will be making their way to the Skatepark of Tampa this weekend for Tampa Pro, one of skateboarding's most respected contests, now in its 23rd year. The sweaty skate park will be jam-packed with skateboarding fans (rapper Lil Wayne has been known to show up) looking for some of the same skaters who will compete in the X Games and other high-profile contests. The winner of Tampa Pro will take home a $20,000 prize and a coveted spot in the Street League Skateboarding Nike SB Super Crown World Championship. The stakes are high. Spectator admission is $10-$15 and there are after-parties each night, as well as art shows, concerts, video premieres and the epic Converse Concrete Jam, a notorious best-trick contest at 7 p.m. Saturday in the outdoor park. Begins Thursday.

    Skatepark of Tampa owner Brian Schaefer poses with Lil Wayne during the Tampa Pro 2013 tournament.
  10. How the Strawberry Festival used shrewd Southern charm to become Florida's second-largest fair


    With no booze, tobacco or other vices, the Florida Strawberry Festival may be a quaint piece of Americana. But it's also the second-most attended fair in the state, outpacing the Florida State Fair and bigger metropolitan festivals.

    A combination of hot music acts and theme-park style customer service training drew a record 560,387 visitors to the festival in 2016, with double-digit sales increases for the festival midway, according to, an industry web site that ranks fairs nationwide....

    Plant City, which bills itself as the winter strawberry capital of the world, has been holding the Florida Strawberry Festival since 1930. [
JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times (2012)]
  11. Slow pace of redevelopment along U.S. 19 in Pasco triggers impatience

    Economic Development

    NEW PORT RICHEY — There were speeches and refreshments, and the dignitaries donned white hard hats, used red shovels and flung dirt. But it wasn't your typical groundbreaking.

    Last week, New Port Richey's mayor and City Council, along with developer Linda McGurn of Gainesville, hailed the renewed construction at Main Street Landing, an 80-apartment, 14-store complex, that stalled more than a decade ago. The high-profile project at Main Street and the Pithlachascotee River marked the first significant private downtown investment in the city's then-fledgling redevelopment program. It ground to a halt amid rising construction costs, falling real estate prices and a prior council that declined to authorize a renegotiated deal....

    Erik Suojanen and his wife, Colleen, purchased 3.5 acres in Port Richey bordering Miller’s Bayou, where they built Gill Dawg Marina in 2013. They’ve now bought the nearby vacant site of a former mobile home park fronting U.S. 19 and are eager for city and county redevelopment efforts to begin in earnest.
  12. For a Better Florida: Florida lawmakers to tackle medical marijuana, hospital funding


    TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature stands poised to address some hot-button issues in health care this session, including hospital deregulation and funding.

    But the issue garnering the most attention so far is medical marijuana.

    In November, more than 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing people with "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor. Before then, only cancer patients and people with intractable seizures could use the drug legally....

    Senate President Elect, Joe Negron, R- Stuart, said he plans to "fully follow the voters' instructions" on a constitutional amendment approved by more than 70 percent of the voters last year that would expand the use of medical marijuana. [Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]
  13. Can you solve the mystery of this afflicted St. Petersburg statue?

    Human Interest


    She slumps beside the sidewalk on a plaster stump, right arm resting on her thigh. Her right hand fell off long ago. Her left arm is gone.

    Her torso, draped in concrete cloth, is turned toward the house, as if she were watching it. But her eyes are closed — as if she can't bear to see.

    The statue is life-size; its features, eroded. It sits on the edge of 22nd Avenue S, at the edge of 46th Street, next to a no-name corner store. Its bare feet are rimmed by broken Snapple bottles....

    A weather-worn, life-size statue sits on the north edge of 22nd Ave S near 46th Street. Its origin is a mystery. Recently, someone placed a shirt over the statue's head. Photographed January 5, 2017. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT |   Times)
  14. Public funding for private schools on the rise in Hernando, and statewide


    BROOKSVILLE — Two pairs of girls huddled over storybooks in a classroom at Hernando Christian Academy while teacher Naomi Bean stood by, ready to step in if they stumbled.

    The girls read slightly below grade level now. But if they follow the path of previous students in this Restoring Individuals to Successful Education class, they should soon catch up to their classmates.

    "The ultimate goal is to have students integrate back into the classroom as close to grade level as possible, if not on grade level," said Bean, 69, a state-certified exceptional student education teacher who previously worked in public schools....

    Ken Alvarez, the Superintendent at Hernando Christian Academy in Brooksville, Florida on Thursday, February 16, 2017.
  15. 5 things to do under $5: Victorian picnic, Gasparilla victory party, streetcar concert


    1Picnic in the Park: The annual Victorian-themed gathering in Tampa's Plant Park invites families to step back in time and enjoy some free old-fashioned diversions. Play croquet or badminton and table games including dominoes, checkers, jacks or tiddlywinks. There will be strolling models in vintage clothing, art activities and entertainment including a barbershop quartet. Bring a picnic or food trucks will be on site. You'll find free ice cream and popcorn, too. Free 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, $1 admission to the Plant Museum from noon to 5 p.m. The park is at 401 W Kennedy Blvd., on the west bank of the Hillsborough River....

    The Annual Picnic in the Park on the front lawn of the Henry B. Plant Museum features Victorian games, people in vintage clothing, live theater and entertainment.