The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Fatherhood, football and dance
Melissa Pihos performs “PIHOS: A Moving Biography.”

Melissa Pihos performs “PIHOS: A Moving Biography.”

How often does a National Football League team come to UNCG to interview a student?

Not very often. Maybe never. But there's a first time for everything.

It happened to Melissa Pihos, who graduated in May with her MFA degree in dance. The Philadelphia Eagles, the team for which her father played some 60 years ago, will feature Melissa's thesis creation, which focused on her father and his ongoing battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Eagles Television Network sent a video team to Greensboro in May to interview her and to film scenes from her dance work, titled “PIHOS: A Moving Biography.” The feature will be broadcast and posted on the Eagles network web site during the 2011-12 season.

Melissa's dad is Pete Pihos, who played end for the Eagles from 1947 to 1955 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. A tough, smart player, he was the NFL's only recipient to earn All-Pro honors on offense and defense, and he was also an All-American at Indiana University. During World War II, he fought in Europe under General George S. Patton.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2001 and now lives at Grace Health Care in Winston-Salem, where her mother, Donna, supervises his care.

Eric Long, producer for the Eagles Network, said they are doing a feature that focuses on Pete's life and career in football, and Melissa's journey in collecting her father's story and sharing it with the world.

“We've done countless features in the past on former Eagles' players, but the effort that Melissa has put into remembering her father is unique,” he said. “Because of all her work, this story will go well beyond documenting Pete's playing days and touch on Melissa's relationship with her father and her efforts to maintain the memories of his life.”

Melissa, who is the only child of Pete and his fourth wife, studied her father's life for four years so she could tell his story through video and dance. “I heard all these stories about him, heard about his life, and I wanted to find the truth and tell his story,” Pihos said. “He lived a very interesting life.”

She wove together the parts she believed to be most important in her dad's life. She began with the murder of his father, Louis Pihos, when Pete was only 14 years old. She incorporated film and video montages of war, combat training and football, along with images examining the effects of Alzheimer's on the brain. The dance also got personal, taking a look at her dad's four marriages.

“He was very successful in many aspects of his life, and he cherished his children — I thought he was a wonderful father — but the marriages didn't work out,” Pihos said. “I wanted the dance to show not just his life, but also how hard it is to see him just slipping away.”

Her dance drew sell-out crowds both nights when it was performed at UNCG in March. Earlier, it opened “out of town” in New York City at The Tank Space for Performing and Visual Arts.

As a new UNCG grad, Melissa will be teaching at Salem College in the fall, but she's not done telling her dad's story. She is working on a feature-length documentary on her father and hopes to set up fundraisers for the Alzheimer's Association in Greensboro, Philadelphia, and maybe Chicago, to have people come to see the concert.

 

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Two of Fragola's films
Two of Fragola's films
Another Corleone

Tony Fragola has a story to tell about the land of his ancestors. But not the story you might imagine.

As a filmmaker, Fragola doesn't want to perpetuate the Sicilian stereotype left by movies such as “The Godfather.” He wants people to know the Sicily of today has more to offer than a bloody legacy of Mafia dons and family business. It's a place rich with culture and visionaries and stunning backdrops.

And it's the story of a people who have endured and fought against the Mafia and dreamed of a better way.

That's the story Fragola wants to tell.

Over the last several years, the media studies professor has created a body of work that documents the anti-Mafia movement in Sicily: “A Beautiful Memory: A Mother and Her Sons Against the Mafia,” “CIDMA: International Center of Documentation on the Mafia and Anti-Mafia Movement,” “Pino Maniaci: The Voice of the People and the Mafia's Gadfly.” And now he's completing “Another Corelone: Another Sicily,” which focuses on the farmers who are reclaiming land confiscated from the Mafia.

“I have incredible esteem for those who go out and fight the good fight every day,” he says.

These farmers started with no funding and no tools. The land had been ruined by years of misuse and neglect. They ripped out the old vines and replenished the soil. They borrowed a tractor from another cooperative. And while the going is painfully slow, these organic farms are making progress toward becoming self-sustaining ventures.

At a time when tourists come to Sicily just to take “Mafia tours,” others are promoting Responsible Tourism, which introduces visitors to the architecture, the landscape, the food and other aspects of Sicilian heritage. Two short films on the topic — part 1 and part 2 — are another project in the series that Fragola and his editor, Michael Blair, an MFA graduate of the Media Studies Department, recently completed.

For his next project, Fragola wants to explore the collaboration between American law enforcement officials and Sicilian law enforcement and magistrates. The Mafia can be linked to international terrorism, Fragola says.

And he isn't the only one drawing attention to the Sicilian anti-Mafia movement. The October 2010 Smithsonian magazine contained a lengthy article about the changes in Sicily.

Fragola, who speaks Italian and does not need to rely on a translator, has been working on his anti-Mafia documentaries for nearly five years. He's spoken to countless people and probably knows as more about the movement than anyone else in America.

The root of the knowledge comes from a simple source: “the vision, courage, endurance and idealism of these people.”

To learn more about Fragola's work, visit anothercorleone.com.

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Story time

Stories are powerful. A well-told story even more so.

Five years ago, the University Libraries began a series that brings children's book authors and storytellers to campus. The goal? To reach out to area school children and to teach future educators about using stories in the classroom.

This year, Bobby Norfolk, co-author of “Anansi and the Pot of Beans,” “The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development” and “Anansi Goes to Lunch,” will share his tales with area school children and the public Sept. 12. The event is made possible by the Pam and David Sprinkle Children's Author and Storyteller's Series Fund.

Norfolk, who began his career as a stand-up comedian and actor, discovered storytelling in 1979. Since then he has performed living history programs that highlight the African-American experience as well as musical shows that feature live musicians. His stories promote character education traits (such as respect and responsibility), cultural diversity and literacy.

In television, Norfolk won three Emmy awards as the host of the CBS TV show “Gator Tales” and also hosted the Emmy nominated series “Children's Theater at Bobby's House.”

In October 2009, he received the national Circle of Excellence Oracle Award, an honor presented by the National Storytelling Network.

He will give his first program of the day to area fourth graders. They are hosted and chaperoned by their teachers, NC Teaching Fellows and education majors. The School of Education also helps with logistics. So far, more than 2,500 students have come to campus since the series began.

“Most of our students have very limited experiences outside of home and school,” one fourth grade teacher wrote. “By bringing our students to a university campus and exposing them to the rich language of a storyteller…you have positively impacted their personal and academic growth.”

In the afternoon, UNCG elementary education majors are invited to see Norfolk tell stories to more fourth graders followed by a question and answer session. The session gives them ideas on how to incorporate storytelling and author visits into their teaching.

The public is invited to a free evening performance at 7 p.m. in the Elliott University Center auditorium.

See videos of Bobby Norfolk performances as well as his 2010 performance about the Negro Baseball Leagues.

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Location: 1000 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC 27403
Mailing Address: PO Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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