The Coastal Star

Around Town: Saunders has take-no-prisoners policy for improving FAU’s sports programs

By Thom Smith

A year ago this month, Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders decided the school’s athletics department needed a kick in the pants. She started at the top, firing Athletic Director Craig Angelos. Granted, the new stadium had been built on his watch, but fund-raising and marketing weren’t where she thought they should be. The athletics budget of nearly $16 million realized only $1.35 million from donations.
    When Howard Schnellenberger coached his last game, on Dec. 3, 2011, a crowd of 15,000 was announced. In reality, fewer than 5,000 turned out. No way to treat a legend.  
    Say hello to Patrick Chun, 38, from Ohio State, where he was responsible for development, building the endowment, strategic planning and management of a program with a $126 million budget.
    Saunders and Chun are wasting no time.
    Last fall Chun negotiated FAU’s move from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA. It’s not the Southeastern Conference, but it’s a big step forward. About the same time, the school negotiated a new agreement with the city of Boca Raton that allows a maximum of 26 events at the stadium, up from 15. In addition to football, that means special events such as the Dec. 16 soccer exhibition between the U.S. Women’s National Team and China.
    Schnellenberger’s replacement, Carl Pelini, had a rough go in his first year —  winning three and losing nine — but he’s optimistic about his first recruiting class of 25 prospects. Men’s basketball is just on the short side, but Coach Mike Jarvis has a new three-year contract. Baseball, perennially the school’s strongest sport, has a Sun Belt title to defend, but other sports are under review.
    Chun’s first hire will be to replace 14-year women’s soccer coach Brian Dooley, who left to become associate head coach at Missouri. Despite an over-all record of 139-113 at FAU and Atlantic Sun Conference titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005 and a national tournament appearance in 2005, the program never reached the contender level. The men’s soccer team has fared far worse, winning only two games last fall under Coach Kos Donev, who has been at FAU longer than any coach — 25 years.
    On March 4, the only thing on the line at the FAU Arena will be fun: The Harlem Globetrotters will be in the house.
    Owlcatraz?  On Feb. 19, FAU announced that the GEO Group, through its charitable foundation, will donate $6 million over the next 12 years for naming rights to the stadium. GEO runs 101 prisons, jails and treatment centers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa. The tie to FAU is genuine: GEO is based in Boca. Chairman George Zoley is an FAU alumnus and chaired the school’s board of trustees.
But not so fast. After 40 unhappy students staged a sit-in outside Saunders’ office, she agreed to a public meeting to discuss the matter. The students demanded  the agreement be rescinded after accusing the GEO Group of human rights violations at its facilities. This could take some time.
    Finally, something both Republicans and Democrats affected positively. According to a study by Lynn University, the immediate economic impact on Palm Beach County from the Oct. 22 presidential debate was $13.1 million. Bed tax revenue for October was up 22 percent over the previous year, to $1.79 million. Hotel occupancy in Boca on the night of Oct. 22 was a whopping 89 percent.
    But was it worth it? Lynn spent slightly more than $4.5 million in preparation, $3 million from its funds and $1.5 million from donations. Of that, $2.2 million was used to develop the technology needed to host the debate, much of which will be used in university programs. Next fall, all incoming freshmen will receive iPads containing the core curriculum.
    The study revealed that media mentions of Lynn and Boca Raton reached more than 500 million individuals worldwide. With an estimated 59.2 million viewers, the debate ranked only behind the Super Bowl and the Olympics. A nationwide telephone survey revealed that after watching the debate and associated telecasts, 4.7 million adults want to visit the area. Down the road, the debate’s publicity value could total $63 million for Lynn University and the city.  
    Boca also enjoyed publicity and financial boosts from the Allianz Championship. A worldwide TV audience of 150 million in at least 174 countries certainly helps. So does $1,000 from Allianz for each for the 17 birdies by its touring pro Tom Lehman — $8,500 each to Junior Achievement and the Alzheimer’s Association. Thanks to Corey Paven, another $17,000 went to Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Toppel Family Place Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, courtesy of the Moabery Family Foundation. Its new “Champion’s Challenge” pledges $1,000 for birdies and $5,000 for eagles scored by the defending champion.
    Not much waste, either. Putting on a “green” event, tournament organizers strive to leave the area cleaner than they found it and to reduce waste. To that end, two and a half pallets of unused food were donated to Boca Helping Hands to feed local individuals and families.
                                       Chefs from the Boca Raton Resort & Club accept top honors in several categories Feb. 7 at The Junior League of Boca Raton’s Flavors of Boca event.  Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Boca’s Junior League has no regrets about replacing Chocolate Decadence with its new, more broad-based Flavors of Boca. Participating vendors still offered up sweets in the courtyard at Boca Center, but they also showed off other dishes, highlighted by the Boca Raton Resort & Club’s zippy paella, which won the judge’s nod for best “flavor of Boca.” The resort also won for best beverage and savory dish. Cupcake Couture offered the best presentation,  and the tiramisu from Nick’s  New Haven Style Pizzeria & Bar took dessert honors.
    “We were very pleased,” Junior League President Jackie Reeves said. “Our attendance was similar to prior years and the new format for the center allowed for a much improved traffic flow.”
    The disappointment of Parker, the locally filmed thriller starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez and directed by Taylor Hackford proves that talent doesn’t guarantee success, especially in the Palm Beaches.
    Jim Belushi would agree. The star of According to Jim who headlined the University of Miami’s Department of Neurology gala at The Breakers on Feb. 2 has been here before.
    In 1991, Belushi starred in a sexy crime thriller, originally titled Beyond Suspicion, with Lorraine Bracco and Tony Goldwyn. (Goldwyn now stars as philandering President Fitzgerald Grant on Scandal).  To learn how cops operated, Belushi joined sheriff’s deputies on patrol. When one suspect tried to break free, Belushi tried to give chase until a deputy reminded him of the studio’s investment. Later, when cops noticed a foul smell, he did help move a stove, behind which they found a rat, a dirty rat.
    Universally trashed by critics, it claims a lowly 4.8 rating (scale of 10) on the Internet Movie Database. The producing Samuel Goldwyn Co. (Tony’s family) canceled premieres in New York and L.A., opting for a low-key event at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach to benefit American Red Cross Hurricane Andrew relief.
    In January 1993, Belushi returned for a benefit at the Kravis Center for Good Samaritan Hospital’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, but some folks obviously hadn’t seen Traces of Red. While taking photos, society photographer Mort Kaye pulled out his notebook and obliviously asked Belushi: “How do you spell the last name?”  
    Movies are still around, thank heaven, but theater owners are trying all sorts of new ideas. Witness iPic’s luxurious multiplex in Boca’s Mizner Park, highlighted by Tanzy restaurant. On Atlantic Avenue at Lyons Road out west, what once was farmland is now Delray Marketplace with Frank Theatres CineBowl and Grille.  It features 12 screens, one showing Imax films … and a restaurant  … and two bars … and a video arcade … and, yes, a 16-lane bowling alley.
    Siblings Bruce and Debbie Frank are serious movie lovers. Their grandfather opened his first movie house in 1906 in Philadelphia. But they’re open to anything that pulls people away from their iPads and big-screen TVs.
A big high five to restaurateur Burt Rapoport (Rapoport’s Restaurant Group which runs Henry’s, Bogart’s, Deck 84, E & J’s Sandwich Shop and Burt & Max’s), one of seven regional finalists from 100 entries nationwide for the 2013 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award.  Winners will be announced April 30.
    Ryan Artim, who built quite a reputation as executive sous chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan, has left the kitchen … and the resort business. But he hasn’t strayed far. Artim has signed on as assistant general manager at The Polo Club of Boca Raton.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer. Contact him at

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