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Top Stories of 2017

In this first week of 2018, the Herald & Tribune would like to take a moment to look back to the top  stories of 2017 – a collection of stories with the greatest impact on our community, many of which promise to continue into this new year. From coach controversy and school disputes to decisions on fluoride treatment and plans for downtown development, 2017 showed us once again that the size of the town has little bearing on the quantity of the news. Below are a few breakdowns of just a few of those stories.

Coach controversy spills off of field

Gerald Sensabaugh landed the Crockett football job in January of 2017.

When Coach Gerald Sensabaugh stepped onto the David Crockett High School football field in the fall of 2017, it was hard to determine who was the happiest: students thrilled to have a true NFL hero at the coaching helm or Coach Sensabaugh, who expressed his determination to make a difference in the lives of each kid he encountered on his team.

“I wanna come to Crockett and bring a winning tradition to Crockett,” Sensabaugh told the Herald & Tribune in an interview at the beginning of the season. “I wanna win as many games as possible. I can’t promise anything, but I can tell you — I’m gonna give it my all. We can do big things here.”

But by early October, the scene had undergone a drastic change. With Crockett’s annual Musket Bowl contest against rival Daniel Boone on the horizon, Sensabaugh announced via social media that his team’s practice had been canceled by the school system.

Director of Washington County Schools Kimber Halliburton said the decision to cancel the Pioneers’ practice came after Sensabaugh practiced an injured player, and referred to unprofessional behavior by the coach, as well as his accusations against employees involved in the athletic program.

Next came the somewhat startling announcement that Sensabaugh  has been put on administrative leave for practicing said player, verbal attacks and profanity. Athletic Director Josh Kite was also put on administrative leave after a claim from Sensabaugh that Kite offered him prescription drugs.

The storm had only just begun. Parents on both sides of the controversy joined the mix, with Sensabaugh’s supporters demanding his immediate reinstatement via protests, rallies and Facebook.

As of press time, the coach remains on administrative leave, and is currently said to be looking at a run for the position of  Sullivan County Mayor.

Off the field, the coach controversy also helped bring into focus frustration with details in the county’s decision for a new Joneborough School. Now united, they stormed the board. And brought about the next top story for 2017;

‘Tear down the round’ cry escalates

Discussions about what to do with Jonesborough’s Elementary School has by no means been limited to 2017. Nearly as soon as talk emerged about the need for a new Boones Creek school, similar calls for a new Jonesborough School began to surface.

As the Washington County School Board and County Commission moved into 2017, however, the course seemed to be set. Jonesborough would not have to wait nearly as long for their new school as originally anticipated, but it would be a new school/renovation hybrid designed to save on costs. As part of that renovation, the elementary school round portion would be retained. And a new magnet school would go into a renovated middle school

As with earlier Jonesborough school discussions, there at first appeared to be little input from the community. Then, amid the Coach Sensabaugh protests, a call to “tear down the round” emerged.

The retention of what many protesters saw as an outdated, inferior product for Jonesborough that could save the county money — against a backdrop of a brand-new Boones Creek School which had broken ground miles down the road – struck some residents as another example of unfair treatment.

The protests continued to rise and, in a surprise 11th hour decision, the board voted to ‘tear down the round’ and make whatever concessions necessary to make that possible.

Still ahead is the question of whether the county – arbiter of the funds – will concur, what will happen to the proposed magnet school and whether current protesters will be appeased.

Fluoride is out, then it’s back in again

The BMA spent time throughout the year discussing fluoride.

The Town of Jonesborough’s decision in early 2017 to discontinue the addition of fluoride to its drinking water took many by surprise.

The vote — unanimous except for one lone holdout, Alderman Terry Countermine – issued a new course for a town which had provided fluoride in its water for nearly 20 years.

The decision came after months of public hearings and discussions, as well as an informal residential vote which came in with about 50 percent for and 50 percent against the addition of fluoride.

Plans were set for implementation of the town’s new directive in the coming summer. And the issue was considered closed – at least for the time being.

But a group of committed local healthcare professionals, including the town’s own Dr. Bill Kennedy and Alderman Countermine, could not let the issue lie. They began meeting to discuss a strategy. And they began to continue to voice their concerns,

In the end, swayed by the arguments, the board reversed its decision with a unanimous vote, this time in favor of keeping the fluoride,.

“Since this issue was brought before the board, I’ve struggled to have many of my questions about our water treatment process answered,” Aldermen Chuck Vest —  who voted in February against fluoride’s use in town water — told the board at the Aug. 14, 2017 meeting.

“I’ve tried to keep an open mind,” he continued. “So recently a reputable study from the Mayo Clinic was released  and I’ve had more conversations with professionals I respect and trust.”

Chuckey Depot tops town improvements for 2017

There is no doubt about it. Jonesborough is a railway kind of town. From those early stories of the Immortal Thirty, that collection of men in Jonesborough’s history who persevered to bring the railroad through their growing town, this community has been one that is used to marching to the tune of a train whistle.

That’s why it seemed so fitting to area historians and train aficionados alike that the Chuckey train depot would come to settle in Jonesborough as the new Chuckey Depot Museum.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Oct., 2, 2017 at its new location at 110 South Second Avenue in what has be christened W.C. Rowe Park. The park is named after Rowe, life-long resident of Jonesborough and the area known for his contributions to the Town of Jonesborough.

The ribbon cutting was the conclusion of a five-year project. Built on the railroad’s right of way in Chuckey, the depot was threatened with demolition and, due to railroad policy, the building could not stay in its original location. 

Now, thanks to work by the town, the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia and the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society, the museum provides ample opportunity for visitors to step back to a golden age of railroad and get a firsthand view of what it was like to wait for a train and travel afar.

The Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society also partnered in the project, providing the restoration of a red caboose which sits adjacent to the depot in addition to numerous artifacts and photos.

For more information about the Depot, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423)753-1010.