Monday, May 02, 2011

2 MAY 11: Barred Bear-ian at the Gate

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll wait a while for the dust to settle from the big breaking news of Sunday night. In the meantime, we have local stories to share as usual.)

It was quite a busy weekend at South Commons. For instance, the Civic Center hosted a Friday evening teen summit promoting abstinence called, "Put a Ring on It." And only about an hour earlier, city officials gathered next door to proclaim: "Put a Rink on It."

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: The mascot for the new Columbus Ice Rink is in hibernation, at least temporarily - and believe it or not, it's reportedly because of objections from Tennessee. Like the state of Tennessee is famous for its ice rinks?! It's made history this week simply by having teams in the pro basketball and hockey playoffs in the same year.

Something was absent at Friday's grand opening of the new ice rink. I didn't realize until I saw a brochure at an information table that the polar bear mascot was missing. You know, the one residents were asked to name - with a few people hoping it might be named "Ice-iah" after the city manager.

So where was the bear, and why wasn't it there? A Civic Center staff member tells me the mascot was asked to stay away from the grand opening at the last minute. Reportedly there was a complaint from the Knoxville Ice Bears, one of the rivals of the Columbus Cottonmouths. Let's all be thankful no one in Detroit seems to know about the Columbus Lions.

The Knoxville Ice Bears have a mascot named Chilly - and as you might imagine, it's a bear. Why the Cottonmouths' mascot Boomer hasn't morphed into a snake after 15 seasons is a mystery to me....

But anyway: the Knoxville hockey team reportedly objected to Columbus having a polar bear mascot. The Civic Center staff tried to explain the Cottonmouths do NOT own the new Ice Rink - but the issue was not settled in time for Friday's grand opening. And Bear O'Brian apparently wasn't available to appear as a substitute.

Because of the weekend, we were unable to contact the Ice Bears for a comment on.... what?! What are you saying? You clicked on that Knoxville link, and Chilly doesn't look anything like the Columbus mascot? Yeah, I agree with you. But I must say the Columbus bear will face a bigger challenge keeping its coat clean.

(If the Civic Center really wants to get even, it should announce a sponsorship deal with Chili's restaurants - and send a news release about it to Knoxville.)

So the winner of the "Name That Polar Bear Contest" was NOT announced at Friday's grand opening. The mascot wasn't included in the ribbon-cutting program for the Ice Rink. In fact, it wasn't mentioned at all - a sad case of a bear barred from the building.

(Animal rights groups ought to jump into this mess. There's simply something wrong about a polar bear being forced to stay out in the heat.)

A bear brouhaha was the last thing I expected when I walked to the ribbon-cutting of the new Ice Rink. Friday's ceremony was officiated by Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin - so her resume of skills keeps growing longer and longer.

Lisa Goodwin's pastor came from Phenix City to offer an invocation on the grand opening. Richard Carter asked God that when people entered the Ice Rink, "they would see you...." So if you see a strange reflection in the glass along the boards, this could explain it.

The grand opening brought news that a second college hockey team plans to use Columbus as its home rink. Auburn already does. Now Florida State will as well. If Florida State plans to drive more than three hours one-way to play home hockey games, the team must have more money to burn on gasoline than I do.

Friday's event also indicated recent wounds between Columbus city officials and local hockey leagues have been healed. Joel McCrea revealed the adult hockey league was allowed inside the Ice Rink Thursday night, for the start of the championship series. If teams were let in one night early, next year's final round may rival the Stanley Cup and last until mid-June.

For some people, the opening of the Columbus Ice Rink was an emotional moment. Retired Civic Center manager Dale Hester admitted he wanted to cry, and called the ribbon-cutting the end of a seven-year dream that he refused to let go. Yet Hester retired in January, almost as if he was overtaken by a seven-year itch.

The group which will benefit most from the Columbus Ice Rink is the Columbus Cottonmouths. Coach/General Manager Jerome Bechard choked up as he told the audience after 15 years in Columbus, "All you guys are the reason why I want to stay here." Hmmmm - was he expected to win more than one playoff series?

Yet it was curious to look around the crowd in South Commons and find no one wearing a Cottonmouths jersey. The only notable hockey outfit was a man wearing the colors of the Montreal Canadiens -- perhaps a "snowbird" having trouble with his RV on the way home to Quebec.

The new Ice Rink is in Councilor Mimi Woodson's district, and she cited it as an example of the improving quality of life in Columbus South. Woodson told the audience: "When the people of Columbus say they want something, they're gonna get it...." The public defender for Michael Curry probably wrote that down, for use in an appeal.

With the speeches finished, the ribbon was cut to open the new Ice Rink. But as the crowd entered, I stopped City Manager Isaiah Hugley to ask a few questions. He admitted things are not "100 percent complete" with the building. A pro shop isn't open yet - and I certainly wouldn't want to slap anything but the finest-quality pucks.

The City Manager added interviews will begin this week for both the Columbus Civic Center and Ice Rink managerial positions. Isaiah Hugley would NOT confirm speculation that several former Cottonmouths have applied to oversee the Ice Rink. But I can think of a few players who could double as managers and security guards.

City officials are letting you try out the new Ice Rink with free public skating sessions through next Sunday. The lunch hour skates from today through Thursday are listed as "free stick time" - which shows the program was printed before last week's storms made all those sticks fall on the ground.

So what's it like inside the Ice Rink? Sorry, I'll have to save those details for Tuesday. (Let's just say something distracted me late Sunday night.) In the meantime, let's glide through other headlines from a busy spring weekend....

+ Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson presented her proposed fiscal 2012 budget. It's down more than eight percent from the current budget, and would reduce garbage collection from two days to one day a week. If this is a problem for your family, I'd go back to the top story - as there's a new-looking dumpster sitting outside the Ice Rink.

(The mayor told WRBL Columbus's public golf courses lack a "sustainable business plan." In other words, the managers borrow that famous quote from the movie Caddyshack - "It's in the hole! It's in the hole!")

+ WTVM reported police patrols were increased at Carver Park, in a crackdown on Sunday cruising. City officials reportedly encourage young people to cruise in the Civic Center parking lot on Sunday nights - if only so skateboarders can jump over moving cars.

+ Phenix City Councilor Jimmy Wetzel admitted to the Ledger-Enquirer he might run for mayor next year "if there's not a good leader than comes forward to run...." In a noteworthy development, the article never quoted Wetzel as calling Mayor Sonny Coulter a good leader.

+ The Columbus Lions controlled Carolina 74-61. Yet the Southern Indoor Football League continues to have financial problems, with reports the Mobile Bay Tarpons are going out of business. It's like when pro baseball teams left Golden Park - put a tarp-on them, they're through.

+ Your blogger became a great-uncle for the fourth time, as youngest niece Heather had a baby girl induced three weeks early. Talk about giving a completely new meaning to "Saturday Night Live...."

(Eight-pound Cali is my family's first "Facebook baby." Dad Ryan reported during labor in suburban Kansas City he was "eating Taco Bell, watching the Royals and trying to have a baby." Maybe he could have moved the last part along by switching to the NASCAR race in Richmond.)

+ Instant Message to Hardee's on Airport Thruway: I'll forgive your spelling of "coffee" on the sign without an F. That could be a matter of creativity. But are you really selling "Columbian" coffee? Is it from Columbia, Missouri or Columbia University?

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