Cronkite News Client Feed https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org This feed is for consumption by the client site. en-us Wed, 28 Feb 2024 13:37:18 -0700 Wed, 28 Feb 2024 13:37:18 -0700 Feb. 27, 2024, Newscast https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/28/feb-27-2024-newscast/ Staff

Feb. 28, 2024

Arizona homelessness spending report, FAFSA delay affects students, GCU softball resurgence

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Wed, 28 Feb 2024 13:37:18 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/28/feb-27-2024-newscast/
Kahleah Copper, Natasha Cloud excited for new beginnings with Phoenix Mercury https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/28/kahleah-copper-natasha-cloud-wnba-phoenix-mercury/ Tia Reid

Feb. 28, 2024

PHOENIX – The 2023 WNBA season was one to forget for the Phoenix Mercury. Despite the triumphant return of Brittney Griner, the team struggled to a 9-31 record and last-place finish. On June 25, the Mercury fired second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard after a 2-10 start. Questions about Skylar Diggins-Smith and her dissociation with the team hung over the organization for the duration of the season. On July 10, it culminated in general manager Jim Pitman announcing that he was stepping down at the end of the season, clearing the way for the Mercury to start fresh. Enter Nate Tibbetts and Nick U’Ren. Tibbetts as the head coach and U’Ren as the general manager have already created plenty of buzz in their first offseason with the Mercury. They picked up two superstar-caliber players in Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper, in addition to adding the talented Rebecca Allen. “I think we were able to add multiple players that defend, that play make and that have a ton of positional versatility,” U’Ren said. “My first time going through this experience, but it was great to be in the room with some of these players and be able to talk to them face to face, be able to interact with them and articulate kind of our vision of how we plan to conduct ourselves within this organization, how we plan to build this roster.” Cloud was the first domino to fall, announcing her decision live on ESPN’s WNBA free agency special on Feb. 1. She spent the first nine years of her career with the Washington Mystics, being named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team multiple times and winning a championship in 2019. Year after year, Cloud’s number ticked up, and in 2023 she reached career highs of 12.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. She also finished with the third-highest assists per game average of her career at 6.2. “I think for me what felt great was how intentional Phoenix was with me in this free agency,” Cloud said. “To be sought after the way that Phoenix sought after me was amazing. So that feels good for a player that hasn't necessarily felt valued.” Then, on Feb. 6, the Mercury shook up the league by trading the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft to the Chicago Sky for 2021 Finals MVP Copper. Copper averaged a career-high 18.7 points in 2023 when she was named to her third straight All-Star team, all the while propelling the Sky to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. “One thousand percent, I think this is a roster that's going to compete for a championship, I think with the experience that we have,” Copper said. “(Cloud) winning a championship, (Allen) playing in big games in the playoffs, (Griner and Diana Taurasi) having that championship experience also and myself, so we all know what it takes to get there to the big stage. So there's no doubt in my mind that we can put it all together and compete.” Cloud and Copper have a lot in common as scrappy two-way guards from the Philadelphia area. They’ve both found their footing as of late in the league, earning individual accolades and winning WNBA championships with their former teams. Now, they both make their way to the Valley, excited to see what the Mercury and X-Factor have to offer. The Mercury, through its ups and downs, has maintained the second-highest average attendance total in the league this past season, with the X-Factor regularly showing out in full force. “Every experience I've had with the fans has been very interesting, but I think that that crowd, what it does for the players and just for women's basketball, in general, is one of the biggest things for me of what I like about the organization,” Copper said. “Let me tell you, the X-Factor has always shown me love,” Cloud added. “Nine years in a different organization, I always felt loved the minute that I walked into Phoenix, even fans that would wait for us coming out of the hotels or after games. It's always been nothing but love and positivity and support. So coming in, I'm just really excited to be a part of an amazing fan base.” While Cloud is elated to get to work on the court with the Mercury, she’s also looking forward to embracing the community and carrying her social activism work with her to Phoenix. Cloud is one of the most outspoken players in the league on topics such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ-plus rights and recently, she’s taken to social media to express her sentiments and support for Palestinians and Gaza. As a part of the Mercury, Cloud is looking forward to working with the organization in its local community efforts, and Griner, who stands with Cloud as one of the WNBA’s most outspoken individuals. “I love that Phoenix fully supports their players and what they're passionate about off the court and what their activism is about off the court,” Cloud said. “So understanding that I still have the freedom to be me as an activist and really just continue to get into good trouble, I'm really excited. … It is very important for me to also figure out what the community of Phoenix needs and to continue to be that voice for the voiceless and amplify those things to the best of my ability.” As for on the court, Copper and Cloud are ready to get to work. Cloud described the Mercury’s current roster of her, Copper, Allen, Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham as “a point guard’s dream.” Although Griner hasn't officially resigned with the team, Cloud also mentioned her in that group. Copper is happy to be a part of an incoming group that will help bolster Phoenix’s defense which held the league’s worst defensive rating in 2023. “I'm bringing what I bring offensively defensively, and also you know what we have on this roster now, bringing Natasha Cloud, Rebecca Allen,” Copper said. “I think these are all players who can play both offensively and defensively and just taking some pressure off of Diana and BG. They don’t have to get every bucket. It's going to be pretty spread out. So I think that we bring in, definitely, a lot more defense to this team but offensive power also.” With loads of new talent on its way to Phoenix and a brand new staff at the helm, the Mercury are ready to get back to its winning ways. U’Ren, Cloud and Copper are just a few of the key pieces of this 2024 team hoping to make it back to the playoffs and back to the top of the league. “It was everything from top to bottom, Mat (Ishbia), Nick, Nate, the front office, Monica (Wright Rogers),” Cloud said about her decision to join Phoenix. “You could tell how hungry they are, to in a sense rebuild, and really do this thing the right way and invest and be one of those top teams. … Phoenix is that new team that is investing into not only their organizations but into their players both on and off the court. … With moving, I wanted to be a part of that investment and that passion that a front office has for making their team a winning team.”

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Wed, 28 Feb 2024 11:44:07 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/28/kahleah-copper-natasha-cloud-wnba-phoenix-mercury/
Former drug user tells story at Maricopa County’s first Spanish-only forum on fentanyl addiction https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/fentanyl-spanish-forum-maricopa-county-opioid-crisis/ Brenna Gauchat

Feb. 27, 2024

PHOENIX – Ronny Morales never finished his journalism degree at Arizona State University. After attending the school for four years, the Cronkite Noticias student was just one internship credit short of graduating. Morales said it was not his lack of enthusiasm or experience in the field that prevented him from graduating, it was his fentanyl addiction. “The first newscast I did (for Cronkite Noticias), I was not necessarily in the grips of addiction quite yet, but I was definitely falling into it,” Morales said. “And then towards the end, I was trying to get off and I think you could see it.” Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that produces feelings of euphoria, relaxation and pain relief. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, it is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as a pain reliever. In 2023, fentanyl was involved in nearly 75% of verified non-fatal opioid overdose events in Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjkbCLwjyDg
(Video by Ghadiel Navarrete/Cronkite News)
On Feb. 6, Morales and his mother, Martha Ayala, told his story at a forum on fentanyl addiction conducted in Spanish and hosted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Equality Health Foundation. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, more than 250 people attended the forum, the highest attendance number for any of MCAO’s forums, and 240 Narcan kits were distributed. Like many who become addicted to opioids, Morales’ problem started with a prescription. As a 19-year-old college student in 2012, Morales was in a serious car accident and was prescribed Percocet, a branded opioid drug, for three months. “Within those three months, my body became physically – and definitely psychologically – dependent on those opiates,” Morales said. The doctors stopped prescribing the pain medication and Morales experienced intense withdrawals. He bought Percocet from someone with an active prescription in an attempt to end the symptoms, unaware of the long-term consequences of this action. “Every physical pain that I was experiencing from the withdrawal and all my anxiety just went away within 30 minutes. I felt absolutely incredible and I thought I found the secret to life,” Morales said of the temporary relief continued use of drugs brought him. Morales purchased more drugs like Vicodin, Adderall and cocaine as his addiction worsened. Despite their diminishing effect, he continued to use them regularly in order to keep up his energetic and vibrant personality. “Within maybe close to a year is when I started not necessarily feeling the high anymore,” Morales said. “It became my coffee. In order for me to wake up and be alert and coherent, I needed to be high.” Along with these drugs, Morales primarily used fentanyl. For over seven years, Morales rationalized his daily drug usage and denied he had an addiction. When he was fired from his job at a radio station for driving a company car with a revoked license, he realized he could not continue living under the influence. “I tried stopping almost every year, countless times. I went to a few rehabs, I went to a few detoxes. Ultimately, that didn't work,” Morales said. Throughout the course of his addiction, Morales lived with his mother, who was unaware of her son’s drug use. Morales said he had always been a good kid and Ayala never suspected he would be using drugs. “She knew that I was going through something but she just couldn't fathom the thought that that's what was going on,” Morales said. “I've always been dramatic, but the last thing she would think is that I'm on drugs.” During one of Morales’s detoxes, his mother confronted him about his odd behavior. He told her he was having fentanyl withdrawals. She knew nothing about the drug but she wanted to help. “She's from a little town in Mexico so that was just incredibly overwhelming for her,” Morales said. “She doesn't know where I'm going, and she doesn't know what I'm getting.” After that moment, Morales said, Ayala sought other ways to support and help him end his addiction. Together, they confronted cultural barriers that kept many in their Hispanic community from addressing their substance use. “The culture is so stubborn when it comes to accepting things like mental health or addiction,” Morales said. “I know that there's people that are struggling and not coming forward because of things like their culture or their language barrier, or they might not even have the documents to be here. So they have no choice but to just stay in that addiction.” Morales said that the key to his recovery was taking everything one day at a time. Eventually, he began attending support groups where he found he was often one of the few Hispanic people in the room. “I don't think it's because I'm one of the few Hispanics struggling with addiction or alcoholism. I just think it's a lot to do with the culture, the language barrier or documentation,” Morales said. In 2023, Hispanic people accounted for 30% of the 1,865 opioid overdose deaths in Arizona, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Linda Garcia is the assistant bureau chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and was one of the other panelists at the Feb. 6 forum. She said the forum intended to break down the language barrier that prevents many Hispanic people from reaching out for help. “We have had a presence of the community in English community forums, but it's obviously better to have it in Spanish so that there is a better understanding,” Garcia said. “The public feels a lot more comfortable asking questions in their native tongue.” Morales is now four years sober and the host of the podcast, Wesobernow. After gaining a following on TikTok for content about his journey, Morales began his podcast to inspire others to reach their sobriety goals. Now, he said, his podcast audience helps him stay sober. “In a good way, just from sharing my story, ultimately, that really drove me to stay sober,” Morales said. “This is the longest I've ever been sober.” Morales said the first step in his recovery was recognizing the problem, the second was asking for help. He contributes much of his sobriety to his support system, including his husband of just over a year, Nathan Truitt. The key person throughout, he said, was his mother, who took the initiative to learn and struggle alongside him. “She still fought with me,” Morales said. “That's how I know what real love is. Just fighting for someone or something without even necessarily knowing why. It’s because you just want the best for them.”

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

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Tue, 27 Feb 2024 16:49:05 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/fentanyl-spanish-forum-maricopa-county-opioid-crisis/
Hometown pride: Local gymnasts keep Arizona State program rooted in the Valley https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/arizona-state-gymnastics-anchored-local-phoenix-gymnasts/ Grace Del Pizzo

Feb. 27, 2024

PHOENIX – Earlier this season, at a gymnastics meet in Utah, ASU graduate student Gracie Reeves tugged on her teammate Kayla Lee for a last-minute pep talk before they were set to compete in the beam event. “‘Look at this, like, we made it here together,” Reeves told Lee. The Sun Devils teammates had competed together in gymnastics clubs since childhood en route to the collegiate stage, but a point of reflection in Salt Lake City put into perspective their local ties and the unique opportunity before them. “And it was just, it was a really cool moment,” Lee said. Reeves, a Phoenix native, and Lee, a Scottsdale native, are two of the team’s four homegrown athletes, along with junior Alex Theodorou (Phoenix) and senior Cienna Samiley (Chandler). Despite the sport’s strong presence in the Valley, the team’s current makeup is an outlier in recent memory. Since 2010, only 13 ASU gymnasts have hailed from the Phoenix metro area. Recently, however, ASU coach Jay Santos has not had to look further than his own backyard, adding all four gymnasts in successive years – Reeves in 2020, Samiley in 2021, Theodorou in 2022 and Lee in 2023. “They're the hometown kids, so they've got the connection with their clubs, and their clubs show up,” Santos said. “They've all contributed in a whole lot of ways. Athletically, just support and leadership within our program, and then even the (athletic) department at large. They've done different leadership things, where they're involved with the department and doing different community service events.” Arizona State’s women’s gymnastics program is perennially successful. It’s currently ranked No. 18 in the country, thanks in part to the Arizona quartet. They have won their last three meets, prevailing at Stanford and Arizona before returning home Friday to beat Washington. The Sun Devils travel this Friday to Corvallis, Oregon, where they aim for a fourth straight victory at No. 17 Oregon State. Reeves, a graduate student from Phoenix, returned for her fifth year following the team’s loss last year at the NCAA Regional Finals. She was a standout gymnast right away, even as a freshman in 2020, and since then she has been a mainstay in the vault, bars and beam lineups. She’s still at the top of her game, having earned a season-best on beam with a 9.875 against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Cal in the Feb. 2 Maroon Monsoon tri-meet. Reeves trained at Arizona Sunrays in Phoenix and decided to stay in the area for college, based on her relationship with her family. “At first, when I was younger, I was like, ‘I want to go out of state, I don't want to stay in Arizona,’” she said. “But as the time came when I had to graduate high school, I started to realize maybe I don't want to leave my family. I love Arizona so much, and ASU just felt like the right place. It felt like home.” Theodorou has competed in every meet this season on vault, tying for the vault event title with a season-high 9.900 against Arizona. The junior trained at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, and like Reeves, she contributed right out of the gate as a freshman. She participated in every meet but one in 2022 and competed in the all-around twice. Theodorou’s first instinct was also to go out of state, but she also changed her mind in favor of ASU. That decision has vastly improved her college experience. “At first, when you think about college, your first thought is move out, get away, start a new journey,” she said. “But honestly, being able to be so close to my family and having that support system already built in was so nice and made the transition to college so much easier.” Samiley, who trained at Gold Medal Gymnastics in Chandler, serves as the backbone of ASU’s bars lineup, having competed in every meet but one in the 2023 and 2024 seasons in that event. At first, she was committed to BYU and expected to go out of state to continue her gymnastics career, but graduating in 2020 during the peak of COVID changed her plan. “I realized that I really wanted to be closer to my family and friends and my support system,” Samiley said. “I'm also really close to my younger sister, Seneca, who I now live with. She goes to ASU with me. “I had a great relationship with Jay (Santos) already coming in, because I had known him from him coaching at camps and just recruiting trips. So I thought it would just make sense to go here since I already had that great relationship.” Like Samiley, Lee, who trained at Arizona Sunrays, cited a sister as a reason for choosing Arizona State. Her older sister, Jenna, was a member of ASU’s cross country and track and field teams and recently graduated in December. “Also, a big part of it was my community,” Lee said. “I'd felt so supported in the gymnastics community in Arizona growing up. It was a strong sense of family, whether it be my immediate family or just friends and family that I've developed through gymnastics.” Not only have her relationships grown within the sport, Lee has as well. She regularly leads off the beam and floor lineups for ASU and recently took her first career event title at Denver with a 9.925 on beam. For these four athletes, the hometown advantages were appealing, but so was the ASU gymnastics program itself. All of the gymnasts were familiar with Santos and his program not only through geographic proximity, but also through Santos’s involvement in the Phoenix community. “Being the program in town, you're trying to build as many relationships as you can with the local clubs and coaches that are producing at that level,” said Santos, a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “We try to engage, whether it's local camps, get out to their invitationals, show up. Obviously we're in town, we can show up to their gyms and watch practices and be around and available and have a presence in continuing to build those relationships.” For some, the local appeal begins long before college recruiting. Lee grew up attending ASU gymnastics meets with her club teammates and with her club coach, Pam Godward Evans, who competed as an ASU gymnast from 1977-80 and was the program’s first All-American. Lee said the 2019 Sun Devil Athletics Hall of Fame inductee “would always talk up ASU, and she loved the program.” Kaitlin Harvey, an ASU gymnast from 2019 to 2021, trained at Gold Medal Gymnastics with Samiley and also advocated for the program. When Samiley was choosing a college program, Harvey’s friendship, mentorship and advice played a major role. “(Kaitlin and I) actually went out to lunch right before I came (to ASU), and she told me all about the program, and how the team atmosphere is,” Samiley recalled. “So I think that that was really influential in my decision of coming here, just because I knew that it was going to be super fun.” Desert Lights Gymnastics, where Theodorou trained, is co-owned by Lisa and John Spini. John coached the Arizona State gymnastics program for 34 years from 1981 to 2014, making him the longest-tenured coach in Sun Devil Athletics history until he was recently surpassed by tennis coach Sheila McInerney. Theodorou said that John’s continued closeness with the ASU program “helped add to that reassurance of the family atmosphere and that (I’d) be well taken care of, because I knew there's always someone looking out for me.” Until 2019, when Reeves committed to the Sun Devils, no Arizona Sunrays gymnast had gone to ASU since Shaena Friedman in 2003. With Lee committing in 2022, two Sunrays gymnasts have gone to ASU in the last five years, and Reeves played a large role in Lee’s decision. “I grew up in club with Gracie, and I knew how she trained in the gym, and I knew we trained well together,” Lee said. “It was that older-sister guidance that I got from her that I would be grateful to keep going in a collegiate setting, which I was able to do.” “I remember when Jay was recruiting her, I would talk to Jay and I was like, ‘She's such a hard worker,’” Reeves said of Lee. “I knew that she would fit so well in our program and with the team because of her work ethic.” Growing up in the same area means there’s a certain level of familiarity with other gyms and gymnasts close by, even if they didn’t train at the same club. All four Arizona natives either knew each other or knew of each other long before they even considered joining the Sun Devils program. “I actually went to camp with Gracie and we had roomed together,” Samiley explained. “I also went to camps with Alex. So we had known each other since we were like, 8 or 9?” Reeves added, “It's funny. I have videos from when I was super young, like 10, and Alex is in the background. We're in the same group, doing the same stuff.” Hailing from the Phoenix area has its perks when the majority of ASU gymnasts aren’t from the area. The local gymnasts take great pride in sharing their homes and lives with teammates. Reeves regularly takes her out-of-state teammates to her parents’ house or to her grandparents’ home located about 45 minutes away from Tempe. “My (recruiting) class specifically, we have two girls from California, one girl from Canada and the other one's from Texas,” Lee said. “So it's been fun just kind of showing them the ropes a little bit. I'm like, 'Let's go for a hike or something,' something that would kind of get them out of their comfort zone. And even them showing me what they used to do. I live with Kimmy (Smith, from California) and she always talks about how, if they're bored, they drive to the beach. I'm like, ‘We have no beach, but we can go to Target.’” Santos says the program recruits local gymnasts every year, but this year there were no new additions from Arizona. The 2024 ASU recruiting class of four includes gymnasts from Minnesota, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas. However, the local gymnasts believe local recruiting is, and will continue to be, integral to the team’s success. It builds the home crowd, builds long-lasting relationships and keeps the team grounded. “I think that's really a huge part of our program. Not just us in the gym, but coming from when we're in season, having girls in the stands that you grew up doing gymnastics with,” Lee said. “Coming from Arizona and being on the team brings in a sense of Arizona pride.” Santos agreed with the gymnasts’ sentiments, reaffirming the program’s commitment to continuing their support of the Valley-to-ASU gymnastics connection. “I think no matter what, whether they're local kids or out-of-state kids, you're just looking for the right fits,” Santos said. “We're going to continue to get into the local gyms, continue to recruit Arizona, and hopefully we'll be lucky enough to continue to find some of the right fits again with other athletes. You're looking to find kids that, obviously they want this experience, right? “They want what ASU has to offer, what ASU athletics and our gymnastics program has to offer, and hopefully that continues.”

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

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Tue, 27 Feb 2024 15:52:51 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/arizona-state-gymnastics-anchored-local-phoenix-gymnasts/
‘All I wanted to do was dance’: Ballet scholarship competition helps further dancers’ dreams https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/youth-america-grand-prix-ballet-competition-scholarships-phoenix/ Marnie Jordan

Feb. 27, 2024

PHOENIX – Earlier this season, at a gymnastics meet in Utah, ASU graduate student Gracie Reeves tugged on her teammate Kayla Lee for a last-minute pep talk before they were set to compete in the beam event. “‘Look at this, like, we made it here together,” Reeves told Lee. The Sun Devils teammates had competed together in gymnastics clubs since childhood en route to the collegiate stage, but a point of reflection in Salt Lake City put into perspective their local ties and the unique opportunity before them. “And it was just, it was a really cool moment,” Lee said. Reeves, a Phoenix native, and Lee, a Scottsdale native, are two of the team’s four homegrown athletes, along with junior Alex Theodorou (Phoenix) and senior Cienna Samiley (Chandler). Despite the sport’s strong presence in the Valley, the team’s current makeup is an outlier in recent memory. Since 2010, only 13 ASU gymnasts have hailed from the Phoenix metro area. Recently, however, ASU coach Jay Santos has not had to look further than his own backyard, adding all four gymnasts in successive years – Reeves in 2020, Samiley in 2021, Theodorou in 2022 and Lee in 2023. “They're the hometown kids, so they've got the connection with their clubs, and their clubs show up,” Santos said. “They've all contributed in a whole lot of ways. Athletically, just support and leadership within our program, and then even the (athletic) department at large. They've done different leadership things, where they're involved with the department and doing different community service events.” Arizona State’s women’s gymnastics program is perennially successful. It’s currently ranked No. 18 in the country, thanks in part to the Arizona quartet. They have won their last three meets, prevailing at Stanford and Arizona before returning home Friday to beat Washington. The Sun Devils travel this Friday to Corvallis, Oregon, where they aim for a fourth straight victory at No. 17 Oregon State. Reeves, a graduate student from Phoenix, returned for her fifth year following the team’s loss last year at the NCAA Regional Finals. She was a standout gymnast right away, even as a freshman in 2020, and since then she has been a mainstay in the vault, bars and beam lineups. She’s still at the top of her game, having earned a season-best on beam with a 9.875 against No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Cal in the Feb. 2 Maroon Monsoon tri-meet. Reeves trained at Arizona Sunrays in Phoenix and decided to stay in the area for college, based on her relationship with her family. “At first, when I was younger, I was like, ‘I want to go out of state, I don't want to stay in Arizona,’” she said. “But as the time came when I had to graduate high school, I started to realize maybe I don't want to leave my family. I love Arizona so much, and ASU just felt like the right place. It felt like home.” Theodorou has competed in every meet this season on vault, tying for the vault event title with a season-high 9.900 against Arizona. The junior trained at Desert Lights Gymnastics in Chandler, and like Reeves, she contributed right out of the gate as a freshman. She participated in every meet but one in 2022 and competed in the all-around twice. Theodorou’s first instinct was also to go out of state, but she also changed her mind in favor of ASU. That decision has vastly improved her college experience. “At first, when you think about college, your first thought is move out, get away, start a new journey,” she said. “But honestly, being able to be so close to my family and having that support system already built in was so nice and made the transition to college so much easier.” Samiley, who trained at Gold Medal Gymnastics in Chandler, serves as the backbone of ASU’s bars lineup, having competed in every meet but one in the 2023 and 2024 seasons in that event. At first, she was committed to BYU and expected to go out of state to continue her gymnastics career, but graduating in 2020 during the peak of COVID changed her plan. “I realized that I really wanted to be closer to my family and friends and my support system,” Samiley said. “I'm also really close to my younger sister, Seneca, who I now live with. She goes to ASU with me. “I had a great relationship with Jay (Santos) already coming in, because I had known him from him coaching at camps and just recruiting trips. So I thought it would just make sense to go here since I already had that great relationship.” Like Samiley, Lee, who trained at Arizona Sunrays, cited a sister as a reason for choosing Arizona State. Her older sister, Jenna, was a member of ASU’s cross country and track and field teams and recently graduated in December. “Also, a big part of it was my community,” Lee said. “I'd felt so supported in the gymnastics community in Arizona growing up. It was a strong sense of family, whether it be my immediate family or just friends and family that I've developed through gymnastics.” Not only have her relationships grown within the sport, Lee has as well. She regularly leads off the beam and floor lineups for ASU and recently took her first career event title at Denver with a 9.925 on beam. For these four athletes, the hometown advantages were appealing, but so was the ASU gymnastics program itself. All of the gymnasts were familiar with Santos and his program not only through geographic proximity, but also through Santos’s involvement in the Phoenix community. “Being the program in town, you're trying to build as many relationships as you can with the local clubs and coaches that are producing at that level,” said Santos, a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “We try to engage, whether it's local camps, get out to their invitationals, show up. Obviously we're in town, we can show up to their gyms and watch practices and be around and available and have a presence in continuing to build those relationships.” For some, the local appeal begins long before college recruiting. Lee grew up attending ASU gymnastics meets with her club teammates and with her club coach, Pam Godward Evans, who competed as an ASU gymnast from 1977-80 and was the program’s first All-American. Lee said the 2019 Sun Devil Athletics Hall of Fame inductee “would always talk up ASU, and she loved the program.” Kaitlin Harvey, an ASU gymnast from 2019 to 2021, trained at Gold Medal Gymnastics with Samiley and also advocated for the program. When Samiley was choosing a college program, Harvey’s friendship, mentorship and advice played a major role. “(Kaitlin and I) actually went out to lunch right before I came (to ASU), and she told me all about the program, and how the team atmosphere is,” Samiley recalled. “So I think that that was really influential in my decision of coming here, just because I knew that it was going to be super fun.” Desert Lights Gymnastics, where Theodorou trained, is co-owned by Lisa and John Spini. John coached the Arizona State gymnastics program for 34 years from 1981 to 2014, making him the longest-tenured coach in Sun Devil Athletics history until he was recently surpassed by tennis coach Sheila McInerney. Theodorou said that John’s continued closeness with the ASU program “helped add to that reassurance of the family atmosphere and that (I’d) be well taken care of, because I knew there's always someone looking out for me.” Until 2019, when Reeves committed to the Sun Devils, no Arizona Sunrays gymnast had gone to ASU since Shaena Friedman in 2003. With Lee committing in 2022, two Sunrays gymnasts have gone to ASU in the last five years, and Reeves played a large role in Lee’s decision. “I grew up in club with Gracie, and I knew how she trained in the gym, and I knew we trained well together,” Lee said. “It was that older-sister guidance that I got from her that I would be grateful to keep going in a collegiate setting, which I was able to do.” “I remember when Jay was recruiting her, I would talk to Jay and I was like, ‘She's such a hard worker,’” Reeves said of Lee. “I knew that she would fit so well in our program and with the team because of her work ethic.” Growing up in the same area means there’s a certain level of familiarity with other gyms and gymnasts close by, even if they didn’t train at the same club. All four Arizona natives either knew each other or knew of each other long before they even considered joining the Sun Devils program. “I actually went to camp with Gracie and we had roomed together,” Samiley explained. “I also went to camps with Alex. So we had known each other since we were like, 8 or 9?” Reeves added, “It's funny. I have videos from when I was super young, like 10, and Alex is in the background. We're in the same group, doing the same stuff.” Hailing from the Phoenix area has its perks when the majority of ASU gymnasts aren’t from the area. The local gymnasts take great pride in sharing their homes and lives with teammates. Reeves regularly takes her out-of-state teammates to her parents’ house or to her grandparents’ home located about 45 minutes away from Tempe. “My (recruiting) class specifically, we have two girls from California, one girl from Canada and the other one's from Texas,” Lee said. “So it's been fun just kind of showing them the ropes a little bit. I'm like, 'Let's go for a hike or something,' something that would kind of get them out of their comfort zone. And even them showing me what they used to do. I live with Kimmy (Smith, from California) and she always talks about how, if they're bored, they drive to the beach. I'm like, ‘We have no beach, but we can go to Target.’” Santos says the program recruits local gymnasts every year, but this year there were no new additions from Arizona. The 2024 ASU recruiting class of four includes gymnasts from Minnesota, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas. However, the local gymnasts believe local recruiting is, and will continue to be, integral to the team’s success. It builds the home crowd, builds long-lasting relationships and keeps the team grounded. “I think that's really a huge part of our program. Not just us in the gym, but coming from when we're in season, having girls in the stands that you grew up doing gymnastics with,” Lee said. “Coming from Arizona and being on the team brings in a sense of Arizona pride.” Santos agreed with the gymnasts’ sentiments, reaffirming the program’s commitment to continuing their support of the Valley-to-ASU gymnastics connection. “I think no matter what, whether they're local kids or out-of-state kids, you're just looking for the right fits,” Santos said. “We're going to continue to get into the local gyms, continue to recruit Arizona, and hopefully we'll be lucky enough to continue to find some of the right fits again with other athletes. You're looking to find kids that, obviously they want this experience, right? “They want what ASU has to offer, what ASU athletics and our gymnastics program has to offer, and hopefully that continues.”

PHOENIX – Dancers nervously wait backstage to perform in front of judges who may determine the fate of their careers. Once a performer’s number and name are called, they elegantly walk on stage under dramatic stage lights as they prepare to start their routine.

In the darkness of the auditorium, the audience, the judges sit and wait.

“It feels like my skin is on fire and has ants all over it,” says 17-year-old performer Alicia Lucchesi. “And then I get on stage and it’s still there, but the second I start moving, it’s like it disappears. I come off and it feels like I’ve taken the first breath after a million years of not breathing.”

As Lucchesi’s music begins, she rises on her toes and performs a solo from “La Esmeralda.” Her striking red costume billows as she turns and leaps through the classical ballet.

Lucchesi’s muscle memory kicks in as she’s been practicing for months and waiting for this moment at the four-day Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) international student ballet scholarship competition.

“Freedom of the movement, but also the discipline of what’s right and what’s wrong – it’s a consistency and that’s what I like about it,” Lucchesi said.

Originally from Reno, Nevada, Lucchesi started dancing around the age of 3 or 4. She didn’t always love ballet and the discipline that came with it, but, “One day I woke up and I just didn’t want to do anything else,” she said. “I don’t know when that click happened, but all I wanted to do was dance.”

Lucchesi started coming to the Phoenix area for specialized training programs until she eventually convinced her parents to move to the Valley so she could dance at Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale.

She now is doing online school at Arizona Connections Academy and dancing as much as possible. It’s a different experience than most teenagers.

“I’m also missing those things like football games, basketball games, dances, all sorts of stuff like that,” Lucchesi said. “But because I know I’m being rewarded with the work that I’m doing, I don’t feel as upset about those things anymore.”

All those hours of sacrifice are what led her and hundreds of other dancers to the stage for the chance to earn a scholarship to fund their dance journey.

YAGP is a New York-based nonprofit dance education organization that supports aspiring dancers’ careers through scholarship opportunities to dance schools worldwide. YAGP has helped dancers get more than $5 million in scholarships over 25 years.

Sergey Gordeev, founding director of external affairs and institutional partnerships at YAGP, said the organization typically hosts auditions at about 30 U.S. locations for dancers ages 9 to 19 each spring.

YAGP came to Phoenix Feb. 8 through 11, and over four days, dozens of dancers performed solo and group dances at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Competitions included contemporary, classical and ensemble performances.

Lucchesi competed in multiple categories, including solo and ensemble. Each dance requires not only new choreography but also new costumes, which can be costly.

Her father, Ben Lucchesi, said tutus for performances are usually rented, which can cost about $300, and that doesn’t account for the cost of pointe shoes, private lessons and other costs associated with dance.

“I think we’re spending upwards of $2,000 a month for regular tuition” at the ballet academy, he said. “And then there’ll be additional fees on top of that.”

The family understands that dancing at a high level is expensive, which makes scholarship opportunities like the YAGP competition so important.

“It’s important to get scholarships because it helps support tuition if you don’t have as much support from your family and such,” Alicia said.

Her father added scholarships help make a dance career possible.

“It really does make a difference for the parents because these kids that are serious about dance and serious about making this as a career path, they have to get this training while they’re young,” he said. “If they don’t get this training when they are young, then a career is simply not a possibility for them in the future. ”

For high school senior Elizabeth Pouliot, 17, it’s more about the competition and potential to be invited to finals to end the season.

She doesn’t think she wants to pursue a professional career in ballet, and wants to go to college for a business degree.

“Even though I might not pursue dance, I want that to be part of my life forever,” Pouliout said, noting this is probably her last YAGP competition.

In April, the top dancers are invited to the YAGP finals, which are streamed and observed by representatives and directors of dance schools around the world. The finals are where the bulk of the scholarships are given out, though they are also awarded on a rolling basis throughout the season.

There are different levels of scholarships at each school and schools consider the financial need of students.

“We haven’t received any scholarships, actually,” George Pouliot, Elizabeth’s father, said. “Most dancers do not receive any. Very few get scholarships.”

In addition to thousands of dollars a year in tuition, Elizabeth’s pointe shoes cost more than $100 and may only last her 72 hours.

“Scholarships would be a very beneficial thing for lots of ballet dancers just because there’s lots of expenses you have to pay out of your pocket that people may not realize,” George Pouliot said.

The sacrifices dancers make aren’t always financial.

Tyler Cohen, 18, said the biggest sacrifice he makes is time because he trains five to six hours a day. Being homeschooled helps him focus on training.

A scholarship would show his hard work has paid off.

“It helps a lot of people who don’t have as much money, like me,” he said, noting that beyond the money, the event also builds relationships. “It’s not mean competition. Everybody is supporting everybody.”

Gordeev knows that for so many people this competition will impact them for the rest of their lives.

“In these 25 years, what strikes me again and again is just how much it changes the life of a person,” Gordeev said of the scholarship opportunities.

Lucchesi concluded her performance with a bow and walked offstage. She said the competition gives her exposure, especially through social media. And while she would love a scholarship, she understands there are many talented dancers.

“There’s a lot of dancers that deserve it,” she said.

Even if she doesn’t get a scholarship, she will keep dancing, practicing her pirouettes and fouettés, dazzling audiences and making financial sacrifices because being a professional dancer would mean everything.

“Dancing has been my life for my whole life so that would mean a lot if I got to do that.”

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Ford Championship 2024 marks milestone moment for LPGA Tour in Gilbert https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/ford-championship-2024-marks-milestone-lpga-gilbert/ Jesse Brawders

Feb. 27, 2024

GILBERT – When the LPGA Tour was created in 1950 by 13 brave women who decided they were good enough to play professionally, there was no blueprint for them to lay out how to create a professional sports circuit for women. These ladies did everything themselves, from writing their own press releases, to setting up the courses before tournaments, to traveling via caravan to ensure that their dream would turn into a reality. Not everyone was ready to accept women in sports in 1950, so the early LPGA Tour golfers even created signals to communicate among themselves and keep each other safe during events. Now 74 years later, the tour has become a popular attraction to fans and will be making a stop in Gilbert for the first time in LPGA history. LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan was on hand for the unveiling Feb. 13 and expressed hope that the women’s game will continue to thrive now and in the future. “Arizona is the home of golf in so many different ways. And we know that people in this community absolutely love golf, and the opportunity for them to see the best in the world is really important.” Marcoux Samaan said. The field will consist of 144 golfers, competing for a $2-million purse on March 28-31 at Seville Golf & Country Club in Gilbert with Ford being the title sponsor of the tournament. It is the first professional golfing event at Seville, which opened in 2000, and will be one of six courses this season new to the LPGA tour docket. The Ford Championship is the seventh stop on this year’s tour, which boasts a record-setting prize pot of nearly $118 million, a $10 million increase from last season’s total. Marcoux Samaan called the Ford Championship reveal “a great moment for women’s golf, (and) for women’s sports.” Marcoux Samaan, who has led the LPGA Tour since May 2021, was excited to bring the circuit back to the Valley, a community with a love of golf, great courses and – typically – ideal weather. Current LPGA Tour golfers Mina Harigae and Alena Sharp, both Valley residents, also appeared at the announcement and will be competing in the championship in March. Sharp, who twice has represented Canada in the Olympics, received a sponsor’s exemption into the Ford Championship, revealing that she was “overcome with joy” when she heard the news. She has been a member of the Seville Golf & Country Club for years and is grateful to share the experience with her fellow local members. She considers Seville “one of the best courses in Arizona” due to the quality of the greens and of the course as a whole. Harigae shared similar enthusiasm for the tour’s stop in the Valley, joking that it will be great to sleep in her own bed throughout the tournament. Local young golfers were honorary attendees of the press conference, showcasing the mission of the LPGA Tour to create a more equal and sustainable playing field for the next generation of women’s golf, and women’s sports as a whole. Marcoux Samaan said it made her heart feel “warm and special” getting to meet the girls at Seville, reminding her of the LPGA’s mission. “The mission of the LPGA is to be the global leader in women’s professional golf,” Marcoux Samaan said. “But the second part of that is to use our platform to elevate, empower and advance opportunities for girls and women.” Golf was a big thing for Harigae while she was growing up as one of just two girls from her community who were interested in the game, which is why she appreciated seeing so many young girls showing interest in playing golf. Harigae hopes that as the next generation of talent joins the tour, there will be more junior golfers in the future who will have the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of growing crowds. When Sharp joined the LPGA in 2005, she was taught to leave the tour better than she found it for the next generation, and she intends to keep that tradition going. Sharp, 42, is hoping that the LPGA will just keep raising the bar for its cause with every tournament, leading to more local and international recognition for the association and for women’s golf as a whole. That first LPGA Tour more than 70 years ago included 15 tournaments across the country, with Babe Zaharias winning eight events and taking home a tour-leading $14,800. The tour made its first stop in Arizona in 1953 for the Phoenix Weathervane at Arizona Country Club, where Patty Berg and Louise Suggs shared first place. The tournament was part of a special four-leg event within the tour in the Cross Country 11 Hole Weathervane, which also had legs in Boca Raton, Florida; Philadelphia and San Francisco. Since then, Arizona has regularly played host to LPGA events across the state, with the tour’s most recent visit coming last year at the 2023 Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. Since 1980, there have only been a handful of years in which the LPGA didn’t stage an event in the Phoenix area, and the Valley was the site of the Founders Cup, which paid homage to those original LPGA Tour members, from 2011-2020. The 2020 event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the tournament moved to New Jersey in 2021. As women’s sports continue to rise in popularity internationally, the LPGA continues to be at the forefront of change. There is still work to be done according to Marcoux Samaan, but she felt that they are getting closer to parity with the men’s game. One of their next steps to reach that goal is to have fans connect more with the golfers on the course and in real life. “I’d like to have more people know our athletes and to have more people see the value in what we do,” Marcoux Samaan said. “I think that will take us to the next level.”

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Tue, 27 Feb 2024 15:06:56 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/ford-championship-2024-marks-milestone-lpga-gilbert/
Feb. 26, 2024, Newscast https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/cronkite-news-newscast-february-26/ Staff

Feb. 27, 2024

ASU gymnast Sarah Clark, Sun Devils basketball win, controversial new bill

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Tue, 27 Feb 2024 09:59:03 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/27/cronkite-news-newscast-february-26/
Business owners challenge bill requiring E-Verify checks for jobs, benefits https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/business-owners-challenge-bill-requiring-e-verify-checks-for-jobs-benefits/ Martin Dreyfuss

Feb. 26, 2024

PHOENIX - House Speaker Ben Toma says his latest immigration bill could save Arizona billions in welfare benefits annually, but small-business owners rallied Monday to say it will cost the state instead, by driving out businesses and workers. The business owners, backed by advocates and Democratic lawmakers, said HCR 2060 - which would require proof of citizenship to work or to receive any public assistance - will wind up hurting the state's economy while renewing fear among Latinos in Arizona. "HCR 2060 will drive economic investment out of our state. It will instill fear in Black and brown races," said Jose "ET" Rivera, the owner of Tres Leches Cafe in Phoenix. "As a first-generation Mexican-American business owner, I am deeply troubled. We are not welcome." Rivera was just one of the speakers at the rally organized by Sen. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix, to oppose Toma's proposal, one of a package of bills in the Legislature that critics are deriding a "SB 1070 2.0" - a reference to the state's controversial "show me your papers law" from 2010. "I was here for that fight," said Alejandra Gomez, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, talking about the days of SB 1070. "I was here for the separation of our families. I was here for the pain and the aftermath of our economy and our neighborhoods … we will not go back to that division, to that hate." Toma did not respond to requests for comment on Monday's rally. But in remarks last week, the Glendale Republican said his proposal is needed to respond to what he called an "invasion" at the southern border that the governor and federal government "are doing nothing about." "We may not be able to do the federal government's job, but we can stop Arizona from becoming like California," Toma said then. "Our message to illegal immigrants is simple: If you want to take advantage of Americans, go somewhere else." He called his proposal "one of the toughest laws on illegal immigration ever written." It would require that businesses and local governments verify the citizenship status of anyone seeking a job or public assistance. It would also "make it a felony to knowingly assist an illegal alien in breaking our employment laws," Toma said. Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday came out against HCR 2060 and other immigration bills, which she called "job-killing, anti-immigrant legislation meant to score cheap political points." But she may not be able to stop it: Unlike most bills, Toma's resolution would bypass the governor and go directly to voters as a ballot initiative this fall, in what Hobbs called a "desperate, partisan attempt to circumvent the legislative process." But Heritage Action for America defended Toma's plan, saying in a statement last week that the resolution protects Arizonans from the federal government's “prioritization” of illegal immigrants. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V5aTYmMcmE
(Video by Denzen Cortez/Cronkite News)
"HCR 2060 protects American workers through the commonsense E-Verify program and stems the flow of illegal immigrants by taking away a major magnet for those flooding across the border," the group's statement said. Toma's proposal passed the House Thursday on a 31-28 party-line vote and must now get through the Senate. Joseph Garcia, executive director of Chicanos por la Causa Action Fund, said he hopes the bill does not get through the Senate, but that Monday's rally was needed to educate new voters in Arizona who did not live through SB 1070. "We know the reputation of Arizona with SB 1070 went international in a bad, bad way. So it is about bringing voters up to speed today so we don't go back to the dark days of yesteryear," Garcia said. SB 1070 allowed authorities to demand the immigration status of anyone they arrested, a law that critics said was quickly abused by police who used it as an excuse to harass minority communities. Most of the law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, which said it infringed on federal authority. Garcia said that immigration is being used as a "wedge issue" by Republicans in an election year, a position echoed by Monica Villalobos, president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It is lazy politics to scapegoat immigrants to get elected. Especially this kind of legislation that has already been denounced by the courts," Villalobos said Monday. She said it is a troubling stand for the Republican Party, which frames itself as supportive of small business. "I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me," Villalobos said. "It (SB 1070) not only hurt our state image but our state economy. It tore families apart, and instead of Republicans supporting small businesses, they are enforcing crippling policies."

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Mon, 26 Feb 2024 19:30:11 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/business-owners-challenge-bill-requiring-e-verify-checks-for-jobs-benefits/
Going on offense over Defense spending: Biden touts benefits to states https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/going-on-offense-over-defense-spending-biden-touts-benefits-to-states/ Ian McKinney

Feb. 26, 2024

WASHINGTON - When the Senate approved $95 billion in military and other aid for Ukraine and Israel earlier this month, President Joe Biden singled out Arizona as one of the states that would benefit from the increased defense spending. It's not clear whether Ukrainian aid is entirely the cause, but there's no question that defense spending has been good to the state. The Pentagon spent $15 billion in Arizona in fiscal 2022, the last year for which data is available, up from $14.6 billion the year before. That boosted Arizona back into the top 10 among states, from 13th place in fiscal 2021. And the amount spent in fiscal 2022 may be more than what the Pentagon reported: A study done last fall for the governor's office said that total military spending in the state in fiscal 2022 was $15.5 billion on an industry that supported 78,780 jobs directly or indirectly. Robert Medler, president of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, said the report for the state, the so-called Maguire Report, shows the defense industry's economic strength, saying it has a "sizable chunk of an impact on the Arizona economy." In its annual Defense Spending by State report for fiscal 2022, the Pentagon said more than half of the spending in Arizona - $8.2 billion - went to Raytheon. Northrop Grumman and Honeywell came in a distant second and third with $855 million and $642 million in Pentagon business, respectively, that year. That domestic spending was highlighted by Biden, as he urged House leaders to take up the aid package. "While this bill sends military equipment to Ukraine, it spends the money right here in the United States of America in places like Arizona, where the Patriot missiles are built; and Alabama, where the Javelin missiles are built; and Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, where artillery shells are made," Biden said. The bill would provide $60 billion to support Ukraine, $14.1 billion in security provisions to Israel, $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid, and $4.8 billion to support Taiwan. It passed 70-29 - both Arizona senators voted for it - on Feb. 13. That vote capped months of negotiating with Senate Republicans, who had insisted that immigration reform be tied to the aid package - before they stripped it out at the last minute and approved the aid package on its own. The House has yet to consider the measure, and it's not clear if House leaders will let it come up for a vote in its present form when they return this week from a two-week recess. Alan Maguire, president of The Maguire Company, said spending from the federal government is vital for the Arizona economy. "Virtually all the money that drives the military industry in Arizona is money that comes out of the Department of Defense," said Maguire, who wrote the comprehensive Military Economic Impact Report for the governor's office. Maguire agrees with Medler that the role the defense industry plays in Arizona's economy will only increase as time goes by.
"What I heard in the year and a half that I worked on this study talking to the commanders and their staff at the various bases is they’re all expecting additional missions," Maguire said of his report, which is done every six years. "When the different branches look at places to put an additional mission, the Arizona facilities look very good," he said. “You’re in a friendly state, you’ve got the Goldwater Range (the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range), and you have access to a huge metropolitan area when a lot of the bases in the country are in relatively rural areas." Medler said the defense industry should serve as a point of pride for Arizonans - for more than just the economic benefit it brings to the state. "National security is important, everyone agrees with that, and to be able to have those industries in Arizona and provide the best technology in the world for our warfighters and our national security is something I think Arizonans are proud of," Medler said. "Obviously, the economic benefit is great, too."

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Mon, 26 Feb 2024 19:01:58 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/going-on-offense-over-defense-spending-biden-touts-benefits-to-states/
New software tool takes on institutionalized racism in health care https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/trulite-health-software-addresses-health-disparities-mayo-clinic-arizona/ Annika Tourlas

Feb. 26, 2024

PHOENIX – An expecting mother goes for her first ultrasound with a new doctor. During the appointment, the doctor’s attention is drawn to an alert on her computer about the maternal mortality rate for Black women, like her new patient, being 2.6 times higher than that for non-Hispanic white women in the United States. The doctor adjusts her patient’s care plan, making personalized clinical decisions. With the integration of Truity, a comprehensive health equity software platform developed by TruLite Health, this hypothetical situation may soon become real for patients. “If you are not white, male, educated, living in an urban ZIP code, have some money and straight, your outcomes are likely worse in some capacity, and that’s the disparity,” Dr. Alan Roga, co-founder and CEO of TruLite Health, said. “How’s that possible in the wealthiest country in the world?” The Truity software tool is designed to identify and remedy the kinds of disparities named by Roga, for instance the“institutionalized racism and bias in medicine” researchers have highlighted as reasons behind the disparate Black maternal mortality rates. TruLite Health, a software systems developer based in Tempe, set out to tackle clinical bias that leads to health inequities. The company studied health care tools, practitioners and research and found that disparities are getting worse. To repair clinical bias, Truity processes patient data and health equity knowledge in order to provide clinical, social and behavioral interventions to improve health care outcomes with diverse populations. Truity can alert providers to known disparities and suggest patient-specific interventions such as early screenings, adjusting medication dosages and delivering educational resources to patients through a portal. Patients are encouraged to ask questions and be proactive regarding their health care plan. TruLite was founded in 2021 to address the health inequities that cost the U.S. health care system nearly $320 billion, according to Deloitte, an international auditing and consulting company. Roga and the TruLite team found that disparate care exists across the globe and is widening, for reasons that go beyond socioeconomics, like a lack of diversity in clinical trials. They set out to remediate clinical bias by integrating the Truity software into daily workflows through health systems’ electronic records systems. Deloitte’s 2022 study estimates that in less than 20 years, the cost of health disparities could reach $1 trillion. According to its actuarial team, reaching that cost is not sustainable and would further impact affordability, quality and access to care. “This is a significant issue, not only a financial issue and an economic problem, it’s a moral problem that we have to face and address,”Dr. Nathan Delafield, associate chair of equity, inclusion and diversity for the department of medicine at Mayo Clinic Arizona, said. “It’s a public health emergency that we have to address in order to improve health care outcomes, because at the end of the day inequity leads and lends itself to delayed diagnosis, poor communication, terrible patient care and patient experience.” Health disparities are differences in the burden of diseases, injury, violence or opportunities that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. These populations may differ in race, ethnicity, geographic location, disability status, education, income or gender and are disproportionately affected in health care outcomes. “We're seeking to better understand why these differences exist because our understanding of biology and science suggests that we are far more alike than we are different,” Delafield said. “So these differences are likely the result of other factors that are contributing to poor health outcomes for some.” On Jan. 9, TruLite Health announced an agreement with Mayo Clinic Arizona to use and enhance Truity software in clinical practice. According to Delafield, the hospital will focus on feedback, workflow enhancements and evaluating platform features. He didn’t give a date for when Truity will be officially launched. Truity is also partnering with Morehouse School of Medicine, in Atlanta, to develop virtual health equity coaching for patients, aimed at improving self-advocacy. Health coaching helps patients identify goals, implement new routines and navigate their care plans. Increased discussions on conditions, management strategies, community resources and advocacy techniques can streamline appointments and discussions with medical professionals. “Coaching has shown to reduce diabetes, hemoglobin A1c measure (a blood test measuring a patient's average blood sugar levels), it is shown to reduce blood pressure control and it is shown to reduce readmissions,” Roga said. “What we have done is taken coaching and now evolved it to health-equity coaching, with Morehouse, in using their tools around cultural competency and humility.” At Mayo Clinic Arizona, Truity will intervene and provide real-time education to clinicians as well as feedback on how to narrow disparities and offer resources to patients. Previously, Mayo Clinic Arizona acknowledged disparities after the fact, through a review of patient outcomes, now Mayo Clinic Arizona hopes to prevent problems before they impact patient care. “Whether it be when the patient is being roomed, and their medications are being reconciled or when the clinician is seeing them and prescribing a new medicine, there will be health equity insights based on the patient’s chart regarding who they are, where they’re from, what diseases they are diagnosed with and provide information related to health equity,” Delafield said. Delafield sees the platform helping Mayo Clinic Arizona address disproportionate levels of disease and access to care in Arizona’s large Native American and Hispanic populations, and mitigate health disparities for many other marginalized populations as well. “I think as we better understand various health care disparities, it will motivate us that much more to ensure we are appropriately including diverse patients at all stages of clinical research and care, in a way that ensures the outcomes are better for all people, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc.,” said Delafield.

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Mon, 26 Feb 2024 15:54:10 -0700 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2024/02/26/trulite-health-software-addresses-health-disparities-mayo-clinic-arizona/