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Prose and Kohn

Unforgettable Sarasota sports stories in 2023

A big-time swimsuit partnership, a coach's lesson about love and a new soccer league left an impression on the Observer's sports columnist.

Sailors boys basketball Head Coach BJ Ivey always gets the most out of his teams.
Sailors boys basketball Head Coach BJ Ivey always gets the most out of his teams.
File photo
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How lucky am I?

I ask myself this question constantly, as I think most people who get to write about sports for a living should. It is a privilege to bring Observer readers the stories of our community’s athletes and athletic events, always. 

This past year in particular was filled with things I never thought I would see, or get to cover, which made it all the more special. In what has now become an annual tradition, I’d like to look back at a handful of stories that I loved writing about, and explain why. 

In January, I wrote a column on former Riverview High swimmer and Tokyo Olympian Emma Weyant's name, image and likeness deal with Sporti, a collaboration on a swimwear line. I called the deal a shining example of what NIL deals can and should be at the college level, and I still feel that way.

University of Florida swimmer Emma Weyant called her NIL collaboration with Sporti a dream come true.
Courtesy photo

Weyant got to use her brand to create a product she actually likes while also earning money from it. There's still a lot that the NCAA is trying to learn about how to handle NIL — look at the mess that is the college football transfer portal right now for proof of that — but in the end, aren't deals like Weyant's exactly what the laws are designed to create? She's not getting paid to swim at the University of Florida, specifically; she's getting paid because the swimming community knows her and respects what she's done. That's pretty cool. 

The choice

In February, I chatted with Sarasota High boys basketball Head Coach BJ Ivey about his 300th career win and what he's learned over his coaching career. He relayed a story from just before he married his wife, Samantha Ivey, when he met with a priest, who reminded him that love is a choice. The priest, of course, meant that if BJ Ivey wanted to love and commit to Samantha forever, then he should marry her. But Ivey has carried that to his coaching career as well. 

BJ Ivey picked up his 300th win on Jan. 24, 2023, in a Sailors' road contest against Braden River High.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

"You get an opportunity to coach a group of kids, and you get an opportunity to model choosing to love them," Ivey said. "Good times and bad. When it is easy and when it is hard. And there's different kinds of love. Sometimes you put your arm around them and speak greatness into them, encourage them. Other times you have to give a little tough love."

Listening to Ivey talk is a reminder of what a high school coach should be. They should teach the sport, yes, but they should also help shepherd these young athletes through what can be a difficult, changing time in their lives and helping them adapt with it. That's where Ivey excels — though he's pretty good with the X's and O's, too. 

Talk to me

In March, I had perhaps the most interesting conversation I had with anyone all year when I sat down with first-year Sarasota Scullers Head Coach Bernhard Stomporowski, also known as Stompo. He came to the Scullers after decades of experience in Germany and elsewhere, but his story cannot be summarized with a resume. 

The conversation is too far-reaching to recap in full, so I encourage you to read the original column, but it involves the Sex Pistols, the Olympics, hair dye, a German judge, and letting people be who they are. It was fascinating, and it let me know that the Scullers' young rowers are in good hands. 

In June — right before July 4 — I wrote a column on some of the best food challenges you can find around Sarasota. It was in honor of Joey Chestnut, an American hero and the world's greatest athlete. 

Every year Chestnut keeps up his ability to eat a mind-boggling amount of food in "X" minutes, I get more and more amazed. And yes, Chestnut won the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest again this year, downing 62 hot dogs despite a rain delay (yes, really) disrupting his stomach cycle. The man is simply an inspiration. 

In July, I talked with Christina Unkel, a Sarasota-based FIFA referee and soccer television analyst, including for major events like the Women's World Cup. This time, though, I did not call Unkel to talk about on-field happenings, but something happening off the field. 

Christina Unkel was named the club president of Super League Tampa Bay on July 15.
Courtesy photo

Earlier in the month, Unkel was named the club president of Tampa Bay Sun FC, an organization in the United Soccer League's new Super League, a professional women's soccer league aiming to begin play in August 2024. 

As it currently stands, the only professional women's soccer league is the National Women's Soccer League, established in 2012. There are 12 NWSL teams with a roster limit of 26 players, so there are only 312 women who can play professional soccer in the United States. The Super League, Unkel said, is changing that in a big way. 

Unkel is one of the smartest people around. Listening to her talk about how the Super League, if done right, could help more women see soccer as a dream with a viable pipeline was eye-opening. I don't know how successful the league will be in terms of casual sports fans, but with Unkel involved, I'm not going to bet against it thriving. 

There are more stories like these coming in 2024. I can't wait to share them with you all. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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