Horns claim Co-Championship

Johnson County becomes known as “title town” with historic league win.

Anchored by program head coach Austin Atwood, and on the heels of a recent victory that led them to a co-conference championship title, members of the Johnson County High School basketball team gather for a photo during practice earlier this week in Mountain City, TN. Ready for the next level the Longhorns are well aware of the need to step up their game on their quest to the coveted state title. Photo By Tamas Mondovics

By Tim Chambers

KINGSPORT—Johnson County had a share of the Three Rivers Conference championship at the tip of their fingers, and Michael Oxentine made sure it didn’t elude them. Oxentine tipped in a missed shot as time expired giving the Longhorns a come-from-behind 46-44 win over Sullivan South on Friday night inside the Rebels Gym.
It was the final regular season game for both teams with the District Tournament set to begin on Wednesday. Elizabethton had defeated Sullivan Central 46-35 earlier in the evening, so the Horns were in a must-win situation.
It was a tournament type atmosphere inside of South’s Gymnasium with the Rebels student section out in full force and a large gathering of Longhorn fans on the opposite side.

Comments from the winning and
losing coaches
Fans got the witness Johnson County’s 19th consecutive victory which earned them the No. 1 seed in next week’s District 1-AA tournament to be played at Happy Valley High School.
JCHS’ head coach Austin Atwood had already turned his sights toward Sunday’s practice and vowed they would correct things inside the jubilant Longhorns’ locker room. He wasn’t happy with his team’s play nor did he sugarcoat it either.
“We battled for a few minutes there at the end, but I didn’t think we deserved to win,” said Atwood. “We barely played well enough to win, but it’s not good enough to win championships. I thought their coach Michael McMeans had them ready to play; I thought they hurt us with the zone. We couldn’t get anything out of transition on either end, and we didn’t play up to par but give South credit for that. Oxentine made a big play for us at the end, and our kids did a good job of getting on the board. It’s odd that they killed us on the offensive boards late in the game and we get three or four shots off of rebounds at the end to win it. Our kids have worked hard, and they’re very deserving of sharing the league championship with Elizabethton. We have to play better in the tournament. We’ll get it corrected before Saturday.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for South who dropped their fourth consecutive game. McMeans agreed that this one hurt.
“I hate it for our seniors because they played so hard. It’s a tough loss to swallow, but they’re the top team for a reason. We were one play away from knocking them off.”

Dead even first half and quiet third quarter
The Longhorns (11-1, 25-4) were tied 22-22 at halftime after trailing 7-6 after one.
Blake Atwood did his part to keep them in the game scoring 12 first-half points offsetting the dozen tallied by South’s Ben Diamond.
Fans got lulled to sleep in the third quarter as South’s defense sagged into a zone and Johnson County elected to put the ball in the deep freeze with a 27-25 advantage.
Gavin Reece stood near the midcourt line and held the basketball for over four minutes with very little exchange. The Horns missed a shot late in the frame and South would seize the momentum moments later.

Rebels rally to take the lead
The tide quickly turned in South’s favor as the Rebels went on an 11-2 run to start the fourth quarter and led 36-29 with 3:54 remaining.
Reece kept Johnson County in the hunt with a pair of clutch treys including one that cut the deficit to 38-37 at the 2:38 mark.
South hurt the Horns on the offensive glass as Chase Bowery’s three-point play off a missed shot put the Rebels back up 43-39.
Reece continued his clutch play by draining a second three-ball that got the Horns back within one ay 43-42 with1:25 left in the game.
“I kept looking at the clock because they were giving me the open look,” said Reece “They were doubling up on Blake, so I needed to go ahead and take it. I felt confident shooting in that situation. Everybody picked us to finish near the bottom in the preseason, so we want to prove them wrong. Our team plays with a lot of confidence just like we did at the end.”

Horns finally take the lead
They finally moved in front on Atwood’s 15-foot jumper with 35 seconds remaining at 44-43.
South pulled even after Bowery hit 1-of-2 from the foul line with 11 showing on the clock. That set the stage up for Oxentine’s heroics.
The Longhorns quickly got the ball up court and got off a shot and two put-back attempts. The third one by Oxentine proved to be a charm.
“I had to redeem myself because Bowery was going crazy rebounding on the offensive glass,” said Oxentine. “I saw the ball come off the goal and I grabbed it and put it back up quickly. I knew this was my chance and I also knew that there was just a few seconds left. I was a fitting way for us to win.”
Leading scorers
Atwood who was selected as one of the three Mr. Basketball Finalist for Class AA led the Longhorns with 24 points including 9-of-9 from the foul line. He said one of their goals was to win the league.
“This was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” said Atwood. “But South made it tough on us. We had trouble keeping Bowery off the boards, and we also had Zack Eller foul out. It’s been a battle all year. We’re happy to win a share of the conference championship and happy to keep our winning streak alive.”
Reece had a big night with nine points and three steals. Oxentine provided seven points and led the team in rebounding with eight. Troy Arnold grabbed six boards. Eller contributed three assists and three steals before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.
The Longhorns were 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. (South (19-11, 5-7) was led by Diamond’s 17 points)
Bowery added 12 points and ten rebounds. The Rebels were 10-of-18 on free throws, which proved to be the difference.
“I was really impressed with Bowery and the way he attacked the glass,” Atwood said. “He had several big rebounds for them late and a couple of three-point plays. The bottom line is we made just enough plays at the end to win. What we did so far don’t matter after tonight. Everybody is 0-0 going into the tournament. We have to play well from here on out.”

Sportsmanship at its finest
The game began with South allowing Johnson County to score an uncontested layup. In return, their team manager David Hartgrove was given a shot to score, and he did so with the crowd on their feet. Hartgrove banked one in off the glass for two points then left the game to a standing ovation from both the Rebel and Longhorn fans.

Johnson County 46, Sullivan South 44

Atwood 24, Reece 9, Phillips 4, Arnold 2, Eller 0, Oxentine 7.

Diamond 17, Bowery 12, Layne 6, Johnson 5, Lay 2, Hartgrove 2

Johnson Co. 6 16 5 19 — 46
Sullivan South 7 15 3 19 — 44
3-point goals—JC 4 (Reece 3, Atwood 1) SS 2 (Diamond 1, Johnson 1)

Liquor store ordinance draft under review

By Jill Penley

The Mountain City Town Council plans to review a package store ordinance draft during a special called work session Feb 26.
City Attorney George Wright delivered a draft of an alcoholic beverage ordinance to City Recorder Sheila Shaw last week for the council’s consideration.
“The city council needs to establish a regulatory structure for the new ordinance,” explained Attorney Wright, “ensuring it is compliant with a state law that stipulates reasonable access to package stores.”
Items contained within the proposed ordinance include liquor store licensing, fees, store locations, store size, signage, record keeping, enforcement, and penalties.
The liquor store referendum passed on Nov. 6, with 3,183 or 54.27 percent of the votes cast in support of the referendum and 2,628 or 45.21 percent of the votes cast in opposition.
Highlights of the proposed liquor store ordinance include:
• “No establishment selling alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises shall be located within three hundred (300) feet of any active school or active church. The distances provided for herein shall be measured in a straight line by beginning at the front door of the business location and going from that point to the front door of any active church house or active school.”
• “All retail package stores will be located on the ground floor of the premises. Each package store will have one (1) main entrance unless the store is located on the corner of two (2) streets, in which instance such store may maintain a door opening on each such street. Additionally, all retail package stores shall be of a permanent type of construction. No package store shall be located in a prefabricated/movable manner of building. All retail package stores will be equipped with lights surrounding the premises and a functioning burglar alarm system. Full and unobstructed vision shall be afforded to and from any public streets to the package store, and, to the maximum practicable extent, to the sides of the building containing the package store. The retail package store shall be a minimum of twelve-hundred (1,200) square feet. Finally, all retail package stores shall be subject to applicable zoning, land use, building and safety regulations by the Town of Mountain City.“
• “No radios, television sets, arcade/pinball machines or other such devices
which cause people to congregate or loiter shall be prohibited in a retail package store. In a retail package store, seating shall only be provided for employees. This section does not preclude the owner or employees from having a television set or a radio solely for their use, which is located out of the public view.”
• “It shall be unlawful for any person to drink any alcoholic beverages or physically and openly possess, display, exhibit, or show
an unsealed bottle containing any alcoholic beverage in
the parking area of any drive-in restaurant, shopping center, or parking area of any business premises, or on any public street or sidewalk, or in any public park, playground, theater, stadium, school, or school ground within the corporate limits of the Town of Mountain City, title 8, alcoholic beverages section, or a person, has been issued a permit by the State of Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.”

Ballad Health has no big plans for Mountain City facility

Johnson County Community Hospital formerly owned and operated by Mountain State Health Care is now with Ballad Health.
Photo by Bethany Anderson

By Bethany Anderson and Tamas Mondovics

“Rural hospitals are finding it difficult to stay open lately,” said Johnson County Community Hospital spokesperson Chastity Trivette while addressing the topic of the facility’s current status in Mountain City.
Trivette emphasized that Ballad Health is making it possible for hospitals located in rural communities to stay open adding, “Johnson County Community Hospital has a vital role in our community.”
According to the Tennessee Citizen Action (TCA) in Nashville, Tennessee has lost 11 hospitals since 2010 and leads the nation in the rate of rural hospital closures.
Hospital closures prompt residents to call on lawmakers to come up with a solution.
TCA commented, “the closure of a rural hospital means that life-saving emergency care is farther away. And when a community loses its rural hospital, the impact is not just on health. Health care professionals are forced to look for jobs elsewhere, and it’s harder to recruit new industry.”
And what of Mountain City? The topic is by no means mundane as there have been many recent changes around town. The addition of several new businesses opening, older businesses closing, and others moving location, are hard to miss.


“There are plans to offer new services, including a Wound Care Clinic, Pulmonary Rehab and Home Sleep Studies.
Community Hospital spokesperson,” Chastity Trivette


One of those more noticeable changes that affected local healthcare has been the transition of Johnson County Community Hospital from being owned and operated by Mountain States Health Care to Ballad Health.
According to Trivette, there has been no loss of jobs, but also no creation of any new jobs at the hospital or plans to do so. There are also no plans to purchase any new equipment with the exception of an as-needed basis, which reasonably deserves some further dialog.
“We run a pretty tight ship,” Trivette said.
On the upside, while there are no plans to expand the hospital physically, there are plans to offer new services and according to Trivette, include a Wound Care Clinic, Pulmonary Rehab, as well as Home Sleep Studies. She also wanted to make clear that “there would be no change to the existing services though.”
When asked about the limited availability of medical tests such as MRI only being offered on Wednesday thanks to a mobile unit, Trivette replied, “We don’t have an orthopedic specialist or a neurologist on staff here, so, unfortunately, we are unable to provide those services daily.”
As for the rest of the state, many, including members of such organizations as
the Citizens of Tennessee
are looking to legislators, asking for community support and counting on lawmakers to come up with a plan to ensure that all Tennesseans in rural areas have access to the health care they need.
For more information on Johnson County
Community Hospital or
Ballad Health, please visit www.balladhealth.org/hospitals/johnson-county-

Tenn celebrates Governor’s Volunteer Stars

Howard and Flo

By Tamas Mondovics

The Eleventh Annual Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards ceremony was held last Sunday honoring volunteers from 61 counties at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs in Franklin.
Each year, 1.6 million Tennessee volunteers give more than 137 million hours of service, contributing the equivalent of $3.3 billion to Tennessee’s economy.
“They are the backbone of our great state, and by giving of their time and talents to fulfill needs that would otherwise go unmet, they truly embody the spirit of giving,” said Volunteer Tennessee Executive Director, Jim Snell.
According to Volunteer Tennessee officials, the awards will celebrate the efforts of 108 volunteers statewide who have strived to improve their communities through service.
One youth and one adult volunteer were selected from participating counties to receive this prestigious award among them, Flo Bellamy and Chase R. McGlamery
Miss Tennessee 2018, Christine Williamson, presented the awards, while NewsChannel5 weekend anchor, Jennifer Kraus, served as emcee. Tennessee 4-H sponsors the individual awards.
“Throughout her life, Flo has been an active member and served with First United Methodist Church, the American Cancer Society, the United Way of Johnson County, Mountain City Parks and Recreation, the Beta Theta Club of Johnson County and Johnson County 4-H,” the Volunteer Tennessee stated in a release. Flo established the Johnson County Cancer Support Group and had collaborated with Roan Creek Baptist Church to provide medical equipment to those in need. Flo also started an after-school program for at-risk youth through the Mountain City Community Center. Now known as LEAPS, the program focuses on helping youth develop accountability and responsibility. The center serves approximately 50 youth per day, providing meals and educational programming to participants at no cost. Flo’s commitment to helping others is an inspiration to many, and when she sees a need in the community, she will find a way to help.”
As for the youth Youth Honoree, the Volunteer Tennessee sated in a release, “Chase, a 2018 graduate of Johnson County High School, is most noted for his contributions to his school and community through his involvement with both the student council and as a member of the Heritage Hall board. While serving at Heritage Hall, Mountain City’s fine arts venue, Chase learned valuable skills working with sound, lights and as webmaster for their online webpage, integrating ticket sales in their online platform. These skills led Chase to the creation of Teachers Got Talent a fundraising event to benefit the local United Way. Chase planned, organized, and directed the event, and also recruited volunteers. Chase’s innovative thinking and initiative greatly benefit Johnson County.”
The Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards also includes business and non-profit categories. Advance Financial sponsored the business awards.
Volunteer Tennessee coordinates the Governor’s Volunteer Stars Awards at the state level. Volunteer Tennessee is the 25 member, a bipartisan citizen board appointed by the Governor to oversee AmeriCorps and service-learning programs and to advance volunteerism and citizen service to solve community problems in the Volunteer State.

Robotics teams heading to State tourney

Johnson County High School robotics students pose after theirtournament championship win at Bristol, TN. Photo by Susan Quave.

Johnson County robotics continue to dominate.

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County robotics teams are at it again. Both the high school and middle school lived up to their reputation in the Vex Robotics’ recent Rebel Rumble Robotics Tournament at Holston High School on Saturday, January 26. Their accomplishments mean that both groups qualified for the state competition in Brentwood, Tennessee on March 1 and 2. The JCHS teams won the Tournament Championship, a Design Award, and a Skills Award. The JCMS teams took the top two qualifying spots and won both an Excellence Award and a Design Award.
The Johnson County teams are divided further into smaller teams within the entity.
High school robotics coaches Kasi Dishman, and Rebecca Byers lead the three JCHS teams.
Team 63303A includes Dalton Sluder, Jackson Mays, Ryan Bilodeau, and Lauren Paterson. Team 63303Z includes Jonathan Wilcox, Andrew Murray, and Dillon Long, while Team 63303V includes Emily Irizarry, Alex Jennings, and Kobe Cox.
Middle school robotics coaches Susan Quave, and Lane Sentell leads the two JCMS teams. Team 3075A includes Vanessa Perkins, Eli Fritts, Morgan Hodge, and Clayton Ecker. Team 3075B includes Jackie Jensen, Wyatt Decker, Gaston Dugger, and Alyssa Vanover.
“We couldn’t be more proud of the way these kids represent our community. They are smart competitors, loyal teammates, and well-rounded students,” said Kasi Dishman. “Earning a spot at the state competition is no small feat since the competition field has exploded in TN over the last two years. We are proud to have teams helping lead the way in East Tennessee.”
These talented students continue working diligently to modify their programming, interviewing, driving, and strategizing skills in preparation for the state competition. They strive to earn a spot in the world competition this April. The robotics teams will compete against approximately 35 high school and 35 middle school teams in 6 to 7 matches to qualify for the final round. Coaches are confident in their
“Our teams are looking forward to winning one of the top awards at the State Competition and qualifying for the VEX world competition in April,” declared Susan Quave.
The robotics program is still relatively new in this area. Team coaches and members are currently fundraising to offset travel and equipment costs. They recently hosted a spaghetti dinner and silent auction at the Crewette building on Friday, February 8. Their goal is to reach $1,700. Interested parties can donate at www.johnsoncountyhightn.ed.co/jchsrobotics.

Town Hall: Education, health at center of Rep. Hill’s Mountain City meeting

Rep. Timothy Hill (District 3) held a Town Hall meeting at the Welcome Center in Mountain City on Friday Feb. 8.
Photo by Bethany Anderson

By Bethany Anderson

Close to three-dozen in attendance listened attentively as Rep. Timothy Hill (District 3) spoke of his family and the recent activities of the State General Assembly, during a Town Hall meeting including held last Friday evening at the Johnson County Welcome Center.
Wasting no time Hill spoke about some new bills he and others are introducing soon as well as the reason for his desire to hold a meeting when he said, “The best pieces of legislation I’ve ever had have come from town hall meetings just like this.”
The 7-year, 4-term Republican has previously served as Majority Whip and currently serves as Chair of the Commerce Committee.
“The first thing I did after being named Chairman, was to make appointments to meet with all the other Chairmen,” Hill said.
Speaking of firsts, Hill first mentioned a bill regarding restraining orders, especially for those stemming from domestic violence. “The idea came by way of a constituent who reached out to me,” he said.
The proposal is to raise fines for those in violation of an order of protection from $25 per violation, to $2,500 per violation, with the intent of donating collected fines to the Isaiah 117 House (or to C.A.S.A. in cases where there is no local Isaiah 117 House).
Hill did not hesitate to discuss a number of issues related to education including the Tennessee Center for Applied Technology (TCAT) at the Johnson County High School.
“It was brought to Johnson County High School because so many of these things are already in place,” he said, adding that the campus will become a hybrid with state and high school vocational classes offered. “These programs will eventually lead to TCAT’s own campus.”
Also concerning education was a bill that would implement a version of an election for school superintendents. The proposal calls for school boards to appoint a superintendent, leading to a subsequent election for the public to vote on retention.
“The number one call or comment that I get is about elected school superintendents,” Hill said. Those in attendance were quite opinionated, to say the least about this subject in particular. A lively question and answer session and subsequent discussion followed the topic with the vast majority of those involved in the discussion were adamantly opposed.
Once the floor was open to question and answer,
the discussion quickly turned to education, specifically
involving charter school vouchers and special education.
Hill is personally opposed to charter school vouchers, which was reciprocated by many in attendance. Many expressed frustrations with the current special education services and level of teacher training in local public schools.
The meeting also addressed the need for those who suffer chronic pain to have better access to prescription pain medications, including opioids to help alleviate their suffering.
One of the comments from the audience came from a woman who stated that she is having difficulties in having her prescription filled, the difficulties of availability schedule as well as high prices of co-pays along with the certain stigma of being labeled “an opioids user.”
Hill responded that he is currently working with Dr. Bryan Terry, Chairman of the Health Committee to draft an amendment to clarify the difference between “chronic pain” and “long term chronic pain.”
“This would help distinguish the need for a better-suited schedule of availability, which would in turn help to alleviate costs from co-pays,” he said.
Hill made it clear that he could be reached by his constituents, pointing out that his listed contact number is for his mobile phone, and can be contacted at his office
located at 425 5th Ave North, Suite 680 Cordell Hull Building, Nashville, TN 37243,
or by phone at (615) 741-2050.
In closing Hill said, “Thank you for allowing me to serve you. I love what I do, and hopefully you can tell, but I just have such a passion for it.”
For more information visit www.capitol.tn.gov.

Basketball court named in Atwood’s honor

Honored for his success, Johnson County High School basketball coach Austin Atwood waves to a large crowd of fans, teachers, students and athletes that filled the school gymnasium to capacity last Friday night. Atwood was recognized for his 300th career-win, and honored by naming the court Coach Austin Atwood Court effective immediately. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tim Chambers

The naming of Johnson County’s football field in honor of its legendary coach Harold Arnold just a few years ago was only fitting and well deserved. Once again the school administration picked the right man to name its high school basketball court after.
Current head coach Austin Atwood was surprised on Friday night to see dozens of his former players there to honor him for collecting his 300th career win. But he was shocked at what followed.
Atwood was given the game ball used in the win against Sullivan South where he got number 300. He also received a plaque by JCHS principal Lisa Throop to be placed in the trophy case as a reminder of that historic event.
Assistant boys’ basketball coach David Arnold unveiled a large wall framed memorabilia containing pictures and articles about his past playing and coaching days and some of the presents to be hung at home.
But it was the final thing that brought the house down.
Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox along with Johnson County School Board members walked onto the middle of the floor and announced that the basketball court inside of Johnson County High School would be known as Coach Austin Atwood Court effective immediately.
A standing ovation followed as Atwood, his wife, two sons and family members looked on. Coach Arnold laid a transparent glass piece with the logo “Coach Austin Atwood Court” near the
midcourt line that will be painted on both sides of the gym floor.

Atwood touched on the honor and what it meant after his team had beaten Happy Valley 61-50.
“I don’t normally get emotional but to see all my former players show up was something special to me,” said Atwood. “I don’t know if I deserve having the court named after me, but I’m humbled by it. The award was the work of many special people in my life. David Arnold has been with me for almost 20 years, and I’ve got the best wife that a coach could ever ask for. She knows what kind of drive I have for these kids, and she sacrifices a lot because I spend a lot of time here.”
The Longhorns are currently 21-4 and ranked No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press Class AA boys’ basketball poll. Atwood has brought the team this far despite having to replace four starters off of last year’s squad.
Principal Lisa Throop touched on how it all got started.
“Coach David Arnold had been keeping up with everything and brought the idea to me about naming the court after him. We brought it to Dr. Simcox’ attention and the boards, and it all took off. He’s done a terrific job not only as our basketball coach but as athletic director too. He is well deserving of this honor.”
Atwood wears many hats including coaching his son Carter’s Junior Pee Wee football team. Spending time with family and coaching his kids is something he enjoys more than anything.
“I love getting to coach Carter in football and Blake
in basketball. I’ve been blessed to be around good kids for most of my life and this year has been extra special. I can’t describe in words how appreciative and humbled I am at receiving this award. It’s something I
would have never dreamed of. I tear up just thinking about it.”
Atwood’s son Blake came into the coaches’ office after scoring 26 points against Happy Valley and gave me the best quote of the night.
“I told dad to call Coach John Dyer and tell him he wasn’t the only one who had a gym named after him. I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.”

Timothy Hill Town Hall Meeting Feb. 8

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Representative Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) announced he will host a Mountain City Town Hall meeting on Friday, Feb. 8 at the Welcome Center, located at 716. S. Shady Street. The meeting will begin at
6 p.m. ,and will discuss the beginning of the 2019 legislative session.
The town hall meeting is an opportunity for the citizens of Johnson, Carter, and Sullivan Counties to hear updates and ask questions about legislative priorities and talk about other important issues.
Timothy Hill represents Tennessee House District 3, which includes Johnson, and part of Carter and Sullivan Counties. Hill can be reached by email at: Rep.Timothy.Hill@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-2050.

Arts Center celebrates Resilience

Asa Nelson, 13, of Vilas plays the fiddle during the opening night of “Heart of the Mountains: Resilience” last week at the Johnson County Center for the Arts in Mountain City. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

The Johnson County Center for the Arts has no shortage of local support, which was once again highlighted during the opening of its latest show entitled “Heart of the Mountains: Resilience.”
“The opening of ‘Heart of the Mountains: Resilience’ was very well attended on Friday at Johnson County Center for the Arts,” said Johnson County Arts Director Cristy Dunn.
Emphasizing the community’s support for local art, Dunn said that she is always amazed at the quality of work produced in the county, but emphasized that “this show is one of the best so far.”
The presentation of some of the best pieces of art in the region, included a hand-carved oak box by George Sanfilippothe, a quilt by Lorraine Darocha as well as Hand Painted Drum by Velina Hewett, just to name a few.
Befitting the region’s love for music, the show’s opening night, was not without the appropriate and tastefully chosen entertainment provided by Asa Nelson, who brought his fiddle, banjo, and guitar to set the tone as well as the mood for the event.
“Asa fiddling was the highlight of the evening,” Dunn said.
Nelson, 13, of Vilas, has won numerous awards for his old-time fiddling. The young musician enjoys playing traditional Appalachian music and has competed at many Old-Time Fiddlers Conventions as well as performed at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh.
“Heart of the Mountains: Resilience” is sponsored by Tennessee Arts Commission and GoJoCo, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle in a connected community, and Tennessee Arts Commission.
GoJoCo believes that a healthy community requires everyone to work together opening the doors to partnerships.
“We are promoting relationships among workplaces, places of worship and neighbors who can encourage one another to live healthier lifestyles by focusing on moving more as well as eating smarter and enjoying a life free of unhealthy products,” said Angie Stout.
“We felt that since February is National Heart Month, and this event focuses on the heart of the region, it was a great way to connect our efforts of healthy living through art. Getting involved in the arts is one of the best ways to enjoy a healthy, active life in a connected community. Sponsoring this event just felt natural.”
For more information about the Johnson County Center for the Arts, please visit www.jocoartcenter.org.

Heritage Hall announces season schedule

Local musician Kody Norris will be part of the 2019 Heritage Hall season. Submitted photo.

By Bethany Anderson

The Heritage Hall Theatre programming team has been quite busy over the past couple of months while working on the theatre’s 2019 schedule of events.
Exciting shows are slated for Johnson County, featuring beloved local musicians as well as touring musical acts.
Some of the 2019 season highlights will include, “For the Love of Cash” featuring Gary West on Saturday, March 9. Gary West has worked with dozens of country music legends including a 12-year stint with Country Music Hall of Fame member Little Jimmy Dickens. West has been touring the United States for the past three years with his award-winning tribute show.
On April 12, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver will grace the theatre’s stage for an evening of bluegrass/gospel music, while “The Kody Norris Show” also plans to return to the Heritage Hall stage. The show is scheduled for May 11. Fans of the famous rock band “The Eagles” will not want to miss, tribute band “7 Bridges”. Billed as “The Ultimate Eagles Experience,” the band is scheduled to take the stage on Saturday, June 1.
Also returning to the theatre this year is Mountain City’s own beloved musician, John Woodall. Woodall will open for Canadian country star Codie Prevost on June 22. Then on August 10, “Alabama’s Singing Cowgirl” Jessie Lynn comes to town. Jessie Lynn is a rising star in the world of country music and has had the honor of opening for such music legends as “The Oak Ridge Boys” Montgomery Gentry, Jessica Meuse, and Shane Owens.
New this year to the theatre’s schedule is the “Summer Sessions” concert series that will be a series of four concerts featuring young local artists. The shows are designed to showcase some of the incredible talents found locally in Johnson County. Performing in this inaugural series are Kyman Matherly & Broken Road, Maggie Aldridge, Colton Fenner, and Eryn Jones Fuson.
The theatre has recently partnered with tix.com to help launch its online ticket sales. Thanks to this new partnership, online tickets for Heritage Hall Theatre may now be purchased through the theatre’s website.
Heritage Hall’s Director of Advertising & Marketing Steve Dunfee said, “Paying close attention to the comments the theatre received in the survey conducted last fall, online ticket sales quickly became a high priority.” Dunfee also said, “ It is important to note, to keep ticket prices low and affordable, the theatre stresses that it is necessary to pass along nominal processing fees to online ticket buyers.”
For more information about the theatre, 2019 events calendar, or ticketing, visit their website at heritagehalltheatre.org or call the theatre directly at (423) 727-7444.

Executive order to focus on rural Tennessee

By Jill Penley

The first executive order issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee demonstrates a high emphasis on the development and expected viability of the frequently overlooked rural areas. The order, which requires all 22 executive departments to submit a statement of rural impact explaining how the department serves rural Tennessee, is due no later than May 31, 2019, with recommendations for improving service to these areas due by June 30, 2019.
“My administration will place a high emphasis on the development and success of our rural areas,” said Lee. “Our first executive order sends a clear message that rural areas will be prioritized across all departments as we work to improve coordination in our efforts.”


“Our state has reached historic levels of prosperity,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

Each year, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) prepares an index of county economic status for every county in the United States, and “distressed counties,” or those that rank among the 10 percent most economically distressed counties in the nation, are identified.
This executive order is the first step by the administration to accelerate plans to address 15 distressed counties in Tennessee, which are all rural. “Our state has reached historic levels of prosperity, and I want to ensure that the 15 distressed counties in our state benefit from a concentrated mission,” said Lee. “Each department has communicated full support as we move forward with putting this plan into motion.”
The 15 distressed counties in Tennessee include Lake, Lauderdale, Hardeman, McNairy, Perry, Jackson, Clay, Grundy, Van Buren, Bledsoe, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, Hancock, and Cocke. Johnson County was on the distressed county list as recent as 2016, when unemployment was 4.9 percent. While things have improved since the county is still considered “at-risk” of becoming economically distressed.
Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor is encouraged to see the new governor addressing rural issues. “We are certainly glad Governor Lee has called for expanding broadband in rural communities to increase economic and educational opportunities,” said Mayor Taylor, “along with investing in high
school vocational training
and agricultural education and increasing access to healthcare in rural Tennessee.”
Tennessee’s goal is to have zero distressed counties by 2025.

Imagination Library enjoys local support

Enjoying the benefits of the Johnson County Imagination Library, Amber Bumgardner, an employee of Johnson County Bank, is reading to her sons Sam and Seth one of this month’s free books, Big Brother, Little Brother, by Penny Dale. Photo Submitted.

By Tamas Mondovics

Accompanied by bright photos, the story of Penny Dale’s Big Brother, Little Brother, is a charming tale of sibling love as two brothers go about their day together playing games, wrestling, sharing a laugh, and more.
The Johnson County Imagination Library board is thankful for the support of the Johnson County Bank, as sponsors for the 2019 Hometown Label.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book-gifting program that mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income. The plan was officially launched in Sevier County, Tennessee in 1995 and expanded statewide before reaching Johnson County in 2005.
The program is free to enroll in and is open to any Tennessee child from birth to five years of age. Penguin Random House mails the books out to families monthly, and special editions are printed specially for the program. The high-quality books received are suited for many years of bedtime stories and family time, which can lead to better literacy skills.
The books received are suited for many years of bedtime stories and family time, which can lead to better literacy skills.
Well supported by the Johnson County community, the program is free to all Tennessee families with preschool age children.
To enroll in the program, parents can visit www.imaginationlibrary.com or visit the Johnson County Library.

Library celebrates BK “Bud” Mount Digital Den

Library Director, Linda Icenhour with Kathleen Mount and Johnson County Mayor, Mike Taylor cut the ribbon on the new BK “Bud” Mount Digital Den during a recent ceremony. Photo by Bethany Anderson.

By Bethany Anderson

The Johnson County Library welcomed the public last week to celebrate the opening of its brand new reading room.
Dedicated to the memory of one of Johnson County’s much-loved residents, the BK “Bud” Mount Digital Den is the newest addition to the local library.
“The addition is a space to sit and read, study, do research, or work on their personal digital devices,” said Library Director Linda Icenhour.
Starting in July 2018 and completed in January 2019, the project includes a one-story addition, which incorporates a new reading room as well as an HVAC equipment room.
The project was built with funds from the Library Construction Grant from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, as well as donations from the purchase of bricks that could be purchased in memory or in honor of someone for a donation of $1 each.
“You may bring your own laptop or other wireless devices to use in the library,” Icenhour said adding that several tables and chairs are available for your use and that the library’s WiFi is open and does not require a code or password, but is available only during hours the library is open.
The “Digital Den” has nine one to two-person tables and some shelving units along the walls for books and possibly magazines.
“We’ll be moving the
reference books into the space along with two big tables to go in the middle
of the room, as soon as
they are delivered,” said Icenhour.
A crowd of well-wishers, all curious and excited to see the new room, included Kathleen Mount, Bud’s widow, and Johnson County Mayor, Mike Taylor.
The new room features a dedication plaque as well as a painting hung near each other on the wall just inside the room. The painting by local artist, Temple Reece, depicts the view from Mount’s home.
Mount was given a private tour before the ribbon cutting ceremony. Upon viewing the painting, she excitedly said, “That’s the view from
my front porch; isn’t it
After a short speech
by Icenhour to dedicate
the space, all were ushered over for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Mrs. Mount
and Mayor Taylor jointly cut the ribbon then all
were welcomed inside the room.
A small reception with refreshments were completed the event for all attendees.
For more information on the BK “Bud” Mount
Digital Den or the rest
of the library’s many features, you can stop by
the Johnson County Library located at 219 N Church
St in Mountain City, check their website at johnsoncolib.org or call them at

Court Case Pending for Johnson County Schools Transportation Supervisor Barry Bishop.

By Bethany Anderson

While the court case of Johnson County Schools’ Transportation Supervisor, Barry Bishop, is still pending, the school system is working hard to maintain a “business as usual” approach.
A joint investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury had previously led to Bishop’s indictment.
In response to the comptroller’s report, and to make sure its policies comply with the state recommendations, Johnson County Schools Director Mischelle Simcox said, “Johnson County School System will be updating our school board policy 3.301 (Use of Equipment and Supplies) to the recommendations found in our finding.”
However, no district policies are currently in place to handle this specific type of situation, which means that the duties of the job of Transportation Supervisor are currently being split and covered by Dr. Stephen Long (Supervisor of 7-12, Curriculum & Instruction) and Dr. Herbie Adams (CTE Supervisor).
“I am covering the day-to-day of busses including supervising bus employees, and Adams is covering Maintenance & Career Technical duties,” long said.
Due to the active nature of the open court case against Bishop and the court requirements for privacy and silence regarding the case, Johnson County School officials were unable to comment on any specifics about the case, any plans for Bishop’s replacement, or even the details of the job of Transportation Supervisor.
When asked, Long simply said, “We cannot speak about any plans for a replacement or any other job details because it is all a part of the court case and open investigation.”
He went on to make assurances that, “No part of the job is being overlooked and all is being handled appropriately.”
TBI reported that Bishop, 57, had been charged with theft over $10,000. The investigation revealed that Bishop collected nearly $50,000 in fees associated with the testing but failed to give the funds to the Johnson County Trustee.
During the investigation, TBI agents developed information that between January 2015 and May 2017, Bishop used his position as the
transportation supervisor
for the school system to perform skills testing for commercial driver’s license applicants.
The Johnson County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Bishop with one count of theft over $10,000. Bishop was arrested and booked into the Johnson County Jail on a $15,000 bond.
According to the comptroller—based on interviews—employees performed maintenance on their vehicles after normal working hours with parts and supplies purportedly purchased with their personal funds.
Some former and current department employees admitted using department-owned equipment and tools for personal use, the report said. But, school department employees informed the comptroller that management allowed them to use school department vehicles, machinery, and tools for personal use, the report said.
For more information about Johnson County Schools, please visit www.jocoed.net.

Johnson County’s economic future is looking good

By Jill Penley

Reports recently released are a cause for optimism in the entire State of Tennessee including Johnson County. The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research predicts Tennessee’s economy will continue to grow through at least 2020.
As part of the annual economic report, Matt Murray, University of Tennessee Economist, said the economy of the Volunteer State remains robust and likely to continue to remain strong.
“Johnson County is also expecting an upward movement in economic growth,” said Mayor Mike Taylor, “The county will continue to work toward attracting new businesses and touting all the area has to offer to boost tourism.”
The unemployment rate is a very important economic indicator, and the county continues to decrease in unemployment as December’s rate dropped to 3.1 percent, down .01 percent from November of 2018, according to the United States Federal Reserve.
Historically, unemployment rate in Johnson County, TN reached a record high of 22.10 in October of 1995 and a record low of 2.90 in April of 2018.
“Historically, low unemployment rates and increases in both job growth and per capita personal income are all indicators that prove how well Tennessee’s economy performed in 2018,” said Bob Rolfe, commissioner of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Economists and investors as indicators of economic stability and growth also closely watch real estate indexes and home prices.
According to the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors’ monthly trends report, 496 single-family homes sold in November, up 7.6 percent from the same month last year. The report, which examines sales in 11 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, showed 5,777 home closings for the year through November, 165 more for the same period in 2017.
Last year posted a record for the region when homes sales topped $1 billion for the first time in a single year.
Sullivan, Hawkins, Johnson and Lee counties led local markets for increasing their market share last year according to the Northeast Tennessee Association of REALTORS (NETAR).
Market share, a key indicator of market competitiveness, is supplemented by changes in sales revenue. It can reportedly assist consumers and real estate professionals in evaluating primary and selective demand in a market. That is, it enables them to judge not only total market growth or decline but
also trends in customers’ selections among other markets.
Economists predict around 43,000 new jobs will come to Tennessee in 2019 and the state’s gross domestic product to increase 2.6 percent over the next year.

Fire Destroys Johnson Hollow Rd. Home

Area first respomders work on a house fire on Johnson Hollow Rd. earlier this week. The fire was the second such incident that occured within the past two weeks as freezing temperatures hit the region

By Tamas Mondovics

A house fire at 2199 Johnson Hollow Rd. in Mountain City just north of town is the latest casualty of the bitter cold as residents work to keep warm this season.

Johnson County Dispatch received the call at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29, prompting at least half-a-dozen area volunteer fire units including approximately 20-plus first responders from Mountain City, District One, District 2, Neva las well as a unit  from Doe Valley

Among the volunteers were Doe Valley firefighter and Johnson County Commissioner Megan McEwen.

It took nearly an hour to bring the flames under control. Sadly the fire has caused major damage.

According to District 2 firefighter Chris Pierce no one was injured as the home was vacant and unoccupied at the time of the incident.

“The cold and freezing temperatures are working against us,” Pierce said.

There is no word yet as to the cause of the fire, but will provide more information as it becomes available.


March for Life

Photo: Mountain City resident Hanna Sharp, 7, holds a sign she made with the help from her mom, Ashley James last week during the annual March for Life event organized locally supporting the National March for Life march in Washington DC against abortion.

Mayor Taylor champions adventure tourism

Johnson County Mayor, Mike Taylor Photo By Tamas Mondovics

By Bethany Anderson

Tourism in Johnson County once again took center stage during this month’s commission meeting led by Mayor, Mike Taylor, who is attempting to make Johnson County an Adventure Tourism destination.
Taylor’s plans include welcoming ATV traffic on certain parts of major highways as well as around town in Mountain City.
To help give his idea some extra merit and to answer any questions that the Board of Commissioners may have, Mayor Taylor invited Andy Wallace, Deputy County Mayor of Campbell County and James Jeffries, LaFollette City Administrator. They both gave a presentation in which they spoke of how the move towards Adventure Tourism helped Campbell County’s economy.
The presentation included copies of the State of Tennessee’s Public Chapter Number 172, Senate Bill Number 811, and House Bill Number 743 which all show the legal process that Campbell County and the City of LaFollette went through to designate their county as an adventure tourism destination. He also provided Campbell County’s Adventure Tourism District Business Plan Proposal.
According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, “Adventure tourism has been defined as any trip containing the following three main elements for the traveler: physical activity, a connection to nature and the environment, and an immersive cultural experience.” The ATTA classifies 34 different types of activities considered as forms of adventure tourism, of which many can be found in Johnson County.
Some of these qualifying activities that can be found locally include hiking, horseback riding, hunting, camping, fishing, bird watching, backpacking, attending local festivals/fairs, climbing, walking tours, and visiting historical sites.
Taylor noted that Johnson County is currently considered a “Tier 4 County” which according to the State of Tennessee’s guidelines means that the county is a “high risk” or “economically depressed” county.
Taylor hopes that this move toward adventure tourism would help to change that by injecting some much-needed tourism capital into the region.
Wallace and Jeffries went on to share that some of their successes in the three years since this plan has been in place include a successful Downtown ATV Festival, which occurs each October. The festival boasts over 90 vendors, live entertainment, food vendors, and activities such as guided ATV rides with expert riders and an EMT provided for each riding group. As Wallace stated, they are proud to offer a “Family Atmosphere” with no alcohol allowed.
It was made clear by the representatives from Campbell County that a good portion of their new tourists, and therefore new tourism dollars, is from the fact that they have made Campbell County’s town of LaFollette open to ATV riders and their machines. But the fact that some of the roads and even major thoroughfares and highways of Johnson County would, therefore, have to be opened up to ATV traffic, was a bit of contention for many of the Commissioners.
The issue of ATVs on the roadway has caused some back and forth with many questions and concerns addressed.
After much debate, over which parts (if any) of Highways 67 and 421 would be open to ATV traffic, Taylor gave an impassioned statement to the Board of Commissioners. “If my choice as County Mayor is there, then my choice is that having the ‘heartburn’ of having the traffic along the highways is worth it.” Taylor continued with, “I agree, there’s going to be road congestion, but that, I think, would be worth it.”
A question on the table was what ATV traffic would mean in connection with the requirements of the vehicle to be “street legal” as well as an intense question and answer session over the subjects.
Taylor also noted that he has been consulting with resident and owner/operator of Doe Mountain Recreation Area, Tate Davis about his ideas for adventure tourism.
“I am extremely proud of our Johnson County Commissioners for their part in moving this forward,” Davis said after the meeting. “For Doe Mountain Recreation Area this is huge. It’s something that we’ve been working towards for a long time now. I think any change this brings for locals will be positive. The Mayor is a very driven individual, and he’s driven to improve our community.”
Davis went on to add that he has been working with Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor as an unofficial consultant on the matter in the sense that he is there to answer any logistical questions and to “bounce ideas off of.”
As to whether or not to continue to seek more information to move forward with the purpose of establishing Johnson County as an Adventure Tourism Destination was met with caution by the Board of Commissioners.
Skepticism was noticeable on the part of Commissioners Megan McEwen (District 5) and Gina Meade (District 7), both of whom voted “No” on the motion with all others voting “Yes.”
Campbell County Deputy Mayor Wallace gave a final word of caution to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners that if they move forward with this, they should “Be aware of a few things.” One of those being that he strongly advises “including all interested parties, especially law enforcement and any relevant city councils during the planning phase.”
Next steps in the process are up to the State level as the matter goes before Representative Timothy Hill for further evaluation.
It is safe to say that Hill will have many questions for Taylor as well as the County Commissioners, City Council, and Sheriff Tester.

Regulations delay package store licensing

By Jill Penley

Johnson County voters made their voices heard in November, but it seems voting “yes” to on-premise consumption, and package stores may have been the easy part as some remain in limbo as to what to do next. Tennessee has always had a complicated relationship with alcohol, and according to at least one resident interested in opening a package store in the city limits, the process to get the business up and going can be daunting.
“We are still interested in pursuing the package store,” said Tom Stanley, who reports he is awaiting feedback from the Planning Commission regarding specific requirements. “I have contacted the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and found that obtaining a Retail Package Store License is a very lengthy process.” Reportedly, the Town of Mountain City must first establish specific regulations regarding the retail sale of liquor. Then, if those are specifications are met, an Order of Compliance is subsequently issued. At that point, an application can be made at the state level.
After a completed application for a retail store is received, the application must be placed on the agenda and approved by the TABC commission at a regular monthly commission meeting. Adherence to specific regulations is also required. For example, a retail store must be located on the ground floor with one main entrance opening on a public street with no other door or entrance for use by the public unless the store is located on the corner of two public streets. Under those circumstances, a retail store could have a door opening on each of the public streets.
Additionally, retail stores are required to close on Christmas, Thanksgiving Day, and Easter. Hours of operation for retail package stores are also set.
Retail package store managers must hold a manager’s permit and employees of a retail store must be at least eighteen years old and must be certified clerks.
In addition to employee requirements, there are laws regarding ownership of retail package stores. For instance, an owner cannot hold any type of public office, or have any interest, either direct or indirect, in any other retail liquor store, wholesale license, or liquor by the drink license. There are stipulations for prospective retail package store owner with felonies. Under current legal scrutiny, is Tennessee’s residency requirement, which says one must reside in the state for a minimum of two years to obtain a retail liquor license and for at least ten years to get a license renewed.
Currently being heard by the U. S. Supreme Court, Byrd v. Tennessee, was prompted by Total Wine & More, a wine and spirits chain, who attempted to open a retail location in Tennessee. According to state legislation, the chain would not be permitted to do so unless its owners were residents of the state. This case demonstrates the murky myriad of rules and regulations facing those wishing to open a retail liquor store in the state, much less those who are looking to become one of the first in Johnson County.

March for Life enjoys community support

Johnson County Commissioner Megan McEwen, left, carries a sign during the annual March for Life, last Friday in Mountain City TN. The local event organized by McEwen joined the nation, boasting of much support for the fight against abortion. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

For the third time in a row, a large group of Mountain City and Johnson County TN residents joined the nation last Friday against abortion and to show their “support for and remember the estimated 60 million unborn children who have died from abortion in America since the famous Roe v. Wade.”
Led and organized locally by Johnson County Commissioner Megan McEwen the annual March for Life is a national pro-life march that is held each year in January.
Joining forces with a friend and confidante whom she highly respects McEwen, had the idea three years ago to organize the march locally.
“I thought hard about it and felt in my heart that it was the right thing to do,” she said. “It was very short notice the first year, and it was snowing, but we had close to 100 people show up.”
As it has been the case, the group met in front of Johnson County Bank in downtown Mountain City. Following a prayer, the nearly 100 supporters made their way from Downtown Main Street, down Hwy 421 and back around to where the march started.
“Last year, I decided to do a fundraiser for the JC Pregnancy Support Center as well as the march, because I felt like it was not only important to be a voice for the unborn babies, but to also help our community in whatever way that we could,” McEwen said. “Giving women a place to go to get assistance and guidance may change one person’s mind and save an innocent life.
Last year’s walk saw nearly 40 people in attendance. Thanks to McEwen’s diligence this year’s turnout has been the best in the local event’s short history.
“I made it a personal mission this year to send each church a letter announcing the walk as well as advertising in the Tomahawk Newspaper as well as on the radio and on social media,” she added. “I also sent in information to our local news station WCYB. I think it is important as a Christian and as a mother to stand up, march and show the world that abortion is not okay.”
While accurate worldwide abortion statistics are difficult to come by since large portions of the globe do not record or report annual abortion totals, a recent data said, in 2018 more than 41 million babies were aborted worldwide. Less than one percent of abortions are reportedly due to rape or incest, while the majority of abortions that are performed are because it will interfere in the mother’s life.
In a recent Opinion Editorial (Marching for Life: Countering Roe V. Wade’s Escorts by Dr. Paul Kengor, which first appeared at The American Spectator, Kengor highlights a grim practice at abortion clinics across the country: Escorts.
He writes, “The ‘escorts’ work outside abortion clinics. Their duty is to ensure that every pregnant mom who approaches the door doesn’t get deterred or change her mind … They strive to guarantee that every potential customer with cash or credit leaves with an abortion under her belt.”
McEwen was pleased
with the local support, which aside from her efforts to get the word out, she attributes to the faith and upright
character of the members of her community, when she said, “I know that Washington has a tremendous support for this march, and I am hopeful that each year more people will get involved locally. Together we can make a difference.”