Gym in a Jam

A shoe sits in the rain gutter at the MLK Center gym in McComb, Miss. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
A shoe sits in the rain gutter at the MLK Center gym in McComb, Miss. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Carrie Wells, 63, has lived at the same lot on Martin Luther King Drive since she was 13.

Friends and family often congregate on her front porch and enjoy leisurely afternoons in the fresh air and sunshine, but a large teal building is what they see when they gaze across the road — a dilapidated gymnasium no one has entered in at least five years.

The Martin Luther King Complex consists of a seldom-used community center, a condemned gym, two tennis courts and a splash pad. The splash pad is the most used of the four facilities, followed by the tennis courts. The property is owned by the City of McComb and managed by the Recreation Department.

The community center, which was renovated in 2004 with the hefty price tag of $741,000 to include a $60,000

By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal
By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal

industrial-grade kitchen that’s never been used for cooking, and additional bathrooms, is closed to the public except for rentals.

Former Mayor Tom Walman’s plan was to make the complex “first class,” but less than 10 years later, it couldn’t be further from his hopes.

The gym, which was rebuilt in 1978 after the original was destroyed during the devastating tornado in January 1975 that tore through Pike County and surrounding areas, has been condemned since 2009 and is an eyesore to the community and the city.

No one, including city officials, is allowed inside.

The site looks more like a shelter in a post-apocalyptic world than a place where children used to play. Three of the four windows on the entrances are busted and the ground is covered in bottle tops, glass shards and general rubbish.

Chairs, glass, debris, and water lay on the ground inside the MLK Center gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
Chairs, glass, debris, and water lay on the ground inside the MLK Center gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

The basketball court, once used for summer leagues and talent shows, is now strewn with broken glass and water. A basketball hoop dangles from the ceiling, reminiscent of the days when players hung from the rims after a jaw-dropping slam dunk. Folding chairs are bent and overturned. Trash and clothing are scattered across the entry ways.

The exterior walls are tagged with graffiti, and massive holes in the cinderblocks are visible from quite a distance.

Inside and out, the gym has fallen into deplorable condition, and Burglund residents only have one question — why?

“They’ve condemned something that needed to be,” Wells said. “That (gym) needed to be. It’s not a should be, it’s a need to be.”

To say that the complex has a complicated history is an understatement. City board members have battled for decades over the allocation of funds for repairs to the gym.

By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Discussions for the additional 3 percent tax on hotel rooms in McComb began in 1996, but the measure was struck down for years at the local and state levels. Nine years later, Gov. Haley Barbour signed the McComb hotel tax bill, but by that point, the language to use those funds for the gym had been removed.

In 1997, Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church asked the board if they could use the building. Soon after, Quordiniah Lockley, the current city administrator and a Walker’s Chapel member, was appointed project director for a smaller scale renovation than the gym needed.

The city donated $10,000 to the $11,300 project, and volunteers from Walker’s Chapel raised the remaining monies through fundraisers, including raffling an autographed Scottie Pippen jersey.

And while Walker’s Chapel and Lockley did what was possible with the money they had at the time, it could only go so far.

“They ran tournaments out of there, but it didn’t erase the fact that the building was out of code and it was just substandard,” said Warren Ellis Gilmore, a former McComb selectman who represented Ward 5, where the gym is located.

A $9.5 million bond issue was approved in July 2008 but was rescinded barely a month later. It would have given $269,200 to the gym for roof repairs plus other structural and cosmetic issues. Without the bond issue the renovations never came, and the gym was condemned the following year.

Despite the gym being closed for half a decade of its 35-year existence, Burglund residents still hope the center and the gym will once again be open for public use.

A few years ago, the Recreation Department had a full-time staff member at the center to bring in programs and activities, but due to budget cuts, that option is not financially feasible right now, says director Joseph Parker. The department oversees 11 parks but only has 10 employees.

Many community members believe the gym is not only a place for recreation and entertainment, but also a place for neighborhood children to go instead of aimlessly wandering the area.

Jaton Isaac remembers looking forward to games and events in the gym when she was a child, but that was 25 years ago. Today, children don’t have that luxury.

“There’s a lot of kids in this area,” said Isaac, 37. “But there’s nothing for them to do but walk the tracks and get into trouble.”

There are no other parks in the Burglund area, and the splash pad is only open May through September, leaving the local children nothing to do and nowhere to go during the other seven months.

“All children can be bad,” Wells said. “If they don’t have nothin’ to do, they’re gonna find something to get into. If they put the gym back over here, it would help.”

After a tense town hall meeting in the community center in June, citizens demanded answers about why the rent at the community center was so high and why the gym was left to decay.

Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie, and Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon formed a committee to work through ideas for the community center and gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie, and Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon formed a committee to work through ideas for the community center and gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Current Ward 5 Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, in conjunction with Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie and Ward 3 Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon, held a small meeting Monday to find out what locals wanted to see happen with the property.

While many ideas were kicked about, including trying to reopen the community center and provide programs for the Burglund residents, no one has any plans to touch the gym with no funds budgeted for either renovation or demolition.

“We’ve looked at options but have not agreed on what path to take — to demolish it, renovate it or turn it into a pavilion,” Lockley said.

“Either fix it, or tear it down,” James Cotton, 92, said, an echo of hundreds of other residents when the topic comes up.

But, more often than not, residents choose to favor the renovation option.

“I wish they would renovate it and use it,” Wells said. “We’re taxpayers. They should take some of our tax money and do what we need done.”

Jordan and her Burglund neighbors hope to one day see the Martin Luther King Complex make a comeback and be a staple for the community, but for now, it sits, waiting for a day it may never see.

Photos by Philip Hall

@ Enterprise-Journal — McComb, Miss.

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In review – The Uganda Project: Come & See, Go & Tell

The Uganda Project: Come & See-Go & Tell, created, directed and choreographed by Jennifer Mizenko has a great meaning and purpose behind it, but I honestly cannot tell you what that purpose is or what really went on for the entire 90 minutes of the dance experience.

While Mizenko may have gone, seen and come back, the show has no recognizable storyline. I tried flipping through the playbill to cure the confusion about who is who and where these people are going consumes the majority of each piece.

By the time I had figured it out, there is a completely different set of dancers on stage to distinguish.

I commend Mizenko for taking such an obviously beautiful experience and bringing it back to share with everyone and anyone willing to listen, but there is nothing to listen to.

Without narration or at least an insert with the background information of the experience, the beauty and message is lost.

The sporadic photography helped paint a picture of the African atmosphere, the beauty and desolation, but it was nothing that had not been before. There was no explanation of the characters as people, and it was difficult to discern between quite a few without knowing the dancers’ names.

Taylor Thomas, senior hospitality management major, takes her role as The Job Lady and creates a breathtaking portrayal of a woman in crisis. Her ability to move with grace while restricted by a skirt is the most beautiful moment of the show.

Even though the majority of the cast looked beyond miserable for the majority of the production, one newcomer caught my attention almost immediately.

Brianna Fuller, freshman theater major, glowed with energy and enthusiasm from beginning to end. Her portrayal of Whitney, one of the missionaries, brought a bit of much-needed light back to the stage.

If the rest of the cast can catch her enthusiasm and draw the audience in, the bewilderment will become less of an issue.

As a less religious person than the majority of the population, I was shocked and almost offended by the blatant religious outpour found in nearly every scene.

While I respect everyone’s right to the first amendment and the freedom to practice whatever they please, it is the last thing I want to see from the dark abyss of the house.

Yes, the trip was a missionary trip and religion was a huge part of the experience, but it becomes a constant tick for those with a different faith.

Dex Edwards saves the day once again with his brilliant scenic design that attracts enough attention to get noticed but blends in seamlessly to become the most specific hospital room or the most vague African plain.

His ability to hide an entire porch for the majority of the performance, however, is the most amazing part of the entire show (minus the live chickens).

While the show is not heavy on props, the few that were necessary were used well. Despite the fact that I never knew where they were going, the props used to create a car for the 15 dancers to pile into was a brilliantly crafted way to remove the bulky aspect of what could have been.

The lighting was the best they have had this semester, and the designer Paul Kennedy should be proud.

The images that were created and deepened with a simple manipulation of light brought life to the performance.

The Job Lady’s solo has a barely-lit stage, but the lack of light brings more to the piece than any amount of brightness could ever do.

In order to truly enjoy The Uganda Project, you must come into the experience fully knowing that you will not understand what you are seeing and draw your focus to the fact that there is beautiful choreography mixed among the confusion.

Believing that the beauty of dance is enough to tell a story is a wonderful thought, but the ability to execute expression with no words is harder than I once thought.

New cinema minor slated for fall semester

Six months ago, Alan Arrivee took a position in a state he’d never lived in to help students achieve their potential and to share his passion for cinema.

He barely has what any student at Ole Miss would consider a proper office, but Arrivee doesn’t let his lack of equipment or space diminish his spirit or determination.

In the fall, a cinema minor will be added to the Liberal Arts catalogue for any student who wants to turn their love of movies into a career.

The minor will require 18 hours to complete. There are two required courses – one in the English department and one in theater – followed by several options to fulfill the remaining 12 hours of electives necessary to receive the minor.

One of the required courses delves into the basics of film production while the other focuses more on the theoretical aspects of the film production process.

“People who don’t ever want to hear about analyzing a film have to, and people who think picking up a camera is too much like a trade school activity, they have to, so they at least understand the perspective of both sides,” Arrivee said.

Beyond these two requirements, the courses range from film-acting courses to courses about films in most modern languages, such as Russian, Spanish and German.

After winning multiple awards in film festivals around the world, including the European Independent Film Festival, Arrivee is more than qualified to spearhead such an undertaking in the Ole Miss community, but he is not alone in his efforts.

Twenty other professors from departments all over campus are on board with the cinema minor and are teaching many of the courses.

While only 20 people have expressed interest thus far, “it’s a good number to start with,” Arrivee said.

Not only will students get to make their own films, but they will also have the ability to have the films screened both on campus and potentially at Oxford Film Festival.

“It’s only natural for cinema that there’s an audience, so we’re not trying to make it a filmmaker’s workshop where the only people who critique the films are in class,” Arrivee said. “There are in-class projects that don’t necessarily go any place else, but I always remind the students if something turns out of really high quality, then we’ll include it in the cinema slot in the theater season.”

This season, the theater department will encourage students to attend screenings done by Arrivee and students participating in the Ole Miss Film Competition.

Silent Radio, a short film by Arrivee, and three other short films done by the winners of the Ole Miss Film Competition will be screened April 7 through 9 in Meek Auditorium.

Jordan Berger and Houston Settle, junior theater majors from Chattanooga, Tenn., have won the competition before and have become a true “power couple” in the Ole Miss cinema scene.

While Settle has been seen on screen in more than his fair share of short films, Berger can often be found behind the camera concentrating on the cinematography. Despite his lack of previous acting experience, Berger understands the importance of being able to look at films from all angles.

“I definitely want to get the feel for the acting aspect of it,” Berger said. “Even if you’re the director, you’ve got to know how to communicate with your actors.”

The film they are creating for this semester is loosely based on the album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, which is itself loosely based on a series of dreams about Anne Frank.

“For so long, we’ve talked about wanting to make a short film, and now we get that opportunity,” Settle said. “If (Arrivee) hadn’t come along, we probably wouldn’t be making this film at all.”

Having taken cinema courses in the past, they are grateful for all that Arrivee has put into the program for the benefit of his students.

“Last year, he got people making all sorts of films in his classes,” Settle said. “Everybody was making short films, I think that’s what really started motivating people. Once they saw their projects, they realized they could really do this.”

Berger and Settle are both in the documentary fieldwork course this semester and are already thinking about how to put the material to good use.

“Next year, we want to make a full-length documentary about the nightlife in Oxford, like the world through the eyes of an Ole Miss student,” Settle said. “You know, show a bit of a darker side.”

Above all, Arrivee wants to reach as many students as possible and become more involved in the program.

“I’m promoting the program openly,” Arrivee said. “I want people to get involved in this and take the plunge and say one of the things I want to study is cinema. However much interest there is will be however much commitment there is from the University as a whole.”

Students wishing to declare a minor in cinema should go to Ventress Hall during the first few days of the fall semester and register. For more information on the minor, visit Arrivee in Isom Hall or check out the website at http://olemiss.edu/depts/theatre_arts/.

Study USA classes offer abroad experience at home

Study USA programs are short-term, domestic travel classes offered on a variety of topics during intersession terms.

Ole Miss offers four to six different classes during each intersession and has an estimated 30 classes total.

Laura Antonow, program director for Study USA, has devoted much of her time to this program, working to increase courses and include more areas of study so more students can attend.

“It’s a great learning experience for both students and faculty,” Antonow said. “When students learn with multiple senses, they retain things better and it certainly makes it more interesting.”

The program began three years ago in conjunction with the Study Abroad office. It has since been moved into its own program.

Study USA is devoted to creating classes for students, helping them experience their potential careers in action and get field experience before graduation.

Financial aid is available for Study USA classes, and they are in the process of creating a scholarship for the program as well.

”Some students can’t afford to go abroad, and some students don’t want to go abroad,” Antonow said. “Those are both legitimate reasons to consider this program, but the most important reason to consider it is there are really cool things to do in the U.S.”

Taylor Thomas, senior hospitality management major, has been waiting her entire college career to be eligible for the Las Vegas course.

“I have to have this class to graduate, and I’ve been waiting to take it in Vegas since my freshman year,” Thomas said. “You have to be 21 to go on this trip, so I’ve been waiting for three years now.”

For the Las Vegas Hotel Course, students spend seven days in Las Vegas visiting hotel casinos and touring their restaurants and nightclubs to develop an understanding of how hotel operations work.

“I’ll be learning about my field in the field, and the ‘cream of the crop’ of the field at that,” Thomas said. “To me, education doesn’t get much better than that.”

These courses have a different setup from the average lecture course. Some professors require the students to keep a journal of their experiences, while others require final exams and research papers.

The Culture and Tourism in New Orleans course lasts almost two full weeks. These students study popular culture, folk culture and high culture.

Other classes, however, such as the biology course in Miami, are a little different – students take lectures in Oxford before traveling to Miami for fieldwork.

“We can go out one night and potentially find a 15-foot python crossing the road,” Brice Noonan, assistant professor of biology said. “There are places where we can go right down on South Beach where we can walk around and see six-foot iguanas in the grass.”

There are two Study USA classes taking place during this semester, and they will each be traveling for less than a week later in November. These classes study in Oxford the majority of the semester and travel to conventions and shows for only a brief part of the semester.

“It’s a great networking opportunity for the students,” Antonow said. “It really allows them to put what they’ve been learning in the classroom and see it applied to the real world.”

The deadline for Study USA applications for Wintersession is Nov. 15.

In Review: “The Drowsy Chaperone”

People love musical theater for its ability to remove the audience from the daily grind and bring them into a world where song, dance and glitter are a part of everyday life. If you’re looking for something to do for two hours that only requires you to sit, laugh and enjoy, The Drowsy Chaperone is the perfect way to go.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical within a comedy, and the two complement each other flawlessly; sometimes you forget you’re watching a musical and sometimes forget you’re watching anything but. The musical numbers are not overwhelmingly flashy and flamboyant but still give you that classic musical-theater-big-dance-number feeling.

Directed by Rene Pulliam, this is one of the strongest and most well-cast musicals that Ole Miss has seen in a long time. A farce about musical theater itself, the show is a good weekend activity for the diehard theater patron or the random student looking for something new to entertain them outside of football.

Jared Davis, an alum of the Ole Miss theater department, steals the show with his hilarious characterization of Man in Chair. After watching his performance, it’s a wonder why he was so overlooked in his time here before graduation.

A perfect fit for the neurotic lover of classic musical theater, Davis never stops being active throughout the entire two-hour performance. Even when the focus is completely off of his corner, he is constantly engaged in everything going on in front of him.

Every aspect of his character draws you into the show, eagerly anticipating what craziness will come next.

Senior Anna Donnell takes the part of Drowsy to a whole new drunken, sultry world while traipsing around the stage, martini glass in hand. As a representation of the Broadway stars of yesteryear, Donnell commands attention. While she is nothing new to this department, this could easily be one of her best mainstage performances of her college career.

Sophomore Christian Green is off to a strong start with his performance of Robert Martin. As his first major role here, Green creates a multi-dimensional character full of life and emotions. He pulls off his solo flawlessly and even manages not to skate off the stage blindfolded. After such a strong performance, I expect to see Green a lot more in his remaining years here.

Jade Genga, a newcomer to Ole Miss and Fulton stage, was a bit disappointing overall as Janet. While Genga has a beautiful voice and physically fits the character perfectly, she lacks an energy and commanding presence that a showgirl simply must have to survive in the business.

The pairing of Underling and Tottendale very easily could have been overdone and borderline annoying, but Christopher Young and Ashley Mitchell make comedic magic onstage. From Young’s entrance in Cold Feet as the perfectly proper British butler, he won my half of my heart for the night.

The other half was given to Mitchell from the second she took the stage in a puffy white dress without a clue in her (character’s) head. I could easily watch these two in a show of their own and never grow tired of them. They are, without a doubt, the quintessential comedic relief characters and pull it off flawlessly.

The best part of a musical (when you’re lucky enough to find one) is a live band backing strong singers. The band, hidden discreetly backstage, brings a new feel and authentic 20s sound to the stage without the annoyance of hearing Karaoke backtracks.

As always, you can’t beat a Dex Edwards set around here. With the entire set simply being the interior of an apartment, it’s difficult for much to stand out, but Edwards is known for putting the most emphasis into some of the smallest details. His work for the finale is definitely something not to be missed.

Overall, this show is top-notch and ready to entertain the masses. As Man in Chair so eloquently puts it, “I just want to be entertained. Isn’t that the point?”

Yes, sir, that is the point of theater. While there is something to be said about making a point and changing the world with art, its original purpose was to entertain, and that’s exactly what the cast of The Drowsy Chaperone will do.

Give us our Love back

Over the weekend, I took a little trip to The School Beneath Us for some good ol’ Jason Mraz and SEC football. The weekend overall was a success (minus the few moments of terrible behavior from their fans), but dear God I hate those stupid cowbells.

And you should, too.

They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. They’re just downright tacky. I don’t care if you won a game once in the 40s because some cows wandered onto your field, you quite possibly could be the laughing stock of the SEC.

However, I do understand that a tradition is a tradition, just like how Baton Rouge smelling like corn dogs will always be tradition. If those little cow kids want to keep animal accessories a tradition, hell, let them.

After thirty someodd years, they are finally allowed to legally have the bells in their own stadium again. Of course every State fan is ecstatic to have them back, and I can’t blame them; they don’t know any better.

However, for months and months now, we have been hearing about the new cowbell rules and the massive amounts of money the university will have to spend if their students break these simple rules.

They can ring the bells during breaks, such as time outs, before the game and after the Bulldogs score. That’s it. That’s all.

Ford has even provided them with an icon in the upper right-hand corner of their jumbotron that tells them when to ring and when to yell, in case the three rules were too complex for comprehension.

Now, the things are annoying, and sitting in the stands for the 45 minutes before kickoff were brutal, but I expected it to end when the game started.

How naïve I was.

Every second they weren’t screaming obscenities mixed in with maroon, white and fight (the only words they seem to know for fight songs) they were waving those large metal bells with such a fury.

We banned flags on sticks because the sticks were “weapons.” Sticks. Yet they are allowed to drunkenly swing about metal. The logic in this world.

Anyway. Constantly, those bells were ringing and ringing. Every few minutes something about “Respect the bell; ring responsibly” would come on the screen. And every time it did, just like children do, they would ring them louder and harder than before.

This story sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?

A year ago, “From Dixie with Love” was taken away from us because we children couldn’t control ourselves. One of our most beloved traditions was destroyed and we could have stopped it, but we chose to attempt to defy the administration and make our stance known.

Well, news flash: our stance sucked, and I want our song back.

If the State kids can’t learn to behave as well as you can with such a horrific instrument, take them away. We learned our lesson, and we regret continuing the chant against the administration’s will.

After thirty years, Mississippi State has given their fans what they have been begging for, but they seem to have forgotten why they lost the privilege in the first place.

The memory of FDWL in the Grove on those crisp fall afternoons is still fresh in our minds. We not only remember and miss the tradition, but we are the people who lost the tradition.

Give us a second chance, Sparky and the Ole Miss administration. Give us a trial run, if nothing else. Let us prove that we have the school’s best interest in mind and will represent her with all the dignity and class we are known for.

We are losing our traditions left and right, and all the other schools mock us for being racist (not to mention our lack of mascot). Prove them wrong; bring back the song. If we can’t have anything else, at least give us the chance to try.

In Review: “Boy Gets Girl”


In the world of blind dating, there are two main outcomes: falling in love and being stalked. One of these is very glamorous and wonderful, and the other is the premise of this show.

“Boy Gets Girl” is a contemporary drama by Rebecca Gilman about how human relationships work, from romantic to platonic to familiar. Throughout the course of the show, you learn that these characters are more than meets the eye; the men and women alike have been hurt time and time again, and the damage starting to crack through and interfere with everyday life.

Dr. Rhona Justice-Malloy, the chairman of the theater department and director of this show, always sticks with small, intimate shows that are meant to bring social issues to your attention with in-your-face tension and emotion. This is quite possibly the most successful of her shows here with a good script and a solid cast.

Taylor Wood, a senior and veteran to the stages of Ole Miss, gave a realistic and honest portrayal of her character, Theresa Bedell. As a single woman trying to balance her career and her love life at the same time, Wood has true emotions with every line she delivers. From her awkward first date to her emotional breakdowns, her character is exactly what a stressed, lonely woman should be. She is a strong actress portraying a strong female character and it fits Wood like a glove. There is not a moment I would have changed about her overall performance; Wood is definitely a perfect choice as the lead.

Will Harris plays Tony, a very insane man with a lot of love for his mother. As a senior who just decided to audition for some plays one day, he holds himself well enough to get by, but it becomes very apparent that he is not comfortable with the stage and his surroundings to do the character justice.

After their first date, Tony extends an invitation to Theresa for another later that weekend, and she (of course) accepts, but I have no idea why. The awkwardness between the two of them is enough to make the entire audience feel out of place and uncomfortable. This was not a strong pairing, but luckily, the tension pays off in the end.

However, two of the men stuck out to me long after I left the theater.

Jay Jurden, a well-known face around campus, does beautifully with his old misogynistic character and his constant obsession with the naked female anatomy. Jurden is known for his comedic timing, but he is able to leave the comedy behind and seep into a darker, more emotional place full of loneliness and despair at the drop of the hat. Every scene he was in, I was completely engaged on him. His performance is top quality and easily the most entertaining of them all and he quite possibly steals the show.

My other top male choice is Gavin Fields, a freshman from Ridgeland. As Mercer, he brings new light to men and truly wants to help Theresa without any ulterior motives. Fields stays very consistent with his character and was easily the most likable of the bunch. The raw energy he brought to the stage with his presence alone commanded attention, yet he was still a sensitive and truthful man. I look forward to seeing more from him in the upcoming years.

The set is minimal and modern with a few pieces of interchangeable furniture and three sliding panels for walls. It works well overall and the walls move enough to create quite a few different New York City locales, going from office to bedroom to restaurant with a few little shoves this direction and that.

The lights, designed by Paul Kennedy, really bring life to the show. In a scene where Wood is sitting alone in her bedroom, she turns off the lights and a beautiful cityscape of the Upper East Side appears on the walls behind her. The lights really brought focus and dimension to some of the more simple scenes.

I was a bit disappointed in the usage of music in this production. There was very little background music, if any at all, and very loud, abrupt music during all scene-changes and breaks. It didn’t seem to flow with or fit the show as much as the other technical elements.

Overall, this show is a complete success with spurts of comedy mixed with a dark story that many women have had to tell. They deliver a strong performance with an important message that everyone on this campus can relate to in one way or another, making it a perfect getaway after a crazy weekend or two of football.