Florida turns out world-class tennis players like California produces surfers and the Dominican Republic yields nimble-footed infielders. To watch Andy Roddick or Maria Sharapova (Russian-born but trained in Bradenton) on the court is to be awed by blazing serves, passing shots, and breathtaking volleys with little thought for what it took to produce these amazing athletes. Well, Tailpipe is here to tell you that great tennis players don't grow on trees in Florida, like oranges or grapefruit. There's usually a parent schlepping the kid from match to match, working two jobs to pay some punishing bills.
Paula Liverpool of Miramar is a single mother whose 13-year-old daughter, Sachia Vickery, has been making some waves on the junior circuit. Currently ranked 322 in the world among players under 18, she was 873 a month ago. In mid-July, Vickery beat a 17-year-old Mexican phenom ranked in the top 100 en route to winning an International Tennis Federation tournament in St. Maarten, Dutch Caribbean. Just like that, Sachia has upped her status from also-ran to contender. If she keeps it up, she'll soon be ready to compete in the Women's Tennis Association against the likes of Sharapova and the Williams sisters. But the further she goes in the sport, the more expensive it gets. Liverpool just hopes she can keep the bill collectors at bay until Sachia hits it big.
"So many of the parents with tennis stars are former players trying to live their dream through their kids," Liverpool says. "But not me. I never played. If you gave me a racket, I wouldn't know what to do with it.
"As I understand it, after you make it into the top 100 junior rankings, you can get an automatic berth in the ITF Grand Slam events. I thought it would take a year, but it's already happening. Sachia hopes to qualify to play in the U.S. Open Juniors tournament this year. If she can play well in that tournament, she'll be ready to play against adult players. But you have to be at least 14 before you can turn professional, and she doesn't turn 14 until next May.
"Sachia is 5-foot-1. She still has time to grow. She hasn't had a growth spurt in her life. Right now, she's attending the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. She's training on a scholarship, but it's still hard. Sachia lives there, but I work in Miramar. So I drive across the state to Bradenton on Monday morning, then come back to Miramar on Wednesday to work. On Thursday, right after work, I go back to Bradenton, but I have to come back to Miramar on the weekend so that I can work Sunday nights. I'm an admissions adviser to Kaplan University, and I bartend on weekends. I spend a lot on gas. I should open my own gas station.
"It's worse than last year, when she was playing in American tournaments. The ITF tournaments are all over the world. When it costs $10,000 in just two months, I'm literally pulling my hair out. Sometimes I'll have to neglect an important bill like my mortgage payment. This week, Sachia's playing in Jamaica. Next week, it's the Czech Republic for the World Games. I don't even go to the tournaments because I can't afford it. I have to spend that money so Sachia and her coach can stay in the hotel. It's hard, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if I wanted to give up, Sachia wouldn't let me, and I know she won't give up.
"I don't know if other parents can understand, but when you see your child motivated like that, competing against 17- and 18-year-olds who are taller and stronger than her, you're willing to do anything you can to help her. Whenever I tell people about Sachia, they ask me, 'How come you're not getting help financially?' I pray for a guardian angel, like the man who paid for Ana Ivanovic's training. I have an article about her. She's the number-one player in the world, and now she can pay her guardian angel back three dollars for every one he invested in her career. I keep that article with me always."
Case of the Assless Chaps
Tailpipe pities the guy who has to bring justice to this one.
Timothy Leonard is a slightly built, blond 51-year-old who likes the nightlife. Some of his favorite Broward haunts are Boardwalk (a male strip club in Wilton Manors) and Ramrod (a gay leather bar in Fort Lauderdale). On a recent Wednesday evening, though, Leonard found himself hanging out in the Himmarshee area favored by frat boys and office workers.
Leonard was wearing his typical cocktail attire: jeans and a T-shirt over assless chaps, with a harness and chains across his chest. After consuming two vodka cranberries, Leonard walked into the Porterhouse Grill. He says he unzipped his pants to tuck his shirt in when —oops! — his drawers fell down.
"They just slipped," Leonard says demurely, in a soft Southern accent. "I went down immediately to pick them up. It wasn't technically lewd. And it still wouldn't have been indecent exposure because there was a strip of leather covering my — what would you call it? — sphincter area. Only my butt cheeks were exposed."
William Gilchrist, Porterhouse Grill's 39-year-old manager, remembers things differently. "He didn't have a wardrobe malfunction," Gilchrist says with a hearty chuckle. "We had to ask him to keep his clothes on at least two or three times. Then he tried to rub his bare butt on a female patron."
Gilchrist had had enough of the unruly behavior, he says, so he asked the leather man to leave. At 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds, the bar manager (and former police officer) looked like he meant it too. So Leonard stepped outside. But he was determined to keep partying.
It was muggy out, and the frisky middle-aged man took off his shirt. He lingered by the sidewalk tables in front of Porterhouse Grill. There, according to Gilchrist, Leonard again dropped his drawers and backed that ass up into some female patrons. The bar manager appealed to a nearby Fort Lauderdale police officer for help.
That's when things took an unpleasant turn. Leonard remembers refusing to leave, telling the officer that he was in a public place. The officer and Gilchrist remember the leather man getting belligerent, mouthing off something to the effect of: "Leave me the fuck alone."
The next thing Leonard remembers is waking up on his front lawn with a busted lip and chin. "My assumption is that he [the officer] did that," Leonard says, adding that he believes himself to be a victim of police brutality.
The Office of Internal Affairs for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department is investigating.
Bidding for Becky
The Make-a-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida hosts its tenth-annual "Dream Date Auction" at Spirits Night Club in Hollywood this Friday. The charity has enlisted 20 local bachelors and bachelorettes to participate in its biggest fundraiser of the year.
The 'Pipe talked to one of the "goods" up for auction: an honest-to-God beauty queen. Becky Willard, a 34-year-old interior decorator with a 1,000-megawatt smile, took the title of "Miss America's Touch of Class" in Las Vegas last month. She's also an ambassador for Make-a-Wish, which arranges fun outings and experiences for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
The most common wish? A trip to Disney World. The Southern Florida chapter has granted more than 6,500 wishes since forming in 1983.
Willard insists she doesn't give a hoot who wins a night out with her, just as long as they offer up the big bucks! Ideally, she says, the date will end with both eating chocolate.
"Last year in October, I was at the offshore powerboat races in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Make-a-Wish Foundation was there with some of their kids — they were sort of having a little field day. I knew they'd be there the next day, so I brought my crown and banner and did a little autograph signing for the kids.
"When the little girls see somebody with a crown and banner, they believe she's a real princess.
"I saw that they were doing the bachelorette fundraiser, and I said — I'm not married; you can auction me off. So they were happy to have me.
"They think there will be 800 people attending. That's more people than were at the pageant. Because of my title, I'm supposed to be this sophisticated person — smart and able to speak in front of everyone — so everyone's expecting me to, like, perform, I guess. I'm a little worried that I won't live up to it.
"It would be nice to get a dollar amount that covers one wish, which locally is $5,000. Apparently, it's usually between $300 and $500, though, which kind of surprises me, because there's a lot of money around here. You're telling me nobody can come up with more than $500? I would ask anybody for money for [Make-a-Wish]. I'm not shy about it.
"My ultimate date would be with James Bond, because it would be so exciting. Which one? I guess I'd go with Pierce Brosnan. Bond girl, yeah, I could do that."
Jack Thompson, the serial litigator and would-be censor whose crusade against violent videogames, porn, rap music, and other things he considers unseemly, has a legal career that is suddenly teetering on the brink of legal-eagle oblivion. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dava Tunis, the referee in Thompson's disbarment proceedings, rejected the Florida Bar's recommendation of disbarment for ten years.
How about, she suggested, permanent, non-negotiable disbarment? And a fine amounting to more than $43,000?
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Tunis reached her recommendation after reviewing thousands of pages of complaints as well as things like Thompson's appearance on 60 Minutes with reporter Ed Bradley.
Bradley was reporting on a kid in Alabama who had shot a couple of cops, and Thompson said he could prove that the videogame Grand Theft Auto made him do it. On 60 Minutes, Thompson represented himself as the boy's attorney. Problem was: He hadn't been granted the right to practice law in Alabama, nor was he the attorney of record.
Tunis noted that Thompson continued to wear his 15 minutes of 60 Minutes fame like "a veritable badge of honor." Then he sent a fax to the judge in the case, attempting to re-argue matters that had already been heard in court. Lawyers aren't supposed to communicate informally with judges on matters before them.
In the end, Thompson's fate will be decided by the Florida Supreme Court, with Tunis' 165-page compendium for guidance.