Thursday, March 12, 2009

Building for the future 

Posted by Sasha at 10:05 AM ET

by Frank Jolley, Sports Editor
Daily Commercial
March 12, 2009

LEESBURG -- Deanna Clover has been a performer for as long as she can remember.

She has performed in dinner theaters, danced on cruise ships and as a member of the dance teams for the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League and the NBA's Orlando Magic.

Clover's lifetime on stage has allowed her to travel the world as a promotional tool for the NBA and the Magic, and reached a peak this year when she was chosen to represent the team in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition.

Feeling the aches and pains from years of performing and realizing she had likely accomplished as much as she could as a dancer, Clover decided that this year, her fifth with the Magic, would be her final season.

That doesn't mean, however, that Clover is leaving a business she has devoted most of her life to. Instead of dancing in the limelight, Clover is looking to move into the wings as the dance-team coordinator for the fledgling Leesburg Thundercats professional basketball team.

Clover accepted an offer from Thundercats' owner Kevin Simmons in December to become the franchise's first dance-team coordinator. She held tryouts throughout the county and the seven-dancer team was unveiled recently during Eustis' Georgefest parade.

"Part of my job is to get the Thundercats name out in the public and let them know we're bringing professional basketball to Lake County," Clover said. "We're going to do that by performing at games and by giving dance clinics in the community. We want to be an active part of the community and become a positive influence for young people.

"This team is going to help develop the image people have of the Thundercats, so we want to make a very good impression and be a staple in the community."

Clover said she decided to make this season her final year as a Magic dancer after suffering a torn labrum and assessing the amount of wear and tear her body has endured over the years. She recently turned 30, and while there is no age limit to be a Magic dancer, the grueling annual auditions to make the team were taking their toll.

Also, because of her commitments to the Magic, Clover was not spending as much time with her family. She has been married for nine years to her husband, Cliff, who she met when she danced on a cruise ship.

In addition to her dancing duties, Clover works part-time at her husband's real estate business in Kissimmee and she also has taught dance classes at a studio in in Kissimmee.

"The commitment with the Thundercats will not be as big at the Magic," Clover said. "Outside of the public relations functions, such as giving clinics or taking part in parades, there will be only 15 home games with the Thundercats as opposed to the 41 home games for the Magic. I'm really excited about the possibility of being able to spend more time with my family."

Simmons said he when he learned about Clover's availability, he spoke with the Magic's dance team manager Jeanine Thomas, who recommended that Simmons hire Clover. Simmons said Clover went to work immediately to form a dance team, juggling that with her commitments to the Magic.

"Deanna's done a great job helping to put a face on this franchise," Simmons said. "When I started this project, I wanted to move slowly and do things right. Our goal right now is to get the word out about the Thundercats and what better way to that than with a professionally organized dance team.

"Now we have a way to let people know we're here and I can get down to the job of signing players and putting a product on the floor."

Simmons said he currently is exploring his options for finding a home for the Thundercats. He has signed three players to contracts, including former Eustis High School standout Jimmy Hudson, and hopes to fill out his roster after the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Draft.

One of the biggest selling points for the Thundercats, Simmons said, will be the cost of attending a game. Whereas a family of four can expect to spend in excess of $100 -- and oftentimes more -- to watch a Magic game, he believes families will be able to go to a Thundercats game for less than $40.

"We'll be affordable entertainment," Simmons said. "I'm hoping to get area businesses on board as sponsors and work together with community leaders to make this Lake and Sumter County's team. It may take a year or so to get completely established, but I can see the Thundercats becoming something everyone can rally around and take pride in.

"I'm here for the long haul and so are the Thundercats."

The Thundercats will host the Orlando Kings at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Everett Kelly Convocation Center at Lake-Sumter Community College. A charity game will begin at 5 p.m.

A portion of proceeds from the game, according to Simmons, will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

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