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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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She knows it's great to be a Gator beat writer
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published April 5, 2007
She makes less than minimum wage, works untold hours, puts countless miles on her 2004 gray Nissan driving to assignments, sometimes sleeps in seedy motels in seedy neighborhoods to save a buck, but only when she's not driving through the night to get back to Gainesville in time for an 8 a.m. class.
And yet, New Port Richey's Jenna Marina wouldn't trade her job for anything.
Last week alone, she covered the Final Four for the Alligator, Florida's student newspaper, as the lead beat writer.
She appeared on ESPN, and not as a college student standing in the background of an interview, hoping that his dad would notice him and finally admit that he had made something of his life and wasn't wasting his time in college ...
... Uh, sorry. Where was I?
Oh yes, Cold Pizza, ESPN's morning show, where Marina did not one segment, but two.
There are good weeks, and then there is the one Marina, a former Ridgewood basketball player, just had.
For example, on YouTube, you can still watch her performance March 29 on Cold Pizza, going head-to-head with some UCLA writer.
"Jenna Marina rocks my world. Look at that UCLA clown wearing his school's sweatshirt ... what a homer," posted one of her co-workers.
Monday, she was on again, dressed like a professional journalist and taking down the college beat writer from Ohio State, decked out in all his Buckeye splendor as if he'd just rolled in from a frat party.
When they were asked to describe the scene in Atlanta, Fratboy had the party scene nailed down. Marina explained that she had been working all weekend and really wouldn't know.
For almost every writer, there comes a moment when you fall in love with the craft. Often, it starts out with a great book, one that instantly touches you and frees your mind.
For Marina, that book was her calculus text.
"Senior year," she said, "I knew then I wanted to write."
She had never shown an inclination for sportswriting as a kid, so her foray was a surprise, but a pleasant one for her sports-loving dad.
One day, Tony Marina is reading his little girl's fifth-grade essay - award-winning, by the way - on what it would be like to live in Mozart's time, and the next, he's pacing a path in his New Port Richey home waiting for his 20-year-old daughter to appear on ESPN.
"I was a little nervous," he admits.
So Jenna will just have to forgive him for spreading the word when he found out March 28, for burning cell phone minutes, for leaving the Marina family with just 279 minutes remaining on their shared cell phone plan to get them through April 19.
"He blames my brother, apparently," she said with a laugh.
But only because Joey beat him to it, Tony confesses.
If you listen closely, you can actually hear Jenna roll her eyes over the phone.
But she forgives Dad, a self-professed basketball junkie. Jenna and Joey both played basketball at Ridgewood, and Tony can still kill a night watching an old Ridgewood game.
His favorite is Jenna's performance the night in 2004 she scored 20 points in one half of action. It was the same night that star Crystal Ayers went down with an injury, and the team was in disarray, and Jenna, whose high school GPA was higher than her scoring average, started draining three-pointers like Lee Humphrey.
"Until last week, that was her crowning moment," Tony said. He's packing the tape for a family trip this week to Pennsylvania, but you can expect her ESPN performances to get some play as well.
He'll try to play it cool this time, not like Monday, when his eyes welled up as his daughter told the story on national television about calling home when she arrived in Atlanta.
"Dad," she said, "I'm at the Final Four," and they both laughed about how it all began, with a silly e-mail to a Gator beat writer offering to take out his garbage if he'd show her the ropes.
To that point, she was thinking movie reviews. Or maybe chasing down funky feature stories.
But one day at a Florida basketball news conference, she was hooked enough to survive covering intramurals and golf for a year until the basketball job opened.
"It's really sweet," she said. "I couldn't have asked for better timing."
Jenna Marina has a commemorative special section to put out. Dozens of interviews to do, hundreds of inches to write. There are missed classes to make up, loads of homework to finish, if she's going to keep that 3.81 grade point average. She's not even sure how she'll do it.