Archives for December 2014
Remember that scene in “Gone with the Wind” when times had gotten hard and Scarlett went out to the garden? And of course there was nothing there but radishes and a spirit rose up inside of her and that’s when she delivered her famous “as God as my witness” quote.
I thought I was going to have a similar experience at Travis’s General Store in Camden last week on Christmas Eve.
It had been only a few days earlier while I was waiting in line that a friend of mine told me about a new secret family recipe she has adopted every year for Christmas dinner. It’s pizza. She said she just calls ahead, picks them up, the grandkids are happy and the kitchen never even gets messed up.
Immediately, I saw this as a win/win situation. I made the executive decision that since I would be stirring together and baking for the following three days, that on Christmas Eve the Walker’s and Murphy’s would start it all off with pizza. I even called ahead to make sure they would be open.
“Yes,” the man said. “We are open 24 hours.”
“Even on Christmas Eve,” I asked. “Yes ma’am,” he said, “everyday, 24 hours.”
So with this plan in mind, early on Christmas Eve morning I texted Miranda, “Hey…text me when you are about to head this way and I will order the pizzas. That way they will still be hot when you get here.”
And she did. At approximately 5:34 pm she texted, “Hey…we are about to leave.”
I called to order the pizzas.
I hit call back.
I keyed in the entire number again. It rang about 20 times and still nobody answered.
By this time, Melissa and I were loaded up in her little white Camry and were in route with her driving and me holding on over in the passenger’s seat still trying to order the pizzas.
She slid up to the front door. I got out and stomped inside with my hair standing out on the ends. The phone had gotten pulled out of the wall. “I am sorry ma’am,” he said. “What did you want?”
So then I watched – like a hawk – as this nice woman slowly built these pizzas. One of them didn’t have anything on it but bacon. She would sprinkle a little bacon and stand back and look at it and tap, tap, tap it with her hands and I was seriously about to have a stroke.
I told her it wasn’t a work of art, to throw it in the oven that I had people waiting on me, it was Christmas Eve! Without speeding up at all she told me, “I’ve been here since 6:00 am…” And that really helped put things into perspective for me. I told her I was sorry she was working on Christmas Eve. And she told me she was sorry I had to wait and it all ended with a smile.
I don’t know if I will adopt the new secret family recipe to use every Christmas Eve. But if I do, as God as my witness…I’m going to start calling around noon.
Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Al. Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era – https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.
Please be advised the 2014-2 Demopolis Citizens Police Academy Class will be graduating on Sunday Jan. 11, 2015 at 3 p.m. This event will be held at the Demopolis Police & Municipal Court Complex located at 301 East Washington Street. The event is open to the public.
A single-vehicle crash at 10:40 a.m. Monday, Dec. 29, claimed the life of a Myrtlewood man. William Kelly Etheridge, 88, was killed when the 1991 Ford Crown Victoria he was driving left the roadway and struck a tree. Etheridge was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash occurred on Alabama 69 two miles north of Myrtlewood. Nothing further is available as ALEA State Troopers continue to investigate.
Gun owners in Demopolis are advised to not fire celebratory shots into the air on New Year’s Eve.
“Weapons should not be used to celebrate the start of a new year,” said Demopolis Police Chief Tommie Reese.
That’s the messages authorities across the state are stressing this week.
“Firing a piece of lead into the air, when it comes down, it’s going to come down with the same velocity that it went up and if someone is under it, you could have serious injury or a death,” said Reese.
“You can’t think of a worse case scenario than that knowing that the bullet fired from your gun might cause the death of a family member, a child, your neighbor or just a stranger,” Reese said. “Discharging a firearm in the city limits is illegal. Fireworks can be just as exciting if used in a safe manner.”
- 14-7. – Weapons—Gun restrictions generally.
It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot or discharge any firearm or other rifle or pistol in the city except as follows:
Ordinary firearms may be fired in legal defense of person, home or family.
Spring-action BB guns may be fired on a person’s own premises or those of such person’s parent or custodian, provided the shooting does not go over, upon or across any public way or the premises of another.
Ordinary firearms may be fired in duly constituted and supervised military training or by a legally constituted law enforcement agency of the United States, state, county or city.
This section applies to all types of firearms and other guns of every kind and description, including, but not limited to .22 caliber rifles, air rifles, flobert rifles, pellet guns, slingshots, air pistols, gravel shooters, blowguns, shotguns and pistols.
It shall be unlawful for any person to permit such person’s child or ward, or any child in such person’s custody, to shoot or discharge any such firearms prohibited hereinabove, within the limits of the city, except on such person’s own premises and in such way as not to cross over or enter upon the premises of another, and then only the above-mentioned spring-action BB guns.
(Ord. No. 1960-33, §§ 1—3, 6-16-60; Code 1975, Ord. No. 34)
As we ready to wrap up our 2014 Retrospective, we at The Watchman combed through all of the happenings of the calendar year and compiled the list of the biggest stories the last 12 months.
Agree. Disagree. Debate. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that this year brought with it plenty of newsworthy items, many of which will have long-lasting effects for years to come.
1. Stokes takes world record gator – When a story makes national headlines, it is a pretty safe bet that it will be your top story of the year locally. In this instance, Thomaston’s Mandy Stokes set the bar awfully high for herself when she took a world record alligator in her very first hunt. The Aug. 16 kill bagged a 15-foot long, 1,011.5-pound gator near Millers Ferry in Wilcox County. The Watchman broke the story four hours before any other media outlets picked up on it and our original post has since been shared more than 5,000 times on Facebook.
2. Woman shot, killed outside Marengo jail – The July 2 incident was the first shooting death in Linden in more than two decades. Gallion resident Eddie White confessed to shooting and killing Joyce Houston in a crime of passion that was caught by the security cameras at the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department. Houston died on the scene in the parking lot adjacent to the Marengo jail just minutes after having fled to the location for safety. White confessed to the incident July 3 after being apprehended by the Linden Police Department hours earlier.
3. BWWMH bids farewell to L&D, administrator – There was little doubt 2014 would be a pivotal one for Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital after the facility had to make significant personnel cuts to close 2013 and swiftly turned the conversation to the embattled labor and delivery unit after the start of 2014. News broke early in the year that L&D would be no more after Feb. 28. Town hall meetings, task forces and city council intervention would not be enough to keep the unit open. But the closure was far from the final change for the hospital. After 11 years at the helm of the hospital, Mike Marshall resigned in October, leaving Art Evans to run the facility in his stead.
4. John Essex School closes its doors – Much-maligned and long-embattled, the other shoe finally dropped for John Essex School in April when the Marengo County Schools Board of Education voted to shutter the doors of the community institution. Dwindling enrollment numbers spelled financial hardship for Essex. When the 1003g grant expired, the math became simple. Essex watched 12 seniors graduate in May in a ceremony that marked the beginning of something new for those students and the end of something for the west Marengo County school.
5. UWA cuts Holland, appoints Tucker president – The handwriting was firmly on the wall for University of West Alabama president Dr. Richard Holland March 3 when the school’s board of trustees voted to put him on administrative leave. Later in the year, UWA parted ways with Holland. The presidency of the Livingston institution took on a new face in November when the board tabbed Dr. Ken Tucker of Demopolis to fill the office.
6. Robertson Banking Company robbed – It was more than just the talk of the town April 22 when someone walked into the downtown branch of Robertson Bank and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash in a grab-and-dash robbery attempt that involved no weapons. Eight days later, the Demopolis Police Department arrested Tommie Lee Williams and Roderick Moore of Tuscaloosa. For his role in the crime, Williams received a sentence of eight years in December.
7. Higher education changes in Demopolis – The look of higher education in Demopolis began to take on a new look in 2014. After years of rhetoric that Shelton State would ultimately have some presence in the City of the People, the talk came to fruition this year when the community college opened a truck driving school at the former New Era Cap Company Building on Cedar Avenue. The higher education landscape turned a little more toward then end of the year when the announcement was made that UWA would be pulling out of the Demopolis Higher Education Center, leaving the facility with no tenant at year’s end.
8. Fire department gets major budget cuts – When the city council issued cries to “stop the bleeding” of reserves earlier this year, there was little doubt changes were coming. There, indeed, were budget cuts across the board for the city’s departments but no other municipal area garnered quite the attention of the Demopolis Fire Department. When the city council approved its budget for the new fiscal year the fire department learned it would have some $252,900 less with which to operate in the coming year. While the effects of those cuts have yet to be truly felt, it stands to reason the trimming will prove impactful sooner rather than later.
9. City attorney found shot in office – City attorney Bill Poole made state headlines Jan. 17 when he was found in his office suffering from a gunshot wound. Poole would recover and ultimately get back to work in 2014, ending the year far better than he began it.
10. City loses prominent citizens – It was a year of saying “goodbye” for Demopolis as it bid farewell to Christmas on the River co-founder and long-time community pillar Barry Collins, former assistant police chief Bobby Meigs and well-respected former fire chief Aubrey Randall.
11. Stokley leaves Sweet Water – After 17 years in the Marengo County Schools system and 12 years as the principal of Sweet Water High School, Stan Stokley walked away in 2014 to take over Saraland Elementary School. Stokley replaced former Demopolis Middle School principal Chris Tangle who left SES to take over Thompson High School in Alabaster. Marengo County Schools Board of Education picked Phyllis Mabowitz, the school’s instructional coach, to take over as interim principal.
12. Snow closes schools, businesses – This particular story is not “year-in-review” material in some parts of the country, but in a city that had not had measurable snowfall in years, it is worth mentioning. Demopolis got significant snowfall in late January, closing schools for three days.
13. Luker, Causey leaves posts – Stacy Luker garnered plenty of attention Jan. 6 when he stepped down as the head football coach of Sweet Water High after 12 seasons. Luker retired with a career record of 171-66 and four state championships. Luker spent the 2014 season coaching Neshoba Central in Mississippi. Tom Causey made headlines much later in the year when he tendered his resignation from the Demopolis High head football coach post Dec. 17. Causey won a state championship for the Tigers in 2009.
14. No news is good new for incumbents – The races got heated leading into the primaries but Marengo County’s election year resulted in no major changes in 2014. Incumbent Ben Bates won his second term as sheriff of Marengo County while Sharon Barkley retained the revenue commissioner post.
With the dust now settled upon Tom Causey’s departure and the holidays moving ever so rapidly into the rearview mirror, the talk can once again pick back up as to who will be the next head football coach at Demopolis High School.
While the search is being handled quietly and privately by Demopolis High principal Dr. Tony Speegle, there are no shortage of names that have been rumored to be connected to the position.
What can be said for certain is that the opening is absolutely an attractive job. Positioned in an imminently winnable Class 5A region, the Tigers look to bring back a load of talent off a team that went 8-3 and won a region crown in 2014.
Moreover, the Tigers boast two state championships in a 10-year span. The work of former coaches Causey and Doug Goodwin have elevated the program to unprecedented heights, making the job a viable possibility for a number of well-established coaches.
That said, Speegle should have no shortage of strong candidates from which to pick.
While there are any number of variables that will play into the selection of the next coach, certain qualities must be at the forefront of the hire. Namely, character must be of the utmost importance.
Regardless of offensive style, defensive philosophy, ability to market players to college programs or the like, character had been a key element of the program under Causey. The recently-departed coach emphasized it strongly through what amounted to character education sessions. As such, there were dozens of previously-troubled players during the Causey tenure who contributed to the program who otherwise likely would not have. Moreover, several of those went on to collegiate playing opportunities.
In an area of the state where industry is scant and employment opportunities seem to be dwindling, athletics present a very real, very important circumstance-altering potential for local student athletes. Getting some of those players to overcome their environments and succeed in spite of them requires a man of high character to place a high emphasis on character. So, character is probably at the forefront of this selection.
With that in mind and the reality that Demopolis will have any number of strong candidates at its disposal, what follows is a list of candidates who should receive consideration for the coaching vacancy. Note that this list is not reporting coaches that are interested in or will be considered for the job. It is merely a conjectured list from a writer who has covered the program since 2008.
Matt Geohagan – He is the first name on this list because he is the current interim coach and has put his time in as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. Geohagan is in his second stint with the Tigers after having served on Doug Goodwin’s staffs in Demopolis and at Russellville. Geohagan returned of his own volition for the 2010 season and has honed his craft in preparation for his first head gig. Causey also provided Geohagan plenty of opportunities to learn the ins and outs of running a program over the last two seasons. Geohagan is ready to be somebody’s head coach right now. And he will be just that sooner rather than later. His character, football acumen, commitment to Demopolis and relationship to the players already in the program merit him strong consideration for the Demopolis job.
Stacy Luker – His name will certainly get plenty of run around local “water coolers.” Luker built a reputation for excellence through his stays at Washington County, Thomasville and Sweet Water. His decision to retire from coaching in Alabama a year ago and take over the Neshoba Central program was the talk of high school football circles statewide. Whether or not he’d be interested in returning to Marengo County (where he still lives) to take over Demopolis is anyone’s guess. But the facts are that, as of right now, his oldest son is on the staff at Demopolis. And Luker’s newborn grandchild currently calls Demopolis home. Those are strong pulls for a man as family-oriented as Luker. The character aspect has never been in question with Luker, nor has his ability to run a program. The only question marks in regard to Luker at Demopolis are probably whether he would want the job and whether the Wing-T offense will work consistently at the 5A level.
Jack Hankins – Speaking of the Wing-T offense, Jack Hankins has almost made a habit of beating Demopolis. During his Thomasville tenure, Hankins is 5-4 against Demopolis with a couple of blowout wins on his resume. Hankins is 124-39 in his 13-season career with all of those games coming at Thomasville. Whether the interest would be there on the part of Hankins or Demopolis is up for debate, but Hankins has been rumored to be up for numerous jobs around the state since winning a state championship in 2010.
Larry Weems – If you don’t pay attention to what goes on in the high school football world on the other side of the Alabama-Mississippi line, you probably don’t know much about Larry Weems. Here is a quick crib sheet. He is in his early 60s. He won a couple of state title as an assistant at Meridian, built a power as the head man at Pearl and then returned to be the head coach of Meridian in 2006. Since then, Weems has added to his resume with a wide open offense that has seen quarterbacks like Tyler Russell sign with Mississippi State. Weems won his first state title as a head coach in 2008 and has become a thorn in the side of the otherwise unflappable South Panola juggernaut. The questions are whether Weems can translate that success to Alabama and how he would slot into a teaching role in the Demopolis system. Other than that, there are not many questions to be asked. Weems can flat out coach. He runs an offense that puts fans in the seats and points on the board. And he has shown a penchant for getting players signed to the next level.
Mark Heaton – After just one season (8-3 in 2014) at Russellville, it remains to be seen whether or not Heaton would be interested in taking an interview for another job. But somebody has dropped the ball if they don’t at least call and ask him if he is interested. Heaton has strong hometown ties and is regarded in coaching circles as a man of faith and high character. He is young, charismatic and a man of conviction. He is 52-27 after two seasons each at J.U. Blacksher, Escambia County and Haleyville and one season at Russellville. He is the kind of coach you call and make him tell you “no.”
Andro Williams – It surprises a lot of people that Williams is still at Linden High School. But those people don’t know Andro Williams and how committed he is to the players in his program. It is a safe bet that he will take another job one day and he has had plenty of opportunities already. Citronelle, Wilcox, Valley and others have come calling over the years but none have been able to lure him away from Linden. Williams has compiled an 87-19 record in eight seasons at Linden while turning the Patriots into one of the real powers of Class 1A. His teams have outscored opponents 4,255 to 1,147 over that time. Of those losses, four have come against 2A teams, one against a 4A team, two against 5A teams and one against a 6A team. Eight of those setbacks have come in the second round of the 1A playoffs or later. That means Williams has lost to a 1A team in the regular season only three times. His offense of choice is very similar to that Luker and Hankins, but he may well be the best defensive mind in Alabama high school football. He has earned real consideration for a job like Demopolis.
Patrick Plott – Tom Causey had Plott as an assistant for the 2010 season and was well aware of exactly what he was losing when Plott left for Pickens County in 2011. Plott is 86-27 in his career as a head coach including seven double-digit win seasons at three different schools. He was 26-9 in three seasons at Aliceville. He was 48-7 across four seasons over two stints at Pickens County and went 15-0 in 2013 to win the Class 1A state championship. He went 2-8 in his lone season at Class 4A Bullock County in 2009 but made the most of his first year in Class 5A when he led Greenville to a 10-3 record in 2014. Anyone who has ever met Plott has no questions about his character. The questions are whether he would be interested in the job and if he could win at Demopolis. I’d be willing to bet the answer to both of those is a strong affirmative.
Adam Winegarden – Alright, perhaps this one is a reach. After all, Winegarden just led his team to an 11-1 season at Fairhope. Winegarden’s resume is strong. He is 49-11 in five seasons as a head coach. He went 21-3 in two years at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and is 28-8 in three seasons at Fairhope. There is little evidence that he would want to go from a 7A job down to a Class 5A job, but he is another coach that merits a phone call.
Sam Adams – Speaking of Hillcrest coaches, Sam Adams made quite the impression in his first season at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in 2014. And while it is easy to look at the Hillcrest talent and dismiss Adams’ ability, it would be foolish to discount the intangible differences evidenced by his team this season. They were far more disciplined than their 2012 and 2013 predecessors. In a short time, Adams turned the Patriots into a real contender in Class 6A. And perhaps the offer to compete in a region that doesn’t include Clay-Chalkville would be enticing for the young head coach.
Ryan Lolley – He has only been a head coach for two years, but the safe money says that Ryan Lolley will be at a big program pretty soon. He took his Gordo squad to 7-4 in his debut season and followed that up with a 13-1 effort in 2014 that ended with a narrow 32-28 loss at Dale County in the semi-finals of the 3A playoffs.
I’m simply a guy who writes about these things for a living, but those are 10 strong candidates I would consider. Granted, there are several others out there who would make for good coaching options. There are proven coaches like Scott Rials (Satsuma and Elba), up-and-coming coaches like Charles Moodey Jr. (Aliceville), Ashley Kilcrease (Brantley) and Chris Wilson (Washington County), and small school legends like Brent Hubbert (Maplesville).
Whatever Dr. Tony Speegle’s choice – and the board of education has assured everyone that it is indeed his choice – there is no shortage of really good coaches who could probably be persuaded rather easily to show strong interest in the Demopolis job.
CAMDEN — The Marengo High basketball teams dropped a trio of games at Wilcox-Central Saturday night.
The junior varsity Panthers opened the night with a 58-45 loss to the Wilcox JV squad. Christion Wright led MHS with 18 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot. The lost dropped the JV Panthers to 3-5.
The Lady Panthers followed with a 62-10 loss to the Wilcox Lady Jaguars. Alton James led MHS with six points and five rebounds. Brittany Kendrick paced Wilcox with 12 points. The loss dropped the Marengo ladies to 2-6 overall.
The varsity boys wrapped up the night with Wilcox downing Marengo 86-42. Cordarius Pritchett led Marengo with nine points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals. D’Antwan Bonner led Wilcox with 17 points.
The loss drops the Panthers to 1-7 overall.
The Panthers are set to play again Thursday, Jan. 8 when they host Choctaw County at 5 p.m.
When I came up with the idea of having each of us share our favorite stories of 2014, I had no idea exactly how hard it would be to narrow that list down. The design of this idea was to tell you about the things we enjoyed writing this year. The lists likely will not be news heavy, but each story will have its own special meaning to its writer.
So here they are in no particular order and with no particular limitations. These were my favorite stories of 2014.
• Big ol’ Christmas tree – Barbara Blevins and her team built a 30-foot tall Christmas tree downtown. I knew nothing of it but just happened by one day in hopes of snagging a Photo of the Day. Sometimes the most fun stories are the ones you didn’t know you were going to write. In this instance, I got to tell of the creative process from inspiration to fruition of how Blevins and her team were adding their own piece to the Demopolis Christmas landscape.
• DMS in the Top 10 percent – There are so many negative stories when it comes to the world of education. Every now and again, it is really good to get to sit down and tell a good one. In this case, Demopolis Middle School received a rating that placed it in the Top 10 percent of Alabama middle schools according to Niche. Getting to break down the how and why of the rankings as well as getting feedback from DMS principal Blaine Hathcock was an interesting process. The real reward came from seeing just a little piece of payoff for the faculty that works so hard to educate students from sixth through eighth grades here in our city.
• Jeff Sessions visits the Farmhouse – In the interest of disclosure, I will readily admit that I was not initially looking forward to interviewing Senator Jeff Sessions when he visited Demopolis. I was not excited about the photo-op, the story or anything else that went along with it. What I got, however, was one of the more fun stories of my career. Sessions proved to be a terrific interview and easily one of the more interesting people I have had the opportunity to meet.
• Debbie Nichols leaves Demopolis High – I had no doubt when I sat down to interview Debbie Nichols that the long-time DHS counselor would shed a few tears. I did not understand at the time that I would want to do the same. Nichols truly loved the students of DHS and it was difficult to see the walls once coated so fully with pictures and newspaper clippings be stripped bare as she prepared to leave her post and head into the next phase of her life.
• Tyler Oates is a dude – I always knew Tyler Oates was a tough kid. But to watch him go from a Dec. 2013 car accident that left him with a broken back to taking the field on Opening Day of baseball season some two months later was pretty remarkable. What’s more is that Oates hit .395 that season and earned First Team Class 5A All-State Honors at third base for the Alabama Sports Writers Association. And it couldn’t have happened for a more likeable kid. Tyler Oates is a dude.
• Oh but Ray Williams… — Demopolis native Ray Williams broke multiple powerlifting world records this year. I got the pleasure of interviewing the ever-so-humble and ever-so-impressive Williams back in the summer. You talk about brushes with greatness…
• Taylor Polk, Devin Stroud sign – These were two very different stories with two very similar themes. In both cases, you had a former Demopolis High athlete who bet on himself and collected the payoff. Taylor Polk walked on at Troy University as a long snapper. After two years, he got his chance this year when he ascended to the top of the depth chart and the Trojans put him on scholarship. For Stroud, he had Tommy John surgery after playing injured for DHS during his senior year. He endured the rehab process, got himself on a mound and landed a scholarship from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College for his efforts. Rumble young man…
• Lady Longhorns win it all – I’ve covered one basketball state championship to this point in my career. That came in February when Marengo Academy’s ladies polished off a 27-0 campaign with an overtime win against Patrician. The win was especially sweet since the core of that team had been together on the varsity squad all the way back into the seventh and eighth grades.
• Ronda Russell climbs into the cage – I’ve done several stories over the years on the martial arts acumen of Ronda Russell, her husband Jay, and their students at Ross Martial Arts in Demopolis. In 2014, I did a story about Ronda turning to mixed martial arts for the first time. In her 30s, a wife, a business owner, a mother of two children, Russell had every reason to think the ship had sailed on her dream. But that’s not her attitude. She climbed into the cage for the first time this summer and the safe money says she’ll do it again.
• From the gridiron to the squared circle – I’m not even going to pretend that this was anything but my favorite story of the year. In fact, it is one of my favorite stories to date in my career. I grew up a wrestling fan. It has been a source of entertainment for me since I was about five years old. As such, the chance to interview former UWA linebackers turned WWE Tag Team Champions was absolutely one of the highlights of my career.