Kaneisha Atwater, center, celebrates with Whitney Knight, left, after FGCU beat NKU 60 to 43 to win the Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball Championship tournament at Alico Arena on March 15, 2015.
Danelle Downs, of Fort Myers, left, Jamia Curry, visiting from North Carolina, center, and Kami Peoples, also from North Carolina, right, take instructions from a booth worker as he gives them extra chances to make baskets at the Southwest Florida & Lee County Fair at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers on March 4, 2015.
Janiele Garza, 5, of Immokalee, surveys an ice cream cone on the last day of the Collier County Fair in Naples on March 22, 2015.
Omar and Anabelle Hendricks, ages 3 and 4, of Naples, share an ice cream at the Collier County Fair on March 13, 2015.
Daniel Gianferrara, 16, of Naples, waits with Leroy for their turn in the steer competition at the Collier County Fair on March 13, 2015.
Caleb Blocker, 5, watches his older cousins and friends get ready for the steer competition at the Collier County Fair on March 13, 2015.
Dick Thackston gets ready to cut his four birthday cakes with the help of his grandson's girlfriend, Bahar Arghavani, left, at his 90th birthday party at the Museum of Military Memorabilia at the Naples Municipal Airport on Dec. 20, 2014.
Kara Thackston hugs her grandfather, Dick Thackston, after making a short speech about him during his 90th birthday party at the Museum of Military Memorabilia at the Naples Municipal Airport on Dec. 20, 2014.
Leelee Zeitler, 6, checks on her family's cow, Gurdy, during the Old Florida Festival at Collier County Museum in Naples on March 8, 2015. The Zeitler family spent the weekend dressed in period clothing while educating attendees about how Florida crackers used to live.
Home. Queens, N.Y.
Anthony "Buckets" Blakes, of the Harlem Globetrotters, helps Nasja Garlin, 10, spin his basketball during a visit to the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida on Feb. 23, 2015. The Globetrotters are in the area for a March 3 performance at Germain Arena.
NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. - Bob Knight cruised through Bradenton on a spring Saturday in 1964, his evening plans sketched out in his mind. He would see if his friend Judy Williams was home and talk her into going bowling at Cortez Lanes. He could work on his game – some guys from the shop had a league team going – and they could get some beers and sandwiches.
Judy had a friend staying with her, so he invited her to tag along. Paula was 18, with a rebellious streak and sharp bangs cut into her short, dark hair. She squeezed between him and Judy – all 92 pounds of her – as they rode in his ’58 MG sports car. His hand brushed against her leg every time he shifted gears and he wondered if he had a chance with her.
Paula had a boyfriend at the time. Randy – an aspiring musician. But Bob was so much fun to be around. He tried to help her break her gutter ball streak and she sneaked sips from his beer. He was mature, responsible and 25 years old.
Before they said goodbye, they made plans for the next day.
“And I’m sure I got a little kiss,” Bob said.
From then on, when Bob wasn’t working on cars and Paula wasn’t waiting on tables, they were together.
Two months after meeting, they were engaged. Paula picked out a set of rings – $100 at Gordon’s Jewelers. She borrowed a white dress from her younger sister. They made plans to elope – they would drive seven hours to Georgia, where Paula wouldn’t need parental permission to get married.
She wriggled into her sister’s dress in a gas station bathroom. Their friends told them they wouldn’t last six weeks.
Fifty years later, Bob and Paula Knight dance beneath jewel-toned lights at a weekly singles mingle – couples welcome – at The Shell Factory in North Fort Myers. They slow dance to oldies and twirl to Rolling Stones covers. Their favorite local musician croons from atop a small stage, wearing a shiny shirt and a powder blue guitar.
They go dancing three times a week. She likes to waltz and he likes to twist. In between dances, they sit at one of the plastic tables surrounding the dance floor, sipping white wine and beer.
They have no problem with cliches – Bob insists he fell in love at first sight – but they take immense pride in the half-decade of work they’ve committed to each other.
Paula’s favorite saying is that a perfect marriage takes two imperfect people.
“And if both people want to stick it out, it only gets better.”
- Carolina Hidalgo, staff
Kenneth Brown, of Naples, who fought a B-24 in World War II, climbs into a Consolidated B-24 Liberator at Naples Municipal Airport as part of The Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour on Feb. 5, 2015.
The Most Rev. Marcus Stock, bishop of Leeds, England, and bishops from as far as Italy and England traveled to Naples for Tony Rosso's ordainment ceremony at St. Agnes Catholic Church on Feb. 2, 2015.
Left: A spot nose crystal ball python sits in a case at Havens' Reptiles' booth at the Reptiday reptile show at Crowne Plaza Fort Myers At Bell Tower Shops on Jan. 3, 2015. Right: Britney Sosa, of Fort Myers, celebrates her sixth birthday picking out a pet gecko with her family at the Reptiday reptile show at Crowne Plaza Fort Myers At Bell Tower Shops on Jan. 3, 2015.
BIG CYPRESS INDIAN RESERVATION, Fla. - TJ Stockton leans against a wooden quarter pipe and guides a skateboard back and forth with her small foot. She raises a plastic water bottle to her mouth as she watches the older kids struggle to land kick flips — the 6-year-old knows she has a lot to learn.
Wheels smack into concrete and wood bangs against metal — percussive sounds that blend with the grungy pop rock filtering from a set of speakers, providing a soundtrack at the tribal skate park. The park, a collection of rails and small ramps, sits next to the basketball court on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation, creating a gathering place for the community’s children.
Near the quarter pipe, TJ’s best friend and cousin, Halley Balentine, pictured above, right, takes a break too. She douses herself with a bottle of blue Gatorade as a 2-year-old rolls by, belly-down on a board bigger than his body, narrowly avoiding the clatter around him.
TJ started out riding on her stomach too. Then on her knees. Then on her feet.
She’s been skateboarding since she was a baby, she said, an interest sparked by older cousins and siblings who are now whizzing across the park. It’s just hours before a skateboarding contest.
Organized by the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum as part of this year’s American Indian Arts Festival, the competition coincides with the display of “Ramp it Up,” a traveling national exhibit on the history of skateboard culture on American reservations.
As judges arrive and participants register, TJ splays out across the concrete in the early November heat. One day, she said, she’ll be as good as her sister, Alena, who’s grinding across a rail on a pepperoni pizza-print board. The 12-year-old practices her tricks over and over, her brow furrowed in determination behind her black-rimmed eyeglasses.
Today, skaters are competing for prize bags stocked with new decks, wheels and skate gear. The contest was funded largely by the ABC Foundation, which gives scholarships to kids involved in extreme sports in honor of Alexander Blaine Cypress. Cypress, an avid skateboarder and TJ’s cousin, died of pneumonia two years ago at age 21.
TJ glances periodically at her sister and talks through a row of missing front teeth — her enthusiasm is palpable even if her knowledge is spotty.
“I’m gonna get older and I’m gonna do a 50-50!” she said, as she peels the back off a sticker and presses it to the bottom of her scratched-up skateboard.
What’s a 50-50?
Old enough to be excited about competing but young enough to not care about the outcome, TJ spends most of her morning goofing off as the older kids practice.
Danny Fuenzalida, a Miami skateboarder and emcee of the event, announces an official 15-minute practice session to kick off the contest. TJ is back on her freshly stickered board in her pink-trimmed Nike high-tops, balancing with her arms out, gliding across the park.
- Carolina Hidalgo, staff
Charlie Crist hugs supporter Joan Balkin, of Miami, during the first stop of his Charlie Crist for Governor Early Vote Tour in Miami Beach, Florida on Oct. 25, 2014.
Trixie Towers, right, laughs with Chloe Bone Cicconi backstage at this year's Southwest Florida Pride festival at Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers on Oct. 11, 2014. Chloe was crowned this year's festival queen, an honor Trixie held last year.
Anthony Dawkins starts putting on makeup while getting dressed for Southwest Florida Pride at his home in Fort Myers on Oct. 11, 2014. Dawkins, who performs as Trixie Towers, was crowned queen of last year's festival.
Trixie Towers double checks her outfit at home before heading out to Southwest Florida Pride on Oct. 11, 2014. Trixie, who was crowned queen of last year's festival, performed at this year's event at Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers.
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Her smile — broad and genuine, with its signature gap and coat of bright red lipstick — is the first thing Alvin Barnes Jr. pictures when imagining his mom.
He remembers late afternoons spent playing catch with her outside their Fort Myers home. His mom, nicknamed Chris, was the one who signed him up for football at age 5, rushed him to a hospital for nine stitches at age 6 and let him right back on the field when his love for the sport didn’t waver.
A few months before Alvin’s high school graduation, Chris was diagnosed with cancer. Her body responded well to treatments. She watched her youngest go off to college on a partial football scholarship.
A year later, he quit school — halfway through fall semester at Warner University in Lake Wales, which had recruited him for its first-ever football season — and moved back home. His mom told him to stay in school to chase his dreams and get his degree. But he couldn’t ignore the tumor on her brain.
“There comes a time for us to grow up and start helping our parents instead of always depending on them,” he said. “And I guess that was my time to kinda grow up.”
Alvin drove his mom to chemotherapy and radiation appointments. He remembers her smiling, even through the pain. She pushed him to consider Ave Maria University’s football program. She wanted to watch him play college ball and Ave Maria was close to home.
As his mom’s health deteriorated, Alvin visited the campus and made up his mind.
“The team is explosive,” he said. “And the coaches took time with me.”
Chris died the day before Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, Alvin got her name and favorite psalm tattooed on his arm. He tacked her memorial service pamphlet to his bedroom wall, next to an army of football trophies. Three months later, he signed with Ave Maria.
Just weeks before football camp, he learned he must pay a full semester’s tuition to Warner University before he can start at his new school. Ave Maria needs his old transcripts to enroll him but Warner will not send them until he pays.
On a recent afternoon, as the Ave Maria Gyrenes players sweated through their first day of camp, Alvin sat at his kitchen table with his dad, older sister, Tunisia, above, and girlfriend of three years, Ebony Townsend, sharing his Gofundme fundraising page on social media. If he raises $9,500 by the first week of school, he can enroll in classes, secure financial aid and take his spot on the team.
In nine weeks, Ebony will give birth to the couple’s first son. For Alvin, it’s scary and exciting and nerve-wracking, but it’s motivation to return to school, get back on the field and honor his mother’s wishes.
“It made me realize I was playing football for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I didn’t have a why; now I have a why.”
- Carolina Hidalgo, staff
Claude Victor helps his daughter, Haleisha, get ready for her first day of kindergarten at Parkside Elementary School in Naples on Aug. 18, 2014.
Katie Jane Klepko, right, stands with her kindergarten class while waiting to go outside for recess at Mason Classical Academy in Naples on Aug. 18, 2014. The new charter school, supported by Michigan-based Hillsdale College's Barney Charter School Initiative, opened its doors Monday to 414 students.
Olwen Thatcher consults a globe while coloring a world map during a geography lesson in Ms. Keller's third grade class at Mason Classical Academy in Naples on Aug. 18, 2014.
Following recess, Nadia Smith, left, and Caroline Lichter, right, relax during story time in their kindergarten class on the first day of school at Mason Classical Academy in Naples on Aug. 18, 2014.
Zac Latawiec hangs out with girlfriend Chelsea Gill in his hospital room at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers on Aug. 7, 2014. Latawiec is recovering from a lightning strike that injured him and Gill on Fort Myers Beach last month and claimed the life of their friend, Scott Wilcox.
Naples High defensive back/wide receiver Tyler Byrd, left, talks with teammates during a break at the first day of practice for the season on Aug. 4, 2014 at Naples High School.
The Naples High Golden Eagles run drills on the first day of practice for the season on Aug. 4, 2014 at Naples High School.
The Naples High Golden Eagles gather with coaches on the first day of practice for the season on Aug. 4, 2014 at Naples High School.
Ashley McCallister waits among classmates for the start of Florida Gulf Coast University's summer commencement ceremony at Alico Arena on Aug. 2, 2014. McCallister was one of nearly 400 students who received degrees from the university Saturday.
Ocularist Raymond Peters gives Victoria Wilcher a fresh eye bandage with help from Victoria's mother, Tina, right, and retired nurse Janet Kellum, left, at his office in Naples, Florida on July 8, 2014. Peters is making an artificial eye for the Mississippi three-year-old, who was mauled by her grandfather's pit bulls in April.
Jordyn McClure, 5, leans against her father, Jonas McClure, as they wait for highway patrol deputies to fill out police reports following a five-vehicle accident at the intersections of Immokalee and Airport-Pulling roads on July 21, 2014. McClure was stopped at a red light alongside two other cars when a van making a turn from a center lane clipped a second van, jumped a median, and pinned the three waiting cars together. "We were just on our way to get lunch," McClure said. "And then, 'boom.'"
Relatives of employees arrested Wednesday at Incredible Fresh Fruit Dynamics in East Naples wait at the Collier County jail for their family members to be released in Naples on July 17, 2014. One hundred and four employees were arrested at the produce plant for working with fraudulent documents.
Jose Antonio Serrano waits for his wife to be released on bond at the Collier County jail in Naples on July 17, 2014 in Naples. Relatives packed the jail lobby Thursday waiting for Incredible Fresh Fruit Dynamics employees, arrested for working with fraudulent documents, to be released on bond.
Delmy Garcia, center, speaks with her husband, Jose Antonio Serrano, after her release from the Collier County jail in Naples on July 17, 2014 as Sandra Rodas, left, waits for her brother to be released. Relatives of Incredible Fresh Fruit Dynamics employees, arrested for working with fraudulent documents, packed the jail lobby Thursday to wait for bond paperwork to go through.
Jason Duclona, 10, relaxes after playing football with his friends at the River Park Aquatic Center in Naples on July 16, 2014.
Nikki Kallenberg, Ashley Swiderski. Naples, Fla.