“Point and Game, Sue Fleischman”
When I got the call from World Jai-Alai’s Chief of Operations, Paul Rico, that fateful night in December of 1979, directing me to “pack a trunk, we need you in Miami,” I told my soon-to-be wife, Sue, we would only be there two or three years. It had now been 32 years, and we were still living in South Florida.
Sue had been an amazing wife and partner. She had been forced to plan our wedding with almost no help from me. I had to fly to Miami the day after Paul’s call, taking up residence in the King’s Inn Hotel just down the street from Miami Jai-Alai. Of course, I did return to Tampa for our wedding at The Swiss House at Busch Gardens the following March. With no honeymoon, she moved down to Miami, where we rented an apartment in Kendall. We did not get off to a very good start. The movers were almost a week late causing us to “camp out” on the floor of the apartment.
For the next 32 years, Sue endured my crazy hours at Jai-Alai, put up with my many golf and tennis games during the weekends, raised our two amazing kids, Shawna, and Jason, with little family support (none were in Miami), traveled to the various Jai-Alai tournaments around the state (sometimes just staying in the hotel room with our young children). She never complained, always supported me, and rarely asked anything for herself. Until now.
“If we have grandchildren, I want to be with them, watch them grow up, be part of their lives,” Sue told me one night, a short time after Brett (my son-in-law) and Shawna were married. But that seemed so far off, not in my present reality. Then, Shawna’s call that she was pregnant. Two things hit me. One, the happiness of contemplating our first grandchild. Two, my long love affair with Jai-Alai was actually coming to an end.
My wife had chosen to be a stay-at-home-Mom. Luckily, we were in the position that she could do what she loved. With Shawna and Jason approaching their college years, my wife’s desire to be around young children never abated. She told me she always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.
I knew teachers, any teacher, required at least a 4-year college degree. She had almost no college credits to speak of. She told me she could attend Miami Dade Community College and FIU, get her degree quickly and, hopefully, get a teaching job in South Florida. This would ease the financial burden when I retired (I had no retirement plan from World Jai-Alai nor Dania) and fulfill her desire to teach 5-year-olds.
So, in preparation for the inevitable call from Shawna and Brett, she jetted through Miami Dade and FIU, finishing near the top of her class. Having moved now to Dania, she was able to get a kindergarten job at Hallandale Elementary, not far from our house. To me, it was an amazing feat. I was extremely proud of her.
Now, the time had actually arrived. I was like an athlete that just doesn’t know when to hang it up, thinking that I still had a few good years left. Things at Dania Jai-Alai had not improved. The new casino Boyd Gaming had contemplated appeared even more remote. Rumors continued to circulate that some groups were interested in purchasing the property from Boyd. Dave Winslow was constantly showing people around the facility.
Clint Morris (still the CFO) and I were basically running the day-to-day operations. Clint and I were working together well and had become good friends. We relied on each other daily to solve all the ongoing operational issues. Though the future seemed dim, I felt I could ride it out a few more years. But it now looked like I had a big decision to make.
After all these years of letting me pursue my passion, my career with the sport I loved, Sue’s only request was to move back to Tampa and be with her new grandchild. Of course, I couldn’t refuse. But I did put in one practical stipulation. “Honey, we will have no income, no insurance if I retire. If you can get a teaching job in Tampa, near our new house (we had purchased a Tampa house for our future move) I will put in my notice.”
She agreed. The next thing I knew, she was working on her teaching resume. Attending Shawna’s baby shower in Tampa, she dropped off her resume at various elementary schools in our preferred area. At that time, it was very difficult to come in from another county and get a teaching job in a desired area. Local teachers have first priority with transfers. It really was a long shot that she could land a teaching job, especially in our agreed upon area. I felt pretty good about having a few more years at Dania Jai-Alai.
Sue drove back alone from Tampa, fairly discouraged. The offices took her resumes without much comment. I knew she was disappointed, but our daughter Shawna had more ideas. There were a few other schools that she hadn’t visited which were on the border of our “designated” area. Sue had one last chance, the job fair where they hired the necessary teachers. She headed back to Tampa, a few more resumes in hand, and a plan to drop by those additional schools a day before the fair.
Twin Lakes Elementary was not on our radar. It was her final stop before next day’s job fair. After dropping her resume off in the front office, she began driving out of the parking lot, only to see a woman running after her car, trying to flag her down. It was the principal’s secretary. “Can you come back in, the principal would like to talk to you,” she said.
Bolivar had one of the best caroms in the sport and scored with it repeatedly. Almorza’s devastating forehand scored often from the backcourt. Solaun’s cortada shot scored on most of his opponents. Sue scored by getting the job! “Point and game, Sue Fleischman!”