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  • About Jack Strickland

    Jack Strickland is a retired AP writer who was nominated by our newspaper for The Pulitzer Prize. His writing about Florida prisons, cancer victims, sports, and just plain folks is a special treasury for readers. He is active in the war against cancer. He, himself, is a survivor. As a reporter he covered many of the major stories in Florida. He lives in Gainesville where he is an advocate for cancer patients of all ages. Jack finds special joy in getting sports stars and teams involved in the care young cancer victims. He claims that the athletes benefit from the involvement as much as the patients. He says he managed to miss many tackles as a football player long ago, and learned that defeat can be temporary and serve as the foundation for success.
    Recent Florida Tales Content

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     • Day in court in Alachua County: tragedy without an end - Young father could face 48 years in prison in accident in which his 4-month-old daughter and a 6-year-old boy were killed. A day in court in Alachua County shed light on how the wheels of justice turn in this case. ...
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     • Kids at hospital show No.1 Gator basketball team true courage as laughter, smiles are shared - After defeating basketball powerhouse Kentucky, the Gator basketball team took on even a more daunting challenge of fighting on behalf of kids who face life-threatening illness at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. ...
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    Recent TTN News Content

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    Jack Strickland's Florida Tales...

    Sophia, 10, battles leukemia with courage as champion Gator volleyball team wears her ribbon

    December 18, 2014

    Gainesville

    By Jack Strickland

    Sophia Castro is fighting a tough battle against leukemia.

    The 10-year-old has been confined to Shands Hospital in Gainesville for several weeks. She never left the hospital but, last week, but she had a powerful impact on champion athletes 1200 miles away in Ames, Iowa.

    That’s where the Florida Gators competed in the 2014 NCAA national championship Sweet Sixteen Volleyball Tournament.

    The Gators are the 2014 SEC Champions. They met Sophia and her family on Thanksgiving Day.  For the past 21 years, Coach Mary Wise has made a Thanksgiving Day visit to the Shands pediatric unit a part of her team’s training. Giving back to the community is a big part of the Florida Gators athletic program.

    On Thanksgiving day, this year at Shands, the Gators met a very sick but courageous little girl who is fighting a tough battle against long odds. Sophia has endured massive doses of radiation and chemotherapy as her diseased cancer cells are destroyed in preparation for a life saving bone marrow transplant.

    The Lady Gators were inspired by this beautiful child and her supporting family. For them kicking leukemia’s tail is a family affair.

    Sophia and her treatment team are lucky to have found a perfect match for her bone marrow transplant. Her donor is her 12-year-old sister, Andrea. Under the supervision of their parents, Andrea and Sophia use the team approach in fighting the dreaded disease.

    All four members of the Castro family live with Sophia at the hospital and join together with unflinching courage and determination to win this fight. 

    The Gators were inspired by what they experienced during their Thanksgiving visit. The team returned to Shands for more visits. They fell in love with the family. They informally adopted Sophia as an honorary member of the Florida Gators championship volleyball team.

    When the Gators won a berth to compete at the NCAA Sweet Sixteen Tournament, they wanted to take Sophia and her family to Ames, Iowa, with them. Since the family was confined to Shands Hospital the team did the next best thing. Each team member wore a ribbon in their hair in honor of Sophia and her family.

    Sophia’s favorite color is Tiffany blue. Members of the team went to a Gainesville craft shop and bought the materials needed for making each player a hair bow. On the Tiffany blue ribbons they emblazoned the initials S.C. in honor of Sophia Castro.

    The ribbons looked sharp on national television broadcasts that were viewed at Shands Hospital and around the world.

    Sophia Castro never left the hospital. Yet, her presence was very powerful at the Sweet Sixteen National Tournament more than a thousand miles away.

    Florida met a formidable Illinois team. The Gators played like the champions they are and prevailed in a thrilling match to advance to the Elite Eight. Stanford, the number one ranked team in the nation matched up against the Gators at the Elite Eight. They eliminated Florida and advanced to the Final Four.

    The Gators’ 2014 season is over. It was a successful year. The Gators won the SEC championship. Along the way they also won the hearts of a courageous little girl and her family. And, in the process they won the love and admiration of a legion of fans, nationwide, who sat back in the cheap seats and cheered them on.

    Sophia is on the road to recovery. The Gators are rebuilding with outstanding recruits. Just wait until next year. The best is yet to be.