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Ernesto Garcia  

Baylor fan holds up #TTT (Together To Tampa) sign during second half.

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Officials hoping for marker to honor legacy of Katy Park
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

It could be more than a year in the making, but McLennan County Historical Commission members are moving forward with plans to place a state historical marker on the site of the former Katy Park, the history-laden baseball field in downtown Waco that played host to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Theodore Roosevelt and Joe Louis.

Ken Brittain, chairman of the McLennan County Historical Commission, said he has been contacted by at least two people who want to donate to the $2,000 cost of the state historical marker, and that members are working on the narrative for the commemorative plaque that will be submitted with the marker application to the Texas Historical Commission.

If things go as planned, Brittain said the marker could be erected in the fall of 2020 in the area of Eighth Street between Webster Avenue and Jackson Avenue, better known these days as the parking lot of the immensely popular Magnolia Market at the Silos.

Before Chip and Joanna Gaines made the area a shopping and tourist destination, Katy Park was a popular family fun stop for six decades and served as an inviting ballfield to a variety of leagues and teams, including the Waco Pirates, a farm club for the Major League Pittsburgh Pirates.

Brittain and others think a historical marker for the site is long overdue.

“I came to Waco in 1955 to go to Baylor, and a lot of people in Waco remember that park,” Brittain said. “I know some of the fellows who went there. They used to be part of the knot-hole gang. Around the country, every ballpark had fences, and they had knot-hole gangs who watched the game through holes in the fences.”

Texas Collection at Baylor University photo  

An undated aerial photo shows Katy Park, which was located where free parking is now offered to Magnolia Market customers. A local group is working to place a state historical marker along Eighth Street near the site.

The historic park was built in 1905, just in time for a visit by Roosevelt. It was rebuilt after the 1953 tornado that killed 114 people, injured 600 and destroyed much of downtown Waco, including the park. It was razed in 1965, and the owners sold it to a businessman, who put a wrecking yard there.

Brittain said the commission cannot submit its application for the Katy Park marker until September. If approved, designs will be sent to a foundry, and the city of Waco has offered to install it, Brittain said.

In the meantime, the Gaineses and their Magnolia empire are developing a master plan for the Silos area and have not ruled out the possibility of incorporating the marker into their plans, Brittain said.

“We’re still in the process of finalizing our specific plans, but we will definitely be honoring the location and its significance,” Magnolia publicist John Marsicano said this week in an email.

Brittain told the Tribune-Herald in November that the commission contacted the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2014 about getting a marker for Katy Park and possibly helping pay for it. Pirates officials said they were aware the club had a minor league team in Waco from 1952 to 1965 but expressed no desire to help pay for a marker, Brittain said.

“We never got anyone interested in buying a marker for Katy Park,” he said. “We would love to have a marker there. We have done the research, but we need someone who is interested in funding a marker.”

Texas Collection — Fred Gildersleeve 

A photo shows the outside of Katy Park. 

Honoring her son

Mary Brewer, whose family has been in the furniture business in Waco for many years, said she will donate money to the project to honor the memory of her son, Billy, who played ball there, won baseball scholarships to Hill College and Sam Houston State University, but was killed at 20 in an accident while working on a highway crew.

Brewer asked that the amount of her donation not be disclosed, but Brittain said it will take other donations to fund the entire project. He said donations can be sent to the McLennan County Historical Commission, 333 Old Mill Creek Drive, Waco, TX, 76712.

In an event that drew thousands to the park in 1929, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and rest of the Yankees came to Waco to play an exhibition game against the Waco Cubs at Katy Park. In the early 1950s, legendary boxer Joe Louis boxed an exhibition match at Katy Park against a Fort Hood soldier who had been an Olympic boxer.

In 1930, the Waco Black Cardinals played host to the famous Kansas City Monarchs in the state’s first pro baseball game played at night. The Monarchs brought their own portable lighting system and won the game.

The Cardinals relocated to Galveston during the Depression years, but minor league baseball returned to Waco after the war in 1947 when the Waco Dons joined the Class B Big State League.

The Dons became the Pirates after Katy Park owner A.H. Kirksey persuaded the Pittsburgh Pirates to take over the struggling team in 1948. The Pirates played their last game in 1956, but the ballpark continued to be used in the late 1950s and early 1960s for Baylor varsity baseball, semiprofessional and exhibition games. Moore High School, an African-American school in Waco, competed in the state baseball championships there in 1959.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

The new metal kinetic sculptures turn in the wind downtown Wednesday. The public art pieces are on Austin Avenue at the edge of the Roosevelt Tower parking lot, across from the ALICO building.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Creative Waco executive director Fiona Bond (from left) stands with donors Clifton and Betsy Robinson before the dedication of new kinetic sculptures downtown memorializing the 1953 Waco tornado. The three wind-driven pieces, designed by New Mexico artist Mark White, are located on Austin Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets next to the Roosevelt Tower.

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Robinson man dies in apparent suicide after hours-long standoff
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

A Robinson man who barricaded himself in a house and held an almost eight-hour standoff with authorities died in an apparent suicide Wednesday morning, police said.

Bryan Richard Dunbar, 29, was found dead in his home in the 900 block of Heston Circle, near Greig Drive, after the lengthy standoff in a residential area, Robinson Police Chief Phillip Prasifka said. Police said Dunbar barricaded himself in the home after officers responded there on a medical call shortly after 1 a.m.

Dunbar was known to have weapons and told police he thought he was being poisoned, Prasifka said.

He displayed a firearm when officers approached to try to get him to come out and he told officers he did not want to come out because he was afraid he would be harmed, Prasifka said.

After police backed away from the house and set a perimeter, six or seven shots were fired from inside the house, Robinson police Lt. Tracy O’Connor said. No homes or people were hit.

Police lost contact with Dunbar for an extended period of time, prompting authorities from multiple agencies, including Hewitt and Woodway police, to assist in the standoff. Police also used tear gas in the house in an effort to get Dunbar out.

At about 4:20 a.m., smoke was seen coming from the home, but no fire was visible, Prasifka said.

Negotiators continued to try to talk with Dunbar, and The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad used a robot to search the garage and other areas of the home where they believed Dunbar may have been.

“At approximately 9:19 a.m., a single gunshot was heard by officers,” Prasifka said. “Officers continued to contact the male, but communication ceased. At approximately 9:55 a.m., SWAT officers located the male in the bedroom with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.”

Police said Dunbar was the only person in the home.

McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson arrived at the home a short time later and pronounced Dunbar dead.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

A law enforcement official leaves after a standoff Wednesday at a house near Greig drive and Heston Circle in Robinson.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Santa Fe, New Mexico artist Mark White calls this sculpture a "Passion Flower." It's part of a new kinetic piece of public art near the Roosevelt Tower on Austin Avenue that symbolizes the 1953 tornado.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Archaelogists (from left, Nicole Johnson, Jessica Bean, Henry Beard and Caroline Munsell) search a frozen Ice Age mummy (Brody Volpe) for clues about his life in Baylor Theatre’s “Mnemonic.”

Transformation Waco to spend $600,000 on certification, degrees for teacher recruits
 Brooke Crum  / 

Some 25 future educators willing to commit to working in selected Waco schools for five years will earn their teaching certificates and master’s degrees free of charge starting this summer through a program created by Transformation Waco.

The Transformation Waco board of trustees on Tuesday unanimously approved bid awards to Tarleton State University and the Academy for Urban School Leadership to partner with Transformation Waco, the five-school charter system in the Waco Independent School District authorized under Senate Bill 1882. The Waco ISD board is expected to approve the agreements Thursday.

Tarleton State University and the Academy for Urban School Leadership will provide services for the combined master’s degree and alternative certification program, which is a nontraditional path to earn a teaching certificate that allows college graduates to teach while completing the certification requirements.

Applications for the Transformational Urban Educator Alternative Certification Program are open. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree by June 6, a minimum GPA of 3.0 and have taken or scheduled the pre-admission content test through the Texas Education Agency. They also must be U.S. citizens.

Qualified candidates will receive an invitation to interview by April 5, according to the program’s website,

The program will cost Transformation Waco about $600,000, money that will be split between Tarleton and the leadership academy, according to the board’s agenda packet. State grants awarded to Trans- formation Waco will cover the costs.

The school district intends for the alternative certification program to combat high teacher turnover in the five schools, Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said.

For the past three years, Waco ISD as a whole averaged a 24 percent teacher turnover rate, losing more than 200 teachers a year, compared to the statewide average of 16 percent. The district hired 204 new teachers for this school year, including 87 who were completing an alternative certification program.

Teacher turnover is even higher among Transformation Waco schools, with three campuses having to hire between 37 and 46 percent of their teaching staffs each year. On average, Waco ISD middle schools also hire more than 30 percent of their teaching staff annually.

The five Transformation Waco schools are Indian Spring Middle School, G.W. Carver Middle School, Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School and J.H. Hines Elementary School.

“We want to follow the research that says that teachers stay in high-poverty schools because they have a cohort of colleagues who are working toward the same goals,” McDurham said.

McDurham visited Chicago over spring break to see the work the Academy of Urban School Leadership does in Chicago Public Schools. The Academy has been in Chicago schools for almost 20 years. It manages a 31-school in-district charter in the Chicago Public Schools system, C.J. Rogers with the Academy said.

“It was really inspiring to how they were using their interns, and it was great to see a successful and well-established industry charter,” McDurham said.

For the first year, Transformation Waco wants to have a cohort of 25 teachers across four sites, with potential to expand in subsequent years. Selected candidates begin work June 6 for the summer program, with a break for the week of July 4. They receive a stipend for the summer program.

If candidates successfully complete the summer program and pass the content exam, they will be eligible for hire by a Transformation Waco school in the 2019-2020 school year. Salaries start at $46,000 a year, with health benefits.

FAA defends its reliance on aircraft makers to certify jets

WASHINGTON — Under fire from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the two deadly Boeing crashes, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday defended the agency’s practice of relying on aircraft makers to help certify their own planes for flight.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said the strategy has “consistently produced safe aircraft designs for decades.” And he said the agency would need 10,000 more employees and an additional $1.8 billion a year to do all the work now done by designated employees of the companies it regulates.

Under the self-certifying program, these employees perform tests and inspections needed to win safety approvals, with the FAA overseeing their work. The approach is credited with holding down government costs and speeding the rollout of new models.

But in the wake of disasters involving Boeing’s new 737 Max jetliner in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that practice has been seized on as evidence of an overly cozy relationship between the FAA and the industry.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said at a Senate subcommittee hearing that delegating safety work to the companies puts “the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

“The fact is that the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap, which is neither safe nor cheap,” Blumenthal said. He vowed to introduce legislation to change the system.

At the same hearing, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, Calvin Scovel III, said the FAA plans to significantly revamp its oversight of aircraft development by July. But the department gave no indication it intends to abandon the collaborative approach.

Scovel said the changes would include new ways to evaluate training and self-audits by aerospace companies but offered little other detail.

Boeing said the process by which it designs, develops and tests planes has led to safer and safer air travel, and it sees no need for an overhaul.

The FAA and the industry say that deputizing private employees to do safety-related tasks is vindicated by the nation’s safety record — one passenger accident death in the U.S. in the last 10 years and millions of flights. Elwell said the approach is “part of the fabric of what we have used to become as safe as we are today.”

The Max, featuring bigger, more efficient engines, went into service in 2017. The software in a new automated system that can push the plane’s nose down to prevent an aerodynamic stall is suspected of playing a role in the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia and has also come scrutiny in the March 10 plunge of an Ethiopian Airlines Max. In all, 346 people died.

The plane was grounded around the world this month.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who chaired the hearing, said the “close relationship between industry and regulators” threatens to erode the confidence of the flying public.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., questioned whether the FAA is too chummy with airlines and Boeing, a major defense contractor with political power in Washington.

“Changes need to be made in the relationship between this company and its regulator to ensure that the safely of the flying public remains the paramount interest, not the quarterly profits of this company,” Udall said.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines says thousands of canceled flights, including 2,800 due to grounding its Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, are contributing to weaker bookings and $150 million less in first-quarter revenue than previously expected.

The airline expects to cancel 9,400 flights in the quarter, which ends Sunday. Some have been caused by bad weather and others by maintenance issues it blames on negotiations with union mechanics.

As a result of those and other trends, the company on Wednesday lowered its forecast for a key revenue measure. Southwest said in a securities filing that it’s reducing its schedule through April 20. It predicts a pickup in the second quarter.

The hit to revenue was anticipated on Wall Street. Shares rose almost 3 percent Wednesday.