The Lebanon Special School District’s plans to return from holiday break were disrupted due to the overwhelming number of positive COVID-19 cases identified on Tuesday.
According to an LSSD spokesperson, the district “reached a level (that) makes (it) unable to staff classrooms and buildings.”
Based on information gathered throughout (Tuesday), the number of absences for teachers and staff projected to increase to an “insurmountable number” for Wednesday.
The district was able to cover for a “higher than normal” number of teachers and staff that were out on Tuesday. However, COVID-19 tests administered through the employee clinic revealed a positivity rate of 70%.
The school district plans to use three stockpile/inclement weather days to finish out the week. Schools will be closed until Monday with no student engagement from home. All school-based events, including athletics, will also be closed for the remainder of the week.
A press release from the school district expressed optimism about a quick return following the closures.
The release reads, “During our similar Delta peak back in August, the increased number of cases came and went very quickly. (That) allowed us to successfully return to school with no further disruption. We are hopeful that this cycle, which started over the break, will be very brief as well.”
Given current state guidelines, districts are limited in choices relating to school closures and/or remote learning. The release said that at this time, utilizing the stockpile days is the “best available option.”
During the Lebanon City Council meeting on Tuesday at Lebanon City Hall, councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman brought up the closures after she received a text notifying her of the school closures.
“If we as a community can really try to do our best to try to stop the spread of this virus to get back to where we can have a different topic of conversation ... “ Brinkman said to her fellow councilors.
She urged Lebanon residents to “to help do their part,” in preventing additional spread, by being safe and staying home if they don’t feel well.
“Lets try to be through with this before the end of 2022, because we are (about to be) going through our third year of this,” Brinkman said.
After taking a look back into the first four months of the year in our Tuesday edition, we — the editorial staff of the Lebanon Democrat — continue our glance back at some of the top happenings in Wilson County in 2021 by focusing on what took place from May through August.
Plans for Mt. Juliet Park unveiled
The Mt. Juliet Parks and Recreation Department revealed preliminary plans for a new Hamilton-Denson Park.
These included eight soccer fields, four multi-use fields, a connecting sidewalk to the town center greenway and from the Victory Baptist Church parking lot, a playground, a 95-car parking lot and restrooms. The eight-acre park is located at Tate Lane and West Division Street.
Mt. Juliet Parks Director Rocky Lee said that the park will not be a soccer complex or game facility, but it will be used for practices.
The project is expected to cost $650,000.
Christensen steps down as MJCA coach
In early May, Mt. Juliet Christian Academy athletic director Paul Christensen resigned as the boys basketball coach.
Christiansen stepped down after 23 seasons on the bench to focus on his athletic director and family duties.
“The job of athletic director has gotten so big that I don’t feel that I could give the time our boys deserve to take it to the next level,” Christensen said yesterday. “There’s a big family element also.
“To be a good athletic director and a good basketball coach, something’s got to give. It’s so time-consuming.”
Leon Love was hired to succeed Christiansen as the boys basketball coach.
State/county fair merger
The Wilson County Fair and Tennessee State Fair officially merged into a single entity following passage from the state legislature in early May.
“We are honored that the state of Tennessee has chosen us to be the new home of Tennessee’s State Fair,” said Wilson County Promotions Board President Randall Clemons in a news release from the board. “Wilson County Fair was chosen due to the location, facilities, being an award-winning fair and our great volunteers. Our fair’s roots and existence remain as an agriculture fair, and we continue to strive to be a great place for families to have fun and make memories that will last a lifetime.’ ”
With the relocation, Wilson County expects to be able to make capital improvements to the facilities that it might not have been able to afford otherwise.
Porter signs with UT-Chattanooga
Lebanon High School girls basketball standout Addie Grace Porter signed with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Porter’s last-second jump shot propelled the Devilettes to a one-point victory over Bradley Central in the quarterfinal round of the Class AAA state tournament.
In March, she led Lebanon to a 53-37 win over Hardin County in the semifinal contest with a double-double, producing a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds.
In the championship game, Lebanon fell to Blackman in the Devilettes’ fifth appearance in the final in school history and first since 1982. Porter led all scorers with 19 points and was named to the all-tournament team for a second straight year.
The four-year starter for coach Cory Barrett helped her team to a 61-10 record over her final two seasons and second consecutive state tournament appearance. She earned back-to-back all-state honors from the Tennessee Sports Writers Association and the Tennessee Report.
Porter helped Lebanon to back-to-back District 9-AAA titles and Region 5-AAA championships in each of the last three seasons.
Development’s change draws city’s ire
A neighborhood under development’s sudden change in business model prompted outrage from the Lebanon City Council over the manner in which the change occurred.
The Leeville Pike parcel was rezoned for increased residential development in 2016 to permit the construction of what the builder said would be a community of single-family, owner-occupied houses. Crowell said that red flags started to appear as it remained undeveloped for years.
The property would change hands in 2021. The previous developer said that after a year of the unexpected, a windfall of revenue from American Homes 4 Rent, seemed like a life preserver.
Mayor Rick Bell said he wasn’t happy about the news but acknowledged that he felt like the city’s hands were tied. After all, the properties will still be single family, as they were zoned. They just won’t be owner-occupied.
First class of Green Hill graduates, graduates endure COVID-19
Members of Green Hill High School’s first graduating class celebrated its milestone in May. The new school graduated 91 seniors who simultaneously navigated the halls of high school and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For students across the county who were the first class to endure a full year of pandemic-related disruptions, the graduation ceremonies came as a relief as much as a return to something normal.
Watertown baseball makes first state appearance
The Watertown High School baseball program reached the Class AA State Tournament for the first time with a 5-0, sectional victory over visiting Hixson in late May.
With the stands packed and lawn chairs seven deep between the bleachers and the first-base dugout, Brandon Watts punched the Purple Tigers’ ticket to the state tournament by punching out the Wildcats, holding the Chattanoogans to two singles and no walks while striking out nine.
Watertown dropped its first two contests in the state tournament, suffering a 4-3 loss to Gibbs and a 6-5 loss to Greenbrier.
The Purple Tigers set a school record for wins, finishing 27-7.
Lebanon’s Britt, Green Hill’s Jones claim state titles
On May 27, Aiden Britt became the first athlete in Lebanon High’s 100-plus years to win two TSSAA championships after winning the 3,200-meter run, less than seven months after taking gold in the state cross-country meet.
Earlier in the day, Marzeion Jones, who graduated from Green Hill one week earlier, stood on his first triple jump of the day to win that championship while, literally, coming up just short in the high jump to finish second. He was also fifth in the long jump.
“It’s really exciting,” Britt said. “Wilson County’s definitely come up recently. Even at Lebanon, we had three guys medal today, and a lot from Green Hill and from every school in the county I think. It’s just exciting to be in a county like that that’s that competitive.”
Sports complex panel puts ball in council’s court
Lebanon moved forward in the design process of a mixed-use sports complex development after nearly two years of deliberation by an ad hoc committee.
An ordinance to add $515,000 to the budget for designing the facility was approved unanimously in June.
In 2019, Lebanon acquired the property on Stumpy Lane, where the complex will be built, and began exploring ways of constructing a practical sports facility. The primary goal was relocating the local youth soccer organization, Wilson United Soccer Club, from its current fields at the Lebanon Municipal Airport.
Potential designs of the complex were set to include baseball fields in addition to the soccer fields, but the city opted to focus on the latter for now, citing the need for relocation.
Larson dominates Cup debut at Superspeedway
A sellout crowd of some 38,000 and millions more on NBCSN saw NASCAR’S Cup Series debut at Nashville Superspeedway in Wilson County, with Kyle Larson dominating the field.
Larson beat Ross Chastain by 4.3 seconds for his third straight win.
Larson, driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports 37 years after Geoff Bodine won the last Cup race at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway driving the No. 5 for Hendrick, led for 264 laps.
His teammate, William Byron, finished third after the pair posted the two fastest practice times Saturday as Cup cars rolled on the 1.33-mile concrete oval in front of fans for the first time.
Larson led the final 77 laps. The biggest issue for him and the leaders was fuel as, after a string of cautions, the last 68 turns around the track were yellow-free.
Busch takes Xfinity checkers for 100th time
On a historic weekend for Wilson County when racing returned to Nashville Superspeedway, Kyle (Rowdy) Busch made NASCAR history with his Xfinity record 100th win in the series.
In Nashville Superspeedway’s first overtime race, Busch took the lead at the start of Stage 2 and had the dominant car until a series of Stage 3 cautions had Justin Allgeier on his heels.
However, Busch chose the high lane on each restart and took his second Xfinity checkered flag. He has two Truck Series wins and an ARCA victory from NSS’ first incarnation.
Only Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105) won more than 100 in a series, both in Cup. He blew past Mark Martin’s 49 Xfinity wins long ago, before NASCAR began limiting the number of races Cup regulars could run each year in other series.
Long-time LHS cross country coach Engle steps down
In mid-June, Marc Engle, the dean of Lebanon High School coaches, stepped down as head cross- country coach after nearly 20 years at the helm.
An assistant at Lebanon since 1997, he took over cross country and, with current Green Hill coach David Glasscock, track around 2002 when Jason Welch left both positions for a basketball job at Riverdale.
Engle, struggling with health issues in recent years, stepped down as head track coach several years ago but still helps with the program, which is now led by Alan Ford. Jeremy (J.D.) Lakeman, an assistant with both programs, will took over cross country.
“Time to pass things on and step back a little bit,” said Engle, 65, who plans to help when he can. “I’ll stay around if they need some things.
“It’s time. (It’s) not the way (his wife) Miss Melody expected to spend retirement, carting me around.”
Lasater remembered as a servant around LHS
Raymond Lasater never coached, taught or was even formally employed at Lebanon High School. However, his impact on a generation of LHS students and athletes came from an attitude of love and service, a couple of former Blue Devil coaches remembered this week.
As a young man, Lasater, who died in late June at age 92, set a Guinness Book of World Records by playing 1,530 holes of golf in 62 hours and 20 minutes. It’s a mark which still stands nearly 50 years later on a course (Hunters Point) which is no more.
Around that time, Lasater began keeping statistics for LHS basketball games, totaling more than 1,000 contests. He also kept stats for football games for Blue Devil radio broadcasts. He stopped keeping the numbers for football when he began maintaining the facilities, including mowing the field, and driving the team to road games.
“A servant’s heart would be a great way to describe Raymond Lasater,” said Mark Medley, Lebanon’s football coach from 1987-93. “I’m not so sure he understood what an asset he was to so many programs there, to so many people.”
Wright retirement reception
The director of Wilson County Schools, Dr. Donna Wright, officially stepped down from her position on June 30, after seven years.
During a grand send-off at the Farm Bureau Expo Center, members of the education community thanked Wright for her leadership and direction.
“Dr. Wright has taken the county to new heights,” Mt. Juliet High School choir director Sandy Elliott said.
Pam Peery, a WCS administrative assistant, added, “She is not just a life-long learner. She is a life-long teacher. She has been a great mentor. I’m gonna miss her, but I wish her the best in her retirement.”
New Lifeflight ground transport facility
A new Vanderbilt Lifeflight ground transport facility officially opened in Lebanon on June 24. The first of its kind for an organization mostly known for airlifting critically-injured individuals, the facility will provide ground transport.
According to Levo Phillips, Lifeflight’s medical affairs manager, the organization was expecting to open similar facilities in Clarksville and Tullahoma.
New Watertown council member
The Watertown City Council added a new member to its ranks during a special-called meeting on June 28.
Caleb Barrett, who received the required four votes, was selected to fill the position vacated by Catherine “Katie” Smith’s departure.
Barrett’s election to the council came just in time for the city’s second and final vote to approve the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Hunt throws out first pitch before Reds game
Woody Hunt threw out the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds’ game against visiting San Diego on June 29 at Great American Ballpark.
Hunt — the long-time Cumberland University baseball coach who retired in late April at the end of the 2021 season — grew up a fan of the pre-Big Red Machine Reds. He attended his first game at Crosley Field in 1961, the year the Ragamuffin Reds surprised baseball by winning the National League pennant.
“My mom took me and my brother,” Hunt said. “I remember my uncle drove us. I saw them play the Dodgers. Crosley Field was, for me, the greatest thing ever.
“I remember walking up the ramp and seeing the field, it took my breath away.”
The 70-year-old Hunt was honored as a hometown hero for his 40 years as Cumberland University’s baseball coach and for his service as a Marine.
Council approves South Hartmann expansion
Lebanon’s city council defied the planning commission’s objections to rezoning property at 1850 Franklin Road. The conflict emerged over whether or not rezoning to a high-density district was appropriate.
The planning commission’s vice chairman, Mack McCluskey, called the rezoning a “line in the sand.”
“I have made it clear that I oppose any rezoning to high-density housing,” McCluskey said at the time. “We already have high-density zones designated in the future land-use plan.”
Lebanon looks to limit liquor stores
Lebanon officials discussed implementing restrictions on new liquor stores, during con- versations that went on through the summer.
Councilor Camille Burdine was most vocal about capping the number of new stores permitted.
Mean- while, on the flip side of the coin, councilor Fred Burton asked why the city would do anything to hurt small businesses.
Ultimately, in August, a split vote by the council sealed the cap measure’s fate as it failed to gain enough votes for ratification.
Chewy bringing 1,200 jobs
After much anticipation, Chewy, Inc.. announced that it would establish a new regional e-commerce fulfillment center in Wilson County that will create 1,200 new jobs.
The new facility will be located at Couchville Pike and Maddox Road in Mt. Juliet and is projected to open in the fall of 2022. Chewy is a prominent name in the pet-supply industry as an online retailer of pet food and other pet-related products.
Fallen Marine finally home
A bloody battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II resulted in numerous fatalities, one of which was a man from Lebanon, Capt. Edward Glenn Walker, Jr.
In an unlikely turn of events, the cadaver believed to be Walker’s that was returned to Middle Tennessee was proven to be the wrong soldier after Walker’s remains were properly identified by the military over the summer.
More than 75 years after Japan surrendered in the war that cost him his life, Walker was finally returned home to his surviving family members.
TBI probes police shooting in Mt. Juliet
A knife-wielding man reportedly threatened shoppers at the Providence Marketplace Kroger location before being shot by a Mt. Juliet police officer.
Officers responded around 7:40 a.m. to Kroger, where according to a release from the department, “A lone officer was first on-scene and encountered the man,” who moved toward the officer “while pulling a knife from his waistband.”
The man was then shot by the officer and transported to the hospital. No one else was injured.
Census numbers came back in August and reflected the huge uptick in growth experienced by the county since the last census was conducted in 2010.
Since that time, the county has added nearly 35,000 residents, representing a 29.6% increase. It remains the 10th most populous county in the state.
With the updated numbers, local governing bodies acted quickly to draw updated and proportional voting districts based on the new population distribution information.
Fair deemed a success
The first installment of the Wilson County Fair—Tennessee State Fair wrapped up successfully according to the event’s president, Randall Clemons.
“It was a great fair,” Clemons said after the fair concluded. “Everybody came and saw that even with the state fair addition, it was still the Wilson County Fair that (they’ve been) used to since 1979.”
Clemons said that with state fair branding in tow, it gave them the opportunity to go out and get additional sponsors, which — in turn — allowed them to bring in more activities.
Mt. Juliet resolution leads to council dispute
Accusations of racial division sowing, were followed by cries of a First Amendment foul, during a heated August for the city commission of Mt. Juliet.
Mt. Juliet Vice Mayor Ray Justice moved to condemn twitter comments posted by commissioner Jennifer Milele’s now-suspended account.
Milele defended her posts and objected to Justice’s abrupt censure, saying, “There is nothing racist in here, and for you to come in here and throw this on the table without an ethics investigation is just … I can tell you’ve been here a long time, and you’re used to getting your way.”
One post was a retweet or another poster’s comments that said, “About 150 years ago, Sociologists predicted that the Black population in the United State would reach 200 million by the 1980s… we never reached that number because black culture promotes abortion, drugs and black-on-black murder.”
Another post asked, “Can a good Muslim be good American? Can a good Muslim be a good American Soldier? REALLY??? The answer is “NO.” Be bold and learn why.”
Ultimately, the city approved a resolution condemning such comments.
COVID-19 shuts down schools, protocols
Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District had an up-and-down start to the new year.
As new COVID-19 cases surged, the school districts became unable to staff classrooms and were forced to shut down for a week.
WCS Director Jeff Luttrell described those closures as “a hardship on everybody.”
The number of COVID-19 cases and absences as a result of close contacts with positive individuals drove student, staff and teacher absences to the brink and forced the school district’s hand.
The LSSD also closed that week but was able to reopen sooner than WCS. Students and teachers returned with “masks requested,” meaning all students and staff were strongly encouraged to wear masks.