Collier County crews are scrambling to get ready to host the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in April.
The weeklong event is expected to draw about 5,000 spectators to East Naples Community Park, as some of the top pickleball payers from around the world compete in the inaugural open.
When Jesus Velazco started to play soccer for Manny Touron as a fourth grader, he had no idea how much the experience and the coach would mean to him.
"I spent more time training, playing soccer, and ignored the negativity that happened both at home and in the streets of Immokalee," said Velazco, now 20 and a sophomore at Colgate University in New York.
Velazco followed Touron to the team, the Immokalee Soccer Pit Cobras, a club that he said is much more than the sport of soccer. It was about developing players personally and professionally.
Ollie Phipps needs little more than a captive audience. Give him a microphone, he says, "and it's on."
Recently, his audience was a room full of elementary schoolers, who are immediately entranced by Phipps' style. Imagine a black preacher and a congregation hanging on his every word.
His voice booms from the start: "Usually I say, why do we study black history? And they all go 'Martin Luther King!' And then I say, 'Well who was the first slave? And they say, 'Martin Luther King!'"
Phipps is now talking over roaring laughter.
As a golden apple floated past her classroom at Tommie Barfield Elementary, a teacher at the school opened her arms and said, "Welcome back."
The shiny fruit would end up in the hands of third grade teacher Nancy Garousi, one of five teachers who on Thursday received a Golden Apple award — Collier County's top teacher honor.
Garousi was surprised inside her classroom with the award, which recognizes inventive teachers with novel approaches to learning. When Garousi took hold of her apple, Tommie Barfield boasted four Golden Apple recipients in the building, including two recognized in 2009 and 2004, and the school's principal, who won in 2001.
"Ms. Garousi just has what it takes," Principal Karey Stewart said. "She pushes her students and yet they meet the expectations."