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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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O’Neill: Brandon wrestling is about more than winning

Like a lot of sports fans, I noticed — almost in passing — that Brandon High won a state championship in wrestling recently in Lakeland. Again. For the 14th time in a row. It had seven individual champions. Five of them were undefeated for the year.

Brandon is a national wrestling power that once won 459 matches in a row — the longest such streak of any high school sport. ESPN even did a documentary on “The Streak” a few years ago.

It would be a gross understatement to say that coach Russ Cozart’s program is synonymous with success. It would, in fact, be bigger news had the Eagles, who have won 25 state championships under Cozart, not won another state title in Lakeland.

But here’s what really got my attention. It was a quote of Cozart’s. One that transcended success, even the uncanny, unprecedented version achieved at Brandon High. One that transcended clichés, of which athletics is riddled. He simply noted: “Confidence is part of the sport, but being cocky isn’t.”

How refreshing, I thought. How old school, I reflected. How necessary, I acknowledged.

Maybe there was a time when what Cozart said didn’t have to be said — but now is not that time.

We live in an era where athletes — and it often begins before high school — are routinely lionized and too often encouraged to “play with a chip on their shoulder” or to play with “swagger.” As if they were traits worth emulating.

Mostly we’re talking basketball and football, but it bleeds into other sports as well. Too often coaches, fans and parents have become enablers of all that’s done to pervert exuberance and passion.

At the collegiate — let alone the professional — level, network cameras reinforce every contrived, boorish gesture. “In your face” trash talk? Check. “Look at me” chest-thumping, pointing and strutting? Check. “Celebration” choreography? Check. Cheap lounge-act ambience? Check.

It’s all embedded into the game, which sometimes seems incidental to the “show.”

Muhammad Ali, who was ahead of his time when it came to yappy self-promotion, once said that it wasn’t bragging “if you can back it up.” No, that’s actually what bragging is. If you can’t back it up, it’s lying.

But winning with class doesn’t have to be an oxymoron.

Russ Cozart’s Brandon Eagles are the standard for excellence on the mat, where success has begotten generational success. And where success also begets confidence, which speaks for itself. If you’re good, as in really, really good, your talent will say it all. Why render it annoyingly redundant?

That’s the part of the Cozart legacy that’s easily overlooked because of his program’s incredible record. Year after year, his wrestlers dominate. They know they’re good — so good that they have no need for “swag” or shoulder “chips.” The proof is on the mat, in the trophy case and in the scholarship offers.

They exude confidence — borne of talent, hard work and discipline — not cockiness. It comes with the program: a winning aptitude, yes, an offending attitude, no.

It can be done. Year after year.

Scott on Cuba embargo

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist recently made the media rounds hawking “The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat,” the book he co-wrote with (Fox News analyst) Ellis Henican.

The only thing approaching news-worthiness was Crist telling HBO’s Bill Maher that leaders should “stand up to” the usual South Florida suspects and end the embargo against Cuba. And that no state, of course, would benefit more than Florida.

“... The reality is that no state’s economy is hurt more by America’s Cuba policies than Florida,” underscored Crist, who didn’t always see it this way. “Changing these policies to allow Florida’s farmers, manufacturers and construction industry to sell goods and services in Cuba would boost Florida’s economy and help businesses create more jobs in our state.”


Unsurprisingly, Crist’s opponent, incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, can’t allow himself to view the embargo in the same “jobs, jobs, jobs” context he sees virtually every other campaign issue. The erstwhile political outsider now seems to view the counterproductive Cold War relic through the same Cuban-American, vendetta prism as exile-community hardliners. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott: the four amigos.

“The suggestion that Cuban-Americans need to be ‘stood up to’ is insulting,” said Scott. Then he sang from the exile-community hymnal. “The importance of maintaining the embargo is that it stands for the Cuban people’s right to be free.”

Just so we have this right. “Let’s get to work” doesn’t trump partisan political expedience on an issue that disadvantages this country, this state and this port city.

World-class Graphicstudio

If you get to the Tampa Museum of Art between now and May 18, you’ll be able to take in the Graphicstudio exhibit. More than 100 works are on loan from the University of South Florida’s acclaimed, on-campus, print-making studio that dates back to the 1960s. It includes some of the most prominent names in the art world — from Robert Rauschenberg to Robert Mapplethorpe.

What’s notably ironic about Graphicstudio is that it is better known throughout the art world than it is in its own Tampa Bay backyard. Hopefully, this collaborative effort between TMA and USF will help address that frame-of-reference gap.

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