The best and fastest four years of my life is coming to a close.
I’ve been dreading writing this almost as much as I have graduating and leaving. Even now, I’m sitting here struggling to come up with adequate words to describe what Jacksonville, Jacksonville State University, and The Chanticleer have meant to me over these years, and how much I’ll miss them.
Here’s what I got:
Jacksonville gave me a home. It really is true what they say about Jacksonville, Alabama. You don’t know how to describe it or to explain it, but it’s home. Four years has seen me fall in love with a town, get emotionally ripped to shreds as I watched it get demolished by a tornado, and feel myself get stitched back together as the town itself was.
Jacksonville State University gave me a family. Aside from the education I’ve received here, the most important thing I think JSU has brought me is the people it’s introduced into my life. From all the friends I have made, to connections with professors I’ve established, and an introduction to someone I plan on making a part of my life for a long, long time. The Friendliest Campus in the south is such an accurate description of Jacksonville State.
The Chanticleer gave me a path. From starting out as a volunteer staff sports writer to being in charge (for better or worse) of the whole thing, my time working on The Chanticleer has taken someone with no real guidance on what they wanted to do with their life other than a love of sports and turned him into someone with slightly more guidance on what they want to do with their life other than a love of sports (just kidding). My experiences here have inspired me to walk headfirst into a declining and evolving industry with the resolve of I’m going to make it or go broke trying. Experiences like getting to cover an actual real-life March Madness game for Jacksonville State in 2017 have made me realize that this whole sports journalism thing is something I’m just meant to do. I hope I’ve helped to lead The Chanticleer in the right direction in my short time involved
To anyone who’s gotten any information or enjoyment out of anything I’ve written, said, or tweeted about Jacksonville or Jacksonville State sports over the past few years, thanks for letting me do what I love for the place I love. I hope I’ve been worthy of the level of coverage the outstanding community of Jacksonville State deserves. It’s been a pleasure to do what I could to serve what really makes this place special: its people.
Ten years ago, the Jacksonville State University Honors Program consisted of eight students and a dream.
Since then, those eight students have turned into 394 members from all majors across campus, and the dream of creating an academic community that opens new opportunities for students has been realized.
JSU had offered honors classes in some form in the eighties and nineties, but the program as it exists today began in 2009, when eight incoming freshmen were selected as “Elite Honors Scholars” to kick-start the fledgling program.
Longtime JSU English Professor Dr. Steve Whitton served as the first Honors Program Director after the program kicked off under the leadership of former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences J.E. Wade.
Dr. Whitton spent five years helping to establish the program before returning to his classroom full-time in 2014. With the Honors Program looking to expand even further, Dr. Lori Owens was brought on board as Director.
“Dean Wade called me into his office one afternoon and told me he had the perfect job for me: Director of the Honors Program,” Owens said. “I was excited about this opportunity and immediately accepted the offer. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to build on the foundation that Dr. Whitton and the Honors Board Members had established.”
The Honors Program continued to select eight incoming freshmen each year to serve as the core of the program, but began to offer not just honors classes, but emphasize membership into the program to the student body.
“We also began an effort to make the program more Program-wide instead of the emphasis being solely on those students on the top scholarship offered by JSU,” Owens said. “This has resulted in greater interest and involvement by students who are bright, dedicated students who might not necessarily be on the top scholarship that JSU offers.”
This brought in more students, and with that, more opportunities for the program to expand.
Janet Whitmore, who has served as Coordinator of the Program since August of 2010, has seen the program grow immensely during her time.
“Over the almost nine years that I have been here, the Honors Program has expanded in many ways, including the number and type of classes offered, the travel opportunities offered, and the community involvement,” Whitmore said.
In the Honors Program, it’s not all just about the academics. The program has strived to create a community where students can nurture lifelong relationships and give back to the community.
Current Senior Katie Peyton, who has served as Honors Program Co-President during her time at JSU, is grateful for the people she’s met through the program.
“The Honors Program is not only the reason I came to JSU, as it gave me a great scholarship, but it’s also the reason I met some of my best friends in the world,” Peyton said.
Dr. Owens says it’s a goal of the program to help students build relationships.
“It is easy to get lost on a college campus unless a student becomes a member of a smaller learning community,” Owens said. “Honors is an opportunity for like-minded students from various backgrounds and majors to learn together, form life-long friendships, engage in service for the campus and community, and become a productive, global citizen.”
The service aspect of the program has also grown in recent years. Through Honors, students have the opportunity to collaborate on service projects or volunteer in the Jacksonville community. Students organize trips on Fridays to volunteer at the local Boys & Girls Club, and Jacksonville First United Methodist Church has partnered with the Honors Program to allow students to help with the church’s ‘Serving Table’, where they serve free meals to the community.
“It has shaped me into a better leader and has given me many opportunities to push myself a little further,” Peyton said of her opportunities within the Honors Program.
The Honors Program has grown a lot in its first 10 years, but it isn’t done yet. Dr. Owens and Whitmore plan to offer even more opportunities for students in the coming years.
“I look forward in the future to be able to offer more upper-level Honors classes and expand our reach to more of the university population,” Whitmore says.
Currently, the official Honors classes are limited to lower-level and introductory classes due to student numbers, but plans are already in place to offer interdisciplinary Honors courses starting in Spring 2020.
To learn more about the JSU Honors Program and its offerings, visit JSU.edu/honors-program
JACKSONVILLE — Entering the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday against Tennessee Tech, Jacksonville State needed a run to stay alive.
Two batters and two home runs later, Jacksonville State had an 8-7 win and a series sweep over the Golden Eagles.
Nic Gaddis led off the inning and blasted one over the left-field line. Then Taylor Craven, pinch-hitting for his first at-bat of the day, crushed the game winner to the same spot.
“I took a fastball that I probably should have swung at, so I was sitting on that second one,” Craven said. “I knew it was coming, it hung, so I just tried to put a good swing on it.”
The Gamecocks’ win earned them their first sweep of the year in the three-game series over the Golden Eagles. JSU came into the day with a series victory already clinched thanks to wins Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a big thing to be able to sweep a conference series,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “It’s hard to sweep no matter what. When you fall behind like we did for the second time in two days, I was really proud of our guys that they battled back and found a way to win.”
Tennessee Tech got on the board first Sunday when John Dyer singled to plate Kevin Strohschein in the top of the first. The Golden Eagles did more damage in the top of the third, as Jason Hinchman blasted a three-run homer out of left field, putting the Golden Eagles up 4-0.
Aided by errors, Jacksonville State battled back in the bottom of the third. Isaiah Magwood scored after reaching second due to an error, then, after Gaddis drove in Cole Frederick, Tennessee Tech was unable to catch Chase Robinson’s infield fly, allowing Gaddis to come home.
After Tech added three again in the fourth, Gaddis doubled with the bases loaded to score two in the bottom of the inning and bring the Gamecocks back within 7-5.
Isaac Alexander plated Gaddis with an RBI single in the seventh to draw the Gamecocks within one, setting up the ninth-inning heroics.
What to know
—Gaddis was his usual menace for opponents at the plate on Sunday. The senior finished 3-for-5 with four RBIs, including his ninth-inning homer.
—Christian Edwards (2-3) picked up the win for the Gamecock after pitching the final 1 2/3 innings, holding Tennessee Tech scoreless and striking out four.
—The sweep over Tennessee Tech was the first of the Golden Eagles by the Gamecocks since 2010.
—Craven on his game-winner: “I’ve been struggling a lot, but I’ve had good teammates around me that encourage me every day, so it’s just nice to step up for them.”
—Case on bringing in Craven: “I had some thoughts going in on what I would do if Gaddis got on base and what I would do if he didn’t. What I didn’t factor in was what I would do if he hit a home run. I had to make kind of a quick decision. I felt like if (Craven) could get one up, it had a chance to go out.”
—The Gamecocks (14-14, 6-3 OVC) get back to a .500 winning percentage and earn their first series sweep of the season. The Gamecocks will travel to Cape Girardeau, Mo., next for a three-game series beginning Friday.
One year ago. An EF-3 tornado. $100 million in damage. All but seven campus buildings affected. Three academic buildings that were complete losses. Two weeks of missed class. Thirty-nine homes in the surrounding communities that were condemned. 6,000 volunteers that flooded into the town in the next few days.
There are several statistics bouncing around Jacksonville, Alabama this week.
One year ago, on March 19, 2018, the little college town that houses Jacksonville State University was slammed with a storm that altered many lives.
The statistic heard most often as those on campus and in the community look back on the events of that grim day?
None of those altered lives were taken.
“The biggest blessing of the tornadic event is that we lost no lives,” JSU president John Beehler said at a commemoration event on Tuesday. “We were blessed that it was spring break, and that no one was killed a year ago. The recent tornado in Lee County illustrates that it is far too easy to have loss of life.”
Hearing stories from survivors of the tornado in Jacksonville a year ago, it truly is amazing that such devastation didn’t result in a single death, like the Lee County tornado that claimed 23 lives just weeks ago.
Stories like Kate Mason’s, who rode out the tornado in the former Winn Place apartments while her roof was literally ripped from over her head.
Or Phany Gangbo’s, an International student whose first ever experience with a tornado was last year when her room in the International House was severely damaged while she stayed with her host family
Or Paul Lindsay’s, a veteran who settled in Jacksonville for a peaceful life after serving two stints in Iraq, who had his left arm amputated after an iron pipe hit him during the storm.
Or Meagan Medders’s, an employee of the since demolished and rebuilt Dollar General on Highway 204, who had just gotten under a table in the break room of the store before the roof collapsed in on her.
All of those individuals told their stories in a candlelight ceremony Tuesday night, 365 days to the hour of that night that has left such lasting impact for each of them.
These stories are echoed by the hundreds of students still on campus during spring break and the residents of a town hit hard. Those that were in Gamecock Village, The Reserve, or any of the other apartment complexes that were ravaged on that night. Those that lived in the over 400 houses in Jacksonville that received damage. The members of West Point Baptist Church, which was almost completely blown away by the tornado and has since been long finished off by bulldozers.
So much damage, so much devastation, so many people who lost all their possessions or their homes.
Yet, a year later, you sometimes have to be looking hard to even see the results of that March night.
You’ll still notice the spots of blank where hundreds of trees used to be. You’ll still see the hulking ruined desolation of Merrill Hall as the University fights for more insurance money before tearing it down. You’ll still inevitably have to walk around fences and cross under covered pathways as the few repairs that are finishing up around campus are completed.
One year later though, Jacksonville and its University have done so much healing for the little time they’ve had.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s already the one year anniversary, and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in rebuilding our campus in such a short period of time,” Beehler said on the anniversary of the storms. “FEMA personnel have told us that they’ve never seen a campus with such destruction come so far, so fast.”
Ask anyone what makes Jacksonville special, and they’ll immediately respond that it’s not the buildings and landscape that was lost or scarred, but its people. A people that came together to prove why the “Friendliest Campus in the South” moniker has little to do with the physical campus itself.
“It’s really a celebration of how far we’ve come so fast,” Beehler said. “It’s a celebration of the human spirit that came together to help us rebuild. We got knocked down physically and mentally, but we immediately took action.”
That human spirit saw thousands of volunteers, with a great number of them students or Jacksonville residents that were less affected than some, coming together to get a community back on its feet. Restoring a campus that was able to hold class just over two weeks later.
For a University that could have easily been affected for a long, long time, students were patient and understanding while recovery took place.
“We couldn’t have made the recovery that we have made without the students being patient with us as we scrambled and struggled through all the issues that we dealt with,” said Timothy B. King, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Jacksonville State.
“When we talk to our students, we find that the students really wanted to come back and rebuild JSU because they love it here,” Beehler stated. “Typically when there is a natural disaster, a university will lose 5%-10% of enrollment.”
Yet JSU hasn’t. A small dip of enrollment in Fall 2018 was followed by an increase that saw Spring 2019 actually boast more students than the pre-tornado Spring 2018.
A year later, JSU stands poised to rebound from the March 19 disaster better than before.
With repairs completed on all but three buildings, a new recreation center, and new-and-improved Merrill and Wallace Halls on the way in the next few years, JSU is putting the finishing touches on a remarkable recovery.
Although no one in Jacksonville will likely ever forget March 19, 2018, they are ready to put it in the rear-view mirror.
“In the wake of devastation and disaster, we all showed a true Gamecock spirit,” Beehler said on Tuesday. “We did not complain, we did not waver, we did not succumb to defeat. With the help of God and many others, we will come out of this victorious. That Gamecock spirit is just going to carry us through, no matter what hits us.”
The 2018-19 Jacksonville State Men’s Basketball team didn’t win the OVC.
But so what?
Neither did Belmont. Belmont has been relevant on the national stage as a mid-major for years, and they haven’t won the conference now for five seasons.
So nationally relevant, in fact, that they just got into the big dance as an at-large team,
something that an OVC team hasn’t done since 1987.
So yeah, it’s bittersweet for the Gamecocks to be on the outside looking in.
To see a Belmont team that they swept in the regular season get to board a plane to go play on the big stage.
To see Murray State, who the Gamecocks beat by 20 in their only matchup in the regular
season, get to celebrate with a conference trophy after taking down JSU with a last-second shot in the OVC semis.
The fact of the matter is, there’s really no denying this season’s Gamecocks were the best
version to take the floor during JSU’s Division I history. There’s a reason the official Men’s
Basketball twitter account had to put out a thread last week detailing the program bests the Gamecocks set this year.
Stats like 24 overall wins. 15 conference wins. An 8-game win streak. Third place OVC finish, single-digit losses, a sellout of Pete Mathews Coliseum. All Program Division I bests or firsts.
It’s almost cruel for such a year for the Gamecocks to also coincide with one of the best years the OVC has ever had at the top of the league.
Nevertheless, the year that JSU just finished up is the type of year that is necessary for the Gamecocks to start getting that national respect that got Belmont into the tournament as an at-large.
Despite the never before seen successes that Ray Harper has brought to Jacksonville in his first three seasons, the Gamecocks are still such a new player on the national, heck, even the OVC, scene.
If Jacksonville State keeps this up, it will, slowly but surely, get that respect.
With six seniors from 2018-19 departing, Harper and the Gamecocks will face a new challenge of keeping this thing rolling. Keep proving that he’s made JSU a good program, not just a good team.
From what Harper’s accomplished in his short time in Jacksonville so far, who could doubt he’ll conquer this one just as easily.