Dresden High School Lions Tyler McPeak (right) carries the team's runner-up trophy from the state playoffs this year. The event made history for the Lions football team. Martin resident Tom Stewart (left) welcomed home his cat Henry after two years.
If the tie that binds together all the biggest news stories of the year is the commonality of loss, then the paper that wraps and encompasses the gifts of this year’s feel-good stories is undoubtedly the theme of gain – both tangible and intangible.
Feel-good stories are those collections of words that seek to spread cheer, uplift and give recognition to a person, people or a cause. In the world of newspapers in which the motto of “If it bleeds it leads” is emphasized, the feel-good stories that serve as the mortar between the bricks of crime stories and hard news often keep the balance of the paper from becoming, well, a bloody mess.
Certainly, 2011 was not without its share of tragedies, namely with the departure of the Goodyear plant at the top of the list. However, in searching through the 104 issues making up the year, several noticeable feel-good stories were discovered jammed amidst the more troubling news.
There was a gaining of community pride, respect and support in local and national athletics. Valuable lessons and learning experiences were gained in aiding the less fortunate. Special awards and recognition were gained by a person’s simply doing his or her job to the best of his or her ability. Lost friendship was regained. Advances were made on the local education front leading to technological gains in the classroom.
On that same note, generous local donors contributed to the technological gain. Programs were implemented in the schools to reward those students caught doing the right thing while encouraging students to unite and take a stand against wrongdoing.
A local municipality gained a proactive new leader. And rounding out the year, charitable organizations, churches and special programs helped others gain the Christmas spirit through unselfishness and kind deeds and words.
To rank these stories would be to say that one is more important or special than another, so in a more chronological fashion here are just a few of the top stories that helped contribute to 2011’s being a warm and fuzzy year.
Clifton liftin’ the
Cheeseheads across the country salivated at the thought of their team’s Super Bowl XLV match-up against arch-rival and fellow multiple title winner Pittsburgh on Feb. 6. On the local front, however, Weakley Countians rejoiced that one of their own – offensive tackle Chad Clifton – would be playing a very crucial role in the historic game set in the larger-than-life Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
Two of Clifton’s classmates in junior high and high school, Josh Vincent and Clint Damron, made the trip to Dallas in the hopes of seeing Clifton and his Packers take the win and Green Bay did just that. The boys in green and gold claimed their fourth title in defeating the Steelers, 31-25, in a neck-and-neck battle that started off the year with a bang for Packers’ fans and further polished the pride Weakley Countians had for their beloved No. 76.
Clifton and his Packer teammate, Martin native Justin Harrell, brought home Super Bowl champion rings proving big dreams can happen to those in small towns.
Hearts continue to
go out to Haitians
After being ravaged by a terrible earthquake early in 2010 that split the country limb from limb, one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the weakest infrastructures in history continued to need serious aid even into 2011. Medical and church groups from Weakley County were more than willing to answer that call and did so willingly and unselfishly.
Early in the year, a group of doctors from Martin made the trip to treat the still enormous group of ailing citizens. Later on in the year, a men’s group from First Baptist Church in Martin made the trip to La Perle des Antilles (the pearl of the Caribbean) to help build houses for the Haitian people.
While the volunteers provided medical help and other aid to the Haitian people, they gained an understanding of a culture far different from their own and grew to love a people who always managed to smile even through great tragedy.
Claybrooks wins over
Those who know her best were not really surprised when Beverly Claybrooks, now a teacher in Fulton County, Ky., beat out several entrants from Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to claim KFVS12’s Heartland’s Best Teacher of 2011. But the legendary educator, who is closing in on 40 years in the classroom, manages to stay humble through the enormous accolade.
Claybrooks knew she wanted to be a teacher from the minute she received encouragement in the fourth grade from one of her heroes in education. Having a very supportive family who always motivated her to go above and beyond the normal call of duty didn’t hurt either.
In the end, Claybrooks will be remembered as a special teacher who broke barriers and molds, who maintained a positive attitude throughout good and bad times and who always put students first.
The cat came back
At first glance, Martin resident Tom Stewart’s grey-striped feline may appear to be just like any other cat, but Stewart knows better.
As an animal lover, Stewart has owned several special pets over the years, but when all is said and done, they may pale in comparison to his whiskered wonder, Henry.
Stewart acquired Henry when he was just a kitten. Through unpleasant trips to the vet and rude neighbors, however, Henry decided to leave the Stewart household in search of a happier area. Two years later, however, Henry showed up again at his owner’s residence with the same limp and the same hungry look in his eyes. Thus far, he’s never dared to venture away from his loving owner again.
Up, up and away
If the calendar of the school year could be categorized with a certain animal or idea like the Chinese calendar year, then 2011 could definitely be called the year of the technology.
With the constant need to raise the bar and increase the standards came the need to acquire more and more tools of technology to aid in learning throughout Weakley County schools. One of the more noticeable items that suddenly became a fixture in most classrooms was the Promethean Board – a large white screen framed with a black border the fit over the standard whiteboard or chalkboard and added an interactive component to everyday learning. With the help of a computer, the board allows students to touch or draw on the screen and text in answers to questions. The board has the capability to teach lessons and administer tests in addition to may other opportunities it affords.
Also, through technology, several schools were able to offer distance learning classes in which one teacher could lead two or more classes at once through the use of a computer and a camera. Taking that one step further, local students suddenly had the opportunity to interact with students in different countries.
To start off the 2011 school year with a bang, Martin business owner Nassar Nassar and team member Michelle Arant donated 23 Ipads to Martin Middle School students. According to Nassar, the goal with the donation was to help students retain more information in the learning process.
Rewarding the good,
uniting against the bad
Several local schools made it their mission to create programs that would reward good behavior. One of the most notable cases is Martin Middle School’s positive behavior program.
With this program, good deeds do not go unnoticed. Students are recognized and rewarded for simply doing the right thing whether it be opening a door for a person carrying a heavy load or speaking a word of encouragement to a person having a hard day. As an incentive, those who have been recognized have the opportunity to pick up treats and at the end of the six weeks, are treated to a large-scale event given in their honor.
On the other hand, teachers, staff members, students and parents are beginning to unite in the effort to rid schools and social networks of bullying.
Carly Wheat, of the Weakley County Juvenile Court office, has been educating local sixth and seventh graders about the dangers of cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying and has been encouraging them to come forward if they witness such acts of bullying.
Though the program is still in its infancy, it continues to grow by leaps and bounds as it seeks the support of more community members.
Walker gets job done
When the City of Dresden named former Martin Police Department investigator Randal Walker the new police chief midway through 2011, they had no way of knowing how quickly he would hit the ground running.
Within just a few weeks of taking the position, Walker procured a new building for the police department and new vehicles for the officers. In addition, the proactive chief acquired video cameras for the department and had his wish granted in receiving extra officers for an understaffed department.
Towards the end of the year, he provided two awards to those officers he felt went beyond the normal call of duty.
‘Don’t Let Up’
It was a season where talk of transition gave way to triumph for the Dresden High School football team in 2011.
The Lions put together the greatest season in school history by winning 12 games, most ever for the program, and advance to its first state championship game.
Early on, however, the talk focused on who would be next.
Following an early-season loss to McKenzie, long-time head coach Scott Hewett announced this season would be his last one on the sideline, closing the book on his Dresden coaching career that included two separate chapters and nearly 90 wins.
Before heading off into retirement, though, Hewett, his staff and his talented group of players would embark on a journey unlike any other at the school.
Dresden became “road warriors” during the campaign, winning every regular season game away from Rotary Field and then carrying that into the postseason where the Lions marched through McKenzie, Humboldt, Memphis and Adamsville on the way to Cookeville for the Class 2A state championship game against Friendship Christian. Dresden finally lost a game in its white jerseys, however, falling 34-0 in the title game.
Though they fell in the championship game, they were cheered on by hundreds of fans who’d followed them all the way from Weakley County and constantly chanted “DLU (don’t let up),” just when they needed it the most.
Following the season, accolades started pouring in, highlighted by the selection of four players to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State team.
Quarterback Gatlin Hatchel, tight end Tyler McPeak, offensive lineman Josh Turnbow and linebacker Eric VanDyke were voted to the all-state squad by TSWA-member writers from across Tennessee.
Hatchel accounted for over 3,000 offensive yards, including 1,693 passing and 1,402 passing; McPeak had 391 yards and three touchdowns receiving while also piling up 118 tackles on defense; Turnbow blocked for a Lion offense that averaged 309.9 yards and 26.9 points a game; and VanDyke led Dresden with 125 tackles.
Dresden had not hired a new head coach by the end of the calendar year.
The season of giving, once again, did not disappoint. Local charitable organizations such as Martin-based We Care and Dresden’s Santa’s Helpers were as busy as ever helping local families have a merrier Christmas and in some cases, were busier, as a failing economy made for a longer list of needs. Betty Baker, Lou Ann Powers and several volunteers worked overtime in making sure all needs were met.
Local churches, such as New Home Baptist Church in Martin, adopted families in which to supply with Christmas needs. Other churches put together baskets for shut-ins and shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse, the international mission.
Santa’s Village continued to dazzle and inspire as it raised money and canned-good donations while recording record numbers in attendance.
The special-needs group, PALS, put on another successful Christmas event – Christmas Funderland – for the interaction of children and parents and the rare opportunity for special-needs children and their parents to have fun while empathizing with each other.
Though it seems a long list, this is but a sampling of the goodness that took place in 2011 that helped many Weakley Countians get through the many difficult times of the year. Through the loss there was a gain and a hope for an even better 2012.