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


Hours extended for St. Jude dream home tours

Tickets are almost gone for a chance to win the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway, but hours for open house tours of the home were extended past last weekend.

The house, built by Signature Homes and estimated to be worth $450,000, is in the Jackson Hills community in Mt. Juliet. The house and other prizes, including a car, will be given away live June 25 at noon on WZTV Fox 17.

Additional open houses have just been added for the public to see the house for the last time. 

The house will be open June 21-24 from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Everyone who visits the house has the opportunity to reserve a $100 ticket to win the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway house while tickets last and also register free for a chance to win a $10,000 shopping spree at Ashley HomeStore.

The first 500 people to visit June 24 will receive a cookie from Christie Cookie. Tickets reserved by June 23 will also be eligible for the bonus prize, a 2017 Ford Escape, courtesy of Two Rivers Ford.

“We had more than 500 people tour the house this past weekend, so we decided we should extend the open house dates,” said Jennifer Gailey, volunteer coordinator.  “We just want everyone to come see this beautiful home that has been built with so much talent and love. It’s exciting that one lucky person will win June 25 for just $100.”

Other prizes also up for grabs include two $1,000 Visa gift cards, Brizo Artesso articulating faucet with smarttouch technology in stainless steel finish, two Segway tours of downtown Nashville for six people and a $1,000 gift card at Shaw Floors.

To reserve a ticket while they last, call 800-746-6713, and for directions to the home and more information, visit Tickets are also available at Two Rivers Ford while they last.

Sponsors of the fundraising campaign include WZTV Fox 17, Signature Homes, the BIG 98, Two Rivers Ford, Ashley HomeStore, Crowe Horwath and national sponsors, Brizo, Shaw Floors and Trane. 

Staff Reports

Prospect benefits from Eagle Scout project

When Eagle Scout candidate Charles Marrder, of Mt. Juliet, first contacted Prospect, he had no idea what to expect from the service opportunity.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Eagle Scout candidate Charles Marrder (center) swings with Prospect service recipients on one of the swings included in the gazebo he built as part of his Eagle Scout project recently for Prospect.

Marrder inquired about completing an Eagle Scout project for the nonprofit, and although he knew the organization provided support services for individuals with disabilities, he could not predict the magnitude of effort, joy and fulfillment the project would ultimately bring to him.

After brainstorming ideas for the project, Marrder developed plans for a gazebo, complete with swings. With the help of scouts, various volunteers and several donors, Marrder recently completed his project for Prospect, which bolstered 229 volunteer hours total.

“Every day we have people who come to the day center for activities, services and volunteering, but we have very limited resources for outside activities,” said Prospect director of development Laura Swanson.

Marrder’s project not only fulfills an immediate need, but it also sets the stage for future outdoor activities, Swanson said.

Marrder’s Eagle Scout project is the culmination of his 10 years in scouting.

“I am overjoyed knowing my decade spent with the Boy Scouts of America has concluded in cheerful service to some of the world’s kindest people,” said Marrder. “Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the success of this project, especially 5 Bravo Construction, Lebanon Distributing, Sherwin Williams, Hall Group Architecture, Lester Digital Reprographics, Fakes and Hooker Lumber, Elite Welding, Darrel Gilley Trucking, the leaders and scouts of Troop 293 and, of course, my ever-supportive parents.”

Swanson said the project was a welcome addition to the outdoor activities, and it has been a big hit with the individuals who visit Prospect. The swings are used almost daily, weather permitting. Angel, one of Prospect’s service recipients, said, “I think it’s cool.”

Marrder is a member of Boy Scout Troop 293, which meets at College Hills Church of Christ, and a 2017 graduate of Father Ryan High School. He plans to attend the University of Notre Dame in the fall.

Staff Reports

Helicopter arrives at Wilson County Veterans Museum

A Vietnam War-era helicopter arrived at its final resting place Thursday after rain delayed its move to the Wilson County Veterans Museum.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Workers prepare to move a UH-1 Huey helicopter into the Wilson County Veterans Museum on Thursday as spectators and guests watch. The Vietnam War-era helicopter was restored after it was moved to Lebanon from Nashville last year.

The UH-1 Huey helicopter arrived in Lebanon last year from Nashville and was restored and housed at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center before its move to the museum. Conrad Construction Co. workers assisted in both moves.

Wilson County Commissioner Jerry McFarland said the helicopter, which is a loan from the state of Tennessee, would be the focal point of the museum. He said the UH-1 Huey helicopter was used to fly U.S. soldiers in Vietnam from 1966-68, and the Tennessee National Guard later used it from 1980-85.

The state acquired the helicopter and used it as a training aid most recently, McFarland said.

According to McFarland, former Wilson County sheriff and current Commissioner Terry Ashe flew in an UH-1 in the Vietnam War as part of the 48th Assault Helicopter Co. attached to the 101st Airborne, which is based out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The 48th AHC was active from Nov. 6, 1965 until Aug. 23, 1972 and participated in 16 campaigns in the Vietnam War, according to military historians.

The particular UH-1 was active in Vietnam from 1966-68, when it was sent back to the U.S. to replace the engine with a heavier engine. It never returned to Vietnam, McFarland said.

In combat, it was able to fit 13 people, by weight. However, if there was equipment to be shipped, then fewer people could fly in the machine.

Visitors to the museum will be able to go into the helicopter, put on headsets and talk back and forth as if they were riding in the machine. The engine components will be removed and only enough power to light and work the console and headsets will be used.

Correspondent Angie Mayes contributed to this report.

Staff Reports

Handguns, rifle part stolen in gun store burglary

Mt. Juliet police are investigating a burglary at Guns and Ammo on North Mt. Juliet Road last Wednesday in which 15 handguns and a rifle part were stolen.

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
Mt. Juliet police are investigating a burglary at Guns and Ammo on North Mt. Juliet Road last Wednesday in which 15 handguns and a rifle part were stolen.

Officers were dispatched to the gun store after the burglar alarm system activated at about 12:30 a.m. Police arrived within moments of the initial dispatch to find damage to the front glass of the business.

Police believe unknown suspects burst through the front glass of the store and stole the weapons.

Detectives responded to the scene to gather evidence in hopes of leading them to the suspects. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the investigation.

Surveillance footage showed possible suspects parking across the street from the gun store near Suntrust Bank before the burglary. Police hope someone in the community will recognize the vehicle, which appears to be a white Kia Optima four-door sedan.

Police will release more information about the incident as the investigation continues.

The ATF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the theft of firearms.

The ATF reward is up to $2,500, and that will be matched by the NSSF for a total reward of up to $5,000. The reward is part of a larger national cooperation initiative.

Anyone with information about the crime should contact Mt. Juliet police at 615-754-2550 or the ATF at 800-283-4867. Information may also be given anonymously by calling the tip line at 615-754-8477 or at

Staff Reports

Wilson County Commission highlights several county schools achievements

The Wilson County Commission honored several personnel and students of Wilson County Schools on Monday in the group’s first meeting since the 2016-2017 school year ended.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County Schools director Donna Wright watches Monday as Wilson County Commissioner Frank Bush recognizes Mt. Juliet’s theater director Rodney Park, principal Mel Brown and senior Amanda Dowswell. Wright also received recognition for her superintendent of the year award.

The group honored Mt. Juliet High School’s Rodney Parks and principal Mel Brown, as well as Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, for their accomplishments.

Parks heads Mt. Juliet’s theater department, which consists of nine classes, beginning with theater I for beginners and theater IV for advanced students. There are about 250 students involved in the school’s theater classes or productions, which allows the department to present productions year round.

The group welcomed upcoming senior Amanda Dowswell. Dowswell, who played the lead female role in the school’s recent rendition of “Phantom of the Opera,” sang two songs for the group, including “God Bless America.”

Commissioner Frank Bush led the honoring after he said Commissioner John Gentry boasted about the Mt. Juliet High School production.

The commission also honored Mt. Juliet principal Mel Brown, who was named principal of the year by the Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals.

Brown has served as Mt. Juliet High School principal for 13 years, beginning in 2004.

“I really want to emphasize this is a family thing. It starts with immediate family, but this is a Wilson County thing. We can’t do anything in education without you. We can’t do anything without Dr. Wright. We can’t do it without the board of education,” Brown said. “This is a very humbling thing. The key is it takes everybody for anybody to do anything.”

The commission also honored Wright after the Professional Educators of Tennessee, a nonpartisan statewide association of Tennessee teachers, named Wright its superintendent of the year for 2016.

“I’m blessed and I feel privileged to not only live and reside in this county, but to work for this school district. It was here all along. I’m a great cheerleader. I will say that,” Wright said.

“[School educators and staff] create the magic and I’m the one that makes sure they have the resources, tools and everything they need to do it. Once again, thank you, but I thank them for making this job what it is.”

The commission also approved a continuing budget and tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

It is possible the fiscal year budget will not be approved until after the beginning of the fiscal year, and under the provisions of the 1981 Financial Management Act, Wilson County does not have to adopt a budget for the new fiscal year until Aug. 31 but must adopt it during July or August or get the approval of the comptroller.

The amounts set in the current appropriations budget will be continued until a new budget is adopted.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Mt. Juliet High School principal Mel Brown receives a handshake from Wilson County Commissioner Dan Walker on Monday. The commission recognized Brown for his principal of the year award, along with Mt. Juliet’s theater department under the direction of Rodney Parks and schools director Donna Wright.

By Xavier Smith

Windtree Pines development denied by city commission

The Mt. Juliet City Commission denied preliminary plans for a residential development at the site of the Windtree Pines Golf Course during Monday’s commission meeting.

The plans, which were considered in the second reading Monday after the first reading was approved in April, included 351 single-family homes on about 184 acres.

In April, commissioners debated at length about putting in a roundabout on Nonaville Road. City engineer Andy Barlow recommended the roundabout.

The roundabout was a cause for concern among commissioners again Monday, as there was some worry that many traveling through the area will haul boats and trailers through the roundabout. Commissioners also had general traffic concerns.

Ray Justice, who is the commissioner for the district where the proposed development is located, was strongly opposed to the roundabout.

Mayor Ed Hagerty, Justice and Brian Abston voted against the preliminary plans.

In April, commissioners agreed to allow developer Danny Hale to voluntarily contribute an additional $1,250 per lot to go toward additional improvements in the area, rather than the normally recommended amount of $2,500 per lot. Hale would have also been responsible for putting in sidewalks going to Lebanon Road.

In the preliminary plans, the existing amenities center would have remained, and a community swimming pool would have been built. The site also would have dedicated green space that would include an existing lake.

According to Hale, if the project were approved, it would take 10 years before it was completed.

If the developer wishes to attempt to move forward with a modified version of the project, it will need to go before the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission and, if approved, may then be reconsidered by the city commission.

By Jake Old

Windtree Pines development denied by city commission

The Mt. Juliet City Commission denied preliminary plans for a residential development at the site of the Windtree Pines Golf Course during Monday’s commission meeting.

The plans, which were considered in the second reading Monday after the first reading was approved in April, included 351 single-family homes on about 184 acres.

In April, commissioners debated at length about putting in a roundabout on Nonaville Road. City engineer Andy Barlow recommended the roundabout.

The roundabout was a cause for concern among commissioners again Monday, as there was some worry that many traveling through the area will haul boats and trailers through the roundabout. Commissioners also had general traffic concerns.

Ray Justice, who is the commissioner for the district where the proposed development is located, was strongly opposed to the roundabout.

Mayor Ed Hagerty, Justice and Brian Abston voted against the preliminary plans.

In April, commissioners agreed to allow developer Danny Hale to voluntarily contribute an additional $1,250 per lot to go toward additional improvements in the area, rather than the normally recommended amount of $2,500 per lot. Hale would have also been responsible for putting in sidewalks going to Lebanon Road.

In the preliminary plans, the existing amenities center would have remained, and a community swimming pool would have been built. The site also would have dedicated green space that would include an existing lake.

According to Hale, if the project were approved, it would take 10 years before it was completed.

If the developer wishes to attempt to move forward with a modified version of the project, it will need to go before the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission and, if approved, may then be reconsidered by the city commission.

By Jake Old

Wilson County cities ready to celebrate Fourth of July

With everything from water gun parades to firework shows, families who want to find a fun event to celebrate the Fourth of July have plenty of options in Wilson County.

Mt. Juliet

Providence Marketplace will play host to Mt. Juliet’s Fourth of July celebration. There will be live music beginning at 4 p.m. in the town center in front of the Providence 14 Theater.

A 30-foot video game trailer, featuring several gaming systems such as an XBox 360, PlayStation and Nintendo Wii, will be available for enjoyment, along with several high-definition LCD televisions.

There will be face painting, balloon artists, caricature artists, inflatable slides and more to satisfy the younger crowd.

There will be musical performances by Mikki Zip, Scott Honaker, Alayna, Jeremy McComb and the Tim McDonald Band.

The fireworks show will begin at 9 p.m. at the Paddocks Shopping Center. The fireworks will be shot from the empty lot beside Academy Sports.

All activities are free. All Providence Marketplace stores will be open regular hours during the event.

Mt. Juliet has the same rules about fireworks as Lebanon.


Lebanon will hold its fireworks show at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center. The fireworks show will begin at dusk at around 9 p.m.

People who plan to attend the event are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs.

The personal use of fireworks is only permitted from June 20 until July 5. Fireworks may only be discharged between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The rules for use of fireworks are:

Children younger than 18 years old are prohibited from buying or using fireworks, unless the child is under the supervision of a guardian.

It is unlawful to explode or ignite fireworks within 600 feet of any church, hospital, funeral home, public or private school or within 200 feet of where fireworks are stored, sold or offered for sale.

Fireworks shall not be launched or fired onto the property of anyone who have not given permission.

No person shall ignite or discharge any fireworks within or throw from a motor vehicle or at a motor vehicle or group of people.


Watertown will be have its annual Stars, Stripes and Squirtguns Parade, sponsored by the Watertown Chamber of Commerce, on July 4 at 3 p.m. Parade participants should line up at 2 p.m. at Watertown Elementary School or Round Lick Baptist Church. The parade will continue through Main Street in Watertown.

There will be a no squirt zone for people who do not want to get wet.

Float judging takes place before the parade. The entry fee for floats is $20. There is no fee for nonprofits, schools, churches and non-business individuals.

Applications to join the parade are available at or at Jim’s Antiques, Watertown Public Library or Wilson Bank & Trust in Watertown.

The city’s firework show will begin at 9 p.m. prior to the ballgames at Three Forks Community Park. Concessions will be available. There will be free watermelon and freeze pops.

Firework sales will begin July 1 and continue through July 7. Fireworks should be shot only between 8 a.m. and midnight.

By Kaitlin Vatrease

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

Wright inducted into bus driver hall of fame

Wilson County school bus driver David Wright became the ninth inductee into the Tennessee School Bus Driver Hall of Fame last week.

Photo courtesy of Facebook
Wilson County bus driver David Wright (right) smiles with his family during Tennessee School Bus Driver Hall of Fame ceremony last week. Wright is the first Wilson County driver and seventh person in the state inducted into the hall of fame.

Wright, one of the longest tenured drivers in the state, has spent 49 years with the school system, starting in 1967. Wright has driven a bus for every school in Wilson County.

Wright has said he takes pride in his bus and making sure his pupils arrive at their destination without harm. He is also known for his love of Wilson County sports and can be spotted at athletic games after driving a busload of athletes.

Last month, Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said he knew Wright would take any route or help in any way possible if he received a call from Hall.

The Wilson County Commission honored Wright in 2015.

“Wright is the only emergency driver in Wilson County due to his experience and has driven for every school in Wilson County,” Hutto said. “Mr. Wright is so knowledgeable of the roads in the county and has such a good rapport with teachers and students. They ask him personally to drive on field trips. He’s known for having the cleanest bus and takes pride in his work.”

Wright also worked for the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department for 37 years as a reserve deputy, along with Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp., Sadler Funeral Home and more.

Wright has been married to his wife, Helen, for nearly 50 years, and the couple has a son, Calvin.

By Xavier Smith

Local cinematographer to unveil his new film

Documentary follows American veterans returning from Iraq

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
An award-winning documentary film from a Mt. Juliet cinematographer that follows American veterans returning to Northern Iraq is set to play June 30 at the Full Moon Cineplex.

An award-winning documentary film from a Mt. Juliet cinematographer that follows American veterans returning to Northern Iraq is set to play June 30 at the Full Moon Cineplex.

Showtime will be at 7 p.m. with a question-and-answer session to follow.

Filmed in Iraq and Syria, “The Longest Road” follows retired Army Sgt. Richard Campos, Vietnam veteran Stan Rapada, and Gold Star father Kevin Graves as they head to the front lines of combat to see the atrocities that ISIS has committed firsthand. But this isn’t just a sightseeing tour. Campos and his team of veterans, turned humanitarians, are now giving back to those who have suffered immeasurable loss at the hands of the enemy.

“We’ve seen how the refugee crisis has turned so political in our country. This isn’t about politics. It isn’t about religion. It’s about humanity,” said Grammy-nominated musician turned cinematographer Jimmy Cooper.

Cooper, a Mt. Juliet resident, made three trips to Iraq to serve on the film in two years. While in the Middle East, the production befriended a Muslim heart surgeon who shares her story in the film. Dr. Nemam Ghafouri, a former refugee herself, brought the finished film to London and Sweden, where it played to packed theaters filled with diverse crowds. The filmmakers were even invited to attend a meeting at Swedish Parliament to discuss the current refugee situation in the Middle East.

“We are very excited to bring this film to the Nashville area,” said Cooper. “We have been forever changed and will continue to raise awareness for all of these beautiful displaced people. Their dream has become our dream…to find healing, peace and hope while rebuilding what has been lost.”

Full Moon Cineplex is at 3445 Lebanon Pike, Suite 3 in Hermitage.

Staff Reports

County names two new principals

Dunn to lead Carroll-Oakland, Price to run Watertown

Jason Dunn

Wilson County Schools recently announced the appointment of two new principals for the upcoming school year. 

Jason Dunn, who served as assistant principal and athletic director at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School for the past three years, will assume the role of principal at Carroll-Oakland. 

Kayla Price, who served as assistant principal at Watertown Middle School since 2014, was tapped to lead the school as principal.

School leaders said Dunn and Price were instrumental leaders in the district for a number of years.

Prior to his work as assistant principal at Carroll-Oakland, Dunn worked as a teacher at MAP Academy, where he was often praised for going above and beyond for students who were the most “at risk” of failure.

Kayla Price

Since assuming the role of assistant principal at Carroll-Oakland, Dunn has demonstrated his strong work ethic among peers and parents alike, Wilson County Schools officials said.

During her 16 years with the district, Price also made a name for herself because of her willingness to tackle some of the district’s tougher projects.

Prior to her appointment as assistant principal for Watertown Middle School, Price spent 10 years working as an elementary teacher in and around the Watertown community.

Staff Reports

Stolen truck chase ends in crash

Driver runs away, leaves injured passenger behind

Photo courtesy of Mt. Juliet police
A stolen truck chase ended in a crash Saturday night on Hobson Pike near Smith Springs Parkway.

A stolen truck chase ended in a crash Saturday night on Hobson Pike near Smith Springs Parkway, according to Mt. Juliet police.

Mt. Juliet police dispatch received a call at 7:38 p.m. from a concerned citizen about a woman running away from Target at 401 S. Mt. Juliet Road with a lot of merchandise. The caller told police he felt as if the woman had just stolen the items, and she jumped into the passenger side of a truck in the Target parking lot.

The caller described the truck and gave its tag number to dispatchers, who found the truck was stolen Saturday from Robertson County.

Dispatchers then relayed the information to officers in the area, and one officer spotted the stolen truck.

After spotting the stolen struck on South Mt. Juliet Road near Providence Parkway, the officer tried to stop it. However, the driver did not stop and ran from the officer at high speeds. The truck’s driver continued to drive recklessly as the officer continued to chase it. At one point, the driver crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a car head on. The stolen truck driver ran away from the crash scene and left an injured woman passenger behind, according to police.

Metro-Nashville officers immediately responded to the scene and assisted in the search of the driver who fled. The driver was not found. The woman passenger in the stolen truck was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s emergency room in stable condition. The man driving the car that was hit head on was taken to Vanderbilt in critical condition.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol responded to the scene. Troopers are investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash. Mt. Juliet police officers continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stolen truck and apparent theft at Target.

Mt. Juliet police Chief James Hambrick announced Monday afternoon he tasked the department’s investigative division with the case.

“I’ve assigned this case to our investigative division because I want to ensure the complete resources and capabilities of our department are utilized to quickly identify and apprehend the driver,” Hambrick said. “It is obvious that this individual is dangerous and has no regard to safety of our community. He needs to be apprehended and held responsible.”

Video footage of the pursuit was captured on the pursuing officer’s in-car camera system, and police officials plan to release the video as soon as possible and when deemed appropriate as not to hinder the ongoing investigation.

Staff Reports

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

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

Wilson Central FFA wins at state FFA leadership camp

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
The Wilson Central High School Future Farmers of America chapter recently won outstanding chapter and outstanding officer team at Camp Clements, a leadership and team-development training camp for FFA members. Members pictured include Macee Zaffiro, Kaleigh Crabtree, Miranda Hicks, Michaela Hicks, Hannah Thompson, Shelby Summar, Sydney Miller, Sarah England, Chyanne Bowlen, Rachael Boudreau, Sophia Church, Reagan B, Delaney Spruill, Copelin Smith, Lucas Huffman, Chandler Dunsavage, Andrew Hamblen, Sadie Pittman, Austin Jackson, Tyler Jeanarrette, Austin Syler, K.J. Mills, Hunter Granstaff, Peyton Hamlett and Dylan Allison.

DOYLE – The Wilson Central Future Farmers of America chapter at Wilson Central High School was awarded the outstanding chapter and outstanding officer team June 2.

More than 200 students, advisors and guests attended what was the first week of the 2017 Leadership Training Camp offered to Tennessee FFA members.

Wilson Central FFA won several awards, including first place in quiz bowl. Quiz bowl team members were Andrew Hamblen, Rachael Boudreau, Madison McDonald and Sydney Miller. Shelby Summar earned first place in quiz contest and second place in extemporaneous speaking.

The outstanding officer team was comprised of president Sadie Pittman; vice president Andrew Hamblen; secretary Shelby Summar; treasurer Miranda Hicks; reporter Kaleigh Crabtree; and sentinel Sydney Miller.

To win both outstanding officer team and outstanding chapter, members must be active in specialty classes, officer classes, team sports, camp activities, have majority of their members earn gold leadership award level and have one member to be a camp council representative.

FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premiere leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Nationally, FFA is comprised of 649,355 members in 7,859 chapters in all 50 states. The Tennessee FFA Association is comprised of 14,084 FFA members in more than 214 high school chapters, seven middle school chapters and eight collegiate chapters. To learn more about FFA, visit

Staff Reports

School board honors student board members

The Wilson County school board recognized its 2016-2017 student school board members Monday as the group gathered for its last official meeting with the school board.

The 2016-2017 student school board members included Preston George with Wilson Central High School, Emma Kate Hall with Lebanon High School, Stella London with Mt. Juliet High School and Macy Harrison with Watertown High School.

The high school representatives report school happenings to the school board monthly and highlight issues that affect their respective schools.

Wright said she took pride in how student board members represented themselves inside and outside of the boardroom and presented themselves in distinct and scholarly fashion.

School board members also bragged on the group.

“You were great and wonderful to be around, and we appreciate you so much,” said board member Larry Inman.

“I spent some time with you guys with student policy, and I’ve learned a lot about what the heartbeat of these high schools are through you guys,” said board member Tom Sottek.

Board members Linda Armistead, Wayne McNeese and Johnie Payton also thanked the students and gave words of encouragement for their future.

“The main thing I want you to think about is whatever you’re going to do the rest of your life, I hope it’s something that everyday when you wake up it’s going to make you happy,” said board member Bill Robinson.

“I really appreciate the positive attitude you brought every month. I appreciate that and the knowledge you shared about what was going on in your school. When we started this program years ago, these were the kind of results we hoped that we would get. I know you all, along with Macy, will be successful in anything you decide to do,” said board chairman Larry Tomlinson.

By Xavier Smith

Wilson ranks high in children’s health, education study

Wilson County ranked higher than the statewide rate for several children’s education, health and economic well-being categories, according to the recently released Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book.

Statewide improvements in health and education placed Tennessee 35th in the nation, and Wilson County ranks higher than most counties in several areas. Overall, Tennessee ranks 26th in heath, 33rd in education, 35th in economic well being and 40th in family and community.

The data book ranks states in measures of child well being across several different categories, including poverty level, school attendance and economic stability. The annual report provides year-to-year data, as well as a five-year overview.

The population of children living in poverty – or living with an income below the official poverty threshold – in Wilson County declined by more than 2 percent from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, 4,193 children were living in poverty, or 14 percent of the child population, and in 2015, 3,582 children were living in poverty, or 11.7 percent.

That percentage marks the second-lowest percentage of children living in poverty in any county in the state, behind only Williamson County, which has a 5.3 percent rate.

Statewide, 355,680 children are living in poverty, or 24.1 percent of the state’s child population.

About 4 percent of children younger 19 years old are uninsured, slightly lower than the 4.2 percent statewide rate.

About 36.5 percent of students enrolled in public schools in Wilson County were measured as either overweight or obese in 2015. The statewide rate was 38.6 percent.

There were a total of 154 substantiated child abuse cases reported in Wilson County in 2015 at a rate of 5.0 per 1,000 children younger than 18. The number is the highest in five years, with 130 cases in 2014, 93 in 2013, 77 cases in 2012 and 90 cases in 2011.

Statewide 8,730 substantiated child abuse cases were reported at a rate of 5.9 per 1,000 children younger than 18.

Wilson County had five child deaths in 2015, at a rate of 20.8 per 100,000, compared to 219 deaths statewide for a rate of 18.9 per 100,000.

Four teenager deaths by accident, homicide or suicide were reported in 2015, at a rate of 47.5 per 100,000, slightly more than the 46.6 per 100,000 rate statewide for 196 total reported teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide.

About 36.9 percent of Wilson County students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, significantly lower than the statewide rate of 59.7 percent.

About 2.5 percent of Wilson County high school students dropped out in 2016, a decline from 2.9 percent in 2015. The statewide rate was 5.6 percent in 2016 and 6 percent in 2015.

Wilson County’s graduation rate of 95.1 percent in 2016 – a slight decline from 95.7 percent in 2015 and 96.3 percent in 2014 – is higher than the statewide rate of 88.5 percent.

“The 2017 Kids Count Data Book reflects substantial progress during the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the state Kids Count affiliate.

“The economic development and business recruitment gains contributed to economic well-being ranking improvements. The educational strategies related to the state’s ‘Drive to 55’ and ‘Tennessee Promise’ have significantly contributed to improved outcomes for children and families, highlighting the importance of a two-generation strategy for the state’s long-term prosperity.”

By Jake Old