Former Vols kicker teaches the next generation

George Page • Mt. Juliet News/File
Then-Mt. Juliet High kicking coach James Wilhoit watches Jacob Bailey kick the ball last summer. Bailey is now an incoming freshman at UT-Chattanooga.

Few athletes understand the lasting impact of victory over defeat more than former University of Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit.

Because Wilhoit’s 50-yard field goal at the close of the 2004 game against Florida inside Neyland Stadium made the Volunteers 30-28 winners — instead of the 28-27 losers they might have been due to his missed extra-point attempt a few minutes earlier — the Hendersonville native will go down in Tennessee history as a hero instead of a goat.

“If I miss that kick, my life might have been completely different,” Wilhoit said this week. “I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview. I probably wouldn’t have my kicking camps. I don’t think anybody would want to learn kicking from a guy who missed a field goal to beat Florida.”

But Wilhoit didn’t miss. With the weight of the world on his shoulders after that botched extra point, with Neyland in full throat under the lights that Sept. 18 night, he nailed as big a field goal as the Vols have ever made to knock off the dastardly Gators on their way to that year’s Southeastern Conference title game.

And next Wednesday and Thursday at Chattanooga Christian School, young kickers and punters throughout the region have a chance to learn that skill from one of the best as Wilhoit conducts a clinic for a cost of $325 per student. If this seems high, understand it’s aimed at polished kickers, especially seventh- and eighth-graders who have already shown proficiency in soccer.

Wilhoit, who left Mt. Juliet High a few months ago where he was the kicking coach, was asked why he sees and has coached so many college-level kickers from the Chattanooga area — such as Oklahoma State’s Jake McClure (East Hamilton), former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga kicker Henrique Ribeiro (Baylor School) and Tennessee’s Laszlo Toser (Ooltewah), to name but three.

“You have elite-level soccer in Chattanooga, especially at the top levels,” Wilhoit said. “All you need is for those guys to start (kicking footballs) earlier.”

To be sure, natural talent is involved. When Wilhoit kicked for the Vols, he remembers Fulmer sometimes watching him practice and commenting how his field goals sounded as if “a gun was going off.”

But practice also helps. McClure believes his work with Wilhoit over the years is why he has a full ride with the Cowboys.

“I owe him everything,” the freshman said Friday from the Stillwater campus. “I’ve worked with James since the seventh grade. He knows me so well that all I have to do is send him a video of my workouts — which I do regularly — and he can tell me what I’m doing wrong.

“It’s kind of crazy. I talk to him almost every single day, and he often talks to my special teams coach here at Oklahoma State, Steve Hauser.”

Wilhoit said getting them young helps on two levels.

“One, as they get older, they create bad habits that are hard to break,” he said.

“Also, while I don’t fight soccer, I embrace it, these kids have a chance to get a full-ride scholarship in football if they’re good enough. Most soccer players, even if they get a college scholarship, it’s usually limited and you’re fighting really good international players for those partial rides.”

Wilhoit was clearly good enough from a young age. Once good enough to play soccer with a traveling team, he could hit 40-yard field goals in the seventh grade. He kicked a 58-yarder in a game at Hendersonville and a 72-yarder in practice. A self-professed “lifelong Vols fan,” he was the nation’s No. 1 kicking prospect coming out of high school.

And Fulmer treated Wilhoit as such once he arrived in Knoxville.

“Coach Fulmer and I had a good relationship,” said the current Brentwood Academy kicking coach and history teacher. “We were playing Florida in the Swamp my freshman season in 2003, and I had a chance to kick a 51-yard field goal. He asked me if I could make it and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And I made it.”

Yet Wilhoit also knew his limitations.

At the close of the 2004 regular season, while facing Kentucky in Knoxville, the wind was blowing so hard it basically knocked down an early Wilhoit PAT once it had safely cleared the crossbar. So when the Vols were faced with a 43-yard field goal on a short fourth down, the kicker told his coach, “I can’t get it that far. I’d go for it.” Fulmer took his advice, with the Vols making a first down on their way to a touchdown.

“You can never think you’re bigger than the team,” he said.

A college scholarship is a big thing for any kid, though. And Wilhoit has had pretty good success beyond merely getting young folks into Division I programs.

Ribeiro graduated as UTC’s all-time leading scorer. Before he was hurt early in his junior season at Wisconsin last September, another Baylor School graduate and Wilhoit pupil, Rafael Gaglainone, had hit seven of eight field-goal attempts for the Badgers and all 10 of his extra-point attempts. And though he hasn’t signed yet, Bledsoe County senior Gabe Boring is currently rated by one recruiting service as the nation’s No. 6 punter.

Does that mean your kid will be the next Tennessee native to help the Vols knock off Florida with a last-second field goal if you plunk down $325 to attend Wilhoit’s camp at Chattanooga Christian? Not necessarily. But anyone interested can register at

Whether you sign up your kid, McClure said one thing seems certain after six years of working with Wilhoit.

“James,” he said, “has an eye for kicking.”

By Mark Wiedmer

Chattanooga Times Free Press


Contact Mark Wiedmer at

Young racer Chase not ‘kidding’ around

Young Mt. Juliet racer Chase Johnson has been impressive in his first season of driving stock cars.

Chase Johnson, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, says he knows what goes through the minds of some observers when they see him climbing into his stock car at Fairgrounds Speedway:

“They think I’m a kid in a driver’s suit.”

But it doesn’t take skeptics long to realize that the kid’s not kidding.

In this first season of driving full-bodied stock cars, Chase has come close to winning all three races he has run.

Racing against some seasoned veterans in the rugged Pro Mod division, Chase finished third in his first race and second in his second race.

In his third race he was leading with three laps to go when he was spun out by another driver, snatching away what would have been the biggest victory in his fledging racing career.

“It was really disappointing, and it made me mad,” Chase says. “But that’s part of racing. I’m going to win one before the season is over.”

“He’s doing great,” says his father Andy, a former Fairgrounds champion. “He works hard at it and he’s a fast learner. He’s a good little racer.”

Chase started racing quarter-midgets at age eight on the Music City Quarter-Midget track in Hermitage, where he continues to race when not involved with his Fairgrounds efforts. He won 32 races and three championships in three quarter-midget divisions last season, and is currently leading the standings in all three divisions this year.

Making the change from quarter-midgets to full-bodied stock cars is not difficult, Chase says.

“I did a lot of practicing in the Pro Mod car before the season, and I feel comfortable in it,” he says. “It hasn’t been a big adjustment. I thought that driving bigger, faster cars would be exciting, and it has been.”

Chase says he feels accepted by the older drivers.

“They’re all pretty nice to me around the track before the race,” he says, “and when the race starts they race me like anybody else, like I’m just another driver.”

As though his racing schedule is not crowded enough, Chase plans to run a Pro Mod event at Huntsville (Ala.) later this summer.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says. “It’ll be exciting to race on a different track against different drivers.”

Like all racers, Chase realizes his sponsors are vital to keeping him on the track, and he makes sure to tick them off in his media interviews: Universal Kia, Barrett’s Garage, Action Homes, Lynch Tree Service, Matt’s Transmissions, Skyline Manufacturing, Parker Brothers Windows and Hale’s Mobile Home Parts.

Then he double-checks his list.

“I don’t want to leave anybody out, because they’ve all been good to me,” he says.

Andy, one of the area’s top drivers during his heyday, sees a racing reflection of himself in his young son.

“He’s eat up with it,” Andy says. “He’s like me when I was his age — I couldn’t get enough of it. Once racing gets in your blood it’s hard to get it out.”

Andy ran a couple of races last year at the Fairgrounds, then sold his car and equipment to Lebanon’s Scott Fetcho for use by his son Dylan. After a couple of past semi-retirements he says he is now officially retired from driving and will devote his time to assisting his son.

Andy admits he misses the completion, but says, “I get a bigger thrill out of seeing Chase win than I did when I won.”

Fans can follow Chase’s exploits on Facebook at chasejohnsonmotorsports.


Fairgrounds schedule: Fairgrounds Speedway will hold a “Throwback & Past Champions Night” Saturday, June 24, honoring some of the past greats who have raced there over the past half-century. The full schedule, along with ticket information, is posted on the track’s website.


Rim running: Highland Rim Speedway races every Saturday night. The schedule and point standings, involving a number of local drivers, are posted on the track’s website.

By Larry Woody


Hats reign this week at rodeo

As thousands of visitors make their way through the Wilson County James E. Ward Ag Center this week for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, there’s one thing visible in every direction – a cowboy hat.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Billy Treadwell with Heads or Tails Hats works on a custom cowboy hat Monday at the Wilson County Expo Center during the National Junior High Finals Rodeo. The group will likely make nearly 1,000 hats during the six-day event.

“The hat is the most recognized piece of apparel in the world. You can go to any country in the world and they recognize the cowboy hat. But, they are not just for fashion. They are for protection from the elements,” said Rick Phemister, owner of Heads or Tails Hats, based in Haskell, Texas.

Phemister started Heads or Tails Hats in 1980 as a full service western store before closing in 2003 and focusing on trade shows starting in 2006. He said he switched the focus solely to hats due the popularity of the apparel.

Phemister said cowboy hats were important to rodeo competitors and anyone involved in agriculture because they maintain heat in winter, while protecting people from the summer’s harsh elements.

“We learned that caps will not protect you from the sun. All it will do is keep the sun out of your eyes,” Phemister said.

Heads or Tails Hats specializes in custom hats made from flat brimmed and rounded hats, allowing options for customers. The group steams the hat to soften the material for shaping to the customer’s desired shape.

“That’s been our thing – making you a one of a kind custom hat,” Phemister said. “We’re all individuals, so everybody thinks they have to have something different. Straw hats in the last five years have just exploded with all kinds of different patterns, colors and designs.”

Phemister said some styles have made a return from previous generations, but there are still differences among age groups.

“The solid black from the 70s and 80s has come back in style because the kids thinks it’s retro because it was popular before they were born. They go all the way from black to rainbow and anything in between,” he said. “These kids are wearing different shapes than the 60-70 year old men. Even in their age groups, there are five or six different styles. They don’t all wear the same thing.”

Phemister said the group made an appearance at a Houston-area rodeo and sold about 1,500 hats. He said he expects to sell close to 1,000 during this week’s rodeo.

“With the area and country that some of these people are from, they don’t have western stores. They don’t have places they can buy hats. So when they come to events like this, they can buy shirts, jeans, saddle – whatever they need. Some don’t have source for that where they live. The trade show is just as important as the competition for some of these folks,” Phemister said.

By Xavier Smith

Mt. Juliet’s Spring inks with Cumberland cross country

Cumberland coach Jim Seckel announced the signing of Mt. Juliet native Hannah Spring to scholarship papers this week for the 2017-18 academic year, becoming the third Phoenix signee for the upcoming season.

Spring placed fifth in the region meet and finished 76th among 180 competitors in the 2016 TSSAA State Cross Country Championships, covering the 5K course at Percy Warner Park in Nashville in 21:16.22. She was also a member of the Mt. Juliet High 4-by-800-meter relay at this year’s TSSAA State Track Championships that placed eighth in 9:57.21.

Spring has registered personal-bests of 2:31 in the 800-meters, 5:36 in the 1600-meters and 20:54 over 5K. She is the daughter of Jimmy Spring and Sabrina Spring.

Staff Reports

George Page: Predators make their mark on the NHL

Did the Nashville Predators become the new face of the NHL? 

The Predators didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, but they have certainly gained the attention of the United States, Canada and the whole old NHL world.

A lot of it has to be owed to the Nashville hockey fans, which has issued a challenge to every other hockey fan base around the league to step up and provide the same level of support for their team.

The hockey world has taken noticed that Nashville with the tens of thousands of fans outside the arena hours before the puck drops. Those are numbers that the NHL could have only dreamed of when Music City was awarded with an expansion franchise 18 years ago. It’s a dream come true for the NHL that they don’t have to just depend on the traditional hockey markets like Detroit, Toronto or Pittsburgh to drive the hockey ratings.

The Predators don’t have a star power and household names. P. K. Subban and Pekka Rinne and maybe Mike Fisher (who just so happens to be married to country music superstar Carrie Underwood) but they do play an exciting and fearless brand of hockey that seems to feed off their fan base.

And with everything else that’s been going on in this Cup Final, it’s easy to forget that this is a Cinderella story too with the Preds being the #8 seed out of the west. It seems like ages ago that they swept aside the Chicago Blackhawks with ease in the first round.

This is the absolute best-case scenario for the NHL. The number one way to grow the league is to cultivate more marquee stars in more markets around the country. It’s something new and it’s something special. Nashville’s fanatic fan base has lifted the entire hockey brand that can bring light to a sport that desperately needed a boost.

A lot of it is owed to the magic that’s happening in Nashville. Frankly, the city’s embrace of the Stanley Cup and Predators is infectious. You can’t help but get caught up in the rabid fans, the catfish throwing, the country music stars cheering in the stands, like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, free concert by Alan Jackson on Broadway. Inside Bridgestone Arena you see Brad Paisley holding up a catfish, the Tennessee Titans offensive line with quarterback Marcus Maroita waving yellow towels.

A very small percentage of fans cannot afford the ticket prices to get into Bridgestone Arena as four tickets on the glass sold for $31,000 dollars from Stubhub for game six.

So the thousands of fans who don’t have tickets just want to be as close to the arena and action as possible, as an estimated 50,000 people partied in and around downtown during every Stanley Cup Final home game.

Best thing is every Tennessee, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Kentucky football fans are all wearing the same Preds jersey and cheering for the Same team. The Preds, these past few weeks have changed Nashville sports forever.

Nashville seems to have all the momentum and everybody in the hockey world is talking about the amazing scenes in Smashville: Hockeytown, USA.

Rowlett out after six seasons at Mt. Juliet

George Page • Mt. Juliet News
Brad Rowlett celebrates Mt. Juliet’s win over Portland in the Distirct 9-AAA championship round, forcing the “if necessary” game the next day, which the Lady Bears won.

Mississippi’s Knepp new Lady Bears coach

Haley Knepp was named the new head softball coach at Mt. Juliet High School last Thursday after six-year coach Brad Rowlett was not retained.

Rowlett, 56, said he will remain on the MJHS faculty as a Level 5 special ed math teacher. But he is out as Lady Bears coach after posting a 136-87 record, including a state tournament trip in his first season, 2012.

The 2017 season wasn’t Mt. Juliet’s best and appeared headed to an early end when the Lady Bears were upset by Portland in the opening round of the District 9-AAA tournament. But Mt. Juliet, with just one senior (a non-starter) on the roster, won five straight through the loser’s bracket to win the championship and eventually reached the sectional before losing at Brentwood to finish a 25-16 season.

Rowlett said he was offered the opportunity to resign by principal Mel Brown, but declined.

“I wasn’t given any explanation,” Rowlett said. “I left with my dignity. I have no regrets.

“It’s a decision Mr. Brown made and I respect it. It is what it is.”

The school and the central office issued a press release announcing Knepp’s hiring, but a call to Brown’s phone seeking comment on Rowlett was not returned.

Rowlett, a Hermitage native, coached youth softball in Mt. Juliet and assisted another MJ sandlot coach, Junior Hawkins, at Cumberland University in the 1990s. Leaving a plumbing career to pursue one in coaching, he enrolled as a 35-year-old freshman at Cumberland where he joined Hawkins’ staff. He also worked as a sports writer for the Mt. Juliet News.

Hired at Lebanon High, he spent 12 seasons coaching the Lady Devils to a 223-189 record and four Region 4-AAA appearances at a school which had no fastpitch feeder league to draw from until the Lebanon Girls Softball Association switched from slowpitch early in his LHS tenure.

He was named District 7-AAA coach of the year in 2005 and earned the same honor in 9-AAA at Mt. Juliet in ’14.

Rowlett also coached wrestling at Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Friendship Christian, where he also assisted childhood friend John McNeal on the Commander football staff. He’s also assisted with Mt. Juliet Middle School football the last six years and said he plans to continue with that role.

But Rowlett said he is finished with softball after posting a career 359-276 record.

New Lady Bear coach comes from Mississippi

Haley Knepp

Knepp attended Kossuth High School in Mississippi, where she was a three-time all-county player and all-division athlete.

Upon graduation, she went on to Northeast Mississippi Community College, where she received third-team MACJC honors as a freshman and first-team conference honors her sophomore year. During the 2011-2012 season, Knepp helped lead the team to a runner-up finish.

In 2013, Knepp went on to pursue her degree at the University of North Alabama, where she helped lead the team to a 40-20 record and an appearance in the NCAA South Regional.

Knepp transferred to Blue Mountain College for her senior season while pursuing her degree in math education. She was named an “All-American Scholar” athlete all four years of college.

Upon graduation, Knepp served as the assistant coach for Booneville High School. She and her staff lead the Lady Blue Devils to a 25-6 record, advancing into the third round of the playoffs.

Knepp said she’s excited to begin her new journey in Mt. Juliet.

“Being a former collegiate softball player and assistant coach, I’ve had the opportunity to play and work for some very successful programs,” she said.

“I look forward to growing and developing this team, not only into successful softball players, but young women as well.”

Team tryouts will be held June 21 and June 22 from 4-6 p.m. at the Mt. Juliet High School softball field. Participants must have a current physical.

By Andy Reed

Joines family continues rodeo involvement

Jeff Joines instrumental in bringing junior high rodeo to Wilson

Photo courtesy of Jeff Joines
Audrey Joines competes in a New Mexico rodeo competition. The Joines family has competed in rodeo competitions with the National High School Rodeo Association for two generations. The National Junior High Finals Rodeo will be June 18-24 in Wilson County for the second year at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon.

Wilson County is home to several families involved with the National High School Rodeo Association, including the Joines family from Gladeville who has two generations of competitors and hopes for the tradition to continue.

The National Junior High Finals Rodeo will be June 18-24 in Wilson County, the second time ever for the National High School Rodeo Association to bring its annual event east of the Mississippi River. It is also the second time the event will be held at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon.

Current grandparents Jeff and Debbie Joines began allowing their children to compete in National High School Rodeo Association events in 2003. Their children, Audrey and Cole Joines, continued competing until they both graduated high school in 2011.

“We told our kids, ‘this stuff is really expensive, so if we’re going to do this as a family, you’re going to practice hard, you’re going to try hard and you’re going to give 110 percent when you go out there,’” said Debbie Joines.

Audrey Joines, now mother of her own rodeo protégé, competed in all the girl’s events as a junior high and high school competitor. In 2007, she finished in the top 8 in Tennessee in four different events, qualifying her for the National High School Rodeo finals in each.

Cole Joines competed in barrel racing and team roping. In 2009, he qualified for the National High School Rodeo finals in team roping.

Audrey and Cole Joines both continued competing in local professional events after graduating from high school.

Audrey now has a 2-year-old son, Jackson Joines, who works leadline shows with his pony.

Leadline is a youth rodeo event where young children sit on their horses with the reins in hand while an adult or older child leads the horse with a rope.

“His mother is teaching him how to rope, too,” said Debbie Joines. “They were working on it the other day in the backyard. So we have a lot of plans for him if that’s what he wants to do.”

Jeff Joines was instrumental in bringing the National Junior High Rodeo Finals to Wilson County. He used his experience working in past rodeos as a selling point to get the event to come to Wilson County.

In 2015, he presented his idea to bring the rodeo to the James E. Ward Agricultural Center to the National High School Rodeo Association.

“He knew a lot of people in the association just from our previous years being there,” said Debbie Joines. “Jeff knew the capacity of the Ward center, so basically he went to the association in Dallas and gave them a presentation detailing what we had available here.”

Debbie Joines encourages anyone interested to come out to the event and check it out.

“People are going to be blown away by the talent of these young people. Many of them have been throwing a rope on a horse since they were little-bitty guys, and I think that’s the most amazing thing,” said Debbie Joines.

The opening ceremony for the National Junior High Rodeo Finals will be Sunday at 7 p.m. For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, visit

By Jacob Smith

Mt. Juliet’s Gammon wins on Lake Barkley

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Whit Gammon, Daniel Johnson, Jeff Johnson, John Graves and Wesley Hayes finish first-through-fifth in the Cedar City Bass Anglers’ first-ever regular-season visit to Kentucky Lake.

DOVER — Mt. Juliet’s Whit Gammon overcame thick fog and a Cumberland River with strong current and debris to win Cedar City Bass Anglers’ fourth event of the season last weekend.

This was CCBA’s first-ever regular-season event on Lake Barkley, launched from Dyer Creek, making it worth double points.

Gammon cashed in with 19.61 pounds caught on ledges. He also caught the big fish to pocket bonus money for $1,400 and a case of oil.

Daniel Johnson of Lebanon grabbed second place by flipping creature baits to catch 17.43 pounds for $400.

Jeff Johnson of Smyrna was third with 16.58 pounds caught in Dyer Creek with a black/blue jig to earn $200.

John Graves of Mt. Juliet was fourth with 15.31 pounds flipping bushes near launch sites to earn $120.

Wesley Hayes of Murfreesboro finished fifth with 14.6 pounds caught topwater, flipping river points in the grass to earn $60.

For more, go to

Top 10 in points out of 44:

1. Daniel Johnson 481

2. John G. Graves 475

3. Jeff Johnson 468

4. Brandon Saunders 465

5. Ryan Stephens 456

6. Tony Mick 453

7. Rob Kennedy 441

8. Danny Heicher 440

9. Whit Gammon 438

10. Wesley Hayes 415

Staff Reports

Dumped dead fish raise a stink

These dead carp were dumped at the Long Hunter State Park boat ramp, apparently by bow-hunters.

When I pulled into the parking lot at Long Hunter State Park one morning awhile back I noticed a flock of buzzards swarming around the boat ramp.

It didn’t take long to see – and smell – what attracted them.

A dozen dead carp littered the ground. They weighed 2-3 pounds, and each had what appeared to be an arrow wound.

A fisherman launching his boat growled: “What a mess! Why would somebody dump a pile of dead fish at a public ramp?”

That’s a good question. A similar one was raised last summer when bow-fishermen dumped loads of dead fish at a boat ramp off the Cumberland River in northern Wilson County.

One visitor estimated there were “hundreds of pounds” of decaying fish piled around the launching ramp and boat dock. The stench, flies flocking buzzards made the public ramp and dock virtually unusable.

A nearby farmer eventually brought his front-loader tractor over and cleaned up the mess. He blamed it on bow-fishermen who launched at the ramp to go night-fishing, and at the end of the trip dumped their haul of carp, drum, buffalo and gar at the ramp.

I checked with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and was told there is no TWRA regulation against dumping dead fish in a public area. The only law it violates is whatever local ordinance exists for littering.

The TWRA spokesman said since the “littering” is done mostly at night, violators are almost impossible to catch.

In recent years bow-fishing has soared in popularity – Bass Pro Shops hosted a huge area tournament earlier this spring and has a national championship competition set for the summer.

Only rough fish can be taken by bow-fishing; shooting game fish is illegal.

Biologists say bow-fishing is a good way to control the rough fish that sometime compete with game fish in the food chain.

There’s nothing wrong with bow-fishing; it is the disposal of the fish that causes problems in some areas. The rough fish aren’t considered edible, and obviously there is no catch-and-release of fish that have been shot. So the question is what to do with a boat-load of dead fish at the end of a bow-fishing trip?

Near most lakes there are remote areas in which the fish can be disposed. They will be cleaned up fairly quickly by buzzards and other scavengers, so in isolated areas they don’t pose a problem.

But a public boat ramp is not the place to do it. Fishermen, recreational boaters and others use the ramp, and piles of decaying fish on a hot day render it almost unusable.

A spokesperson for Bass Pro Shops said an effort is underway to educate bow-fishermen about the situation and remind them to properly and ethically dispose of their catch.

Unlike the “hundreds of pounds” of dead fish that littered the Cumberland River boat ramp last summer, at Long Hunter State Park awhile back the other day there were only a dozen mid-sized carp scattered around the dock. But it takes only a few rotting fish to create a terrible mess.

Boaters understandably are raising a stink over it.

By Larry Woody

First career victory special for Hale

Photo courtesy of Larry Woody
Wilson County racer William Hale makes his first visit to Victory Circle at Highland Rim Speedway.

They say you never forget your first one:

First kiss.

First pay check.

First race victory.

“I guess that’s true,” says young Mt. Juliet racer William Hale, who last month won his first career major-division race at Highland Rim Speedway.

“Although, to tell you the truth, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. When I won the race I was so busy looking my rear-view mirror (at the second-place driver) that it was over before I knew it. We had a short victory celebration, then started getting ready for the next one. I’ve always heard that drivers are so busy they don’t have time to celebrate until the season is over, and I can see why.”

Hale captured his inaugural win after starting on the pole and leading 50 of the 75 laps, including the most important one – the last one.

That first taste of victory made him hungry for more.

“It was a great confidence-builder,” says Hale, whose race cars are maintained by his grandfather Alan out of their Mt. Juliet team headquarters.

“Even though the win came on the little track at Highland Rim, it was a great feeling to get it,” William says. “Now I’d like to win one on the big track at the Fairgrounds.”

Hale is in second place in the championship standings in Highland Rim’s premier Late Model division. Over the decades several young racers got their start at the historic Ridgetop track, and Hale hopes to continue the trend.

In addition to racing at the Rim and Fairgrounds, Hale plans to run some events at Huntsville (Ala.) Speedway this summer, and will enter this winter’s Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla., one of the nation’s premier short-track events.

“We’ve got several things planned and I’m looking forward to them,” Hale says.

Hale has been fascinated by race cars for as long as he can remember.

“When his was just two or three he liked to watch me change the oil and work on the cars,” says his grandfather.

Alan, a mechanic for some of the top area drivers in the 1980’s, started taking his grandson to the track about the time he started walking.

“I remember watching races at the Fairgrounds with my grandfather when I was about three years old,” William says. “I thought it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. One night Dale Earnhardt’s car was on display, and it made a big impression on me. Dale was my hero back then, and I always thought I’d like to be like him some day.”

Two people who have inspired William this season are his grandfather and Willie Allen. Allen is an active Fairgrounds driver who competed successfully in the NASCAR truck series and now assists young racers like William.

“William is very focused and a fast learner,” Allen says. “He takes his racing seriously, and is a pleasure to work with.”

Allen adds with a chuckle: “I tell him that the only way to get better as a driver is to learn from your mistakes, and I’ve made so many over the years that hopefully I can teach him how to avoid them.”

As for the assistance of his grandfather, William says:

“I wouldn’t be able to race without him. He’s been there for me ever since I was a little kid and I owe everything to him. I always said that when I started winning, I’d be winning for both of us.”

Superspeedway update: NASCAR has announced its 2018 schedules for its three touring series and, as expected, Nashville Superspeedway is not included. That means the Gladeville track is probably destined to continue to sit idle next year, despite reports that a prospective new owner has expressed interest in the facility.

By Larry Woody


Independence’s Weiland named Lady Wildcats softball coach

Melissa Weiland

GLADEVILLE — Looking to restore stability to a program rocked by the sudden departure of its coach less than a year ago, Wilson Central principal Travis Mayfield chose someone he’s worked with in the past.

Melissa Weiland, head coach at Independence High School for the past three years, was announced as the Lady Wildcats softball coach Tuesday afternoon before a group of players, parents and faculty in the school’s small cafeteria.

Weiland, 33, came to the Thompson Station school in Williamson County while Mayfield was assistant principal there.

“The very first year there I thought she did an outstanding job,” said Mayfield, who returned to WCHS as principal the following year. “She has great relationships with the girls, and I’ve seen her display a real passion for coaching, working with those kids to get better and the strategy aspect of it and those kinds of things. I think she’s going to be a great fit.”

Weiland takes over for Shawn Smith, who assumed the position on an interim basis last summer following the firing, and subsequent resignation as math teacher, of Michael Shepard, who was eventually charged with two counts statutory rape by an authority figure. The Lady Wildcats won the state championship under Shepard two seasons ago and just finished a 24-16-1 season under Smith. Mayfield said he expects Weiland will bring stability to the program.

“I think she’s going to be here for the long haul,” Mayfield said. “She’s got a lot of integrity, a lot of loyalty, and I think it’ll be a long relationship.”

“I’m excited for the new opportunity, new adventure, new environment, a new staff,” Weiland said. “I’m just blessed and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given by Mr. Mayfield.

“I can’t wait to meet the team and the new journey we’re about to go through.”

A former softball assistant coach at Riverdale and girls’ basketball assistant/freshman coach at Tullahoma, she went 14-16, 21-14, 15-16 at Independence. A Murfreesboro native and Riverdale graduate, she played basketball at Middle Tennessee State University until a knee injury ended her hoops career. She finished her college eligibility playing for the Lady Raiders. She was a catcher and third baseman.

Leigh McCutchen, an assistant coach at Siegel Middle School, was also introduced as Weiland’s assistant. Weiland, who will teach special education, said discussions will soon be underway concerning the remainder of her staff, including whether any assistants from Smith’s staff will remain.

As for the players, though there are five starters who are graduating, Weiland said there seems to be plenty of returning talent.

“I am extremely excited about the upcoming players,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, I think we’ll be OK.”

By: Andy Reed

Keller introduced as new Wilson Central girls basketball coach

Jake Old Mt. Juliet News
Jeff Keller speaks to Wilson Central High School basketball players and parents Thursday morning after he was introduced as the new head girls basketball coach. Keller previously coached high school and college basketball in Alabama.

GLADEVILLE – Jeff Keller, the new Wilson Central High School head girls basketball coach, was introduced to players and parents Thursday morning at the school.

Before coming to Wilson Central, Keller coached at both the high school and collegiate level in Alabama at Enterprise High School and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Keller is an alumnus of David Lipscomb University.

“For me personally, it’s great to be back in Middle Tennessee,” Keller said. “This is really home to me.”

Keller said he is excited about being part of the basketball program at Wilson Central, and he will try to build on past success in the program.

“First of all, there’s a standard of excellence here, and that’s important to me,” Keller said. “Basketball is important here.”

Although he has not had the chance to work with any of the players yet, Keller said he has an idea of the kind of offense and defense he wants to use in the program.

“I’m a big believer in man-to-man defense,” Keller said. “On offense, it comes down to the players – I’ve got to see what we have … obviously, I like to push the basketball. If the numbers are there, we attack, and if the numbers aren’t there, we’re pulling it out. Half-court offense, after I see [the players] for a number of days, I’ll have a better idea of what we can do.”

For his coaching philosophies, Keller said he has tried to pull inspiration from several coaches he has worked with or studied. One coach in particular set out five qualities a team should have, passion, unity, humility, willingness to serve others and thankfulness. Keller wants his teams to have those qualities.

“I think there’s more to a basketball program than what’s on the floor,” Keller said. “I’m a firm believer in what you do off the floor affects you on the floor … I think those things are essential to have in a program.”

Keller said he remains in the high school coaching profession, because he enjoys it more than other levels of coaching he has experienced.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach at all different levels, middle school, high school and collegiate levels,” Keller said. “What I’ve found personally is I like the high school level the best, because I like interacting with students.”

Keller said he can’t wait to get out on the court and work with his team.

“This place has a lot of tradition, and what we’re wanting to do is just continue that standard of excellence, continue to build on things that have been done in the past,” Keller said. “I’m very, very excited to be here.”

By: Jake Old

Mercante falls short of state tennis title

Andy Reed Mt. Juliet News
Wilson Central sophomore Michael Mercante faces defending state champ and University of Alabama signee Sam Fischer in the Thursday afternoon session for a spot in the state finals.

MURFREESBORO – Wilson Central sophomore Michael Mercante’s opening day of the Class AAA singles state tournament at the Adams Tennis Center was a bit peculiar.

Mercante received a walkover into the semifinals as Siegel sophomore Husain Al-Zubaidi failed to show due to an illness. This pitted Mercante against defending champion and University of Alabama signee Sam Fischer in the Thursday afternoon session for a spot in the finals.

Though Mercante fought valiantly, Fischer’s strong serve and forehand dominated play as the senior scored a 6-0, 6-0 win.

Fischer went on to claim his second consecutive championship, defeating Tennessee High School’s Stone Cozart 6-4, 6-4.

“I thought it was a great opportunity because I knew he was a great player, and that he was going to a great college to play,” Mercante said. “He hit the ball really well. I’ve played other kids who hit the ball hard and with spin, just not as consistently as he can.”

Mercante completed the most successful individual season in Wilson Central tennis history as he went 18-3 in singles matches, and became the second Wildcat in the program’s history to claim the District 9-AAA singles championship. Tyler Pullen did it in 2003.

The sophomore also became the first Wildcat to reach the state tournament by claiming the Region 5-AAA singles title.

“It was a great season for Michael, and to get to this point is great for him and does a lot of our program as a whole,” said first-year Wilson Central coach Ryan Jent. “Since he’s went on this postseason run, the amount of people who have come to me talking about how great of a kid that Michael is speaks volumes about him.”

Mercante said, “I thought I had a really good season. One thing I improved on was my mental game over last season, which helped get me here. I’m already ready for next season to get started.”

Staff Reports

Mt. Juliet’s Shea vaults to state championship

Mt. Juliet junior Cole Shea won the Class AAA state pole vault championship Thursday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State’s Dean A. Hayes Stadium.

Shea’s vault of 14-6 was 6 inches better than Brentwood freshman Jeff Kinder.

Mt. Juliet’s Brandon Karain finished 12th in the Class AAA state 110-meter hurdles Friday with a time of 15.88. The Wilson Central team of Nathan Peterson, Joel Barlow,Baylor Franklin and Russell Riggan finished fifth in the Class AAA state 4-by-800-meter relay Friday with a time of 8:08.09.

Other than the pole vault, Thursday belonged to the girls.

Wilson Central freshman Zoe Vlk was fourth in the AAA discus with a toss of 120-9.

Mt. Juliet sophomore Julia Karsten was sixth in the 800-meter run in 2:23.16. Lebanon junior Ashley Grimes was seventh in the 300 hurdles in :46.97.

Watertown senior Mya Huddleston, her school’s first state qualifier, was eighth in the A-AA shot put with a toss of 32-4.75.

By: Andy Reed

Mt. Juliet duo falls to defending champs in final

Mt. Juliet graduates Dylan Chambers and Josh Walker finished their senior seasons as second in Class AAA boys’ doubles after running into Tennessee’s buzzsaw of Jacob Marshall and Charlie Moseley, who claimed another state championship 6-1, 6-0 Friday morning at Old Fort Park.

Neighbors for over a decade, they’ve been doubles partners throughout their high school careers. They’ve played with and against each other since they were 7.

“We’ve played against each other in tournaments before, but we decided to focus on doubles, and that’s been our primary focus all four years in high school at Mt. Juliet,” Chambers said.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Walker said.

By: Andy Reed

Lady Commanders oust DCA to make state finals

Friendship reached the Division II-A championship round for the third straight season Thursday when Kendal Kelsh and Kennedy West combined to hold Donelson Christian to two hits in a 2-0 shutout victory in the loser’s bracket final at Starplex.

“They’re a great softball team, but so are we,” said first-year Lady Commander coach Regan Ingram shortly after his team knocked off his former DCA squad. “We’re excited for the opportunity to get back there, to compete against them. Hopefully, it’s two great games.”

Thursday’s was pretty good, as backed by a spectacular infield defense, Kelsh pitched 4 1/3 innings for the win before West worked the final 2 2/3 for the save, escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth inning, as the Lady Commanders climbed to 25-12.

“I’m proud of our girls for fighting back,” Ingram said. “We’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations throughout the year and I’m just proud of how they come out and fight together. This was just a great team win up and down the lineup.

“We have two great pitchers. We believe in both of them and that’s the strategy we have and we go with it. The girls believe in it. Whenever you’re pitching good and you have solid defense behind it, we’re tough to beat.”

Friendship scored in the third inning when Brooke Eakes’ two-out popup fell and, after stealing second and taking third on a bad throw, scored on Annalise Jarnigan’s single to left field.

In the fourth, Brice Dabbs parachuted a double to short right field and scored on Hannah Alexander’s drive to deep center field which was ruled an error on the outfielder.

By: Andy Reed

Friendship falls short in finals

MURFREESBORO — Facing a King’s Academy team which seemingly can win in every way possible, Friendship Christian couldn’t keep up as the Lady Lions repeated as Division II-A state champions with a 13-4 win Friday at Starplex.

The Lady Lions scored in six of their seven innings as they amassed 15 hits. They got a home run by Haydyn Jenkins, four doubles and bunted successfully as well in completing a 38-3 season.

“They have great slappers that we have to play up, and then we have to play out outfielders back,” Lady Commander coach Regan Ingram said of the Lady Lions. “It’s very tough. They’re very-well coached. They do a great job of adjusting after each at-bat. If you get them out one way, the next at-bat you have to figure out a way to get them out another way. They’re not just going to go up there and take the same cuts. In the middle of the game, they did a great job of shortening their swings and hitting the ball up the middle. They don’t strike out much and they put so much pressure on you with their speed.”

Friendship finished with 10 hits, including three by Brice Dabbs and two each by Annalise Jarnagin and Cameron Burton. Jernagin homered in the first inning and McCormick in the second. But the Lady Commanders left the bases loaded that inning and stranded nine for the game.

“If you’re going to outscore them, you’re going to earn every one of them,” Ingram said. “Pretty much, if you don’t hit it over, they’re going to run it down. We hit it hard on the ground a bunch of times. Give them credit, they make the plays. It’s a seven-inning ballgame every time you play them with every pitch. You better bring your A-game to beat them. They brought their A-game.

“I thought we did, too. We just didn’t come up with a hit here and there and they came up with a couple. That’s the way it falls.”

Cameron Burton had an RBI single in the second inning and Hannah Alexander drove in Friendship’s final run on a pop fly infield single in the fifth.

For King’s leadoff batter Taylor Weekly drove in three runs on as many hits.

It could have been worse for Friendship but for right-fielder Bayley West’s shoestring catch which she turned into a double play by doubling the runner off of first base.

Friendship, in the finals for the third straight season, including the 2015 championship over King’s, finished 25-13 in Ingram’s first season after leaving Donelson Christian to take over for Jody Atwood, who’s now at Lebanon.

“They got better from beginning to end,” Ingram said of the Lady Commanders, who included seniors Jarnagin, Dabbs, Brooke Eakes, Riley Walker and Kendal Kelsh. “They stuck together. We had great senior leadership that carried us back here. They stuck together and played as a team every day. When we played bad, we played bad as a team. We played good as a team, that’s the only thing you can ask. Throughout the year, we had some bad games, but we didn’t let it get them down. They came back. They’re a very resilient group. They played hard every game.”

By: Andy Reed

MJCA air rifle team receives grant from Friends of NRA

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Members of the Mt. Juliet Christian Academy air rifle team include (kneeling, from left) John Corbin, Brett Patton, Wyatt Gray, Sullivan Swords, Audrey Brown, Addyson Caldwell, Savanna Armstrong, Tanner Jennings, (standing, from left) coach Amy Wilson, coach Jon Low, Isaac Street, John Woolson, Corbin Venters, James Naftel, Hannah Tan, Kim Miller, Karlee Lyons, Abe Gibson, team captain Faith New and coach Gibby Gibson.

Wilson County Friends of the National Rifle Association presented the Mt. Juliet Christian Academy air rifle team with a ceremonial check for $3,584 recently. 

The funding is a result of a grant application submitted to the Friends of NRA’s grant program.

Established in 2013, the Mt. Juliet Christian Academy air rifle club has more than 30 members made up of coaches, range-safety officers and third- through 12th-grade students who shoot BB, sporter and precision rifles. The precision team shoots competitively and received second place at the Overmountain Rendezvous Match last fall.

Anyone can help support the fundraising efforts that directly benefit teams like Mt. Juliet Christian Academy air rifle team by attending the annual Friends of NRA fundraising banquet. The banquet will be June 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Wilson County Expo Center at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center at 945 Baddour Pkwy. in Lebanon. Tickets may be purchased at or by calling Eddie at 615-533-8721.

Staff Reports

WCHS snags 9-AAA title

Andy Reed
Andrew Franklin is on the bottom of the dogpile after pitching Andrew Franklin to a 2-1 win over Beech and the District 9-AAA championship.

GLADEVILLE — When the stakes are highest, Andrew Franklin is at his best.

Two weeks after pitching the clinching win at Mt. Juliet for the top seed in the District 9-AAA tournament, the senior left-hander was dealing for Wilson Central in a 2-1 win over Beech in the championship game Thursday night.

Franklin allowed an unearned run on five hits and four walks while striking out five.

“I feel the nerves in between innings and before games, but once I get out there and I’m throwing I’m locked in, so I’m ready to go,” said Franklin, who has signed with Lee University for next year.

Not only did Franklin’s arm keep the Buccaneers at bay, his glove was in the right place at the right time as he snared a line drive in self defense, knocking him to the dirt, for the first out of the seventh inning.

“I didn’t see it until it went into my glove, and I’m not sure I saw it then,” Franklin said. “Made the catch, and that’s all that mattered.”

“Andrew Franklin is a competitor,” said Central’s Anthony Ford, the district’s coach of the year. “He kind of drives me crazy because he’ll ahead 0-2 and the next thing you know it’s 3-2, but he somehow finds a way to get it done.”

Central scored both runs in the third inning when Ethan Shelton’s single to center field scored Mason Mobley, who was running on the pitch, all the way from first base. Shelton later scored on a bases-loaded walk to Will Hudson. A base-running error kept more runs from scoring.

Beech scored in the fifth on a play in which the shortstop booted the ball after Ford thought the Buccaneer base-runner interfered with the ball.

Defense was a key to the day on both sides. Beech snared a couple of line drives. Central’s outfield kept a Beech batter to a single after he drove the ball to the wall in the sixth inning. After Franklin’s catch in the seventh and a subsequent Buc single, second baseman Will Hudson caught a liner and threw to Dawson Hamilton (who signed with Jackson State Community College earlier in the day) to double off the runner and end the game.

“We hit some balls hard in the sixth inning that were outs and then we get a little dink hit,” Ford said. “And then they hit three balls on the screws and they’re out. That’s why anybody can compete, no matter how big or small you are, you can compete in this great game.

“Both pitchers threw really well.”

Central’s season came to an abrupt end Monday with a 3-0 loss to visiting Northeast in the Region 5-AAA tournament, ending a 23-11 season.

This is Central’s fourth district tournament championship and the first time the Wildcats won both the regular season and district titles in the same year. Ford, the last remaining coach in place from the school’s 2001 opening, picked up his 300th win Monday vs. Hendersonville and is now sitting on 302.

“That’s a tribute to the kids,” Ford said of the coaching honor. “I’m proud of my kids. I can’t think enough about how hard they competed all year.”

By: Andy Reed

Mt. Juliet comes full circle for 9-AAA title

A tournament which began with Portland’s stunning upset of No. 2 seed Mt. Juliet came full circle with the Lady Bears beat the No. 7 Lady Panthers twice to take the District 9-AAA title over the weekend.

After outscoring Portland 7-6 Friday night at Vol State, the “if necessary” game was moved to Lebanon on Saturday due to a scheduling conflict and Mt. Juliet completed the sweep with a 5-1 win.

The Lady Bears will bring a 24-14 record into Monday’s 6 p.m. Region 5-AAA opener against visiting Clarksville (23-8) at MJHS.

“We are a young team and we had a game plan the entire year,” Mt. Juliet coach Brad Rowlett said, “We just wanted to keep getting better and build self confidence and positive team chemistry along the way.

“We felt good about our chances coming into the tournament, but the first-round loss was eye-opening to everyone involved. We had two choices. We could feel sorry for ourselves or we could dig deep and continue to work toward our goals.”

Freshman Alyssa Costley, who pitched every inning in the seven-game tournament, capped most valuable player honors with another seven innings Saturday, allowing a run on six hits and no walks while striking out four.

She spotted Portland a run in the bottom of the third inning before Mt. Juliet put up a pair of two-spots in the fifth and sixth frames and one in the seventh. Molly Back had three of the Lady Bears’ 10 hits while Cam Cernuto and Savannah Cole each collected two. Lexi Stafford hit a two-run double while Costley and Zoe Hayes had a hit apiece.

Freshmen Costley and Cernuto were joined by juniors Tyffany Cargile and Kyli Biggs on the all-district team. Stafford, Cargile, Cole and Back were named all-tournament.

“It was a total team effort and the postseason awards definitely proved that point,” Rowlett said. “I’m extremely proud of these girls for the efforts they have put in all season and the hard work paid off. This group has a bright future and with their positive attitude and work habits could do some big things on down the road.”

Staff Reports