City Reporter 

City Reporter

A New Lineup

Rita Sparks is adjusting to her new role within the Redbirds organization.

By Chris Przybyszewski

Rita Sparks is the newly named president of the Redbirds baseball organization and partial owner of Blues City Baseball (BCB), the management group that governs the corporation for only $1 a year.

Her rise through the corporation has been meteoric. The original owners and founders, Dean and Kristi Jernigan, handed half of BCB to Sparks and her husband Willard as a reward for the Sparks' financial help in establishing Jernigan's company, Storage USA. However, the Jernigans felt that Sparks could be even more involved following the resignation of current Redbirds president and general manager Allie Prescott. So with little fanfare, they designated Sparks president and assistant general manager Dan Madden the new Redbirds GM.

Splitting the responsibilities allows Sparks to focus on her specialty of management.

"Basically, my responsibilities are public relations, speeches, and the business aspect where I will be managing the personnel in the Redbirds organization," she says. "I think that Dan is more than qualified to be the general manager. I want him to take that ball and go with it. I don't perceive myself as having anything to do with baseball other than to make sure that at the management level the Cardinals are satisfied with the Redbirds."

Though Sparks has no formal business experience in sports, she and her husband have been part of sports ownership before with their stake in the now-defunct Memphis Rogues soccer team. Sparks also says that she has been a lifelong fan of the game.

"I come from a baseball family," Sparks says. "I think it's one of the best recreations any family could have. It teaches you a lot about life, how to be a team player. You can have all the reading, writing, and arithmetic you want. But if you can't get along with everyone else, it's going to be a lonely place. That's my commitment to the Redbirds. That I can hopefully create the image that teamwork is very important in any aspect of life."

The lack of sports-business experience might be seen as a weakness as she takes the helm. However, Sparks says her other experiences are enough to hold her current position.

"I don't see any difference," Sparks says regarding running a sports business or just another corporation. "The payroll has to be made. The bottom line still has to be made. You have personnel issues in every corporation."

And that, she says, is something she is very qualified to do.

"My business background is that I have been working since I was 19 years old. I've had jobs all the way from clerk up to management."

Though Sparks is stepping into a high-pressure, high-prestige position, she says she is not drawing a salary.

"This is my commitment to the community," Sparks says. Also, she says she does not normally like the "limelight" but that she does want to help community investments.

"I have been involved with a lot of community endeavors that people don't know about," she says. "I helped start the Ronald McDonald House. I'm in the process of raising $6 million for the Baddour Memorial Center in Senatobia. It's a home for mildly mentally handicapped adults. We're in the process of building some new facilities down there."

With her management and altruistic background, Sparks knows that she will fit in well with the Redbirds organization. Still, she agrees that she has a lot to learn about this baseball biz.

"It's a learning curve for me," Sparks says. "Between now and the first pitch of next year, I hope to learn all the ins and outs and maybe I can come up with some ideas."

At the same time, her blueprint is the one crafted by the Jernigans when creating the Redbirds organization.

"The presidency, to me, gives a lot more input to make sure the owners will be involved on a day-to-day basis," she says. "I know that Dean and Kristi have devoted hours and hours to get this thing up and going. I just want to make sure that their dream continues in the way they want it to continue. They put in a lot of hours. They're tired. They want to sit back a little bit. That's what I see my role as, to continue their efforts."

The Old Con Game

School board votes to let ex-felons work in city schools.

By Mary Cashiola

As of Monday night, some ex-felons have the chance to go back to school. But it's to receive a paycheck, not a diploma.

Passing with eight ayes and no nays, the Memphis City Schools board voted to participate in Mayor Willie Herenton's Second Chance Ex-Felon Program. The program, presented to the city council in June, hopes to give people with a single felony conviction a second chance.

"I think we all got a personal letter from the mayor," said Commissioner Sara Lewis, who wrote the resolution and said she has worked with ex-felons before.

Commissioner Lora Jobe called the resolution "great" and said that the recent teacher's store at Pyramid Academy had been staffed in part by ex-felons.

According to a booklet that accompanied Herenton's presentation, ex-felons often have difficulty finding employment because of their convictions. About two-thirds of all the people released from the Shelby County Correction Center return to the facility within three years. Additionally, some 89 percent of parole violators are unemployed and 36 percent of those incarcerated were unemployed during the month they committed their crime.

"We cannot continue to block these people out," said Lewis. "Our first responsibility is to our children, but all the safeguards are there."

Ricks Mason, personnel director for the system, said that ex-felons would only be eligible for about 6,500 classified jobs, not for employment at the certified or administrative level.

Mason cited off-campus jobs, such as warehouse laborers and truck drivers, but said on-campus jobs such as cooks, custodians, and groundskeepers were also classified employment.

Any ex-felon hired by the school system would have to come through the Second Chance program, the requirements of which include a face-to-face interview with the mayor. Hires would also have to go through standard background checks and be determined suitable by the system's personnel division.

According to the mayor's office, Second Chance has placed 85 ex-felons in jobs with about 20 private and public enterprises since its inception. More than 1,000 ex-felons have submitted applications.

"We've all seen the flowers downtown," said Lewis. "They do an excellent job with that."

State Unveils New Tests For High School Students

The Tennessee Department of Education recently released the Algebra I and Biology I sections of the new Gateway Tests that high school students will be required to pass before graduating.

Students entering the ninth grade this fall will have to pass these sections as well as an English II section that will be released for the 2002-2003 school year. The Gateway Test will replace the Tennessee Competency Test (TCAP), a graduation requirement for a number of years.

The tests are designed to assess the foundational thinking and problem-solving skills rather than basic computation skills that the TCAP tested. Each student will take the Gateway Test near the end of the particular course. Students who fail any of the three sections will have more than one opportunity to retake it before completing high school.

Each test contains 62 multiple-choice questions. Test your intelligence with 10 sample questions from the algebra and biology tests. Would you be able to receive your high school diploma today? Good luck.

Algebra I

1. What is the opposite of (25/43)?

a. (-43/25) b. (-25/43) c. (43/25) d. 25x43

2. When John attempts a free throw, he succeeds 59.4 percent of the time. If John attempts 31 free throws, how many times will he succeed?

a. 15 b. 18 c. 28 d. 52

3. Simplify 4(2x-4) + (-3x+1).

a. 5x-3 b. 5x-15 c. 11x-3 d. 11x-15

4. A sweet pea vine grows 40 centimeters per month. It was 20 centimeters tall on April 15. On what date will it most likely be 80 centimeters tall?

a. May 15 b. June 1 c. June 15 d. July 1

5. How many different outfits can Jamal create from 4 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, and 3 ties?

a. 5! b. 4! 5! 3! c. 4x5x3 d. 4+5+3

Biology I

6. Where are food, water, and cellular waste stored in a plant cell?

a. nucleus b. vacuole c. chloroplasts d. mitochondria

7. Which of these would not be found in an animal cell?

a. nucleus b. chloroplasts c. cytoplasm d. mitochondria

8. When a student added iodine to an unknown solution, the solution turned a dark color. This color change indicated that the solution contains:

a. lipids b. proteins c. DNA d. starch

9. What kind of molecules carry the instructions for protein synthesis?

a. DNA and RNA b. amino acids c. lipids/carbohydrates d. enzymes

10. A body cell of a pigeon has 80 chromosomes. If a pigeon lays an unfertilized egg, how many chromosomes will this egg have?

a. 20 b. 40 c. 80 d. 160

Answers: 1-b, 2-b, 3-b , 4-b, 5-c, 6-b, 7-b, 8-d, 9-a, 10-b n

Target House Expands

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital broke ground on its long-term housing facility addition today with the help of singers Amy Grant and Billy Gilman and Olympic champion Scott Hamilton. The 78,760-square-foot addition to its existing Target House facility will be known as Target House II and will include 46 apartment suites. Each suite will consist of two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

Target House II, like the original two-year-old facility, is being funded by Target Stores and various vendors. The addition will be built on land donated by the Diocese of Memphis at St. Peter Village. It will link to the existing Target House by a walkway and feature the Scott Hamilton Fitness Center with child-scaled equipment, the Tiger Woods Performance Pavilion, and the Scott Hamilton Arts and Crafts Room with an adjoining Children's Art Gallery Wall. The expansion will accommodate the hospital's increasing number of long-term patients and their families who are housed in overflow facilities, including downtown's Wyndham Garden Hotel.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, St. Jude national outreach director and actress Marlo Thomas described the facility, patients, and the fight against cancer in military terms, calling Target House and Target House II a "barracks for the bravest little foot soldiers" who repeatedly wage war on cancer at the battleground of St. Jude.

The original Target House offers 50 fully furnished apartment suites for families. The average stay at Target House is six months. A waiting list has existed for the facility since its opening in 1999, and 23 families are currently on the list. Target House has served more than 230 families in just two years.

Target House II is scheduled to open in November 2002.

-- Janel Davis

city beat

by John Branston

Union Or Linden?

Picking the new NBA arena location is no big deal.

A site for the new $250 million NBA arena for the Memphis Grizzlies will probably be announced in the next few days, but what's the big deal? The Union and Linden sites are more alike than different.

Sources tell the Flyer that a "compromise" site has been approved by mayors Jim Rout and Willie Herenton and key landowners. It takes some property on Union near Fourth Street, including an old motel and a body shop, and turns it into a park. It takes the old Muhammad Ali Theater at Fourth and Beale. Some small streets are closed. Some property owners on Union between Fourth and Danny Thomas who protested and even threatened to sue are left alone.

The arena won't be shoe-horned into a small site on Union, but it will be visible from Union. The Peabody Place parking garages and the other garages north of Union will get a nice windfall. Greyhound, which doesn't want to be on Union anyway, eventually moves to the airport area, which the company prefers to the train station and its two Amtrak passenger trains each day. A source says it's only a matter of money.

Ho hum. All this speculation and intrigue about the site and all the outraged letters to the editor are of great interest to a tiny number of property owners, politicians, and vested downtown interests. For the rest of the population of Memphis and Shelby County, the more important facts are these:

The arena will be within walking distance of The Peabody and Beale Street, two minutes one way or two minutes another way.

More to the point, the arena will be downtown, 15 minutes from Midtown, Whitehaven, East Memphis, or Frayser and 30-45 minutes from the suburbs, whether it's Collierville, Hickory Hill, Germantown, or Hernando.

On a cold, rainy Wednesday night in January when the Grizzlies are playing some other also-ran, the 30 minutes from the suburbs will matter a lot more to season-ticket holders than the two minutes south or east of The Peabody.

This isn't the urban-suburban question that confronted the Jernigans and the Redbirds four years ago, when the site choice came down to Germantown Road or the present location of AutoZone Park. It's not even the south end or north end of downtown choice involved in building The Pyramid, where one site was on a bluff and the other was in a hole a mile away.

It's a matter of a few blocks, a few minutes, and maybe a few million dollars in development costs that are a drop in the $250 million bucket.

The only site choice that might make or break the Grizzlies is the one involving Vancouver and Memphis.

If the Grizzlies can survive two or three years in The Pyramid, which has none of the sizzle whatsoever of AutoZone Park, if they can attract an average of 14,000 fans to the cramped $40 seats of The Pyramid on a regular basis, if they can compete with University of Memphis football in the fall and University of Memphis basketball in the winter and televised football and basketball all the time, if they can get people to come downtown on dark nights in January, if they can win 40 games in a season, and if they can somehow mesh the all-black crowd that came to the rap concert at Mud Island and the all-white crowd that came to the James Taylor concert at The Pyramid last weekend, then the Grizzlies will do all right in their new arena.

And it won't make a bit of difference where it is in relation to The Peabody, the parking garages, the bus station, or Union Avenue.

And if they fail to do even one of those things, then they'll probably fail in Memphis, period, and Memphis and Shelby County will have a $250 million white elephant on their hands the likes of which they have never seen, and the location won't matter one little bit.

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