Archive for: February 2015

Valentine’s Day in Austin: Flowers vs. Chocolate

By Lauren Lowe and Colleen Nelson

Every year around Valentine’s Day, the same question is asked by men everywhere: Flowers or chocolate? In search of an answer, we asked a local flower shop and a local chocolatier to give their reasons for preferring one over the other.

Video by Colleen Nelson

Among the several vendors participating in the Valentine’s Pop Up market at the West Elm on West 5th St. Friday was Steve Lawrence, owner of The Chocolate Makers Studio.

Lawrence started The Chocolate Makers Studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana about five years ago. Lawrence offers several flavors of bars and truffles, ranging from a classic salted caramel to a more daring blood orange.

“It’s kind of a one-person operation,” Lawrence said. “I use Belgian chocolate, French chocolate and Venezuelan chocolate. I blend the three according to flavor profiles I want to achieve.”

Valentine’s Day is an important one for the chocolatier; he ramps up production about a month in advance. He finds that his truffles are more popular than his bars during holidays and the most popular flavors are salted caramel and salted brown butter Texas pecan brittle. Lawrence has a personal favorite as well.

“Which of my children do I love the best? Salted caramel is kind of the original baby, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong with that one,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence holds the opinion that chocolates are a better gift for Valentine’s Day than flowers because they are portable, they can be shared or they can be enjoyed alone. He argues that chocolates can be just as unique as wine depending on where the chocolate was grown and how it was processed.

“You can grow your own flowers,” Lawrence said. “And there’s just something about a thing you can eat.”

– Lauren Lowe

Select the image to view an interactive map of Valentine’s Day shopsvalentines-map

View the story “Favorite Valentine’s Day Gifts” by Colleen Nelson on Storify

Urban Outfitters’ site plan exemption for the Drag

Small Businesses Say Good Bye To Guadalupe at Hands of Big Corporations

By Claire Hogan, Chelsey Pena, and Andrea Rogers

AUSTIN—The vessel that runs through the heart of the city known as Guadalupe Street, or as many say the Drag, has been a staple to the University of Texas. The street that lies parallel to UT is lined with restaurants and shops, both local and corporate. Many of these local shops have called the Drag home since their establishment and have resided next to bigger businesses, until now.

The store Manju’s at 2424 Guadalupe St., popular for women’s apparel and accessories, will finally close it’s doors at the end of this month after 37 years of residency on the drag. This isn’t because the game day favorite is going out of business, but instead being pushed out by a competitor.

Manju’s owner Kavida declined an interview but briefly said that closing her business is not of her choosing.

Select the image below to view an interactive map of the property


A few doors down at 2406 Guadalupe the Pennsylvania based retail giant Urban Outfitters is housed. The two story establishment that sells both men’s and women’s apparel, as well as house décor, records, books and other miscellaneous gifts, has plans to expand their franchise on the drag.

Chris Johnson the Development Assistance Center Manager in the City of Austin Planning & Development Review Department says that although Urban Outfitters has not directly announced an expansion, they have expressed interest.

“Urban Outfitters had a meeting with his Planning and Development Review team back in December about some options they were considering for the land,” Johnson said. “They discussed remodeling the existing buildings for new businesses or even building a multi-tenant development with an entertainment area that included a restaurant and bar on the floor level.”

Both partial and total demolition permits have been applied for the addresses that include Urban Outfitters, what were originally Pipe’s Plus, Texadelphia and Longhorn Lux, and Manju’s. With the exception of Mellow Mushroom, BHF Guadalupe LLC owns all of the addresses on the same strip as Urban Outfitters.

The Washoe Company based of out Luling, Texas owns Mellow Mushroom. The pizza-based restaurant’s lease will end later this year, but there is no word on either a renewal or sale of the property.

Of the addresses owned by BHF Guadalupe LLC, the only address that will remain intact is Chase Bank. Despite being able to stay at their drag location, representatives at the bank say that their parking in the back of the address has been purchased and they will soon have to park elsewhere.

Most recently on January 20th, the 2424 partial demolition permit application was submitted for a remodel to accommodate an Urban Outfitters MEN store at what currently is the Manju’s location.

Urban Outfitters has declined to comment on any purchases, renovations, additions and permit proposals they have made.

This isn’t the first instance of a major corporation buying out small businesses to add or expand their brand. In just the last year 7-11, ATT&T have moved into the drag taking over what once were local shops like the Co-Op Market.

Student’s that that regularly shop on the drag say that part of what keeps Austin weird is having these local shops that cater to the personality of the city.

“These small businesses make up what Austin is and what America is,” UT student Sahare Wazirali said. “I think as long as local business have an equal opportunity for advancement, then I think it’s fair. But what ends up happening is that bigger corporations end up making more money and they have more power and money to do these things. [Buy out small businesses]”

An official date for construction to begin on any of these properties has yet to be announced.

Compare images from the Drag in 2009

. . . And the Drag in 2014.

Smoking Not Extinguished by Campus Ban


Tony Taferes, a junior film student at the University of Texas, smokes a cigarette on the Walter Cronkite Plaza.


Although the University of Texas at Austin has implemented a tobacco ban since 2012, not everyone plays by the rules.

To escape the pressures of school, work and life in general, Tony Tafares, UT junior film student, enjoys an occasional cigarette on campus.

Due to the full-fledged tobacco ban in place at the University of Texas at Austin, it will be difficult for Tafares to continue his pastime. The ban, enacted April 2012, prohibits the use of tobacco and tobacco-free electronic cigarettes on university property.



“It feels pretty unfair that you have to walk quite a distance away from the library just to have a break,” Tafares said. “I’ve had many times where people come up to me and ask me for a cigarette at the library and I think that’s pretty typical, people studying, you know they want a break.”

According to Adrienne Howarth-Moore, director of Human Resource Services at UT, the impetus behind the ban was not to punish people who smoke, but to help fund cancer research.

“The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) gives a significant amount of dollars to our university for cancer research,” Howarth-Moore said. “As the awarding agency for those grant funds, they made it a requirement on their policy end that they would not award dollars for cancer research if the recipients of those awards were not tobacco free.”

To help people adjust to the new policy, UT designated temporary smoking areas throughout the campus. Those areas were phased out in 2013. The university offers a free four-session tobacco cessation class called “Quitters,” to help students quit.

Matthew Olson is the program coordinator of  “Quitters,” and says that he has seen many positive results over the years.

“Overall the feedback is pretty unanimous that it has been beneficial for them,” Olson said. “They learned something, they attempted to quit, even if they weren’t 100% successful at it.”

Though some of the program participants are frustrated by the new campus policy, others have tried to use it as a motivation to help them quit using tobacco.

There is no penalty in-tact for those caught using tobacco on campus. UT expects tobacco users to self-enforce the ban. If students or faculty see someone smoking on campus, the university encourages them to tell the non-complier about the ban.

Howarth-Moore says that she is aware that some students don’t play by the rules.

“Outside of a library, during finals week, in the events are the three most common situations when people will violate the no tobacco policy.”

When students are trying to study and need a cigarette to relax, the ban just stresses them out more, Tafares says.

“I feel calmer when I have a cigarette,” Tafares said. “I started smoking my freshman year of college. My brother smoked and I was in theatre and doing film and it was pretty typical to see people around me smoking. I mean, I enjoy it.”

Tafares doesn’t think the ban will help people quit smoking.

“It’s this idea like, ‘Oh if we ban it less people will smoke,’ and I don’t think that’s really going to happen,” Tafares said. “It’s going to make people more annoyed and frustrated and stress them out even more. So now they have a new stresser that they have to deal with like being afraid to smoke.”

Inside 6th Street

6th Street, formerly named Pecan Street, is a historic street and entertainment district in Austin, TX. (Photo/Rocio Tueme)

6th Street, formerly named Pecan Street, is a historic street and entertainment district in Austin, TX. (Photo/Rocio Tueme)


By Jessica Garcia, Erin Spencer, Raisa Tillis and Rocio Tueme

Austin, TX – With almost no traffic coming in from Lavaca or Interstate-35 early in the day, Austin’s own 6th street is unrecognizable to its night dwellers. Blaring bars become quiet oases and day drinkers, nomads and homeless occupy the street sparingly.

6th street is a historic entertainment district widely known for it’s live music, weird culture and variety of bars. College students, locals and tourists invade the street at night to celebrate a variety of occasions, the end of the work week included, and to simply get drunk.

Many may think of 6th as a place for fast paced drink guzzling at night, but during the day there are people who like to go to 6th street and drink at their own speed.

Glen Ford, a tourist from New Orleans, enjoys a brief moment of alone time drinking a beer at the Chuggin’ Monkey Thursday afternoon. “I like the day time, because if I’m by myself you know, in the daytime, you do whatever you want to do,” he said.


As opposed to its busy Thursday nights, Chupacabra Cantina is deserted on a Thursday afternoon. ( Photo/Jessica Garcia)

The Blind Pig Pub, a sixth street favorite among college students, is practically deserted on a Thursday afternoon compared to the business it gets at night. However there are some customers that come during the day who plan to stay until the busy street closes.

“It’s a longer period of time that we’re drinking for. It’s a marathon,” said day drinker, Nicole Resnick, a Blind Pig patron.

Although some day drinkers stop before sunset, others continue drinking throughout the night, consuming more alcohol than the recommended amount.

The businesses of 6th street receive more money during the nighttime, and some of its clientele struggles with controlling their alcohol intake levels. No matter the time of day the repercussions of overconsumption are the same.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “low risk” drinking levels for men are no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 for women. Research shows that moderate drinking is usually defined as no more than two drinks in a given day.

Regardless of the statistics many who come to drink on sixth street aim to drink as much as they can before the night ends. It can be especially easy to get carried away during the day without a larger crowd blocking access to the bar area.

“It’s easier to get drinks. You just go up to the bartender and get the drink immediately you don’t have to wait around. It’s pretty easy. I like the daytime,” added Ford.

However, the crowds at night do not stop drinkers from packing the bars and pubs to indulge in drinking as much alcohol as they can.

UT exchange student from Spain, Paloma Rey-stolle, prefers to visit the street at night. “The thing I want to do when I’m at night here is like party. I don’t even care about the quality of alcohol or anything I just want to party. I mean for example, Thursdays are one-dollar drinks. It’s like let’s have fun tonight,” said Rey-stolle.

Regardless of the time of day, the people of Austin and its visitors all have the same goal when venturing to Historic 6th and that’s to come out and have a good time.

Sexual Assault Cases High But Remain Underreported

By: Julianne Staine, Hymi Ashenafi, Jessica Barrera and Stacie Richard

photo by Stacie Richard

photo by Stacie Richard

Every 21 hours, someone is raped at an American college campus.

Various organizations provided by the University of Texas at Austin seek to support victims, educate the public and provide a safer campus by raising awareness.

According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, over 80 percent of victims in Texas did not report the incident to law enforcement.

Officer William R. Pieper of the UTPD Crime Prevention Unit said several theories come
into play as to why sexual assault cases are underreported.

“One theory that I put a great deal of weight in is that many victims fear they will be re-victimized by the process,” Pieper said. “This re-victimization rests in the knowledge that they not only will need to re-live the event through the investigative process and the criminal trial, but they also fear blaming questions will be asked of them.”

According to Pieper, blaming questions can consist of asking the victim what she was
wearing or how much alcohol she consumed.

“As a society, we all need to recognize that assaultive behavior is not tolerable under any circumstance, and the victim in not at fault or culpable for the assault,” Pieper said.

Rape Aggression Defense, a free course offered to female students, faculty and staff by UTPD, is designed to teach self-defense techniques against attackers.

“The UTPD Crime Prevention Unit also works diligently to review construction programs to help design a safer campus,” Pieper said. “During these reviews, we look at lighting, landscaping, callbox placements and for areas that may serve as a funnel or trap. We then offer recommendations to help create a safer environment.”

Organizations, such as Voices Against Violence (VAV), offer individual meetings with
victims to provide information about their rights and options. Topics of these meetings may include medical concerns or reporting options to law enforcement.

The Power House located in the Student Services Building at The University of Texas at Austin is a resource that provides counseling to the Suicide Prevention and Voices Against Violence Outreach groups. photo by Stacie Richard

The Power House located in the Student Services Building at The University of Texas at Austin is a resource that provides counseling to the Suicide Prevention and Voices Against Violence Outreach groups.
photo by Stacie Richard

VAV also provides victims with financial resources through the organization’s emergency fund, which was started in 2001 with the goal of increasing victims’ safety and coping.

Other initiatives in Austin, such as the Victim Services Division of the Austin Police
Department, aim to respond to victims’ psychological and emotional needs through counseling, criminal justice support and education.

According to the 2013 Austin Police Department crime and traffic report, there were 217 reported victims of rape in Austin. In the majority of the incidents, the victim new the suspect as a family member, a partner or ex-partner, a person from a brief encounter or as a non-stranger.

UTPD’s Officer Pieper said that in order for students to stay safe on campus, they should pay attention to the people around them.

“Walk with purpose, having your head up and your eyes open,” Pieper said. “Make eye
contact with other people, and nod so they know you’ve seen them. And know that most
assaults happen between people who know each other and in areas where you may have
felt safe.”

Keep Austin Jazzy


Dr. Marcus Wilcher stands for his solo as the rest of Baker’s Dozen quietly accompanies his melody. After starting at the age of 10, Wilcher now has a doctorate in jazz composition and saxophone from the University of Texas at Austin and just received the 2015 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. Photo by Alyssa Brant

By Alyssa Brant, Sylvia Butanda, Kimberley Carmona and Rebecca Salazar

Austin, TX – A dimly lit and narrow staircase keeps customers on their toes as they head down inside. Music from the speakers bounce off the walls as bartenders pour the drinks of the waiting audience already in their seats. The musicians are in their chairs warming up in preparation for that evening’s performance.

Many famous musicians, such as John Mills and Jon Blondell, call the Elephant Room their home. Paul Baker, a well-known musician in Austin, plays with his 13 man band, Baker’s Dozen Big Band, once a month at the venue.

“The jazz scene is getting larger,” Paul Baker said. “The Elephant Room has always been ground zero. This has been the main place for jazz, and it is known nationally.”

The presence of jazz music in Austin has always been very subtle, yet it can be traced back to the seventies. According to local jazz musician Michael Mordecai, 6th Street used to house six jazz clubs, but now none of them remain. Despite the dwindling number of jazz clubs, Mordecai believes jazz has stayed relevant in Austin because jazz musicians are able to morph into any genre.

Compared to other genres, Baker believes jazz has no boundaries.

“The thing about jazz that makes it so different from everything else is that even though rock roll has improvised solos, they’re always limited,” Baker said.

Jazz bands are commonly made up of a rhythm section and a horn section, but this genre still allows for a lot of musical freedom. Marcus Wilcher, an accomplished musician and Baker’s Dozen saxophone player, said that the freedom while playing is his favorite part about jazz music.

“You practice all this ridiculous stuff just so you can get on stage and say alright what can I create right now, and then you just go,” Wilcher said. “It’s one of the few forms of music that lets you do that at all times.”

Other band members like Morris Nelms, pianist for Baker’s Dozen, enjoys playing jazz music for the emotional aspect.

“I heard an incredible concert one time with incredible jazz people, and I liked the way they made feel,” Nelms said. “Every once in a while I can feel again what I felt at that point.”

Even though jazz is a genre that is typically heavily consisted of solos, it still manages to spread a feeling of togetherness, and that’s what Baker believes will keep the jazz scene alive in Austin.

“The most fun is being able to create and provide this environment for really marvelous players to come together and make marvelous music and have a great time doing it because we’re playing for each other,” Baker said.

Landmarks unveils most daring sculpture yet

By: Cooper Haynie, Mikhaela Locklear, Jonathan Garza and Melanie Price

AUSTIN – As students flooded back to the 40 acres for Spring semester many were shocked to see over 70 small boats and canoes on campus. This was no prank or mistake. In fact, it was very intentional. The boats made up a 50 ft structure that teeters over a busy campus intersection.

What is now known to many students as the “boat sculpture” is actually named Monochrome for Austin, and was designed by artist Nancy Rubins specifically for the UT campus. The structure is located at 24th Street and Speedway.

This project represents the first large-scale sculpture by a female artist for the UT Austin campus, according to Landmarks, the campus public art program.

The $1.4 million in funding for Monochrome for Austin came from capital improvement funds provided by the construction of the neighboring Norman Hackerman Building (NHB). Although students have been quick to assume, no tuition money went to fund this piece of public art.

Landmarks invites the public to attend the official unveiling of Monochrome for Austin on March 5 at 5:30 p.m. The celebration will take place at the Norman Hackerman Building where the sculpture now stands. A Q-and-A with Rubins will be followed by a celebratory reception on the NHB patio.

Landmarks projects are scattered throughout campus. The campus public art project launched in 2008 to “develop a cohesive collection of public art from a curatorial perspective.” The displays have beautified the campus ever since.

Monochrome for Austin simply contributes to a long list of unique campus art.


More unique campus art displays


Circle With Towers 

Sol LeWitt’s Circle with Towers was introduced to the UT campus in 2011 and stands at the entrance to the Gates Dell Complex on Speedway.

This piece of work can be enjoyed not only as an abstract art form, but also as a social gathering place.




The Color Insideskyspace2

Located on top of the Student Activity Center a unique and little known piece of art invites students to participate by enjoying the peace and quiet.

James Turrell’s skyspace, The Color Inside, can be experienced throughout the day but Landmarks recommends sunrise and sunset. Pictures just can’t do it justice.



  And That’s The Way It IsProjection1

Located in the Walter Cronkite Plaza of the Moody College of Communication is another unique piece of art. And That’s The Way It Is by Ben Rubin was dedicated to Cronkite in 2012 when it was added to the UT campus.

This display features broadcast news text from the Cronkite era and modern day being projected in a grid on the communications building. This piece of artwork can be viewed every night on the UT campus.


Clock Knot1 Clock Knot

Introduced by artist Mark di Suvero to the UT campus in 2007, Clock Knot stands outside the chemical and mechanical engineering buildings.

The sculpture represents a giant clock face “knotted” in the middle. When moving around Clock Knot the views constantly change.

“Historically, a sculpture was an object to be looked at, usually on a pedestal, not something one viewed from underneath,” according to Landmarks.

However, by walking around this particular structure the viewers experience drastically changes.


Longhorn Rodeo: Reestablishing a Legacy

By: Hannah Smothers, Corynn Wilson, Brittanie Burke and Savannah Williams

Longhorn Rodeo President Janie Johnson has accumulated quite a collection of cowboy boots over the years. Photo By: Kara Mercer

When Janie Johnson got her acceptance letter to The University of Texas at Austin, she was excited about joining one of the best radio-television-film programs in the country — but she wasn’t looking forward to giving up something that’s always been a huge part of her life.

Johnson comes from a Texas rodeo family, and riding horses and barrel racing came hand-in-hand with learning to walk in cowgirl boots. She grew up on a ranch on the eastern rim of Palo Duro Canyon, where there was plenty of room for practicing her sport and keeping her horses. She thought coming to UT, a school without a rodeo team, would mean putting that part of her life on hold for at least four years.

But then she met Alex Lang, another rodeoer and future Longhorn, and Johnson though she might be the perfect candidate to bring a huge missing piece of Texicana back to UT. She would start a rodeo team, but she wasn’t exactly sure how.

“It’s just one of those things where it doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “That UT, the most Texas school there is, doesn’t have a rodeo team.”

Real estate: The ultimate game changer

About sixty years ago, UT did have a rodeo team. They called themselves Los Charros, and they functioned as a social club and competitive rodeo group. At the peak of their popularity in the late 1950s, they had about 200 members and hosted the country’s largest collegiate rodeo in a 7,500 seat arena they built themselves on a plot of land just north of campus.

But by 1962, with all of the most notable members of the Charros graduated, the group disappeared. The plot of land that housed their arena is now home to the shops and condominiums that make up the Triangle.

The eventual destruction of the old arena to make room for more restaurants and homes captures one of the biggest problems for the small rodeo group that exists at UT today—finding a place to practice. Johnson and and a handful of other Longhorns wanted badly to see a real team return to the state’s biggest school, no matter how tight space might be in the city.

“People are choosing between A&M and UT for academics, but will always choose A&M because of the rodeo team and the support that they get,” Johnson said. “But UT is so highly academic rated, that if we had a rodeo team, it would [become] the easy option.”

What separates UT’s rodeo team from teams at schools like Texas A&M is how the group is registered with the university. While A&M’s team is registered as a sport club and receives funding and support from the school, the team at UT is only recognized as a glorified social club with the Dean of Students. That means no funding, no facilities and no guarantee that the team will outlive its current members.

This puts a lot of pressure on Johnson and her group. Most of the members are upperclassmen, like Gus Chesnut — a business senior and the group’s calf roper.

“All of our members are about to graduate so we really need to find and recruit younger kids that love the sport as much as we do,” Chesnut said.

But not having facilities is the biggest burden on the group. Without a place to stable their animals or practice for competitions, the members are left commuting hours back and forth between UT, their homes across the state and various cities in Texas where the competitions are held for events that often last no more than a few seconds.

“We’re just asking for support and a facility that we can keep our horses in,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t have to be nice. It just needs to be something that we can use that makes it possible.”


Making a dream a reality

The requirements for registering as a UT club sport include having a group of at least 10 members, prior existence of at least two years, involvement with a national governing body, regular competitions and minimal risk posed to student competitors. As of now, the group has fewer than 10 members. And due to the high risk factors of their sport, the club faces potential liability issues.

But it’s been done before. Having facilities and a university sponsor minimize risk and allow for supervision.

He isn’t an official sponsor, but Steven Jennings, a longtime rodeo enthusiast and adjunct professor for UT’s RTF program, reached out to the group about a year and half ago. He’s worked with Rodeo Austin for roughly 20 years and when he heard what Johnson was doing, he wanted to find a way to help UT’s small rodeo community in any way he could.

According to Jennings, there’s no reason UT shouldn’t have a thriving rodeo team all its own.

“Personally I think that the UT rodeo club ought to be the number one in the country, not one struggling trying to survive,” Jennings said. “I think the University needs to get behind it and I think the community needs to get behind it. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our heritage.”

The group’s issue is a cyclical problem — they can’t maintain eligibility as a sport club until they have 10 members, but attracting 10 or more members to a group that most students don’t even know exists is nearly impossible. While membership has fluctuated at or around 10-15 students, many graduate before any real bureaucratic action can be taken.

“We have 50,000 students here, that’s bigger than a lot of small towns,” Jennings said. “Chances are that there’s a group of people out of that 50,000 students that would probably love to know about the rodeo club at Texas, but just haven’t heard about it. They may be even rodeoing themselves and not even know that there’s a rodeo club here.”

Maintaining in the meantime

Johnson, Chesnut and the rest of the group compete as often as they can at various rodeos around the state—but almost never together as a team. While they manage to coordinate for small events scattered throughout the rodeo season, traveling together is a logistical nightmare since their animals and gear are spread all over Texas.

But when the announcer calls their name at competition, it’s always followed by, “The University of Texas, Austin,” and the UT logo is embroidered on their pearl-snap riding shirts.

For now, they’ll continue competing and looking for ways to grow their group membership. Johnson and Chesnut both said they hope to compete in professional rodeos after college. Rodeoing is in their blood, and through the UT Rodeo Club, they’ve fought to keep it alive for years.

“It is completely our responsibility and duty as UT alum to support anybody that comes in that wants to help with the rodeo team,” Johnson said. “That’s really going to be the future of the team.”

Immigration activism heats up over the DREAM Act

by Katie Arcos, Paige Atkinson, Sami Badgen, Selina Bonilla, and Olivia Leitch

Citizens stood on the steps of the Texas capital protesting, "Texas can do better," in matters of immigration reform.

Citizens stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol Building Wednesday protesting, “Texas can do better,” in matters of immigration reform.

The debate over immigration reform is heating up, especially after the recently elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed repealing the DREAM Act, something recently inaugurated Gov. Greg Abbott said he wouldn’t oppose.

Such a bill has already been introduced into the Texas legislature, and is currently being debated on the floor of the House of Representatives, something that many, like Rep. Celia Israel, find worrying.

“I’m concerned that people will use it as an opportunity to suggest they’re being anti-illegal immigration, and they won’t understand that what they’re really doing is hurting students living in the only state they’ve ever known,” she said in a phone interview. “There’s also this misconception that it’s a grant, and… it’s just an opportunity to get someone who’s earned their way into college in-state tuition.”

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TJ Ford: Former NBA Player Faces Adversity Head On

By Jorge Guerra, Taylor Smith, Chrissy Dickerson & Tessa Meriwether

Completely paralyzed multiple times during his basketball career, TJ Ford felt terrified that he may never walk again.

Ford, who was born in Houston, started playing basketball at 4-years-old. He attended Willowridge High School and played on the basketball team. Ford finished his final two seasons at Willowridge with a 75-1 win-loss record. The University of Texas started recruiting Ford his sophomore year of high school and he attended UT from 2001-2003 before declaring for the NBA draft. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted him eighth overall.

(Video/Taylor Smith)
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(Infographic/Chrissy Dickerson)

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(Infographic/Chrissy Dickerson)

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C3 and C4 are where TJ experienced his injury


TJ Ford and his high school basketball coach, Ronnie Courtney , having a conversation towards the end of the practice at Kinkaid High School in Houston Texas on Saturday, February 7, 2015. (Photo/Tessa Meriwether)


TJ Ford and his basketball camp players huddling up to chant “hard work” before rotating to the next station for more drills in the gym at Kinkaid High School in Houston Texas on Saturday, February 7, 2015. (Photo/Tessa Meriwether)


TJ Ford handing off the ball to one of his camp players during a drill in the gym at Kinkaid High School in Houston Texas on Saturday, February 7, 2015. (Photo/Tessa Meriwether)


TJ Ford and his basketball camp players running drills during practice in the gym at Kinkaid High School in Houston Texas on Saturday, February 7, 2015. (Photo/Tessa Meriwether)

But with this success came a huge medical obstacle that he would have to overcome. Ford was officially diagnosed with spinal stenosis just before he started playing for the University of Texas and as his career progressed so did his health problems.

According to the Seton Spine & Scoliosis Center, spinal stenosis occurs when there is not enough room in the spinal canal for the nerves. This causes narrowing and pressure on the nerve roots ranging from the neck to lower back depending on the type of stenosis. In simplistic terms, the condition could resemble placing a ring on your finger. If the finger becomes injured or inflamed, the ring constricts and causes pain. In Ford’s case, his cervical spinal stenosis existed in his upper neck which affects the nerves shooting down to his limbs causing paralysis.

The disorder results from diseases that are present at birth, while acquired stenosis is typically the result of degeneration in the spine. When one area of the spine is injured, it is more likely that spinal health in other areas will fail. The most common surgery to treat stenosis is called a laminectomy, which helps create more space for the surrounding spinal nerves. This treatment aims at minimizing the effects and symptoms of the stenosis, but unfortunately does not stop the progression of degenerative change. Ford says his laminectomy involved taking a piece of bone from his neck and fusing it with a metal plate.

Ford was the first player in the NBA to suffer with this condition.

“There was no research, so I just had to put faith in the man above,” Ford said.

John D. Dorchak, M.D. worries about athletes who have cervical spinal stenosis according to The Hughston Clinic website.

“Those who participate in contact sports like football or basketball are at risk for serious nerve injuries due to pinching within the spinal canal,” Dorchak wrote on the website.

He also says returning to practice or competition with one of these conditions may result in severe, permanent damage to the nervous system.

Marquis Daniels, who last played with the Milwaukee Bucks, experienced the same ailment as Ford.

“The good thing is that the things I experienced and went through, he and the NBA were able to use the research from myself to apply to him and he was able to further his career as well,” Ford said.

After Ford suffered multiple injuries from this condition, he didn’t completely throw in the towel. Instead he refocused his passion to helping others perfect their athletic skills.

“I try to give them the best tools so they can live their dream of making it professionally in sports,” Ford said. “And if not just giving these kids a foundation where they will be able to change career paths.”

One of Ford’s former basketball camp members, Wes Vanbeck, is now playing basketball at the University of Houston and feels that Ford’s mentoring helped him to achieve his goals.

“The year and a half I was at TJ’s camp, he really developed my game to the next level,” Vanbeck said. “He taught me how to play better defense and how to be more efficient on offense.”

Not only did Ford help Vanbeck’s basketball skills but he also instilled the importance of a strong work ethic.

“TJ really helped me with my confidence and one of the main things that he stressed was working hard,” Vanbeck said. “When you are in the gym and you want to get better you have to put in the time and effort.”

(Video/Jorge Guerra)