Archives for May 2017

Compton admitted to Rhode Island School of Design

Toaster Tale, a stop-motion animation by Banks Compton. (WAW | Contributed)

Banks Compton is unshaken that he will not attend his senior year of high school. He is not bothered by the fact that the institutional doors he will darken in September are exactly 1,265 miles away from the halls of Demopolis High School. For Banks, all the reasons not to go pale in comparison to the one big reason to go.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” he said plainly of his choice. “I really just like art. It’s what I want to do. I’m not worried about leaving friends because we have such good relationships that when I come and see them, we’ll all be happy to see each other. And, again, this all would’ve happened a year later. It’s not a huge life-changing event by just leaving one year earlier. I’m very happy with the friends I’ve made so far, but I don’t think it has made a huge impact on my decision just because that’s what I want to do. That’s my vision.”

Compton will forego his senior year of high school and get his GED after having been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design as a junior.

“When I saw on RISD’s website that they accept high school diplomas or GEDs, I’m like, ‘I could get a GED,” Compton exclaimed, still buzzing over the unexpected acceptance letter he received from the school.

“I didn’t think it would happen,” his mother, Lisa Compton, said of her son’s efforts to apply for the entrance into the school. “RISD is very competitive to get into and we knew that because we had done enough Googling about art schools thinking for next year. So, I didn’t think they would take someone so young since they have so many applicants. When he said he wanted to try, I thought it would be good practice for next year when it would be a real application. I never thought it would actually work.”

The application process proved an involved one for Banks as the he put together a pair of time-sensitive projects in addition to a portfolio of his work.

“I have to admit. I was surprised when he got in. We started Googling and seeing that RISD comes up on Top 5 lists of art schools. It was more than just filling out an application, he spent several weekends doing two art projects. He had to present new material as part of his application process along with the portfolio stuff. Everybody applying to RISD was doing the same project. It was something to directly compare students,” Hunter Compton, Banks’s father, said. “Being his parents, we’re extremely proud of him and all, but at the same time, I didn’t think he had a chance of getting in, so it was okay for him to apply.”

Banks was just as surprised as his parents when he learned he’d been admitted to the school.

“All of me was surprised. I didn’t think I was going to get in at all. It’s a very prestigious art school and you have to make two projects. I sewed my very first dress and covered the entire thing with puzzle pieces. I made it out of a curtain from Walmart and drop cloth canvas. Then I made my very first stop motion video, so it was just a lot of firsts. I think that showed the art school that I’m willing to take risks,” Banks said. “Also, with getting your GED, I’m willing to take the risk of leaving and leaving my senior year behind just to do what I love. I think that’s something that’s very valuable in the art world is to be able to take risks and not look back.”

Aside from the fact that Banks actually got accepted by RISD, just as impressive is the manner in which he completed his assigned application projects with such efficiency and elegance.

Puzzle dress, designed by Compton as part of the RISD admissions process. (WAW | Contributed)

“When you see how hard he worked to get in, that application process was not easy. And you weren’t going to make it through those projects. They assign a project on one day and everybody has two weeks to get it done,” Lisa said. “Part of what they’re wanting to see is, can you work under time pressure. Some people don’t make it through. He put in a lot of hours and was absolutely exhausted. Plus, on one of the assignments, I kept saying, ‘I don’t think you’re doing it right.’ So he had to stand up to his mother and defend his art choices. And it turns out, it was probably his best project. He was strong. He was determined. When someone has worked that hard for it and it was a real honor to get in, there was no way we could say ‘no’, so he’s going.”

Banks tested his acumen on the big stage last summer when he attended Parsons, a three-week summer program at Parsons in New York City.

“Banks wanted to see last year, ‘Am I any good?’ He went to Parsons in New York for three weeks,” Hunter noted.

“We told him to find a taxi, find your own way. He did, no trouble. He didn’t want to come home,” Lisa said.

Banks emerged from that program more determined than ever that he would ultimately pursue his dream. Little did anyone know how quickly he would actually catch up with that goal.

“It has kind of hit his mother, but I don’t know that it has fully hit her. We weren’t planning on him leaving for another year, emotionally or otherwise,” Hunter said. “But it’s really cool that he did get in.”

“We’ve all had to come to terms that we won’t see each other a lot. It won’t be like if he were at Alabama or UWA and could come home on weekends. He’s going to have to make it until Christmas, Spring Break, probably not even coming home at Thanksgiving,” Lisa said. “I have a flexible work schedule, so I’ll probably go up a couple of times a year. He’s going to have to get there and really make his world there. I think he can.”

While Banks will look to make his world at RISD beginning in the Fall and see exactly where his art will take him in the years to come, it is the tiny little corner of the world he calls home to which his parents point in explaining how he has gotten to where he is.

“We really did sit there and go, ‘Wow, out of the 4,000 applicants and only 300 got in, how was he picked?’ I think one of the things that probably showed through was how badly he wanted to go. In a way, being in Demopolis was one of his biggest strengths. He said, ‘We really haven’t had formal art programs when I’ve been here. To have said, ‘I taught myself off YouTube.’ To have shown that against all obstacles, he stuck with this and really pursued it. Yet, while you’re saying that Demopolis didn’t have the things that other kids had, they didn’t have AP art programs and AP teachers showing the kids, this school supported him so much,” Lisa said. “When he put on an art show at the hospital, all the faculty came. The superintendent came. The principal came. Whenever they’ve had productions here at the school, they’ve talked about him. They’ve displayed his art. I think, maybe being from a place that didn’t have everything, was the advantage.”

“He’s had a number of opportunities to show his art. He has been encouraged a lot, not just by us,” Hunter added.

While Banks found an affinity for art early, he looks to a middle school class for helping him to find passion and a high school teacher for helping put his talent to work.

“It started with the faculty here at Demopolis. Mrs. (Meggin) Mayben in middle school was very supportive. I liked art because of her. Actually, Mrs. (Connie) Davis for my business class told me that I should start selling my paintings, so she bought my first painting,” Banks said. “After that, I’ve been selling paintings around Demopolis, doing pet portraits, and I made money off of that. That money went to my first car. All of that was all good, but then I went to New York for three weeks, once I was there in that atmosphere with all those other kids who also appreciated art like I did and being able to learn so much there, I really knew that that’s what I wanted to do.”

“Mrs. Mayben did do some art in the middle school and she has been so supportive,” Lisa added. “I think the opportunities and support he got in middle school gave him the confidence to do that, to keep sticking with it and apply when everybody might’ve said, ‘That’ll never work.’”

From his elementary school doodles to the pet portraits that monetized his abilities, art has been a constant in Banks’s story. With his next move, he will look to add definitive and remarkable brushstrokes to a portrait that is far from complete.

“I’ve been doing art basically my entire life, just drawing or painting or something. It was really intensified after my first painting. I was like, ‘I can make money doing this.’ I was able to work out a system and start having extra spending money by using my talents,” Banks said. “I think it’s a great way of telling stories. By looking at other artists, you can see their life progress through their artwork. And I think that I have a story to tell, myself. I would like to share my story coming from a small town.”

Linden burst onto map at Class 1A state track meet

Tyroneisha Charleston sits back and relaxes after a day in which she won four medals at the Class 1A state track meet.

The Linden High track team is still riding high off a successful run at the Class 1A state meet earlier this month. The Patriot girls finished fourth out of 31 teams at the meet including five medals as a team.

Sophomore Tyroneisha Charleston starred at the meet, taking home four medals on the day. She took gold in the 100 meter dash with a time of 12.57. Charleston also took bronze in the high jump with a mark of 4-10 and bronze in the long jump with a finish of 14-11.75.

The Linden girls 4×100 relay team of Tyroneisha Charleston, Tomysha Boykin, Tameria Aldridge and Jakaria Miller celebrate after winning gold at the Class 1A state track meet.

Charleston also won gold as part of the 4×100 relay team that included Tomysha Boykin, Tameria Aldridge and Jakaria Miller. The team had a time of 51.48 seconds, more than a second ahead of the silver medalists.

The Linden girls also won gold in the 4×400 relay team with a squad that included Aldridge, Boykin, Miller and Jakaria Miller who finished with a time of 4:23.04.

The Linden boys finished fourth out of 26 teams with a performance that included medals in three events Charles Blackmon took silver in the 110 meter hurdles. Kevin Green finished second in the long jump. Roderick Dansby, Jaevius Smith, Blackmon and Green combined to win gold in the 4×100.


Demopolis Class of 2017 Honor Line

The Demopolis High School Class of 2017 Honor Line consists of Katherine Floyd, Baleigh Holtzclaw, Chelsea Monroe, Cheyenne Martin(Salutatorian), Julia Veres, Clayton McVay, Roderick Anderson, Courtney Smith, Abigail Latham, Anna Lonergan, Hunter Compton, R.J. Cox, Summer Earle, Mary F. Brown, Trezha Ruiz, Allison Polk, Nirali Patel, Natalie Saliba (Valedictorian), Lauren Boone, Caroline Overmyer, Ellen Dunklin, Jamie McGilberry and Mary M. Bradley. Not pictured is Will Key​.

Boone receives award in honor of Hope Vann

Demopolis High School Principal Blaine Hathcock and Barbara Hodge present the first Hope Vann Auxiliary Spirit Award to senior Lauren Boone. Hodge is the mother of the late Hope Vann, the beloved Demopolis High School student and auxiliary member who was killed in a car accident in December 2015.

Marengo County crash claims life of Coatopa man

A single-vehicle crash at 3:03 a.m., on May 25, claimed the life of a Coatopa man.

Damien Relot Toler, 29, was killed when the 2013 Freightliner he was driving left the roadway and struck an embankment. Toler was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash occurred on Alabama 25 near the 13 mile marker, nine miles south of Thomaston.

Nothing further is available as Alabama State Troopers continue to investigate.

Demopolis man dies after being struck by vehicle on Hwy. 80

On May 24, 2017, the Demopolis Police Department along with Demopolis Fire & Rescue and Amstar EMS responded to a call of a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle on U.S Hwy 80 near South Finest Meats. Upon arrival, officers located a male lying in the roadway suffering from injuries from the accident. Chief Tommie J. Reese, director of public safety for the City of Demopolis said the victim was taken to Bryan Whitfield Hospital and later transferred to DCH where he died from his injuries.

The victim was identified as 80-year-old Jake Rowser of Demopolis, known to many in the community by the nickname of “Mule.”

Reese said that an eyewitness stated that the victim was crossing the highway when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle traveling west on Hwy 80.

“This was just a tragic accident that occurred and no criminal charges will be brought against the driver of the vehicle,” said Reese.

“As the Chief of Police and the Director of Public Safety, I have to warn people who are crossing any highways or streets to look both ways and sometimes, it is better to wait if you think you cannot make it across in time, just do not try it.”

Harris becomes first Demopolis Division I track signee

Darnesha Harris signs her National Letter of Intent to compete for the University of South Alabama track team as her mother, Katrina Chambers, and grandmother, Annie Harris, look on.

Darnesha Harris’s track coaches at Demopolis High School can barely contain their emotions when they talk about their senior standout.

“She’s one of a kind. You don’t come across an athlete like this every day,” Deborah Boykin, who has coached Harris in indoor and outdoor track events, said.

Harris has spent five years in the Demopolis High varsity track program but reached her greatest milestone to date Wednesday when she signed a National Letter of Intent and officially collected a track scholarship from the University of South Alabama.

“I was really excited about the opportunity for her. I’m really proud of her. No one in my family has complete college except for my sister got her two-year degree just last week. So it’s really exciting for me,” Katrina Chambers, Harris’s mother, said during a signing ceremony in the DHS library Wednesday morning. “She has been talented from day one. It’s like she breathes track. I try to talk to her about other things, but that’s what is really in her heart. She loves track.”

Darnesha Harris (center) is flanked by her mother Katrina Chambers and grandmother Annie Harris in addition to being joined by DHS track coaches Rodney Rowser and Deborah Boykin as well as athletic director Tony Pittman.

For Harris, the interest in track grew into a full-blown passion early in her Tiger career.

“It was kind of in the ninth grade when I made it to state in the 400 meter and I called my mom crying because I wasn’t able to run. My 10th grade year, I just wanted to come back. I came back my 10th grade year and I won third place in two events that I had just started,” Harris recalled. “About my 10th grade year, everything started to sink in. You don’t take things seriously when you first get to high school, but you keep practicing and practicing and you just realize, ‘Okay, I’m really good at that. I need to start taking it more serious because I can actually get somewhere.’”

A multi-sport athlete at Demopolis High School, Harris was a starter on the girls basketball team but knew what awaited her at the conclusion of the season. With strong interest already being shown by collegiate track programs, Harris committed herself to improving upon her time in a specific event with the goal of improving her options.

“I was like, ‘Okay. Okay. I’m going to set it down. I’m going to keep doing better. Maybe I can get better offers.’ Sometimes, I know if you keep getting your time down, they’ll start offering you more. So, each track meet, I tried to get a (personal record) and just tried to make myself better so I could get more offers,” Harris said of her mentality following the receipt of her first offer.

One offer already in hand, Harris set her sights on reaching a new personal best in one specific event. She needed a 44-second time in the 300 meter hurdles.

“It was our last home track meet and it was a 44.83,” Harris said of the day she reached her lofty goal. “Nobody else would probably understand because they think 45s and 46s are good, but the lower your time the better. That’s when more colleges want you. That’s when more offers start to come in.”

Offers followed rather quickly. Harris spent much of the past month deliberating between offers from Troy and South Alabama.

“I just felt that the coaches were more caring at South. They knew what they wanted me to do. They had everything together. They were more organized. They told me what they wanted to do. They gave me my offer. They didn’t waste any time trying to get to me,” Harris said of her decision.

In accepting the offer from South Alabama, Harris becomes the first Demopolis High School athlete to sign a Division I track scholarship.

“Everyday when she came to practice, you saw it in her. She was the first one out there and she was strong for the whole practice,” Boykin said. “When the weather wasn’t good or she wasn’t feeling well, she led the team. She’s just an all-around athlete.”

“Great, hard-working individual that can help any team. She will be truly missed here,” Rodney Rowser, who has coached Harris since the eighth grade, said of the Jaguars’ latest signee.

Harris’s career at Demopolis culminated May 7 at the state track meet, where she finished second among Class 5A girls in the 100 meter hurdles with a time of 15.19, just one 100th of a second behind her state champion teammate Ashleigh Ivory. That race saw Harris get her cleat stuck in the starting block, resulting in her being the last competitor to get running. Still, perhaps more remarkable than getting stuck in the block and finishing second in the state is the story of her winning an indoor state championship earlier this year.

“She played a (basketball) game Thursday night. Friday morning, went to Birmingham. She came to me crying after her race. She said, ‘Coach Rod, I ran the worst race I ever ran.’ She came back home Friday and played another game. Came back to Birmingham Saturday morning. It was rough for me to tell her, ‘Darnesha, just go and compete.’ But that’s not her. She wants to go and win,” Rowser explained. “I told her, ‘Baby, look, we haven’t worked on hurdles all year. Let’s just go and get ready for outdoor season. But one thing I want you to do, when they call you over, I want you to keep moving. I went down to check on her after I told her to keep moving. I looked in her eyes and I said, ‘She’s not going just to compete. She’s going to win.’ She had the worst lane on the track.”

Harris went on to win the indoor state championship in the 60 meter hurdles despite not having practiced the event and having been in the middle of basketball season. But the feat came as no surprise to Rowser or Boykin, who each rave about the natural fluidity with which Harris has always competed.

“She came over in the eighth grade. I was sitting there watching her and I thought, ‘Who is this skinny girl?’ She was doing all these drills we do and so fluent. From that day, you could see it. It was just amazing,” Rowser said.

“She came out and did these hurdles with just incredible natural ability,” Boykin said. “She is amazing. When she is doing a 400 and she’s got someone in front of her, she’s like a predator. She keeps going and she’s so focused. It’s amazing to watch her.”

With the ink now dried on her letter of intent, Harris shifts her focus to readying for the next phase of her sprinting career.

“I have to be more serious about everything. I have to watch what I eat. I have to change my lifestyle, because if I want to be great, then I have to do what it takes to be great,” Harris said, noting that the impending challenge of extending the distance in her hurdles event dictates the need for improvements in her game. “Maybe just my strength in my arms and my legs. That would mainly just be trying to help me fight through the last 100 meters of my 400 hurdles. That’s what I need to work on.”

Tears and Laughter: Two men in the Black Belt, 2017 

The focal point of my backyard is a ten acre pond. Before it was a pond, it was a cotton field. You can’t tell it just by looking anymore, but through the woods is an antebellum home that once oversaw it. It still stands silent and majestic. Its walls don’t talk at all.

We could ride over to the river. We could be there within five minutes and from a secluded cliff we could look down at the sparkling Alabama that once brought people in and carried away bales of Black Belt cotton. But the proof of it now lies beneath a watery grave and can only be seen in black and white pictures.

It was the black fertile soil that invited in agriculture and helped fuel it. This region was once the wealthiest in the nation. It was home to affluent men and accomplished women. They wore the finest of dresses and slept on the best of linens and furnished their homes with elaborately handsome furniture.

None of this remains. Only in fragments and pieces. In busted-up sets of dishes forgotten about in old china cabinets. What wealth remains in Wilcox County has more to do with pine trees and paper than the cotton plant.

The one way in, one way out road I live on is named after the son of a slave. Perry Johnson is said to have fathered 23 children, though a set of twins passed away at birth. Most of my neighbors, practically without exception are the sons, daughters, and extended relatives of his children.

There is calm here now. You can feel it in the evening shade. Even the spirit in the air seems to whisper peace. But I’m glad the ground can’t talk. I know what was witnessed here and mirrored everywhere. You just would never know by the terrain.

Growing up I didn’t expect that I would ever live on a farm. I was not a member of the FFA. And maybe in retrospect, I should have been. It’s no secret that I have a fair amount of “Green Acres” in me. Usually my responsibility when it comes to farming is to stay out of the way. I’m too sensitive for some parts of it, and other parts can be tedious and unavoidably dangerous.

Such was the case this past Saturday morning, as it became clear that a first time mother cow needed help delivering. She had become panicked and unpredictable. It was more than one man could safely handle.

A neighbor came over and helped. These two men have helped one another many times over the past 25 years. They have prepped gardens that fed their families and other families. They have shared pears, pecans, Catawba worms and catfish. There has been an exchange of a couple of pet kittens and puppies along the way.

After storms they have worked together with other neighbors to cut fallen trees from the one way in, one way out road we all live on. If time allows, they will help one another again, both as neighbors and as friends.

They reminded each other of this assurance as they shook hands Saturday morning.

I don’t think they have ever noticed their hands aren’t the same color. It’s just not something that matters to men in the Black Belt.

Amanda Walker is a blogger and contributor with, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Contact her at or at

Credit union branch proposed at Demopolis High; retirees honored in Monday meeting

Four of seven retirees were present at Monday’s BOE meeting, including, from left, Katie Poole, Paula Bond, Lori Giles, and Tammy Spruell. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Opening a branch of Naheola Credit Union at Demopolis High School and having students earn credit for operating it was proposed to the Demopolis City Board of Education at a called meeting Monday.

Under the proposal, the pilot program would start in the fall and be part of the Finance Academy, under the direction of Kelly Gandy. Students would earn a credit hour for taking it, explained Ashley Coplin, marketing director for the credit union.

“It lines up perfect with the state standards,” added Gandy.

Up to four seniors would be operating the credit union branch two days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., if the proposal is accepted. Students would be interviewed by credit union personnel before being hired.

Gandy said that while it would benefit her students, she is pleased with the impact it will have on the rest of the student body by helping them understand finances.

The credit union would be part of a classroom course open to all students at the high school, Gandy continued.

Coplin reviewed the duties and responsibilities of both the students and Naheola Credit Union. She stressed that the credit union would absorb all costs for setting up and operating the facility as well as safety features. All DHS would need to provide is the space.

To that Gandy added that principal Blaine Hathcock already has designated an area that can be used.

Board members and Supt. Kyle Kallhoff asked several questions about how the course would be conducted. No action was taken.

The board honored seven retirees who have contributed 168.5 combined years in the Demopolis school system.

Retirees attending the meeting were Lori Giles, 29 years; Paula Bond, 11; Tammy Spruell, 30, and Katie Poole, 11. Not in attendance were Julie Lee, 28.5 years; Cynthia Whitlock, 25, and Poncho Robinson, 30.

In other personnel matters, the board approved the following:

  • Conditional employment: Robert Wilkerson, DHS history; Matthew Mellown, DHS special education; Lindsey Thorne, Crystal Freeman and Nicholas Seymore, Westside Elementary; Clint Humphrey, DHS paraprofessional, and Kristina Kallhoff, U.S. Jones Elementary.
  • Resignation: Elaine Calvin, USJ; Brittany Dunson, DHS physical education; Ashley Allen, Demopolis Middle School business and marketing; Lincoln Luker, WES physical education, and Andrew Luker, DHS history teacher.
  • Tamyla James was granted a substitute teacher license.
  • William Jackson, WES lunchroom worker, will be employed as a temporary custodian throughout the summer.

In the only other action, the board approved a contract with Michael Randall to provide ground maintenance to all campuses.

The board next will meet on Thursday, June 1, from 2-4 p.m. for a work session.

Boykin, Cox receive Student-Athlete of the Year honors

The West Alabama Watchman and the Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board hosted the second annual Marengo County Student-Athlete of the Year Banquet Monday night.

In a fun-filled evening that featured Eli Gold as the guest speaker, hundreds gathered in the fellowship hall of Linden Baptist Church to celebrate 12 award finalists from throughout the county.

The Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award went to Linden High School senior Tomysha Boykin. As a student, Boykin is unmatched in the halls of Linden High. She boasts a 4.0 GPA and a 25 ACT to go along with her valedictorian status and was the Class 1A, Region 2 winner of the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Achievement Award.

Her non-athletic extracurricular involvements have ranged from class president to vice president of the Beta Club to the LHS-UWA STEM Team.

At the top of her class is one thing, but the diminutive dynamo has excelled at three sports in her varsity career. A rotational player in both volleyball and basketball since the seventh grade, Boykin turned in her best seasons as a senior. She averaged five kills, six digs, six aces and a block per game in volleyball. In basketball, she helped her squad to a 22-5 season while averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 assists and 6.1 steals per contest. She also earned ASWA Third Team All-State honors as well as First Team All-County.

Yet, it may actually be track where the future UAB student shined the most as a senior. She was a state qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles. And she owns two state championships as part of the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams.

Other finalists for the award included Marengo Academy’s Macey Petrey, Marengo High’s LaVonyae Miller, A.L. Johnson’s Akayla McGhee, Sweet Water’s Lara Little and Demopolis High senior Abbey Latham.

The Male Student-Athlete of the Year Award went to Demopolis High School’s R.J. Cox. Cox will play his college baseball with MUW out of Columbus, Mississippi, allowing him the opportunity to help the school build its baseball program from the ground up. He finished his senior season with a .333 average and 22 RBIs as well as a 5-2 record on the mound to go along with a 2.42 ERA and 43 strikeouts over 43 innings.

Cox is also a three-year starter at linebacker for the Demopolis High football team and earned West Alabama Watchman All-County honors in both sports for three consecutive years.

But athletics come nowhere close to being the entirety of Cox’s resume. His tenure at DHS has included National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, DECA, Student Council, National Academy of Finance and Beta Club. He also earned the community service endorsement.

The Class 5A, Region 4 winner of the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Achievement Award, Cox finishes with a 4.2 GPA.

Other finalists included A.L. Johnson’s Deandre Croom, Linden’s C.J. Robinson, Marengo High’s Roosevelt Thompson, Marengo Academy’s Weldon Aydelott and Sweet Water standout Flynn Mabowitz.

The Marengo County Parks and Recreation Board awarded $500 each to the athletic departments of Linden High and Demopolis High as part of the prize package for the winners.