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Author: Brian Lester

Playoff loss to Chipley ends Baker’s season

Throughout the game, even with the game seemingly out of reach, the Bakers kept fighting. On this night on the road, the fight just wasn’t enough to overcome the talent of the unbeaten Tigers.

“The effort was awesome. Our seniors did a great job of leading tonight. We didn’t help enough as coaches,” Gardner said.

It seemed early on that this was going to be Baker’s night to shine. The Gators forced a fumble on Chipley’s opening drive and Kayleb Wagner pounced on it. A touchdown catch by Nick Childs moments later made it 6-0 with 7:33 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers answered just over a minute later for a 7-6 lead, but the Gators didn’t let things get out of hand. They hung around, had chances to score and then came up with a huge stop right before halftime that kept them within a point going into the locker room. A blocked field goal ensured that happened.

“It sucks to lose,” senior star running back Kayleb Wagner said. “Going into halftime, it was 7-6. We thought we had a chance.”

Gardner pointed to penalties in the first half that prevented his team from grabbing the lead back. 

Sixth-ranked Chipley (11-0) took control to start the second half, scoring twice to surge ahead 21-6 going into the fourth.

“Once they get rolling, they are too fast,” Gardner said.

Wagner scored twice in the fourth, including his final touchdown on a 75-yard run with 1:45 to play. It exemplified the fight the Gators showed right up until the end.

“We’re the Baker Gators. We are going to have that (fight) no matter what,” Wagner said.

The Gators end their season at 8-4 in Gardner’s first year as the head coach of the program. 

“It was a good season. We should have had one more game, but that’s how it goes,” Gardner said.

Bulldogs return to celebrate 2002 campaign

Baker athletic director and longtime coach Matt Brunson was in his second year as the Bulldog head coach when the team had the magical run. Crestview was 13-0 heading into the Class 3A championship game, which the Bulldogs lost to Rockledge.

That doesn’t take away from what Crestview accomplished in the fall 20 years ago.

“It doesn’t seem like 20 years,” Brunson said. “It seems more like 10. This group was unbelievable in getting through the playoff ride and getting to the state championship game.
“How we made the trip to St. Augustine and stayed overnight and then made the trip to the finals. I thought we had a great staff here. The way they helped me manage the travel and prepare for the games helped me as I went further in my career.”

Brunson’s best memories of that team come from the overtime playoff win over the Panthers when Josh King kicked a 50-yard field goal to send the game into overtime and Adam Phillips scored the game-winning touchdown.

Chase Simmons was the fullback blocking for Phillips on the score and he looked back on that special season and the passing of time.

“I’m about to be 40 years old and it don’t feel like it,” he said. “It was a blur back then. It was crazy as it was all coming to us.
“We didn’t know what to do, we were kids back then. My favorite memory was probably me blocking for him (Phillips) and scoring the touchdown to win that (playoff game). That was probably my best memory.”

Laramie Boykin gives her all for Laurel Hill volleyball

Boykin has been playing volleyball since she was in the seventh grade, and it doesn’t take long to see that she is catalyst for the Hoboes on the court.

But for Boykin, volleyball is more than just a game.
“The thing I enjoy the most is the connections of being with the team,” she said.

Campbell said those connections Boykin has built makes her a leader on the floor.

“She’s smart,” Campbell said. “She can move the ball and call it out for everybody. She watches the game and knows how it should be played.

“If she has to run and dive to get to a ball, she’s going to do it. I’m excited that I’ll have her again next year.”

Not everything about volleyball is fun for Boykin.

“The hardest part is diving for balls and not getting down on myself,” she said.
Playing for a new coach hasn’t been difficult for Boykin as she has quickly taken to Campbell’s coaching style.
“I think she’s a great coach,” Boykin said of Campbell. “It’s just getting use to how she coaches and how she likes things done.”

As the season winds down in the next few weeks Boykin will continue to give her best shot as she carries out her goal for the rest of the season.

“My goal for the rest of the season to have fun and try and win,” she said.

“Tis the Season,” please drive carefully…

What a sweet sight, wish I were there. But I understand the oncoming traffic was stopped and patient, allowing the doe and her fawn to cross without injury.

We have a lot of woods and fields along Buck Ward Road, we have quite a few deer year-round on our stretch of the road. My husband and I enjoy watching the deer from our porch since our property runs alongside the woods. Today, we had the pleasure of sighting a set of twins that had just been born in our pasture. I think I saw their mamma just last week and commented how large she was, and she was soon to drop her baby, never thinking about having twins! We have never had twins born here before.

Unfortunately, we do have several deer that get killed along our road each year by traffic. We have multiple areas of deer crossings that if you are from the area, you know where to slow down and be careful. A large deer can do some damage to your car, that is for sure. But I tell you, if you’ve ever heard a fawn bleating for its mamma after it’s been killed, oh that is the saddest sound ever!

So I’m just warning people who travel on Buck Ward Road, the County doesn’t have signs out at every deer crossing. Please slow down, don’t kill these beautiful animals and watch out for the little ones too. Buck Ward Road is busier than ever, and they want to build more homes along it (300+).

Not only do I worry about all the wildlife, but I do worry about the children too. Uncontrolled development on Buck Ward Road with our horrible road conditions could be a dangerous combination in the future if proper planning is not done in advance. For example, I wonder will the cross-country coach at Baker School allow the kids to run the infamous hill workouts on Buck Ward

Road again?

Bonnie Grundel, concerned citizen, taxpayer, and registered voter, Baker

Okaloosa 4-H holds summer camp

Day one, youth learned about North America, day two they learned about Asia and day three they learned about Europe.

Youth also learned about influential role models, greetings in various languages and agricultural components of countries and continents.

4-H strives to help youth learn through hands-on experiences and learning by doing, and is available to youth ages 5-18 in Florida.

4-H has many opportunities available and invites you to get involved. Contact Breanna Wade at or call 850-689-5850. The University of Florida is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Spawning success saves Shoal bass

A total of 3,300 hatchery-spawned fingerlings released into the Chipola River in May were the end result of an effort to help restock that species in the river.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Bob DeMauro, the manager of the hatchery. “It’s a big deal for all of us.”

Chris Paxton, the regional fisheries administrator for the FWC, agrees and hopes it’s a sign of good things to come for the species.

“We are hopeful that this will be a positive step toward the Shoal Bass population recovery in the Chipola River population.”

The Chipola River Shoal Bass are a priority and were actually inching toward becoming one even before the Category 5 hurricane made landfall in Panama City in 2018.

“It was identified as something we needed to look at even before the hurricane,” DeMauro said. “In 2017, the FWC made it a priority because of its limited range and because it’s susceptible to habitat and environmental factors.”

Bob DeMauro

But the hurricane ramped up the priority level, leaving widespread damage of the floodplain. Paxton said the river rose 12 feet above normal and the flow of the river went from 850 cubic feet per second to 6,700 cubic feet per second.

Paxton knew it was bad.

“FWC fisheries biologists were able to assess the population in the Chipola River following the hurricane, so we knew the detrimental impact the storm had taken on it,” Paxton said.

A survey in 2019 within a six-and-a-half-mile conservation area in the river for the bass found only 33 fish compared to 361 in 2017. Then last fall another survey was done and 196 fish were found, but that was a drastic drop compared to the 951 found in 2009.

“The results further supported our concern and need for a management effort to conserve the shoal bass population in Florida.”

And that’s where the hatchery in Blackwater came into play. In 2019, an attempt was made to spawn fish at the hatchery.

“It went from let’s learn what we need to do to make it happen to we really need to do this,” DeMauro said.

Spawning riverine species of fish in a hatchery, however, is no easy task. The environment is decidedly different in a pond than it is in a river.

A few of the ponds at the Blackwater Hatchery in Holt.

But fish were collected in 2019 and brought to the hatchery. They were kept in tanks where light and temperature could be controlled. That following spring they were released into a pond.

“They didn’t spawn, but two things happened within a week of putting them in there. It got hot and the water temperatures jumped. It’s a big reason why they didn’t spawn.”

A second effort was made in 2021. The results were the same. It was back to the drawing board, only this time some changes were made before going forward with a third attempt.

“It took time to figure things out. Shoal bass are a temperamental type of fish. We figured out that handling them just prior to spawning may actually stress them out,” DeMauro said.

So, this time, the bass were released into the pond in November of last year, giving them a chance to adapt and be exposed to varied conditions.

“We ended up producing 3,400. We took 100 to genetically test and the other 3,300 were stocked in the Chipola River May 10. It was our first successful attempt.”

The hatchery in Holt is one of only two in the state run by the FWC, and between the two hatcheries, 3 million to 5 million fish are stocked in lakes and rivers each year.

Shoal Bass are one of four species of native black bass sportfish in Florida, and it is potentially the genetically purest population remaining within its native range, according to Paxton.

It’s why the fact that the hatchery has been successful in aiding the recovery of the species is such a big deal.

It takes trial and error, but it’s worth it.

“We hoped the first year was a success, but when we weren’t, was it disappointing? Yes.

But we learned from what happened and made tweaks. We kept going until we figured it out,” DeMauro said.

Expectations are high moving forward, with the hope being to return the population to at least its pre-storm level.

“One of the benchmarks that will be needed to consider this restoration effort successful will be to restore Shoal Bass population numbers to what they were before the effects of Hurricane Michael,” Paxton said.

DeMauro is hopeful.

“This is an ongoing effort, and the hope is to preserve the population. It’s a population only in Florida, so it’s kind of a big deal. We don’t want to lose it,” DeMauro said. “It’s a big deal we were successful, and the thing now is we want to repeat it.”

Septic treatment a growing problem,
but Flush Factory in Holt not the solution

But that possibility doesn’t mean those concerns aren’t valid or don’t need to be addressed.

In fact, the law requires those concerns to be addressed.

It is entirely possible that the anticipated volume of treated sludge — somewhere between 5,000 and 200,000 gallons per day, depending on how you read the project’s application— won’t seep downhill and into Bone Creek. It’s possible that even if there is seepage, the treated materials will pose no danger to the surrounding environment.

We admit, the possibilities for a safe, profitable, convenient service that, frankly, residential customers on the north side of Okaloosa County could really use, are worth considering.

But, those are just possibilities – claims, really, that the County Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have yet to corroborate.

It is unrealistic, however, to expect any Bone Creek area residents to be happy with the idea of this facility literally in their backyards.

We understand their concerns.

Will being located near such a facility drive down property values?

Will such a facility attract an influx of bugs and birds?

Will such a facility create an odor that neighbors can’t escape?

How will burying treated septic sludge affect well water downhill and downstream?

Will the facility see five trucks a day, or 25? (And will the county ask taxpayers to cover the cost of the road improvements needed to support that traffic?)

At last Tuesday’s County Commissioners meeting, concerned Holt residents asked these questions — and a host of others — prompting commissioners to add this issue to the meeting’s agenda and take immediate action.

The problem Mr. Watts’ project aims to address is a valid one. Most septic systems in Okaloosa County are on the north side. The county’s only collection facility is inconveniently located on the south side. As fuel prices continue to surge, it’s easy to see why a north side solution — even the Flush Factory — is worth considering.

Our hope is that the County and the City of Crestview can come to an agreement on expanding the city’s current wastewater treatment facility to include a septic receiving station.

Giving northside septic trucks a place to safely unload without the added time and expense of traveling to Niceville with every tankful – and without disrupting the lives of an entire neighborhood – is just the kind of solution this situation calls for.

While that may not be the most profitable for Watts, it would resolve the issue — and probably save area septic customers a lot of money in the long run.

First Church of God in Christ
ministering to the Crestview community

First Church of God in Christ was on hand to join in the Juneteenth Celebration and to let people know the church is there to serve people from all walks of life.

“First Church is a great church to come to,” Winters said. “Our youth ministry is on fire. We have a women’s ministry and men’s ministry.
“We have a great outreach ministry with our food pantry,” she added. “As a matter of fact, we served over 90 people last weekend (June 18-19). If you need food, you can contact the church (at 850 682-4900).”

Winters said the youth ministry of the church is for ages 3 to 21, and that it has something for everyone within those ages.

The church’s Juneteenth booth was an example of how it strives to reach younger children. The theme was, “Jesus Love is so Sweet.” The church handed out sweet treats to go along with the theme.

“Doing this (the Juneteenth exhibit) is a ministry,” Winters said. “We want everyone to know that Jesus’ love is so sweet, especially the kids.”

As is the case with most churches, the attendance at First Church was hit hard during the pandemic. And as is also the case with other churches, First Church is starting to see members come back to live worship.

“We have about a hundred people on Sunday,” Winters said. “We are just getting back from Covid. A lot of people went virtual (attended service online).
“Before Covid, we probably had about 200 each week. We are starting to see people come back to the services, which is awesome.”

Events such as the Juneteenth Celebration continue to help tear down racial barriers in the Crestview community. First Church wants to be a part of the reconciliation of people of all races. Every ministry of the church is colorblind to those in need.

Winters said the church is hoping to do more in and for the community in the days ahead.

“Our church is looking into doing a resource center,” she said. “It will be a place where we can help people to get back into the community with jobs and things of that nature. Also, in the future, we are looking into community housing. “There are a lot of things we are looking at in the community to bring us together.”

Teaching baseball to children of all ages

“We’ve got a bunch (of campers),” Bulldog baseball coach Tim Gillis said. “We don’t have an exact number now, but we have quite a few. It looks like the biggest one we’ve ever had.
“It’s so much fun. The kids are great, and our boys do such a good job working the camp with them. It’s just a really overall good time.”

The camp started at the ground level in teaching the basics to baseball players as young as age 4.

“Basically, we started from the ground up throwing-wise right down to the grip of the baseball,” Gillis said. “Our arm placement, our elbow placement, our aiming point, what we do with our feet. We’ve covered that and we are about to cover fielding ground balls and fly balls. We will play a game to finish out the day.”

Working with the smallest of campers, Gillis has to be innovative in the way he teaches things. Ideally, a player uses a two-finger grip to throw the ball, but the younger players sometimes need to use three fingers or their whole hand when throwing.

“Whatever they can do at this point, is what we want them to do,” Gillis said. “But we do want to get to where to grip the baseball.”Gillis seldom stops smiling as he conducts the sessions. The love he first developed for baseball still runs deep.
“I have a blast,” Gillis said. “ If there was one thing I learned in the game as a player, it was the fun part. I remember being at this age and how people look up to our high school kids, and what they do, it matters.
“I think it’s a great opportunity and a great responsibility to teach the game the right way and to give back to something that has been so good to me and my family,” Gillis continued. “When you are in game in the professional ranks it’s understood that you’ve got to pass the game down to younger people and keep the game going in a good way.”