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Year in review

Robert Bryan

As with any passing of time, we often look back at what has taken place with greater perspective.

In the looking back, it helps us to better be able to move forward, learning from the successes and failures that have occurred.

We also often have a greater appreciation for where we currently sit due to seeing what we’ve been blessed to be able to experience and endure.

So, we hope that you — our readers — enjoy our glance back at some of the top events that took place in Wilson County over the past year. We’ll begin in this edition by looking at the months of January through April, followed by a synopsis of May through August in our Thursday edition, and then the final four months of 2021 in our weekend edition.


WCS issues COVID-19 guidelines for athletics

Wilson County, on the heels Gov. Bill Lee’s issuance of Executive Order 70 — which restricts attendance at interscholastic athletic events through Jan. 19 — put out its own COVID-19 guidelines during the first week of January.

WCS had earlier placed a two-week moratorium on extra-curricular events, which expired on Jan. 4.

With the new WCS guidelines, each team (basketball, bowling, wrestling) was allowed a maximum roster of 15 dressed players for each event, with a maximum of three team managers, coaches, officials, administration and game workers (gate and concessions).

A maximum of 60 tickets were available for each team competing. The governor’s executive order allows only immediate family and household members of players and coaches to attend. Band, cheer and dance teams were not permitted.

Wilson County Jail groundbreaking

Wilson County’s planned jail expansion took a big step forward in the beginning of 2021 as construction crews broke ground on the $38-million project. The project’s primary funding mechanism was an adequate facilities tax increase passed in 2019.

Sheriff Robert Bryan said that he expects the expansion’s design to help cut costs as the jail prepares to hire new corrections officers beginning this year.

Bryan said that the Wilson County Commission’s move to approve bonds for the project in December of 2020 came at a perfect time for his staff. The jail’s population had dropped off sharply during the early stages of the pandemic but began rising again by 2021.

Williams declares for NFL draft

Former Wilson Central High kicker/punter Adam Williams made himself available for the 2021 NFL draft, announcing it on social media on Jan. 5.

While serving as the University of Memphis punter for three seasons, Williams averaged 43.5 yards on 145 punts during his Tiger career, including 48 inside the 20. He had a career-long punt of 77 yards in 2019 and a 76-yarder the same season when he averaged 44.8 yards, the best of his career. As a fourth-year junior in 2020, he posted a 42.5-yard average on 43 boots.

A member of the Wilson Central High Class of 2017, he redshirted that fall and, because the NCAA granted a free year of eligibility to all players in 2020, had two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining.

However, Williams went undrafted.

Hickory Ridge Shopping Center approved

On Jan. 8, the Lebanon City Council approved the development of the Hickory Ridge Shopping Center, which will be located at the intersection of Highway 109 and Hickory Ridge Road.

It will consist of a Publix grocery store and four outparcels that could be used for restaurants or retailers.

The development is expected to result in 230 jobs and approximately $1.6 million per year in tax collections and utilities for the city.

Plans for the subdivision were initially unveiled in July of 2020.

Former Lebanon coach takes over Watertown volleyball

Former Lebanon High volleyball coach Stephanie Harman was hired for the same position at Watertown, principal Darian Brown said on Jan. 15.

Harman took over a team that had made four consecutive state-tournament appearances, including a Class A runner-up finish in 2019 under program founder Brandy Holcomb. Holcomb left the school during the Christmas break to become textbook coordinator for Wilson County Schools.

Harman was a former player at Lebanon and a player and assistant coach under Dwayne Deering at Cumberland before serving as an assistant at LHS under Kim Stoecker, eventually becoming Devilette head coach. During two stints at Lebanon (separated by a season during which she had a baby) she led the Devilettes to their only state tournament appearance in 2001, going 53-13 that season.

Lady Commanders claim another state crown

The Friendship Christian School girls bowling team defeated Lipscomb Academy 15-12 to win the Division II girls’ state championship at Smyrna Bowling Center.

Lipscomb, which came from behind in similar fashion to beat Friendship in last year’s state final, led 5-3 after the first game and 9-7 through two sets.

However, FCS freshman Landry West was on fire in the third game, turning in a 213 as the Lady Commanders split the six games but picked up bonus points for team pinfall and bonus points. The difference in the final score was FCS’ 12-point pin difference, giving it three bonus points.

FCS has won three championships over the last four seasons.

Woody Hunt announces retirement

Long-time Cumberland University head baseball coach Woody Hunt announced on Jan. 27 that he would be retiring at the conclusion of the 2021 season, his 41st season at the helm of the program.

Hunt — who has been selected to six halls of fame — has compiled 1,630 wins and has claimed 17 coach of the year honors, including being named the 2006 and 2010 Rawlings National Coach of the Year.

Hunt led the program to 20 conference championships, 12 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) World Series appearances, two national runner-up finishes and three national championships.

Woody Hunt’s son, Ryan Hunt, was a long-time assistant coach for his father and was named as his successor after spending the past six seasons as the head coach at Volunteer State Community College.

Woody Hunt is now serving as Cumberland’s assistant athletic director for fundraising and facilities.

Trivett appointed as a Mt. Juliet commissioner

Bill Trivett was appointed to the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners, representing District 2.

Trivett was sworn in on Jan. 28 and will serve through the city’s next regular election in November of 2022.

He has not previously held public office and currently works as an operations, compliance and environmental manager for the real estate firm JLL.

Six candidates applied for the seat and held private interviews with members of the commission.


CU softball coach Stanfill to step down after season

It was announced that Cumberland University softball coach Heather Stanfill would resign at the conclusion of the 2021 season, the school announced on Feb. 5.

Stanfill became the program’s head coach in the fall of 2008 after spending four seasons as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Austin Peay State University.

The Phoenix have posted a 289-321-3 record including one postseason trip and had four seasons with at least 30 wins under her helm.

Hunt takes line drive on the nose

Cumberland baseball coach Woody Hunt was back in the office quickly, less than 48 hours after being hit in the nose by a foul ball while coaching at third base during the Phoenix’s game against Reinhardt (Georgia) University in Waleski, Georgia.

After the injury, Hunt had appointments to see specialists the following week but considered himself fine overall.

“I’m not feeling my best, but I feel better than I thought I would,” the 70-year-old said. “I got a little headache now but not real bad. It comes and goes.”

Hunt was coaching third base in the top of the seventh inning of Cumberland’s 6-5 victory when Jose Vera’s line drive foul ricocheted off the bill of the coach’s helmet and onto his nose, breaking it.

“I saw the ball coming,” Hunt said. “As soon as I saw it, saw the batter, it hit me. It was that quick. I saw it … it hit me … boom. I had no chance to get out of the way.”

Wilson Central succumbs to Cleveland in state finals

Cleveland High School won its fourth consecutive dual championship by defeating Wilson Central, 39-28, in the Class AAA state final on Feb. 6 at Independence High School.

Wildcat coach John Kramer collected his 700th career win earlier in the day, during the quarterfinal round.

Winter storms cause closures

A major winter storm system closed schools, businesses, government buildings and many streets for multiple days.

Temperatures remained below freezing for more than a week, as round after round of storms continuously battered the area. At the time, Lebanon Police Department’s public information officer, Lt. P.J. Hardy, said that there were several wrecks and calls for assistance but no major injuries.


Bender selected to Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

Cathy Bender was in a meeting on March 1 as part of her duties with Vanderbilt’s Black and Gold Club when a man appeared on the screen as part of the Zoom call with life-changing news.

Brad Willis, executive director of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, informed the 1978 Mt. Juliet High graduate she is a member of the 2021 class of the TSHOF.

Bender, a guard on Mt. Juliet’s 1977 state champion girls’ basketball team, became the first African-American female to be awarded an athletic scholarship to Vanderbilt, where she played from 1978-82. The first of her family to attend college, she set the Commodore women’s season assists record with 262 in 1981-82, which still stands nearly 40 years later.

Her 111 steals that year also ranks third as of 2021.

Tornado anniversary

Communities in Wilson County marked the one-year anniversary since the 2020 tornado that ripped through the area and killed three in the process.

Family members of the deceased said “the pain doesn’t go away.”

Hundreds gathered beneath the clock tower in Mt. Juliet for a remembrance vigil.

Some more-fortunate families acknowledged the anniversary from within newly-constructed homes, while others watched from apartments, waiting in insurance limbo.

Lebanon girls finish as state runner-up

A year after their season ended prematurely by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lebanon High School girls basketball team reached the finish line, suffering a 64-56 loss to Blackman in the Class AAA state title game at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.

Lebanon, seeking its first state championship in 50 years and in the championship game for the first time in 39 years, shot 50% from the floor. However, Blackman’s 29-21 rebounding advantage and just six turnovers to the Devilettes’ 11 helped Blackman overcome 44% shooting with nine more shots from the floor. Blackman also bottomed out 20 of 25 free throws.

Lebanon finished 30-5, advancing to the championship game as senior point guard Addie Grace Porter made a 12-footer with 3.5 seconds left to lift Lebanon past Bradley Central, 36-35.

The Devilettes’ reached the state tournament for the third consecutive season thanks to a 68-50 win over visiting Cane Ridge in one of eight Class AAA sectional contests.

Royal Canin expansion

Lebanon’s Royal Canin pet food plant added 90 jobs, as part of an ongoing $200-million expansion project.

The investment enabled the facility to expand its capabilities to manufacture the Royal Canin and Eukanuba health and nutrition product lines.

“We are proud to be a part of the Lebanon, Tennessee community, and grow our footprint and associate base in this region,” said Daniel Klapuch, Royal Canin’s Lebanon facility site manager, at the time. “We are a team dedicated to improving the lives of the cats and dogs, while investing in our commitment to the communities we are proud to call home.”

South Maple rezoning

Residents in Lebanon’s South Maple Chase subdivision called for the city to deny a rezoning request that would permit development for a townhome complex next to the single-family neighborhood. Those calls fell on deaf ears.

The organized effort by neighbors involved Zoom calls, petitions and eventually a large presence during a city council meeting, once those returned to in-person formats.

Ultimately, the objection failed, and the development moved forward as planned with approval from the city council, despite a negative recommendation from the planning commission.

Flooding does damage

A once-in-a-quarter-century rainstorm struck Wilson County over the final weekend in March. Flash floods overran creek beds, making many thoroughfares impassable.

While no fatalities occurred, numerous people lost valuable property and livelihoods, including some square-based businesses that are still renovating after the damage destroyed inventories and inside flooring.

Mayor Rick Bell said of the flood that it was unlike any he’d ever seen in Lebanon. The event has since served as a catalyst for ongoing flood mitigation discussions between the city, state and engineering groups.


Speedway project

Thermo Fisher announced that its plans for an assembly facility at the Speedway Industrial Park in Lebanon would actually bring 1,400 new jobs to the area.

The company committed more than $182 million to the facility that will produce bioprocess containers and fluid transfer assemblies that are used by biopharma companies to develop therapeutics and vaccines.

The expanded plans also called for an increase of 100,000 square feet.

Wilson County Joint Economic Community Development Board Executive Director G.C. Hixson said the revision to the original proposal occurred because the company adjusted its model by consolidating operations (manufacturing, distribution) at the Lebanon site.

Lebanon Senior Citizens Center reopens

After more than a year into the pandemic that forced them to close doors, multiple Wilson County senior centers reopened to the public.

During the first week of April, the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center held its first indoor luncheon since the pandemic struck.

For many members it was a relief to get back out into the world they had been away from for so long.

Lawson appointed top prosecutor

When long-time district attorney general, Tommy Thompson, stepped down from the position he’d held for 44 years, he left behind big shoes to fill. A near-20-year protege of Thompson’s, Jason Lawson, was appointed by the governor to take his mentor’s place.

“You walk in immediately knowing there is no way you can ever replace Tommy,” Lawson said. “I’ve never seen a man so well respected throughout five counties. Everyone looks at me like, ‘How are you going to follow that?’ ”

Two killed in Lebanon shooting

A mother and daughter were killed by the latter’s estranged husband following an April confrontation that spilled out into the streets of the Stonebridge subdivision.

Shaun Varsos, 36, shot and killed wife, Marie, 31, and his mother-in-law, Deborah Sisco, 60.

Varsos fled the scene in a rented vehicle and was later found dead by Nashville Metro Police and Tennessee Highway Patrol, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lengthy posts on Varsos’ Facebook page revealed a “dying declaration.”

Luttrell hired as WCS schools director

Wilson County Schools elected to make one of its own the system’s next director of schools.

Jeff Luttrell was selected by a vote of 6-1 to fill the vacancy created by Dr. Donna Wright’s June 30 departure.

The lone dissenter, school board member Carrie Pfeiffer, expressed a change of heart, saying in April, “I am firmly on Team Luttrell now. He has some great experience in Watertown, and he was certainly transformative for that school and community.”

Before becoming a human-resources supervisor in the district office, Luttrell was principal of Watertown High School.

Golden Bears hold off Watertown