Category: Profiles

CHS senior builds mascot skills to follow college dreams

Eighteen-year-old senior Tanner Stockton plans to study political science in college. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
Eighteen-year-old senior Tanner Stockton plans to study political science in college. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Tanner Stockton, an 18-year-old senior at Clarkrange High School in Clarkrange, Tenn. has been the school’s mascot – Brutus the Buffalo – for the past two years.

Stockton said, “It’s definitely been a cool experience. You get to do something a lot of people can’t say they do. I mean it’s really an experience kind of like a big secret. You go into a room and come out as a whole new person.”

He also said that the student body has been very supportive of his role at sporting events. He laughed, “Before games people say, ‘Are you going to hop in the suit yet?’ I’m like, ‘Soon. I’ve got another three hours.’ They want me in in early so I can just go crazy.”

“U.S. News and World Report” identified CHS as a bronze-level high school in its annual Best High Schools list. The administration and faculty work diligently to increase academic rigor and encourage students to apply for universities. However, career options are not always obvious in this rural town.

Brutus the Buffalo (Tanner Stockton) helps the CHS cheerleaders on the sideline of the game against Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, on Feb. 6.
Brutus the Buffalo (Tanner Stockton) helps the CHS cheerleaders on the sideline of the game against Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, on Feb. 7. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Stockton, however, has been researching his future opportunities for some time as a mascot and as a former member of the JROTC program. He said, “I’m planning to major in political science, and then, from there I plan to go to OCS, which is officer training school, and do military law for the Air Force.”

Stockton participated in JROTC for three years and served as a commanding officer with the rank of Cadet Major during his junior year.

During the summer before his senior year, he made a difficult decision to not continue with JROTC.

Stockton said, “I arrived at that decision because I had my normal classes, and I had dual-enrollment classes, so I was taking college classes. And then on top of that we had the busy ballgame schedule, and then everything with JROTC junior year. It was too much to handle. I was exhausted. This year I just decided to take off. … And there’s some mascot scholarships out there which you can try out and make it. You can pretty much go anywhere from there. That’s what I’m hoping to do in college.”

He has attended several mascot camps through the Universal Cheerleaders Association, including one at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Daniel Drake Fenlon, who is TTU’s Awesome Eagle mascot, was one of his instructors. Fenlon has also won the mascot national championship for the past two years.

Scouts from TTU and from Bryan College have attended CHS games to watch Stockton in action.

Stockton interacts with spectators during half time at the game against Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, on Feb. 6.
Stockton interacts with spectators during half time at the CHS game against Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, on Feb. 7. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

In spite of Stockton’s ambitions to be a college mascot, he said that his job now is to support the cheerleaders and entertain the crowds. He takes pride in making people happy.

Stockton shared one of his favorite memories: “There was one ballgame we had at Jackson County. This little girl was crying all night because she saw me walking by. … And her mom was like, “Don’t be afraid,” so she brought the little girl [where I was standing], and she was hiding behind her mom’s legs. … I just sit down Indian style I just [do a hand gesture to come], and she comes over. And I high five her, and she high fives me back. Well, we start playing paddy cake right there while the ballgame is going on – completely missed the fourth period of the girls game. I’m just playing paddy cake with this girl, and she’s laughing and giggling and she’s starting to warm up. … I was really just focusing on getting that girl to calm her down – get her used to mascots.”

Stockton started a Facebook page for Brutus the Buffalo. He said, “It was originally just meant to inform people. Let them know the next game, the time, when to be there – also for pep club members.

“In two days, we went from having no friends to over 100, and then we had our [Fentress] county executive Mike Cross add us, so that was pretty cool to have him add us. Then I posted on there, ‘I hope to see you at our next game Mr. County Executive Mike Cross,’ and he liked it and commented, so that was pretty cool.”

Stockton’s mascot Facebook page now has 321 likes.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ opens early to benefit Crossville, Tenn. boy with Sanfilippo syndrome

On January 30, the Cumberland County Playhouse (CCP), in Crossville, Tenn., opened its student-volunteer production of “The Wizard of Oz” one day early for a sold-out benefit to support four-year-old Rylan Hyder, who was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome.

The Cumberland County Playhouse opens "The Wizard of Oz" one day early on January 30, as a benefit for Rylan Hyder, 4.
The Cumberland County Playhouse opens “The Wizard of Oz” one day early on January 30, as a benefit for Rylan Hyder. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Mandy Dearman, assistant to the producing director and the volunteer coordinator at CCP, contacted Nicole Simmons, Hyder’s mother, about organizing this benefit. Simmons said, “We went to high school together, and she called me up one day. Rylan has a Facebook page, … and everybody has seen it on there and wanted to do something for him.”

“Everyone’s been very nice,” Simmons said, “and we’re very accepting of that. We appreciate it!”

Nicole Simmons, Rylan's mother, speaks with well wishers before the play begins. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
Rylan’s mother Nicole Simmons (center) speaks with well wishers before the play begins. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Bryce McDonald is the associate producing director and public relations coordinator at CCP. While introducing the production, he said, “Being here tonight is such a beautiful show of community love, and it’s all for that little boy, so thank you all so much for that. We at the playhouse would like to thank our very own Mandy Dearman for bringing this to us. … We’d also like to thank Tams-Witmark. That’s a licensing house that owns ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and they allowed us to do this performance and to have a voucher system, so you could purchase a voucher to see the show. …”

Dorothy (Ellie Burnett) talks with Hickory (Lenny Lively), Hunk (Ransom Velker) and Zeke (Malachi Banegas) on the Gale farm. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
Dorothy (Emery Smith) talks with Hickory (Lenny Lively), Hunk (Ransom Velker) and Zeke (Malachi Banegas) on the Gale farm. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

CCP donated all of its ticket and concession sales from the evening to the Hyder family to help with their travel expenses to Columbus, Ohio, where Hyder will be evaluated for a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Many in the audience wore “Saving Rylan” shirts to show their support for the family. The back of the shirts read “’I can do all things through Christ.’ –Philippians 4:13” and “Finding a cure for Sanfilippo syndrome.”

On January 31, CCP shared a photo on Facebook of the Hyder family with “The Wizard of Oz” cast. The post stated that the event raised $6,000.

Good witch Glinda (Rachel Masters) and Munchkins greet Dorothy (Emery Smith) and Toto (Taylor Dearman) in Munchkinland. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
Good witch Glinda (Rachel Masters) and Munchkins greet Dorothy (Emery Smith) and Toto (Taylor Dearman) in Munchkinland. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Doctors diagnosed Hyder with Mucopolysaccharidoses or MPS III-A – also known as Sanfilippo syndrome – on November 21. His body cannot produce the enzymes necessary to reprocess materials in cells and causes the cells to store biological materials that the body should be able to remove naturally. This build-up in the cells may lead to the degeneration of not only the heart, joints and bones, but also the respiratory and central nervous systems. Hyder is specifically missing the heparan N-sulfatase enzyme.

Simmons said, “[Prior to the diagnosis, Rylan] had been having some gastro issues, which is what I thought it was because his belly would get distended. Blood work showed increased liver enzymes, enlarged spleen and liver, so that’s why they continued with more testing because they had thought it might be a genetic disorder. …”

Rylan Hyder sits on his father’s lap (Jonathan Hyder) in the main theater as seats fill up for the sold-out benefit performance. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
The Cumberland County Playhouse presents "The Wizard of Oz" volunteer production. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
The Cumberland County Playhouse presents “The Wizard of Oz” volunteer production, which will be playing through February 21. (Photo by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Simmons and her husband Jonathan Hyder will take Hyder to Nationwide Children’s Hospital this month for evaluations to prepare for a clinical trial.

Simmons said, “The clinical trial hasn’t made it through the last FCA approval, so, as of right now, there’s no set date when the clinical trial will start. … They’re hopefully proposing sometime this summer.”

At Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Hyder family will be working with neurosurgeon Dr. Kevin Flanigan, the clinical research coordinator of the trial; Dr. Kim McBride, a geneticist; and Dr. Haiyan Fu and Dr. Doug McCarty, researchers in gene therapy, at Nationwide.

“They have to get the medicine just so-so for humans,” said Simmons. “So, hopefully, there are no set backs. It’s a virus they will inject into the spinal column. What that virus is supposed to do is to give them the enzyme that they are missing to stop the accumulation of heparan sulfate on the brain. If everything goes OK, it should be like a one-time treatment type deal. That’s the whole plan.”

Since Hyder’s diagnosis, Simmons has researched the Sanfilippo syndrome and made connections with several support groups. She said, “The National MPS Society is a good support group. Our private Facebook page [for MPS] is a very good support group because the people who are on that Facebook page only have children with this disorder. … Nobody else can see what’s written on it. … That helps a lot.”

The Hyders have three sons: Gage, 7; Brayden, 6; and Rylan, 4. Simmons said, “[His brothers] are good with him. They’re still young. They don’t totally get it. We answer questions as questions come about. It’s kind of hard explaining that to a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, so we just take it as it comes.”

Donations can still be given to the Saving Rylan fund on For those who wish to donate in Crossville, Progressive Savings Bank has a “Saving Rylan” account set up at 807 N. Main St.

(Graphic by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)
(Graphic by Diahan Krahulek / Full Sail University)

Crossville teacher uses problem-solving in visual art classes

Dale Torri-Safdie teaches visual art at Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, Tenn., as both a creative and an academic subject.

This video highlights the strategies Dale Torri-Safdie uses to teach her Art I students how to build clay animals.

Over the past two weeks, Torri-Safdie has been teaching her Art I students how to make clay animals. Students started by drawing the animals they wanted to sculpt and then breaking down their drawings into shapes. They learned how to use pinch pots, slabs and coils to build their animals and how to slip and score their pieces.

The biggest lesson of this project has been problem-solving. Torri-Safdie said, “It’s not just, ‘We’re all going to do this together, and you must follow the steps.’ They have to conceive of what their animal is and figure out what building technique will work for them to get the effects they want. So there’s more experimentation and problem-solving that they have to do.”

Torri-Safdie also incorporated geography, physics and mathematics into her art lesson. In her presentation to ready students for the project, she asked them to identify the location of an artist’s home country and to use the clay terms they had learned to speculate how artists prevented their works from being top-heavy. Just before students started to build their animals, she showed them a 25-pound block of clay and asked them to figure out how she should divide it to give each of them approximately three pounds.

Torri-Safdie said, “I always feel rewarded when I see them doing this because it’s really something to see a project that totally absorbs every student. Everyone – when they’re doing this – is pretty much on task and focused and just happy about the whole process.”

Webster brings passion to her role as Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy’

Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville has been nicknamed "Tennessee's Family Theater." (Photo by Diahan Krahulek)
The Cumberland County Playhouse was nicknamed “Tennessee’s Family Theater.” (Photo by D. Krahulek)

Company member and education director of Cumberland County Playhouse takes on role of lifetime in iconic musical

A 35-member ensemble cast from the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville, Tennessee, performed “Gypsy” on Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

Etchison, Webster and Ross play leading rolls in 'Gypsy.' (Photo used by permission of CCP)
Etchison, Webster and Ross play leading roles in ‘Gypsy.’ (Photo used by permission of CCP)

Since July 18, Weslie Webster has played the main character of Mama Rose, a show business mother willing to do anything to make stars out of her daughters. DeAnna Etchison is Rose’s shy daughter Louise who, in a desperate moment to provide for her family and win her mother’s approval, takes a job as a burlesque dancer. In time, Louise becomes the famous Gypsy Rose Lee. Jason Ross plays Herbie, a former agent who Rose talks into managing her daughters’ act and who falls in love with Rose.

“[Being in the play] has been rewarding,” Webster said. “It’s the best musical. Lots of people say this is the best musical ever written just because the story is amazing. It’s real. It’s gritty. … It’s one of the biggest roles I’ve ever done.”

Clive Barnes, a theater and dance critic for “The New York Times” is often quoted from his review of the 1974 ‘Gypsy’ revival in promotional materials for theaters across the country: “‘Gypsy’ is one of the best of musicals and it improves with keeping.” He also called it “a musical to think about, ponder and love.”

Barnes also wrote, “Everything about ‘Gypsy’ is right. The Jule Styne score has a lilt and a surprise to it. The music bounces out of the pit, assertive, confident and cocky, and has a love affair with Stephen Sondheim’s elegantly paced, daringly phrased lyrics. And then there is the book by Arthur Laurents.”

Weslie Webster is costumed for her first entrance. (Photo by D. Krahulek)

“Lots of songs. A lot of monologues,” Webster said. “You just don’t find that in modern mainstream musicals very often. It’s different. The structure’s different. It’s rewarding, and it’s stressful and it’s amazing. I’m proud that we got to do it here.”

In a video interview posted on the playhouse’s Facebook page, Webster said that, regardless of how each “iconic” actress has portrayed Rose, they all have the common element of passion for the character. She also talked about the enthusiasm of the rest of the cast and how supportive they have been to her throughout this project.

Weslie Webster interviewed about ‘Gypsy’ (Aug. 13, 2014)

Webster said that her parents drove from North Carolina in August to see her perform this role. She added, “After I bowed I asked the audience to bear with me a second because my mommy was in the audience and because [the play] is about mother-daughter relationships. I wanted to thank my parents for allowing me to do this and always being supportive. It was special.”

Sally English, a member of the playhouse board, volunteered as an usher at this performance. She said, “Every year, I think they can’t top what they’ve done before, and then they do it again. Everything here is so good—so good.”

The play included many well-known songs: “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Together Wherever We Go” and “Rose’s Turn.”

From start to finish, the audience responded enthusiastically to ‘Gypsy’ with open laughter, groans of shock at Rose’s behavior and, finally, a standing ovation for Webster, Etchison and Ross during the curtain call.

'Gypsy' audience gathers in lobby for pre-show entertainment.
‘Gypsy’ audience gathers in lobby for pre-show entertainment. (Photo by D. Krahulek)

The last performances for “Gypsy” are on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 2:30 p.m. and on Friday, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be ordered on the Cumberland County Playhouse website, or by calling the box office at 931-484-5000.

McDaniel elected state president of high school leadership group

Cumberland County High School senior Britney McDaniel will lead Tennessee’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America in outreach program development

At the state conference for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (“FCCLA”) in May 2014, members elected Britney McDaniel, a 17-year-old senior at Cumberland County High School (“CHS”) in Crossville, Tennessee. as their state president for the 2014-15 school year.

Photo by Connie Lawrence
Photo by Connie Lawrence

Along with her school adviser Rachel Shoemaker, McDaniel will serve on the state executive council with five other state officers and their advisers. They have developed goals for high school and elementary school programs throughout Tennessee. McDaniel said, “We have a membership campaign we’re working on. We’re also trying to push social media because what teenager doesn’t have social media. It goes with our membership campaign, but also, in itself, we want to make sure we’re pushing social media with FCCLA out there.” McDaniel maintains the state Twitter account.

McDaniel and the state officers will also focus on involving members in every aspect of the organization’s name. They are encouraging chapters to develop programs that encourage members to be leaders in their families and in their local communities and develop leadership skills for their future careers.

Shoemaker, who teaches Family and Consumer Science classes at CCHS, said that McDaniel has handled herself well in her new position. She said, “She reminds others, when they try to set her apart from themselves, that she’s ‘just a regular girl’.

“Britney is a very mature young lady,” said Shoemaker. “She made up her own mind about resigning from cheerleading during her senior year after years of doing it in order to focus on her job as FCCLA state president.”

McDaniel said, “The week we were at state was the week of cheer tryouts back home, so … I called my coaches and told them, ‘I wasn’t expecting to get the position that I got, but now that I’m the president of Tennessee, I feel that my focus needs to be on Tennessee FCCLA — making sure I’m doing everything I can to make our program successful.’ And I knew FCCLA would take me farther in my career goals because I wasn’t planning on cheering in college. I just knew that I needed to run with FCCLA.”

When McDaniel called her mother Tammy McDaniel on the night her win was announced at the state conference, Mrs. McDaniel said that she was as stunned as her daughter, but said, “Of course, I am real proud of her.”

A personal goal that McDaniel has set for herself is to speak directly with as many Tennessee members as possible. She said, “These people are looking up to me as their president, but I don’t want to be put on such a pedestal that they’re afraid to talk with me. I think that if I can just mingle with the members and tell them ‘Hey, I’m just a normal teenager just like you, and I’m here to do a job’ that we can still have conversations.”

Photo by Hope Tenpenny
Photo by Hope Tenpenny

Additionally, McDaniel competed on the national level in the job interview STAR event (Students Taking Action with Recognition) for which she received a gold medal. Since second grade, she has known that she wants to be a teacher, so she used this project to research her future career. She said, “You have to find out all the specific job requirements of that job like hours, wages, etc. for my portfolio. … I think [the judges] have 10 minutes before you go in for the interview. They look through it and ask you questions based off of what’s in there … and some of them ask questions like ‘Why are you more qualified than all the other applicants?’ and ‘What skills do you have for this job?’”

She has been competing in STAR events since she was a high school freshman. She said, “When I knew that … when I got past district [competitions] to go to state and meet all kinds of people, I was just so excited because I just love meeting new people, talking to people, making new friendships. That was something that really drove me to work hard.”

Her local FCCLA chapter at CCHS actively plans for community outreach. McDaniel said that one of her favorite projects for class has been making sock monkeys for patients at the local hospital emergency room. She also expressed excitement about a project called “Little Free Library” that her local chapter has planned for this school year. She said, “Mrs. Shoemaker actually found it on Pinterest. You get these cabinets from Lowe’s—like an unfinished cabinet. You put a glass door on it, and put books inside it. And then you place it somewhere like [Centennial Park] or a little neighborhood. So it’s a little library for the kids in that neighborhood to come and get a book…. We want to find some communities where kids don’t get a chance to go to the library much.”

When speaking to potential members, McDaniel likes to tell them about their FCCLA trips, the people they will meet and their community outreach programs and the value of listing this leadership organization on their college applications. She said, “We try to encourage them with how much fun it’s going to be, but it’s not just for fun. We’re also learning leadership skills. … We’re learning how to be strong leaders in our community with community service.”

Rhino statue will serve as Alex Larue memorial

Alex Larue, an 11-year-old resident of Fentress County, Tenn. passed away on July 9, from brain cancer. Because he loved to visit the rhinoceroses at the Knoxville Zoo, his family established a memorial rhinoceros statue fund.

According to the Prayers for Alex Facebook page, the family goal for the statue, which will be installed at the Knoxville Zoo, is $5,000.

In spite of his illness, he inspired many people within Fentress County with his upbeat attitude. Amy McRary, a journalist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, wrote “Remembering Alex,” an article published on July 26, about Larue’s indomitable spirit and playfulness. She quoted zookeeper Robin Adams, who met Larue several times on his visits to the zoo: “‘He just had this fighting spirit. He wouldn’t let anybody pity him. He fought what he had so bravely and so matter-of-factly.'”

Contributors may donate via credit card or PayPal at the Alex LaRue Memorial at Knoxville Zoo” link. People may also contribute by mailing checks to Sharon Moore, Knoxville Zoo Development Department, P.O. Box 6040, Knoxville, TN 37914. Checks must include the note “Alex Larue.”

The Knoxville Zoo posted this photo of a white rhino on its animal information pages.
The Knoxville Zoo posted this photo of a white rhino on its animal information pages.

Prayers for Alex posted on Aug. 1, that the memorial fund has received $2,500 in donations.