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Florence cautiously begins reopening
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — Florence Community Library is open for curbside service as the town cautiously begins to reopen.

Beginning this week, library patrons may request materials to be placed on hold. Once a patron receives notification that the material is being held, they can call 868-8311 to arrange for pickup or delivery.

Patrons can pick up items from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Materials will then be delivered curbside in the designated location in front of the Library and Community Center, 778 N. Main St.

The town began this week to resume services in phases, in keeping with Gov. Doug Ducey’s direction, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies “and without risking future or greater relapses,” Mayor Tara Walter said in a Facebook message.

Poston Butte Preserve and the Florence Dog Park are open again, Walter added. Park restrooms at Heritage Park, the Aquatic Center and Jaques Square are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and closed on weekends.

Library staff is also offering a printer on service, which allows patrons to print directly to the library’s printer system, according to a town news release. Simply utilize the printer on app or website directly from your home (website address is https://www.envisionware.com/mobile-printing/). Go to the library during curbside hours to pick up those printed documents. The cost is 10 cents per page.

The Florence library is also starting an ask-a-librarian service. Staff will provide brief answers or suggested resources to a variety of questions. The purpose of the service is to guide the user to appropriate information sources or services that can answer their research questions.

This service is available during curbside hours, by calling 868-8311 or by emailing gloria.moreno@florenceaz.gov.

Curbside service hours are subject to change. This service is available for Florence Community Library materials only. Requests are limited to 10 items and library cards must be in good standing before making the request. Requests for materials may also be made online through the library catalog with the new Pinal County Library District app.

The public is also encouraged to check the town’s Facebook page for ongoing virtual recreation opportunities.

“The public’s patience is appreciated as we offer these services to help meet the needs of the Florence community during this unprecedented time,” said the town’s announcement.

The mayor’s Facebook message said future reopenings, depending on the governor’s recommendations, will include pickleball, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, small park ramadas and town buildings, including Town Hall, the police and fire stations and the Community Development Department.

The town manager will periodically evaluate the feasibility of reopening other facilities with restrictions necessary to protect the public. These include large park ramadas, playground equipment, the aquatic center, community center, library, fitness center, senior center, Padilla Park and the rodeo grounds, the mayor said.

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Appeals court rules for Florence Copper
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that Florence Copper’s permit to operate its Production Test Facility is valid and meets all the requirements of state law.

The May 7 ruling upholds earlier decisions by the state’s Water Quality Appeals Board and Maricopa County Superior Court. The appeals court also awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to Florence Copper and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as a result of their multiyear effort to defend against challenges brought by the town of Florence and Southwest Value Partners, a real estate investment company with land neighboring the mine.

Ben Bitter, Florence intergovernmental and communications manager, said town staff looked forward to discussing the ruling with the Town Council in a closed-door meeting.

Florence Copper is currently conducting a small-scale test phase of the in-situ process on its property off Hunt Highway while planning for full-scale commercial operations.

Since 2012, the town of Florence and Southwest Value Partners have initiated a series of political and legal actions to stop the mine. The town has lost every one of its legal challenges, which now total seven, Florence Copper said in a statement.

“Meanwhile, the Florence Copper Project continues to operate and perform as designed,” the company’s statement said. “It has proven itself to be an environmental success and is meeting every performance criteria and obligations set down by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.”

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Boxing gym opening in Coolidge
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — When Randy Robles came home to Florence, it was with the goal of starting a boxing gym for local youth, just like his father did more than 45 years ago.

After 18 months of looking for space, Robles and his wife, Julie, have finally found their gym in Coolidge.

“I’ve caught a little flak, ‘How can you go to Coolidge?’ How can I not, if I’m going to continue?” Randy asked. “We got to do what’s best for us, too. I mean, I can’t have Robles Boxing in this room,” he said sitting in a corner office of the Florence Reminder.

The building at 640 N. Arizona Blvd., near Coolidge High School, is about 3,000 square feet — “small for what we do, but we can make it work,” Robles said.

They’re tentatively planning a grand opening for July 25 with pro fighters, music, dancing and giveaways. Julie said it will be a gym for ages 6 and up, offering classes in boxing and kick boxing; fitness boot camps; and Zumba classes. Fitness trainers will offer group training and personal training.

Before town facilities closed, Robles Boxing & Fitness operated out of the Florence Community Center. Julie said in that context, people assumed it was mostly a youth program, “but we do a lot for adults as well,” she said. “We’re a fitness gym, so we reach all ages.” Randy added he’s already heard from several people who’ve said, “Now that you have a gym, we want to join.”

Of course, their amateur boxing team will also train there. The team already has several out-of-town kids, including two from Eloy. They had to shelve their program for the pandemic just as they were celebrating three Golden Gloves champs – Garret Raney, Jay Kloos and Conner Goade. Luis Gonzalez and Nevaeh Rodriguez, both of Coolidge, were runners-up.

The Robleses said they’re grateful for their time at the community center, “but that’s not what we came to do and we outgrew it,” Randy said. “It’s like learning to play football in this room.” You can learn a few things, but you can’t actually play the game, he said. Their own gym will give their boxers an actual ring to train in.

The Robleses tried for 18 months to find a suitable affordable building in Florence, but “nothing works in this town for us,” Randy said. “… I would’ve loved to have had the gym here; that’s what we came here to do. But it doesn’t work.” He said he hopes all his Florence boxers will stay with the program with the help of carpooling or the bus, and he’s also looking for a van.

“The process of opening a business in Coolidge is 20 times easier than trying to open a business in Florence,” Robles said. “Coolidge was more receptive to us. ‘We don’t need you to do anything. If the building is what you want, you’re good to go. What can we do to help you?’”

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Former Florence star Tucker finding way at San Diego junior college
 bwright  / 

FLORENCE — Nick Tucker thoroughly dominated his high school competition, but playing college basketball was a shock to the system at first.

The 2018-19 PinalCentral Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Tucker averaged 28 points and 9.6 rebounds in his senior season at Florence. After careful consideration, he chose to play basketball at San Diego Mesa College.

When he hit the basketball court to play for San Diego Mesa, a junior college in its namesake Southern California city, it was a wake up call.

“It took me a little time to adjust,” Tucker said. “All the players are bigger, stronger and faster.”

For Tucker, a lanky 6-foot-2 guard, scoring comes easily. But he quickly learned that he couldn’t just coast on his offensive skills at the next level. His coaches expected him to play defense, and until he played better defense, he wasn’t going to get many minutes.

When coach Travis Nichols and his assistants started to trust Tucker and his commitment to defense, the freshman’s game began to take flight.

Fitting in

Going away to college is one thing, but for Tucker, it involved not just a new school and new people, but also a new city, new state and new teammates.

Tucker, who turns 19 later this month, gravitated toward San Diego Mesa because the coaches showed genuine interest in him.

“The coaches ... they wanted me,” he said. “They were always calling me and asking me for my (game) films.”

On his campus visit, the coaches brought him into the film room, which has multiple flat screen TVs. The screens were playing Tucker’s high school highlights, and the coaches were giving excited commentary whenever he broke down a defender and made a big play.

That stuck with Tucker, and he felt good about the coaching staff. He basically knew right then he was going to San Diego Mesa.

Other than that, Tucker said San Diego was obviously attractive for its perfect year-round weather. And because the drive from Florence is doable (about five-and-a-half hours), his parents make the trip to attend some of his games.

The San Diego Mesa coaches took additional steps to help Tucker acclimate to his new life. Nichols gave Tucker the phone number of Cameron Hill, who would be his new roommate at an off-campus apartment.

Tucker discovered he and Hill are both originally from Michigan. He quickly made friends with a couple of his other teammates as well.

Turning the corner

Tucker scored in double digits in each of his first three games of the season. Then he fell into a major funk. His coaches didn’t trust him on the defensive end. They wanted to see significant effort and improvement in his defense.

He also had trouble learning the offensive scheme, which was much more detailed than anything he had run in high school. It took him a couple of weeks before he started to understand it.

In the first 13 games of the season, Tucker averaged 4.8 points and shot just 29.3% from the field. For basketball purposes, 2019 was a struggle. Fortunately for Tucker, things started to click when the calendar turned to 2020.

Starting Jan. 3, he scored a then season-high 12 points against Imperial Valley. He was up and down in his next three games, going scoreless in two of them and scoring 13 in the other.

On Jan. 17 against Grossmont, Tucker had a breakout performance.

“I hit like 6 or 7 3s, and then I was like, ‘OK, I can score. I can get buckets,’” he said.

Tucker’s official stat line in that game — he hit 8 of 13 shots, including 6 of 9 from downtown, scoring 24 points. It helped build his confidence.

Another way he gained the coaches’ trust was by showing extra effort.

“I had to start diving for loose balls, playing scrappy,” he said.

He scored 18 against San Diego City on Jan. 29 and went for 21 points (7-14 FG) against Palomar on Feb. 12.

Before a rematch against Grossmont, Tucker told a teammate he was going to drop 30. His teammate wasn’t buying it.

Tucker drained six 3-pointers (8-15 FG) and scored 30 points with eight rebounds and four assists.

In his last 14 games of the season, Tucker averaged 12.4 points, shot 39.5% from the field and 40.5% from 3-point range. One thing he did well all season was shoot free throws, as he hit an exceptional 88.2%.

When he gets hot on the court, Tucker likes talking to himself, hyping himself up. But he’s not averse to talking a little trash to the guy defending him in certain moments.

“If I hit a nice shot in his face, I’ll let him know,” he said.

Quarantine life

Tucker is back home in Florence, since the San Diego Mesa campus closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is completing online classes, which he admits are difficult because he is a hands-on learner. He likes face-to-face interactions and added it’s difficult without a teacher in the classroom.

He has Zoom meetings with coaches, and the coaching staff assigns home workouts for players so they can stay in shape.

“A lot of bodyweight workouts, yoga and stretching,” he said.

Tucker gets in some basketball work at a hoop near his house in Florence. He’ll play for a couple hours in the evening when the temperature cools down a bit after hitting triple digits at midday.

For his sophomore season, Tucker wants to get stronger, faster and play better defense. One goal is to make first team all-conference in the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference. Another goal is to be the PCAC Player of the Year.

Tucker put in long days at San Diego Mesa, days that normally began at 7 a.m. and often lasted until 10 p.m. or later with academics and basketball. But he is enjoying the experience. Tucker lives about 5 miles from campus and takes a bus to and from school.

He said San Diego Mesa has quality coaches and trainers who are putting him on the right path.

“Everything is put in place (for you) to succeed,” he said.

Tucker is studying business and wants to continue his basketball career at a four-year university after he finishes at San Diego Mesa next year.