Inspiration comes to Armstrong High...Hager and Earley do the duel politely...Bridge winner returns from Boston triumph...Lee to star as museum ball icon...Police dispatch their crime-fighting tips to yuletide shoppers 

Street Talk

Armstrong Students Get Surprise Visit
Local Man Trumps Competition
Hager, Earley Off to Eager, Early Start
Museum Ball Celebrates Lee, South
Police Hope to Ward Off Kris KriminalsArmstrong Students Get Surprise Visit

Armstrong High School and Franklin Military School students were shocked and thrilled Dec. 2 when principal Howard Hopkins ignited an otherwise tame afternoon awards assembly by throwing back the blue auditorium stage curtain and revealing the platinum-headed Sisqo, a star of the multiplatinum-selling rap and R&B group Dru Hill.

Girls grabbed their hair; boys grabbed each other. Everyone screamed in a chorus of disbelief.

"It was the best assembly we ever had," said Armstrong sophomore Everette Richardson. Richardson's only disappointment was that his sister had gone home early and missed the event. "She would've had a heart attack up in this jank," he said.

Still visibly shaken, Franklin freshman Tikibra Robinson said, "I love that man so much. Yes, I do."

Sisqo kept it real during his speech to the students. "Who wanna know how to get the money?" he asked up front. Nearly everyone raised their hand. "You need to be the best," he said. "How do you be the best? Be yourself." Sisqo concluded the talk with his number-one tip for success: "Expand your horizons."

Principal Hopkins was so moved by Sisqo's words that he shook the star's hand for several minutes afterward. "The message that he articulated to the students was bar-none the best I've ever heard," Hopkins says. "They need to know the real deal."

The Armstrong and Franklin students, who share the same East End building, thought they were in the auditorium only to receive awards for perfect attendance and grades, and had no idea a special guest waited in the wings to congratulate them.

Sisqo was in town for an appearance last weekend at Armani's, a South Side club. James Minor, a former Armstrong student and son of city councilwoman Delores McQuinn, helped organize the event. He says the students still can't stop talking about it. "Oh my God, they loved it," Minor says. "It was an inspiration for their souls."

Wayne Melton

Local Man Trumps Competition

Steve Catlett doesn't talk much. Chalk it up to bridge, the ultimate card game, and its code, if not of silence, then curtness: Bids. Replies. Quiet.

Catlett, 60, owner of Southern Brick Contractors on Westwood Avenue, is obliged to talk today, however: He's back from a victory at the North American Bridge Championships in Boston. One of 444 pairs from 29 countries, Catlett and bridge guru Paul Soloway walked off with a final-round victory in the prestigious Life Master Open Pairs event.

The North American Bridge Championships, the premier U.S. bridge tournament, ended Nov. 28 and provided Catlett his first national title. The native Richmonder and UR grad had won more than 50 regional crowns after starting to play competitively in college, but about 20 years ago Catlett let the game go to focus on his family and business. His self-imposed hiatus ended about six years ago, when Catlett started playing again in tournaments and regrouped, in person and online, with fellow Life Master (think black belt) players Soloway and Bobby Goldman (household names in the bridge world). His goal: a national title, something that had always eluded him.

Compared to the quiet Catlett, Soloway seems garrulous. He rapidly answers the phone next to his Seattle hospital bed — another round of bypass surgery is scheduled, but he feels good — and gladly gabs: "Steve's a great competitor. He was tough and played very good."

A three-time world champ with dozens of national titles, Soloway, 58, the highest-ranking bridge player in the world, doesn't bother with false modesty: "I am a very good bridge player," he agrees. "But the difference between me winning and losing is my partner."

Soloway adds he couldn't have done it this year without Catlett. "It was great, 'cause we were coming from behind," playing for the title against a California husband and wife team who won the open pairs event last year. Catlett-Soloway edged out the pair in the last round, making the final score 3105.21 to 3063.77, a margin of victory of only 1.4 percent, but larger than most.

Catlett is setting his sights now on the next nationals, March in Cincinnati, but after that, it's back to family, business — and golf: "I've really let it go the past few years."

Rob Morano

Hager, Earley Off to Eager, Early Start

may not have the brutal visceral excitement of Bradley vs. Gore (just kidding), but intraparty warfare has come thrillingly early to politics here, as Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. John Hager and Attorney General Mark Earley last week held the first dueling events of campaign 2001.

They did so in strikingly different ways. On Monday, Earley hosted a "Capitol Reception" at Old City Hall, ostensibly to honor the new Republican majority. At the warm, almost intimate lobby gathering, punctuated by the white cowboy hat of song-pushing Jimmy Dean, Earley told a reporter he was "excited" about having recently authorized an exploratory committee, the first step in campaigning for governor.

Hager has yet to do so, but you wouldn't have known it from his lavish affair Wednesday at the Marriott Hotel. As some of the 900 or so guests waited to have their pictures taken with an imperially jovial Hager, they flipped through four-color, eight-page glossy campaign booklets touting his "Faith. Courage. Leadership." (Inside were the convenient contribution envelopes, with checkoff boxes starting at $500.)

While Hager admitted to the Washington Post in October that the event was planned as a "strength-shower," not really, as its title suggested, "A Celebration of the New Majority," the visual mismatch between the events probably was deceiving. Each camp takes the other very, very seriously, and will tell you why — off the record only, though, for now.

Why? Too early.

Rob Morano

Museum Ball Celebrates Lee, South

With his ups and downs stirring debate on the Canal Walk, Robert E. Lee didn't inspire many folks to click their heels together this summer. But friends of the Museum of the Confederacy hope that soon will change.

This January, the museum displays its greatest installation of Lee artifacts and souvenirs — including the first public viewing of all the general's war documents — in "R.E. Lee: The Exhibition." The exhibit is the heart of the museum's yearlong focus on Lee.

Despite the recent Canal Walk controversy, committee members of the museum's annual fund-raising ball, along with the membership development office, have chosen Lee as the theme for this year's cotillion, being held Saturday, March 18, 2000.

The benefit has grown in popularity from a one-evening party to a weekend-long event, Celebrate South. Not surprisingly, the event has had its critics — most notably, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who in 1996 was so outraged by the Bonnie Blue Ball that he likened partygoers to Nazis. Since then, it's been business as usual for the museum's annual fund-raiser, attracting little outside attention.

Courtney Harhai, public relations director with the museum, says this year should be the same. According to Harhai, the museum didn't choose the theme to create controversy. The "Lee exhibit was in the works long before," debate stirred on whether or not the Lee mural should hang along the Canal Walk, "and the ball ties in with the museum."

In previous years, the theme of the ball has been a Confederate state; last year it was North Carolina. That choice made selecting a menu easy. But with Lee? Harhai explains it's been a challenge for the ball's planning committee, and it's relying more on the general theme — Celebrate South — to sell all 600 tickets to the ball at $79 apiece.

This is it for Lee, though, as head of the ball. Next year, the theme of Celebrate South will return to a Confederate state.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Period dress is still encouraged. Harhai says about half the gala-goers sport Confederate couture — and they are the icons of the night. Still, it does cramp some styles. "The period dressers take up twice at much room," laughs Harhai.

Brandon Walters

Police Hope to Ward Off Kris Kriminals

A swinging paint can isn't the only way to catch a thief off-guard.

This holiday season, before you take to Home Alone tactics, take heed of advice from the Richmond Police Department.

"We do see an increase in robberies," says Ed Tarbert, a community officer at the city's 2nd Precinct. "And," he stresses, "not just in the city but in the counties."

In an effort to help citizens thwart crime, whether at home or at the mall, the police department has printed a pamphlet on Holiday Safety Tips.

And before you shrug it off as mere common sense, consider this: Someone may be watching you. "Burglars will walk through alleyways and see boxes and know something valuable has just been brought inside," warns Tarbert.

While shopping, you may think making trips to the car to unload packages is a good idea. Guess again. Unless you follow the tip to move your car each time you drop off accumulated purchases. Then, any potential robber will think you are leaving, and any spying you from the other side of the lot will think you have just arrived.

Carrying a heavy bundle across a mall parking lot, you praise your automatic trunk release. Did you know it could cost you the price of all those presents? "You feel the trunk is secure," says Tarbert. But, he cautions people should "have it disconnected during the holiday season," because it's possible a thief could have a remote programmed the same way and drive through parking lots detecting which trunks could be opened. "We have heard of that happening," tells Tarbert.

And, he says, don't get carried away by the spirit of giving. There are scams aplenty. The most common ploys for money, Tarbert says, are that a person's car has broken down, or their child is in the hospital. "The scam artists will be out there ... and people always fall for them." For a free Holiday Safety Tips pamphlet call the police community services department: 646-6842.

Brandon Walters


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