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Birmingham chosen as site for 2021 World Games

Thousands of athletes and spectators from 100 countries around the globe will converge upon Birmingham for the 2021 World Games.

The International World Game Executive Committee just announced its selection of Birmingham from among the three finalists vying for the international games. Birmingham beat Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia for the event.

Supporters of Birmingham’s bid are hailing this announcement as a coup for the city, region and state. Landing the event could have a $256.5 million economic impact to the Birmingham region.

The World Games are held every four years.

“Winning the bid to host the 2021 World Games is a tremendous opportunity for the city of Birmingham in so many different ways,” explained Darin W. White, Samford University professor of marketing and coordinator of the sports marketing program.

White, who is familiar with the planning of Birmingham’s bid, said winning the games has an impact well beyond athletics.

“It gives us the opportunity to create a positive and lasting legacy for our great city. It will spark dialogue and cooperation among the dozens of communities that make up Birmingham and allow us to build bridges that cut across racial and socioeconomic lines,” he told “The World Games will bring tremendous positive energy to our community that encourages us to strive to be the best in all we do and foster hope and a belief in ourselves as we witness over four thousand world class athletes from over 100 different nations compete.”

USA TODAY explains the meaning behind ‘We Want Bama’

As with so many grand ideas in college, this one was hatched in a bar. Late on a Saturday night, the two students were celebrating an Oregon victory with friends when the chant broke out:

“We want Bama! We want Bama!’

A few days later, Grant Otter and Harrison Tingler had a table set up on the Oregon campus. T-shirts — light green with bright yellow block lettering — were going for $10 each. And they were going fast.

“It was only three words,” Otter says of the business venture, which was a brief hit 14 months ago, “but everyone understood what it meant.”

Maybe that’s because in the past few years, it seems almost everyone in college football has chanted it. Or put it on a poster. Or like Otter and his friend, on a T-shirt. They did it last season, when they were seniors. But as the inaugural College Football Playoff nears, everyone still wants Bama.

Earlier this month, in the waning moments of the Big Ten championship, Ohio State fans chanted the phrase. Shortly after winning the ACC championship that same day, Florida State players said they, you guessed it, wanted Bama.

“I want to play them real bad, and I look forward to that game,” said Jameis Winston, the Seminoles’ quarterback. “It’s amazing.”

No, what’s amazing is the context. Florida State had just notched its 29th consecutive victory, and is the defending national champion. The Seminoles beat an SEC team last year in the BCS title game — and, well, Alabama safety Landon Collins might have the proper reaction.

“I always laugh at that stuff,” says Collins, a junior All-American — but he understands what it means.

“I guess because of the history that’s been here,” he adds, “I guess because Bama’s been the top team all the time, people just want to beat ’em.”

Alabama, which faces Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, is the No. 1 seed in the Playoff. But there’s no sense that any team is an overwhelming favorite (No. 2 Oregon plays No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl in the other semifinal, also on Thursday). The message in the phrase is about much more than this season’s results, or what happens in the next couple of weeks.

The Crimson Tide has won three of the past five national championships. Under Nick Saban, Alabama has become the standard by which college football measures itself.

Sure, Missouri fans chanted “We want Bama!” after beating Arkansas to clinch the SEC East title and a meeting with the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship (which Alabama won 42-13). And last month, Kansas students chanted it while tearing down a goal post after beating Iowa State.

The Jayhawks finished 3-9. You have to figure they didn’t really want Bama; clearly, the phrase has outgrown its original meaning.

“Wherever you are in the country, you know what Alabama is as a football team, and what they do,” says Eric
Simons, the author of “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession.” “Whether you are in Oregon or Columbus or in the South, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same touchstone when it comes to Alabama. Regardless of where you are, it means sort of the same thing.”

Simons is a science journalist, the editorial director of the California-based magazine “Bay Nature.” His foray into anthropology of sports fans was largely an introspective study; he billed the book as “a scientific investigation into the curious nature of my annual spring hockey tantrums.” Simons is also a lifelong fan of Cal’s Golden Bears, and describes himself as a typical irrational fan.

As someone who grew up on the West coast, he understands the perspective of Oregon fans such as those who bought Otter’s T-shirts, who believe the Ducks play good football, too — and want people everywhere to know it. As a phenomenon, Simons says, “We want Bama” is symbolic of beating your chest, seeking prestige and recognition.

“It’s kind of what we do in all sorts of things, from sports to politics to just about everything else,” Simons says.
“You want to find the one that everyone acknowledges is the best — and then you want to go beat them.”

That last part has been easier said than done — see Alabama’s 84-10 record beginning in 2008, Saban’s second season at the school (beginning in 2009, with that first national title, it’s 72-8). When it comes to “We want Bama,” the best response might have come last season from a Crimson Tide fan. Alabama had just beaten LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Near the goal line, standing along the fencing, he held a hand-lettered poster: “Y’ALL Don’t WANT BAMA”.

Or in other words, as Simons deciphers the message: “‘Our group is successful. You should be part of our group. You should want to be part of our group.’ ”

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Bob Baumhower to open upscale restaurant in old Bienville Club spot

Plans are under way by Bob Baumhower to open a pair of restaurants in downtown Mobile in one of the city’s most iconic pieces of real estate.

Baumhower, owner of a string of restaurants in Alabama, will open a high-end restaurant on the 34th floor of the RSA Trustmark Building in the space once occupied by the Bienville Club. At the same time, he will also open a more casual bar/restaurant in that building’s basement that features small plates and a cigar bar.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for some time. It’s a project that I’m very excited about; I can’t wait to get them open,” Baumhower said.

The restaurant on the top floor will be named “Dauphin’s,” which pays tribute to the region’s French heritage and is a play on words for the National Football League team that Baumhower played for in the 1980s. “We wanted to come up with a name that was fun and also had some meaning and history,” he said.

It will have a seating capacity of 160 and plans are for an art-deco style restaurant with a menu laden with familiar Gulf coast favorites. The chef will be Baumhower’s corporate chef, Steve Zucker, who plans to offer a lunch menu anchored by what Baumhower called “Creole/Soul cuisine.”

They are also redesigning the restaurant’s footprint to include a chef’s table in the kitchen that will overlook the Mobile River looking south.

The basement eatery will be named “Floridita’s” and it will have a decidedly Caribbean feel, he said. The “Cuban piano bar” will be located adjacent to the old bank vault in the basement and Baumhower said he intends to turn that bit of hardware into a humidor for cigars.

Seating will be about 120 and the menu will be a late night spot with what Baumhower called “a speakeasy feel” to it with a casual upscale atmosphere.

The opening date has not been announced, but Baumhower said plans are for the work to be complete sometime in 2015. “I’m excited about the future of Mobile and especially what’s happening in downtown Mobile. We’re happy to be a part of what’s to come,” Baumhower said.

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Baumhower’s Restaurants launch new menu featuring Alabama products

Aloha Hospitality, parent company of Baumhower’s Restaurants, recently launched a new menu featuring several local Alabama products. Alabama Gulf Coast Seafood, Conecuh Sausage, Wickles Pickles and Gabby’s Tortillas are all included on the new menu.

Gabby’s Tortillas were added to the menu when company owner Bob Baumhower met young Gabby Griffin at the Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermen’s Market in Foley and was immediately impressed with her locally made tortillas. Griffin is a 16 year old student who started her tortilla making business as a school project at the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy at Foley High School. The project took off and grew into a family business in Foley. Gabby’s Tortilla’s donates to local food banks and also gives a portion of their sales to charities that fight against child abuse and neglect.

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A visit to the Helen Keller museum provides a reflection of Alabama’s culture

In 1902 Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography “The Story of My Life”: “… during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly block out.” Born in Tuscumbia, the blindness and deafness that soon ensued did not dint her spirit or mark her searing intelligence. She became a symbol of triumph over literal darkness, and in some ways a metaphor for the survival of Alabamians throughout their complex history. As it was my first trip to Alabama, visiting her home, Ivy Green, was a must. I wanted to touch the water pump where her teacher, Anne Sullivan, guided her in making the cavernous leap from feeling the object to knowing the word that describes it. Her famous first word, “wa wa,” for water, allowed the floodgates of her brilliance to burst forth.

Her home and its adjacent cottage are now a museum, lovingly maintained. The broad green fields and grand old oak trees, still there, are a testament not only to her memory but also the combined respect in Alabama for its own unique history and its preservation that I encountered during my weeklong trip.

On a lighter note, not far from Ivy Green is Claunch Cafe where my companions and I ate at a modest family-run restaurant tucked away in Spring Park. Alabama history was literally dished out in platefuls of cornbread, fried green tomatoes, grits, homemade meat loaf, fried catfish, barbecue ribs, fried chicken, collard greens(thank God) and an array of pies that curdled my cholesterol; banana pudding, lemon box pie, peanut butter pie, chess pie and a chocolate fudge pie. Forks were flying like lightning strikes from one plate to another lest we miss out on trying each other’s sinful dessert. This was all washed down with another Southern specialty – a cold brewed sweet tea – as if we needed more sugar.

As we drove on the road to Birmingham along the swathes of cotton fields, we listed names of famous Alabamians. Among them – Jesse Owens, Willie Mays, Diana Ross, W.C. Handy, Rosa Parks, Truman Capote (who lived there as a youth), and Harper Lee, a lifelong friend of Capote. In her one and only published book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960), Lee created Atticus Finch, a father, a lawyer and a fighter for justice. The timing of her book was significant considering the racial turmoil in the Deep South. Birmingham soon after became the center of the civil rights movement, first under the guiding hand of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and then the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. and his call for nonviolent demonstrations.

I met a young black boy in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We were both standing in front of a video encased in an antique wooden jukebox featuring a 1954 performance by Bo Diddley. The youngster was joyfully swinging his arms and dancing in perfect sync to the music. Later I saw him again, standing quietly in front of the replica of the bus that had carried Rosa Parks. She was arrested in 1955 for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man. That child won over my heart, and I had him in mind when on Sunday morning I attended a 16th Street Baptist Church service and witnessed an utterly rousing display of song and prayer lead by the charismatic pastor, the Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. A choir of children sang their little hearts out with a chorus of “amens” from the enchanted parishioners. In that church on a September morning in 1963, four young black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan. As a matter of fact, one of the most haunting displays in the Civil Rights Institute is a Klansman white cloak with its pointed hat and sinister aspect.

On the top of a tower on Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham stands Vulcan. He is the largest cast iron sculpture in the world – 56 feet high – and his muscular bare butt has attracted many a viewer. Patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge, he is the emblem of the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry in the first part of the 20th century. The adjacent museum with its soaring light-filled entrance tells that history, in creative exhibits, of the darkness in which the miners labored to unearth the elements that would be forged into items as varied as sewing machines, potbellied stoves, hydrants and manhole covers. The lives and sacrifices of those miners are well remembered here, as they are in the 1000-plus acre park embedded in the Red Mountain. Above old mine shafts and railway tracks, ziplines have created a forest of fun where kids and adults alike squeal with excitement as they buzz along the lines stretching between wooden platforms perched high in the trees. Below, dogs frolic freely in three spacious dog parks, one of which was built exclusively for deaf and blind canines.

Despite the emphasis on history, Birmingham is becoming a vibrant city of the future. Pockets of urban renewal are evident from the former red light district to the Red Mountain area. National award-winning restaurants and their surrounding upscale shops are gracing the landscape. The elegant Highlands Bar and Grill is a perfect example. Its owner, Frank Stitt, is considered one of the top chefs in the U.S. In the tony area of Mountain Brook, Chez Lulu invites you to sample a fresh take on French cuisine, and the thin-crusted pizzas at Post Office Pies in the south side of the city deserved our bravos.

To make amends for my obvious gluttony, I took advantage of the outdoor pool and superlative spa at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. Sweating it out in the steam room and treated to a Ginger Renewal massage by the expert hands of Marcie McMath, I pretended for a day that I was svelte again. If I were so inclined, I could have had a round of golf as well, or for that matter endless rounds of golf that the 384-mile Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and its various resorts provide, from the Grand Hotel on Mobile Bay to Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa near the Tennessee border.

Another kind of trail blazing was to be found at the legendary FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound recording studios in Muscle Shoals, along the Tennessee River. Started by the innovative music producer Rick Hall, the studios showcased the talents of performers such as Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Cher, The Rolling Stones. Hall crossed the color barrier by bringing together white and black talent at a time when segregation was the norm. The FAME studio has that Carnegie Hall quality where you can practically feel the ghosts of the greats that performed there. Just touching the keys of the little Wurlitzer piano induced a thrill.

The Trail of Tears ends my journey. In a wooded area just outside the charming city of Florence, the ruggedly handsome 86-year-old Tom Hendrix regales us with the story of his life’s creation. Since 1988, Hendrix has been creating a low, thick labyrinth of a wall slowly built from 8.5 million pounds of individual rocks that he found, transported and layered, to honor his Native American great-great-grandmother. She was the only known person banished from her home, during enforced relocation of Native Americans, to have ever returned to her beloved land near the “singing waters” of the Tennessee River. It took her five years to walk that daunting distance. To wander along this wall and pause to touch these stones under the brilliant blue Alabama sky with the autumn leaves falling silently, was to feel akin to a place that, until this trip, had been unknown to me.

The Alabama I experienced was a revelation.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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