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Extras needed Friday in Florence for Pearl Hart movie

FLORENCE — A movie based on the true story of stagecoach robber Pearl Hart is scheduled to film Hart’s trial at McFarland State Historic Park in Florence on Friday.

The producer is looking for locals dressed in period-correct western clothing.

“They’re going to be heavily featured because they’ll be the jury and the court audience,” director and producer Travis Mills told PinalCentral by phone. Interested people may write to for more information.

The movie, entitled, “The Woman Who Robbed the Stagecoach” stars Lorraine Etchell of Miami, Arizona, making her movie debut in the title role. Several other Arizona actors also appear, Mills said.

He said some locals have responded to his request for extras, and more are coming from Tucson and even Payson to sit in the McFarland Park courtroom.

“The biggest thing is that people need their own period wardrobe to be in the scene,” Mills said. “We’re not outfitting people. But a lot of people seem to be enjoying the process of finding that,” he said. In a post on his “12 Westerns in 12 Months” Facebook page, he recommends Wild West Mercantile in Mesa.

Mills said mostly women have expressed an interest so far, “so more men would be great.” The courtroom scenes will be the movie’s 14th and final day of shooting.

Hart, born Pearl Taylor in Canada in 1876, committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States when she and an accomplice held up the stage that traveled between Globe and Florence in 1899. The novelty of a female robber led to a media sensation. Many details of Hart’s life are uncertain, with available reports being varied and often contradictory, according to Wikipedia.

Mills said “The Woman Who Robbed the Stagecoach” will probably be screened in the summer of 2021 in southern Arizona before becoming available on Amazon Prime and on DVD. Mills’ company 12 Westerns LLC aims to release a movie a month next year. Some are true stories like Pearl Hart’s, others are fiction. A couple have been shot in Mississippi but most of them are being made in Arizona, Mills said.

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Grinder in Florence aims to be bigger than Disney sports complex

FLORENCE — ESPN Wide World of Sports in Florida’s Walt Disney resort is similar to what Grinder Sports Group LLC wants to build in Florence, the Florence Planning and Zoning Commission was told.

Commissioner Duane Proulx asked if a concept like Grinder’s is operating anywhere else, “or is this a new experiment for the town of Florence?”

Lyndon Estill, chief operations officer of Grinder, replied the closest similar development would be Wide World of Sports in Orlando, but even that one is just about 75% the size of what Grinder has planned.

“So there is a little bit of uncharted waters that we’re going into,” Estill told the commission. “But as you may know, the Disney Wide World of Sports has been probably the premier facility in the country for the last 30 years.”

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 220-acre multi-purpose sports complex in the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando. The complex includes nine venues and hosts numerous professional and amateur sporting events throughout the year. During the pandemic, it has hosted “bubbles” for leagues trying to play games, such as the NBA and MLS.

Grinder sports is proposing a development of approximately 357 acres on two parcels off North Felix Road, separated by the Magma Ranch community.

Proulx also asked if there’s enough financing to finish Grinder’s proposal. Estill replied with development agreement negotiations ongoing with the town, it’s probably best not to talk specifics at this time. “But as we get further into that agreement and what works for all parties involved,” more details can be made public, Estill said.

Planning and Zoning Chairman Gary Pranzo said Florence has a systemic problem in which development occurs north of the Gila River while the area south does not benefit and continues to deteriorate. He said it’s his feeling that the Grinder complex will exacerbate this problem.

“From a planning standpoint, I would like all of you to start thinking about how we bring south of the Gila along with the prosperity that this project is going to bring to the town of Florence and to the county,” he said. “It’s a lot to think about, it’s not an easy problem. Our management has wrestled with it and not done well.”

He suggested this could be a topic at the commission’s next meeting Sept. 3.

These questions and comments came Aug. 20 when the commission held a public hearing to receive comments on a Major General Plan Amendment for Grinder Sports Group LLC. The commission will hold a second public hearing Sept. 3 and recommend for or against the amendment. The Town Council could take action on Oct. 5.

This is just the beginning of approvals the development needs, as Grinder negotiates a development agreement with the town and pursues annexation and rezoning. The group envisions a major sports training complex with numerous fields and courts, lodging and retail. The proposal also includes a satellite college campus, a charter school campus and family entertainment center with miniature golf, bowling, paintball, movie theater, hotels, restaurants, and retail and office space.

Public hearing

A few citizens also had questions at the Aug. 20 public hearing. Valerie Blaser asked when the Grinder complex might break ground. Florence planner Larry Harmer replied that that the middle of next year is possible. Cory Shepard, Grinder project manager, agreed that “is a very feasible point for us to start moving dirt.”

Blaser also asked about water treatment for the complex. Elijah Williams, an engineering consultant for Grinder, said quantifying the demand for services and identifying potential utility providers is something they’re “still in the middle of doing,” but they know it’s one of the first priorities they’ll have to address.

Blaser asked if this means there are others being considered besides Johnson Utilities.

Harmer read an email from another resident asking, “Is Johnson Utilities going to have any part in this project? Their ability to handle a project like this is at best doubtful.” Harmer replied that Grinder is proposing to provide water and wastewater facilities as part of the project and “they’ll have to work with Johnson Utilities to reach an agreement” on those facilities.

“This is all part of the negotiation process between the town and discussions with Johnson Utilities to find out to what degree this project will be required to provide the infrastructure, and what form that will take. That is still all to be determined at this point,” Harmer said.

Williams added, “We certainly understand there are some challenges, or have been historically. We’re looking at every option and every possibility as far as water and sewer service in this area, and are confident we’ll get some good answers.”

Bonnie Bariola of Chandler emailed a question asking which Grinder or Grinders entity will build the sports complex. Estill replied Grinder Sports Group LLC and incorporated companies are “the project entities moving forward.” Grinders Sports Inc. is a separate group, a nonprofit that Co-CEO Kelly Stinnett established many years ago for youth sports.

Pranzo said the question is will the sports complex be nonprofit, “and it will not. It will be a regular corporation, or an LLC.”

“Yes sir,” Estill replied.

Chris Funk noted the Grinder proposal also includes police and fire facilities. He said Magma Ranch residents currently must buy fire protection subscriptions from Rural Metro Fire Department. “Will that go away? Will our city taxes actually go for city services now?”

Harmer and Vice Mayor John Anderson replied Magma Ranch residents could ask to be annexed into the town limits and receive fire protection and other town services. Harmer said the annexation process is outlined on the town website.

Grinder proposes to build 15 college-level baseball fields; a pro-level baseball stadium with 7,500 seats; 15 college-level softball fields and Little League fields; a pro-level softball/Little League stadium with 3,000 seats, 24 multipurpose fields for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football; a track and field venue; aquatics center; 10 tennis courts with stadium; pickleball courts; a field house with 10 basketball courts, 20 volleyball courts, cheerleading and wrestling.

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New Florence-Anthem polling place sought

FLORENCE — Anthem voters are expected to have a new polling place for the Nov. 3 general election, the Town Council was told last week.

Councilwoman Michelle Cordes commented at the council’s Aug. 17 meeting that the Anthem fire station was not a good polling location and difficult for anyone with a disability. Deputy Town Manager/Town Clerk Lisa Garcia said the Anthem community center was unavailable, and Pinal County contacted town staff a couple of weeks prior to the Aug. 4 primary election for help finding another place.

“I do want to thank both the Fire Department and the Public Works Department, who did a great job of getting that site ready,” Garcia said. Town staff told Pinal County representatives they didn’t believe it was an acceptable site because of the amount of work required to prepare it and its ability to provide social distancing.

“So Pinal County is currently working on an alternate polling place, and I’ll keep everybody posted as soon as I know,” Garcia told the council. “…Hopefully we’ll find something that’s suitable. The real key is we do want Florence voters voting in the town of Florence and we would like something within the Anthem area as well.”

Cordes asked who paid for the dirt parking lot and other preparations. Garcia replied the town spent approximately $1,643 and submitted the bill to Pinal County.

The council voted to adopt the results of the Aug. 4 primary election.

Councilwoman Kristen Larsen was reelected to a second term with 1,538 votes. Mayoral candidates Tara Walter and Kyle Larsen will move on to the Nov. 3 general election, along with council candidates Arthur “Snake” Neal, Bill Tanner, Johnie Mendoza and Vallarie Woolridge. Other final totals included Walter, 1,417; Kyle Larsen, 1,054; Neal, 1,120; Tanner, 1,017; Mendoza, 977; and Woolridge, 940. Voter turnout was 41.23%. More candidates could file to be write-ins before Sept. 24.

In other business on Aug. 17:

  • The council heard a presentation from John Bell with Enterprise Fleet Management on a leasing plan that would result in the town having newer vehicles and reducing operational and maintenance expenses by more than 60%. In the long-term, the plan is projected to save the town an average of more than $40,000 per year for Public Works alone, and more when the town’s entire fleet is analyzed.

Town staff have been working with Enterprise to better understand the process and potential savings for over six months. Town staff have also reached out to neighboring cities to discuss their satisfaction with Enterprise “and have heard nothing but strong satisfaction,” according to a town staff report to the council. The council took no action.

  • Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Roger Biede suggested Florence look into becoming an “Autism Certified City.” This would mean the community’s key service providers, including health care, education, local government, hospitality, leisure and other businesses, would be trained and certified to better serve individuals with autism and other cognitive disorders. Biede said certification would cost money at first but the returns would be more.

People with autism would be attracted to the town’s shops and restaurants, “knowing they’re going to be treated with respect and kindness. They’re going to come back again and again, knowing they are safe, and treated just like everybody else,” a mother and teacher told the council. The council will hold a work session Sept. 14 with the chamber on this topic and other issues.

  • The council heard a presentation on the Florence Transportation Planning Study from Kevin Kugler, transportation planning director with Michael Baker International.

The town’s current transportation plan, the 2008 Coolidge-Florence Regional Transportation Plan, dates back to the onset of the Great Recession. Since then, development patterns and landowners have changed, and previous road projects no longer serve current development patterns, according to a town staff report.

A copy of the new transportation study is available in the town clerk’s office and on the state transportation website at

Police Chief Bruce Walls presented the town's new “Drunk Busters Cart,” from a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. It will be used at high school and community events to educate new and upcoming drivers on the dangers of driving under the influence. Fire Chief David Strayer presented the town’s new 75% grant-funded truck to pull the Community Emergency Response Team trailer.

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Boxing gym rings bell in Coolidge

COOLIDGE — At 9 years old, Jonathan Palma is learning how to manage his aggression. He and his mom, Mikki Sanchez, make regular trips from the Florence area to Coolidge so he can work out and get fit.

Jonathan’s sessions are of a physical nature, not emotional. He’s learning how to box at Robles Boxing & Fitness, which completed a move from Florence to Coolidge and opened to the public Aug. 17.

But Jonathan does experience a range of emotions while participating in the program.

“It’s good and it’s a little bit of aggression,” he said before a workout at the facility last week. “It makes me feel good, toughens me up. I get a lot of enjoyment. (I feel) a little bit nervous, a little bit shyness. I have to fight in front of a bunch of people. But you get used to it after a while.”

In six organized bouts since he started with Robles, Jonathan has won once while two of the losses were close fights, said his mother, who lives in the Magic Ranch subdivision of Florence.

“I love it,” she said of watching her son trade punches in the ring. “That’s what he wanted to do from the first time he saw it. That’s why we put him into it. He lives and breathes boxing. I get excited and hopeful for him but at the same time nervous. I want him to win, of course.”

With only one year of boxing experience, Jonathan is competing and training against youths with more fights under their belt while at the same time some of those same guys are showing him the ropes of the sport.

“He’s going against kids who’ve been fighting for four, five years,” Mikki said. “He’s only got one year. He got in late in the game. I think it’s motivated him to train more. He’s like a little brother to them. They push him to be better.”

Randy Robles and his wife, Julie, moved their boxing and fitness training business from Florence to Coolidge this year mainly because a bigger facility became available. Randy had been working at the Speedway convenience store when he saw a nearby building at 640 N. Arizona Blvd. with a for rent sign planted in the ground. And, besides, operations in Florence had hit a rough round after about 18 months.

Robles had been conducting his training sessions in a pecan orchard, a school’s field and at the Florence Community Center, but space was cramped and equipment limited.

“We outgrew it. We’re appreciative they allowed us to use their facility, but it was hard because we were limited to two days, certain hours. We only had a little bit of equipment, four bags,” Julie Robles said. “Some days we’d have two rooms, some days we’d have one room. Couldn’t have a boxing ring. It just got too hard.”

So the 3,000-square-foot building in Coolidge that formerly was an auto shop fit the Robleses like a glove.

“Coming to Coolidge just opened up doors,” Randy said. “It was so much easier to open our business here. The town council, the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, they all reached out to us. We were right there in the heart of Florence. Mayor never showed up, Town Council never showed up. Privately they weren’t helping us. And we didn’t need anything. Just don’t put up so many roadblocks. We’re a small, mom-and-pop gym and we can’t afford $100,000 to fix up a building. Coming to Coolidge was night and day. (On our first day) I saw so many kids in here. We tripled the amount we had (in Florence.) It wasn’t like we hated Florence. It’s just that we got to grow. We either fold or we advance.”

Robles, a former amateur and 1980 and 1984 Olympics hopeful with more than 400 fights to his credit, runs a training center that features “old-fashioned, traditional boxing” as well as kickboxing and Zumba classes — but not mixed martial arts, cage fighting or wrestling, real or staged — for boys and girls, men and women anywhere from 6 years old to clients in their 80s.

A slate of 50 classes a week, including a trainer, costs $65 for one month. It's not a come-and-go-as-you-please fitness center as with most national-brand gyms. Rather, workouts are scheduled. An average client will attend three classes a week, but others go multiple times a day all week long.

“We don’t have cardio and weight equipment,” Julie said. “We’re not an open gym where you can come in and work out when you want. Everything is structured. You’re never going to come in and say ‘Hmm, what am I going to do today?’ You’re always going to know what to do.”

Most of the focus is on the youth end, and it’s not all about delivering and taking a punch. There’s subtlety at play and a demand that the youngsters pay as much attention to schoolwork as their ring work.

“The girls who come in, they got a point to prove,” Randy Robles said. “But we also reach out to the kids that are shy, overweight. They’re not the strongest. They may not get bullied at school but they just don’t fit in with the football team. We get those kids as well. We get the tough kids and we get the shy kids. We don’t really get the ones who are in the middle, those who were good at Little League and they’re just hanging out here. It’s either you’re a tough kid or you’re not, and we try to bring them together.”

Just as important as the physical training is the camaraderie that develops among the boxers, especially the girls, Randy said.

“It’s confidence-building,” he said. “Most of them are kids that don’t fit into school sports. It’s individual, but they gravitate to each other. We have four girls that we’re getting from different schools and they came here and now they’re friends. They’re going to pizza parties. That’s what I like. It’s more about getting the kids together, building that self-confidence. They don’t compete. They don’t get punched at. We’re not that kind of place. We do offer that, but you don’t just walk in and spar.”

The Robleses foresee their gym and fighters eventually representing the Coolidge community much in the manner the Coolidge Bears do on Friday nights by hosting fight nights and out-of-town boxers. There is a amateur team now, and some pro fighters as well, that carried over from Florence going to tournaments in Tucson, Phoenix and out of state carrying the Robles name. While operating out of Florence, they twice held cards with as many as 18 bouts.

“For those that are actually looking to compete in the sport of boxing, we have steps that they have to take and then they can actually make our amateur boxing team. We do have some pro fighters as well,” Randy said. “We do put on events. When they lift the sanctions for COVID we’ll be holding events here. We’ll do school drives. We’ll do toy drives. We’ll do a lot of things with the community. We’re not just a gym. We like to interact with the community.

“My ultimate goal, even though we do have adults in our classes, is to give the kids something positive, get them off the streets. We have to make a certain amount of money but I’m all about trying to give the kids something positive. We’ll do what it takes to reach as many kids as we can.”

Among the most experienced of boxers associated with Robles Boxing & Fitness is Puerto Rico-born, New York-raised Edriech “Kid Flash” Rosa, 24, who’s undefeated in four pro fights and has three knockouts in the super flyweight division, according to Rosa, a Florence resident, has an upcoming fight that will be televised on ESPN, Robles said.

Coolidge resident Caleb Jeffries, a 2019 Arizona Golden Gloves champion at 140 pounds, and Conner Goade, another state Golden Glove winner, are also in the Robles program.