The following is a profile for Biz 417’s September/October issue on Lora Newman, CEO of Zero2Sixty, a business that uses horses and donkeys to help facilitate business professionals toward their goals.
The following, on the culture and characters of the Lake Stockton Yacht Club, ran online as part of 417 Magazine’s September issue.
The following, on the bond of two assistant coaches for the Springfield Cardinals, ran in 417 Magazine’s July issue.
The following, on local YouTube star Sydney McGee, ran in 417 Magazine’s April issue.
The following is a story written as part of The Daily Tribune News’ football preview in advance of the 2017 Bartow County high school football season. As the publication’s website erases old articles, I have pasted it here.
As third graders at Hamilton Crossing Elementary School, Seven Richards and Tripp Breeden were troublemakers.
Richards was new to the school, and immediately became the ringleader in his group of friends.
On the other side was Breeden, who was the alpha in a different circle. As much as third graders could be, the two were rivals, one “Jet Song” away from staging a pre-pubescent reimagining of West Side Story.
After one particularly egregious spurt of bad behavior, Richards, Breeden and their friends were called to silent lunch, grade school purgatory. When time had been served, the principal made Richards and Breeden stay behind.
A decade later, countless sleepovers at the Breedens’ and two wrestling state championship rings contextualize a friendship between two senior leaders of Cass High School football — Richards, the gregarious offensive lineman, and Breeden, the set-in-his-ways linebacker.
It’s a marvel to observe a bond like the one Richards and Breeden have. Stories of their youth are told in a manner that suggests they expect others to already know the endings. It’s the type of shorthand that only familiarity can breed.
“They have the kind of relationship that transcends the sports that they play and the time that they spend around that,” Tripp’s father David, who would be president of the Richards and Breeden fan club should such a thing exist, said. “It’s a relationship that they’ll always have.”
The Breedens consider Richards a second son, celebrating his accomplishments as they do Tripp’s. It’s not uncommon for Richards to spend a week at the Breedens.
“It does my heart good to acknowledge what David means to [Richards],” Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said.
Richards is an open book, mature for his age and seemingly as comfortable around adults as he is his peers. Breeden is a more of a straight arrow, telling you what he thinks and nothing more.
“Seven is the more outspoken one,” David Breeden said. “Seven talks a lot more. Tripp, you usually get an answer to your question and that’s about it. Seven, he offers a lot of things. When we leave wrestling tournaments, I usually talk to Seven all the way home.”
Tripp prefers to express himself in other ways. During the start of his state tournament run last wrestling season, he began painting his toenails. When he won his state title, he kept it up. The practice graduated to his fingernails, drawing curious stares from classmates. His father isn’t a huge fan, but is willing to overlook any grievances in the name of superstition. “I say, ‘If I was as bad as you are, I guess I could paint my nails too,’” he said.
Though Breeden is soft-spoken, he is not deferential. In fact, it was Breeden, a lifelong hunter, who bore witness to Richards firing a gun for the first time at Grandpa Breeden’s house. He’s passed on his interest in cars and, most importantly, is the reason Richards wrestles in the first place, convincing him to join the sport he’d been competing in since he was six, save for a short two-season break in fourth and fifth grade.
“It’s got a lot to do with Seven’s level of intelligence,” David Breeden said. “He realizes that there’s a lot of things out there, and when he sees something, he doesn’t form an opinion on it right away. There’s a lot of things that he’s been able to be exposed to due to [he and Tripp’s] friendship.”
From the gridiron to the mat
There were almost no wrestling titles.
The first day of wrestling practice in sixth grade — Richards’ introduction to the sport — he and Breeden arrived at practice and saw a room full of empty mats. Richards looked around, and when he saw that the day would be devoted to outside conditioning, he and Breeden decided to ditch and play basketball instead.
As the two sat in the locker room with conditioning over, Breeden heard his mother’s voice approaching. He and Richards were well aware of the potential ramifications of cutting out of the first day of organized team activity. So Breeden ran and hid.
Out of both amusement and a need for wrestlers, their coach took pity on them.
It’s a story that David Breeden ended up telling at the wrestling banquet at the conclusion of last season, one that doubled as a celebration of a pair of state championships.
Breeden was a volunteer coach, and got to be right there watching as Tripp and Seven won their titles in direct succession.
“One of the best sports memories of my life,” David Breeden said. “All of the things that I’ve experienced through them have been the best experiences of my life in terms of sports.”
This football season presents another opportunity to foster some more memories. Cass had a disappointing 3-7 season in 2016, but the mood around the team as the new season nears is optimistic. Seven wants to make the playoffs in his senior season, and believes that goal is within reach.
Richards and Breeden’s positions intersect enough to be complementary. This allows them to bounce ideas off each other on technique and how to get better.
“My position, we usually block his position,” Richards said. “We’ll talk about how I pull and we’ll talk about how he reads the pull. If I’m pulling, sometimes he has to read the pull of the guard, and sometimes I’ll have to read the linebacker in a step up type of play.”
They are generous in their praise for one another — Richards praised Breeden’s willingness to “put his body for the team,” and Breeden admires Richards’ penchant for pancake blocks.
Cass will need the two to be big contributors in 2017 as it looks to establish an identity. Richards is cognizant of the little time he has left, and wants to make the most of it.
As for the future, Richards has been offered by Jacksonville University to play football in 2018. Breeden wants to join him, and has even had conversations with its head coach.
Breeden and Richards’ plan is to maintain a status quo. The one time adversaries-turned-friends want to remain teammates, to give David Breeden and his wife Andrea one destination every Saturday.
“It would make things easy for us,” the elder Breeden said. “We consider Seven our son
essentially, so wherever they go, if they’re two different places, then we’re going to obviously go both places and watch them play. We want to share in the journey.”
The following is a feature for The Daily Tribune News on the Varnum family of Cass High School and their relationships in and out of sports. As the publication’s website erases old articles, I have pasted it here.
Turn on some speakers, blast some R&B, soul, Caribbean — it doesn’t matter, really — and 17-year-old Tavares Varnum emerges from his closed-door room like a wind-up doll waiting to be activated.
His brothers, Kadeem, 22, and Ray, 19, soon follow with 14-year-old Josh in tow. When Day, 24, lived at home, she’d bop along with her brothers, too.
It’s a tradition that the Varnum family, all seven of them, has done ever since their mother Florence can remember. When they dance, time slows down, and worries become secondary, making way to pure, unbridled expression.
While music fills in the moments in between, the Varnums are athletes first and foremost. Always have been. Florence’s father ran track against Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee in high school. Florence was a cheerleader, and her husband Raynard Sr. played football at Mays High School. Now, with their children carrying on the family trade, the Varnums have cemented an identity intertwined with sports, one that helps define their relationships and provides context to who they are.
Though having a big family wasn’t a part of some grand plan, there’s a synergy to the number seven for Florence Varnum. She grew up the oldest of seven, but each of her siblings lived in a different home.
“For me to have a big family of my own, it was unique,” Florence said. “All five of [the kids] have their own personality. They are very different. I have five different personalities in the house.”
All four brothers have played football. Day and her three oldest brothers ran track. Tavares and Josh play together on varsity football. Josh is just a freshman, listed as a receiver like his brothers. The family believes that he may be the best athlete out of all of them — certainly the best football player. It’s evolution taking shape, an in-house natural selection in a family that was always bustling with activity.
“I used to tell them, ‘I need a cow in the backyard,’” Florence said. “‘Y’all drink so much milk it’s like ridiculous,’ and they eat like oh my goodness. It was a joy to have all of them.”
Kadeem, along with Tavares, doesn’t say much.
“He’s just quiet,” Cass high school football coach Bobby Hughes, who coached Kadeem, said. “Kadeem was the kind of guy that you could ask him something and he’d carry on a conversation with you, but if you didn’t ask him anything, he may not say anything. He may just sit there.”
Day and Ray’s personalities are in direct contrast with their brothers’ — loud and boisterous.
Day doted on her little brothers. She got them whatever they needed, and in many ways acted as a second mother. Ray, meanwhile, will do anything to get a laugh.
“Ray is more, he likes to jump a lot, kind of silly, he’s a blurter,” Florence said. “Every now and then he’ll blurt something just to get laughs.”
Tavares has a quiet assuredness about him. He is pointed in his speech, expressing his thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness that doesn’t feel reckless.
He keeps his hair in more of a flat-top, a clash to Ray’s string-bean mop. Seventeen and still growing, he doesn’t sport the wispy facial hair that curls around Kadeem’s mouth.
When the kids were old enough, Florence knew they would play sports, but wasn’t sure where or even what. Football turned out to be the introduction. Kadeem took to it immediately, one day showing up late to a game and scoring an 81-yard touchdown against a rec league defense once thought unstoppable.
But it was Tavares who was the most serious of all of his brothers about football. He immediately fell in love with the game, and stuck with it all the way to becoming a starting wide receiver for the Colonels.
“Tavares just was Tavares,” Florence said. “He just loved the game.”
The kids grew up and continued to come up through the feeder system. Tavares played for middle school teams at the same time his older brother Kadeem played varsity for Cass. When he arrived on the high school’s campus, he saw his legacy status as an advantage over the other freshmen.
“At first I was thinking ‘Okay, they should be noticing me because I’m [Kadeem’s] brother, as a freshman,’” Tavares said. “’They know who I am so I shouldn’t have to worry about anything.’ And after a while, I realized that I had to do stuff on my own and try to make it up myself.”
He struggled with injury his sophomore year, and in his junior year, he had more than just recovery to overcome.
That year, Tavares and Ray went to high school together. Up until that point, Ray, who was in his senior year, focused on track — Kadeem ran, so he wanted to — and basketball. His senior year, Ray placed second in the Class 5A long jump at state and third in the 110 hurdles, earning more points than any other individual in Bartow County. He also had the best 300 hurdle time in the county.
But football was never something Ray took very seriously compared to his brothers.
“We could never get him to act right in rec when he played football,” Florence said. “[He] never listen[ed] to a coach, always said he was going to quit.”
So one day before a game, his parents struck a deal. For every touchdown Ray scored, his dad would give him twenty dollars. Two hours later, Ray was $60 richer.
What did you tell him? the other parents asked postgame.
We’d give him $20 if he got a touchdown.
You should’ve been telling him the whole doggone time that you were going to give him some money!
Ray’s attitude towards football from then on waxed and waned. He devoted himself to track and for the first three years of high school, didn’t go near a football field. But with a year left in high school, he decided he wanted to see what it was about.
“I wanted to join because it seemed like it was a family, so I wanted to be a part of it, and I wanted to be a part of the Colonels and experience what they experience,” Ray said.
But it didn’t take long for the complacency that Ray often felt at the rec level to seep through during his time on varsity.
Placed at wide receiver like Tavares, he began missing practices when he wasn’t given playing time, instead going to work at a job he had previously given up hours at to play.
This forced Tavares into a liaison role, one he didn’t exactly relish.
“It was frustrating,” Tavares said. “[Ray] playing for just one year kind of made it difficult because [the coaches] didn’t see him as a football player. They didn’t give him much of a chance, so when they did put him out there, sometimes he’ll forget the plays, and they’ll be like, ‘Tavares, help your brother, help your brother.’”
Forgive and Forget
There’s a good reason Ray forgot plays and looked out of the place on the field — he was doing it on purpose. When Ray joined the team, he found himself not getting as much out of it as it was clear Tavares was. Just like when the two were younger, Tavares was devoted to the game, but for Ray, it was more of an experiment.
Since they both lined up at receiver, Ray playing well would take snaps away from Tavares. When Ray realized this, he began flubbing plays and pretending not to know what he was supposed to do.
“I wanted [Tavares] to be the one up and showing them that he could do it better than I can, because I like seeing my brothers succeed and doing better than me.
Because that’s what everybody wants for a younger sibling. I saw it in his eyes that he wanted to be a star at football. I didn’t want to steal something that he loved.”
Florence understood where Tavares was coming from at the time, and had empathy for her son’s situation and the strain it put on his ability to be effective on the field. She told Ray that he “shouldn’t put [Tavares] in that position where [coaches] have to ask him where you’re at.”
But when presented with the information that Ray had reason for his reticence, the brothers’ mother was not surprised at all. She explained that Ray has done something like this before.
“That is how Ray, that is his character, and that would be something that he would do,” Florence said. “Because he wasn’t into football the way Tavares was into football.”
Ray kept his self-sabotage to himself during the season, but for his younger brother, his actions fill in the blanks.
“It shows that he cared about my opinion and my sport and what I like to do,” Tavares said.
When Kadeem was coming up through rec football, his team faced off against another that featured a young girl at quarterback and running back. None of the boys on the team wanted to tackle her. At that age, gender norms are black and white, not exactly worldly. So Florence Varnum stepped in.
“They would come off the field and I would be like, ‘Y’all are good, why are you not hitting?” Florence said. “All the little boys were saying, ‘She’s a girl!’ I said, ‘You see how she’s hitting y’all? Y’all better get out there and hit her the same way she’s hitting yall!’”
From that point on, they did. Sports have a way of playing out social experiments in real time, as young Kadeem learned that day. The nature of sports is such that they often teach us lessons and values, and how those same principles are applied when the ball and field get taken away. That idea extends especially to the Varnums, who have always had sports in their lives. They have had their relationships shaped, for better or worse, through them.
So it makes sense that they dance. If we’re supposed to dance like no one’s watching, well, the Varnums do, because for them, the only people watching know each other best.
“I always taught them — you are your brother’s keeper,” Florence said. If anything happens to me, y’all have to stick together. “If anything happens to your dad, y’all still have to stick together. That’s your brother. That’s your sister. Don’t let nobody mess with your brother or your sister.”