March 2011

Mercer student found dead in apartment near campus

Cause of death of Tianliang Zhang, 24, remains unknown

(Photo by Carl V. Lewis/THE CLUSTER)

A Mercer exchange student from China was found dead Thursday afternoon in his apartment less than a block away from campus.

Tianliang Zhang, a 24-year-old graduate engineering student, was found lying unconscious in his bedroom around 4 p.m. by his roommates at 1252 Shamrock Street, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

Zhang was last seen alive Tuesday night, and Jones said he appeared to have been dead for at least a day.

“When you’ve got a 24-year-old healthy kid dead like this, it looks suspicious to me. Every once in a while, I get a case where I break down and cry. This was one of them,” Jones said.

An autopsy performed Friday morning was inconclusive. The cause of death remains undetermined pending toxicology and histology reports from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which Jones said can take anywhere two to three months to complete.

Macon Police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said police do not suspect foul play at this time, but an investigation into the incident will continue until the cause of death can be determined.

Mercer’s chief of staff Larry Brumley said University administrators notified Zhang’s next of kin in China of his death late Thursday evening.

Arrangements are in the works to transport Zhang’s body to China after autopsy procedures have been conducted, Brumley said.

For more on this developing story, check back in at and read the next issue of The Cluster.

Viva la sport!

March Madness seedings puzzling for fans

(photo courtesy of Garret didn't buy into the 'Jimmer-mania', feeling that BYU received much too high on a seed in the recent NCAA tournament.

Well another March Madness has just about wrapped up, and it has proven once again that millions of people are duped into picking teams that choke for their brackets. Like always, the one seeds get upset at some point, but strangely, not even one this year. Many claimed that this year’s bracket was diluted and watered down with mediocre teams that had no real chance of winning the whole thing.

I blame the selection committee for this. Instead of making sure that quality mid-major teams got in securely (like VCU), they brought in schools from BCS schools that were first round knockouts by schools that they should have easily beaten (in seeding views). Georgia and Vanderbilt received high seeds they don’t deserve because of the money they can bring in. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I firmly believe that there was bias towards letting them into the tournament.

Even if it means bringing in Colorado and Alabama, two markets that are not big on basketball, the selection of these two weak SEC teams, Georgia and Vanderbilt, was a joke and disgrace.

The fact that certain teams got very high seeds because of a superstar player is a joke. BYU never deserved a three seed. With the whole country buying into “Jimmer Fever,” it makes sense to give BYU an easy ride for more television coverage. This year’s tournament bracket was based on nothing more than money and revenue.

While there are no-brainers like Ohio State and Duke getting the top seeds (the best team in country and the defending national champions), other schools obviously did not deserve the lower seedings they received, like UConn (who has won nine games in a little over two weeks!) and their superstar Kemba Walker. They did not deserve the lower, like last year’s national runner-up Butler or VCU, the underdog who could. Only old school Kentucky showed that pedigree can last, earning the Final Four berth.
I guess, while I beat around the bush, that I’m saying that most seeding ties and spot finagling comes down to favoritism, media bias, and revenue streams. Florida did not deserve a number two seed when they received it (in most people’s eyes), but they proved they deserved it with a run to the Elite Eight.
Richmond showed it was better than expectations, as did a few other squads. I just start ranting when it comes to the tournament, because I feel a 68 team field is just too large. Way too many sub-par teams make it in, and part of that is due to the automatic berth.

Sorry Mercer fans, but the odds of a Mercer squad making a run in the tournament are low. Mercer might win an automatic berth, but this is really taking a spot from a team that may be more deserving of a spot than them. I would rather see my school take on a national power and pray for an upset, but it won’t draw in the viewers (which is what the selection committee wants).

In essence, I feel that the selection committee is flawed. Then again, the BCS computers are flawed too. There really is no winner in this scenario. There will be teams that get cut out that shouldn’t, and teams that get it that are better left at home. ETSU showed that they had a lot more fight in their games in the CIT (third tier tournament after March Madness and NIT) than Georgia or Louisville did in the NCAA tournament. I would love to see Butler or VCU win the whole thing this weekend, but I honestly feel that UConn and Kentucky are just too good.

On the other hand, Butler and VCU proved that the selection committee has a bias against mid-majors, even with the successes of Gonzaga, Xavier, Creighton, George Mason, and Butler in the past ten years. How about next year let’s use computers to determine the seedings?

Men’s, women’s tennis fighting for position in A-Sun play

Despite fast start to the season, both squads fading in standings


(photo courtesy of Fernando Armendaris looks to volley a serve during a recent match as the men's team fights to stay around the .500 mark for the season.


Both the men’s and women’s tennis teams have had mixed starts to their 2011 seasons, with Mercer’s men at 7-10 through March 28 and the women at 3-12 through March 28.  Despite the tough starts to the season, the Bears have performed well at home, including a combined 14-0 sweep of Young Harris by the men and women combined. Nevertheless the Bears have had a tough spot as of late, with both squads winning just one in their last five matches each.

Men’s Tennis: 7-10,
4-4 A-Sun

Butler 4, Mercer 3
Barton received his eighth win on the year in singles play, but the Bears were unable to pick up the doubles point after splitting the singles points 3-3. Despite Mercer benefiting from a defaulted point and doubles matchup, a lineup that saw mostly backups and reserves playing was unable to do much. Basketball player Justin Cecil even had some playing time, but he was unable to secure a point in doubles play.

North Florida 5, Mercer 2
Armendaris got to eight wins and Barton got to nine, but the Bears were unable to beat the nationally ranked (#75) North Florida Ospreys on the road. Tafelski, Tauchner, Frias and Rosindo were all beaten in straight sets as the Bears lost their first match in conference play in five games.

Mercer 4, Jacksonville 3
Mercer rebounded from the trip to North Florida with a squeaker of a win over Jacksonville. Barton won his 10th singles match this season and the Bears saw Tauchner and Rosindo win their decisive doubles match 9-8. Tafelski won his ninth singles match on top of that, as his return to winning ways helped stop the losing streak.

USC Upstate 5, Mercer 2
Barton continued to dominate the competition, getting to 11 wins this year, but the Bears lost tiebreakers across the board that could have changed the outcome. The Bears dropped their third conference game on the year and they lost their second home match since beating FGCU 7-0 on March 12. Armendaris and Frias were able to win their doubles match, but were unable to change the outcome.

Campbell 5, Mercer 2
Barton got his sixth straight victory this season, but the rest of the Bears could not follow his performance, as all singles matches were lost otherwise. The Bears were able to challenge the Atlantic Sun’s upper echelon team in the doubles point at home, winning two of the three matches. All in all, the Bears seemed to be slumping. The Bears have ETSU and Kennesaw both at home, with a road trip to Jacksonville State in between. After this, the Bears will play in the Atlantic Sun tournament.

Women’s Tennis: 3-12,
1-7 A-Sun

Butler 5, Mercer 2
With a non-conference matchup interspersed between several conference games, the Bears looked to play a tough out-of-region game against the Butler Bulldogs. Despite support at the three and four spots with Aurelie de Montjou and Lucie Payrat, the Bears were unable to win, losing their seventh in a row. They were swept at the doubles point, leading to the big win for Butler.

North Florida 6, Mercer 1
Payrat was the only winner in the Bears’ loss on March 18 against North Florida. The Bears were swept at the doubles point again, and they lost every singles match in straight sets.

Jacksonville 6, Mercer 1
Payrat’s hot streak continued, but the Bears were once again looking to see that success across the board. It was their ninth straight loss and their sixth loss in conference play with Jacksonville winning their 11th match this year.

Mercer 5, USC Upstate 2
USC Upstate stayed winless as the Bears won for the first time since Feb. 20. Jennifer Lada, Amanda Bertani and Sarah Hanna’s straight sets victories followed Payrat’s fifth straight win. In doubles competition, Payrat was on the losing side, but the Bears still won the point as the other pairs came through. This was the first Atlantic Sun victory for the Bears this year.

Campbell 6, Mercer 1
Payrat was 4-5 in singles play before a now six-match winning streak that has her at 10-5, 6-2 in conference play. She has been hot while the rest of her teammates continue to struggle in a rebuilding year for the Bears. All singles losses were in straight sets. The doubles point was not in doubt for Campbell as the nine-win Camels continued to perform well before the A-Sun tournament. The Bears get Western Carolina on April 1, before ETSU the next day. A trip to Jacksonville State looms before the season finale at home versus Kennesaw.

Intramural basketball championship night provides highlights, theatrics for spectators

Primetime took the men's competitive championship in a 46-45 thriller


(photo courtesy of Mercer Intramurals) Primetime's Josiah Ojo cuts down the nets following his team's victory.


(Another year of intramural basketball went into the record books, but not without the humorous recap of the championship night from the keyboard of Zach Wells. His first/third person recollection of the night gives insight into the emotions, competition and highlights that dotted this year’s 2011 intramural basketball season at Mercer.)

It has been a busy spring at Mercer’s University Center. The A-Sun basketball championships were hosted by Mercer March 2-5, but most people in the Macon community had their sights set on a date twelve days later. March 17 would be the day of reckoning for all intramural basketball competitors. For days leading up to the event, there was a nearly audible buzz around campus (which I missed because I was at Panama City Beach for Spring Break). Who would take home the coveted intramural championship T-shirt for the 2011 spring season? Would Primetime continue to use their superior athletic ability and gargantuan front line to take the men’s league? Could there possibly be an upset by the Bear Outlaws and their wily veteran with bionic knees, Zach Wells? On the women’s side, could star guard Amy Jones continue her amazing run and lead the We STILL Got It team to glory?

These questions and others swirled around the Mercer campus right up until the night of the event. It truly was an event, as Todd Thomas estimated that at the end of the night there must have been upwards of 200 fans at the games (he may have been counting those on treadmills and lifting weights upstairs). When I walked into the gym I allowed the electricity in the air to wash over my entire body. “This is it,” I thought. “If you can’t get up for this, you must not like basketball.”

The women’s match-up was an interesting one. The We STILL Got It team, made up of more mature ladies who work within the athletic department, was matched up against the A-Sun Champs, who consisted of highly energized and scrappy women’s soccer players. As the game got underway, however, it became apparent that the We STILL Got Its had too much experience for the other youthful squad.
Amy Jones continued her magical season, controlling every part of the game. It didn’t take long for Jones to lead her team to an early double-digit lead, which proved to be insurmountable for the A-Sun Champs. As the clock wound down, the We STILL Got Its had a twenty point lead and the victors finally let some of their emotions show. Some thought that it was a bad show of sportsmanship when they dog-piled at mid-court with 15 seconds still left on the clock, but it was simply a release of all the hard work and emotion that had gone into the grueling intramural season. “I’m proud of my girls,” Jones said to me after she had regained control of her emotions. “You know, you set your sights on the championship every year, but there are just so many intangibles that go into a season like this. It’s unbelievable. I have a great story to tell my future children.”

After the T-shirt ceremony, the women left the floor and the men’s teams began to warm up. On one side there was PrimeTime, who had once again made mincemeat of the entire league this year. Led by two front-line players, Johnta Tigner and Josiah Ojo, and a diminutive point guard (I think his name is Nick), this team had been virtually unstoppable all spring. On the other end, the Bear Outlaws were getting their sweat on, all of them (except for their oversized, well-seasoned point guard, Zach Wells, who had had class until 9:30 and didn’t show up until right before tip-off).

Wells had been a slight point of contention in recent weeks, because he had chosen to stay in PCB for an extra couple of days and had missed the semi-final game, which the Bear Outlaws lost. “I was just letting it ride out there on the beach and lost track of the days,” Wells was quoted as saying.

Through a stroke of luck the Big Subpoenas, to whom the Bear Outlaws had lost in the semi’s, had been unable to make it to the championship game. This gave Wells and his Outlaws an opportunity to play for the title in spite of Wells’ seemingly selfish act. Because Wells was late, he did not start the game and entered about five minutes in. He was lavishly heckled as he stepped onto the court by his former best friend, EJ Kusnyer. Kusnyer told me later, “I just can’t respect a guy who’s not there when his team needs him. He left them out to dry. He thinks he is better than them.” I asked Wells for a response, but all he gave me was, “No comment. That’s just EJ being EJ.”

The game itself was a seesaw battle played at the highest level. Wells seemingly willed his team to a slight advantage at halftime. It was clear, however, that he had not been working on his game while he was at the beach for Spring Break, and that would play a major role in the second half. The Outlaws held onto a five-point lead with less than two minutes to go, but that’s when Nick the point guard put his team on his slight shoulders. He made three consecutive shots, Wells helping them with a costly turnover and missed free throws. “I just ran out of gas. I thought playing Beersby on the beach would keep me in shape, but I’ll have to rethink that theory.”

Primetime had gained a four-point advantage with forty seconds left. Wells brought the ball up the floor, crossed over twice and drained a three-pointer from near-NBA range. The crowd went wild, drowning out Kusnyer’s desperate screams of, “LEAGUE BOUND!!!!” Primetime inbounded the ball and made an ill-advised attempt to throw the ball the length of the floor. The pass was picked off by a leaping Reggie Perry. Wells quickly gained control of the ball and called time-out with 14 seconds left. After the time-out, the ball was inbounded to Wells at half court, he made several moves that would make every YMCA men’s-league baller proud, got into the lane and drew the defense to him. At the last second he saw his teammate, Wole Ogundele, cutting to the basket. Wells deftly dished the ball for a wide open layup. Ogundele, surprised that an infamously selfish player like Wells would actually pass him the ball, bobbled the catch. The Outlaws did not get a good shot attempt, and the game was over. At 46-45, Primtime was victorious.

It was a night to remember on the University Center intramural courts. It was a double victory for the Primetime players, as they had teamed up with the Chi O sorority to take the Co-Rec title earlier in the day. The fans had watched a woman’s team so dominant that there were whispers that a closed scrimmage with UCONN might be in the works. After the final game, players and fans alike were breathless. Everyone knew that they had witnessed one of the greatest events of their lives.

“I gave it all I had. Unfortunately we needed one more play,” an obviously disappointed Wells said after the game. “Maybe if I hadn’t played so much Beersby over Spring Break…who knows.”

The Inside Zone

The art of 'porch-ing'


(Alex Lockwood / Cluster Staff) Zach will have plenty of memories to share on his porch following another impressive season from the Bears.

I love big porches with columns. In fact, I would say that, other than giant mutant cockroaches and no liquor sales on Sunday, porches are my favorite thing about Georgia. This is my first spring season having a porch, and I’m not sure anyone or anything has had such a major impact on my life (and yes, I do know Jesus). I have a special appreciation for porches, because we don’t really utilize them in my home state of Oklahoma. A nice porch is as useless as a poopy-flavored lollipop where I’m from, because gale-force winds are not uncommon—I might as well sit on the toilet with a blow dryer in my face. In Oklahoma, it’s not that we don’t want to “porch it.” It seems like a great thing to do, but it’s just not reasonable. So if I really get down to it, it’s actually the amazing Georgia spring weather that allows me to enjoy my porch in front of my dilapidated house. The weather is totally outside of our control, but the place we live is not.  In my opinion, when it comes to “porch-ing” (or learning that NASCAR events are actually broadcast on the radio), there is no better place to be than in Georgia.

When it comes to basketball, there is no team I’d rather be involved with than the Mercer Bears. I love these guys almost as much as Lil Wayne loves objectifying women in his songs. I’ve been around college athletes my entire life, and I can honestly say that this group is special. After losing two of our top three scorers to major knee injuries, this team came together like Waffle House and drunk people at 3:00 a.m. The difference between the first and second half of the year was not unlike the difference in personal hygiene levels between the Phi Mu sorority house and the SAE frat house (drastic, and I’ll let you guess which is which).

Brian Mills went from being one of my favorite guys (no homo) to being one of my favorite players to watch. I have honestly never seen, in person, a player dominate games from the mid-range like “Millsy.” Mark Hall, who had come off the bench his entire career at Mercer and had never shown an ounce of discontent, took more charges than Paris Hilton’s credit card this year after being put in the starting lineup. “Sweets” also managed to shoot nearly 40 percent from the three-point line and, when needed, showed the ability to take over a game. Jake Gollon, who has been very nearly physically lame throughout his first two years at Mercer, made huge plays and game-winning shots during the second half of the season. Langston Hall was one of the best point guards in the conference as a freshman. Chris Smith, Bud Thomas, Monty Brown, Justin Cecil, Paul Larsen and Kevin Canevari all stepped up and made what must seem like a very mediocre year to those outside the program a very special year for me.
Every time I thought the season was in ruins, someone else did something that I did not expect.  Coaches from other teams would ask me, “How are you guys doing this?” to which I would confidently reply, “I have no earthly idea.” The truth is, however, that we had a bunch of guys who knew their role, genuinely cared about each other, played extremely hard and wanted to do the right thing. The best thing about these guys off the court is that they genuinely care about each other and, for the most part, want to do the right thing. This is why there is no other college team I would rather be “a part” of. This is also why “porch-ing it” in Georgia has become my favorite pastime—the weather is great, but being in the company of my boys is better.

Unfortunately, our season ended much like the Oklahoma porch-ing experience. Like an unexpected calm, we made a run with young players and some great coaching. We enjoyed a few serene moments, with only a slight breeze easing the heat on a warm spring day. We then played Belmont in the A-Sun tournament, a veritable twister of basketball skills (real talk), and had a nice dose of Oklahoma red dirt blown all up in our faces. Much like porch-ing it in Oklahoma, the experience gave us some sweet moments but a bitter taste in our mouths and tears in our eyes. So right now I’m thanking God I’m in Georgia, because there are no gusting winds and there is nothing I’d rather be doing than porch-ing it with some of my favorite guys, reliving some great memories from an unforgettable year.

Miao Marone, sole professor of Chinese, believes that speaking Chinese is very important to today’s economic affairs.

Mercer University recently received a grant sponsored by the United States Department of Education that will allow for the founding of a new program for an Asian Studies minor.

The program will be housed in the Interdisciplinary Studies department. A team of 12 Mercer faculty members will develop the coursework for the new minor over the next three years.

While the overall program will seek to give students a better understanding of Asian culture, the anchor of the new program will be the Chinese language program.

The grant will allow for the addition of a second year of Chinese language that will be available to students next fall.

“Traditional Western European languages are the only languages that have been predominantly taught at Mercer thus far. But last year, we had a visiting professor from China who began teaching a 100-level Chinese language course,” said Dr. Leona Kanter.

“Chinese was first taught here several years ago, but it was dropped for technical and qualification reasons. As of now, we officially had Chinese a year ago but a second year and a study abroad program have been added this year,” Kanter said.

This will provide Mercer students with both 100-level and 200-level Chinese courses. This will be the first time that Mercer will have a complete program.

“The importance of the language is to bring greater recognition to globalization. We are very oriented to the East and this will be very important to people now and in the future, because we are doing business with China and we will continue to do so,” Kanter said.

“These new Chinese language courses will support a diversified group of students. Medical students and students from the business school could benefit from the language courses,” said Miao Marone, the Chinese language professor.

“Having some experience of the language will look great on resumes. If you have these languages skills it will be beneficial in the larger business world,” Marone said.

“This will be opening up a much wider window on the world and the bits and pieces of Chinese culture that have become embedded  in American culture now,” Kanter said.

There were about 20 students in Marone’s 111 Chinese class, with about 11 of those students continuing on with Chinese 112.

“But next year we will be able to teach 111 and the first 200-level class at the same time in the fall. We will also have a four-week study abroad program in China this summer, which is a great opportunity,” Marone said.

“The 200-level course will enlarge on the basics taught in the 111 and 112 courses and the students will learn many more Chinese characters,” Marone said.

In 111, students learn greetings and numbers as well as ways to describe shopping trips and traveling. They must learn not only to speak the language but must also learn how to read the characters and the tones in the language.

“The second year will focus a lot more on pronunciation. I want the students to sound polished and familiar. Students can quickly pick it up,” Marone said.

“In China people will be very accepting of you even if you know just a little Chinese. Even a little can have a huge impact on your life. It can be very important to today’s economy,” Marone added.

Marone is the only faculty member teaching Chinese currently. She was raised in China and while working in Beijing met her husband, a Mercer physics professor, Matt Marone.

The Marones came back to the states, where Mrs. Marone was hired by Mercer to teach Chinese for the first time but  let go when Mercer decided to discontinue the Chinese language courses.

This fall will be Mrs. Marone’s first year restarting at Mercer.

“I taught English in China and it always came natural to me, so when the opportunity to teach Chinese at Mercer opened up I thought it would be a good place for me,” Marone said.

“In some of my classes I speak 90 percent Chinese and all of my students can follow me easily. It is very exciting for me to see the progress in my students in such a small time,” Marone said. “There is always someone following me after class with questions and that is what makes teaching worth it.”

Softball slumps in A-Sun play

Bears lose series against Campbell, JU


(photo courtesy of Mercer's struggles on the diamond recently have brought the team's record back to 17-13 midway through the 2011 campaign.

After the cancellation of the doubleheader with Florida A&M, the Mercer Bears went on an Atlantic Sun road trip to take on conference rivals Campbell, Jacksonville, and North Florida to start A-Sun play. The start of the A-Sun slate has not gone quite as well as the Bears and their senior stars would have hoped. Recent setbacks have the team hovering around the .500 mark halfway into the 2011 season. Series losses against Campbell and Jacksonville in conjunction with a doubleheader split against the UNF Osprey have Mercer near the bottom of the A-Sun as April approaches.

Softball: 17-13 overall,
1-5 Atlantic Sun

Campbell 0-2

Despite outhitting the Camels in their conference opener, the Mercer Bears dropped both games in their doubleheader. This will be the last time the two teams are slated to play regularly in conference play, as Campbell heads for the Big South conference next season. They lost 3-2 and 6-3. Sara Stukes performed well, going 4-for-7. Kari Chambers and Jenni Holtz each picked up losses, and they went to 7-5 and 8-5 respectively on the year. Kassie Bailey performed well in relief.

Jacksonville 0-2

Despite having a week off before the doubleheader versus the Dolphins of Jacksonville, the Mercer Bears did not perform well at all, failing to muster any offense at the plate with no runs, even as Jenni Holtz had eight superb innings before finally getting scored on in the bottom of the ninth. The Bears were blown out 7-0 in the first game, and then lost 1-0 in the nightcap. Kristin Marko went 3-for-5 in the doubleheader, including the only hit in the first game. Jacksonville’s ace pitcher Sarah Sigrest won both games against the Bears, facing 37 batters.

North Florida 1-1

An eight run sixth inning in game one led to the Mercer Bears righting the ship, halting a losing streak that stretched back to March 10. They won 9-3, but they dropped the second game 3-2, despite holding a lead into the sixth inning. This was the first conference win on the year for the Bears, and Jenni Holtz recorded her ninth win of her senior season, facing 36 batters along the way. McKenzie Woody went 4-for-8, helping spark a lot of offense at the top of the order. Amanda Santa Maria went 3-for-6. The Bears were just unable to muster enough late in the second game.

The Bears next see action with doubleheaders versus Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson at home on April 2 and 3. After this, they travel to Auburn and Florida State. The Bears look to build momentum for the middle of their conference schedule.

The Kid’s Corner

The top-10 MMA fighters of today


(photo courtesy of George St. Pierre (left) top Gene's list as the top MMA fighter with his superb fighting record.

MMA who the pound-for- pound fighter in the world is and debate over who claims the top spot becomes immediate. The group begins to squabble over which weight class holds more competition and which title holder seems impossible to defeat.

After Mauricio Rua’s devastating loss to Jon Jones last week, the top 10 spots for best fighter in the world took an entirely different look. I take it upon myself to give our school its first top 10 listing for pound-for-pound best MMA fighters in the world.  Before reading the list, readers, understand I do not base my choices from some arbitrary formula to give them scientific proof, nor did the picks’ fighting record determine their placement. Although I mention their records, most of the evidence given comes from who I actually think would win if every fighter fought at the same weight. With that in mind let’s start the list:

10.  Mauricio Rua (19-5)
Even though Rua lost in devastating fashion last week, that does not mean his “ability” has fallen.  Jones no doubt proved himself as a competent fighter but Rua still poses a serious threat to any opponent.  Until last week Rua had never been stopped via strikes and only lost one other time by submission. One could even argue that he was robbed out of a decision against Lyoto Machida. Combine that with that fact that Rua only wins by stoppage except for one other time in his career, he without question deserves to stay in the pound-for-pound spotlight.

9.  Alistair Overheem (10-4)
Overheem gets little respect, for whatever reason, from the MMA world. The only plausible reason I see comes from the fact he fights in Strikeforce, home of Fedor Emelianenko.  Emelianenko has regards as greatest fighter of all time, despite holding the belt, and that clouds Overheem’s amazing knockout power and brute strength and size. Few can doubt Overheem would put Emelianenko in serious trouble if the two fought.  For this list, though, the Strikeforce brand weighs heavy on Overheem as he faces little real opposition.

8.  Gray Maynard (10-0-1)
Maynard may, more than ever, be at the top of his game with his third installment against Frankie Edgar coming up. The split-decision draw coming in his last bout against Edgar infuriated him, so much so that Maynard probably sleeps in the gym.  No doubt the “Bully” stands atop the lightweight division in the UFC and, rightly so, has a claim at the lofty belt.

7.  Dominick Cruz (16-1)
No one can deny Dominick Cruz has defined the Bantamweight Championship with his past seven victories over serious competition in both the WEC and UFC. The only thing that stands in his way is the only blemish on his record:  Urijiah Faber. If Cruz can reclaim that loss in dominating fashion many could argue Cruz has a shot at the pound-for-pound title. I am still pessimistic of that until he can move up in weight and fight someone stronger than him.

6.  Frankie Edgar (13-1-1)
Edgar would have a stronger case had it not been for his two mishandlings of our number eight seat. Despite dominating B.J. Penn twice (who I think would destroy Maynard) Edgar had no “answer” for Maynard. Edgar will need to put a good showing against Maynard on the trilogy to maintain his spot on this list. Only his future reign as champion will move him forward.

5.  Cain Velasquez (9-0)
First off, the man is undefeated in one of the toughest divisions in the world of MMA.  When you have Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Congo, Carwin and many other top-notch monsters, the fact that Velasquez stands tall over them with an incredible undefeated record speaks volumes to how great a fighter he is.  His next fight very well could be a rematch between the only man who may stand a chance to defeat him: the winner of the Ultimate Fighter Coaches Lesnar and Dos Santos.

4.  Jose Aldo (17-1)
From this point any of these men have a top-ranked position on someone’s top 10 lists.  Most would disagree with the decision to put Aldo third. I feel he needs to move up from his weight class and establish himself as a fighter who can transcend the lower weight classes. The smaller weight classes get too much credit as their weight does not make an impact as much as the higher ones do. That said, Aldo dominates any and all comers and does not look to slow down.

3.  Jon Jones (13-1)
The only reason Jones has a loss on his record comes from the fact he beat up Matt Hamill too fast and got himself disqualified for a ridiculous rule. Without that Jones would hold the most coveted title in the UFC without a single loss.  He dominates and amazingly does not seem to have any serious competition despite the stacked light heavyweight division. The great question now becomes how much money it will take for Anderson Silva to step into the octagon with him.

2.  Anderson Silva (28-4)
The most controversial thing about the last two spots arises from the fact that theoretically the two men could fight.  Their weight classes are close enough to where arrangements could be made. Unfortunately the longer time goes that reality seems less and less. The main reason I put Silva second is the same reason I put Pierre at number one: I do not think he can defeat Pierre. As amazing as he is, Silva will always be susceptible to takedowns and ground and pound. Pierre defeats him with the best shot in MMA.

1.   Georges St. Pierre (21-2)
The most important aspect of fighting is winning. No one knows how to win better than Pierre. He does not always finish fights and he certainly does not always win decisively. What remains constant is his ability to win. He has reclaimed his honor from his only two losses and they were in deciding fashion. Even fights that were close (Penn) he redeemed them as well with deciding victories.  No one can stop his takedowns, and no one seems to match his stand-up game either. The only thing that puts this placement in danger, of course, is his next opponent, but what kind of pound-for-pound fighter would Pierre be if he lost to the likes Jake Shields?

The Third Half

Upsets and Underdogs Abound!


(photo courtesy of VCU's improbable run into the NCAA tournament is this year's top underdog story.

Like many sports fans, I love rooting for the underdog. Upsets and the uncertainty of the NCAA tournament make for a hoops fans’ heaven as small schools defeat big schools and as little-knowns grace the front pages of Sports Illustrated the following week.

For Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, two mid-major schools from the Horizon and Colonial Athletic Association respectively, their run to the final four was a historic, improbable leap for two small schools seeking national attention. They weren’t the only ones to receive attention though as Morehead State and Richmond also sank their first round opponents (with Richmond eventually in the Sweet 16 to Kansas).

For CBS, the bracketologists, and NCAA, this year’s tournament was another step forward in creating a month long buzz stemming from our obsession with college basketball. Add in a possible work stoppage in the NBA (much less the NFL) next season, and college basketball could be the only choice on television other than hockey.

This means big dollars lining the pockets of television networks that broadcast the games, the schools that make the tournament, trickling down all the way to the local sports bars and grilles that serve chicken wings to the fans wearing their school’s official gear licensed by so-and-so. No wonder President Obama seems to be taking an interest in the tournament.

For Butler, their return to the Final Four for the second straight year perhaps only signals the beginning of their mid-major dominance. Their opposition, VCU, took down a highly favored Kansas squad to reach their first Final Four in school history. Before the tournament, I couldn’t name VCU’s conference much less a player or coach from the team.

But this is why we seem to like March Madness – the 15 minutes of fame that an unknown school can receive from a major upset or string of wins against tough opposition. George Mason could be considered the first ‘mid-major’ to crack the Final Four in 2006. Now, Butler returns for the second year in a row (might I add as the favorite to defeat VCU and to return to the championship game).

Perhaps so much of this madness stems from the ‘surprise effect’ that comes with unknown schools defeating more established ones. It’s not like VCU or Butler popped out of nowhere. VCU put together a great year (28-11) and despite finishing 4th in their conference during the regular season, put together a nice run to advance to the tournament. Meanwhile, Butler was 27-9 and a year removed from almost defeating Duke to win the entire tournament.

Upsets and underdogs don’t just pop out of nowhere. With more and more younger players leaving larger conference teams for the NBA early, the talent gap between conferences large and small has closed. Consider it ‘athletics socialism’ in which everyone can have a piece of the pie.

For this channel surfer simultaneously watching three first round games on TruTV, TNT, and CBS, I can only hope to be watching St. Bonaventure take down Kentucky next year or perhaps Belmont bruise UConn on an expanded selection of channels including E! and Oprah’s Network. Who knows, maybe my boss will even wise up given the situation and just give me a whole week off…or at least official bracket printing privileges on the company’s printer. After all, in this day of upsets and underdogs, nothing is for certain.

Dance Marathon event raises thousands

More than $11,000 donated to Children's Miracle Network

Kayla Ott and Ana Bennett, sisters of the Phi Mu Fraternity, volunteer at Dance Marathon to raise money for children.

Approximately 90 students gathered in the Religious Life Center Saturday, March 26 to participate in Dance Marathon and raise money for The Children’s Hospital in downtown Macon.

Dance Marathon is a nationwide organization in which more than 100 colleges participate to raise money for The Children’s Miracle Network hospital in their community. The yearlong process of raising money culminates at one end-of-the-year event to celebrate the money raised.

Participants of Dance Marathon stay on their feet the entire event while playing games, dancing and making crafts. The first Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon mission statement was “We dance for those who can’t.”

“We work all year long [planning] smaller fundraisers and getting people to sign up to participate in the event. The ultimate goal is to raise as much money as possible for the Children’s Hospital in downtown Macon,” said Kathryn Owen, the Director of Dance Marathon.

The smaller fundraisers include events in the Week of Hope, which is the week before the actual Dance Marathon event.

“Normally the Week of Hope is our last fundraising push and is a way to get people excited for the actual day of the event. It’s a way to build awareness leading up to the event,” Owens said.
The Week of Hope typically consists of restaurant nights where a portion of the sale goes towards the Children’s Hospital. This year, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Francar’s Buffalo Wings held restaurant nights.

Students interested in participating in Dance Marathon were able to register as individuals or as a team and were required to raise $50 per person. To raise money, participants could fill out addresses to send letters to friends and family asking for donations or ask for donations through the Donor Drive website.

“All of the money that we raise goes directly back to the hospital and this year our money is going to fund the chapel that they are building [in the Children’s Hospital],” Owens said.

Mary Dee Beal, Vice President of Event Management, planned the events for the actual day of Dance Marathon. The theme of this year’s Dance Marathon was a circus, filled with events, snacks and decorations.

Participants learned a dance choreographed by Shaynna Rodrigues, painted ceiling tiles to be put in The Children’s Hospital and participated in various circus-themed games and skits. Clowns were also present making balloon animals.

In addition to the games, children and their families, known as Miracle Families, spoke to participants about their experience while in The Children’s Hospital.

“Usually [the Miracle Families] talk about the time they were in the Children’s Hospital, and it varies from things like a car accident to children that have actually had cancer or some sort of illness.They share their story about how the hospital helped them and it shows us the importance of what our donations do for them,” Owens said.

Many participants in Dance Marathon have gone on hospital tours of The Children’s Hospital and have been able to see what their donations have actually gone to in past years.
“We can look concretely at the event that we planned and decorated for and then, more importantly, the money we raised. We can go to the hospital and see what [our donations] have gone to,” Beal said.

This year at Dance Marathon, participants raised over $11,653 to put towards the building of a chapel within The Children’s Hospital in downtown Macon. “My favorite part is just being able to do something for someone else and giving back to the Macon community, especially this Children’s Hospital that serves over 48,000 kids every single year,” Owens said.

If you are interested in being a member of the Dance Marathon Executive Committee next year, contact Kathryn Owens.

Applications are due to the board by April 8.