Finally, a Dolphins coach who deserves to walk the same sideline as Don Shula. Saban is smarter than the mentally challenged Dave Wannstedt and more stable than the half-loony, teary-eyed Jimmy Johnson. First, he proved himself to be one of the best college coaches in America at LSU, where the folks still damned near worship him. Then Saban showed last year that he can lead an NFL team with the best of them. He turned around a team that went an abysmal 4-12 in 2004 to a respectable 9-7 mark last year. Just as impressive, the 2005 team won six games in a row at the end of the season, ending the Dolphins' seeming curse of starting like strong, capable mammals and finishing like butter-fried mahi mahi. Look for a playoff spot this coming season for the Fins, because that just seems to be where Saban belongs.
You're never too old to relive the glory days, and the guys at the Broward County Modified Pitch Softball League realize that. This new softball league, located at the park behind Henry D. Perry Middle School in Miramar, is designed for guys who want to have fun but also take their down-and-dirty softball seriously. Standard softball rules apply, with one change: pitching. Unlike most softball leagues, the pitchers at Broward County Modified Pitch Softball League don't loft the ball toward the plate in a soft arc. They bring the heat (but not as hot as fast-pitch). Not sure if the league is for you? Then go watch a game or two. Spectators are welcome. The league's inaugural season runs through May 21, the day of the championship game. Dates for the second season have not been announced yet. Fees, which range from $30 to $60, depend on which team you join and the cost of that team's uniform.
Go into some shooting ranges and you're likely to meet an intimidating stare from an employee packin' heat. Not the most reassuring combination. But at Delray Shooting Center, that's not the case. The specialists behind the counter are friendly and kind, and they treat newbies with respect. The staff caters to couples learning to shoot and goes out of its way to make the inexperienced feel comfortable with firing guns. The 15 indoor pistol ranges and two rifle ranges are clean and full of holes, just the ambiance required to spend a few hours firing high-caliber weapons at plain bull's-eye targets or caricatures of Osama bin Laden. The range offers private lessons at great prices, along with Concealed Weapon Permit classes. If you're more experienced, rent one of the fully automatic machine guns and do some paper shredding. If not, rent a .22 plinker and go for as many ten-point X's as possible. It may sound strange, but it's the perfect place to take the wife and kids to fire off a few hundred rounds over the weekend.
Okeeheelee Park
Unless you live on a houseboat, it's impossible to escape the congested roadways and pushy attitudes that are overtaking South Florida... or is it? All it takes to get some quiet time is a quiet place. And there's no better place to unleash your inner shaman than the trails behind the Okeeheelee Nature Center. However, before beginning your journey, you might want to pick up a map, unless you have a spare hour or two. Make no mistake -- without a map, you will get lost. It's not because the 2.5-mile trail is confusing by design; it's the myriad distractions you'll no doubt succumb to while donning your explorer hat. Surrounded by 100 acres of woods and wetlands, you'll find it difficult to stay on path. You'll want to explore everything -- the labyrinthine maze of pine trees, cypress trees, and marshes containing the birds and tortoises that populate the area. It's one of the few places in Palm Beach County where you can walk more than a mile without hearing a car horn or seeing a condo. Trail hours are sunrise to sunset, and there's no annoying parking fee. That's why we pay taxes, right?
A sliver of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal, Coral Cove Park isn't just for snorkeling. It could have easily been named Best Picnic Spot or Beach. It's just that good. And if you feel the need to venture out in the water for a little aquatic sightseeing, it's got the goods. And you don't have to swim far. Just off the shoreline, there's a giant artificial reef made from limestone boulders that magnetizes a wide variety of beautiful tropical fish. This isn't heavy-duty stuff -- it's something the family can do, especially since the beach is protected by professional lifeguards. But watch out -- there have been several shark sightings there, prompting numerous closings of the beach. But hey, nobody's been bitten yet. And if there's a shark sighting, there're worse things than having to hang out on the rock-strewn beach.
Plantation Heritage Park
Sure, you can drive all the way out west to Markham Park. Or you can make a big to-do and hit one of the area beaches. Not telling you not to. But sometimes you want a place nearby. And that's one thing about Heritage Park: Nobody's too far away from it in Broward County. The park is located smack dab in the middle of the county. And its rolling acreage and large duck pond soothes the savage breast. There are plenty of gazebos to sit under, but it's preferable to cozy up next to the pond. Hell, bring a fishing pole and throw out a line. Do a little bicycling. And before you mosey on home, let the kids play in the big playground on the eastern end of the park.
Getting your picnic on isn't just about plopping your rump down under a tree and noshing on a turkey sandwich while sipping iced tea. It's all about ambiance. Relaxation is tough in a world run rampant with cell phones and PSPs. What's needed in a picnic spot is a place with plenty to delight the eye and keep the mind off modern distractions. John Prince Park is just the place to bring the picnic basket, the kids, and the boat. With 726 acres of grass and 338 acres of lake, it's a veritable mind eraser. Take a break from the potato salad and get dragged around the lake at 30 knots on a kneeboard, or bring the bike and ride the five miles of trails. Too lazy to pack a sandwich? Hit up the Publix around the corner and get some beefy hot dogs to drop on the dozens of grills sprinkled around the park, or if that's too much of a hassle, just go to the snack bar. The park is so huge that if any rude picnic disrupters show up, just walk a few feet to another spot -- there are hundreds to choose from.
Getting to Janes Scenic Drive is easy. Just take Alligator Alley west and head south on Highway 20 about 12 miles until you see the sign marking the road. Finding your way out of the heart of the dense swamp it leads to -- unless you go back the way you came -- is not. The 11-mile gravel road takes drivers, cyclists, and hikers through some of the finest wildlife-spotting turf in the state. Fakahatchee Strand, of course, is also home to numerous species of colorful bromeliads and orchids, including the Ghost Orchid of Adaptation fame. The road ends at one corner of the massive maze of Golden Gate -- the grid of streets planned for a huge subdivision never built (this is where the "Wanna buy some land in Florida?" scam was hatched). Enter this labyrinth with less than a full tank of gas and a good sense of direction and you're in big trouble. The intersections are mostly unmarked, the lonely streets indistinguishable, and all but a couple dead-end at alligator-choked canals. The only way out is to find (through trial and error) either Everglades or Desoto boulevards somewhere there in the godforsaken muck and head north. By the time you stumble upon civilization again, you're damned near Immokalee, and you've had a day not soon forgotten. Miamians have Loop Road to find backwoods adventure that flirts with peril. But out in the real Everglades, you just better hope that cell phone works.
Rainy days: don't they just make you want to climb the walls? Well, at Coral Cliffs, you can! This indoor rock-climbing gym ($15 for a one-day pass) may not be Mount Everest, but with routes rated from 5.5 to 5.13, there's plenty of challenging terrain as well as climbs for beginners. One route requires you to ascend using itty-bitty handholds and do a Spider-Man over a giant arched doorway. If you make it to the top, we salute you. If you fall (which we like to do on purpose, 'cause it's fun), you swing like a pendulum until your belayer lowers you to the ground. They have some free weights lying around and a little bouldering area with a roof. A couple of pointers: one, it's OK if you don't know how to tie a figure-eight follow-through -- but you'll look cooler if you do. Two, don't talk smack to the 15-year-old kids who work there. These homeboys are stronger than you! And they have the authority to boot anyone who acts aggro or ignores the rules. Safety first, people!
So you're desperate to see that movie everybody's talking about, the one where the naked guy does pig noises while the girl underneath him in the bed prays to the Virgin Mary and makes like pinwheels with her eyes? Oscar-winning performances all around, of course, but not exactly family fare. What do you do with Junior while all of this is going on? Muvico Theaters, with multiplexes in Pompano Beach, Boca Raton, and Davie, has a civilized solution. They have children's playrooms where, for a modest fee, trained child-care specialists will watch your kids, aged 3 to 8, while you're satisfying your aesthetic needs. Junior gets crayons, games, a computer zone, a reading corner, and a chance to see free movies in which the pigs act not like farmyard beasts but like kids. They'll even equip you with a beeper so that, if Junior flames out over the lame entertainment menu, you can be summoned to try to set things right. The service is available Fridays through Sundays, 5 to 10 p.m., and it costs $5. Get there early; slots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The service is also available at Muvico's Palace 20 in Boca Raton and Paradise 24 in Davie.

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