Edmonds, Lucas to share their survivor stories

Photo courtesy of M.J. Lucas
Keith Edmonds, founder of the Keith Edmonds Foundation, and M.J. Lucas with WANT FM98.9/WCOR AM1490 share smiles. The duo will appear on the Christian Television Network’s ‘Bridges’ next year to share their child abuse survivor stories and help combat child abuse.

Two Wilson County child abuse awareness advocates will join forces next year to help spread their message and continue the battle against child abuse.

M.J. Lucas, host at WANT FM98.9/WCOR AM1490, will join Keith Edmonds, Keith Edmonds Foundation founder, for a segment on child abuse on the Christian Television Network’s show “Bridges,” with Monica Schmelter.

When Edmonds was 14 months old, an abuser held his face to an electric heater, resulting in third-degree burns and scarring to his face. 

He had numerous surgeries on his face. He endured the abuse and the taunting of schoolmates, and as a result turned to substances and alcohol to cope.

Edmonds said he eventually found Christ and decided to live life as a survivor instead of a victim, and raise awareness of child abuse.

Lucas’ story was first told in an article called Silence No More in 2012 in The Lebanon Democrat, but this year was the first time she told her story in front of an audience during the second Child Abuse Awareness Panel held by the 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center.  

Lucas said a family member abused her from when she was 6 years old until she moved away from home in Florida. 

Edmonds appeared on “Bridges” earlier this year and was asked to re-appear on the show for a segment to air in April for Child Abuse Awareness Month. Edmonds said producers asked him if he knew someone who would also share their story.

“Initially, I thought of M.J. I almost forwarded the email immediately,” said Edmonds, who said he knew Lucas recently started coming forward about her abuse. “She’s also been someone who has been by my side for the last four or five years – ever since I started doing this. It was a no-brainer to reach out to MJ.”

“My goal is to help others heal and to give them hope. It was my faith and hope for something better in my life that helped me through those early years,” Lucas said. “My hope is that by sharing my story, I will make a profound and positive impact on another wounded soul who feels lost and alone. For me, it’s all about awareness and healing.”

Lucas said she learned through her situation that “secrets” and feelings must be expressed and learned there’s power in telling them. Edmonds said he believed Lucas’ situation brings reality to child abuse.

“When we talk about raising awareness, we need to talk about reality. It’s not always some random person walking down the street. It happens in the family dynamic and home environment,” he said.

“I am a true believer that through something bad, something good can happen. I made a promise to myself and to God that I would make a difference with my life and my story,” Lucas said.

By Xavier Smith


Wilson County selects new tourism director

Amy Nichols

Wilson County has tapped Amy Nichols as its new tourism director to fill the position vacated by Jenny Bennett in October.

Nichols most recently worked with the American Cancer Society after eight years with the Walt Disney Co., in roles that included the Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney Event Group and Walt Disney’s Creative Entertainment.

Her experience with Disney ranged from sales, convention services and entertainment production for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and the Disney Cruise Line.

Nichols’ experience in the hospitality and tourism industry began with Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, managing social, corporate and signature events, such as the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks.

She graduated from Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a double concentration in marketing and management.

The Mt. Juliet resident is married to her husband, Jason, and has a daughter, Lucy.

Wilson County human resources director Von Barr received more than 57 applications for the position. The county put together a committee to review applications and conduct interviews.

“They have done an outstanding job, and we appreciate all of their hard work,” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto. “…The committee went through all 57 applications and had a difficult time narrowing them down to two finalists. We appreciate all the interests in the tourism director position. Myself, along with Penny Carroll, interim director, conducted a final round of interviews, and we are excited to name the new tourism director of Wilson County, Amy Nichols.”

Along with Barr, the committee consisted of Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce president Melanie Minter, who also served as the committee’s chairman; Watertown Chamber president Pam Wiggins; Mt. Juliet Chamber president Mark Hinesley; Wilson County Tourism Committee chairman Sue Vanatta; Wilson County hotel representative Connie Bullington; Expo Center marketing director Charity Toombs; and Lebanon economic development director Sarah Haston.

Hutto said Nichols received an official offer Thursday, and she would start work Dec. 21 or earlier, if possible.

“Penny Carroll, [tourism] executive assistant, has been serving as our interim director and doing a fantastic job of not letting the tourism department skip a beat,” Hutto said. “…Again, we thank Penny Carroll for her leadership, and we look forward to this team doing a great job for all of Wilson County.”

Staff Reports

Hypnotist opens business in Mt. Juliet

Gabriel Saunders does not make people cluck like chickens. He says hypnotism works only with the help of the person being hypnotized, so anyone that clucks like a chicken must first want to do it. 

Saunders recently opened Suggestive Lifestyle in Mt. Juliet and works as a consulting hypnotist. He says he can help people with personal development, weight management, smoking cessation and various ailments.

“There’s nothing I do that happens without your help,” Saunders said. “A consulting hypnotist is someone that consults you on a problem and will use hypnotism to try to alleviate or relieve a problem. I’m just a guide into your mind.”

According to the American Psychological Association, most clinicians agree that hypnosis can be a useful therapeutic technique. Though it’s portrayal in the entertainment industry colors it as little more than mind control, the practice today is commonly seen in the field of psychology as just another tool in the doctor’s bag.

“People differ in the degree to which they respond to hypnosis,” reads the APA’s website. “A person’s ability to experience hypnosis can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences.”

The roots of hypnosis trace back to sleep temples in ancient Egypt during the time of Imhotep. Someone with an ailment would visit the sleep temple of Imhotep, do a bit of ritual chanting, maybe take some herbs and go to sleep in the hopes that their dreams would bring them healing. Greeks also adapted sleep temples to their culture, but the practice faded from the pages of history until a man by the name of Franz Anton Mesmer popularized it again in the 18th century.

Mesmer practiced a pseudoscience that used magnets as conductors of the healer’s energy to miraculously cure patients. Many patients flocked to Mesmer in the 1780s for his showmanship, and although most saw him as a fraud by the end of his life, he caused ripples in the field of psychophysiological studies that led to further studies of “animal magnetism” and the practice of mesmerizing patients.

Mesmerists broke off into basically two camps that can still be seen today, those that believe in psychic phenomena and those that merely use the technique for therapy. A man by the name of James Braid changed the name to hypnotism sometime in the 19th century and referred to the processed strictly as a matter of suggestion. In 1959, the American Medical Association officially approved hypnosis as a therapeutic tool.

Saunders found his way into the practice of hypnotism after a 10-minute session helped him quit smoking.

“I smoked cigarettes for 20 years. I went to sleep for 10 minutes, woke up and I’ve never touched them again. No withdrawls. No cravings. It’s like I’ve never done it,” Saunders said.

After this experience, he decided to get training to practice hypnotism in order to share it with others. He went through 100 hours of training, both being hypnotized and practicing hypnotism on others.

He and his wife are both Christians, and he says he doesn’t use hypnotism for exploration of past lives or anything that he can’t prove.   

Saunders said what happens in a session with him is much like meditation but a deeper state of focus.

“You’re mind, the subconscious, is unlimited,” Saunders said. “Every habit we have has a positive intention. Your subconscious knows what you’re supposed to be doing, but no one ever told the younger you that started doing [the bad habit] that it wasn’t right.”

By Sinclaire Sparkman


‘The Voice’ semifinals pairs Chloe Kohanski with Noah Mac


Tyler Golden • NBC
Noah Mac and Chloe Kohanski sing a duet of ‘Wicked Games’ for Monday’s live performance of ‘The Voice’ semifinals.

As NBC’s “The Voice” makes its way toward the final round next week, Mt. Juliet native Chloe Kohanski electrified the audience with a duet performance of “Wicked Games” with Noah Mac, as well as her solo performace of “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Kohanski said the duet performance was meant to be as much of a visual experience as an auditory one. Red lights lit up the stage with Kohanski’s red dress and Mac’s familiar striped shirt as the duo brought cheers from the audience.

“To take what I do and merge it with someone I respect as an artist is just a great opportunity,” Mac said.

For Kohanski’s solo performance, she said she wanted to make her identity as an artist clear.

She said when she started on her journey through “The Voice,” she didn’t even know she was good and wanted to convey that with the Foreigner song.

Her big hair and sparkly black dress conveyed a reminiscence from the time the original song was created.

Four people will be eliminated from the show this week, and the four artists with the most audience votes will move on to the final round next week.

Cast votes for Kohanski by visiting nbc.com/voicevote, use the hastag #ChloeNoahDuet, buy her song or duet on iTunes, stream her song or duet on Apple Music or download and vote through the Voice app.

The results from this week’s voting will air Tuesday at 7 p.m. on NBC, channel 4.

Parades kick off Christmas Season

Mt. Juliet holiday event visits galaxy far, far away

George Page • Mt. Juliet News
Star Wars characters ride in the Christmas parade Saturday in Mt. Juliet. The theme for this year’s parade was ‘Christmas in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.’

Wilson County and surrounding areas showed its Christmas spirit to kick off the holiday season as each city held its annual Christmas parade.

The Mt. Juliet Christmas parade Saturday featured Princess Leah as its grand marshal and the theme “Christmas in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.”

Parade participants showed their enthusiasm for the theme as Princess Leah, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and Stormtrooper costumes covered the ceremonies.

Two Rivers Ford, Daybreak Riding and Girl Scout Troop 670 took home awards for their parade floats.

The annual TDS Mt. Juliet Holiday Half Marathon and 5K run preceded the parade and featured dozens of participants, many covered in Christmas attire and ornaments.

The Watertown Christmas parade continued its traditional route down Main Street on Saturday and showcased plenty of Purple Tiger pride as the Watertown Marching Band set the tone for the parade.

The parade also featured the Watertown youth cheerleaders, Girls Scout Troop 924, Watertown High School athletes and students, local businesses and churches and local and state government representatives.

The Possumtown Christmas parade Sunday continued to celebrate the holiday in the community as several floats highlighted the area’s pride.

The parade also served as an opportunity for the community to help families in need in and around Sneedville in Hancock County, which has the lowest median income per household of any county in Tennessee.

A tractor-trailer was parked in downtown Possumtown across from Friendship Christian School for donations, which will still be accepted until Dec. 19.

The delivery caravan will leave Dec. 20, and deliveries to the families will be made Dec. 21 in cooperation with the Hancock County Rescue Squad.

Items needed this year include non-perishable food, winter coats and sanitary items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, etc.

For more information, or to make a donation, contact Jerry McFarland at 615-330-8474.

The Lebanon Christmas parade returned Dec. 3 with the theme “Christmas Movies Come to Life.” Participants brought their favorite Christmas movies to life.

Float themes included “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Polar Express,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and more.

Country music star and actress Irlene Mandrell served as the Lebanon Christmas parade’s grand marshal.

For a recap of all Wilson County Christmas parades and the Alexandria Christmas parade, including photos and live video coverage, visit lebanondemocrat.com.

Traffic restrictions announced for Saturday’s Mt. Juliet Christmas parade, half marathon, 5K

The Mt. Juliet Christmas parade and Holiday Half Marathon and 5K will have traffic on North Mt. Juliet Road tied up Saturday for most of the midday.

Starting at 10:45 a.m., Mt. Juliet Road will be closed completely to traffic from Charlie Daniels Parkway to West Wilson Middle School in preparation for the day’s events. Mt. Juliet’s residents and visitors should plan ahead and be aware to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

The Mt. Juliet Holiday Half Marathon begins near 10:45 a.m., just after the road closure, followed by the 5K at 10:55 a.m. at West Wilson Middle School. The parade begins at 11 a.m. It is imperative spectators for the parade and races are parked and off Mt. Juliet Road by 10:45 a.m. In the interest of public safety, parking is prohibited on any sidewalk or grassy area adjacent to the sidewalk during the day.

The traffic restrictions for Saturday in Mt. Juliet include:

• Mt. Juliet Road will be closed from Charlie Daniels Parkway to Clearview Drive from 10:45 a.m. until 1 p.m.

• the right northbound lane of North Mt. Juliet Road will be closed from Clearview Drive to Old Mt. Juliet Road behind Valley Center Shopping Center from 10:45 a.m. until 3 p.m.

• the right eastbound lane of Lebanon Road will be closed from North Mt. Juliet Road to Benders Ferry Road from 11 a.m. until noon.

• the southbound lanes of Golden Bear Gateway will be closed from Lebanon Road to Rutland Drive from 11:20 a.m. until 2 p.m.

• the westbound lane of East Division Street will be closed from Rutland Drive to Clemmons Road from 11:40 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

• Old Lebanon Dirt Road will be closed from Old Mt. Juliet Road behind Valley Center Shopping Center to East Division Street from noon until 3 p.m.

“The goal of the Mt. Juliet Police Department is to make sure the safety of motorists, spectators, pedestrians and participants,” said Mt. Juliet police Capt. Tyler Chandler. “If you are attending the parade or races, the police department suggests that you arrive prior to the 10:45 a.m. street closures. This will allow plenty of time to find parking. If you are not attending the parade, you may want to avoid the Mt. Juliet Road corridor to reduce your frustration with the road closure and large volume of traffic.”

Chandler said after the parade, there would be a large amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic along Mt. Juliet Road in the center of town.

“Take your time, and please be considerate,” he said. “Normally, the traffic after the parade will clear out in about 30 minutes. It is estimated that the parade traffic will be clear around 1:30 p.m.”

Staff Reports

Local church sends Christmas gift to all homes, businesses in city

Joy Church plans to send a Christmas gift in December to every household and business in Mt. Juliet.      

Each household will receive a free copy of the book, “Winning With Wisdom,” written by Jim Frease and published by Joy Church.

Frease, the senior pastor at Joy Church, shared why Joy Church sent the book to everyone in the community.

“I recently heard a statistic that more people take their lives during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas than all the other months of the year combined. When I heard that statistic, it really touched my heart,” Frease said. “We did not want anyone to fall through the cracks this Christmas. As a church, we wanted to give this book, ‘Winning With Wisdom,’ to every home and business in Mt. Juliet as a means of showing God’s love during this time.”

“Winning With Wisdom” is a compilation of many of the encouraging life principles taught at Joy Church. The book was printed locally and will be distributed to more than 22,700 Mt. Juliet home and business addresses by the U.S. Postal Service starting this week.

Joy Church International is a nondenominational church at 10085 Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet. Joy Church was founded in Mt. Juliet in 2003 with 18 members and has grown to more than 1,800 in attendance each weekend during three services. Weekend service times are Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. Mid-week services and RealJoy youth ministry services are Wednesdays at 7 p.m. For more information, contact the church office at 615-773-5252 or visit joychurch.net. 

Staff Reports

Encore Theatre to bring humor for the holidays

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
The cast of Encore Theatre Co.’s upcoming production of ‘A Good Old-Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas’ includes (standing, from left) Andrew Smith, Joe Noe, Kailyn McKay, Abbie Phillips, Dee Rogers, (seated, from left) Tony Shannon, Sarah McKay, Lanie Shannon and David Owens.

Encore Theatre Co. will wrap up its 2017 season with “A Good Old-Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas” by Kris Bauske. 

A comedy for the entire family, the play will be directed by James Bealor. The show will run weekends from Dec. 8-17. Friday and Saturday performances will start at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 p.m. The theatre will open 30 minutes before show time.

The story asks the questions, What if the three wise men weren’t really all that wise? What if they were just three ordinary guys, avoiding conflicts at home, who happened upon the greatest story ever told?

Set the entire story in modern-day America, sprinkle in a little redneck humor and it’s “A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.” Bill, Dave and Jimmy have had it with their women. Even though it’s Christmas Eve and tradition dictates they should be home drinking hot cocoa and singing carols, the boys decide to hightail it into the mountains for a little hunting and a lot of beer.

The protest does nothing to improve the mood of the women back in town. Lou runs Lou’s Diner. She and Bill have tried unsuccessfully to have a baby. Barbie Jo, Lou’s head waitress, is married to Dave, and they have children, but Dave’s not interested in family this year. Darlene, the most beautiful girl in three counties, is dating Jimmy, but while she’s ready to settle down, Jimmy can’t stand the idea of “commitment.” It’s going to take a Christmas miracle to get these redneck families back together. Thank God one just came to town.

Tickets are on sale at encore-theatre-company.org or ticketsnashville.com or by calling 615-598-8950. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 60 and older and $10 for children 12 and younger.

Encore Theatre Co. is at 6978 Lebanon Road, just west of Highway 109 in Holmes Crossing in Mt. Juliet.

About to begin its 11th year, Encore Theatre Co. is a nonprofit community theater that serves Wilson County and surrounding areas.

Staff Reports

Wilson Central High School dance team sweeps awards at Smoky Mountain Christmas Championships

Photo courtesy of Maura Ammenheuser
The Wilson Central High School dance team won two titles at the Smoky Mountain Christmas Championships on Saturday at the Sevierville Convention Center. The team includes seniors Anita Baluch, Emily Buckner, Logan Carter, Carly Ebersberger, Marissa Hawks, Aubrie King, Kylie Michael, Emily Molino, Zoe Rahmani, Maddie Spradley; juniors, Erika Cervantes, Taylor Powers, Francesca Rodriquez; sophomores Kathleen Ammenheuser, Ella Burgess, Ashton Hamblen, Madison Hill, Madison Treutel; freshmen Kayla Cox, Riley Gilstrap, Bailey Rollins, Lillia Roning and Mia Stover. The team is coached by Katie Stricklin with Nicole Belsante and Courtney Weeks.

The Wilson Central High School dance team won two titles at the Smoky Mountain Christmas Championships on Saturday at the Sevierville Convention Center.

Competing against other varsity high school dance teams from across the Southeast, the Wildcats won the hip-hop competition and the jazz competition.

“It’s the first time that Wilson Central has ever won both competitions at the Smoky Mountain Christmas Championships,” said Wildcats’ coach Katie Stricklin. “I could not be more proud of these girls.”

The Wildcats, who dance at home high school football and basketball games, also won an award for the best choreography for the varsity hip-hop division.

The Smoky Mountain championships are part of the Universal Dance Association competitions.

There are still two more competitions remaining, JAMfest in Nashville on Feb. 3 and the national JAMFest Dance Super Nationals on Feb. 10-11 in St. Louis.

The team includes seniors Anita Baluch, Emily Buckner, Logan Carter, Carly Ebersberger, Marissa Hawks, Aubrie King, Kylie Michael, Emily Molino, Zoe Rahmani, Maddie Spradley; juniors, Erika Cervantes, Taylor Powers, Francesca Rodriquez; sophomores Kathleen Ammenheuser, Ella Burgess, Ashton Hamblen, Madison Hill, Madison Treutel; freshmen Kayla Cox, Riley Gilstrap, Bailey Rollins, Lillia Roning and Mia Stover.

Stricklin coaches the team with Nicole Belsante and Courtney Weeks.

Staff Reports

Kohanski ranks No. 1 on The Voice iTunes Charts

Mt. Juliet native shares her inspiration on NBC talent show

Photo courtesy of Trae Patton • NBC
Mt. Juliet’s Chloe Kohanski sings ‘Call Me’ by Blondie during the top 10 elimination episode of The Voice on Monday night on NBC. Kohanski called the song her biggest inspiration.

After ranking No. 1 on the iTunes charts last week, Chloe Kohanski sang once again for audience votes to keep her spot on NBC’s “The Voice.” 

Contestants were instructed to choose songs from their biggest inspirations. Kohanski sang “Call Me” by Blondie.

After her live performance, coach Blake Shelton said, “There’s not much left to say after that. I don’t even need to sell it.” 

Originally from Mt. Juliet, Kohanski said she tried out for the show to expand her horizons beyond Nashville.

“I played everywhere pretty much in Nashville like the End and Exit/In and the Basement, the East Room, kind of all over the place, but I never really left Nashville,” Kohanski said.

After she graduated from Donelson Christian Academy in 2012, she spent a year at Cumberland University in Lebanon with a double major in English and music before she dropped out to focus on her music. While playing in a local band, Kohanski worked at Billy Goat coffee shop in Mt. Juliet, Starbucks in Mt. Juliet and Starbucks in Lebanon.

“I just didn’t really want to go to school and just wanted to be able to pursue music. I worked a couple of different jobs, just whatever I could do to pay my bills so I could keep playing music,” Kohanski said.

She said her appearance on The Voice gave her more confidence in her musical ability, and now with the final round of eliminations heating up, she feels like she’s earned her place on country music star Blake Shelton’s team.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Kohanski said. “Blake is really fun and really down to earth and cool. He encourages me to be myself and just really get into my creative process. He’s a true fan of my voice, and that is just really awesome.”

Kohanski’s performance of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler ranked No. 1 on the show’s iTunes charts, and she was America’s top pick to stay on the show during the latest round of eliminations. Shelton even mentioned on the show Monday that Kohanski brings some steep competition.

“Everyone here has their own opinion about who is the frontrunner in this competition,” Shelton said after her performance. “I tell you, Chloe just set the bar.”

As far as life on the show goes, Kohanski said most of her time is taken up by practicing her next song, filming for the next show and recording. 

“I definitely didn’t expect to make it this far in the show. I honestly didn’t expect to make it past the blind auditions,” Kohanski said. “I feel so humbled. I’ve really developed my artistry here.”

She said she feels her biggest competition is herself, and the other competitors she sees as friends on the same journey.

Her favorite moment so far on the show was her performance of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Fans chose the song through tweets to her, and she said worked hard to express her artistic identity.

“I put a lot of time and effort into the visual and the vocals and just every aspect of the performance,” Kohanski said.

As the live performance rounds of The Voice continue, the fate of the competitors rests in the hands of the audience, which means anyone who wants for Kohanski to win should vote for her. Participants can cast up to 10 votes on nbc.com, buy Kohanski’s song on iTunes, stream the song on Apple Music 10 times for one vote and download The Voice app to vote.

Each week, the bottom three competitors Tuesday night have a chance to stay on the show with the Twitter instant save. Singers with the lowest number of votes go home until only one remains to win the grand prize, a record deal.

Watch for Kohanski’s next performance on The Voice on Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on NBC. In Wilson County, the channel is WSMV Channel 4 out of Nashville.

Online voting begins for Zaxby’s Fan of the Year

Voting online at lebanondemocrat.com is off and running for the fifth-annual Zaxby’s Fan of the Year.

Thirteen lucky fans are in the running for the coveted prize after they were selected fans of the week by The Lebanon Democrat staff during high school football games in Wilson County this season.

Voters may pick their favorite fan from Thomas Bryan, of Lebanon; Gibby Gibson, of Mt. Juliet; Barbara and James Manning, of Lebanon; T.J. Hewitt, of Watertown; Ginger Raines, of Mt. Juliet; Toni Taylor, of Lebanon; Charlie Perry, of Mt. Juliet; Connie Head, of Smyrna; Sarah Wyatt, of Lebanon; Angie Richardson, of Mt. Juliet; Steve Cox, of Watertown; Brad Mattingly, of Mt. Juliet; and Carolyn Tomlinson, of Lebanon.

The Zaxby’s Fan of the Year will receive enough food to feed 25 people at a tailgate or party event of his or her choosing.

“This is the perfect opportunity for one of our fans to get outfitted for bowl season or even a Super Bowl party, both of which are right around the corner,” said Lebanon Democrat editor Jared Felkins. “We want give a big thank you to Zaxby’s for teaming up with us to sponsor this opportunity. It has been a great time selecting and showcasing the fans each week in Sports Extra, and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”

In addition, The Democrat will also give away a Zaxby’s chicken finger platter, and all fans have to do is cast a vote. Those who cast a vote for Zaxby’s Fan of the Year through Dec. 15 will be entered into a drawing for the platter, along with a Zaxby’s Fan of the Week T-shirt.

“We didn’t want to let these 13 fans have all the fun, so we opened a portion of the contest up for everyone to get involved,” Felkins said.

Voting online for the Zaxby’s Fan of the Year ends Dec. 15 at noon. Anyone can cast a vote now for their favorite fan at lebanondemocrat.com/fan or visit The Democrat’s homepage and click on the Zaxby’s Fan of the Year alert link at the top of the page.

The Democrat can also be found on Facebook and Twitter @wilsonconews.

Staff Reports

Glade Church continues recovery

Damage from EF-1 tornado causes temporary relocation to school

Mark Bellew • All Hands Fire Photos
An EF-1 tornado ripped the brick off the Glade Church on Nov. 18 in Gladeville.

Some activities at the Glade Church will return to normal this week after a record tornado damaged part of the building earlier this month.

The first tornado in recorded history to hit Wilson County in November struck Gladeville and caused a steeple to fall into the church. The EF-1 tornado also partially damaged Gladeville Elementary School, nearby baseball field and other homes, businesses and structures.

Church members have held worship services and other activities at the elementary school, but some activities will return to the church this week, according to Glade Church Pastor Mark Marshall.

“All parts of the building are safe and secure with the exception of the worship center,” Marshall said in an update to church members Monday.

Marshall said all Wednesday activities would return to normal schedule, and the group would return to Gladeville Elementary School on Sunday for worship service only at 10:30 a.m.

Shuttles will run all morning from the church to the elementary school, according to Marshall.

Last week, more than 100 people, including many Glade Church members, covered Gladeville and helped with cleanup efforts.   

Forecasters said the 100-yard-wide tornado had a path of 10.1 miles with estimated peak winds of 100 mph. No injures were reported.

According to NWS historical data, the tornado was the first to touch down in November since 1950 when forecasters started keeping records.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency director Joey Cooper said there were 1,100 power outages following the tornado, mainly at the Wilson-Rutherford county line. He said at the time three commercial buildings in Wilson County sustained minor damage, and three homes also had minor damage. In addition, several roads were blocked by trees and power lines.

For more updates on the Glade, visit thegladechurch.org/storm-update.

Local nonprofit to take fundraising to new heights

The Keith Edmonds Foundation, well known in Wilson County for its mission to assist and empower victims of child abuse, chose Giving Tuesday to take its fundraising efforts to new heights.

Keith Edmonds, child abuse survivor and director of the foundation, will don a Batman suit and spend the day atop the roof at Active Life Chiropractic on Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet.

Edmonds’ wife, Kelly, came up with the idea after she was advised to raise money, extreme and urgent needs should be made known.

“This will make it fun and get the attention of more people,” she said.

Those who know Edmonds well know he is extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and were surprised he agreed to spend an entire day in late November on a rooftop. 

“We need money to continue our mission,” he said. “I’m willing to do anything for these kids, even if it means being on a roof in a Batman suit.”

Batman will toss breakfast sandwiches down to those who come between 5-8 a.m.  Active Life Chiropractic joined the effort with plans to serve coffee, hot chocolate and a “gift of health,” a free first visit valued at $200 to anyone who makes a donation to the Keith Edmonds Foundation.

Edmonds hopes to raise at least $3,000 by the time he comes back down to earth at 5 p.m.

Giving Tuesday is a day of giving celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. It kicks off the charitable season when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Staff Reports

Community Calendar and The People’s Agenda

Community Calendar

POLICY: Items for the Community Calendar may be submitted via email at editor@lebanondemocrat.com, in person at The Democrat’s office at 402 N. Cumberland St., by mail at The Lebanon Democrat, 402 N. Cumberland St., Lebanon, TN 37087 or via fax at 615-444-0899. Items must be received by 4 p.m. for the next day’s edition. The calendar is a free listing of nonprofit events, community club and government meetings. The Democrat reserves the right to reject or edit material. Notices run on an as space is available basis and cannot be taken over the phone. Include a name and phone number in case of questions.

Nov. 24

Ignite Missions Honduras Christmas Tree Sale

8 a.m.

Ignite Missions Honduras in Mt. Juliet will have its Christmas tree sale beginning Friday, Nov. 24 from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the corner of South Hartmann Drive and Hickory Ridge Road in Lebanon. It will remain open weekdays from 4-8 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. A white tent and signs at the road will direct visitors. A variety of size trees and other types of Christmas decorations will be available. Sam and Peggy Feazel will have coffee, a fire pit going and movies on the side of the tent. For more information, visit ignitemissions.org. Funds from the project will go to the mission in Honduras.

Nov. 25

Lebanon Christmas Tree Lighting

5 p.m.

The annual Lebanon Christmas tree lighting will be Saturday, Nov. 25 on the Lebanon Square. Mayor Bernie Ash will light the tree.

Nov. 28

Hal Parrott Retirement Reception

1:30 p.m.

Hal Parrott with Wilson County Farm Bureau recently announced his retirement after 30 years of service. A reception for Parrott will be Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 1:30-4 p.m. at the Wilson County Expo Center in the south hall meeting room A. Parrott’s replacement, Ryan Ingram, will also be on hand for greetings.

Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber Renewal Holiday Social

5:30 p.m.

The Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce will hold its Renewal Holiday Social on Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Baird Chapel on the Cumberland University campus. It will feature adult beverages and holiday hors d’oeuvres. Those who plan to attend should RSVP to tonya@lebanonwilsonchamber.com by Nov. 21.

Nov. 30

Lebanon Democrat state Senate special election forum

6 p.m.

The Lebanon Democrat will hold a political forum for voters to hear from candidates in the District 17 state Senate special election Thursday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. in the Bill and June Heydel Fine Arts Center at Cumberland University. The forum will provide the only chance for voters to see both candidates vying for the District 17 state Senate seat in the same room answering questions and discussing issues. Wilson County attorney Mary Alice Carfi is the Democrat candidate, and Mark Pody, an insurance agency owner and current state representative, is the Republican candidate. The forum will be free and open to the public.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre presents “Metamorphoses”

7 p.m.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre will present the play, “Metamorphoses,” on Thursday, Nov. 30 and Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Wilson Central High School’s auditorium. Early-bird tickets for $5 each will be available through Sunday, Nov. 19 at rayke5.wixsite.com/wildcattheatre/metamorphoses. Tickets after that will be $10 for students and $15 for adults.

Dec. 1

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre presents “Metamorphoses”

7 p.m.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre will present the play, “Metamorphoses,” on Friday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Wilson Central High School’s auditorium. Early-bird tickets for $5 each will be available through Sunday, Nov. 19 at rayke5.wixsite.com/wildcattheatre/metamorphoses. Tickets after that will be $10 for students and $15 for adults.

Dec. 2

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre presents “Metamorphoses”

2:30 p.m.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre will present the play, “Metamorphoses,” on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Wilson Central High School’s auditorium. Early-bird tickets for $5 each will be available through Sunday, Nov. 19 at rayke5.wixsite.com/wildcattheatre/metamorphoses. Tickets after that will be $10 for students and $15 for adults.

Historic Places Tour

5 p.m.

The 10th annual Historic Places Tour will be Saturday, Dec. 2 from 5-8:30 p.m. throughout Lebanon. The tour is self-guided, and participants may start at any of the sites. For convenience, locations will be listed on the back of advance tickets and at historiclebanon.com. Tour tickets are $10 in advance, available at the Historic Lebanon office at 324 W. Main St. or the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce office at 149 Public Square in Lebanon. Tickets will be available the night of the tour for $12 at 104 E. Main St. and any at of the tour locations.

Dec. 3

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre presents “Metamorphoses”

2:30 p.m.

Wilson Central Wildcat Theatre will present the play, “Metamorphoses,” on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Wilson Central High School’s auditorium. Early-bird tickets for $5 each will be available through Sunday, Nov. 19 at rayke5.wixsite.com/wildcattheatre/metamorphoses. Tickets after that will be $10 for students and $15 for adults.

Dec. 4

Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1004 meeting

5 p.m.

Chapter 1004 of the Vietnam Veterans of America will meet Monday, Dec. 4 and the first Monday of each month in the Veterans Building at the James E. Ward Agriculture Center in Lebanon. Meetings start at 5 with several members showing up early. All Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans are urged to attend. Membership will be discussed on request. Associate members will serve food. Call Doc Kraft at 615 477-8088 for more information.

The People’s Agenda

POLICY: Items for the Government Calendar may be submitted via email at editor@lebanondemocrat.com, in person at The Democrat’s office at 402 N. Cumberland St., by mail at The Lebanon Democrat, 402 N. Cumberland St., Lebanon, TN 37087 or via fax at 615-444-0899. Items must be received by 4 p.m. for the next day’s edition. The calendar is a free listing of government meetings and government-related events. The Democrat reserves the right to reject or edit material. Notices run on an as space is available basis and cannot be taken over the phone. Include a name and phone number in case of questions.

Nov. 27

Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting

6:30 p.m.

The Mt. Juliet City Commission will meet Monday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall at 2425 N. Mt. Juliet Road. A public hearing will be at 6:15 p.m.

Nov. 28

Wilson County Industrial Development Bond Board

4 p.m.

The Wilson County Industrial Development Bond Board will meet Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. at the Joint Economic and Community Development Board office at 200 Aviation Way, Suite 202, in Lebanon.

Wilson County Ag Management Committee meeting

5 p.m.

The Wilson County Ag Management Committee will meet Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 5 p.m. in the Gentry Building at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon.

Staff Reports

Simpson turns love of reading into volunteer opportunity

Editor’s Note: The following is one in a series of stories highlighting past Wilson County Governor’s Stars Awards nominees. The deadline to nominate volunteers for this year’s class is Dec. 15. To nominate a youth or adult volunteer, visit lebanondemocrat.com/gvsa.

Mt. Juliet News File Photo
The 2015 Wilson County Governor’s Volunteer Stars state adult nominee Peggy Simpson is pictured with Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.

Peggy Simpson has volunteered with Wilson Books from Birth for as long as it’s been around in Wilson County.

The program started in July 2005 in Wilson County when the Dolly Parton Imagination Library was replicated as Wilson Books from Birth.

“I grew up a block from the library and rode my bicycle there almost every day to check out the books,” said Simpson, who serves as the director of Wilson Books from Birth. “I have always loved reading. Reading is a passion. As an adult, I can see the value of reading. It is a lifetime skill. Everything we do depends on reading.”

Wilson Books from Birth sends free, high-quality, age-appropriate books to children whose parents sign up for the service each month from birth until they reach 5 years old.

“I saw it as opportunity to get books in the home, encourage parents to read with their children and instill a love of reading in children at an early age,” Simpson said.

And because of her volunteerism, Simpson was nominated as a 2015 Wilson County Governor’s Volunteer Star and went on to represent the county at the state awards.

“I was honored to be nominated,” she said. “But, I saw the nomination as recognition of all the volunteers who help with the Imagination Library program in our community.”

Wilson County is currently accepting nominations for the 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Star Awards, and there’s an easy way to nominate a worthy local volunteer.

The annual award recognizes “outstanding volunteers from each of Tennessee’s 95 counties,” according to the Volunteer Tennessee website.

“We know the value of calling attention to someone’s service and sacrifice; the military does this extremely well, but even in the military, someone has to submit the proper paperwork in order to recognize that special someone,” said Wilson County committee member John McMillin. “Honestly, nominating someone for outstanding volunteer service isn’t a lot of work to reward someone’s dedication, hard work and creativity.”

Nominations for youth and adults may be made. Nominations for Wilson County honorees will be accepted through Dec. 15. At that time, a committee will go through the nominees and select one youth and one adult to send on to the state level, but all of the nominees will be honored locally.

“The deadline to get them in to the state is Dec. 30,” McMillin said.

McMillin, who is executive director of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland, said, “from my standpoint I’m thankful for a volunteer no matter what level.

“I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with volunteers in this county who are simply amazing. I’m happy to be working with the county mayor and our local Volunteer Stars award committee to search these people out and be able to give some recognition where it is truly deserved.”

Anyone can nominate someone for a Governor’s Volunteer Star Award. Nomination forms may be picked up and dropped off at various sites, including the United Way office, the county mayor’s office, the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce office, the Watertown Public Library and at The Lebanon Democrat office. Again this year, nominations may be made online at lebanondemocrat.com/gvsa.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to nominate volunteers for this deserving honor in Wilson County,” McMillin said.

The Wilson County awards ceremony will be in January where all of the local nominees will be honored.

Participating counties, including Wilson, will name one outstanding youth and one outstanding adult volunteer. Those named a 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Star will gather in Franklin in February to be honored and celebrate volunteerism in Tennessee.

Staff Reports

Empower Me receives another big donation


Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Empower Me executive director Michelle Hill is pictured with Debbie Melvin, of Mt. Juliet.

Empower Me recently announced another donation from a Dream Launcher, a person or business that has contributed $100,000 or more to help Empower Me’s effort to build the Empower Me Center on South Hartmann Drive.

Empower Me received the $100,000 gift from Debbie Melvin, of Mt. Juliet.

“We are so grateful to Debbie and her family for this incredible gift. She is a true angel who has blessed our organization with her generosity,” said Empower Me executive director Michelle Hill. “She has not only made this generous donation, but her company, Re-Max Exceptional Properties, is the event sponsor for the sold-out Friday’s Dice and Dreams Singer Songwriters Round and Casino Night and has also sponsored other fundraising events for our organization.”

“When I visited Empower Me Day Camp and met Michelle Hill for the first time, my life changed. I knew right then I had to do my part and somehow help to make a difference. We visited at the end of the day when the parents were picking up their children, and everyone was so happy,” Melvin said.

“I remember thinking, it’s as much about giving the parents a few hours of time for themselves to do whatever they need or want to do, as it is about these precious children laughing, playing, forming bonds and having fun. Thank God there are people like Michelle Hill and this awesome new facility for Empower Me that will, for sure, change many lives. I am so honored to get to be a part of this wonderful organization. My prayer is that the Empower Me Center is blessed with the donations that they need to make this a state-of-the-art facility for these children to grow and develop.”

“We cannot thank Debbie enough for her contribution and for being a conduit to making the dreams of our participating individuals with disabilities and their families come true,” Hill said.

Empower Me has raised more than $2 million through cash contributions and in-kind gifts toward phase one of its campaign. It recently paid cash and bought 25.45 acres of land on South Hartmann Drive. Phase one includes the land purchase, building two cottages to operate programs and building a splash pad and adaptive playground.

Empower Me currently seeks people who might be able to help with sewer access to the property and perform necessary site work. Mandatory state and local approvals for sewer can take up to six months.

Empower Me’s goal is to hold its annual Fall Sports Festival on the property in 2018 as its first official year-round event.

The Empower Me Center will eventually consist of a community recreational building, a recreational sports complex and independent living cottages, all geared to meet the unique needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities. The building will allow Empower Me to increase their enrollment fourfold during the summer, have year-round recreational programs for adults and offer education classes and courses to health care and education professionals, as well as individuals in the community.

The recreational sports complex will consist of a splash pad, playground, Miracle League Baseball Field, soccer fields, the Garden of Dreams with outdoor musical instruments and an outdoor covered sports court. Year-round recreational sport leagues will be offered.

There will also be 16 cottages for independent living once the main building is built.

For more information about Empower Me, or how to get involved, visit empowermecenter.com.

Empower Me also seeks individuals to serve on committees in 2018.

Staff Reports

Work to begin on Central Pike interstate access

Mt. Juliet will begin work to create an Interstate 40 exit at Central Pike just west of the Mt. Juliet Road interchange after the Federal Highway Administration approved the request.

Andy Barlow, Mt. Juliet deputy public works director, said the Federal Highway Administration approved the city’s request for the I-40 exit, which begins the potentially 10-year process of making the access a reality.

“It’s going to be a long process. It’s a first step, but if you don’t have that approval, it’s dead, and you don’t get the project,” Barlow said.

Barlow said the city received approval for the project in the early 2000s, but was also focused on the Beckwith Road interchange project. Barlow said the administration’s project acceptance was good for seven years, which required the city to resubmit the project for approval.

The project was also included in the IMPROVE Act, which is expected to bring in $278 million for 962 Tennessee Department of Transportation projects currently on backlog. Ten Wilson County projects are included in the IMPROVE Act.

“I’m very excited. There were a lot of people who were against the IMPROVE Act, and it’s great to see it already working for the county,” Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, said.

Barlow said the approval starts the now-eight year clock to start the project. He said the construction of the interchange would take 18-24 months, which would follow 18-24 months of environmental work and 18-24 months of right-of-way acquisitions.

“If you add these things up, you can see how months turn into years,” Barlow said. “I would say it could be completed in five years if miracles happen, but 10 years is more realisitic.”

Barlow said he believes improvements to Central Pike could accompany or come as a result of the interchange, which could boost development of all types in the area. He said he believes the interchange’s close proximity to Providence Marketplace could boost the area’s development quicker than the Beckwith Road area.

Barlow said the city would meet with Tennessee Department of Transportation staff in the next few months to create a plan for the project.

By Xavier Smith


Gladeville Elementary School battles bullying in special way

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
This screenshot from a video created by students at Gladeville Elementary School shows a girl’s classmates standing up for her after another student knocks her books to the ground. Find the full video at lebanondemocrat.com.

Gladeville Elementary School staff took an opportunity several years ago to focus on anti-bullying and character-building initiatives, which one teacher said has changed the culture in the school and community.

“When you reduce bullying and kids feel safe at school, it boosts their confidence and allows them to focus on learning, which allows them and the school to flourish,” said Gladeville fifth-grade teacher Debbie Yankura.

Yankura spearheaded the school’s latest anti-bullying video, “Invisible,” which uses Hunter Hayes’ song of the same name and shows last year’s fifth graders doing several acts of kindness to students who were bullied or mistreated.

The video was the third the school produced in as many years and aligns with its school-wide bullying prevention program.

Yankura said the program was introduced four years ago and involved a team of teachers who attended a training seminar about bullying and decided to use the lessons learned at Gladeville.

“We’re lucky because we didn’t really have a bad problem to begin with at Gladeville, but it has made such a difference in the school,” Yankura said.

The annual videos feature fifth graders – about 95 last year – for an important reason.

“We really try to boost them up and make them the leaders of the school. When the younger kids see them, it empowers them and lets them know they’re not alone in how they might be feeling. It has changed the culture in our school,” Yankura said.

Yankura said it’s not uncommon for students to make a strong effort to make everyone feel welcome and accepted at the school. She said the school has adopted a “no team member left behind” approach.

“You hear so much about bullying on the news, and it’s unfortunate. Any time you have a group of people in a setting, there’s a potential for conflict. Our goal is to teach kids how to deal with conflict appropriately so it doesn’t grow into something negative like bullying,” Yankura said.

She said funding for the videos comes from sponsors and are done yearly when enough money is collected.

She said the school has recently became closer through its “Choose Kind” initiative, sparked by the bestselling book, “Wonder,” written by Raquel Jaramillo and tells the story of a 10-year-old boy born with distorted facial features.

The book was adapted into a film of the same name, which was released in theaters this week.

“Every class is reading the book,” said Yankura, who said the wave has students scrambling to avoid spoilers and catch up to their peers. “Every morning, [Gladeville principal Monica Fox] reads a quote from the book. It’s been amazing.”

Gladeville was recognized as a Reward School for the past two years, which Yankura said might not be a coincidence.

“I really believe it has a lot to do with kids coming to school and feeling safe. It frees them up to learn and allows them to focus on that. It’s been great.”

By Xavier Smith


Award-winning soccer coach from England starts Mt. Juliet Soccer Club

James Picken

It’s no secret the sport of soccer is starting to grow in Middle Tennessee.

With the recent announcement of a professional soccer club potentially coming to Nashville, as well as the record-breaking attendance Nashville saw when it held a European professional game, it seems Middle Tennesseans are more interested in the sport than previously thought.

Now, Mt. Juliet will be getting a soccer club coached by an award-winning soccer coach from England.

Scottish-born James Picken followed his son, Daniel, to Wilson County from England when Daniel signed to play for the soccer team at Cumberland University.

Picken had coached his son ever since Daniel first started playing soccer at 6 years old. Now he wants to use his experience as a coach to benefit and grow the local soccer community.

“I’ve always wanted to develop players and play the right way,” said Picken. “We want to teach them how to play positions, how to pass the ball, how to defend and give them a broader outlook than everyone chases a ball.”

In England, Picken coached two youth teams to their league championships, the Rebel Wanderers and the Ladybridge Lions. The Wanderers won their league, and the Lions finished runner-up.

Picken himself won coach of the year in 2011-2012 for leading the Lions to the championship game.

With Mt. Juliet Soccer Club, Picken wants to start with children 3-5 years old and teach them fundamentals first. Eventually, he plans to work with older players, as well.

“I think they can retain it,” said Picken. “They’ll remember as a little kid, you know you remember stuff from when you were a kid, so if we get them into the positions, we can go forward.”

According to Picken, he would eventually like to get a league for children going in Mt. Juliet on Saturdays. He said if there isn’t already a league, he may try to start one.

“I would like indoor and outdoor facilities in Mt. Juliet and incorporate Lebanon and the local area, but that’s looking toward the future,” said Picken. “I’d like [local] players to go play for the United States and to Europe and play in Europe, because I’ve got the experience. I know what it’s like.”

The club won’t have tryouts, rather they will do free trials for young children to see how they like it.

“People sign up for these things and the kids don’t like it,” said Picken. “We want to really make it enthusiastic and enjoyable for them. It also lets me know what to adapt, because I need to adapt a little bit to the American children, because I’ve never coached them.”

The free trials began Saturday at 4 p.m. at Charlie Daniels Park in Mt. Juliet and will continue at the same time every week until Christmas.

Picken emphasized even in the trial sessions, he will teach the children the fundamentals of the sport.

“When people are playing soccer sometimes, they’re coached just to kick the ball away,” said Picken. “We would not coach that. We keep possession of the ball. It’s like playing basketball and throwing it to the opposition. What would happen? Would you win any games?”

For more information on the Mt. Juliet Soccer Club or the free trials at Charlie Daniels Park in Mt. Juliet, call Picken at 615-603-0785.

By Jacob Smith


Jury finds Shepard guilty

Former Wilson Central softball coach to be sentenced in January

Angie Mayes • Mt. Juliet News
Defense attorney Adam Parrish makes closing remarks in the Michael Shepard trial Friday.

The jury in the Michael Shepard case deliberated and hour and a half Friday morning before it returned a guilty verdict on both counts of statutory rape by an authority figure.

Shepard, who was 36 at the time of the two incidents, had sex with a 16-year-old Wilson Central High School student. Shepard was the softball coach at the school, and the victim was one of the players.

Two days of testimony from the victim, her parents, law enforcement and a teammate, proved the district attorney’s case that Shepard was still an authority figure over the victim, even though he was not actively coaching her when the incidents took place, which was the defense Shepard’s attorney used.

Shepard and the victim had sex two times at a boat ramp off Highway 109, she said on the stand. He did not force her, and she did not protest, Assistant District Attorney Tom Swink said, which meant he did not “rape” her.

However, state law defines statutory rape by and authority figure as sexual intercourse of a child between 13-17 years old by someone more than four years older than the victim. Since she was 16 and Shepard was 20 years older, that fact fit into the law, Swink said.

Adam Parrish, Shepard’s attorney, argued because the school year was over and she was not his student or her coach at the time of the incidents, nor did the incidents happen on school grounds or at a school event, he wasn’t an authority figure over her.

Defense witness Kayla Varner, who referred to Shepard as “coach” throughout her testimony, said she still calls him coach because he is an authority figure and is like a father figure to her.

In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Justin Harris said the relationship, which was admitted by the defendant, was an “unlawful sexual relationship,” and Shepard was an authority figure. That proof is because he is in a “position of trust, occupational or legal status,” according to Harris.

“He is her coach,” Harris said. “He has a duty to protect and train her, to take care of her. She viewed him as her coach. Who initiated the messages and the sex? We’ve heard Shepard was a Christian, that he was an authority figure and was a good guy. She looked up to him. “

Harris then pointed to a text from Shepard, which read in part, “I’ll never push you away…I worry about how close we are…if this is healthy or unhealthy…I love you to death and will do anything to protect you.”

Harris then referred to other positions when he said, “a preacher is not just a preacher on Sunday. He is a preacher all week. Mr. Shepard is a coach all year. She wants to make him happy and be the best that she can be. He made it illegal.”

Parrish argued the jury had heard some emotional testimony and they were probably emotional about the situation. However, he said, “you need to look at the facts. I pray that you have feelings, but you must not let your heart make the decision. Let logic make it.  Was it illegal? Absolutely. But he wasn’t in a power of trust or authority at the time.”
He alluded male students rarely complain when they have sex with female teachers.

“Why is that?” Parris asked. “This case is no difference. The actions of [the victim] are what this is about. I’m not saying she’s a bad girl or anything. The occasion is wrong, but that is not why we’re here. I’m not here to attack a great kid, a very mature kid.”

Swink then offered a lesser inclusion of aggravated statutory rape for the jury to consider. But the jury ignored it. Instead, they agreed on the top two counts of statutory rape by an authority figure.

After the verdict, Swink said, “justice was done for this victim for this family.”

The family was relieved after the verdict.

“We’re very pleased with the district attorney’s case and the way he represented us,” said the victim’s father.

Parrish was not available for comment after the verdict was read.

Shepard will be sentenced Jan. 19 at 1 p.m. in Wilson County criminal court Judge Brody Kane’s courtroom.

By Angie Mayes

Special to The Democrat