Burlington church doing ‘whatever it takes’ to calm a cultural current

By Blake Richardson

At first, it was just another closing prayer. Heads bowed, eyes closed — the usual at every church on Easter Sunday. But then the pattern ruptured.

“If you want to welcome God into your life today,” lead pastor Tadd Grandstaff said, “raise your hand.”

Curiosity snaps my eyes open. Are there any takers? I’m trying to scan the room while keeping my head still so I don’t make it obvious that I’m breaking the heads bowed, eyes closed rule that’s still technically in play despite what I’m witnessing.

“I see you guys in the front and you in the back,” he continues. “Come on. Who else? Maybe you’ve lost your way and you want to come back. This is your chance.”

God, why did you have to make me so short? All I can make out in the dim lighting is Grandstaff at the front and the silhouettes of heads surrounding me in my usual seat in the back left with my brother, Jack. There’s a sense of urgency in Grandstaff’s voice, but there’s also reassurance.

“I invite you now to come up so we can go pray together. Don’t worry. Nobody’s looking around. Nobody’s going to be looking at you.”

Oops. I force my eyes shut, and suddenly this moment surpasses my curiosity. Submerged in blackness, I realize that this wasn’t for me. None of it. Not the alternative service format that switched between short sermons and music, not the Philippians verses flashing on the screen that I wrote down using the free pen and notecard placed in each seat on Sundays, and not the black-and-white videos of people reenacting Palm Sunday and of others saying, “In a moment, my life changed when I accepted Christ.”

Nine hands shot in the air to take on this  life-changing step in the safety of Hope Church in Burlington. I was just a lucky observer. Leading up to Easter, Grandstaff told the congregation that, for many people, this is one of just two church services of the year to attend. Christmas is the other. For him, that meant today was show time.

Religion is declining in the United States. Millennials are the generation least likely to pray, attend church or consider religion an important part of their life. This cultural shift puts churches’ survival at risk. But not Hope Church. This congregation took the change as a call to evolve. And the result has left this church even more emblematic of Christianity’s original mission.

With unexpected obstacles, Christ calls for a change  

I was doing this usual, partying pretty hard with my friends, and I ended up in the hospital: alcohol poisoning along with too many drugs in my system.  I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I laid in a hospital bed, never being suicidal, and I prayed out to God for the first time in a long time.  I told him, “God, if this is all I am ever going to do with my life, then just let me die, ‘cause I can’t do this anymore. I cannot continue to live like this.”  I was miserable.  I knew I had been running from God. I’ve never heard God speak in an audible voice, but in that moment I felt God’s presence in my life like nothing before. I felt him, in my spirit, tell me that he was done with me, that he had a calling on my life and it was time for me to answer that calling.  I left that hospital room and made drastic lifestyle changes.

A relationship with God, Grandstaff said, is defined by a series of moments that mold your identity. This moment in 2000 was the first in a sequence of life-altering instants that drew Grandstaff to become a pastor. He knew God was calling him toward the job as early as his sophomore year of high school. His grandfather, father and older brother are all pastors. But it wasn’t until this moment that he decided to answer the urge.

After graduating from Liberty University and then getting married in 2005, Grandstaff launched Pine Ridge church in 2007, holding services at Smith Elementary School. The church was a resounding success, but then the congregation rose to 300 people. They had outgrown their place of worship. They needed a new home.

Meanwhile, Brookwood Church was encountering a different obstacle. Their pastor, who shared similar goals with Grandstaff, moved to Greenville, South Carolina. Who would run the services now? In the church’s search, they invited Grandstaff to preach there one Sunday.

“It was a natural fit,” said Peter Sawyer, first-time guest champion at Hope Church and former member of Brookwood Church for about 25 years. “We needed a pastor. They needed a building.”

For about a year now, Grandstaff has been working on a sermon series that will take the congregation through the entire Bible. He took a month-long break for an Easter series, but he is currently working through the story of Joshua. Grandstaff’s sermons have amassed a substantial popularity. The church has only been around for 3 1/2 years, and its already played with service times to figure out how to manage a growing congregation.

But the merging hasn’t been seamless. The two churches were different. Brookwood featured more traditional music, and Pine Ridge embraced a contemporary style of service. But the melting pot became a success because of the overarching mission that bonded the two churches together.

Do whatever it takes to reach people who are far from God.

Affiliating the obstinate in the toughest of times

Hope Church is fighting a cultural current.

People who identify as unaffiliated with a religion rose from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. That number is even higher among millennials, at 35 percent. Studies have shown that millennials are more mistrusting of institutions in general, but the change is striking.

And Christianity has moderately declined, too. The percentage of Americans who identify as Christian dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. Grandstaff noted in a sermon that the number of practicing Christians is likely much lower. But this might not be the fault of the church.

“You see millennials holding to where they stand intellectually, morally, spiritually,” said Yaakov Ariel, a religious studies professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The United States has always been more involved with organized religion than other post-industrial countries. But since the Cold War ended in the 1990s, deciding against identifying with an organized religion has become more socially acceptable, Ariel said.

But denominations should not be concerned. Ariel said that across American history, the church has made changes to respond to drops in attendance and other cultural changes. Grandstaff said this is about shifting your target audience away from the regulars.

“The focus of too many churches has been keeping the people happy that show up each week and making everything be about them,” Grandstaff said in an email. “My heart has always been for the kids and students in this community because I know what it’s like to grow up in a church where you are bored out of your mind as a kid or a student.”

Those kids who were once doodling on envelopes in the pews are now grown up. Grandstaff wants them to want to go to church. That means changing the approach. And so he hatched a service plan that incorporated comfort in to the very fiber of the service and in the interactions with volunteers.

“One of the things we are passionate about is being authentic,” said Diane Sawyer, first-time guest champion at Hope Church. “We try not to be judgmental about what other people’s mistakes are because we make mistakes as well.”

Comes as you are when no strings are attached 

Jack and I walk through the door, and we are blind.

Once the timer on the screen up front hits zero, the lights fade to nearly black and the band starts to play. We’re five minutes late to church today. Well, I was five minutes late driving to Jack’s dorm at Elon, and he waited for me. So when we walk in, we’re submerged in darkness. I can barely see my hand. Wow will we find our seats?

“Here,” a voice says. A flash of light comes to life in front of us. How? Behind the illumination, I make out a woman with blonde hair in a Hope4NC T-shirt. We’re saved! As I get situated in a seat next to Jack with this stranger’s help, I can’t help but find myself in awe. They think of everything. And it’s always no strings attached.

Jack was the one that found Hope Church, and that’s why he kept coming back. That’s why his raving compelled me to join and why I’ve been continually drawn back. It’s laid back and meets you where you are. Where other churches failed to captivate me, this one clicked.

That’s also what set Hope Church apart for Jennifer Hanpole, position leader over guest services at Hope Church, who started going to the services three years ago. Hanpole drives from High Point every Sunday to volunteer with the church.

“I was a single mom at that time, working, and it was the first place where I could come to church and no one would really judge me,” Hanpole said. “I could actually sit in church and it feel welcome … It kind of felt like home.”

Every tiniest detail is geared toward making people feel comfortable. Why is it so dark? So you don’t feel like you’re being stared at. Why is the music so loud? So you can sing without feeling judged. The no-pressure environment makes it easy to engage.

“The come-as-you-are mentality … it’s probably the purest form of worship,” Jack said.

At the start of each sermon, Grandstaff announces that the church will give a Bible to anyone who doesn’t own one. And after I filled out a connection card my second Sunday there, I went to a booth outside the auditorium and received a free mug. No judgment. No expectations. Just kindness.

“We’re not trying to put on this façade that we’re perfect people,” Peter Sawyer said. “We’re just regular people that believe in Christ.”

I was most surprised three days later when I walked home from class, music blaring through my ear buds, and found a postcard in the mailbox by the door. It was addressed to me.

Blake, It was so nice meeting you Sunday. I am glad it was your second time back and hope that you join us again! Have a great week! -Tyler

I couldn’t pick Tyler out of a lineup, but that postcard has been resting on the shelf above my desk for months.

Something about Hope makes it seem like no other

Little droplets of rain ricochet off the tires to form a grey haze behind every car. I can only tell it’s water and not smoke when my windshield wipers quickly clear the fresh layer of wetness that has accumulated on the glass. I have two papers due the next day and work in an hour and a half — I need to get back — but the water flying in all directions keeps my right foot treading lightly on the gas pedal.

Maybe I could have stayed home — spent my Sunday collecting precious sleep instead of adding another far-away obligation to this world where time is divided like pieces of cake. Then the rain, my homework and my near-empty gas tank would’ve been problems I could have delayed addressing — even if only for an hour.

The changing millennial culture may seem to pose a threat to the survival of churches across the nation, but it’s not a problem without solutions. It’s a challenge. A call to evolve. And for Hope Church, that change has paid off.

Somehow the magnet of this church was strong enough to pull me out of bed at 9:30 a.m. and down the highway for a 40-minute drive almost every weekend this semester. Yes, seeing my brother every week is its own motivation, but there’s something about this place. It’s unlike any other church I’ve experienced.

“We realize that the vision for our church is not necessarily the vision that God has given to other churches,” Grandstaff said. “However, it is who God has called us to be.”

 

Edited by Ryan Wilusz

 

Everybody eats: cooking up equality in Chapel Hill

Vimala Rajendran is on a mission to feed the entire community through her restaurant, Vimala's Curryblossom Café. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Through her restaurant’s prominence in the community, Vimala Rajendran stands up for social justice for all in Chapel Hill. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

Vimala Rajendran has seen her fair share of miracles, all of which seem to connect back to her. Sometimes they’re big ones in the traditional sense of the word — characterized by the extraordinary.

Like what happened a few weeks ago, for instance. A man was on life support in a coma for three weeks at Duke Hospital. Vimala visited him one day and started rubbing his feet and talking to him.

He opened his eyes on Good Friday, and by Easter he had started talking. Vimala tells me the story with very few details, but despite this, I have no doubt that it actually happened.

Most miracles Vimala has been a part of, though, aren’t so big in the traditional, extraordinary sense of the word. It’s the little, everyday miracles that have defined her.

The community dinners that turned into a full-fledged restaurant. The fried chicken she makes that’s just as good as her traditional south Indian food. The “Everybody Eats” policy that ensures no customer goes hungry, even if they don’t have the money to pay.

It’s the details of her past, adjusting from life in India to the United States; her work in Chapel Hill and connections with the local community; her passion for social justice and peace; and her restaurant, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café, that are the true miracles in Vimala Rajendran’s life.

The Place Behind the Woman

Vimala, 56, is a successful restaurant chef and owner, long-time Chapel Hill resident and mother to eight kids, now all adults (three are her own and five are her current husband’s, Rush Gleenslade, whom she married 12 years ago.)

While the United States has been her home for many years, Vimala is originally from India. This shows in the food she cooks as well as in her distinct accent, her brown eyes and skin, and her hair, which you can tell used to be a rich black but is now turning white.

Vimala was born in the state of Kerala, the southernmost tip of India, in 1961. She grew up in the populous city of Mumbai, although she doesn’t call it that. To her, it’s still Bombay.

She gets a faraway look in her eyes when she talks about Bombay.

“I was a very content child. I just loved the city,” she says.

When I ask her what she disliked about it, she waits for a moment and smiles.

“Nothing. I didn’t know any better not to like anything,” she says. “Now I long for everything.”

Her greatest memory? The food and the fact you could find signs of it everywhere: the sounds of it cooking, the smells at all hours of the night and day, the sight of street vendors and large piles of produce on the side of the road.

It was during her childhood in India that she learned how to cook. She laughs, because the reason for her getting into food preparation didn’t necessarily stem from a desire to learn, but instead came from a sense of impatience. Food was never ready soon enough for her.

She bothered her mother endlessly, to the point where she would get frustrated enough to hand Vimala things to do. At three years, she could sift and sort grains. By the time she was seven, she could cook entire complex recipes.

The Restaurant Behind the Woman

While Vimala loved to cook, she never thought it would become her livelihood.

In the beginning, she had the financial support of her now ex-husband, whom she joined in the United States in 1980 after completing studies in political science. However, years of abuse led her to leave, which suddenly left her a single mother of three struggling to make ends meet in Chapel Hill.

Community dinners became her saving grace.

Vimala cooked the traditional south Indian recipes she learned growing up, and neighbors would come and donate money to offset the costs. The dinners started in 1994.

Their popularity grew through word-of-mouth, and soon she was implementing takeout orders, catering and even serving outside of Johnny’s Gone Fishing in Carrboro.

Anyone who tasted the food told her she should open a restaurant, but that was never something she thought she could take on.

Despite this initial doubt, she couldn’t deny the opportunity, and with the help of investments from those in the community who believed in her and her food, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café opened in May 2010.

You could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It holds an ideal location on West Franklin Street—just before the start of Carrboro where the road curves and turns into Main Street—but it’s hidden behind Kipo’s Greek Taverna, tucked in a courtyard.

The benefit of the courtyard is that there’s an outdoor seating area that will fill with people when the weather is nice.

The restaurant itself is fairly small, but the L-shaped layout is efficient, with a bar to order on one side and an open kitchen on the other. The brick, wood and warm colors on the walls as well as the smell of spices that greet you when you enter add to the welcoming feel of the place.

The staff is very diverse, drawing from all walks of life in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Justine Benjamin, a 24-year-old who’s been working at Vimala’s for about a year, appreciates the different backgrounds of her coworkers and how they are embraced in the restaurant.

“Sometimes they’ll make tacos or empanadas back there,” she laughs.

She also never fails to notice Vimala’s involvement in the restaurant.

Her boss gets in around 8:30 or 9 a.m. and constantly works until 4 or 5 p.m. She spends a lot of that time cooking and preparing food in the kitchen, but you can also find her serving meals and chatting with customers.

“She’s definitely involved in each step,” Justine says.

That includes dealing with all the logistics. Before she started Curryblossom Café, Vimala thought owning a restaurant would be impossible. Now, she says it’s even harder than she imagined.

“Cost of overhead, cost of food, cost of labor, human resource management, people’s moods and motivations and morale… it is a super-human task to own and run a successful restaurant,” she says.

Yet she does it, and she does it well.

In addition to being a phenomenal cook, Vimala is a skilled businesswoman. Before she starts to cook every morning, she catches up on emails and phone calls, which can involve everything from possible auction items to potential projects.

Her business decisions are not only in the best interest of the restaurant but also the community. This can be seen in her partnerships with local businesses, such as Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Vimala is in the process of finalizing a deal with the company. Initially, she plans to buy their existing products, but her ultimate goal is to “do something no one else has done” and possibly collaborate on a beer that complements her food.

She’s always trying to come up with new ways to do things and grow the restaurant, and her efforts have certainly paid off.

In its first year of business, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café made $680,000, and that number continues to grow. Over seven years, the restaurant has gone from eight employees to 30, four weddings per year to 30, and $200,000 to $400,000 earned from catering to UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Food Behind the Woman

One of the very first things Vimala asked me when I met her was if I had eaten. It took a little encouragement, but I did end up accepting the free meal she offered me.

I told her to surprise me, and soon after, a worker brought out what I later learned was Vimala’s favorite thing on the menu: appam — a rice and coconut pancake.

It was served with a side of chicken curry on a stainless-steel Thali dish, completing the truly authentic feel of the meal. We talked while I enjoyed the sourdough taste of the fluffy-in-the-middle, thin-at-the-end appam that perfectly balanced the flavorful curry.

Later, she revealed to me why she offered the food: it breaks down barriers.

“When you eat it, I am making a crack in the closed door for you and me to interact.” It was also a chance to show me more about who she is.

“My entire history is on that plate,” she told me.

The menu at Vimala’s Curryblossom Café is filled with items inspired by Vimala’s roots.

To someone unfamiliar with traditional south Indian food, the menu can be a bit overwhelming, full of names like paratha, bhatura, samosas and uttapams.

Surprisingly enough, Vimala also offers her own take on Southern classics, such as fried chicken and plantain fritters. (She’s even won an award for her grits.)

If nothing on the menu tempts you, there are always plenty of specials written on the chalkboards in the restaurant, which are constantly changing based on what’s in season and in stock. Whatever choice you make, though, won’t be a wrong one. Everything is delicious, which is why people keep coming back.

Many of Vimala’s assorted mix of customers are regulars, who have grown to love the food as well as Vimala. You can distinguish the regulars from the newcomers because of the familiar way Vimala will greet them or hug them, or their confidence when they order from the menu and sit in the restaurant for a while.

Frank Worrell, 66, is one of those regulars. Like many of the visitors to Curryblossom Café, you can tell he’s interesting just by the look of him, with his white beard and mustache that’s curled at the ends, round eye glasses and all-black outfit.

He’s been eating at Vimala’s regularly — about five days a week for the past three years — and orders the same thing every time: rice and dal, a split pulse soup Frank says is the “comfort food of India.” (I try it later, and I can’t disagree. The soup is instantly comforting.)

Frank remembers Vimala back when she served food outside of Johnny’s, and he’s still impressed by the commitment to quality she has to this day. The reason he and many others love Vimala’s food so much is because it’s prepared with “a certain consciousness.”

“It may sound really weird,” Frank says, “but the food seems really clean.”

That’s because all of the ingredients Vimala uses are wholesome, healthy and organic. In addition to that, everything is sourced from local farms.

The inspiration behind this? For one thing, it reaffirms Vimala’s dedication to supporting the community. The other source of inspiration, not surprisingly, is her home country.

“Back in India, we always ate what was unloaded from a farm to the market,” Vimala says.

She or her mother would go to the market twice a day to buy produce because her family didn’t have a refrigerator, so everything was fresh. She missed that freshness when she came to the United States, where everything was bought at a grocery store, so she decided to bring it back with Vimala’s Curryblossom Café.

The Mission Behind the Woman

Vimala’s community involvement is further strengthened by her commitment to social justice.

There are signs of this throughout the restaurant. There’s the “Everybody Eats Community Meal Fund” jar on the takeout counter in front of the kitchen, which supports the day-one policy that anyone who wants a meal, regardless of finances, will be able to eat at Vimala’s. The goal is to make food accessible through affordability.

There are also the “Refugees are Welcome Here” and “Stop Profiling Muslims” signs on the window near the side entrance of the restaurant. Vimala is a strong believer that anyone is welcome to work and eat in her restaurant.

She’s held lunches to support refugees and migrant farm workers. On ‘A Day Without Immigrants’ on Feb. 16, when immigrants protested by not working, all profits made at Vimala’s went to staff members because a lot of the employees’ family members are immigrants.

In addition to that, Vimala speaks up for domestic abuse awareness, women’s rights, truth in advertising and international peace and love, which is inspired by her strong Christian faith.

Anyone in Chapel Hill who knows Vimala considers her an activist in the community. She believes it’s because she has a lot of ideas, but she also takes action.

“I stand up for what is just and right,” she says. “I question injustice and do something about it, while feeding people at the same time.”

Vimala’s efforts don’t go unrecognized.

Just a few weeks ago, she received the Public Health Champion Award from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health for her commitment to healthy food and social justice. She doesn’t care as much about the recognition, though.

“I am more proud of the daily reports of the impact of the food we serve here to heal and grow people than the awards we’ve received because I’m doing what I’m doing,” she says.

It’s just one more confirmation that it’s the little miracles, not the big ones, which define Vimala Rajendran.

Edited by Molly Weybright

Raleigh Flyers have become a presence in the ultimate Frisbee community

By Luke Bollinger

Casey Degnan should have the day off. It’s Good Friday and since he’s employed by Cardinal Gibbons High School, he shouldn’t have to be doing any work. Instead, the holiday gives him time to work at his second job as co-owner of the Raleigh Flyers, a professional ultimate Frisbee team.

Today’s mission is to finalize arrangements for the team’s away game on Saturday. His first appointment is at 10 a.m. with Clouds Brewing in Raleigh to finalize plans for a viewing party the next day. He’s about 30 minutes late.

Degnan arrives with George Lampron, the team’s physical trainer, and Mike Wittmer, leader of The Hangar, the Flyers fan club. Degnan apologizes for being late, but explains he had spent the morning with his 9-week old son, Cash, who had rolled himself over for the first time. But now he is focused on his task ahead, which is sampling beer to figure out which ones would go over well with Flyers fans.

Most of his job as co-owner is not as leisurely as going to a beer tasting, though.

Degnan, Mike Denardis and Sean Degnan founded the Raleigh Flyers in 2015. It’s a young team, in a young league, trying to gain a foothold as a non-traditional sport in an area dominated by three universities that regularly compete in the highest levels of Division I sports.

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Mike Wittmer (center right) is in charge of the Flyers unofficial fan club, The Hangar. He helps to promote and increase turnout at games. (Photos courtesy of the Raleigh Flyers.)

It’s a tough job, especially when you already have a job. Because of an already blossoming ultimate community, though, and the vision and drive of Degnan and everyone who has bought into the organization, the Flyers have become a welcome addition to the Triangle sports environment.

Friday’s agenda wasn’t looking too daunting, a nice change of pace for Degnan. Once he and John Oldendorf, chief brewing officer at Clouds, agreed on the type and quantity of beer for the viewing party, Degnan and his team began brainstorming ideas for a short video to promote the event.

After a few minutes of discussion and about ten seconds of filming, the final product was the three guys sitting around a homemade monopoly board they found at the brewery, rolling die until they hit doubles, yelling, ‘that’s a jail break,’ and knocking over a tower of oversized Jenga blocks.

The video then ended with Lampron standing up, pointing at the camera and saying, “Clouds Brewery, Saturday night viewing party, 7 o’clock.” It would immediately be posted to Facebook for the enjoyment of the Flyers faithful.

To most people, this video would make no sense. But it was somewhat loosely related to Flyers fans’ in-game tradition of smashing a plastic bucket, or any breakable object they have on hand, with a large rubber mallet after the team scores a big goal. It’s a bit ridiculous, but they don’t care.

The viewing party ended up attracting about 40 people. Not a bad turnout, Degnan said, and all the proceeds went to the Flyers.

“Got to make that money, man,” he said. 

Background

When Degnan was attending college at High Point University, owning a professional ultimate team seemed ludicrous to him.

While at High Point, he was a member of their Division I tennis team, but immediately after practices, he would join his friends to play in whatever intramural sport was in season. When ultimate was in season, he played that too. Degnan continued to play ultimate and as the sport got more intense, so did he.

After graduating, Degnan moved to Chicago where he played for the Chicago Wildfire ultimate team while also working as a trader for the Chicago Board of Trade. It was here where he became devoted to ultimate, in large part because of how involved and immersed the team was in the community.

Though Degnan could’ve played for the Wildfire into his 40s, he said with a laugh of confidence, he wanted to establish a professional ultimate team in Raleigh.

“I thought I could do it better,” he said. “All those things that were offered to me, I wanted to offer it to the people in my hometown.”

The Team

In 2015, the Raleigh Flyers became a member of the 24-team American Ultimate Disc League. In its first season, the Flyers won its division and advanced to the playoff semifinals. But Degnan’s ambition has always extended beyond a winning record.

A large portion of Degnan’s job as co-owner is offering himself, and the players, as mentors to youth in the Triangle. Upon joining the team, players are required to sign volunteer contracts with minimum service hour requirements. Many of the players opt to coach middle and high school ultimate teams.

The team also offers mini-skills development clinics before games, as well as multiple weekend clinics throughout the year that have seen as many as 2,000 participants at one time.

This kind of involvement can be taxing for the players, though. They work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs because, according to an estimate from Degnan, the average pay-per-game for professional ultimate players is about $100.

The pay for being a Flyer gives the impression it is only a part-time job, but the time requirements make it feel full-time, Degnan said.

“So there’s not a lot of big egos,” he said.

“Although there are actually some big egos,” he said with sarcastic concern to the team’s media guru, Hugo Sowder.

But what the players lack in financial compensation is made up for in material benefits. Thanks to team sponsors, players receive free gym memberships, chiropractic and physical therapy care and lots of team gear. They also have their travel paid for, receive a per diem and don’t have to pay expensive club dues.

A bonus, Degnan said, is the possibility of making it on SportsCenter Top Ten, a nightly TV segment highlighting the best plays in sports from that day. A couple of Flyers have made the segment, including JD Hastings after making an incredible summersault catch for a goal.

Whenever Degnan talks about his team, there is pride in his voice and excitement in his body. He’s proud of what they do, but no one does quite as much as he does for the Flyers and its outreach. Degnan recognizes the crucial role he plays in the development of the team, and thankfully he has the energy to keep up with a rigorous schedule.

“If you go to sleep early, something’s not happening for the team,” he said.

Degnan often handles the day-to-day and long-term operations of the team from his home or his office at Gibbons. Degnan’s job with the school involves coaching the ultimate team, providing students the opportunity to play sports during their lunch period, starting an intramural program and organizing as many major school functions as he can. The latter task is something he feels he has a particular knack for.

Pre Game

The Flyers hosted the DC Breeze for the first ever cross-divisional game in league history on Saturday, April 22. The game was scheduled for 7 p.m., but Degnan showed up to the fields 12 hours early.

Before he could begin preparing for the Flyers game, he had to set up and manage a 14-game high school ultimate tournament. North Carolina Ultimate, a statewide ultimate organization, was originally supposed to be in charge of the tournament, but for some reason, the responsibility was passed on to Degnan. He only showed a hint of exasperation toward the organization, but never complained.

“If it can be done, I’ll do it,” he said.

At one point during the day, he almost threw out his back setting up a tent.

“Maybe I should have had someone else do that,” he said.

After the tournament, Degnan took a break to get lunch with his dad, and then it was back to the field to set up for the Flyers’ game. One of his main tasks was making sure the live stream to the league’s website would be running by game time, all while coordinating with referees, both teams, and volunteers who would help out at the merchandise and ticket tents.

The weather had been mostly overcast that day but was particular gloomy as game time drew closer. The wind began to pick up and the air became a bit too cold for an afternoon in late April. But the storm warnings only added to the increasing anticipation.

The game garnered about 200 fans. Degnan said the largest crowd for a Flyers game totaled 1,000. He said it’s difficult to consistently get that kind of number, but it’s not for lack of effort.

Sowder, for example, produces and posts the team’s video and photo content to Facebook on a daily basis and writes blog updates on the Flyers’ performance for the website. Bill Bourret, a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill, creates graphic content for the team on a weekly basis. While not a primary goal, volunteering its time in the Triangle’s thriving ultimate community is definitely good promotion.

It was a lively crowd regardless.

Game Time

The DC Breeze scored the first goal and stayed ahead for 40 minutes of the 43-minute game.

The Flyers started the game looking nervous. After a bout of simple mistakes and a few long passes that couldn’t connect, the team slowed it down. They played conservative, electing to go for short passes to try and work their way to the end zone and only making deep passes when a runner had almost certainly outpaced his defender.

This strategy kept the Flyers in the game for the most of the first half, but it wasn’t enough to catch up, especially when the Breeze capitalized on the Flyers’ lackluster downfield defense at moments when it seemed they might tie the game.

At the end of the third quarter, the Flyers were down 17-12. It seemed like the Breeze could put the game away.

flyers1
Hunter Taylor, in the red, is one of the Flyers’ defensive stalwarts, making multiple diving stops throughout the game. (Photo courtesy of the Raleigh Flyers).

With the score tied, you could feel the collective tension. Degnan paced up and down the track, motivating the crowd to get louder, shouting and waving his arms. Fans roared for what felt like a more high-stakes game than just a regular season match up.

It should be noted that throughout the entire game, the fans remained engaged, especially the fan-club section of the bleachers with their collection of chants, good-natured taunts and the occasional trip to the track to smash a bucket. If it were a collegiate game, they were the student section.

Then the Breeze retook the lead with 27 seconds remaining. The crowd convulsed, but the players remained calm.

After the throw off, the Flyers’ most skilled passers shared the disc a couple of times so there was time to spread the defense. About 12 second passed until Jonathon Nethercutt, a UNC-CH graduate and team captain, found a teammate in the end zone with a 50-yard overhead pass, known as a hammer throw.

There was 10 seconds left, not enough time for the Breeze to get a goal. The score was tied 20-20.

The Flyers took their first lead of the game with 3:27 remaining in the 5-minute overtime period. They maintained that lead for the rest of game, winning 23-21.

Post Game

In the aftermath of the game, Sowder noted how gritty the team was. He’s always looking for narratives to promote, and the team’s toughness is one of its trademarks.

But for Degnan, there was not time to reflect. Immediately after the win, he posted himself by the field’s exit to make sure people received season calendars on their way out. It seems his job never ends.

The next big project, Degnan said, is getting funding for a micro-stadium with team offices. He’s met with city officials to discuss the idea, but admits getting public or private funding for a stadium to be used by a niche sports team will be a struggle.

Degnan said he’s not sure what the timeline will look like for a stadium, but he’s remaining invested in the idea, just as he is with the team.

“I love what we have, but I always want it to be more,” he said.

Edited by Matt Wotus

Paying it forward with pupusas

By John-Paul Gemborys

On a warm spring day outside the Campus Y, Cecilia Polanco sat in the driver’s seat aboard her food truck, carving up a pupusa with a plastic fork before the midday lunch rush.

Behind her, two little Latina ladies smiled and giggled over a stainless steel countertop as they smacked corn flour dough into thick, round disks. One was Nora Polanco, whom Cecilia called mami, a sweet, soft-spoken mother of four with a round, rosy face and a streak of crimson in her dark hair. The other, a firecracker with short, black hair and laugh lines drawn across her face, was the 61-year-old Victoria Galdamez — otherwise known as tia Vicky. Wetting their hands, the two ladies pinched out balls of dough and patted them into flat cakes before applying a generous dollop of modo, or filling, which on that day was chicharrón con queso (a savory paste made of fried pork and cheese) or frijoles (refried beans mixed with shredded mozzarella). The two sisters then sealed the dumplings and removed any excess dough before flattening them once more to be seared atop a hot griddle. As the rich smell of sizzling pork and cheese wafted through the air, Cecilia stood at the window, taking orders from excited students.

“This is Salvadorian food?” one man asked, his voice barely audible over the hum of the truck’s generator.

“Yep,” Cecilia replied as the two ladies worked behind her, flattening the dough so that it sounded like the clapping of hands. “Do you want the toppings?”

“Sure,” he replied.

She reached for a pile of pupusas set aside by her mother who flipped them hot off the grill — each one was browned and dappled with crispy, black bits. As Cecilia set one on a paper plate, she added a handful of curtido, a piquant slaw of pickled cabbage and carrots, and a squirt of red tomato salsa.

For Cecilia, being the owner of a food truck was never something she had planned on.

“We kind of started talking about it in passing, kind of jokingly that we should start a food truck,” Cecilia said of her mother and her. “Once I started talking about it, I was like, ‘Wow, I really am thinking about this. I do want to do this.’ But it really didn’t become real real until I bought the truck.”

But So Good Pupusas is more than just a business for Cecilia; it’s a mission.

“This is really a means to an end,” she told me. “We wanted to start a scholarship fund for undocumented students. We don’t have any money to do so, so we have to generate it somehow, and pupusas is what we know best.”

Family, tradition and pupusas – a simple recipe but a powerful one. A recipe Cecilia hopes to use to effect enormous positive change.

Journey to the United States

It was 1982 when Jose Alfonso Sandoval left his rural village of La Isla to make his journey to America. At 26 years old, he was leaving behind the only country he ever knew, two daughters and a pregnant wife, but he knew he had to get to America. With his third daughter on the way, he wanted a better life for his children than was available in his village, which at the time had no running water, paved roads or electricity and only offered an education that was equivalent to middle school.

“Everyone there is from el campo. We’re all campesinos — we work in the fields, and you don’t need an education to work in the fields,” Cecilia said. “My dad didn’t really see a future for us there — for his daughters.”

But that wasn’t the only reason, Cecilia said.  “We had no choice but to leave.”

At the time of her father’s departure, a brutal civil war was raging in El Salvador, and her father, a former serviceman, was in danger.

“They were trying to recruit him back into the military, but it was the military against their own people, and then the guerilla forces also wanted him, so you had to choose. If you chose one, you were still fighting against your own people, and if you didn’t join either side you were kind of seen as a traitor to both of them,” Cecilia said.

“My grandmother would tell stories about waking up in the morning to clear dead bodies. And that was just something that happened. Or the military would come, and we would have to feed them. And you already were poor, so what did you feed them?”

In order to escape the violence, her father left. But he couldn’t bring his whole family at once, so he set off on his own, accompanied by only one of his wife’s sisters, to work and send money back home. Before reaching the United States, Cecilia’s father first had to cross into Guatemala and then Mexico.

“There’s a storyline that we tell about how Salvadorians are tres veces mojados,” Cecilia told me. “We say mojado can kind of be translated into ‘wetback,’ but they have different connotations. For us, mojado is just someone who is crossing the border. ‘Wetback’ has a much more negative connotation. So we say that we are that three times because we have to cross into Guatemala, we have to cross into Mexico and then the United States.”

Along his journey to cross three different borders, Jose Alfonso was detained in Mexico and spent some time in a Mexican prison. When he finally got to the United States, Cecilia said he weighed only 115 pounds.

His first time, Jose Alfonso entered the country illegally, and for a whole year he worked.

“That’s one of the hardest things he had to do,” Cecilia said. “(That) was being here by himself without his wife and his little girls. And the little girl he’d never met.” After one year Jose Alfonso had enough money to bring his wife Nora to America to work with him.

Nora said that the first thing she thought about when arriving was work. “Trabajar mucho para traerlos” she said.

“The first thing she was thinking about was working — working to bring her daughters,” Cecilia translated.

“Mhmmm,” Nora said, nodding.

“That’s the story that they tell,” Cecilia said, “is that when you get here you’re indebted. So you get here to work, to pay off your debt and then save up money to bring someone else over, and now you’ve got to pay off their debt. So that’s how it goes. You have to pay the coyote.”

By the time Cecilia’s third sister turned 4, the entire family had resettled in America, though not yet as citizens . “There was a point in time where we were essentially undocumented before going through the process of seeking political asylum,” Cecilia said.

“I don’t know how — he just did the right things,” she said of her dad applying for citizenship. “Part of that was filling out papers to gain residency — to seek political asylum — he just had to figure everything out. He was so smart in so many ways, in ways that are more than scholarly intelligence. Our situation turned out for the best because of a lot of the decisions he made.”

In 1992 Cecilia Polanco was born in Los Angeles, California — the only one of her sisters to be born in a hospital.

Pupusas and tradition

Cecilia has been eating pupusas made by her mother since before she can remember. Growing up, she said, pupusas were a treat only had on rare occasions.

“We would have them probably a couple of times a year — so not that often,” she said. As Cecilia grew older, her mother began to make them more often, and with Cecilia’s food truck officially opening last March, the treats have become more common but no less special.

“Now we have them really often because we’re working on the truck, but this was something really special that I shared with people to show them a deeper part of who I am,” Cecilia said. “They might know me as their fellow UNC student or know me as a Latina, but what they might not know are the specifics behind that — the diversity within that make me Salvadorian. And so I get to share that to people with food. And that’s really special.”

For Cecilia, it’s important to feed people exactly what she was fed at home. But it can be a difficult learning process for her, as her mother has no official recipe for pupusas.

“She doesn’t measure anything. She tastes everything. By smell, taste and how it looks, she knows if it’s ready. And so that’s what I’m learning, which is probably harder than learning the recipe.”

The recipes can also be time-consuming with a lot of prep in advance. But as a second-generation citizen, Cecilia said she believes the effort to learn her mother’s recipes is worth it.

“Something I worried about when I was younger was not learning to cook like she can cook because I’m in school or I’m working or something like that. But now my job is to learn how she does it, so now I’m going to learn how to make pupusas. I’m going to know how to make them, and I’ll make them for my children and my grandchildren and keep her legacy alive,” she said.

Even so, Cecilia confessed that she still hasn’t mastered the art of pupusa-making.

“It’s hard to get it perfect like that,” she said as she pointed to some of her mother’s crispy examples. “Sometimes mine come out with half of it being dough inside, and the other half the filling’s all spilling out, so it takes a lot of time and practice to get to that level of expertise.”

But with her mother and tia Vicky to guide her, it’s likely that she’ll figure it out eventually. “They’re my two main chefs,” she said as her mother flipped pupusas over the stove and tia Vicky roasted a sweet potato. “I’m really like the sous chef in training. I need (tia Vicky) to tell me, ‘OK, yeah, this is right,’ or, ‘This needs a little bit more of this,’ so that’s who she is,” Cecilia said.

Paying it forward

As the child of Central American immigrants, Cecilia is conscious of how fortunate her situation is in comparison to others.

“There are a lot of families that arrived here just like my family, seeking something better, and because they were Mexican or Guatemalan or from somewhere else, they didn’t have the same path — they didn’t have the same opportunities.”

In December, Cecilia got official status for her nonprofit, Pupusas for Education, which gives out two $1,000 scholarships each year to undocumented high school seniors. Last year they had five applicants. This year that number tripled. One of their scholarship recipients received a Golden Door Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships for undocumented students in the country. “Her name’s Maria, she is doing really well academically, and she’s vice president of their Latino organization there. She’s just rocking it,” Cecilia gushed over her recipient.

With no state or federal funding, undocumented students have a massive financial hurdle to clear and often have to piece together smaller scholarships, like Pupusas for Education, to afford higher learning.

“We’re kind of a drop in the bucket for an undocumented student trying to pay out of state tuition, but we feel that through our mission and the assistance we provide, we’re affirming that students are worth investing in,” Cecilia said.

Cecilia also plans to use her food trucks to allow locals who may not have a legitimate platform to sell their own food.

“I’ve always known of food trucks to be a Latino thing,” she said. “They’ve been at soccer fields, at construction sites for decades in North Carolina. Now illegal food vendors who might sell their food in nontraditional ways like out of their van, at church or at a corner store — there’s been a big crackdown on that community. And they’re majority Latinos, majority-minority — people of color who are selling food.”

In exchange for using her truck, a small portion of the earnings will go toward Pupusas for Education, but first Cecilia says she needs to fine-tune the business model so that it’s worthwhile, and so that no one gets exploited.

Near the end of the day, a woman approached the truck informing Cecilia that she had never tried a pupusa.

“Great, I love being people’s first pupusa,” Cecilia smiled.

“But I already know that I want the chicharrón,” the woman said.

“One?”

“Uhmm, is that a good amount to get?”

“One’s a snack. Two or three’s a meal.” Cecilia informed her matter-of-factly.

“Then I want two. Can I get one? Hmmm.”

“One pork, one bean?” Cecilia asked.

“Yeah,” the woman said. “Gonna try them both.”

As her aunt and mother shaped pupusas in the back, carrying on a tradition that had been in their family for generations, Cecilia shared that tradition one pupusa at a time, helping other students like herself go to school — students who might one day share their culture with the world as well.

Edited by Alison Krug.

 

Moving out and moving on: coping with my parents’ divorce in college

By Alexandra Blazevich

On December 31, 2016, my mom kicked my dad out of the house.

Happy New Year, right?

Before my dad left that night, my parents called me downstairs to the kitchen from my room, where I was listening to music. Even with my headphones in on maximum volume, and the makeshift blanket fort I made as a sound barrier to drown out the yelling, I could still hear them. Every night was the same story, but that night they invited me into the conversation.

Part of their discussion now involved me, a 22-year-old college student who was living at home to save them money until I could graduate and find a big-girl job to support myself. I watched them struggle to pay my sister’s way through college and I didn’t want to put them through that again. In turn, I had to put up with them.

“Your mom and I have been talking,” my dad said.

“Yeah, I heard,” I responded, sarcastically.

“We’re giving you the chance to stay here or go with your dad,” my mom chimed in.

It was happening. They had actually decided to separate – something I could see coming since the time I was 12.

What had once been love had become tolerance. From tolerance, it turned to hostility. And from hostility, it became anger. The anger resulted in fights that took place most nights in the kitchen, where my parents would yell until they got too tired.

Then they would retreat to their separate rooms and watch TV. My dad would sleep on the couch. As if they thought I was a little kid who didn’t know any better, the next day they would pretend like it never happened. They would let their issues bottle-up until they exploded.

Still, my mom would ask me why I hid in my room all day. My dad understood – he hid in his office.

At that moment, all I wanted was to escape. I would have done anything to leave that house. I grew up there and it’s where most of my childhood memories took place, but none of that mattered to me anymore.

“I’m going with dad,” I said without hesitation.

With that, the conversation was over. I walked back to my room, to the quiet hum of the heater, and I turned off the music that was still blasting through my headphones.

Silence.

 Reflection

Throughout the semester, I’ve met other people my age who are going through the same thing – their parents waited for them to reach a certain age before separating.

Gloria, a UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore, opened up to me about her parent’s separation and divorce this semester. They waited until she and her sister were out of the house before deciding to part ways.

Susan Orenstein, a family and couples therapist, said it’s common for married couples to divorce or separate after their kids move out.

“As they (couples) get through the first few years (of marriage), they are really busy building their lives and raising their kids, and they have some common goals,” she said. “What I’ve seen is that once the kids are off to college, then they look at each other and try to figure out what their purpose is as a couple. If they can’t answer that, they may be more vulnerable to getting a divorce.”

My parents both turn 60 this year, which makes them part of the baby-boom generation. Among baby boomers, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2015, 10 out of every 1,000 married people over 50 got divorced. In 1990, it was 5 out of every 1,000, or 0.5 percent.

This is my mother’s second marriage, which increases the chance of divorce up to 16 out of 1,000 people. Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in 2015, 48 percent had been in their second or higher marriage.

According to the same research, each time a person is remarried, the chance of divorce goes up.

 Things fall back together

“Hey dad, will you be here for dinner tonight?” I asked him one day while I made breakfast.

“I’m going out with your mother,” he replied casually.

I quickly made my way over to his bedroom and stood in the doorway. His back was to me as he sat at his desk, staring at his computer screen.

“What?” I said in disbelief.

He repeated the same answer without turning around – as if this was completely normal and expected. After years of fighting and months of being apart, they were going on a date. I don’t even think he would have told me if I hadn’t asked.

When he posted a picture of them smiling at dinner on Facebook later that night, I almost puked. My world had turned upside down.

 The first night

It’s been almost five months since the night I packed up my entire room in trash bags, threw them into my car and drove 15 minutes down the road to the apartment my cousin is letting us stay in.

My entire wardrobe was stuffed into three large garbage bags that sat on the floor. My shoes were in another messy pile nearby.

My new room was previously a bachelor pad. The walls were bare. My grandmother’s old couch was covered in video games and books my cousin probably hadn’t moved since he put them there in the first place.

I hung up some photos to remind me of better times, when I didn’t feel like my life was a carpet being ripped out from beneath my feet.

I wanted to cry, but I was too tired. I ended up combining the two and crying myself to sleep that first night.

 “Talk to your mother”

On January 18, my birthday, my aunt treated me to lunch. As my mom’s older sister, she knows her even better than I do. She understood my hurt, but she encouraged me to talk to my mom. I wasn’t ready.

A week before Easter, my dad told me the four of us – my sister, my parents and myself – were going to spend the holiday together. My parents had been on numerous dates together at this point, and my sister had even come home one weekend and to see my mom. I still wasn’t ready.

After days of telling me to talk to my mother, I took my dad’s advice. The text read, “Hey mom, would you like to get breakfast this week? I’ve taken a step back for a while just to think about things, but I think this will be good.”

Two hours later, she responded, “Ok. We can meet around 9.”

Not exactly a warm and fuzzy response, but at least she answered.

Resolution

That week, we met for breakfast at our favorite place. We shared stories from the past months apart. She jumped out of her chair in delight when I showed her the promise ring my boyfriend gave me while I visited him over spring break. It looked like a genuine reaction, but the whole situation didn’t feel real to me.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked eagerly.

I had no desire to talk to her. I felt betrayed – like the world I’d known for so long was falling apart. My parents were no longer my role models for how I wanted to parent my kids or treat my husband. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I have these last few months.

On Easter, my family went to church and made dinner together, something we hadn’t done since my sister and I were kids. We ate, we drank and we laughed that day – more than I had since long before that cold January night when we packed our bags and left. After dinner, my sister drove back to Charlotte, where she lives. I drove back to the apartment and my dad came back later. It was bittersweet. While some things have not changed, many are different.

I still don’t like to look at my neighborhood when I pass by. I don’t live there anymore. It isn’t my home, and I’m not welcome back. The memories I have there are now tainted.

My dad hopes my mom will let him back in the house soon. He’s been saying that since the day we left. He wants to go back, but I don’t. I moved out, and it’s time for me to move on.

Edited by Paige Connelly

Coaching success: Three coaches, three winning philosophies

By Jacob Hancock

It’s the fourth quarter. It’s the ninth inning. Two-minute warning. Stoppage time. The game is on the line. If you love sports, you live for these moments. How do coaches handle these situations? How do they prepare their players for these, the most intense moments, on and off the field? There’s no right answer. No two coaches operate the same way, and there’s no real blueprint for success. What follows are three success stories from three coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know during my life.

Born with a whistle in my mouth…”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful high school basketball coach than Billy Anderson, who runs the show at East Carteret High School in Beaufort, N.C.

With Anderson at the helm, the Mariners have won seven consecutive 1A Coastal Plains Conference championships – perhaps one of the most powerful conferences in the state at the 1A level. Rival team Pamlico County High School gives East Carteret a good game every year. Jones Senior High School is on the rise with new head coach Tod Morgan, who played JV basketball at UNC and has coached at several successful high schools in the state. North Side High School in Pinetown joined the conference in the 2013-2014 season, and were led for two seasons by Bam Adebayo, who played for the University of Kentucky this past season and will enter the NBA Draft after playing just one year in college. Anderson also makes it a point to schedule tough teams in non-conference play, often scheduling games against schools that have success at the 2A, 3A and 4A levels.

“I believe that to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Anderson said. “I want my guys to be the best, and you don’t get that by playing weaker teams. I try to use some of those games in December as a measuring stick – see where we are in comparison to where we want to be and what we need to work on to get there.”

Mariner fans enjoyed a four-year stretch in which the team competed at the Eastern Regionals in Fayetteville each season. They also made it to the state championship in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015. The team went undefeated in 2014 before losing in the final game to perennial powerhouse Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. The Mariners, led by a trio of the most successful seniors in program history, got redemption over Winston-Salem and won the title in 2015.

“The support that the community showed us during that stretch was incredible,” Anderson said. “It hasn’t quite been the same since, which is understandable because that group was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of group. I consider myself lucky to have coached them.”

Anderson graduated from High Point University in 2000, and promptly started his coaching career as an assistant on his cousin’s staff at West Caldwell High School. He comes from a long line of coaches in his family and said he always knew he wanted to coach.

“I was practically born with a whistle in my mouth and a clipboard in my hand,” Anderson said.

Watching Anderson on the sidelines is pure entertainment – almost as entertaining as watching the team play. Every year you can count on high-octane offense from the Mariners. Anderson demands that each of his players puts his foot on the gas to get out in transition. Anderson is animated and emotional during games, pacing the sideline with his sucker in his mouth.

“It’s usually a cherry Dum Dum,” Anderson said. “It keeps me calm – sort of.”

Anderson has coached teams where the tallest player was (generously) listed at 6’2”. He’s had groups that can light it up from beyond the arc, and groups that “couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the shore.” Though he always wants his team playing at a blistering pace, he says it’s important to make slight adjustments when necessary.

“You have to have an idea of what your kids can do,” Anderson said. “Figure out what they do best, and then go from there.”

Asked about the secret to his success at East Carteret, Anderson said the answer was simply getting the kids in the gym.

“When I got here, we had some good athletes,” Anderson said. “But they weren’t in the gym every day. I started challenging them. Our guys now are gym rats. I have guys now that ask if they can come into the gym during lunch to get up shots. Now, our guys are all playing AAU during the summer and getting better year-round. Because we’ve had success, it means something to play for East Carteret, and I think guys want to live up to that.”

Anderson can be very demanding of his players, but the respect they have for him is clear. Former players are spotted at home games, and they stay after the game to see their old coach.

“That’s my favorite part of coaching,” Anderson said. “Building relationships with these guys, and seeing them grow up and become good men. It means a lot that so many of them still come back and support us. Some of them will even come around and play pickup with our guys during the summer, which is a great opportunity for the young guys to play against quality competition.”

Anderson said the toughest part about his job is having to make cuts and trying to find playing time for everybody.

“We really have a great talent pool here,” Anderson said. “There’s so many good athletes, and so many good kids. But you can’t run a program with 40 kids on your JV team.”

That’s not an exaggeration by Anderson. I tried out my sophomore year of high school, along with more than 40 of my fellow classmates. I was the last person to be cut. But Anderson encouraged me to come try out the next season, and even though I elected not to because of a heavy academic workload, I appreciated the interest that he showed in me – someone who didn’t even make the team.

“If you make the effort, and you genuinely take interest in their lives, they’re going to respond,” Anderson said. “They’re going to trust you, and that’s when you get the best out of them.”

“I was speaking a foreign language…”

When Antonio Diaz first came to East Carteret High School from Cordoba, Spain, as part of a teacher-transfer program, it had what could be called a soccer team. It had had some marginal success, winning a couple of playoff games in the 1990s, but was a complete mess in 2005.

“There just wasn’t a very good soccer presence in the area,” Diaz said. “We had guys who didn’t even play in middle school coming into high school.”

My brother was one of those guys. A freshman, he had played growing up and was offered a spot on a Classic League team in Cape Carteret that played year-round. But the traveling was going to be expensive (a 40-minute drive to practice every day), and he didn’t want to give up baseball. When he got to middle school, there weren’t enough people who wanted to play, and they couldn’t field a team.

“I knew that if I was ever going to turn the program around, I had to improve the development in the middle schools,” Diaz said.

Diaz met with members of the local parks and recreation services to encourage them start classic teams in Beaufort that would travel. This happened as I was coming up, and even though I did not play, a classic team was established and many of my friends joined. By the time I was in middle school, we had plenty of players to field a team.

“The difference that made, it was incredible,” Diaz said. “The group your freshman year was probably the most talented group in program history, and the group the next year was even better.”

The team only won four games my freshman year, but we improved at the end of the season and were competitive in a conference with Dixon High School and South West Onslow High School, two of the best 1A teams in the state. Diaz blamed himself for the early season struggles.

“I was a little hesitant to play some of the freshman at the beginning of the season,” Diaz said. “I didn’t want the older players to feel like they were being tossed to the side.”

The next year, the team made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and the year after that we won a playoff game. The next season, conference alignments were adjusted, and Dixon and Southwest Onslow moved up to 2A and were replaced by North Side High School, South Side High School, and Bear Grass Charter School – all three much weaker teams. The program seemed to be peaking at the perfect time.

“Fans were starting to take notice,” Diaz said. “I think everyone could tell that big things were coming.”

The team had some unfortunate injuries early on. I sprained my ankle two days before the season opener against 3A county rival West Carteret, our star freshman sprained his the next day, and two senior would-be starters were already lost for the season.

“That was a very trying period,” Diaz said. “You really hate to see good kids out with injuries. You want them to get back out there as soon as they can, but safety is the top priority. You have to keep them motivated and make sure they understand that you have their best interest in mind. You also have to keep players on the bench mentally prepared, because they may have to replace someone at any time.”

But the team overcame those early season struggles and captured the first conference championship in program history. The team earned two first-round home playoff games before losing an unlucky draw in the third round. The next season they made it to the fourth round, losing to eventual state champion Wallace Rose Hill High School. East Carteret has now won four consecutive conference championships.

“The difference from where the program started and where it is now is night and day,” Diaz said. “It’s truly my proudest accomplishment.”

Before Diaz came to town, you might see students walking the halls wearing the jerseys of professional basketball or football athletes, but never soccer. Now, it’s not farfetched to find a student sporting a Messi or Ronaldo kit.

“The culture here has completely changed,” Diaz said. “I feel like when I came here, I was speaking a foreign language, and it wasn’t Spanish – it was soccer.”

Students love Diaz, and many opt to take his Latin class to fulfill the foreign language requirement instead of the more traditional option of Spanish. Everyone loves to listen to him talk – the difference in his voice inflection, the way he rolls his R’s, the way he pronounces “mayonnaise” (maYO-naise!). He’s a very easy-going man and is always looking for ways to make his students and players smile.

“I think it’s important to remember that soccer is just a game,” Diaz said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”

I can’t remember one day of high school in which Diaz didn’t make an effort to have a conversation with me. Whether it was in the hallway between classes, in the cafeteria during lunch or in the middle of Latin class while we worked on projects, I’m almost certain that Diaz spoke to me every single day of my high school career.

“You have to get to know each of your players,” Diaz said. “You have to figure out what they’re like, what they’re good at – both skill-wise and attitude-wise – and you have figure out how to make all of the different personalities blend into one cohesive team.”

“It takes a lot of patience…”

When Jason Salter was growing up, he never thought that he’d become a baseball coach.

“It had never even crossed my mind,” Salter said. “I don’t think anyone else who knew me would have expected it either. I was a bit of a troublemaker.”

Salter was a talented baseball player. He had the opportunity to play at UNC-Chapel Hill, but he didn’t even make it to the spring semester before flunking out.

“That was a bigtime reality check,” Salter said. “I had always been able to rely on being smart enough, not having to study. Add that with all the partying, I just wasn’t mature enough. I knew I had to make a change in my life.”

After taking some time off, Salter enrolled at UNCW a changed man. He kept his grades up and started working as an assistant at Roland-Grise Middle School in Wilmington.

“That was a good experience,” Salter said. “It made me realize that I wanted to get involved in coaching.”

After graduation, Salter spent several years working as an assistant at North Brunswick High School, a perennial power in Eastern North Carolina.

“I really learned a lot from my time there,” Salter said. “The coaching staff was so professional, and they expected the same from the players. The baseball culture there is incredible.”

In 2008, Salter became the junior varsity baseball coach at East Carteret High School. He immediately saw a difference in the culture between the two programs.

“The guys running the varsity team really didn’t have a clue of what they were doing,” Salter said. “I really didn’t want them telling my JV players what to do. It was a circus.”

Shortly before the 2010 season, East Carteret decided to promote Salter to varsity head coach. For the first several weeks of the season, he focused his practices on conditioning. Some people joked that Salter was more of a track coach than a baseball coach.

“Those kids simply weren’t in shape,” Salter said. “I didn’t have a chance to work with them in the offseason, and they hadn’t been putting in the work on their own.”

Salter struggled control his temper at times. He’s had to complete mandatory anger management classes on multiple occasions.

“It takes a lot of patience, which was something I didn’t always have when I first became a head coach,” Salter said. “It’s hard when you’re trying to change a culture. You feel like you want more for your kids than they want for themselves. I came in expecting them to play like North Brunswick, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

Implementing the offseason training made a big difference. The team hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2006 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002. In his first season, the Mariners made it to the third round of the state playoffs. East Carteret has made the playoffs every season under Salter. In 2013, the team captured its first conference championship in decades. Since then, the Mariners have won four consecutive conference championships. Salter saw his greatest success in his last season in 2016, in which the team made it to the Regional Final for the first time since 1984.

But just as his program was peaking, Salter decided to step down.

“I needed to spend more time with my family,” Salter said. “Being a high school coach is a huge time commitment. I loved doing it, but I felt that it was reaching a point where I couldn’t be fully committed to the program and my own children, and that’s not fair to either group of kids.”

Salter now helps coach his daughters’ softball team. He said he loves spending time with her, but the transition from high school baseball to middle school softball has been less than smooth.

“You can’t treat them the same,” Salter said. “With the high school boys, I could pretty well assume they knew the fundamentals. I have to be more patient with the girls. I do O.K. with my own daughters, but I struggle with other people’s kids. I always practiced tough love, but you can’t do that unless your players understand that it’s love. I think I’m still trying to figure out how to do that with a different kind of group.”

Thanks, coach

All three coaches credited their success to their ability to develop a winning culture. Whether that’s through challenging their players, harping on the tactics or showing tough love, creating the expectation for your team to win is crucial before the team can actually tally W’s. It’s also important to show a special interest in each of your players to develop a sense of trust, so that, whatever your message is, they will be willing to buy in to it.

 

Edited by Jordan Wilkie

 

Instagram restaurant brings spice to late-night food

By Lauren Tarpley

Ian Burris has always loved being in the kitchen. When he was a child, he would cook with his mom and ask to help with dinner.  As a teenager, he went to parties and when people would get hungry, Burris would start cooking. Now, at 20 years old, Burris has turned his passion of cooking into his own business.

“I’ve put my whole life into this, so it’s kind of all or nothing,” Burris said.

Burris created the Dankery in Wilmington in 2015 after waiting for the perfect time to pursue his passion, but brought the business to Durham in the summer of 2016. He and his friends were tired of waiting in long lines at Cook Out or Waffle House late at night. Plus, there just weren’t many restaurants that offered quality food after dark.

Burris saw this as an opportunity and began the Dankery, offering “dank food at a great price” from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. From his kitchen at home, Burris prepares wings, chicken tenders, shrimp, and fries with over 20 flavor options ranging from Cheerwine Barbeque to Thai Chili and delivers his homemade trays to hungry customers throughout Durham.

“These foods were the easiest to start out with,” Burris said. “I knew how to do it and I knew a lot of people would like it.”

Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Ian Burris launched an Instagram restaurant in 2015, serving fries, wings and shrimp burgers from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Spreading the word

Business has been booming for the Dankery even though the restaurant hasn’t opened a physical location. Burris has instead managed to gain a loyal following through social media.

Burris essentially built his business using Instagram and Snapchat. While many businesses struggle with promoting their brand on social media, Burris has been able to use this marketing tool to his advantage. Since customers can’t go into the restaurant to look at the food, Burris posts photos and videos of the delicious food he prepares — bringing in new fans, new customers and new orders.

“It’s all ‘bout earned media and people spreading the word,” Burris said. “They get a tray, they like it, and they tell someone about it.”

Joshua Bumgardner, owner of Chef J’s Trays in Houston, Texas, helped Burris in the beginning stages of developing the Dankery.

“It was his own thing and he had his own hustle, but I helped with the development,” Bumgardner said. “I saw all the work and all the pay off.”

Bumgardner opened Chef J’s Trays in March and has adopted a similar business strategy to Burris, with plans to use earned media and word-of-mouth to gain a following. Although Bumgardner is still developing the social media pages for his business, he has gained a following since opening and now serves around 20 people nightly.

Albert Segars, a distinguished professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said social media is vital to small businesses because of its ability to reach a large number of people at little to no cost. However, in order for social media to be effective without being intrusive, it must be managed properly and businesses must find a balance with their social media use.

While Burris has been successful in working from his kitchen, his goal is to someday have multiple food trucks. For now, Burris is  in the process of getting the proper permits to open his food truck and will be looking to hire a staff to help run the Dankery. He hopes to have the mobile location open to the public by the end of the year.

From startup to success

Burris’ journey has not been without obstacles. He handles everything on his own, from marketing to cooking and delivery, meaning he often has to turn business away when demand is too high. Burris is solely responsible for financially backing his business, from raising the initial capital to savings funds for expansion.

“There are many challenges to starting a business,” Segars said. “The primary one is money. This means sacrifice, in most cases, entrepreneurs have to invest their own money which can be a risky proposition.”

Burris believes his dedication combined with his delicious food will help make the Dankery successful.

“I have a really good work ethic and when I want to do something, I make sure I get it done,” Burris said. “I’m kind of a perfectionist. When I’m making trays, I want everything to be perfect.”

As a young and talented entrepreneur, Burris has the qualities that can set apart a successful business from a failing one.

“Successful entrepreneurs tend to be very social, positive, and ambitious,” Segars said. “Entrepreneurs are wired differently and their passion is the business they start. Make sure that your service and product are always the best. Never accept less than perfect delivery on customers’ expectations.”

Burris’ passion and drive for his business have helped his business stand out. He has been dedicated to the Dankery and its customers, putting in years of work to build the brand. Segars said time is another challenge young businesses face.

“It requires a lot of time to get a business started,” Segars said. “You must create a product or service, market its value, and devote many hours to managing the business. You have to be willing to wait for success.”

Burris has done just that and as a result, the Dankery continues to profit and grow. But the Dankery is still in the early phases of becoming a full-fledged and well-established business. The Cousins Maine Lobster food truck is a perfect example of a food truck success story. In May of 2015, Deb Keller launched the Cousins Maine food truck in Raleigh, branching from the Cousins Maine brand, which was created in 2012. The truck is wildly popular and serves Maine lobster rolls.

“I went into this with zero restaurant knowledge other than I love eating food at restaurants,” Keller said. “Now, I’m providing the best lobster you can find and we have a beautiful following. That makes it all worth while.”

Like Burris, Cousins Maine Lobster was able to build a loyal following using quality food and superior customer service. By entering the food truck market with a unique product, the Cousins Maine Lobster truck was able to distinguish itself from competitors, which is what Burris intends to do once he is able to expand.

While the food truck market in Raleigh is relatively saturated, that is not the case in Durham. According to Jaseth Fike, a student at Durham Technical Community College, there aren’t many food trucks in the area that cater to students.

“I don’t see a lot of food trucks around campus,” Fike said. “I think if there were more options, more students would go.”

The Dankery has a unique product and high demand. Keller said she loves the concept and believes the brand could separate itself from the masses of taco and burger trucks.

“I personally believe it would be welcomed,” said Keller. “You have to have your signature.”

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Advice from the locals on transitioning to the “Big Apple”

By Lanie Phillips

Every year, approximately 250,000 people move to New York City. A different road leads each person to the “Big Apple”, but those who stumble across a life in Manhattan say that there is something special about the city that always leaves you wanting more. As I approach college graduation with a move to New York City on the horizon, I began to ask myself dozens of questions that I couldn’t easily find the answer to, and all of them came with a different answer depending on the source. This article will explore six perspectives on transitioning to and maintaining a life in New York City. I asked six people in various walks of life what led them and what kept them in the city that never sleeps, whether it’s the bright lights, trendy nightclubs, delicious restaurants or limitless opportunities for adventure.

The Commuter 

Katrine Reddin is 22 years old and graduated in December from Texas Christian University with a degree in marketing. Shortly after, she returned to her home in Stamford, Connecticut where she would live and complete the hour and a half commute each way for six months before moving into an apartment in Manhattan. Katrine’s dad has worked in New York City for years, so for her, finding a career in the city was almost a rite of passage. She discussed how she has grown up wanting to switch her walking shoes for heels before entering the building she works in, something that all women working in New York City seem to be very familiar with. She vividly remembers stepping off the train into Grand Central Station and being forced to run to keep up with the crowd. “That was the moment I knew I was not in Texas anymore,” she laughs. “[It was] also the moment I understood why you wear flats until you get to the door of your office.”

Katrine discussed in-depth how the transition period of living with her parents has made moving to and working in New York City so much more attainable. “I have a huge financial buffer, now, that has allowed me to search for an apartment with substantially less stress,” she said. “It also helps knowing that I’ll be able to explore and adventure in the city without having to worry about paying the electricity bill.” She agrees that while living with her parents for these six months has been beneficial, there is just something exciting about renting your own apartment in New York City. “I think the hardest part has been the commute. I wake up at 4:30 and catch a train and then do it all over again,” she said. “Knowing there is an end in sight definitely helps because my sleep schedule couldn’t handle this situation long-term.”

The Apartment Hunter

For Emma Griffin, the biggest adjustment to living in New York City was the process of getting an apartment. Emma, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Georgia, is a graphic designer for a small company. On the side, she does freelance work to make extra money. She laughs as she remembers trying to look for an apartment six months before she was planning on moving in. “I had just gotten my job offer and was so excited to figure out where I would be living,” she said. “The brokers I contacted politely told me to come back one month before I needed to move in and to make sure I had the necessary funds.” The process to qualify for an apartment does make it easier to ensure you will be able to pay your rent. The usual requirement is your salary equaling 40 times the amount of your monthly rent. She recalls downloading several apps that would help her search for an apartment and getting hundreds of notifications of places that would satisfy her criteria.

In a city that supposedly has a shortage of housing, there didn’t seem to be a lack of apartments coming on and off the market that were possible places to rent. “I think for everyone, the first shock of living in New York is how expensive your rent is going to be,” said Emma. “It’s awful spending a third of what I’m making on the place I sleep.” But Emma wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even though she has only been there for a year, she has zero plans on moving anytime soon. “There’s something priceless about living in a place where you meet someone from a completely different walk of life every single day.”

The Father

Zach Richards has lived in Upper West Side for the last three years. He moved there after graduating from Duke University. However, in the past three years, Zach has not only gotten married, but he and his wife recently had a baby. “There is nothing that can prepare you for living in New York with a newborn child,” he confessed. “Everything becomes more complicated.” Whether it’s a screaming baby who is sweaty from the hot subway in July, a stroller that gets caught on a sidewalk bump and almost tips over or finding a place for the baby to sleep in astronomically priced apartments, Zach walked me through some tips of the trade. “Honestly, we converted our pantry into a bedroom for the baby,” he says as he ironically trips over a stack of groceries sitting in the hall with no place to go. “It has no window and absolutely does not adhere to building codes, but it is so worth not sharing a bedroom with a newborn.”

He talks about how no one ever mentioned this transition to him. Everyone stuck to giving advice on first moving there and then adjusting to living with a spouse. “I think most people don’t want to scare you out of having a baby,” Zach said. “If I had known what I do now, I probably would’ve waited just a little bit longer.” Zach has no plans on moving to the suburbs just yet, a practice common with people who have families but still work in New York City. He said that too much of his identity has become wrapped up in living in Manhattan. “My wife and this baby have taken my sleep and my money and even my pantry,” he jokes. “They’re not taking my zip code.”

The Budgeter

Kim Emmert has lived in the city for five years and recently moved across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She moved to New York City after completing her undergraduate degree at Boston College, which gave her a leg up in handling the cold weather. She gave great advice on budgeting for living in a city as expensive as New York City and practical tips that she has picked up along the way. Her self-proclaimed best advice for anyone moving to the “Big Apple”? Make a spreadsheet with every expense you can think of and stick to it. Leave room for unexpected expenses that you can’t prepare for. “I can’t express how important it is to stick to the budget you have,” she stressed. “There is no worse feeling that seeing your credit card bill pile up and know that you won’t be able to pay it at the end of the month.” Kim has personal experience with this. Her first two years in New York City were a financial whirlwind of overspending and she is still paying off the silly expenses she justified in order to keep up with her roommates who were making significantly more money than her.

“I also would tell you to live with people in similar financial situations,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to stay in and cook breakfast together than sit at home while everyone else goes out for bottomless mimosas and brunch.” Her last piece of advice for transitioning to life in Manhattan was simple. “Prepare to not drive a car,” she said. For her, it felt like a loss of freedom and she felt trapped. Kim said it took her close to a year to adjust to relying on public transportation. She did acknowledge that the presence of Uber does make getting around significantly easier. “But don’t forget to factor that into your budget” she said.

The Southerner

Julie Fendler is 36 years old and is contemplating leaving New York City after being there since attending undergraduate school at Columbia University. “New York is absolutely a way of life,” she explained when I asked her why she had been there for so long. “It gets in your blood and convinces you that nothing will be as exciting as the life you have here.” She said her best advice for anyone moving to the city is to just jump in 100 percent. If you don’t commit to enjoying the life you have in New York City, you’ll constantly be thinking if it would be better to just live somewhere cheaper. Julie, who grew up in a small suburban town outside of Atlanta, thinks that living in New York City has opened her eyes to different ways of life and broadened her horizons more than she could’ve dreamed. “Maybe that’s why I’m so biased about this city,” she admitted. “I think that a life in New York is out of a lot of people’s comfort zones, but I can’t begin to convey how important it is to expose yourself to different types of people.”

For those moving from the south, Julie warned of the complete absence of southern hospitality and the cold weather. She laughed at a story she remembered of bumping into someone getting out of an elevator and then apologizing and asking them how their day was going. “That man looked at me like I had killed his first-born child,” Julie said. “I realized that New Yorkers don’t care why you’re in their way, they just want to be at their destination 15 minutes ago.” Her final words were to warn me as well as other people who consider a 55-degree day to be cold that I had no idea what was ahead. “There’s nothing that can prepare a southern girl from stepping out into her first snowstorm,” she said. “The way the cold hits you in the face the second you step outside is something I would not miss at all.”

The Explorer

For the final perspective on transitioning to life in New York City, I talked with Miles Garrison, a man who has lived in countless apartments across Manhattan for the last 20 years. Out of everyone I interviewed for this story, he spoke of New York City with the most fondness. “New York is absolutely more than a place for people in their 20s to figure out how to be an adult,” he said. Miles admitted that there is a huge adjustment period though. In a somewhat crass manner, he detailed an early career in finance that allowed him to have financial flexibility, which might not have been a good thing. “I had more money but not nearly enough time to explore this place,” he admitted. “Maybe that’s why I’m still here. I’m finally getting to experience what everyone talks about.”

His advice to me was simple: Don’t look at New York City as a stop on the way to a final destination. Give it a chance to be everything it can be. If you do, maybe it could end up being your home, just like it is for Miles. His parting words: “I’ve raised three kids and had two marriages in this city and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Several people have told me that New York City is a place that you can still feel lonely in, even though 8 million people surround you. It is my hope that the accounts given in this story by six very different people living very different lives in the city will make life in Manhattan a little more attainable for those who encounter it. It’s expensive, it’s loud, it’s bright, but as you read in this story, there’s something just a little more special about the years you spend in the “Big Apple”.

Edited by Avery Williams

Cody Abell’s path to tattoo

By Kenzie Cook

The sound of metal music reverberates through the small shop and mixes with the steady vibrating sounds of the tattoo gun. Conversation flows easily between the tattoo artist and his client.

The first customer I observe is one of Cody’s regulars, Logan. They are working on the almost-completed sleeve on Logan’s right arm. Logan’s girlfriend watches Cody work as he repeatedly pokes needles into her boyfriend’s skin. Prior to Logan’s arrival, Cody has spent close to two hours perfecting the stencils he created for the two new additions to the sleeve and cleaning up his area of the shop to health code standards.

“Do you watch combat movies?” Cody asks as he starts the needlework for a dagger that appears to be stabbing through Logan’s bicep. A discussion of Deadpool versus Spider-Man ensues, seeming to distract Logan from the pain.

Cody’s Path

Every tattoo artist has a different path he or she has taken into the profession, and Cody’s is by far the most interesting story I have heard. The main reason I find his story so intriguing is that he fell into the tattooing profession entirely by accident.

Cody did not have a normal childhood. By the time he reached the sixth grade, he had already been to 12 schools. His mother suffered from undiagnosed and untreated clinical issues, which led to her constantly lying, hurting people and running away from her problems. Once Cody was old enough to see her for who she truly was, problems began to arise between the two of them. The situation worsened when he interjected in a fight between her and her husband, which led to the state of Virginia filing assault charges against her.

By the time Cody had turned 18 and was preparing to graduate high school, his mother had given up on raising him. She and her husband moved away, leaving him alone in their home with only two months remaining on the lease. Luckily, the University of Virginia granted him a scholarship in theatrical arts, and friends’ families allowed him to bounce around their houses until he could move into the campus dorms.

While on campus, Cody had to find a job to pay for food and other necessities, so he became a receptionist for a local tattoo shop. Over the summer, the tattoo artists who worked there quit due to the questionable nature of the shop. The owner of the shop took it upon himself to teach Cody how to tattoo so the shop could stay in business. After his first few clients, he soon realized that the owner did not really know what he was doing when it came to teaching the art of tattooing, so he left to learn properly. He eventually dropped out of college, where he was studying marketing, to begin tattooing full time.

Now, nearly nine years later, he takes pride in his work and is not satisfied unless his customers are. He traces and retraces his artwork until it is practically flawless before putting it on his customers’ skin. He does not care how large or small each tattoo is. He wants each customer to love his work.

The walk

It is a long, chilly walk through the drizzling rain from Glenn’s Tattoo Service Inc. to Weaver Street Market. Cody takes this trip every day that he works, though the weather is not always this dreary.

“You’ve never been to the co-op?” he asks, incredulous. “I go here every day for a coffee and a water.”

Along the way, he recounts his first trip to the market last summer.

“My wife and I came down from Virginia to check out Glenn’s and decided to take a walk here. It was insanely hot and felt like the longest walk ever.”

Although he hated the heat, he does not seem to appreciate the cool rain either.

“If it’s raining when we head back, I’m not walking through it,” he said with a laugh. “I am not above ordering an Uber just to take me up a block.”

The Strongman

Aside from tattooing, Cody has a few side hobbies. He likes that the tattoo profession pays well enough for him to live his life exactly the way he wants to live it.

He has a personal coach and a dietician so he can train and build muscle for Strongman competitions. He won his first competition in October and qualified for the Nationals, which will take place in Las Vegas in November. He also is training for the North Carolina’s Strongest Man competition in May. These competitions do not pay whether you win or lose, and Cody recognizes that he would not be able to uphold his hobby if not for his successful job as a tattoo artist.

He also enjoys doing extreme activities, as long as he does not have to take a class or have a certification in order to do them. This fall, he plans to take his wife to Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Angels Landing is a large, steep rock formation that people hike with only a chain to keep them from plummeting to the ground 5,700 feet below.

The Ph.D. and the tattoo artist

Cody lights up when talking about his wife, who seems like his complete opposite. She has a Ph.D. in sociology and works as a data analyst for the state.

“I just thought of her as a friend because she is way too good for me. I mean, she’s got a Ph.D., what would she want with a guy with face tattoos?” He continues explaining that the two of them never actually dated. They just went straight from being friends to a short engagement and then got married in a courthouse after they moved to Durham.

Walk-ins welcome

People can request a tattoo on any part of the body. One of Cody’s walk-ins happened to want a tattoo of the UNC logo on his right butt cheek. His friend came for a much more reasonable location: his left foot. The two engaged in playful banter while the first tattoo was completed.

“How are you doing there, mate?” Eoin Buttanshall, the one waiting to have his foot tattoo done, asked.

“Not too bad,” Sam Sinclair replied with a red face.

“Can’t wait to see you with your ass out later.”

Eoin later explained that the two had made bets about tattoos surrounding the NCAA March Madness Championship game. They had bet that Carolina would lose, and since they lost the bet, they had to either get the symbol or “the ceiling is the roof” tattooed on themselves.

When getting a tattoo, I strongly suggest bringing a friend, even if it is just for moral support. Having a conversation with a person you are comfortable with serves as a solid distraction from the pain of needles constantly sticking into your skin.

Another set of friends came into the shop for a walk-in and had an entire conversation consisting of inside jokes that neither Cody nor I understood. Nevertheless, it did its job of distracting Maria Alvarez while she got a quote in French along her collarbone. Her friend Emily MacKillop’s tattoo idea was too intricate for a walk-in, so she had to make an appointment and leave a deposit.

When she came back the next day, Maria came with her and the same kind of conversation took place while she got her image of a moon inside a sun on her shoulder. Both girls were pleased with Cody’s work on their new ink.

“I love how it looks. He did a great job!” Emily said once her tattoo was finished.

The process

Wednesdays are generally slow days in the tattoo shop, so it is usually just Cody by himself or with one other tattoo artist. On both of the Wednesdays that I sat in on, Cody only had two appointments scheduled, with few walk-ins. In his free time, he works on sketches for upcoming tattoos and eats to fuel for his weight lifting.

Before each customer sits down for their new ink, Cody sets out the needles he will need and assembles his tattoo gun. He then sets out the required inks, covers everything at his station in plastic, sanitizes the chair that the customer will sit on and puts on his gloves. That is when the real fun begins.

Once the customer has signed the release form to allow Cody to tattoo them, they sit in the chair or lay on the table, depending on the placement of the tattoo. Cody asks if they are ready, the gun starts and there is no going back.

During the tattooing process, Cody continuously rubs petroleum jelly across the affected skin to keep it from tearing and scarring. He wipes away excess blood as he goes, completely unaffected by the bodily fluid.

Once the tattoo is finished, Cody covers it with more jelly and a wrap, takes the payment and sends them off with a card explaining how to properly take care of a new tattoo. The healing process takes up to four weeks and requires lots of care and protection from the sun and certain chemicals.

Perfection

Although I did not receive my first tattoo from Cody, I did receive my favorite from him. All of the customers I spoke to shared my sentiment that Cody has amazing talent in the art of tattooing, despite that line of work not being his original career path. Cody has a special love for his work that leads to perfectionism, which results in near-perfect tattoos loved by all who receive them.

Edited by Samantha Miner

Dancing through life at any age

By Cinnamon Moore

I’ve never exactly been the graceful kind of girl.

Blessed with almost zero hand-eye coordination and a tendency for tripping on thin air, I preferred to stay away from most physical activities, including dancing. Instead, I opted for books and classwork.

But just because I wasn’t born with the natural instinct for dance didn’t stop me from envying dancers and their stunning grace.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are watching “Dirty Dancing” and drooling over Baby and Johnny’s final dance scene.

As I got older, my penchant for dance never faded, and finally, at 22, I decided to take my first dance lesson.

It takes a lot to make me nervous, but as someone whose physical activity consists of going to the gym or hiking, braving something as elegant and beautiful as ballroom dance for the first time was intimidating.

After looking around at dance studios in the area for a few days and reading reviews online, I decided to take my chances with Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham. The reviews raved about the dance instructors and it was only a short 20-minute drive from my apartment. Not to mention, they had a deal for two beginning dance classes.

I thought if I completely flopped, at least I wouldn’t pour a lot of money into it.

A few days later, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot cursing my parents for not having forced me to take dance lessons as a kid.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Total humiliation, stepping on toes, slipping … I shook my head. Bad thoughts wouldn’t help the situation.

Before my brain could catch up with me, I grabbed my backpack, got out of my car and walked inside. I was greeted by the smiles of two other students, both at least 70 years old.

After waiting a few moments, I could hear the dance instructors approaching from the back and took up a position near the front desk.

“Cinnamon, right?” Alyona Karchanova, one of the instructors, asked.

I smiled and nodded.

“Great,” she said. “You’ll be with Vitaliy today.”

At the sound of his name, a young man appeared to greet me, and before I knew it, I was holding his hand and being whisked away to a spot on the main dance floor.

With the main floor directly across from the entrance and in view of anyone passing by, my hopes of passing under the radar vanished. If I was terrible, it seems everyone would have a front-row seat to watch.

Oy vesmir.

“Have you ever danced before?” Vitaliy Starikov asked.

“No, this is my first day,” I replied meekly.

“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “This will be much fun.”

Moving to the United States less than year prior, Starikov’s thick Ukrainian accent, aided by his quick smile and joking personality, lent him an infectious ambiance.

With his tailored, black dress shirt complete with tie and polished shoes, he was the picture-perfect ballroom dance partner.

“OK, today we will learn a few basic dances and you can show me what you’ve got,” he said. “Do not worry, all you must do is follow my lead.”

I looked into his green eyes, put my slightly shaky hand in his and gave myself up to the music.

A few blinks later, I had learned the basics of tango, cha-cha, rumba and salsa.

And I was hooked.

The intoxication of dance

Dance, I learned, was addictive. While people begin dancing for various reasons, many who start find that they cannot and will not stop. Whether a hobby or life-long career, they’ve fallen in love with moving to the music.

Starikov began dancing at the age of 7. After hating his first dance class, his mother gave it one last attempt at convincing her son to dance by taking him to a local ballroom dance competition near their hometown.

“When I saw the yellow feathered skirts and the black suits on the men … I knew I wanted to do that,” he said. “They were so elegant and beautiful.”

Over the years, Starikov competed all over Ukraine in the standard five dances: waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. He admitted to almost quitting a few times, but after encouragement from his father, he pursued a master’s degree in cultural arts and choreography.

After teaching for a few years in Ukraine, Yuriy Simakov, the owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Durham, offered Starikov a position as a dance instructor. At the age of 28, Starikov found himself in America.

The changing Fred Astaire

In 1998, two Ukrainian national champions became the franchisees of a Fred Astaire Dance studio on Long Island.

Since then Sasha and Olga Bylim have encouraged fellow competitors and friends to join them in the U.S.

“This franchised company presents incomparable career growth opportunities for owners and employees,” the pair told Entrepreneur Magazine in an interview in 2014.

When “Dancing with the Stars” and similar television series hit the air, demand for ballroom classes skyrocketed, leading to an increased need for dance instructors.

To meet rising demand for professionally taught instructors with degrees, many, including Kostyantyn Karchanov, an instructor at the Durham studio, heeded the Bylims’ call.

Soon, whole franchises, like the one in Durham, were operated with a full staff of professionally taught Ukrainian instructors.

It’s a lifestyle

In the world of dance, age really is just a number. Those that learn often find themselves drawn back to the dance floor or simply never leave, Starikov said.

“You see Anne, that beautiful woman in the red dress over there,” Starikov gestured. “She’s 92 years old this year. She’s been coming here for about 25 years now.”

While some of the students come simply to learn their wedding dance, most are in it for the long haul. Whether hooked by the beauty of the dance, the social scene or the atmosphere of constant learning, students of Fred Astaire are dedicated to their studio.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Barbara Goodman. “You don’t have to worry about it, but us old folk have to do everything we can to keep our memory sharp. Dancing is wonderful for that. They keep me on my toes here.”

Studies suggest that Goodman is right — dancing does have a positive affect on the brain.

In a 21-year study of senior citizens, led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers found that the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Because dancing incorporates different brain functions at once, it helps increase neural connectivity. Basically, as we age, brain pathways die. The more pathways we create when we’re younger, the less likely we are to forget things when we’re older. It keeps our brains ever-improving.

Not to mention, it’s a way to exercise while having fun, which is also great for the body.

“Dance is just good for you,” Karchanov said. “It’s good for your body, your mind and your heart. When people come here, they are happy. Dance lifts your spirit.”

Not just a pretty dance

Dance is something special. It’s beautiful and elegant — but it’s more than just pretty movement.

Those who have discovered dancing have formed a community. They’ve learned to laugh through a quick slide to the right with a glance over the shoulder. They’ve learned another language.

“Dance allows you to tell a story without ever having to say a word,” Karchanov said.

A manager at the dance studio, Alyona Karchanova also came from Ukraine and graduated from Poltava University with a major in dance. While small in stature, her bright red hair and commanding presence makes her a spotlight on the dance floor.

Since coming to the U.S. in 2005, she has shared her passion and experience with her students, earning her the North Carolina Region Top Teacher Award.

She instructs her students not only in the intricacies of the dance, but also in conveying emotion through movement and the mastery of telling a story without opening their mouths.

“That is always my first lesson,” she said. “Making my students storytellers.”

So how do people get into this

The beauty of dance is that you’re never too old to start dancing. Everyone begins his or her yellow brick road a little differently.

Some, like Starikov begin at 7 with the image of elegance in their mind. Others, like Goodman, begin later in life as a hobby.

Jack Wolf had to take a couple of detours along the way.

Wolf began dancing at the age of 10 after attending a folk dance summer camp. As rock and roll and modern dance overtook the country, he fell out of the dancing arena and opted for a career in medicine.

Thirty years later, Wolf continued to feel the pull from the dancing world.

“Dancing does that to you,” he said. “It has a way of drawing you back in.”

He began his lessons anew. Wolf is now retired from medicine and instructs lessons in latin, swing, country and zydeco dancing.

“Dancing in the Triangle (area) has always been steady, but over the past 10 years or so, more and more people have been coming to learn how to dance,” he said.

Realizing the desire for a community of dance, many instructors, including Wolf and those at Fred Astaire began organizing social hours after dance lessons to introduce fellow dancers and encourage newcomers to experience a taste of the dancing world.

It’s a social thing

“I grew up in Orlando, Florida so I learned how to salsa dance in the club,” said Ruth Chen.

After moving to Chapel Hill, Chen began seeking out venues for salsa dancing. While difficult at first, over the years, more places have started hosting salsa night for those in the community, she said.

After opening their doors in 2015, Roots Bakery Bistro & Bar decided to add to their theme of Central American cultural “roots” and host a weekly salsa night. Attendees pay $5 for lessons taught by Jack Wolf, followed by social dancing where they can dance with fellow dancers from around the area.

“People who come here — obviously, they know what they’re doing, but they come here to just do what they love — salsa dance,” Chen said. “Many have the lessons before and then practice what they’ve learned with those of us who have been doing this for a while.”

The result is a community of dancers coming together to discuss dance, whether that be with words or strictly movement.

I think they’re on to something

What started out as simply a personal curiosity turned into revelation. I realized that dance really is something incredible. It’s not just good for you — it’s fun.

“When you’re doing the cha-cha you have to shake your hips like this,” Starikov said, demonstrating with exaggerated concentration — complete with pursed lips and raised chin.

I giggled.

Dance offers the opportunity to constantly learn, whether new choreography, new technique or entirely new dances. There’s always something else waiting around the corner.

Such a learning experience has created a learning community with a niche for everyone. No matter the age, no matter the experience, everyone is welcome in the dancing world. All you have to do is put on a pair of dance shoes and gather the courage to walk onto the dance floor.

After that, the rest is history.

Edited by Sara Salinas.