All posts by Shaniqua Brown

Irving geocaching event inspires urban exploration

The 10th Annual Celebrating Irving: The City and The Man kicked off with a geocaching event that began at the National Scouting Museum on Monday evening, April 3.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 773 were available to help participants who were not familiar with geocaching and the modern technology it requires. The first 100 attendees received purple bags with American author Washington Irving’s image printed on them which contained items such as Washington Irving pins.

Geocaching is a sport consisting of using global positioning satellite receivers to locate hidden containers using different coordinates given on geocaching.com. Hidden containers were placed throughout the Heritage District of Irving by one of the organizations who put the event together.

“We found out that the Boys Scouts actually have a badge they can earn for geocaching,” Mary Higbie, chairman of The City and The Man said. “It seemed to be natural that we would find some Boy Scouts to help us. They actually had taken the initiative to do the work for the development of the cache boxes and the placement of them, since they are familiar with how to do that.”

Without knowing anything about geocaching, Higbie and the committee took a chance on the sport. It has been a successful part of their program since 2007.

“We come up with new and different things to focus on,” Higbie said. “We asked for different ideas. We had done different types of events other years but wanted something new. Somebody mentioned geocaching. We had never done that before, but we decided to be brave, take the plunge and try to find out more about it, and do it.”

Kendrick Perry, Assistant Scout Master for troop 773, demonstrated using a GPS while geocaching.

“My family started geocaching a few years ago,” Perry said. “We were talking about nature preserves where GPS could be used to find things that were hidden. It sounded interesting, so I got online and looked up more information about it.

“Getting out and seeing different places are the best things about it. The challenge of finding caches is also fun. The GPS might take you to a certain location and then you might spend hours trying to find the cache, but that’s the thrilling part about it.”

With a combination of online games and real world activities, people who get involved in this sport discover information and a lot of interesting information about their city.

“My brother-in-law conned me into it,” said participant Kevin Wingate. “He was doing it before I was, so he came to Irving and said ‘Hey, let’s give this a try.’ We did it one weekend and had fun.”

Wingate has been geocaching for several years and has found over 7,000 different caches.

“In Amarillo there was this 1,500 pound marble that’s made out of granite,” Wingate said. “It sat on just a film of water and with one hand you can turn that 1500 pound marble around to see the globe spin. Basically, like seeing the world turning.”

“Players did not have to be present tonight,” Higbie said. “If they missed out, they can go to geocaching.com and register there. They can register any time down the road; whether it is this week, next week, or the week after that. It doesn’t matter. On May 30 at 3 p.m. at Jaycee Center for Arts, we are going to have a grand finale and give away some prizes. The advantage of having people here this evening is that some of their prizes will have a little bonus and anybody who finds 50 percent of the caches will be guaranteed a prize.”

Hoggies’ unforgettable rugby season

Last April the rugby team for the University of Dallas, known as the Hoggies, had their season end sooner than they would have liked – before spring break with a 1-6 record.

“It was very embarrassing,” said Matthew Kaiser, team manager. “We’d practice, invite our friends and families to the games, and we’d lose by like 40 points. Everything was extremely unorganized.

“Other schools that are bigger have fraternities or other social clubs. We don’t have Greek life here. This is the most proper form of fraternity, where it’s actually a brotherhood. This sport also has a certain kind of camaraderie that’s unlike any other sport.”

With the help of three new coaches, head coach Filip Keuppens, attack coach Dean Robinson, and defense coach Bruce McGregor, the Hoggies turned their game around and this year competed to an undefeated regular season.

“When [the new coaches] came, they brought a different team culture,” Kaiser said. “They emphasized personal ownership and positive thinking. In the past years, we’d get angry at each other for dropping the ball, but now we understand that if we make a mistake, [we need] to encourage each other to do better next time by basically analyzing ourselves.”

“All three of us used to coach the Texas Seniors Men’s All-Star Team,” Keuppens said. “Originally UD talked to Bruce. Then Bruce talked to Dean and me to get us back together again and bring positivity to this University of Dallas rugby team.”

The players worked all season with the coaches. They encouraged the players to become better men outside the game of rugby and to become better men for the game of rugby.

“Better men make better rugby players,” Keuppens said. “That translation applied rapidly within the team, and I’m very pleased with the work these boys have put in. We as the coaching staff wanted to start a positive winning culture, then focus on the fundamentals and basics of the game, and it paid off.

“Arguably with the same amount of talent from last year, it showed that they can work together to achieve a common goal. We taught them how to play for a team instead of for themselves. We took different approaches that we had and applied them to a university level.

John Houser plays the number four or five lock position, and emphasizes his drive and motivation. 

“I expected us to improve this year because of the new coaches,” Houser said. “Great coaches were what this team was missing. However, the history of this sport gives me drive and motivation when I’m out there on that field.”

Although the team did lose two games to Angelo State University in the Lone Star Conference Championship, they qualified for the National Small College Rugby Organization by beating the University of Denver on March 25, pushing their record to 16-2.

The team prepared to travel to Claremont, Calif. to play Claremont College in the PacWest Region Championship. However, because the team plays a club sport and not a varsity sport, the team faced financial hardship.

“We ran some numbers and realized that we had to get $20,000 to get everyone to California to compete,” Kaiser said. “We needed the money for food, transportation and lodging. We went to the club organization, and they said they didn’t have any budget left. It was the middle of the school year, and they didn’t expect us to make it this far.”

All the seniors and officers came together and brainstormed for two hours one night to come up with different things the team could do to raise the money.

“We ended up starting a GoFundMe page,” Kaiser said. “We started calling friends, families, alumni’s, and they started calling people they knew as well. It ended up being a ripple effect. The post got shared over 1,000 times on Facebook.”

With the help of the community, on March 27 the team was able to raise $10,000 in just 24 hours. Within the next four days, they reached their goal of $20,000.

“It blew my mind,” Kaiser said. “There were graduates who donated like $500. We had a guy donate $5. He said, ‘I love the Hoggies. I just wish I could donate more.’ Seeing that showed everyone on the team that this is real. People actually believe in us. He obviously was struggling financially but still pitched in five bucks. That was fantastic.”

On April 8, the Hoggies went up against Claremont College in the PacWest Regionals and lost 19-40.

“This loss was disappointing, but we’re still in high spirits,” Kaiser said. “This season is something we will never forget.”

Kids play bubble soccer at Mustang Park

Ten inflatable bubbles, two teams, unlimited laughter and multiple collisions between happy kids filled a fun afternoon.

These were some of the elements that made up the Mustang Park Recreational Center’s second annual Bubble Soccer game on Friday, March 24.

Teens and tweens, 10-14, were invited to play, eat and mingle with friends while improving their health. Recreational Specialist Andreas Ramierz took the opportunity to recognize the program is going and growing.

“This is the second time we did bubble soccer,” Ramierz said. “The first time was a big hit. The kids really enjoyed it, so we thought we’d bring it back. We had a pretty good crowd today, bigger than last year.

“We had programs for the Middle School Series, but it was mainly dinner and a movie. We wanted to have them interact and do something a little more active. We did research and looked at different trends that were popular that kids love to do. Then we as a staff began bouncing ideas off of each other. We all agreed on bubble soccer.”

Not only did the kids play five on five bubble soccer with each game lasting five minutes long, they also played other games. One game in particular they created themselves.

“They also played Sharks and Minnows,” said Terrance Woodson, who started out doing events with Bubble Soccer USA before becoming owner of the company. “The same as you play in the swimming pool, but you have to get knocked over in order to become a shark. We came up with this new game; they call it Capture the King. Each team has to protect their king. The first team to knock down the other team’s king wins.”

Bubble soccer gives those children who might not be athletically talented a chance to compete.

“I enjoy seeing the kids happy about bubble soccer,” Woodson said. “You can have kids who might not be athletic, might not get a chance to participate in many sports but will end up loving this. For example, there might be that big kid who doesn’t get to play basketball or other sports because he can’t really shoot, or throw a ball, but he can dodge at his friends. He’s the type of kid who loves it here. There are a lot of different options for kids, and they seem to really have fun doing it.”

Mahya Hemani (10) attends Las Colinas Elementary. As soon as she stepped into the bubble, she immediately remembered that she was built Ford tough, so she didn’t dodge challengers.

“I was like, ‘oh yeah,’” Mahya said with excitement. “It felt good to knock the other kids down but not once did they knock me down. They couldn’t knock me down because I was pretty balanced. I liked bouncing and hitting the other teams. The most challenging part was not being able to see the ball because the bubble was so big, but I didn’t give up. I really could only use my leg strength. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to help my team progress.”

The next Middle School Series will be in the fall, where Ramirez and her staff will provide an escape room activity.

“Back in January we did an escape room with a Riddle Batman theme,” Ramirez said. “We made a whole room out of it, where the kids had to solve riddles and locks. It was a good time, and we want to bring it back this fall. We aren’t too sure what the theme will be yet, but we do hope to have a great outcome.”

Library celebrates classic literature with tea

The Valley Ranch Library celebrated Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy tale, Alice in Wonderland, with a tea party on Saturday, March 18.

Danyelle Weiss, Senior Librarian, was first inspired to organize this event after a meeting with her team at the end of last year. During the meeting, they realized two of their programs would be better if merged.

“We have great children programs and great teen programs, but we never get them all together in one place except for during family fun night, which happens once a month,” Weiss said. “Seeing how this is our most popular event during the months, we said to ourselves, why aren’t we doing this all the time. So we planned three book parties that are open to all ages. There are activities for adults, teens and the young kiddos.”

With funds provided by the city of Irving, the Alice in Wonderland tea party was a complete success. Throughout the party, there were parents with their children cutting out crafts. Some older kids were at the card table where they made their own Queen of Hearts hair bows or King of Hearts bow ties. If not at the craft station or the card table, guests were sitting in the center of the room discussing the movie and their favorite characters, while sipping tea and munching on cupcakes. There were also door prizes given to those with lucky numbers.

“At the beginning of each fiscal year, we ask the director and programming team for a specific amount of money for each of our programs,” Weiss said. “That money comes out of the education and recreational funds provided by the city of Irving.

Being with the library for five years, Weiss has seen how children get excited about classic literature. They celebrate their love for literature no matter how classic or modern the stories are.

“It didn’t take movies like Diary of a Wimpy Kid to gather children around for enjoyment,” Weiss said. “I’ve heard people say that kids don’t read classic literature anymore or they don’t get excited about classic literature. This tea party proves to me that it’s not true. Kids do in fact love classic literature. It’s amazing how parents pass it down to their kids and their kids keep the cycle going.”

Rumaisa Ansari (9), who goes to Radiant STEM Academy, attended the party in a very long, elegant, red and black dress. She was there with her father, who passed the Alice in Wonderland story down to her.

“I really like the Alice in Wonderland story,” Rumaisa said. “I enjoyed this party because I got to make my own things. They provided us with a lot of different crafts, and with those crafts, I was able to turn little stuff into masterpieces. I just really enjoyed being creative.”

Friendships were made among the adults, teens and children who were present at this party.

“What I enjoyed the most about this tea party was watching friendships form based off a common interest,” Weiss said. “Everyone who attended met for the first time. It was just a great sight to see.”

The Alice in Wonderland tea party is the second of the three events that the library will provide for people of all ages.

“The first party was back in January where we did a Chronicles of Naira [themed event],” Weiss said. “This Alice Wonderland party was the second one, which was targeted perfectly during spring break. The last one will be held in the August, before everyone goes back to school. That theme will be Outsiders. It will be the Outsiders’ 50th anniversary this year, so we will be celebrating with an after-hours sock hop for kids before they go back to school. They can wear their poodle skirts, their bobby socks, do the twist and drink milk shakes.

The goal for next year, Weiss emphasized, will be to create more parties than this year.

“With this being our second successful party, we have become obsessed,” she said. “We hope to do about five more next year, because we absolutely love it.”

Football players honored for dedication, loyalty

Photo: IBFA boys receive their new football jackets, a decades old tradition. /Photo by Shaniqua Brown

The Irving Boys Football Association hosted its Five Year Jacket Ceremony in the Senter Park Recreational Center on Sunday, Feb. 26.

“Anybody who plays five years or more in tackle football is eligible to get a jacket,” David Martinez, Vice President of IBFA, said. “If the parents have their child here for five years or more, it’s just a way for us to say thanks for their dedication and loyalty. They could go anywhere else to play, but they choose to play for our league.”

Martinez has a long personal history with the IBFA.

“I’ve been here eleven years,” Martinez said. “My last year playing for the league was back in 1994, and I received a jacket too. To see this keep transpiring year after year makes me feel like something great comes from this organization.”

Although the IBFA is based in Irving, boys from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth area choose to play for the league, which consists of 34 different football teams.

“There are boys from Euless, Carrolton, West Dallas, and Oak Cliff,” Martinez said. “What really brings the boys from other cities is when the parents know a coach from Irving. We have an amazing coaching staff here, and the parents want their children to be a part of that.”

“Another reason [parents choose IBFA] is because of the convenience,” Sean Price, head coach of the Major Wildcats team, said. “There is not a lot of traveling like there is with some other leagues. Here everything is central. Everything is in one location. You don’t have to pay to get into games. I have a boy on my team this year that came from Denton and a few boys from Duncanville.”

During the ceremony, boys received their jackets with accomplished pride from the President of IBFA, Cory Denecola.

“We are out here to help these young men learn respect and the fundamentals of football,” Denecola said.

“I’ve been with the organization for about four years now. I first got my son involved. Then I became a coach, and from there, I became the President of the league. I’ve enjoyed every step of helping these young men.”

IBFA player Cesar Lopez received his jacket after playing in the IBFA for six years.

“I was happy and grateful to receive my jacket,” Lopez said. “It shows how long I have been playing, and it shows the work that I’ve put into this organization.”

IBFA player Colton Panther also received his jacket after playing in the IBFA for six years.

“It was exciting,” Panther said. “I want to thank my parents for putting me into this position and driving me forward throughout my football career.”

Every season, IBFA recruits boys to join their league, between the ages of three and twelve.

“We are an organization that loves football and just want to get young boys involved in football,” Martinez said. “A lot of parents don’t even know that we have a league out here, and they actually live in Irving. Sometimes we will go to Wal-Mart and see parents with their boys, and we will try to get them involved in football. We try to get flyers passed out to the elementary schools, because we want to start them out when they are young and have them grow within the league.”

Unique Romeo and Juliet performance captivates Irving

The South Irving Library hosted a theater in the round performance of Romeo and Juliet by the Bare Bones Shakespeare Theatre Company on Feb. 4. This was the second year the library hosted a romance themed event in honor of Valentine’s Day.

“The Lit’s Alive program is where we revisit classics,” library manager Amanda Hipp said. “We have been doing this for about two years and every Valentine’s we do a romantic story for the month of February.”

While cupcakes, lemonade and plenty of crafts decorated the tables, everyone’s attention was drawn to the romantic story unfolding right before their eyes. The troupe presented a unique casting effort to create more energy on stage.

“We do a lot of different styles,” Julia Nelson, the company’s founder, said. “For this play, we did extreme casting, which is where actors dash in and out of scenes, because they play so many different characters. It keeps the audience awake and at full attention. All of the actors were involved. Joel Frapart [for example] played the Nurse, Tybalt, Paris, Servant, Lady Montague and Balthasar. Adam Kullman played Romeo, Prince, Servant and Gregory.

“We put more focus into the actual text of the play instead of special effects or costumes,” Nelson said. “Doing so helps bring out a better production and also helps us veer incomes toward something more worthy.”

The Bare Bones Shakespeare Company brought in guest actress Hannah Jane Jennings for the role of Juliet.

“I had the opportunity to be in the show and I was really excited,” Jennings said.

The performance was Ethan Smith’s first time seeing the play. A student at Barton Elementary School, Smith attended with his grandmother and enjoyed the unique style of the troupe.

“I liked all of the actors and all of the moving around they did,” Smith said. “My favorite character was Romeo, because he was brave.”

“We want to make Shakespeare accessible and a lot of fun, which doesn’t need a lot of work, just don’t clutter it up,” actor Adam Kullman said. “It’s not designed to be read by boring people who don’t want to be there. It’s supposed to be watched by people who pay to be there.”

Shakespeare only wrote half of what you need, Nelson said, and the other half is you. Every cast makes Shakespeare new.

“We are different people tomorrow than we are today,” Nelson said. “It would still be new if we did this show again. I love working with young people, because I love seeing how they discover things that I never saw. I learn just as much as they do.”

After the performance, printers were on hand to create romantic totes for audience members.

“It was pretty successful,” Hipp said. “It was very interactive and everybody got into it. It was a theater in the round which Irving doesn’t really have, so it was nice to expose this community to that.”

Frost Fest blankets park with winter fun

Photo: A petting zoo complete with a reindeer was one of many attractions at the inaugural FrostFest. /Photo by Joe Snell

By Shaniqua Brown and Joe Snell

Jasmine Lee compares herself to a firefighter on days when she hosts events for the City of Irving. So the special events coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation department suited up early in the morning on Jan. 28 to make sure her inaugural Frost Fest would go off without a hitch. Hosted at Cimmaron Park, the event blended traditional cold weather activities such as snow tubing, ice sculptures, and ice skating, with a petting zoo complete with reindeer, DJ booth, and indoor library activities.

“We’ve had people out here since 5 a.m. I’ve been out here since 7 a.m.,” Lee said. “It’s gone very smoothly. I’m a firefighter on event days; I run around and put out fires.”

Lee was first inspired to organize the festival after visiting a similar event at another city in January of last year. Later that year during the city’s budget process, the idea became a reality when the Parks Department identified how they could allocate funds toward the new initiative. In total, the event cost $20,000 and came from existing budgeted funds. No increase in the budget was made, Lee said, and instead the Parks Department tightened their belts in other areas.

“You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel,” Lee said. “Other cities do great events. We take inspiration from what’s already out there, so people don’t have to leave the city to get all of those great amenities. If we see it somewhere else and we can do it, we do it. That’s why we have a comedy show, and a tasting event, and now we do concerts in the park. People don’t realize how many things we do here in Irving.”

The push for new city programming, including the Frost Fest, has been a challenge for Parks and Recreation officials in informing residents about upcoming events. She stressed that word of mouth is still the most effective means of marketing.

Initial feedback from the event was positive, as Lee and staff members executed verbal surveys of the day’s participants.

“People may not realize that we really look at these surveys that we take, and we make changes to the events based on what people think,” Lee said. “I’ve been talking to people and getting feedback, so we know what to do next year.

“Everybody has been happy. I haven’t had any complaints yet. It’s wonderful.”

The goal for next year, Lee emphasized, is bigger and better. Partnerships will be important to accomplishing that goal, however, as the department hopes to rely solely on vendors and outside participants to continue to grow.

“Really, all we want to do is more next year,” Lee said. “More trains, more activities, more attractions, because we want to keep the lines short, the people happy; that’s the goal for next year. I have no intentions of hitting the general fund anymore next year. My goal is to get more partners on board to help us grow it.”

The Irving Public Library acted as an event collaborator, providing programming inside the building concurrent with outside Frost Fest activities, including a puppet show, story time, and arts and crafts with winter animal themes. The library has a puppet show team that is part of the programming team, and along with librarians and library assistants from different branches, come together for citywide events. For Frost Fest in particular, the group came together to put on a new puppet show.

“Irving Parks and Rec and Irving library have done a lot of collaboration,” said Corine Barberena, Outreach Programming Supervisor for Irving Public Library. “When Jasmine asked us to be a part of this event, we were just thrilled.” Barberena’s role includes programming system wide as well as within the Irving community, and organizing outreach efforts to let residents know about library services and what’s available.

The Frost Fest is one of four new events being organized by the Parks Department, kicking off a season that includes the Irving Concert Series for Kids, Children’s Day at the Theater, and toward the end of the year, a corporate spelling bee for executives of area businesses.

“We get all of our businesses out here, they get into groups, they compete, and it’s a great way to raise funds to go toward more amenities for future events,” Lee said. “We’re always trying to find sponsors or people to make the events better without hitting the taxpayers.”

An emphasis on participation from Irving residents at the city’s upcoming events is a focus for the Parks department.

“We wanted lots of people to come, but lots of Irving people to come,” Lee said. “The point of our events is to do something for the residents to give them something to do to let them know that Irving’s a great place to be.”