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Author: Staff Reporters

Win or lose, this U.S. men’s soccer team deserves our support

Look, America’s not a soccer country – not yet. Many curious onlookers and casual fans complained vehemently about the Yanks’ 0-0 tie against England’s Three Lions the day after Thanksgiving, days after a 1-1 draw against little Wales in their first group-stage match.

But consider: the United States never has won the World Cup; never been to the semifinals. We didn’t even qualify for the world’s grandest of all competitions four years ago. American Exceptionalism may be a thing in some pursuits, but our men’s soccer teams still are pursuing soccer glory.

The Red, White and Blue are fielding the second-youngest roster among teams competing in Qatar. And, while many fans consider this group of players America’s “Golden Generation” – it is true that more young Yanks are succeeding at the highest levels of the sport than ever before – they still are very, very young.
Inexperience likely cost the US a win against Wales.

The Americans led 1-0 with less than 10 minutes and stoppage time to play until center back Walker Zimmerman committed a reckless foul on an unnecessary challenge. Wales’ international superstar, Gareth Bale, buried the penalty kick in the 82nd minute and a match dominated by the US ended in a draw that felt like a missed opportunity.

While soccer seems perpetually crying for attention in the crowded American sports market, England is the ancestral home of association football.

The Three Lions never have dominated the world’s game England claims to have created, winning just a single World Cup (in 1966), but this may be England’s best side since the Beatles conquered the world. England is a legitimate contender – something the US never has been in this competition – and will disappoint a nation if it fails to make the semifinals.

The realistic goal for the United States always has been to make it out of the group stages, something it has (hopefully) or hasn’t done by this edition of the Press Gazette hits the racks. Thirty-two teams qualified for the World Cup. A random draw splits the squads into eight groups of four. Each team plays each other team in its group, and the top two teams from each group advance to a 16-team knockout bracket.

With that in mind, please understand no sober fan of the game expected the United States to defeat England, and very few expected we might hold them to a draw. If they’re honest, most US fans probably expected to lose by multiple goals, hopefully not more than two.

So, to see our young side stand toe-to-toe with one of the world’s finest sides was thrilling for the true fans. Every England attack turned back WAS a score, every shot blocked, pass deflected or stolen, corner forced, header won…casual fans may not understand because none of these tiny victories change the scoreboard. But the sides’ body language after the England match was clear; we may only have earned a point in the group standings, but we won that match.

If Iran beat us Tuesday (tomorrow for this writer) and America’s World Cup dream dashed again, keep your heads up. This is a good squad. It will compete again in 2026, when the World Cup comes to North America. Our “Golden Generation” will be more polished, more experienced and better for these ties in Qatar.

And, if the U.S. is still in the fray, join us in wishing them well and, if you’re not a soccer fan, keep an open mind. Goals are dear in soccer, don’t expect one every few minutes. Study the struggle, the strategy, the emotion, the character of the sides…and don’t worry – if we’re playing in the knockout rounds, there will be no more ties.

Former Santa Rosa Sheriff’s deputy sentenced for lying to FBI

“Criminal conduct by those sworn to uphold the law represents a betrayal of the public trust,” stated U.S. Attorney Coody. “The corrupt acts of an individual law enforcement officer can erode the public’s trust in the legions of brave men and women who faithfully honor their oaths’ and place their lives on the line each day to keep our communities safe. We will vigorously investigate and prosecute any officer who betrays their sworn oath and the public’s trust.”

During his plea in federal court, Haines admitted that he became personally involved in the real property management and finances of an elderly woman in Santa Rosa County and deposited rental payments from tenants of the elderly woman into his own bank account without authority to do so.

According to the Justice Department, when confronted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Haines made material false statements regarding his involvement with the rental properties, the depositing of rental payments into his personal account, and his knowledge and involvement with the Last Will and Testament of the elderly woman of which he became a beneficiary.

“Police officers are given immense trust and responsibility, and are therefore held to a higher standard,” said Sherri E. Onks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division, “so there are serious consequences when one tarnishes the badge by breaking the law. Scott Haines disgraced the uniform when he abused his authority to victimize an elderly individual for his own personal gain, and his sentencing affirms that the FBI has zero tolerance for officials who prey on the citizens they have sworn to protect.”

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office cooperated fully with the FBI/FDLE investigation and immediately relieved Haines of his duties prior to the filing of criminal charges.

Haines will be required to serve one year on federal supervised release following his incarceration. He was formally adjudicated guilty by the United States District Court and is now a felon. Haines previously relinquished his criminal justice certifications.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Assistant United States Attorney David L. Goldberg prosecuted the case.

While with Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office, Haines was public information officer and spent time with the Major Crimes Unit as a supervisor. He was demoted for sexual harassment of a female employee in 2020, following an internal investigation.

Teacher of the Year: Julianne Robbins, Bagdad Elementary School

After selecting a student, who responds correctly to the question, she asks her to choose the bucket in which to drop the toy: the bucket for words beginning with “c-h” or “s-h.”

Slam dunk. Only then does Robbins lean back and nonchalantly brush her hair from her face.
It’s that kind of focus and commitment to detail that led her peers to select her to be Bagdad Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year.

“Taking a large group of students with very different needs and finding a way to help them all be successful is a challenge but is also so rewarding when you find what works for each student,” Robbins said last week.

Robbins has taught first-grade at Bagdad for four years. Before beginning her teaching career, she was a caretaker for her elderly grandparents. She said her mother, Jennifer Slichter, who taught third-grade at S.S. Dixon Elementary School since Julianne was a child, inspired her to become an educator.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I enjoyed playing “school” with my friends and loved helping others. My mom is a schoolteacher as well and I would always volunteer in her classroom when I could and loved helping her decorate her classroom each summer,” Robbins said.

Besides her mother, Robbins said she had many “amazing” teachers at West Florida Baptist Academy that contributed to her love for her vocation. Robbins, who was born in Alabama but grew up in Pace, also attended Pensacola State University and the University of West Florida. She’s married to Zach Robbins and, although they don’t have children, Julianne said the couple does have many pets.

What does Robbins find most rewarding about her job?

That “lightbulb” moment for students is hands down the reason I do what I do,” she said. “It is so exciting to me to see a student understand and apply a new skill after I have taught it to them. I love watching them make connections in their learning and see the amount their learning has grown from the beginning to the end of the year.”

When she’s not asking children to connect sounds to combinations of letters, Robbins said she loves spending time outdoors and writing poetry.”

Each year, the Santa Rosa Education Foundation honors the Santa Rosa Teacher of the Year as well as teachers of the year from its 35 schools at its annual Golden Apple Awards celebration. The selection process begins before the holidays each year, when teachers at each site nominate and vote for their school’s teacher of the year.

The district’s teacher of the year will compete for the Florida Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year award. According to the Santa Rosa Education Foundation website, the Teacher of the Year Program, which began in 1988, “celebrates the contributions of classroom teachers who demonstrate a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.”

Sandpaper Publishing features winners in its coverage area each week, culminating with coverage of the Golden Apple Awards in May.

Panther girls basketball team continues to build chemistry

A rather uneventful first half saw what most would consider a feeling out process as both teams found themselves playing the turnover game.

The Raiders (3-0) took a 7 point lead at the end of the first quarter behind Madison Simmons’ 9 points.

Her 13 total points would lead the team in scoring.

At the half, Milton trailed 27-17.

Coming out of halftime, the Panthers (0-2) seemed to be an entirely different team, limiting the amount of turnovers, forcing errant shots and pulling down crucial rebounds down the stretch.

But the Panthers simply weren’t able to find the bottom of the net as much as they needed to. Jayda Hollis’ 5 points in the quarter were instrumental in Milton clawing its way back into the game.

The Panthers found themselves still down, but not entirely out of the fight by the fourth quarter, with the Raiders clinging on to a 9-point lead.

The Panthers started to find their groove in the fourth, playing their best basketball, with almost no turnovers and stonewall defense, allowing the least amount of points in a quarter all game with 7.

The Raider defense was able to find a way to fend off the Panther scoring attack late, led by Gabi Wright, who finished the night with 11 points, and Kayla Willis, who finished with 10.

The defensive effort from the Raiders was good enough to secure them the win.

Cone knew the game was well within their reach late.

“We had the ball three times down 4 with a couple minutes to go so we had our chances, but we buried ourselves in a hole in the first half,” Cone said.

The hole Cone refers to plays in good part to the fact his squad this year is relatively young, referencing the number of girls on the team with little varsity experience to begin with, thus making it difficult to build chemistry on court. Lack of experience as a unit also seemed to plague the team. “We’ve had maybe three or four practices this year with everybody there already and we’ve been practicing three weeks,” Cone said.

Cone does however think the team is starting to gel.

“We’re learning to win. We’ve been in some close games already this year and it’s a new squad, so we’re trying to piece it together,” Cone said. “Winning is not easy. There’s a process to it and hopefully we’re building upon that”.

Story by Marcus Jacobs

Santa Rosa Animal Services offers Home for the Pawlidays short term foster program

According to Santa Rosa County, the shelter will provide foster parents with things needed to care for the animals such as food, toys, treats, a harness and a leash. In a press release, the County said the program provides pets a break from the shelter environment and the opportunity to spend the holidays in a loving foster home.

Foster homes give the shelter great insight into the animal’s behavior and reduce the number of shelter pets to care for during the holiday season.

Those interested in the program should complete a foster application and check out pets needing a foster home. Staff recommends scheduling time to meet animals prior to picking up for fostering, all pets available for adoption online can be fostered.

The shelter asks that foster parents take lots of photos and videos of their temporary pets and share feedback on the animal’s behavior, likes and dislikes. Foster applications can be found at https://www.shelterluv.com/form/other/SAS/1623-holiday-foster.

For information, call the shelter at 850-983-4680. To learn more about SRCAS, visit www.santarosa.fl.gov/animals.

Argos unveil baseball schedule

UWF will play 17 of its 24 games at home between Feb. 10 and March 22.

UWF is once again expecting the Gulf South Conference to be a grind.

“I think our conference will be very competitive with a lot of parity around the league,” UWF head coach Jeff Jeffcoat added. “Regardless of who we play, we have to bring our best to accomplish the goals we’ve set.”

The full schedule can be found here: https://goargos.com/sports/baseball/schedule.

Blue Wahoos hire Steve Brice

He will oversee the club’s daily operations and sales.

Brice is a 2004 graduate of Xavier and started out as a retail assistant with the Memphis Redbirds. He then worked five seasons as the GM of the Burlington Royals in North Carolina.

He was also an account executive with the Gwinnett Braves and worked as a group sales account executive for the Cincinnati Reds.

He’s also held roles with IMG Learfield, the Louisville Bats and the Kingsport Axmen.

Dear People, who want a sewage treatment plant on Cooper’s Basin:

The land I live on was an agriculture land grant from President McKinley to the Allen Family many years ago. My parents Lee and Vivian Allen moved and built a home on the land in 1966 which borders Cooper’s Basin and their cattle ranch.

Following the death of my first husband, Al Tripp in 1968 (KIA Vietnam), I chose a plot of land beside my parent’s home on Cooper’s Basin. Both my home and my parent’s home are still presently standing and occupied by myself and my family.

My concern and question are, why does a waste treatment plant need to be placed in our backyards? There are other suitable and safer sites for humans, animals and our aquatic life. I do not want to hear that it will be safe, as so many other waste plants have issues keeping the waste controlled causing harm to our rivers and bays.

Cooper’s Basin is one the most beautiful places in the world. I have swam in the basin as well as my children and grandchildren.

We have always had a boat and have enjoyed the beautiful white sandbars over the years.

Now, at my age I enjoy my pool and porch that looks out over the basin. I enjoy watching the sturgeons jump and the multitude of fisherman that fish this basin. Just in the past two weeks there were 572 sturgeons accounted for in Cooper’s Basin alone.

My grandsons enjoy fishing for large mouth bass and brim in the basin. If the plans for this sewage treatment waste plant succeed, then all the above will diminish or go away, also not to mention the odor we will have to endure.

I do not have many more years to love and enjoy my basin. I would be ever so grateful if you would take all the things mentioned in this letter into consideration. Please place this waste treatment plant in a larger and more suitable location.

Sincerely,
Peggy A. Turman
Milton

Know where to vote!

The City of Milton last week posted a reminder that residents who usually vote at Precinct 1, Precinct 8, or Precinct 15 will vote at the Clyde L. Gracey Community Center, 5629 Byrom St. Residents will not be able to vote at Milton City Hall or St. Mary’s Church this year.

Residents who live outside the city limits can check their polling place by going to the county’s elections information page by clicking the link below.

Santa Rosa County Elections Information

Gas prices to jump as ‘holiday’ ends

“So it stands to reason that when the gas tax is reinstated on Tuesday, drivers will see a 25-cent jump at the pump,” the auto club said in a news release.

The tax break helped reduce the average price of a gallon of gas from $3.39 to $3.17 over the first five days of October, but an announcement by OPEC and its allies to cut oil production put the brakes on savings.

With oil prices jumping 17 percent globally since the OPEC announcement, Florida’s average increased to $3.41 a gallon by Oct. 14.

Pump prices have slowly declined again after President Joe Biden announced plans to draw an additional 15 million barrels from the nation’s reserves by the end of the year to offset the production cut.

During a gubernatorial debate last week in Fort Pierce, Democratic candidate Charlie Crist criticized the tax holiday being held in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.

“That’s so political, it’s disgusting,” Crist said. “We need to have a governor who will do what’s right for the people of Florida all the time, all year long. Not just when it’s right before a re-election.”

DeSantis, who signed the tax holiday as part of a larger package of tax breaks, has blamed global inflation and economic conditions on Biden Administration policies, which he said Crist supported.

“We have the fifth-lowest gas prices in the country right now because we did do a gas tax holiday. We’re proud of that,” DeSantis said during the debate.

DeSantis also pointed to a plan to ask lawmakers in 2023 to give frequent SunPass and E-Pass users a 50 percent monthly credit, which would be applied for a full year.

The state gas tax is used for transportation projects, and the tax holiday was estimated to reduce revenues by about $200 million. The state plans to tap a surplus of general revenue to make up the lost money. Similarly, DeSantis wants to use the surplus to make up any reductions in revenues from his proposal to give credits to frequent toll-road users.

Florida’s average gas price of $3.29 on Monday compared to a national average of $3.76, according to AAA. Florida hit an all-time average high of $4.89 a gallon on June 13 before prices declined through the summer.

The lowest average prices Monday were in the Panhandle, while the highest prices were in the West Palm Beach, Gainesville and Naples areas.

The national average was $3.80 a gallon when October began and leaped to $3.90 after the OPEC announcement.



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