In my life, Independence Day was always about popping fireworks, lighting up bar-b-que grills and just celebrating summer. That all changed this Independence Day Weekend.

You see, my son, Eric Tristan, is a combat medic in the United States Army. As you read these lines, Eric is packed on a C5 military plane flying into Afghanistan. He and his 581st battalion out of Fort Hood are scheduled to arrive at their military destination sometime on the Fourth of July.

When Eric steps foot on Afghanistan soil, he will begin a one year deployment. Eric joined full active duty last year and this is his first military deployment ever.

Eric is pure San Antonio. He was born and raised here. He went to school here - Oak Hills Elementary School, Pat Neff Middle School and graduated from Holmes High School. This is our city and Eric is a proud San Antonian.

Eric's wife, three babies, his mom, myself, his sister and all our family were emotionally torn at Saturday's going away military ceremony in the gymnasium at Fort Hood. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. It is tough when you watch one of your loved ones leave. (Check out my attached video blog for brief highlights of ceremony ... it will definitely make you proud of our military!)

There is no question that soldiers sacrifice so much to defend our country's freedom. But military families really are the cornerstone to every good soldier. Family and friends who support our soldiers are simply amazing. When dads, moms, sons, daughters have to leave their families for 12 months to go off to war - it's a huge sacrifice. The uncertainty of it all is what makes it the most emotional. Not knowing, wondering how they are, seeing the news, it's just mind-boggling.

When Eric was a boy long ago, he asked me, "do you think I'll ever grow up to be famous and be a Dallas Cowboy player." I looked at that wide-eyed 10 year old little boy and I told him, "yes sir, give it your best shot and you will grow up to be somebody special."

In adulthood, Eric is not a Dallas Cowboy player. He is even better than that. Eric is an American soldier who is fighting for our freedom on this Independence Day. To me, that is the ultimate hero.

Here's to all our military soldiers who fight defending the United States of America. On this Fourth of July, let's honor our soldiers. They are true American heros.

Low-income women. Single mothers. Physically and mentally abused women. Uneducated women. Their struggles are enormous.

With Census 2010 upon us, we are about to find out how large the numbers are for these type of women. When the final numbers come in at the end of the year, the count will be staggering. Thousands upon thousands of women are disadvantaged and they live right here in San Antonio and the surrounding area.

Since 2000, struggling women of our city have had one solid place to turn for help. Dress for Success San Antonio has been their beacon of hope of finding a better quality life.

DFS San Antonio provides disadvantaged women with professional clothes, support, and training to find a permanent job. Simply, DFS San Antonio saves lives.

But now, DFS San Antonio is in trouble and they need our help.

This summer, DFS San Antonio is losing its building lease at 1115 W. Martin, located in the heart of downtown. The entire property will be demolished. On June 1, the parking lot will be bull dozed and on Aug. 27, the building will be torn down.

DFS San Antonio must move and find a new home. Thousands of women are counting on DFS San Antonio and its mission of giving them a second chance at life.

Pamela Taylor is the co-founder and executive director of DFS San Antonio. She says they have no where to go, but will find a new home.

"A lot of our clients are homeless. And we are looking at the fact that perhaps we are going to be homeless," said Taylor. "We need to find a facility in the short term. We have a lead on something, but we can still use some help on that if the community has any ideas and can help us.

"We are also looking at our long term," she continued. "We do not want to be in this type of position anymore. We really need to take the bull by the horns and take a look at our long term growth sustainability."

Despite the challenges, Ms. Taylor says DFS San Antonio will not close its doors.

"We are not closing our doors. Absolutely not. This is a very needed organization. There is nobody in San Antonio who does what we do. We will find a building," Taylor said.

DFS San Antonio has given so much to our city. Now the tables have turned. They need our help. Let's help them in their quest of finding a new home. Let's help them support their clients.

If you want to give or support the cause, call (210) 737-1515 or visit the web site at Also, check out attached video on my City Brights Blog for an inside look at DFS San Antonio.

Let's help our neighbors at DFS San Antonio. It's the right thing to do.

No, you did not misread the headline! Today is Super Bowl Sunday, really.

Ok, today's big game may not attract billions, but it could attract everyday people like you and me. It may not even have a Janet Jackson wardrobe mishap at halftime, but it could have dad, papa, or grand pa dancing on the couch. One thing is for certain, I can guarantee you that it will have many glued to their TV screens, ooops, I mean computer screens.

You see today is the Super Bowl for many Fantasy Football owners. For the NFL, it is the last weekend of the regular football season. For Fantasy Football owners, it is the weekend they have been dreaming about since August.

Fantasy Football is one of the fastest growing online games in America. San Antonio is no different. According to CBS Sports, about 17 million people played fantasy football in 2009.

The tail end of the Baby Boom crowd, most of Generation X, and some young guns from Generation Y comprise the fan base of Fantasy Football. Most players are men, but about 15 percent are women.

Fantasy Football allows players to own, manage and coach an NFL team. Yes, you are Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips all wrapped into one!

There are good times and bad times in Fantasy Football. Times are good when your players score and rack up them fantasy points! Times are bad when your player does nothing but waste space on your starting line up! See attached blog video (below) to get a visual of what I mean by good and bad times when playing fantasy football!

I have played and served as the commissioner in an ESPN Fantasy Football League since 2006. I call my team the Gunslingers, a salute to that now famous and defunct USFL team from back in the day.

I have been fortunate to win my league Super Bowl in 2007 and 2008. Last weekend, my 11-4 team was playing in the semi-finals for a chance to play in a third straight Super Bowl. I lost a heartbreaker to the San Antonio South Mud Dawgs. Geeze! Only if I would have started the Jets defense over the Saints "D!"

In my league, we have teams with cool names like SA Chupacabras, Los Frijoleros, Quihi Def Tourettes, Da Tool, TD Freaks and Purple Reign to just name a few. In our league Super Bowl championship game, the 11-4 Mud Dawgs will meet the heavily favored 12-3 Alamo Eagles. The Dawgs will roll with Matt Schuab at quarterback and the Eagles will fly with none other than Donovan McNabb.

There are many others around San Antonio that will play in a Fantasy Football game today. Some will be fortunate to play in their respective league Super Bowls.

A lot of us can tell you who are the movers and shakers in Fantasy Football. Our heroes are players like Quarterback Drew Brees, Wide Receiver Andre Johnson, Running Back Chris Johnson or Tight End Antonio Gates. Hey, and my vote for Fantasy Football Newcomer of the Year, Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys.

Now, I am playing in the runner up Super Bowl title game. A consolation game, if you will. Oh well, I can't win every year. You got to make room for others. Like my high school football coach used to say, "there is no 'I' in team son."

Yeah coach. There is no 'I' in team. But there is an 'M' in team and that stands for "Me!" You can bet the farm that next year "me" and my Gunslingers will be back to win it all!

Good luck to all of you Fantasy Football owners today!

There are certain things in a kid's life that are non-negotiable. Barney. Dora. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Oh yes, tasty sugary snacks! Thomas the Train also makes the list.

Just ask any two-year-old boy and they will tell you there is only one choo choo. His name, "Thomas!"

Last weekend, Thomas the Train, pulled into the train station at Burnet, Texas, about a 90 minute drive outside of San Antonio.

Yes, that's right! Thomas the Train himself rode into town. For three days he pulled more than five thousand passengers for 25 minute rides through the heart of the Hill Country.

You could see little boys and girls totally excited by the site of a real life Thomas the Train. But I can tell you, even us adults, were amazed by it all. When you see the kids you love, so happy, it just makes you appreciate life that much more.

Each year, Thomas the Tank Engine tours different towns around the United States. In Texas, Thomas visits Burnet, Palestine and Arlington.

Besides getting to ride the famous fictional train, families get to enjoy shows that feature storytellers, music, magicians, arts and crafts and lots of food. You can even meet Sir Topham Hatt at the weekend event.

The Burnet show is sponsored by the Austin Steam Train Association. Paul Bright, the Community Outreach Director, says it is good times for all.

"I mean it is stunning," Paul said, "because these little kids, two-year-old kids, see Thomas and he is real! And so they will come running from very far away just to say hi to Thomas. And of course you can see by just looking around how excited everybody is. It's a lot of fun."

Check out My Brights video attached with my blog. Besides Paul's full interview, you can see Thomas rolling down the tracks to a pretty cool tune! Call the kids and I guarantee they will be dancing!

If you missed the Thomas the Train ride in the Hill Country, you can still make the Halloween and Christmas special theme train rides. For more information, visit

And Thomas the Train, thank you for those special moments. All aboard!

Man's Best Friend!To many, they are known as "man's best friend." They are lovable, loyal, fun and even human-like. Heck, they are family. We are talking dogs and cats here.

In 2007, the San Antonio Animal Care Control Shelter euthanized or killed 40 thousand dogs and cats, the highest number among major American cities.

The Animal Defense League of Texas (ADL), located off of Nacogdoches Road in Northeast San Antonio, is doing anything and everything they can to save the lives of our four-legged friends.

ADL is the only true "no kill" shelter in San Antonio. The facility is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year. They have served our fine city for 75 years.

ADL has saved the lives of thousands and thousands of dogs and cats for generations. They have even brought in severely injured animals and nursed them back to good health. ADL has placed countless animals with loving families.

Father time has finally caught up with ADL. Their aging facilities are out of date. Their kennels and care facilities are in dire need of upgrades or replacements.

In short, ADL needs our help.

Executive Director Laura Dupree says the ADL is challenged financially and needs major renovations.

"I think with most other non-profits, we are all experiencing the tough times of our economy," Laura said. "At the Animal Defense League, we need to raise millions of dollars. We are not in an official campaign mode, but we need to build several new kennels. We desperately need a new medical facility. We are talking 5 to 6 million dollars that we need to raise."

Laura and her team have even come up with a catchy line for their fund raising efforts.

"If we had 10 thousand people donate a hundred dollars (each) that would give us 1 million dollars," Laura said.

Laura emphasized that all monies would go strictly to take care of the animals. "Our animals come first before any other needs on this campus," she said.

Check out my attached video blog on City Brights to see Laura's entire interview. Besides fundraising, ADL is always looking for volunteers.

You can also visit for more information on how you can help.

Come on San Antonio, let us show some love to our four-legged friends.

Dallas Cowboys Patrick Crayton and San Antonio beer from RIO Video Productions on Vimeo.

The dog days of summer are starting to wind down, and none to soon. Here's a question. Who will miss San Antonio's record setting days of 100 degree stifling heat? It's unanimous. None of us will.

One thing San Antonio could miss is all the glitz and glamour the Dallas Cowboys brought to our city this summer. The NFL regular season starts in two weeks, but it was the Cowboys month-long stay in the Alamodome that gave us all an up and close look at America's Team.

Right before camp officially closed in mid-August, I had the honor of visiting with wide receiver Patrick Crayton. I asked him what he would remember most about San Antonio, and boy did he kick out the best answer ever.

"The people, same thing in 2007. A bunch of loud people," said a smiling Patrick. "Oh, cold beer at 9 in the morning. It's gotta be the best thing. I have never heard of that. Is that legal?"

My answer to Patrick's question:
"I think it is (legal)."

Patrick's response:
"That's legal. 9:20 we come out and we are getting ready to stretch for practice. We get out here and (you hear) peanuts! Cold beer! I was like cold beer? Gah dog. That's a lush isn't it? Oh well, hey, good ole' San Antonio baby."

Like the song says. It's five o'clock somewhere! Make mine a Shiner Boch.

Sam Hurd and the Dallas Cowboys from RIO Video Productions on Vimeo. Some say you either love them or you hate them. One thing is for certain, they are one of the most recognized sports teams in the world. Maybe that is why they are called, "America's Team." As for me, I love them! I am what you would call a die hard Dallas Cowboys fan. My dad turned me into a Cowboys fan when I was a kid. Cowboy games growing up in my house were a family ritual. In fact, they still are in the Rios household. How long have I been a Dallas Cowboys fan? Good question. Let's just say my childhood room was covered with posters of Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Golden Richards, LeRoy Jordan, Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, Harvey Martin, Randy White, and of course the greatest coach ever, Tom Landry. Can you say, Doomsday era? I am a Cowboys fan, win or lose. And I know there are a lot of people out there just like me, true Cowboy fans that live right here in our great city of San Antonio. That's why when I had the opportunity to visit with hometown hero Sam Hurd at Cowboys Camp this past week, I was reliving a childhood dream. We have all heard Sam Hurd's story. Here's a kid who played football at Brackenridge High School at the start of this decade. He played at an inner city school. Sam might have grown up in a modest area, but in the neighborhood streets of Brackenridge, he is a big time hero. You see, Sam has given hope to young and old. At a young age, he put God first and made it all the way to the NFL. In fact, Sam is entering his fourth season with the Cowboys and he has a good shot at securing the third best wide receiver slot on the team. "I want to become the best that I can be for God," said Sam after a practice in the Alamodome. "I want to work as hard as I can. I want to be loyal to my father. And hopefully this can help make the team better." What does Sam think about being back in his hometown of San Antonio? "It's a blessing," he said. "It's an opportunity to give back to the fans of San Antonio and they are great and loyal supporters of the Dallas Cowboys. You just always want to show them your appreciation. You know God has blessed us to be back down here." The Cowboys are wrapping up their four week stay in San Antonio this week. I asked Sam how his teammates treated him while they trained in San Antonio. "They ask me where to eat, where the spots in San Antonio are," a smiling Sam said. "You know, I left here at 16 so I do not know much about all the going out here. I am a home body. I can't tell them much, so I just tell them to go eat at Pappadeaux, that's where I go." Here's to Sam Hurd, the Doomsday era, a Cowboys playoff win this season and die hard Cowboy fans! Oh and of course, one special shout out to Pappadeaux's great seafood!
Jimmy Littleton from RIO Video Productions on Vimeo. In San Antonio high school sports, Jimmy Littleton was a legend. There is no doubt about that. His passing last Thursday has affected thousands in one way or another. Jimmy Littleton worked as an administrator and coach for 43 years for South San Antonio and North East Independent school districts. As head basketball coach, he led the South San Bobcats to the 1961 state championship. He won the state title again in 1967 when he coached the Robert E. Lee team. Littleton played an integral role with Coach Cliff Gustafson in winning seven state baseball championships at South San during the 1950s and 1960s. At North East ISD, Littleton rose to become athletic director and served as the top man for 14 years. He retired in 1989. The NEISD's Blossom Athletic Center is named in his honor. Littleton was inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. Simply, Jimmy Littleton was as big as they get in high school sports. In May of 2008, (see attached video) I had the honor of meeting Jimmy Littleton at a 50 year anniversary baseball state championship ceremony at South San Antonio ISD. For 30 minutes he stood with the other honorees to be recognized. I was amazed how an 80 something, legendary coach of his stature did not want any special treatment. He stood among the players. He never asked for a chair to sit down even in the blazing San Antonio heat. Sharply dressed and wearing a cowboy hat, he walked with a cane to the microphone. He said only a few words but they were emotional. "I moved out here (South San ISD area) when I was three on Military Highway in 1925," Littleton said. "So the old heart still beats for South San." And this week, as San Antonio gets ready to bury a legend, thousands of hearts beat for you coach. Somewhere up there, Coach Littleton is smiling upon our great city. Thank you for the memories, coach. One final thought. South San Antonio ISD will re-broadcast a special airing of the 50 Year Anniversary of the State Baseball Championships that includes the honoring of Jimmy Littleton this weekend. The show will air on Saturday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at noon on Time Warner Education Cable Channel 98. The show was produced by RIO Video Productions.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for A&M-San Antonio photoYou have heard of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Spike Lee. Awwhhh yes. Some of the best Hollywood movie directors money can buy.

San Antonio also has its own share of movie making stars. They may not be famous, but give them time. Meet Patricia Barrios and Edwardo Rivas.

Patricia and Edwardo are two seniors at the new Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Both are education majors and have a strong interest in technology and communications.

I had the honor of being their college professor in video journalism for the month of July. We slammed a whole semester of learning into four short weeks.

Our mission was to create a video documentary on the history of A&M-San Antonio. It seemed doable, but the big challenge was that Patricia and Edwardo had never filmed, edited or produced any type of video production before.

From the start, they were both passionate about the project. With guidance and direction, they flourished quickly. Patricia embraced the role of reporter, writer and director. Edwardo took the reins as the videographer, editor and technical engineer.

When it was all said and done, Patricia and Edwardo produced a compelling 7 minute video documentary that featured interviews, action footage and written narration tracks.

In fact, the documentary, called "An Inside Look at Texas A&M University-San Antonio," is the first ever student produced video created at the school. So this project is one for the history books.

"I really loved this class," said Patricia, who is a wife and mother of three teenagers. "We hit the ground running and did not look back. I learned a great deal in the short time allotted for this class.

"I never would have thought," she continued, "that I would be the "first" video communications class to produce the "first class project video" in a new Communications department at a new university! I hope we are helping to establish a positive path for future broadcast classes to follow."

Edwardo agreed with Patricia's sentiments.

"The video communications course has been my favorite class I have taken," said Edwardo, who has written and recorded songs for professional artists. "I learned so much in a small amount of time. We are the first students at A&M-San Antonio to put out a video. With Professor Rios as a vibrant and energetic teacher, this course has been exciting and fun."

I was hired as a visiting professor for the summer. The students, staff and administrators of A&M-San Antonio are good people. I look forward to my next visiting professor stint down the road.

In the meantime, check out Patricia and Edwardo's video documentary on my blog. For first-timers, they did awesome! Hollywood, look out!

Texas A&M University-San Antonio Student Video Project (Final Version) from RIO Video Productions on Vimeo.

You gotta Believe!A. Mario Rios Jr.
City Brights Blogger

Believe. Seven letters, one word. Believe has to be one of the most powerful words in the English language.

History has shown that when people believe sometimes great things happen. Case in point: John F. Kennedy believed man could land on the moon. The U.S. Hockey team believed they could win it all in 1980. Victims from Hurricane Katrina believed they could rebuild their lives. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger believed he could save 155 lives by safely landing an air passenger plane in the middle of the Hudson River this year.

You just gotta believe.

Believe comes in all shapes, forms and sizes. Just ask Shamu over at Sea World. Who would have ever thought that an 8,000 pound killer whale could jump 25 feet out of the water? Or how about a whale that lifts, hugs and surfs with his personal trainer in front of millions of people each year?

You just gotta believe.

Sea World of San Antonio offers a number of shows, events and rides to entertain the masses. But Sea World's signature attraction is Believe, a high-energy show that features music, video and killer whales in a theater-like setting.

"Believe tells the story of animals and people coming together in a way that is very unique in the world," said Don Minerd, vice president of Sea World San Antonio. "I am the luckiest show producer in the world because everything in our show is real. I don't have to invent magic or make anything up. It's just about the animals and the world around us."

The show even offers a mobile splash zone, my favorite part. Here, audience members in the first 20 rows get wet thanks to the big water splashes provided by Shamu and friends. It is one great way to cool off in San Antonio's 100-degree summertime weather.

"We have multiple ways of getting people wet," Minerd said. "We are always looking for more ways to get people wet. It certainly feels good on a day like today.

"I think part of the broader Sea World message is just simply celebrating being here," he continued. "You know that this is a celebration of life. We see families every day just enjoying life together here at the park. The thrill that we get every day is to come out and watch people enjoying what we do."

The next time you face a challenge, just remember one word, seven letters. Believe. Anything is possible.

You just gotta "believe." Just ask Shamu.

Mario's Blog - "Sea World and Believe!" from RIO Video Productions on Vimeo.