Growth of Ink; Tattooing in the Triad

Times are changing. That’s what any tattoo artist in theTriad will tell you. As the years pass, tattoos are moving from being associated with convicts, bikers, and other rough crowds and towards social acceptance. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, more than one in five American adults has at least one tattoo, which is up from less than one in seven in 2008. There are more than ten tattoo and piercing shops in the Burlington area alone and upwards of 70 or more in the Triad.

In the midst of this change, there are key differences between the tattoo scene now and that of years past. “Most people nowadays at least have one, or have talked about getting one or thought about it. No matter the age, we’ve seen as much as 18-year-old people in here all the way up to like 65. There’s been a 65-year-old woman that came and got a tattoo here before.” says D.J. Catlett, shop manager of Inferno Ink Tattoo in Burlington

As the industry moves into the mainstream, the practice is embraced as an art form more and more, even by older generations. Bobby Maness, who owns his own shop Last Stand Studio and trained at least nine artists currently in Alamance County, described how the art of the ink has changed, “Tattoos now are more of an art form, instead of just the sticker kind of tattoos. And so the people that can’t really draw are being pushed out. And it’s a good thing because this sticker art thing is not ‘in’ anymore.”

Sticker art is the genre of tattoos that essentially looks like a sticker on the skin.  They are small, colorful and the generally cliché tattoos your parents warned you about. Maness believes they are on the way out, being replaced by more custom designs. However, the majority of the tattooed community is not setting any speed records abandoning old ways.

Jordan Goldston, an artist at Inferno Ink Tattoo said, “People around here aren’t used to fully tatted people walking around, so we get a lot of generic pieces around here.” The tattoo scene in the Triad is quite unlike tattoo culture on the west coast, where tattoos are viewed as more of the artist’s creation instead of just body art.  Goldston described the scene in California, “Out west… [you] give the artist an idea and the artist just runs with it, makes it however he wants to and makes it his piece.”

Generic pieces, such as the sticker art and names, while not the most interesting for the artist, are the bread and butter of financial security. Chris Burgess, who tattoos at Rare Breed Tattoo in downtown Burlington, described the small quick tattoos as being the moneymakers, while the larger custom pieces are what builds the portfolio and skills.

Chris Burgess applies a stencil for a small tattoo at Rare Breed Tattoos. These small tattoos are the real moneymakers for artists.

Unfortunately for the growth of tattooing, the practice of “scratching” is becoming more and more common. Scratching is when people, disdainfully called “scratchers,” by artists, tattoo illegally out of their homes without having formal training or licensure.  DeShazo said this is the main competition with the legal shops in the area because illegal operations can charge much less.  “What’s messing up the tattoo scene, I think, is the people that are [working] out of the house.”

Cheaper tattoos often come at the cost of quality; especially since most tattoo supply companies will not sell quality equipment to artists not associated with a legal shop, so only knockoff companies sell cheap equipment to anyone.  Maness blames in part the many tattoo shows on television today.  “It’s taken a dramatic effect on the general public, everybody thinks ‘oh I see it on TV, I see these people doing it, I can do the same thing.’  These companies are selling people tattoo equipment so that they can do it out of their house, and then they gotta come to me to get it fixed, because they’re not an artist.  They have no idea what they’re doing or how to run the machine.  They haven’t gone through any type of apprentice.” Maness clarifies that art still prevails. He started tattooing underground while in the Navy, but he had been an artist since he could walk.  He criticizes scratchers that are simply tattooing to make some fast money.

Zachery Wright, an artist at Body Ink Tattoos in Haw River, says the increase in scratchers is what has changed the most about the tattoo culture since he started tattooing.  He says that there are more scratchers now than there were five years ago. “I think it’s one thing to start out as a scratcher realizing that you want to pursue it further, and go into a shop and learn it then, but I think its another thing never to draw anything…and just try to tattoo for the popularity of it.”

Bobby Maness works on a large custom piece in his new shop, Last Stand Studio. These large works help build the portfolio and name of the artist.

The biggest problem with tattooing as a scratcher is not the lack of quality in the tattoos; it is the danger of infectious disease.  When someone buys a cheap tattoo kit online, sterilization of the equipment is not easy. In a licensed shop, there is an autoclave to ensure the equipment is clean, but home shops often do not have this technology, and even while using disposable needles and tubes, the machine itself can become contaminated if it is not properly cleaned after each session.

A common argument for the banning of tattoos is that there is a higher risk of disease.  However since 1985, when the Centers for Disease Control started tracking HIV transmission, there has not been a single case of HIV being contracted from a legal tattoo studio.  There have, however been seven cases from the dental industry.  As far as hepatitis goes, there are approximately 12 cases annually from legal tattoo studios, but 43 from dental offices.

As part of the application process to open a tattoo studio in North Carolina, each artist in the studio must prove that they are educated in blood borne pathogens and the studio must meet a series of guidelines concerning the construction of the shop as well as water, plumbing, and sewage systems.  In addition, the shop must keep a record of every person tattooed for a minimum of two years, including a copy of photo identification.

Tattoos are entering their prime time of acceptance in American culture.  They’re in, hot, and safe.  Instead of being shadowed in doubt and distrust, the art form is growing.


Exotic ownership regulations threaten local animal rescue

It’s not the exotic tigers that pose a threat to the safety of the Conservators’ Center. It’s the law.

The Conservators’ Center, a nonprofit organization in Caswell County dedicated to caring for abandoned or injured exotic species, is currently facing a threat from pending federal legislation that would jeopardize its existence.

A caracal comes to the front of its cage to get a good look at the tour group.

In recent years, many states have tightened restrictions against the private ownership of exotic animals.  Twenty-one states already have comprehensive bans on private ownership, and eight more ban most exotic animals as pets. But if private ownership is deemed illegal nationwide, which the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act proposes, only citizens who are registered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) would be able to breed large cats, according to Mindy Stinner, co-founder of the Conservators’ Center.

The Conservators’ Center is not accredited by the AZA for a number of reasons.  A large part is due to the expense, which is heightened by the AZA stipulation that the Center must look a certain way for the public. The Center would also be required to put its tigers in nightly lockdown in a small concrete area and would lose the ability to make decisions for its animals.

“The AZA being a private club makes me really leery,” Stinner said. “I don’t like a private club being the only organization that has the right to do anything. If the government is going to pass new rules about something, then it should say all the people that our government agency licenses should be exempted.”

Stinner is referring to the USDA, the government agency that licenses the Conservators’ Center.  Stinner isn’t opposed to putting a limit on who owns large cats, but thinks instead of shutting down USDA licensed facilities, the government should simply tighten the USDA’s criteria.

“I have no problem at all with someone saying you shouldn’t have a pet tiger,” Stinner said. “But I think if you have a licensing agency that comes in and looks at you and says animal welfare and public safety are taken care of, then it seems to me that you should be able to continue operating.”

The two lemurs are among the most intelligent animals at the Conservators' Center.

North Carolina is regulated county by county, so there is no state law banning private ownership of a  tiger. Every second or third session, a bill is introduced that would prohibit all ownership of exotic animals, Stinner said. But the bill has failed because the lawmakers often overreach and add as many as 10,000 species to the bill. Stinner has come up with a potential sponsor for a state-wide bill that would exempt USDA licensed facilities and hold non-licensed facilities to the same standards by having them regulated by a local animal control officer.

“We would support a bill in North Carolina that would put one standard on all the counties saying there is the expectation of what is good for the animal and safe for the public,” she said. “That way we don’t rip away animals from people who are bonded to them and love them and have good homes.”

In North Carolina, there are about a dozen facilities that own large cats. If the federal bill is passed in its current form, only three facilities would remain open. The bill wouldn’t immediately shut down the non-accredited facilities, but once the current group of big cats owned by the private sector die out, the only ones left would be at AZA accredited facilities. Private facilities whose big cats attract visitors would close, and the rest of the animals would need to be rescued.

But if the Conservators’ Center didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be able to take in the miscellaneous animals that most facilities turn away.

“As long as there are businesses that use animals, there will be places that need to take the animals that the businesses can’t keep anymore,” Stinner said. “It’s a good need.”

The legislation, which is an amendment to the Lacey Act, exists due to amplified media coverage of private ownership of exotic animals, Stinner said. When 49 animals from Terry Thompson’s wildlife preserve in Zanesville, Ohio were shot dead, people begin assuming all private ownership was of a similar nature.

A red fox takes a nap in the shade after feeding time.

“That kind of situation makes people angry and upset and scared, and so bills always fall on the heels of that,” Stinner said.

Another misconception is that animal rights organizations have the same mission as animal welfare organizations. Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Human Society of the United States believe animals shouldn’t exist in captivity at all, whereas animal welfare groups, such as the Conservators’ Center, believe in doing what’s best for the species.

“Animal rights sounds great, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with protecting an individual animal and certainly not with protecting a species,” said Kim Pyne, an English professor at Elon and long term volunteer at the Conservators’ Center.  “There are other political agendas involved.”

These well-funded national organizations make campaigns that are hard for animal-lovers to argue against, Stinner said. They advertise that they are shutting down ill-managed circuses and taking down farms with abusive practices, actions most people agree with. But what they don’t specify is that they also support taking away a pet dog and the eggs people eat for breakfast.

“(PETA) has the worst adoption rate out of any shelter in the five state region,” Stinner said. “They have a 95 percent kill rate. People leave their entire estate to PETA, and PETA euthanizes the animals and says well, some animals can’t be re-homed. And I think that’s appalling. To call yourself People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and not treat them ethically is really abusive.”

Most of the lions take an afternoon nap after feeding time.

In addition to misleading campaigns, statistics are often manipulated in order to sway people’s opinions on private ownership, said Mandy Matson, who manages communications at the Conservators’ Center. When a statistic such as 7,000 tigers are currently in private hands is thrust into the spotlight, there comes with it the implication that all 7,000 are backyard tigers, she said.

“When you see a statistic like that, what you need to keep in mind is that not all of them are dangerous to the community,” Matson said.

Because of this, banning private ownership of exotic species sounds normal on the surface and is something many people would say they agree with, said Rebecca Pope-Ruark, an Elon professor who works closely with the Conservators’ Center. But if there isn’t enough free space in the wild, having the animals in captivity is better than not having them at all, Stinner said.

“I know there are some people who, as a matter of principal, don’t believe in the ownership of exotic animals, (and think) that they should be in the wild and that humans have no business putting them away in cages,” said Martin Fowler, who teaches a philosophy course at Elon entitled Animal Captivity: Zoos, Sanctuaries and Asylums. “But those who run these facilities would say, well that sounds very good in principal, but there are real animals alive right now in need of our help.”

The Conservators’ Center differs from a zoo in that its mission is focused on the needs and well-being of the animals, and not on being an exhibit for the public.

A staff member at the Conservators' Center explains the eating habits of a binturong.

“(A zoo) is seen as a public institution, like a public library, whereas the Conservators’ Center is more like a battered animal shelter; it’s (the animals’) well-being that comes first,” Fowler said. “Since that was their first motivation, they were slower towards becoming visible to the public. They like public support, they need it, but they don’t want to do it to such an extent that the needs of the animals are compromised.”

Zoos will often choose which animals are presented to the public based on what people want to see, Fowler said. The Conservators’ Center didn’t intend to have the diversity and type of population they now have, but have found a way to meet the needs of the animals.

“The Conservators’ Center never wanted to have tours, that was not the mission,” Pope-Ruark said. “The mission was to be a place of last resort for animals who were otherwise going to be killed. It was never supposed to go public.”

The Center opened to the public in an effort to raise money to accommodate 14 lions and their offspring in 2004. The lions were seized from breeding groups in Ohio, where they lived in a square area of just 20 feet on each side and were physically and verbally abused. After the health department ruled that the management of the facility violated health codes, the USDA was asked to help place the animals in a new facility.

One of the ten tigers wakes up from an afternoon nap.

One of the lions was Maggie, a submissive lioness who was the omega of the pride.  Maggie drew the attention of Shelly Benson, a resident of North Carolina who has adopted a number of animals from facilities similar to the Conservators’ Center. When Benson met Maggie, she immediately signed up to be a Lifetime Adopter, allowing her to form a special relation with Maggie and have unique access to certain parts of the facility after going through training on proper safety measures.

Benson now visits Maggie at least once a month and finds herself constantly thanking the Conservators’ Center for providing Maggie, and the rest of the animals at the Center, with a safe home.

“I have this opportunity to not only see (the animals) up close, but to get to know them and their personalities, and that’s such a gift,” Benson said. “It’s been a delight to see (Maggie) and build a relationship with this beautiful animal. My (husband and I) are so fortunate, and the animals are so fortunate that they ended up at the Conservators’ Center. “

Benson and her husband pay a fee of $100 a month, all of which goes directly back to the Center in order for them to provide for the animals and constantly make room for more.

“We never want them to say ‘I’m sorry, we can’t take in this animal, we don’t have enough funds, we don’t have enough support,’” Benson said. “Because we don’t know what would have happened to Maggie if they didn’t take her in.”

The caracal, whose fur was shaved so it could receive diabetes shots, paces back and forth.

The Conservators’ Center, whose annual budget is less than $200,000 a year and receives no government funding, relies on the Lifetime Adopters for much of its income. The largest source of income, however, comes from its increasingly popular tour program.  Transitioning from a private to a public facility was difficult, both physically and financially, Matson said.  But having seen what the money has been able to provide for the animals put the majority of the staff on board, and the animals were quick to follow.

“The first concern was how are the animals going to react,” she said. “Because it built slowly the animals adjusted to it, and what we’ve discovered is that the animals really like it. It’s really worked out well for both human and animal.”

Now more than ever, the tour program is especially vital in bringing in support for the Center and showing more people that the Center isn’t someplace to be fearful of.

“Until you come here, you can’t know,” Stinner said. “We’re not crazies in the woods with lions and tigers running around everywhere. I don’t want people being afraid of our animals or thinking we are a threat.”

Both Congressman Brad Miller, who recently visited the Center, and Senator Kay Hagan believe the bill is too radical to pass in its current form. Julie Stainback, an Elon Law Leadership Fellow whose capstone project focused on the legislation, said she isn’t opposed to the bill passing if it takes a different form.

The jungle cat paces in the afternoon sun.

“I think there should definitely be some type of legislation or some type of regulation regarding the issue,” she said. “I don’t think that anybody should be able to go out and be able to buy a tiger because it is a threat to public safety and public health. But I definitely think that the bill they are proposing right now is not practical.”

Stinner is similarly hopeful that the bill will pass in a form she agrees with.

“I’ve never been an activist until all of these bills started coming and I went, ‘oh, this could actually shut down our business,’” she said. “But it’s so radical that it makes me think it won’t pass in its current form.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dancing through the beat of the drum

Sandy Blocker is the University Accompanist at Elon University who plays world percussion instruments for modern, ballet and African dance classes. His professional training in ballet when he was younger makes him very in tune, and an ideal accompanist for the dance students and professors within the dance department.

Sandy Blocker was told he couldn’t chase his dreams because he was white. As a senior about to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BFA in Dance, Blocker attended the first class to really change his life.

“A friend of mine invited me to watch his African Dance class,” Blocker said. “I just watched, not the dancers, but the (African) drummer,” Hashim Sali, whom Blocker afterwards approached. He wanted to learn to play the drums like Sali, who immediately told him “no” because he was white and didn’t know enough about Africa. Blocker was too hooked to accept “no” for an answer.

They made a deal—Sali gave Blocker three months to learn something about Africa. Blocker walked back into the African Dance class exactly three months later and walked out as Sali’s new accompanist-in-training.

“I went back with more information than he was ready for me to put on him,” Blocker said. Within a few semesters, he became the staff accompanist for UNCG’s dance department, which paved the altered career path that ensued.

Blocker playing the djembe during his time as the staff accompanist at UNCG. Video courtesy of UNCG’s dance department.

Balletic background

Blocker stretches in between songs during a modern dance class at Elon, taught by Jason Aryeh.

Blocker had been trained from an early age as a classical dancer. At age 18 he moved to Virginia to study ballet with the School of Norfolk Ballet before receiving a scholarship to move to New York to study with the Joffrey Ballet School. He studied in Virginia during the school years and spent his summers in New York during this two-year period of intense balletic training. After finishing his last summer in New York, he joined the Houston Ballet, where he danced for a year before electing to take a break from dance to give his body, and mind, a rest. This brought him to the decision to earn a college degree—something he had not previously had the chance to do.

In 1988, he moved to Greensboro, NC to attend UNCG, going back to the city where he was raised. After graduating with a BFA in Dance, Blocker remained on staff at UNCG to accompany the dance classes as he continued to learn more about the art of world percussion drumming.

Africa calling

Dancers from Les Ballet Africains. Photo courtesy of

But as time went on, Sali’s words rang in his ears, and Africa was calling. He left for Guinea and Senegal in 1995 for what would be the first of several trips back across the Atlantic.

“I went to study in Guinea, West Africa with Les Ballets Africains—the national ballet of Guinea—for two months,” said Blocker. “I lived with the dancers and the drummers—I studied with them.”

Two years later in 1997, Blocker went to Mali to study the djembe with the indigenous Malian people. The djembe is a specific type of African drum, rope-tuned and skin-covered, played with bare hands, thought to have originated from the ancient Mali Empire.

The djembe, center, is a popular type of African drum believed to be indigenous to Mali.

This trip to Mali was an intense learning experience for Blocker as a musician, who felt he needed a more authentic comprehension to ground and define himself as a genuine world percussionist. The next time he traveled back served more than just an educational purpose—it doubled as his honeymoon.

A musical duo

Blocker met his wife, Angie Greene, in the African Dance class he accompanied for at UNCG. Greene was a rising sophomore pursuing a career in dance education and a student in the class. The two became friends and started to date over the next couple of years, as they were both further developing their craft. They each followed their perspective paths together to Bamako, Mali to study and live with the people who could teach them best.

The couple stayed at a Protestant mission with a European style bathroom and kitchenette, air-conditioning that they paid for by the hour and filtered water.

Blocker's hands have become tough and leathered over the past couple decades of playing the drums.

“I was not very into camping or roughing it, and there was no way I was going to stay on the compound (in a straw hut) everyday,” Greene said. But Greene, who now teaches contemporary and African dance at Eastern Guilford High School, Burlington Academy of Dance & Arts and the Greensboro Ballet, felt she needed to see as much firsthand authentic African dancing as possible if she was going to be teaching it one day. Like Blocker, her studies in the U.S. had not yet been enough.

They filled up their water bottles with filtered water from the mission and took public transportation through Bamako across the Niger River to the compound where they studied every day for three weeks. Blocker studied with the drummers and Greene with the dancers.

Before heading home, Blocker and Greene went to Morocco and Casablanca for Blocker to study other styles of drumming. In combination with the skills he had picked up from this trip and the ones prior to it, Blocker had become a multi-talented and well-versed world percussionist, adding instrument upon instrument to his resume, ranging from the djembe to the juice harp to the mandolin, among many others.

“I do a lot of different types of drumming, all from different cultures,” Blocker said. “I do a lot of West African drumming, but I’ve also learned North African and Egyptian styles, Middle Eastern and Indian styles, and I can play music from Cuba and Brazil.”

Transition to Elon

Blocker remained on staff at UNCG as the accompanist for 19 years before budget cuts caused him to lose his job. Luckily, through a connection at Elon University, Blocker found out about the need for an accompanist in their dance department.

Sara Tourek, associate professor of Dance in Elon’s Performing Arts Department, met Blocker in graduate school at UNCG where she was a student in a class he accompanied for. When she heard Elon was looking for an accompanist, she immediately thought of Blocker, with whom she had become better friends with during her time as a UNCG dance student.

“He had a good sense of humor, and a clear background in dance that allowed him to connect with the dancers and play in tune with them,” Tourek said. “He provided exactly what the instructor wanted for every class, which really stood out from other accompanists.”

Blocker (far left) with Jason Aryeh (front row center) and his students in Modern I at Elon University.

She knew he’d be a perfect fit for Elon’s tight-knit performing arts department, where he would be able to have plenty of artistic freedom. Lauren Kearns, the chair of Elon’s dance department, hired Blocker in August of 2011. As the University Accompanist, he plays the drums for the upper-level ballet, modern and African dance classes, and often times for out-of-class performances.

Blocker is considered somewhat of a rarity in the dance accompanist world. Many accompanists stick to one style or one genre of dance, but Blocker knows how to cater to ballet classes, serving as a driving force for the students.

“We really like having his perspective and voice here,” said Tourek, who said she especially enjoys working with him since they have a performance background together. “He is really open to trying new things in the classroom, and to lending his talents.”

Blocker (foreground) drumming for a modern dance class in which Carly Flynn (background) is a student.

Dance major, junior Carly Flynn, enjoys the unique musical experience Blocker brings to her various dance classes. The dancers had only previously worked with an accompanist who mostly played piano, so learning how to move in tune to the beat of Blocker’s drums has been a fun and interesting adjustment, Flynn said.

“He’s very in tune with us as dancers, and very aware of our movement due to his personal dance background,” Flynn said. “He even gives us great feedback about our dancing—supposedly he’s an amazing ballet partner!”

Flynn has worked with Blocker beyond just the boundaries of the classroom. As the director of Tapped Out!, the annual Winter Term student-run-and-directed tap show, Flynn quickly saw how willing Blocker was to give the dancers as much as he could offer. He would drive in (from Greensboro) mornings and evenings to rehearse with the dancers, and he collaborated extensively on a piece for the show with tap professor Gene Medler.

“Sandy is pretty amazing,” Flynn said. “In his piece with Gene, Sandy created rhythms and beats on the drums, which Gene then turned into tap moves. (Sandy) pushed us further to go off of his rhythms, not just to mimic them, to help us create more interesting sounds.”

Heart and soul

Blocker loves being able to help people find music and connect to it through movement.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I get to play drums, watch dancers dance, and am challenged all the time by (adjusting to) the way people want to put movement to music. It’s really wonderful because I have a kinetic sense with the music. I have to dance it inside myself as I’m playing.”

He is also able to further apply his more creative side through performing with Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, a dark yet whimsical, ethereal folk band based out of Greensboro for which Blocker plays percussion as one of Crystal Bright’s “Silver Hands.”

Blocker and Bright met in 2001 at UNCG, where Blocker taught Bright African drumming. Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands formed in 2010—Bright is the lead singer and performer, multi-talented as she simultaneously plays the accordion. The other members of the band, or Silver Hands, as Bright refers to them, play a wide variety of offbeat instruments to add to her very eclectic, otherworldly sound.

Blocker provides a world percussion twist to Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands.

As a versatile world percussionist, Blocker contributes African, Middle Eastern and South American rhythms to the band by adding sounds from various percussion instruments such as the riqq, djembe and conga drums, the kick drum and cymbals.

“(Sandy) is a very versatile and amazing musician,” Bright said. “He is so great with odd rhythms, throat singing and jaw harp…and is a great travel partner! He adds a world percussion flavor to the band and has great ideas that I normally wouldn’t think of.”

According to those that interact with Blocker, his character and spirit are some of his greatest trademarks, aside from his musical talents.

“Sandy is a great friend and collaborator—he keeps me grounded,” Bright said. “He is very thoughtful, open-minded and funny.”

Blocker on his set of drums, creates beats and rhythms that cater to the needs of the dance professor's needs and combinations.

Elon’s dance department has taken note as well, with students and professors both citing him as a truly special and wonderful addition to their community.

“It is so much fun to have him (at Elon) and watch him play,” Tourek said. “His spirit is always really true to himself.”

At home, Blocker fathers four children and maintains a flourishing garden with his wife and kids.

“We have a really nice garden (with) potatoes, onions, oregano, dill, cabbage, lettuce and other greens,” Blocker said.

Blocker’s two eldest sons, Buck, 21, and Joe, 19, have found a path resonant with their father’s.

“Joe, a great world percussionist and a good drum-set player, is an accompanist at UNCG now,” Blocker said. “Buck has been helping him out – Buck’s the ultimate rocker.”

As for the little ones, Sadie, 8, and Luke, 5, they love to watch their daddy drum and dance around with him. Music and dance are treasured values in their household, as it has served them well.

As someone who grew up only hearing Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong for the longest time before finally having The Beatles introduced to him, Blocker is a huge advocate for turning people on to new music.

“I’m not an obscure artist,” he insisted. “I’m just a person.”

Sandy Blocker is one man with a slew of talents who has managed to stay grounded and lovely spirited by finding happiness through the beat of his own drums.

What does ARAMARK do for Elon University?

Food is essential for life. Some people base their entire lives around the growing, tending, and selling of food to benefit themselves and to live successfully. Some spend their entire life behind a cash register at a small restaurant, constantly dealing with customers and the food that they need to survive. Others spend their time manufacturing and serving food to college campuses full of students who may not be able to cook anything that will not fit into a microwave. These people may be considered lifelines in society, as they are vital for survival and success.

ARAMARK, an award-winning food service, is the primary food provider at Elon University. The company works with over 600 universities and institutions across North America, providing a plethora of food and drink for students to purchase and consume at their leisure.

The company serves a community of over 7,000 people each day, constantly altering strategies and ideas to meet the tastes and preferences of Elon University students, faculty, and visitors. ARAMARK Unit Marketing Manager, Kate Nelson, works extremely closely with Elon University and has spent seven years trying to satisfy the needs of the community.

“I learned about the company while at school at UNCW. It was not until after I was hired that I learned what a large company ARAMARK was and the extent of the company work,” she said, “I spend my time trying to make sure that the campus is running on good food, and is satisfied with the choices that ARAMARK has to offer.”

Elon University thrives on ARAMARK. Whether students are grabbing coffee in between classes or sitting down with friends to enjoy a meal at an on campus dining location, ARAMARK plays a crucial role in the everyday lives of the community. Some of the most popular locations on campus include Acorn Coffee Shop and Octagon Café in the Moseley Student Center.

Davre Davidson

For such a huge company, ARAMARK began on very small terms. ARAMARK founder Davre Davidson began selling peanuts from the trunk of his Dodge automobile in 1936. Davidson dreamt of lining offices and factories with vending machines, and was soon united with a man with similar dreams, William Fishman, who owned and ran Automatic Merchandising Company in Chicago. The two merged their business ideas and began a company known as Automatic Retailers of America, or ARA. The company began to provide diverse food to new and different businesses and companies that they had made connections with.

The company made great strides in 1968 when it was chosen to serve athletes at the Summer Olympics in Mexico. After many more partnerships and new management, ARA Services changed its name and service philosophy to ARAMARK in 1994. Management realized that their special relationships with businesses had become more than simply partnerships, and began to label them “Unlimited Partnerships,” a term that they still use today.

ARAMARK has continued to thrive over the years, and pursues these “Unlimited Partnerships” all over the country, specifically at Elon University. With three dining halls and over five different retail locations, ARAMARK allows Elon to feed students thousands of pounds of food each day to fuel their bodies and minds. ARAMARK offers students all different types of food, and always contains plenty of vegetarian or vegan options, as well as gluten free options for those with food allergies.

Sophomore Kimberly Nance stops by Acorn Coffee Shop

“I usually go to Acorn about three times a day,” sophomore Kimberly Nance laughed, “Once in the morning to wake myself up with some coffee, once after my afternoon class for a sandwich, and once at night to get a cookie and to chat with some of my favorite employees. It feels like home in there.”

Employees agree that they have formed connections with students who visit frequently.

“I have a group of people that I see every day. I’ll point at them and know exactly what they’re going to order,” Acorn Coffee Shop employee Eddie Talley said, “Working here has become something I enjoy. It isn’t just a job anymore.”

ARAMARK has been partners with Elon University for over 50 years, delivering copious amounts of food to campus each day. Elon Dining is a proud partner of the North Carolina 10% Campaign, a program that asks its members to commit to purchasing a minimum of 10% of all food locally. ARAMARK purchases foods from local, regional, and national suppliers who must pass a rigorous evaluation process before partnering with ARAMARK. Food production and menu variety is adjusted each day to meet the needs of the community, and depending on the day or time of the year, ARAMARK adjusts the amount of food provided as students desire certain items more.

“My favorite is definitely the Chick-fil-A in Octagon Café,” freshman Maggie Joest said, “It is so nice to be able to grab my favorite fast food with just a meal swipe. All my friends back home are jealous when I tell them I get waffle fries almost every day.”

With the 2011-2012 school year came much adjustment in Elon Dining Services. ARAMARK introduced a myriad of new meal plans for students to choose from and enjoy. Whereas last year, students were able to use a certain number of meals per week, this year, students residing on campus are required to choose one of the All Access meal plans. These plans allow unlimited dining hall access, and depending on the number of additional meals that students desire, they can purchase seven or 14 additional meals per week to be used at on campus retail locations. Block meal plans are also available for students living in on campus apartments and off campus locations. Students have expressed positive and negative opinions on this system, and ARAMARK encourages this feedback.

“I don’t mind the new meal plans because I can use the block meal plan for anything I want. I can understand why students with the all access plans are frustrated sometimes, it really limits where you can and can’t eat,” sophomore Jeff Ackermann said.

“With any change there is some frustration; In this case specifically everyone had to learn how to utilize the new meal plans,” Nelson said, “Most students enjoy the new All-Access Meal Plans.”

ARAMARK has a myriad of plans and ideas for Elon University in the future. The brand new Global Dining Hall & Retail Café is projected to open in the beginning of 2013 and will be located in the new Global Residential Neighborhood as part of the Moseley Center expansion. The new building will feature a dining hall and food court along with a 4500 square-foot conference room for catered events. The dining hall will feature a local station, an international station, and a home station while the retail café will feature restaurants including an expanded Chick-fil-A.

Although students, faculty, and visitors may have differing opinions when it comes to the food and drink they consume at Elon University, the community revolves around ARAMARK and the food that the company provides. A steady food provider ensues happiness and satisfaction and allows students to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

It’s Not All About the Music: Jon Metzger

Jon Metzer didn’t find the vibraphone, the vibraphone found him. A cross between piano and various percussive instruments, the vibraphone has been around since the late 1920’s, about the time that jazz music was on the rise in the United States.

Although the “vibes” weren’t originally intended to be a jazz instrument, the mellow sound that the keyboard creates is reminiscent of other jazz instruments, such as the trumpet and saxophone. The instrument has a keyboard construct, similar in size and shape as a marimba or a xylophone and it too, is played with mallets. But rather than the bars being made of wood they are made of aluminum, and sustaining notes can be controlled by a pedal, similar to a piano. The ability to control how long notes are sustained for, allows vibes to be used predominantly as a jazz instrument, and is what sets it apart from other keyboard instruments.

Metzger began taking piano lessons when he was six years old. Soon after, he developed interest in percussion and began taking drum lessons. “The mallet percussion instruments that I fell in love with were a natural extension of the two experiences,” said Metzger. “By that I mean the keyboard of the piano and then the percussion nature from drumming.”

Jon's reliving his childhood at the Spring Jazz Show

When Metzger was 10, he became involved with an active youth orchestra program, at which point he got some experience with percussion instruments. The orchestra was heavily influenced by the ideas of popular German composer Carl Orff, who composed music in Germany throughout the majority of the 20th century.

Along with his experience in the orchestra, Metzger began to develop his mallet techniques by playing violin pieces on mallet instruments with his mother. “It’s just something that we did,” said Metzger, “it didn’t seem at all unusual to me, because it happened all the time.”

Metzger began to understand that music was definitely something he was interested in continuing to pursue. “Because it had been such a part of my life, I knew that some way, one way or another, I’d be around music,” he said.

But as for what style of music, it was too early to know for sure, at least, not until a few years later. “At the age of 15, my sister took me to see the legendary vibraphonist Milt Jackson play. That’s when I fell in love with jazz music.”

Jon is really feelin' it as he heads up the music department's Big Band

Metzger had spent his first few years as a musician learning the ways of classical music, but it was at this point that he began to realize the value in understanding both mediums – classical and jazz. “So, I had all this other background that was more of a classical nature, and I was delighted for it, because I realized I wanted to be able to speak both languages (jazz and classical music),” he said. “Now, all these many years later, lines that had, perhaps separated them some are blurring.”

Metzger decided to move away from where he had grown up in Washington D.C., and moved south to North Carolina to attend the NC School of the Arts in Winston Salem, where he would later graduate with a bachelor in music performance in 1981. “It was a smaller program, and I think it was a good fit for my personality,” he said, “I thought something smaller would be better.” Metzger also received his masters in music performance from the NC School of the Arts in 1994.

Metzger took advantage of his time in Winston Salem. Throughout college he was rehearsing hours a day, and playing jazz in local venues at night. “It was an incredible amount of desire,” said Metzger. “My generation, we didn’t count how many hours we were taking, we were just immersed in it. That’s what we did; we just loved it.”

After he graduated, he just kept “doing what he was doing.” His desire to learn and grow as a musician allowed him to pursue many options.  As his reputation grew, he began recording albums and performing live with artists such as Fred Hersch, Gunther Schuller and Lionel Hampton.

But how did he go from performing and recording, to teaching?

“I hadn’t thought about it before,” said Metzger, “I was just so eager to play.” Metzger moved back to NC in the late 80’s, and was contacted by Dave Brad, who, at the time, was head of the music department at Elon University. “It found me, I wasn’t looking for it,” said Metzger. Brad wanted him to teach. “It was through giving all those clinics from Musser and beginning to teach here at Elon, that I realized something that I hadn’t really thought of before, but that’s when I fell in love with teaching,” he said.

This led to the publishing of “The Art and Language of Jazz Vibes,” as well as Metzger’s 23-year endorsement with Musser. Ludwig-Musser is one of the most renowned percussion equipment manufacturers in the world; Led Zeppelin’s Jon Bonham and Will Berman of MGMT have both been endorsed by the company at some point.

“The Art and Language of Jazz Vibes” was published in 1996; about seven years after Metzger began teaching at Elon. “I’m going to be the best consumer for this book,” he said, and that’s the perspective he wrote it from. The book has since been adopted for course work by at least one university in every state in the country.

But Metzger’s musical influence has reached far beyond the boundaries of the United States. Metzger has served as a Jazz Ambassador for more than 20 foreign countries with the support of the US Information Agency’s Arts America Program. “Jazz music is one of (the United State’s) few indigenous art forms,” he said. “To be able to play it and be a representative of your country, it was really a big honor.”

Metzger also traveled abroad with the Elon Big Band back in 2009. They spent nearly two weeks traveling and playing shows throughout several European countries including Denmark and the Netherlands. John Mullen, a junior, and a percussion major at Elon, described his experience abroad with Metzger: “watching him teach some Danish students was amazing – language barriers were broken and connection was made through jazz.”

Jon (left) and John Mullen (right) are leading the rehearsal during the percussion ensemble's Christmas album recording session

Metzger also just recently spent a month in Turkey with Chair of the Music Department at Elon, Mathew Buckmaster. Metzger and Buckmaster were sent to Ankara, Turkey through the State Department’s Cultural Envoy’s program. The two professors spent the month of January creating an entirely new curriculum for the Jazz Studies Program at Haceteppe State University in Ankara.

One word comes to mind while talking with Metzger: balance. How does he balance it all? How does he manage to be so successful in so many different aspects of his field of expertise?

“The balance is that…there is no balance,” chuckles Metzger, “I can’t be in two places at once.” Partially joking, he said that he manages to “release” some of the pressure by fishing and gardening. “As I moved away from home, I kept on fishing, because I realized it was my main release,” he said. “’Working for a living is taking away from my fishing career, cause I don’t have as much time to do it.”

Metzger, along with his wife, began growing their own fruits and vegetables in their yard when they moved to NC over 20 years ago. They now have a greenhouse and can over 200 jars of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables every year. Metzger emphasizes the importance of growing his own food as factory farms are becoming the main source of produce for Americans, and although he’s not a vegetarian, “when the garden’s in, that’s what (they) eat.”

Jon's examining his part for the Christmas classic, Carol the Bells

Although music has certainly been at the forefront of his life’s path, Metzger’s interest in the outdoors and traveling is just as important in defining who he is.

No one refers to Jon as Professor Metzger, because Jon doesn’t associate himself with formal mannerisms. To Mathew Buckmaster, Jon is a “master mentor” who “truly lives at heart and soul.” To John Mullen, Jon “is an incredible musician and a wonderful teacher who will stop at nothing to see his students succeed.”  To Linda, Jon’s wife, he is her loyal husband with whom she will celebrate 30 years of marriage with this summer. To those that don’t know Jon, he is an amazing vibraphonist. But to those that have the pleasure of spending time with him outside of the classroom, or the recital hall, or the recording study, Jon is so much more. “All of these things that I do, they’re not separate,” said Jon, “but it might seem so.”

Will Outdated Distribution Laws Hinder the Quality of Red Oak Beer?

The United States Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent and traditional. Craft brewers include brewpubs, microbreweries, regional craft breweries and contract brewing companies. The United States Brewers Association emphasizes “innovation” as being a separator between small-scale craft breweries and large-scale operations such as Anheuser-Busch.

North Carolina is one of 34 states that allow microbreweries, small-scale malt beverage breweries, to self-distribute their products to retailers, but this privilege doesn’t come without limitations.

The 21st Amendment in the United States Constitution allows each state to regulate the extent to which microbreweries are allowed to self-distribute. This includes the amount of beer that can be sold directly to retailers without the contracting of a wholesaler, or a “middleman.” The wholesaler is responsible for the transportation of the beer, including the conditions that it is transported in.

These three components, the brewery, wholesaler and retailer, make up what is known as the three-tier system. The system was devised by early 20th century industrialist pioneer John D. Rockefeller, who commissioned the report “Toward Liquor Control” in 1933 to provide guidance for lawmakers concerning the re-implementation of alcohol consumption after the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

This new system caused the success of small breweries to decline, so Beer Franchise Laws were created by states in the 1970s to protect the economical interest of microbreweries and brewpubs, but the three-tier-system remained.

These laws allowed for the self-distribution of beer, but the amount was left up to the individual state. For example, California has no limit to how much small breweries can distribute, whereas Illinois has a 7,500-barrel limit. North Carolina has a 25,000-barrel limit, a limit that the Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett, NC is not content with. If the local microbrewery exceeds this limit, it will be forced to hand over all distribution operations to a wholesaler, blemishing what the brewery has designed to be a very deliberate and controlled process.

Oh, How It Has Come So Far

1991 was the year that it all started. The old Red Oak Brew Pub restaurant in Greensboro, formally known as Franklin’s off Friendly, was remodeled and reopened with brewing equipment installed. The operation was originally sustained by only six brew tanks, but was soon upgraded to 13 tanks; more space was added on to the restaurant in order to support the extra equipment.

After 16 years of brewing out of the restaurant, the beer’s popularity continued to grow, and the restaurant was unable to support such high demand. Before the construction of the new microbrewery facility began, nearly 500 retailers had requested to serve Red Oak beer. Bill Sherrill, the founder of the brewery, decided it was time to expand.

A look inside the shiny new facility

The construction of the Red Oak microbrewery off of Interstate 85 began in 2005, and by the summer of 2007 it was ready to begin brewing. The new brewery cost over $5 million, and is made entirely of Bavarian brewing parts, aside from the bottling machine that was shipped to the US from northern Italy. The brewery also came equipped with a state-of-the-art computerized brewing system that has allowed the entire production process to be completed by only four people.

The brewery also manages to be environmentally friendly. The section of the brewery that is responsible for separating the sugar from the barley to produce “sugar water” sports a pneumatic valve. This condenses any vapor that is released during the brewing process, minimizing the amount of air pollutants that would otherwise be released. The brewery manages to support a 4 to 1 ratio of water to beer as well, putting it on par with, or even better than some of the US’s most recognized brewers, such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

Ground In German Tradition

Red Oak Brewery abides by the Bavarian Law of Purity, meaning that only three ingredients are used to brew its beer, the ingredients being malted barley, hops and water (Red Oak also uses yeast with the other three ingredients, but only because the purity law was later amended to recognize yeast as a viable ingredient). This law is also known as the Rheinheitsgebot and was established in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV. The purpose of the law was to discourage brewers from using cereal grains that were used for making bread to brew the beer, in order to prevent famine.

An old brew sign that was brought to the US from Germany. It's hundreds of years old.

In order to obtain the flavor of traditional German lagers, the brewery also buys all of the raw materials used to brew from Bavaria. Hops are usually bought two or three years in advance in order to ensure availability and retain stock.

Although Red Oak brews strictly lagers, it is more common for American microbreweries to brew ales, because whereas lagers take four to eight weeks to ferment, ales only take three to 10 days. Brewing lagers also allows the beer to carbonate naturally. “We do not filter, pasteurize and (we) naturally carbonate the beer. This separates us from most other modern beers,” said Buckley, he likes to think of it as putting “capital investment in fermentation.”

It’s people like Buckley that are responsible for ensuring that Red Oak beer remains ground in traditional German brewing principles.

Jorge Naveiro, one of the four people in charge of production, is preparing small barrels for transportation

Buckley spent the first 25 years of his life in Germany, where he completed a four-year program in Munich to become a certified brewer. Over the years, Chris developed a high level of interest and respect for German brewing. “Growing up in Germany had a huge influence on me regarding alcohol consumption, as responsible drinking is taught and beer is considered a food,” said Buckley. This sense of responsibility inspired him to uphold traditional brewing practices when he came to the United States.

Al Wolf, the assistant brew master, also came to Red Oak from Germany. He started working at the brewery two years ago after finishing a three-year apprenticeship at the Binding Brewery in Frankfurt, Germany. Wolf described Red Oak’s brewing practices as “intense,” and he claimed that it was “more of the old-school way.”

Red Oak is focused on retaining its German influence, but the current self-distribution laws in NC will eventually hinder its ability to continue producing beer at the high level of quality that consumers have come to expect.

Territorial Advance

For 18 years, Red Oak beer was sold exclusively as a draft beer and has been being sold in bottles for the past two years. Red Oak self-distributes all of its beer, whether it be bottled or barreled, across central NC. The brewery distributes as far East as Garner, NC, and as far West as Charlotte, NC, Greensboro being the furthest point North it distributes. In only two years, over 100 retailers have started selling bottled Red Oak amber lager off the shelf. Red Oak’s Helles, Hummin’ Bird, can be found on tap at nearly 80 retailers and Red Oak’s least popular brew, Battlefield Bock, is on tap at close to 50 retailers all over the Piedmont. The bottling expansion has created tremendous growth for the brewery, pushing them further toward the 25,000-barrel limit.

Some of the larger vehicles the brewery uses to distribute it's beer

Bill Sherrill has been fighting this limit for the past nine years, a year before brew master Buckely was hired. The brewery has proposed bills, such as having the limit raised to 60,000 barrels like in New York, in hopes that the bill would gain sponsorship and be assessed by NC legislature. The brewery has yet to have any success.

Agnes Steven, the Public Affairs Director at the NC Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, said that the legal cap “creates a niche that gives smaller breweries space to mature as they develop products and a following.” The NCABC is one of 19 members of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Its job is to maintain control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption, and possession of alcohol beverages in the state.

When asked about the ongoing dispute between the ABC and the Red Oak Brewery, Tim Kent, the Executive Director of the NC Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, stated that “it’s not a dispute, it’s the law.” Ken alluded to information about the benefits of the three-tier system that included “healthy competition and a robust marketplace” and “tremendous variety for consumers.”

In fact, Oscar Wong, the owner of the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC, claims that self-distributing over 10,000 barrels annually is no longer economically efficient; the brewery is actually losing money at that point.

But in a journal published in NC Law Review, Andrew Tamayo makes the point, that “although Red Oak would have to more than double its current sales volume to exceed the legal cap, there remains a valid question of whether there is any justification for not changing the law.” If competition hasn’t already been threatened, why would raising the legal cap pose a threat?

It’s About the Beer. It’s Always Been About The Beer!

Regardless of the limitations of the three-tier system, Buckley said that this isn’t about money; it’s about control. Red Oak beer is shipped cold, and kept cold until it reaches retailers. The brewery has its own cold storage at the brewery, and they even make sure that beer that’s not on store shelves is still kept cold while in the hands of retailers. Buckley also said that whereas a distributor may take up to five or six weeks to distribute what they pick up, the brewery has beer to retailers in less than five days.

The brewery is concerned about surrendering distribution operations over to a wholesaler because it will no longer have complete control over the quality of its beer. Regardless of price efficiency, Red Oak wants control of its beer from the time it orders the ingredients to the time it reaches retailers. “By selling it ourselves, we can sell a lot of beer in a small area” says Buckley, “it’s not brewed for shelf life, it’s not brewed for shipping; it’s brewed for taste.”

Water Warrior

By:  Nicole Esplin


April Coble-Eller first glided across the water on a pair of skis as a 3-year-old encouraged by her dad’s love for the sport and the thrill of being pulled through the water.

April Coble-Eller, a professional water skier and co owner of Coble Ski School Water Ski and Wakeboard Camp, lives in Lillington, NC with her family.

Thirty-four years later, Coble-Eller was just minutes away from skiing her most memorable pass on the slalom course at the 2010 Malibu Open against a former student, who was the world-record holder.

“It was a night event, a head-to-head final competition,” Coble-Eller said.  “We had so much fun until the last pass, the money pass.  I went into this fighting mode.  She made a comment at the end of the lake and said she couldn’t see very well.  I thought ‘well that’s good, because I can.’”

It had been thirteen years since Coble-Eller had last won a professional water skiing event at age 24.  “I wondered if I could win anymore,” she said.

Coble-Eller went on to win that night’s event, and add one more victory to her accomplishments as a water skier, which include 28 national titles, a world championship title and member of the US Ski Team.

“Nothing mattered that night except winning-I was in the zone.  It was awesome.”

That last big win was two years ago. Now, as a 39-year-old skier living in Lillington, NC, Coble-Eller runs a water ski and wake board camp with her family. Her father started the camp when she was a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early Beginnings

Coble-Eller’s father Gary Coble taught April and her sister Valerie Coble to ski when they were toddlers.  Before April laced up her tennis shoes for her first day of kindergarten, she was skiing and competing.  “Waterskiing has been in our family longer than I can remember,” she said.

Coble-Eller won her first national competition at 12 years old and turned professional at 17 years old.  She started on the world tour 21 years ago, when she was 18 years old, and has been competing in international tournaments since.

Growing up, Coble-Eller practiced on a small lake in the town of Angier, NC.

“I skied on a pond.  There were 25 club members, and we fought for ski time,” Coble-Eller said.

When the pond closed down, Gary Coble began looking for lakes for Coble-Eller to practice on.  When he heard of an old rock quarry with multiple lakes for sale, he was hesitant at first.

“I was looking for a lake that I could buy or rent for a long, long time and I looked at literally hundreds and hundreds of lakes, but they were all too short,” Coble said.  “I had almost given up, but we lost the lake in Angier, so I was really looking hard.  I was a high school football coach, and one boy who played for me, a high school quarterback asked if I had been over to this property.

“I came over here and they had growth coming up, about 15 feet high.  I actually had to cut my way in to see the first lake,” Coble said.  “When I saw the first lake, I said, ‘man if I could just get a spot there, we could train there.’”

Ariel view of the lakes at Coble Ski School. Photo courtesy of

Coble took his wife Shirley to see the property, and the couple ended up renting an airplane to get a better look at the property.  When the Cobles saw the ten lakes expanding across the rural Lillington backdrop, they decided to buy the property.

“We had to start doing something very quickly to generate income, so we started teaching people how to ski.  That was in ’95,” Coble-Eller said.  “Back then, I still didn’t know if I wanted to run a business.  I didn’t go to business school; I didn’t know the first thing about running a business.”

Now, a full-time co owner of Coble Ski School, Coble-Eller is a natural at the work she does, both on and off the lake.

“April is geared a lot like me.  She can work long hours, and it takes a lot of long hours here,” Gary Coble said.  “They say it is typical of a football coach not to have any boys, and I had two girls, but April can drive a nail just like a boy can.  She helped me build most everything here.  We built it all.”

With 10 lakes in her back yard, multiple world-championship certified Mastercraft ski boats and a husband ranked top in the world in tournament boat driving, April has no need to fight for ski time.

Chris and April met on the UNC Water Ski team in college. Chris Eller skied professionally for a short time after college.
Photo courtesy of

April and her husband Chris Eller met at UNC on the ski team, and married in 2000.  Eller was the captain of UNC’s ski team for 3 years, and after college was ranked nationally in his age division and has skied professionally in the Moomba Masters in Australia.

“We started dating in ’97 and I started working at the camp in ’98-’99 full time.  Basically when I first started working there I was like every other instructor.  I cut grass, drove the boat, and coached,” Eller said.  “The first summer after I graduated I worked at a pharmaceutical company in Durham while still skiing.  I would ski in the morning before I went to work, and ski in the afternoon when I got home.”

When business picked up at the Ski School, Coble’s father asked Eller to work full-time at the school, where he still works as Coble’s business partner.

“There’s not always something that you have to do every day but there is probably something that needs to be done,” Eller said.  “At one point I may be a mechanic on a boat, and a couple hours later I may have to go do plumbing.  Its pretty cool that I’m not doing the same thing every day.  We’re sales people at boat shows and resort owners during the summer.”

World Wide Fame

Lillington is a small town in North Carolina, but champion water skiers around the world do not picture barbeque fests, Bible belt values and Campbell University when they think of this rural eastern NC town.

More likely, they will enter a daydream filled with a world-class water ski boat cutting through the surface of an aqua-marine lake.

Skier Jason Wrobleski skies while Chris Eller, co-owner of Coble Ski School drives the boat.

Jason Wrobleski travelled to Coble Ski School in April from Ohio to improve his skiing before the summer season started.

The Cobles welcome skiers from all over the world at their ski school.  In one afternoon, April coached, gave advice to an Australian man looking to start his own water ski park in Australia and received a complimentary hair cut from a student who owns his own hair salon in Time Square in New York City.

Due to North Carolina’s mild temperatures during the spring and fall, Australians and New Zealanders will travel to Coble Ski School for six months, from April to September, to work at Coble Ski School and train with Coble-Eller.

“I’ve been trying to get as much time with April as I can,” Katrina Pollard, a skier and camp instructor from New Zealand, said.  “Just so I can learn from everything she knows.  Really down-to-earth person, she’s good.  You couldn’t ask for any better, really.”

Alpine skiers have been drawn to the camp too, including Olivee Bourdough from British Columbia.

“I alpine ski in the winter, and my friends started waterskiing to supplement,” Bourdough said.  “They said you have to come try Coble Ski School.”

Coble-Eller has taught people from 2 years old to 92 years old to ski, including some of her peer competitors.

The most rewarding part of teaching people to ski is “watching people at any age gain self-confidence through the sport of waterskiing,” Coble-Eller said.

Throughout the course of the day, Coble-Eller and her instructors will coach all levels of skiers, from beginners who are learning to stand up on two skis to veterans, who have been skiing and competing for many years.

“I’ve been waterskiing for over 50 years,” student Jeff French said.  “She gave me a couple pointers that I can’t wait to try this summer.”

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Coble-Eller said.  “When you accomplish something you’ve never done, it’s breathtaking.  Priceless.”

Looking to the future

Now, as a mother with two kids, 8-year-old Kamryn and 5-year-old Landice, Coble-Eller is still ranked top 5 in the world and competing at the Masters level.

April Coble-Eller practices by listening to her own words of advice she gives to others trying to accomplish their dreams.

“Be serious, every time you go out to practice,” she said.  “Train like you are in a tournament every day.”