Today I’d like to take a little time to recognize the graduating class of 2020 across the world–with a special shout out to the seniors of Rhea County High School.

These girls and guys were robbed of some very special and long-awaited moments due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Everything from dance recitals, theater plays, dances/proms, sports seasons/award banquets, athletic senior nights, awards days and even graduations have all been called off across the country. These kids have waited years upon years for these moments only to learn they’ll never get to live them out.

Rhea County’s Mallory Hampton, a 2,000-point club member, will play at Samford next season. (Herald-News Photo/Christopher Hall)

When it comes to their students, both teachers and coaches alike always remember their first four-year class they saw transition from freshman to graduating seniors.

The same applies for me as a former newspaper sports editor in Dayton, Tennessee. When I arrived in East Tennessee, this 2020 class was second semester eighth graders. So during my time from 2015-2019 at The Herald-News, these young women and men grew up right before my eyes. Time waits for no one it and truly flew by for me.

Rhea County soccer’s Hailey Corvin was an energetic and vocal leader for the Lady Eagles on the pitch. (Herald News Photo/Christopher Hall)

While my heart breaks for ALL seniors this year in both high school and college, I have a special connection to those seniors at Rhea County High School.

I watched them grow and mature into better athletes and see their dreams of playing at the next level unfold right before my eyes. I saw the excitement and appreciation for our coverage of their games and other extra curricular activities.

Rhea County Volleyball’s Keylee Morgan, daughter of 3-time FLW Angler of the Year Andy Morgan, on her senior night in Fall 2019. (Herald-News Photo/Christopher Hall)

I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all of you on your graduation. I wish each of you the best as you begin taking these next steps in life in the midst of unprecedented times in both the sports world and life in general.

Facebook and twitter are great tools for staying connected and I’ve enjoyed staying in the loop with all of you the past few months. I look forward to continuing to do so as this next chapter begins.

Rhea County bowler Phillip Rogers (Herald-News Photo/Christopher Hall)

The grind of a small town newspaper sports editor–who also happens to cover just about everything else in between–was a grueling one. However, spending time at games highlighting these kids and providing both the athletes and their families lifetime memories made it worthwhile.

Maddie Taylor (Track and Field/Basketball) is headed to Union College for T&F. She is the younger sister of former American Idol contestant Drake McCain. (Herald-News Photo/Christopher Hall)

As a sports reporter, I hate they walked off the field after a game or practice in March not realizing it would be the last time they’d compete in a Rhea County uniform.

On top of the devastating news and effects Covid-19 has had on us all, it is far from the only thing this RCHS senior class has endured this academic year. It was already an absolutely heart wrenching year for the entire student body.

During the week of fall break 2019, the student body lost not one, not two but THREE very special and beloved staff members; all separately to unrelated causes. All three were very well-liked around school and just genuinely great men who always greeted you with a smile.

Two-sport, All-District standout Ricky Guthrie is headed to Roane State Community College in the fall. (Herald-News Photo/Christopher Hall)

Michael Yarber was a teacher in the RCHS special programs department. Charlie Benton–a VFL [Vol for Life] and former Rhea Country gridiron star himself–was a career exploration teacher in the school’s Career and Technical Education Department, a coach and public address announcer for Rhea County Basketball. Terry Goins aka TG was the school’s attendance office director and was also a beloved sports correspondent for The Herald-News.

Michael Yarber
Terry Goins
Charles Benton

Yarber (61) passed away Oct. 7, 2019; Goins (70) transitioned Oct. 10 and Benton (54) suddenly died on Oct. 11.

For those that don’t know, TG was a longtime sports editor for The Herald-News in Dayton, Tenn. with well over 30 years of sports coverage throughout Rhea County. Though he stepped down to pursue other opportunities, he returned several years later filling in as sports correspondent while the Herald-News searched for a new sports editor to take over.

When I accepted the job in 2015, he stayed on board assisting with football, baseball and basketball coverage up until Fall 2018 when he became too ill in his battle with leukemia to continue working consistently.

One of my fondest memories is getting to experience TG perform his traditional “Take me out to the ball game” one last time in April 2019.

All three losses were devastating. Yarber and Benton’s untimely passing were both unexpected while Goins unfortunately reached the end of his courageous battle against Leukemia. The weekend of his passing, I sat down to honor one of the county’s most precious legends the best I could in my column entitled “Under The Lights”.

I miss those men greatly but I know they are in a better place.

I miss my Rhea County family and my seniors, too. I hope I was able to have even a slither of as much impact on their lives as they did on mine. (And that goes for all the kids I had the pleasure to cover during my time in Tennessee!)

Rhea County baseball/golf standout Ross Pendergrass is a 2020 Motlow State Baseball commit.

Class of 2020, I wish you the best. You’re already proving you’re strong and able to overcome obstacles and tough circumstances. Make the most of these days the best that you can, because I promise you they’ll fly by.

This summer marks 10 years since I graduated from high school and I’m still in denial that it’s been that long already. Time flies. Cherish and nourish your relationships with your friends. All of them won’t be meant to last and that’s just reality. But some of them will and they’ll help carry you throughout your life to support you in times of sorrow and pain but also support and celebrate you during those happier moments.

Always remember to snap that picture, take that extra minute to soak in the moment and always shoot that “Hey, whats up? I just wanted to see how you were doing” text to your friend. You never know if you’ll ever get the chance to do it again.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, no matter the age. Several friends and others I went to high school with are no longer with us and I regret not having more time and memories with them when I could.

Seize the moment, every moment, and make it the most of it. Make Yarber, Coach Benton and T.G. proud. I’ll always be rooting for you.

And finally, as we say in Evensville…….GO EAGLES!

Me with my Friday night “Sideline Crew” during this past RCHS football season. Pictured from left: Billynthia Hill, Ally Gentry and Levi Coxey.