Filmmakers hope to whip up fundraising frenzy for Major Taylor biopic ‘Black Cyclone’

“It’s a really important story to tell and it lends itself to dramatic treatment on the big screen,” said Lynne Tolman, executive director of the Major Taylor Association. “It’s Jackie Robinson 50 years earlier with some even more harrowing components to the story.”

Grafton’s Obi Melifonwu is ready for his NFL Draft moment

With the NFL Draft beginning Thursday night, Grafton native Obi Melifonwu sits just days away from realizing a lifetime goal.

Yet, while the 6-foot-4 safety has been working most of his life to be an NFL player, his name became familiar to casual fans less than two months ago.

Melifonwu’s arrival on the national scene came at the annual NFL Combine, where he stunned uninitiated fans and scouts by posting amazing workout numbers across the board, including a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, and Combine-best results in both the vertical jump (44 inches) and broad jump (11 feet, 9 inches).

“I’m not really amazed. I knew going [into the Combine] what I could do,” Melifonwu said with a chuckle. “I think other people were amazed by the numbers, especially people that weren’t familiar with me, but not anybody who has ever coached me or played with me.”

More Sun Sports: Are you ready for some lacrosse? Either way, read this

Cliff Rucker: On the Railers, reinvigorating downtown and defining success

When word filtered out in October 2015 that Cliff Rucker wanted to bring pro hockey back to Worcester, the sum and substance of what was known about him by the city at-large was contained in three words: “Eastern Mass. businessman.”

If the hockey team were still Rucker’s only connection to the Heart of the Commonwealth, that description might well still suffice. However, in the past 18 months Rucker’s portfolio and profile in Worcester have expanded dramatically.

In April 2016, less than six months after confirming his interest in an ECHL franchise and four months after signing a lease with the DCU Center, Rucker purchased 90 Commercial St. The former Bar FX will be home to a Worcester Railers HC tavern, which is set to open in, well, read on …

I can walk around downtown Portland for five hours and not get bored. I’m not sure you could do that on Main Street right now in Worcester. I think you’re going to get bored pretty quick; there’s not enough stuff to do.

That same week, Rucker confirmed he would partner with Marathon Sports Group and the Worcester Business Development Corporation to construct a multipurpose ice rink facility on the site of the former PresMet facility at Harding and Winter streets in the Canal District.

Rucker’s involvement jump-started the $15 million-$18 million project.

“He really stepped in on the hockey rink deal to make that happen when it had stalled,” Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. “He saw an opportunity that made sense for the hockey team to have the rinks there. But he also is a father whose kids are actively involved with sports. He also, I think, saw an opportunity to expand hockey in the region and specifically is talking about programs that expand hockey for kids who might not ordinarily have access.”

Worcester Sports Complex

Courtesy Worcester Railers

An artist’s rendering of the planned Canal District dual hockey rink complex.

WBDC President and CEO Craig L. Blais said: “We negotiated a long-term ground lease on a very tricky piece of property that involved environmental contamination and a tricky set of tenants, complex tenants, that had to be signed up, and he got through all that. And the deal got done.”

The groundbreaking took place in May, and construction began in October. The Worcester Ice Center will include two rinks, two restaurants (Nonna’s Kitchen and Nonna’s Cafe) operated by Niche Hospitality, a physical therapy center operated by Reliant Medical Group, retail shops, and a strength training facility.

Rucker expanded his footprint in the Canal District in September 2016 by purchasing 3.5 acres around the rink complex for $2.1 million. The land included the former St. John’s High School and The Compass Tavern.

If granted, Rucker’s application for a demolition waiver delay from the Worcester Historical Commission would pave the way for the demolition of the former high school.

Finally, in December, Rucker purchased for $2.8 million the Bowditch & Dewey building at 311 Main St., plus the parking lot bordered by MLK Boulevard and Commercial and Exchange streets.

In addition to his roles as the owner of a hockey team, Rucker’s multimillion-dollar investments in Worcester have made him a public figure and one of the faces of Worcester’s resurgence. Inasmuch as Rucker has adopted Worcester, the city has adopted him as one of its own.

“Cliff, first and foremost, is a good person, a good family man, but he’s also a very accomplished businessman,” Murray said. “He knows how to quickly analyze a situation. He’s built a number of businesses, so he gets it.

“I think he’s seen some of the economic development momentum in the city. He also has a real estate company, so he’s not unfamiliar with real estate. He’s a very smart guy, and a good guy. … As important as his investments are, and they are enormously important — they are bringing new dollars and new energy into the city, and jobs come about because of that — but he’s also interested in becoming a member of the community. That to me is just as important. He’s not just an investor and business owner.”

Murray continued: “There’s always a small but loud chorus of people that root for failure every day, but the validation is people like Cliff Rucker, people from the outside coming in and seeing what teamwork and collaboration is able to get done. … There’s more work to do, but that work is quickened when people like Cliff come in and become such a meaningful part of the community.”

Blais said, “There are those who are dreamers and there are those who get things done. Cliff is a doer. When he sets his sights on something he wants to get done, he gets it done. …

“I know the Railers will be first-class operation and Worcester is very fortunate to have Cliff Rucker doing business here as both a professional team owner and developer here in the city.  We’re very pleased to have Cliff here, and he’s a pleasure to work with.”

David Niles / For Worcester Sun

Cliff Rucker

Worcester Sun sat down with Rucker for a wide-ranging conversation in which he discussed, among other things, becoming a public figure for the first time in his professional life, becoming part of a Worcester community, his expanding role in the revitalization of Worcester, his goals for the Railers, the future of The Compass Tavern and the site of the former St. John’s High, and what he considers the true metrics for success.

[Editor’s note: Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.]

In October 2015, about a year and half ago, you announced your intention to bring hockey back to Worcester. You’re now about six months from having the puck dropped. Tell us about the part of the journey you’ve completed and the part that remains.

Are you ready for some lacrosse? Read this and you will be

While we have endured a late snowstorm and a windy, damp and generally uncooperative beginning to the season, it’s still spring in the Heart of the Commonwealth, and that means lacrosse is underway for several high school teams in and around Worcester.

As the sport continues to grow nationwide — from about 250,000 players in 2001 to more than 800,000 in 2015, per US Lacrosse — it is expanding at an exponential rate in Central Massachusetts, where every year there seems to be a new team, new youth program, or a long-suffering squad that breaks through to the tournament.

This year will likely be no different, as Auburn — a school traditionally with more than its fair share of standout athletes — begins its first year as a varsity program, and a number of other local teams gear up for what they hope to be successful seasons.

Teams to Watch

St. John’s

The Pioneers are always among the favorites in Central Mass., but this year’s St. John’s team could be on the verge of something truly special. This power program hasn’t been to the state championship game since 2009, but there’s some buzz that this year’s group, with its blend of experience and raw talent, could get back to the promised land.

Inbox [April 2]: Worcester a top emerging startup hub, Becker and WSU announce commencement speakers, Abby’s House receives $4M for renovations, Bravehearts bolster roster

Interesting and worthwhile things happen every day in our community. Alas, we can’t cover them all. That’s where Inbox comes in, to offer readers an easily digestible compilation of interesting and noteworthy items you and your neighbors keep telling us about.

Worcester among nation’s top 10 emerging startup hubs

Worcester is among the top 10 U.S. cities emerging as hubs for start-up companies, according to a recent paper from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) and TechNet.

Other cities in the top 10 are Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Denver; Salt Lake City; Portland; Dallas; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Philadelphia.

“All across the country, entrepreneurs are founding and building new companies that use technology in innovative ways,” the report reads. “The American startup ecosystem — the envy of the world — has spread outside of the coasts and high-profile tech hubs, such as San Francisco, Boston, and New York City, to other parts of the country. Startup activity is happening everywhere in cities and towns across America.

Youth baseball official frustrated by city’s tag days stance

With funding for youth sports leagues becoming increasingly difficult to come by in some corners of the city, Nick D’Andrea, secretary/treasurer for East Side Babe Ruth, remains disappointed in the city’s apparent disinterest in regulating the practice of “tag days,” which used to generate thousands of dollars per season for his and similar organizations.

“They keep kicking that can down the road,” said D’Andrea, who brought the issue before City Council last April with support from first-term Councilor-at-large Khrystian King.

Sun archives: King brings tag days debate back before council

City spokesman John Hill said safety and legal concerns prevent the city from condoning or supporting so-called tag days, when local organizations, such as youth sports teams, would apply for permits from the city and stand at intersections to solicit donations from motorists. For example, many remember the firefighters’ Boot Drive for Multiple Sclerosis.

“At the council’s request last April, the city manager asked the law department to investigate the idea of reinstating the Tag Day ordinance, which has been repealed upon implementation of the city’s panhandling ordinances in 2013,” Hill wrote in an email statement to the Sun.

“The law department recommended not implementing a new Tag Day ordinance for two reasons: first, because of the risks to persons and property arising out of Tag Day events; and, second, because it would place the city in the untenable legal position of requiring a permit for an activity which constitutionally requires no permit.”

Filmmakers hope to whip up fundraising frenzy for Major Taylor biopic ‘Black Cyclone’

Running from Foster to Highland streets through the heart of downtown Worcester — and never more than a few blocks away from the infamous incline of George Street — is Major Taylor Boulevard.

The bustling thoroughfare is named after Marshall “Major” Taylor, a pioneering athlete who trained to become the first black world champion cyclist in 1899 by repeatedly sprinting the steep 500 feet between Main and Harvard streets. The second world-champion black athlete, after boxer George Dixon, Taylor’s grueling workout inspired an annual fundraising event at George Street that continues with its 15th edition in July.

The American sprint champion in 1900 and one-time holder of seven world records, Taylor retired in 1910 at 32 years old, fell on hard times and died destitute at 53 in a Chicago hospital, his legacy all but forgotten already.

Locally, the Major Taylor Association has attended to that legacy with events, including the George Street Challenge, not to mention a downtown monument, for the man known as “The Worcester Whirlwind” and “The Black Cyclone.” A number of books have been written, as well, but many feel his impactful life deserves more attention

In an effort to shed more light on Taylor’s heroics on a national level, a group from Beverly Hills, California — including producer Rashid Bahati, author John Howard and script writer Rob Walker — have come together to create a feature film, “The Black Cyclone.”

ABA basketball hopes to drop Anchors in Worcester

The New England Anchors are a first-year ABA basketball team with strong prospects on the court, and significant connections to the city off of it. But whether the team will make it to next year, and make its home here, are — much like the opening tip-off — matters decidedly up in the air.

Inbox [March 8]: Becker taps new marketing chief, St. Peter-Marian adds girls hockey and moves into Worcester Ice Center, YWCA hosts forums, EcoTarium names new director, Worcester addresses graffiti

Interesting and worthwhile things happen every day in our community. Alas, we can’t cover them all. That’s where Inbox comes in, to offer readers an easily digestible compilation of interesting and noteworthy items you and your neighbors keep telling us about.

Becker names new executive director of marketing and strategic communications

Carolyn Assa has joined Becker College’s Office of Marketing and Strategic Communications as executive director.

Assa has spearheaded high-profile branding initiatives, built in-house agencies and launched award-winning magazines at education institutions in the region. In her new role at Becker, she will be charged with sharing the college’s story, building awareness of the college brand, and finding ways to promote Becker to new, as well as existing, audiences.

“Carolyn has achieved success across storytelling platforms in the field of education, worked with diverse clients as a public relations consultant, and has extensive media experience,” said Becker College President Robert E. Johnson. “We are excited to have Carolyn on board at Becker to direct our marketing and strategic communications efforts.”

Most recently, Assa worked as an account executive at Boston-based public relations agency, Ellis Strategies. Her past experience includes leading the communications and marketing department at Perkins School for the Blind, the oldest school for the blind in the United States, and at Bunker Hill Community College. She holds a master of arts degree in communications from Emerson College and a bachelor of arts in journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Worcester Sports Complex

Courtesy Worcester Railers

An artist’s rendering of the planned Canal District dual hockey rink complex.

St. Peter-Marian partners with Railers to offer girls’ hockey; Guardians to play at Worcester Ice Center

The St. Peter-Marian athletic department and President Christopher Cummings announced that the Guardians have partnered with the Worcester Railers Hockey Club and Railers President Michael G. Myers to create a state-of-the-art home for the St. Peter-Marian boys’ hockey team and the Guardians first-ever MIAA girls’ hockey program.

Inbox [March 5]: Becker panel to talk refugees and immigration, Assumption adds addiction counseling certificate, MassDiGI Game Challenge a hit, Bravehearts sign six

Interesting and worthwhile things happen every day in our community. Alas, we can’t cover them all. That’s where Inbox comes in, to offer readers an easily digestible compilation of interesting and noteworthy items you and your neighbors keep telling us about.

Panel discussion on refugees and immigration Monday at Becker

What are the practical implications of the Trump administration’s immigration measures? What impact do foreign-born workers have on the economy at the local, regional and national levels?

Deborah Becker

Courtesy WBUR

WBUR-FM (90.9) senior correspondent Deborah Becker

WBUR-FM (90.9) senior correspondent Deborah Becker will moderate a panel of community leaders who span higher education, international relations, health care and refugee assistance. The event is 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, March 6, in room 210 of the Weller Academic Center, 61 Sever St. on the Worcester campus of Becker College.

The panelists are scheduled to be Becker College President Robert E. Johnson; David Jordan, president and CEO of Seven Hills Foundation and professor of practice in social innovation at the Yunus Social Business Centre at Becker College; Dr. Olga Valdman, family medicine physician at Family Health Center and assistant professor at UMass Medical School; and Meredith Walsh, executive director and co-founder of the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project.

This event is presented by the Becker College Center for Global Citizenship.

Read the entire story on the Becker College website

Assumption announces grad certificate in addiction counseling

Assumption College has announced that beginning in fall 2017 it will offer a new Certificate in Graduate Studies in Addiction Counseling, which aims to raise the standard for the educational preparation of addiction counselors. The new certificate program is a one-year, six-course curriculum that consists of four content courses and two addiction counseling internships.