Ballinger City Park will host the 2nd Annual Hotter then Hell Cookoff & Party in the Park on Saturday, June 29, 2019.
The small town of Ballinger is planning a big event next weekend.
The 2nd Annual Hotter then Hell Cookoff & Party in the Park is scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at Ballinger City Park.
Among the activities being offered are:
• a washer tournament at 5:30 p.m.
• a sand volleyball tournament at 10 a.m
• free swimming at the city pool from noon-6 p.m.
• live music by West Texas Funk from 7-10 p.m.
• a fireworks show at Ballinger Lake at 9:30 p.m.
• a silent auction featuring over 40 items
In addition, there will be a cornhole tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Kayak rentals were originally planned but have since been cancelled.
The cookoff Saturday will feature seven categories -- brisket, ribs, chicken, beans, hot sauce, margaritas and an open category.
This event is also an opportunity for Ballinger to showcase two new features in its city park -- a sand volleyball court and washer pits. A 9-hole disc golf course is expected to be installed in the park later this summer.
Elaine Paske, a member of Ballinger's park board, said this event will help fund future park projects.
"We built the Imagination Station playground in the city park in March 2013 ... but the park board is not just over the city park," Paske said. "We're responsible for the lake park, the plaza downtown by the courthouse and the little park behind (the Toliver Brothers car dealership).
"So our fundraising now is to expand some things to the other parks. Now that the lake is full again, we want something out there for the kids. First and foremost, I think we have to get some shade."
This event began years ago as a birthday celebration for Ballinger, Paske said, but when the Chamber of Commerce made the decision to discontinue it last year, the park board took it over.
"Last year, we had about 30 days notice, so I was really pleased with the outcome with that much notice," Paske said. "This year, we've been working on it since the first of the year."
Ballinger will also hold its quarterly Sidewalk Showcase on Saturday, which will include vendors along the sidewalks downtown in addition to local businesses.
A farmer's market will be held downtown Saturday morning on 8th Street.
For more information on the cornhole tournament ($30 per team), washer tournament ($40 per team) and cookoff, contact Tony Flores at 325-977-0453.
For more information on the co-ed sand volleyball tournament ($10 per person), contact Deena Esser at 325-763-9150.
Do, eat and enjoy more vacation with these 5 saving tips
Save your vacation money even while you’re on vacation.
Congratulations, you’ve saved responsibly and booked your dream vacation. You’ve been stockpiling vacation days, squirreling away money in the bank and are now finally booked and ready to fly. After all this planning, you may have a finite budget to spend while you are on vacation.
Because budgeting in a foreign destination, or even just a different state, isn’t easy; tourist activities like transportation and dining can be expensive. Here But here are a few wallet-friendly suggestions during your trip:
Hop a train or bus
Taking taxis gets expensive. There can also be those awkward moments when can’t remember how tipping works in a foreign country.
Instead, use public transportation. In most cities, there’s tons of research you can do about local buses and trains ahead of time. Planning out schedules, routes and how payment is tendered, can help you find the perfect path. Also, public transportation can function as a sightseeing tour as well, so be sure to find a window seat!
For when hunger strikes in the middle of a vacation adventure, keep some snacks in your purse or backpack. Stock up before you leave for your day. Buying snacks along the way will most cost more. It’s especially good to avoid overpriced airport food.
Energy bars, nuts and dried fruit work great, especially if you have kids in tow.
Eat the path less travelled
Dining is one of the biggest expenses for vacationers. Cuisine is a wonderful part of experiencing a new place or culture. Street food and farmers markets can be a thrifty and charming break from the ordinary.
Bratwurst in Berlin, hotdogs in New York, vegan donuts in Portland and noodles in Bangkok. Stop at a food cart for something local. Another good way to dine on the cheap is to take advantage of free hotel breakfasts or bring some groceries back to your room. Try to choose lunch as your restaurant meal, as dinner is generally more expensive.
Bring a water bottle
You and your family will probably be out and about for most of the day. Staying hydrated is important so don’t forget to bring along your own water bottle. Buying water bottles at tourist destinations will almost always be a rip off.
If you are in a place where you are hesitant about the drinking water, get a self-filtering water bottle, or buy a few cheaper water bottles from a bigger store. Some countries charge money for water as a menu item!
Don’t “buy it when you get there”
Sometimes during the stress of packing, it is tempting to say you’ll buy needed items when you get there. Contact solution, sunscreen and shampoo add up.
It’s worthwhile to purchase regulation travel size bottles to put your liquid toiletries in. These can be found at any major drugstore. Careful packing is key. Pack light and plan for things like the weather and the activities you are planning. For instance, do you need hiking boots or formal wear?
Regardless of where you are in the world, it’s taken a lot of planning (and dreaming) to get there. With the help of a knowledgeable and friendly advisor, you can figure out your vacation before and on your vacation.
Jaryn Prather reaches the end zone for a touchdown during the Abilene High Champions Football Game on May 17. The game for special needs children has been sponsored by Abilene High School for over ten years and benefits Hendrick Children's Hospital and Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
Before school ended for the year, the Abilene High Eagles held their annual Champions football game for special needs children at Shotwell Stadium.
Preceding the spring football scrimmage, the game has been a tradition for more than 10 years.
Nineteen players joined the Eagles for a fun game of touch football. The high school players advised and cheered their teammates, watching them experience the glory of running for a touchdown as the crowd cheered them on.
Joshua Duran is tagged by Tim Davis during the Abilene High Champions Football Game. Abilene High Eagles advise and assist during the annual touch-football game for special needs kids
Cheyenne Lambert is cheered as she runs for the goal line in the Abilene High Champions Football Game.
Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, was the first aboard Mr. Tiger, which was installed Wednesday at Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden and unveiled to the public Thursday evening, upon creator Peter Brown's arrival for the Children's Art & Literacy Festival. June 5 2019
Mr. Tiger didn't exactly roar into Abilene like a thunderstorm, but he's here.
The adventurous character from the Peter Brown storybook "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild" took up residence with the likes of Stuart Little, three pigs, kittens and bears, and his neighbor, Marcel the moose, at Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden. The latest of dozens of sculptures strategically placed downtown was unveiled Thursday evening as this year's Children's Art & Literacy Festival began its three-day run.
Mr. Tiger's creator, Peter Brown, joined the fun, parading six blocks with other storybook characters to the garden to see his tiger for the first time.
The sculpture arrived Wednesday morning, ahead of the afternoon's storm. Tommy Ladd of Schaefer Art Bronze Casting, a foundry in Arlington, joked that he had considered gassing up at Exxon, which is famous for its tiger mascot.
While placing the sculpture in the garden, a worker or two had this tiger by the tail.
It was plain to see.
Mr. Tiger is now one of eight Storybook Garden residents at the southeast corner of the Abilene Convention Center. Viewing is open daily and at no charge.
The CALF begins at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with assorted activities planned throughout downtown. Author-illustrator Brown will sign copies of his award-winning books from 9 to 11 a.m. both days at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, where a retrospective exhibition of work is on display.
James Parker, 4 , was dressed as Mr. Tiger for the Children's Art & Literacy Festival costume contest on Thursday at the Elks Arts Center.
Parents and children stand and move around after posing for a group portrait during the NICU Reunion on Saturday. Cookies, cakes and games were on hand for "graduates" of the Hendrick Health System's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Babies, babies, babies.
That's what I saw Saturday at the Shelton Building at Hendrick Health System's NICU Reunion.
"Graduates" of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and their families came out for snacks, games and fun. The event was held for the second time.
There were 256 babies in the NICU in 2018.
So far, 120 have been admitted this year.
Vanessa Bachtel holds her daughter Samara during the NICU Reunion on Saturday at Hendrick Medical Center Saturday. Samara, who will be a year old next week, was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 110 days after she was born.
Cord Adkins, 8, lifts his 3-year-old sister Rynn so she can touch the ceiling of a Metro Care ambulance Saturday at Hendrick Medical Center.
Madison Williams shakes Wylie ISD Superintendent Joey Light's hand after accepting her brother's diploma during commencement at the Taylor County Coliseum Thursday. Dylan Williams is recovering from a car crash and was unable to come to his Wylie High School graduation ceremony. He received a standing ovation from his classmates as his sister walked across the stage for him.
There were plenty of ovations at Thursday evening's Wylie High School graduation, but none more rousing than for Dylan Williams, who was not there.
The senior was critically injured in an auto crash after spring break and hospitalized. He still is undergoing rehabilitation for a head injury, Superintendent Joey Light said, and doctors did not give the OK for him to attend graduation.
In his place, his sister Madison, a WHS junior, accepted his diploma.
The crowd at the Taylor County Coliseum, where Wylie held commencement ceremonies for the first time, appreciated the moment.
"It was a standing ovation," Light said.
Madison Williams was in tears and her head bowed as she crossed the stage, he said. As she approached Light, he encouraged her to "stop and look at what they're doing."
Wylie graduated almost 260 seniors at its first ceremony as a Class 5A school. The Wylie ISD also streamed the ceremony online for the first time.
A second chance
If you didn't make it to a graduation or just want to read again what the valedictorians and salutatorians at the six Abilene high schools had to say, those speeches will be available online Sunday at reporternews.com. The val speeches will be published in Sunday's Other Views pages.
Philip Knowles, a retired B-1 crew chief who spent 20 of his 24 service years at Dyess Air Force Base, wore an Air Force baseball-style jersey to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. flags attached to a vehicle flap in a brisk southerly wind Monday at the entrance Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Attendees had to park on both sides of FM 600 to the south and north of the cemetery.
"I came to remember them all." A man who said he had served and knew some buried at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene sits Monday before the start of a Memorial Day ceremony. He holds a poppy given him moments before.
Will Holloway of Clyde, who put in 20 years in the Air Force, walked quietly by himself among the headstones at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene at a Memorial Day observance was starting Monday.
Salutes to the U.S. flag were given when the colors were presented Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington spoke about service Monday, but especially by the patriotic residents of West Texas. Arrington was the speaker for a ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The family of Ralph Edward Bragg Sr. decorated his headstone, newly arrived at Texas Veterans Cemetery at Abilene, with more than two dozen flags. Bragg moved from West Virginia to Abilene, dying just two months ago. His daughter, Jennifer Evans, and her husband, Ben, and other family members had hoped it would arrive by Father's Day but were delighted to see it for Memorial Day. The inscription "All my exes live in Texas" is a reference to the George Strait hit song; Evans said her father claimed to have had five ex-wives in the state, which is why he resided in West Virginia and not West Texas.
During his keynote address, U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington recognized Dennis Bruno, who served in World War II as a member of the Canadian Air Force. Arrington spoke at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Butch joined Jeff Jardine, junior vice commander for the Taylor County Disabled American Veterans office, at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Celestina Garcia showed her patriotism by wearing a flag bandanna to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Her father, Raul Garcia, served in the Air Force and was interred at the cemetery in 2017, she said.
The Air Force (from left), Marine Corps, Navy and Army were represented by the uniforms of four attendees at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. The four were asked to stand, to applause from large crowd.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Quilty, who is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, salutes during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A gun salute came at the conclusion of Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A recording of "Taps" often is played at a veteran's graveside service but Abilene Community Band member Bob Johnson, of Ranger, played it live Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The colors depart Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Yellow roses were placed by the Navy branch seal during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Gold Star parents were invited to take one to place at a headstone.
Adilynn Poteet, 6, reads the inscription on a headstone after Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. She just finished first grade at Hawley Eementary School.
Sharon Miller on Monday photographs a headstone of a cousin's best friend. Capt. Jeffrey Walter Welch. He died in 2018, and family living elsewhere has not seen his headstone at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The headstone of a Navy veteran, decorated with a flag.
Many who attended Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene wore patriotic clothing.
Military police officers tested their skills against each other Wednesday on an obstacle course at Dyess Air Force Base.
It was one of the activities planned for National Police Week, an annual acknowledgment of law enforcement and the ultimate sacrifice many of them have made.
The teams first were required to make a breach-entrance into a converted C-container, to rescue a large, filled sandbag. Then, each member carried one on their shoulder for the rest of the course.
The first obstacle was pushing a humvee 50 yards on a road, then another 50 back. The sandbags stayed in the vehicle with a driver, who was not part of the team, but who at least once accidentally steered the humvee into the grass when it was being pushed back.
Next was a box strung with rope that team members had to crawl through, followed by two giant tires they had to flip together several times. The final obstacle was an indoor target range similar to a video game. Each person shot at computer-generated "bad guys."
Senior Msgt. Pablo Rodriguez, of the 7th EMS at Dyess Air Force Base, fires an electronic M-16 during an obstacle course on base during a National Police Week event Wednesday. The military police officers were shooting with a computerized simulator. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
She remembers those days at Taylor Elementary, the product of the Abilene Independent School District said. For her, it was her kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers.
And she’s hoping somewhere down the line, a student will approach her with the same idea she had seven years ago when she first began in the noble profession.
“Maybe one day one of my students will look back and say ‘I can do what Mrs. Harless did,’” she said.
Harless was named 2019 Abilene Education Foundation Elementary Teacher of the Year at a late-April Teachers in the Limelight Celebration. With it, she’ll be entered into the statewide competition next year for Texas Teacher of the Year, with an opportunity to move on to the national competition.
Today counts for 'shining stars'
For Harless and her classroom, though, the focus is on the here and now.
This second-grade class at Lee Elementary starts the day with greetings. They each greet Harless with a hug and find two other students to exchange pleasantries with, whether through another hug, a fist bump or a high five.
Molly Harless assists Hailey Shaw (left) and Layla Mangum during Harless' second-grade class at Lee Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
They say their class motto, which the students decided at the start of the school year, and a daily chant to build up the energy.
Her “shining stars” spend more time in her classroom with her than they do at home with their parents or guardians, so it’s important, she said, to get things off to a good start each day.
Sure, it’s an economics lesson for the second-graders. They learn supply and demand, profit vs. expenses and more. But it’s also a lesson on compassion.
“Each year, I choose a nonprofit, and the students make keychains to sell,” Harless said. “This is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s awesome seeing their faces when the organization comes to pick up their check.”
Her students still are selling the keychains, which are made with beads. She said the students have a goal of $700, with the donation set to be made just before the end of school. They haven’t quite reached the figure, but there’s still time.
Outside of guiding little ones, Harless is a bit of an adventurer. She’s taken several mission trips to continents far away from her home city, along with study abroad opportunities when she was in college.
She’s even bungee jumped four times in Africa, possibly the most adventurous activity anyone can perform. Oh, and she’s also taken the plunge in Corinth, Greece.
What started when she was 12 has evolved, with her enjoyment coming not from being a tourist but from experiencing life in these other cultures as much as possible, she said.
“My favorite part of it is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s not doing typical travel things but going into someone’s home, seeing how they live, eating food with them.”
While the very pregnant Harless – her child is due in July – isn’t sure exactly when her next trip will come, she’s hoping to eventually check another dream destination off her list soon: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Guiding other teachers, too
Harless has another mission, too. She’s interested in making sure young, first-year teachers have the support to turn their career choice into the life-fulfilling opportunity they likely thought it would be when going through training.
It stems from her own love of the profession, and she has no intention of letting that joy slip away from others.
“It crushes me when teachers who once felt like I do have it slip away,” she said. “So I want to work with them, encourage them, help them understand that they’re a professional teacher. There’s nothing better than that.”
In Harless’s classroom, the students are exposed to more than just the information a book tells them they need to know. Take, for instance, their recent fundraiser for the local branch of Cancer Services Network.
Kaylee Pitcher with her mother Darla Sterling at McMurry University. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Editor's note: Saturday is college graduation day in Abilene.
One took the traditional route to graduation at McMurry University; the other took an extremely nontraditional route.
Meet the mother/daughter duo, Darla Sterling and Kaylee Pitcher.
A family affair
Sterling is 42 and her daughter is 22.
Pitcher graduated in 2015 from Hawley High School and will be graduating from college Saturday in the traditional four years, which she said have gone by quickly.
Not so with mom.
“I feel like it drug out for 20 years,” Sterling said.
And, indeed, it did. Sterling has taken a remarkable path to graduation when she will earn a degree in nursing, with a minor in business. She wanted to make sure that her three daughters, Amber, Kaylee and Carlee didn’t have it as rough.
“My kids didn’t have an option,” Sterling said.
They knew they were going to college or into the military as soon as they graduated from high school. All three chose college.
Amber graduated from McMurry in 2016 and Carlee is on track to graduate next year from Hardin-Simmons University — the only non-McMurry graduate in the bunch.
“She didn’t want to do the same thing as the rest of us,” Sterling said. “And, her boyfriend went to Hardin-Simmons.”
The future begins Saturday
Sterling will pick up her nursing degree and Pitcher will get her degree in finance, with a minor in criminology. The evening will be spent at Sterling’s home, 16 miles north of Abilene, with a full house expected for the celebration.
Soon, both mother and daughter will be moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Sterling wants to get a job as a nurse at a hospital and Pitcher will look for a job, probably in business.
“We’ll get there and then I’ll decide,” she said.
Sterling is glad that her daughter had the easier track to getting her degree. At Hawley High School, Pitcher was a star athlete in volleyball, basketball, track and softball.
“She was voted Iron Woman,” her mom added, proudly.
At McMurry, Pitcher ran track and played soccer before giving up both to concentrate on her studies and a job. She also is a member of TIP social club and Women’s Interclub.
Pitcher enrolled at McMurry in the fall of 2015 and her mother followed in January 2016. During the 2016 spring semester, Sterling and two of her daughters, Kaylee and Amber, were on the McMurry campus at the same time.
Pitcher was undaunted when she learned that her mother would be a college student on the same campus at the same time as she was.
“Cool, go for it,” was Pitcher’s reaction.
Way to work, mom
Sterling was 19 when Kaylee was born. She dropped out of high school and later earned a General Education Development certificate. She enrolled at Texas State Technical College and got training as a paramedic. She also worked overnight shifts at the Abilene State Supported Living Center to take care of her three girls during the day.
Sterling later worked at the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission, which led to her decision to become a nurse. After leaving that job in 2014, Sterling became a full-time student, taking classes at Cisco College for 1½ years before enrolling at McMurry.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she joked.
When Sterling enrolled at McMurry in January 2016, she was in for a surprise. Everything was done on the computer, unlike the last time she was in school.
“Trying to figure out how to do algebra online was crazy,” she said.
But she overcame that obstacle and many others en route to graduation. After Saturday, Sterling will settle into one job, with no homework to do and no children to watch over.
There were 11 motor vehicle crashes in Abilene in which unbuckled occupants sustained fatal or serious injuries in 2018, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT's annual Click It or Ticket campaign seeks to reverse that trend.
From May 20 to June 2, Texas law enforcement officers will be increasing efforts to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers, especially those on the road at night, TxDOT said in a news release.
"Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent in a passenger vehicle and up to 60 percent in a pickup truck," according to the TxDOT news release.
To kick off the campaign in Abilene, a flipped, airborne sedan with mannequin passengers was set up Monday in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch.
The display included video kiosks that recounted the of a 16-year-old Spring girl who was killed in a crash after unbuckling to take a selfie.
A flipped, airborne sedan with mannequins was set up in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch for the Click It or Ticket seat belt safety campaign. The Texas Department of Public Safety set up the interactive display with video kiosks stations for a few hours Monday. The kiosks recounted how a 16-year-old Spring girl was killed in a crash after she unbuckled to take a selfie. (Photo: Laura Gutschke/Reporter-News)
It's an iconic line from the comic books from which the world's most successful film franchise draws its inspiration.
In Abilene on Friday night, they did. On the big screen, with the premiere of "Avengers: Endgame." But they also assembled in front of the Cinemark Abilene theater on East Overland Trail.
There, a group of about a dozen costumed actors gathered for fun. Sure, they were heading into the 7 p.m. showing of the most anticipated movie of the summer season. They also wanted to make a little magic beforehand.
"It adds another element to (seeing the movie)," Jonathan Baker said. "When you're there and you see the kids, you see their faces light up when they see the person they're about to go watch, it's worth the price of some of these costumes."
Baker, 20, dressed as Captain America, in the movie played by Chris Evans. He started cosplaying (costume playing) thanks to his being hired as a birthday party entertainer. At first, he was not dressing as superheroes.
Eventually, Captain America fell in his lap and he ran with it.
Kaden Kerby, dressed a Star-Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy, joined Jonathan Baker (Captain America) and Christian Jay (Spider-Man) in costume for a showing of "Avengers: Endgame" at Cinemark Abilene Friday. The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the talk of the world this past weekend while earning a record $1.2 billion in its opening five days. (Photo: Contributed photo)
Christian Jay, 20, and Peyton Scroggins, 19, were part of the group with Baker.
Jay, who dressed as Spider-Man, said he remembers his favorite Marvel character's introduction to the movie universe like it was yesterday.
First appearing in a trailer for "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016, Jay said he rushed to show his sister the video. Both students at Wylie High School at the time, he burst into her lunch period to share the joy.
"I ran out of my class and into my sister's lunch period," Jay said. "I showed her the trailer and at the end, when Spider-Man shows up, we both screamed."
It's that level of appreciation from fans such as Baker and Jay that catapulted the movie Marvel universe into the stratosphere. "Endgame" beat box office records after just one weekend.
Worldwide, the movie earned more than $1.2 billion, by far the highest-grossing first weekend in cinema history. In Abilene, all three major showplaces — Cinemark, Premiere Lux Cine 10 and Century — offered multiple showings.
The three-plus hour run-time couldn't possibly scare away any of these die-hard fans.
It's an important series of movies, offering more than just entertainment to those who invest their time and money in the films being produced.
"It’s an escape, a place to go when I don’t have one, a family and friends when I don’t have any," Scroggins, 19, said. "It’s nice that no matter what is happening, be it stressful or sad or whatever, I have that place to escape to, these characters that I relate to and love so much.
"I grew up reading comics so it’s also my dreams kind of coming true, and reliving a sense of childlike wonder."
Dyess Big Country AirFest 2019 will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 4 at Abilene Regional Airport, 2933 Airport Blvd.
Opening ceremonies will begin at noon, followed by an air show from 12:30-4 p.m., with performances by Ron Cain and High Sky. Static displays, vendors and demonstrations also will be available.
Admission is free.
For information, go to bigcountryairfest.org.
Big Day Downtown
The Abilene Downtown Association will conduct Big Day Downtown at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 4 in downtown Abilene. This year's theme is "Star Wars." Activities include a crawfish boil, vendors and a children's area.
For information, go to abilenedowntown.com.
Big Country CASA will conduct its third annual Superhero 5K Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. May 4 at the Williams Performing Arts Center at Abilene Christian University. Participants are encouraged to dress in costume.
Registration is $25 for adults and free for children. To register, or for more information, go to BigCountryCASA.org.
Celebrations Singers go country
The Celebration Singers will present its annual spring show, "Whole 'Lotta Country Goin' On!," at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Paramount Theatre, 352 Cypress St.
The choir will highlight more than 25 pieces of music in ensembles, duets and solos. Admission is free.
'Music City Hit Makers'
The Abilene Philharmonic will present its "Pops III" concert, "Music City Hit Makers," at 7:30 p.m. May 4 at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. Rivers Rutherford and Brett James will be the featured guest artists.
For tickets or information, go to abilenephilharmonic.org or call 325-677-6710.
'Wings on the Wind'
The Big Country Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists will conduct its third annual "Wings on the Wind" festival from 1-4 p.m. May 4 at Abilene State Park, 150 Park Road 32 in Buffalo Gap.
The festival will celebrate everything that flies or floats in West Texas, and will include information on birds, bees, planes and weather. Games, art activities and concessions will be available.
Regular park admission of $5 per car will apply.
Chris Christian, who grew up in Abilene before making it big as a singer-songwriter and music producer, will sign copies of his new book, “A Grandmother’s Prayer: Moments in a Music Life,” from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday at Texas Star Trading Company, 174 Cypress St.
For information, call 325-672-9696.
In celebration of National Day of Prayer, a community prayer breakfast will begin at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in Mabee Gym at Hardin-Simmons University. Kevin Roe and the Prodigal Sons will perform.
A dance for mothers and sons will begin at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Rose Park Senior Activity Center, 2625 S. Seventh St.
Tickets are $8, and space is limited. For tickets, go to abilenetx.gov/signup.
And more ...
-STEPHENVILLE — The Tarleton State University Jazz Ensembles will present "The Night Sky" at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center on campus. Tickets are $5, or free with Tarleton ID.
-The local AIA, Texas Society of Architects chapter will conduct a tour of buildings designed by David S. Castle from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 4 at The Grace Museum, 102 Cypress St. Admission is free.
- Praise Fest, a night of community singing featuring choirs and gospel groups from around the area, will begin at 6 p.m. May 4 at the Red Dirt Pavilion, 1302 Pecan St. in Buffalo Gap. Proceeds will go to Camp Able. Admission is free.
ABILENE, Texas — The City of Abilene has announced which hotel franchise has been chosen for the city’s downtown hotel project.
On Thursday, the Abilene City Council will vote on whether to enter into a Master Development Agreement with Garfield Public-Private for the development of a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.
“What that means is, this sits out the term of the agreement. It’s really the foundation document that we will move forward with the downtown hotel," said Deputy City Manager Mindy Patterson. "Once council approves this agreement, we'll wait for confirmation from the comptroller’s office saying that we are approved and these are eligible funds. Once that happens, then we will submit a franchise application to Hilton for a DoubleTree hotel.”
This is a three-phase project.
During the first phase, construction drawings and plans will be completed. That could take up to nine months to complete.
The second phase is the construction phase, which could take up to 18 months.
The grand opening of the hotel will be the during the final/post-construction phase.
The city’s financial commitment for the downtown hotel is $23.1 million.
According to the city’s agenda memo, the downtown hotel project will be funded by “$7.5 million in grants from our local foundations, approximately $4 million in cash on hand from the City of Abilene and approximately $11.6 million in proceeds from a $12.4 million debt issuance by the city.”
The $12.4 million will be repaid by state and local hotel occupancy taxes, and state and local sales taxes generated by the convention hotel.
This project includes public conference rooms, meetings spaces, ballroom, parking facility, and hotel.
1. Easter happenings. Easter weekend is one of the quietest in Abilene during the year, with few competing events scheduled. Egg hunts are popular, as are daybreak worship services. Every other year, Pioneer Drive Baptist Church stages its pageant at the Abilene Convention Center. The final two performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. It's free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Call 325-692-6776 or go by the church, 701 S. Pioneer Drive, before noon Friday.
The Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden could be a nice Easter weekend destination. (Photo: Joey D. Richards/Abilene Reporter-News)
2. How about art? With a light entertainment schedule this weekend, it may be a good time to check out the exhibitions at The Grace Museum or Center for Contemporary Arts, both downtown. And if the weather is nice, perhaps a stroll to visit the sculptures at Everman Park and the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden.
3. Time for a movie. With "Avengers: Endgame" looming on the horizon (next weekend), no big movies are planned to open against the blockbuster. Until then, there's "Captain Marvel" and four movies related to pets — "How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World," "Dumbo," "The Mustang" and... "Pet Sematary." The latter may not be exactly family entertainment.
The Rotary Club of Abilene will present its annual Taste of Abilene all-you-can-eat food showcase from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Abilene Convention Center, 1100 N. Sixth St. Around 50 area restaurants and vendors will offer food and drink samples.
Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door, with proceeds going to community organizations and culinary scholarships. For tickets or information, go to tasteofabilene.com.
The annual Abilene StrEATs outdoor fundraiser meal benefiting the United Way of Abilene will be served at 7 p.m. June 1 on the 200 Block of Cypress Street. Food and wine will be provided by Cypress Street Station, The Local, Taylor County Taphouse, Birdie and Rancho Loma Vineyards. Participants must be at least 21 years old.
Tickets are $125, and must be purchased by May 24. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com. For information, call 325-677-1841.
Piano students of Kathie Goodrich will present spring piano recitals at 5 p.m. May 12 in the Amy Graves Ryan Recital Hall at McMurry University. The high school showcase will begin at 7:30 p.m., followed by an awards ceremony. Admission is free.
Robert E. Howard Days
Project Pride will conduct the annual Robert E. Howard Days June 7 and 8 at locations around Cross Plains. Events include panel discussions, tours and a symposium. A banquet and auction featuring guest of honor David C. Smith will begin at 6:30 p.m. June 7.
Registration is $15. For information or registration, go to rehupa.com or email ProjPride@yahoo.com.
In conjunction with the event, the Barbarian Festival Parade will begin at 6 p.m. June 6, with the festival open from 9-4 p.m. June 8 at Treadway Park.
ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) - Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge has been honored with the Hero Award from Interested Citizens of Abilene North (I-CAN).
Mayor Anthony Williams presented Chief Standridge with the award at the I-CAN luncheon.
Standridge issued the following statement about receiving the award.
"This award is a direct reflection of the daily efforts of our Police staff, sworn and civilian. I am convinced of this truth: for this City to be successful, its Police Department must be successful. We are linked, precisely because “we” are community.
I work very hard to be inclusive. I echo our Mayor’s belief that people need a seat at the table. The issues facing us are huge and require authentic partnerships. You will see such partnerships in our alliance to end domestic violence, our homelessness initiatives, our radical changes to mental health response and crisis prevention, our Child Advocacy Center, and the increasing use of technology to enhance efficiency.
I-CAN is a group of dedicated leaders who believe they can make a difference. So is your Police Department, and we are committed to working alongside our neighbors to bring about change, one family at a time."
Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
That's Darrin Cox's goal for the homeless student population in the Abilene Independent School District.
Cox, the district's homeless student liaison, welcomes the responsibility to make sure no student has an excuse for not attending class.
So far, he said, the hard work is paying off in segments. Much more work, momentum and money is needed to transform his efforts into tangible success.
"I'm counting this year as an improvement," Cox said. "Our attendance vs. the overall attendance is about one percentage point below the general population. For me, one of the first things I set out to do was remove barriers.
"And it's happening."
A numbers game
Cox and social worker Heather Melchor — a team of two under the federal programs umbrella of the school district — have seen increases in homeless students each year they've been involved.
Melchor serves as the district's McKinney-Vento social worker. She works exclusively with students who qualify under federal law as homeless.
The position originated under the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs and determines if a student is considered homeless by school district standards.
These federal regulations are far broader than simply not having a permanent roof overhead at night.
Through February, Cox said 1,216 students from early childhood education through to 12th grade have been identified. And there's more to come in the final months of the school year.
Last May, Cox reported 1,495 students identified. The year before that, 1,217 students. Fewer were identified the year before that.
According to Cox's data, the overwhelming majority of the students are in elementary school in "doubled-up" situations.
Doubled-up means the student possibly is couch surfing or the family lives in another family's home or apartment. Slightly less than 90 percent of the total homeless student population in AISD is in this type of dilemma.
So far in 2018-19, kindergarten has been hit the worst with 113 students reported homeless. Of those, 102 are listed as doubled up.
Data also tracks students who are unsheltered, living in a motel or hotel or in homeless shelters.
Cox's numbers show Hispanic students account for the most homeless situations.
As of February, 485 Hispanic students (40 percent of the total homeless student population) reported being homeless. Meanwhile, 330 white students and 265 black students reported the same situation.
Mixed race/ethnicity students account for 110 homeless students, while small numbers were reported for Asian, Native American and Hawaiian within the district.
Melchor said boys suffer more in elementary while girls catch up in the later grades, as serious issues such as sex trafficking key on young women at higher rates than young men.
Melchor focuses much of her attention at the high school level, she said. Those students find themselves in situations where they can't or won't be at home, either because something happened to prevent being there or they've been pushed out.
"They've been kicked out for any reason," Melchor said. "They don't have anywhere to go. They end up couch surfing where they have to worry about getting kicked out again from where they're staying."
Melchor said one of her students was kicked out of the house because the student consumed the last doughnut at breakfast. Just like that, a student becomes a statistic, as long as he or she reports their situation.
Cox and Melchor hope more and more students, and their families, follow through on reporting, not just to track the numbers, but also to receive some of the benefits they can take advantage of while they're in these messy situations.
Less of a problem to the south
While Abilene ISD figures continue to increase each year, Wylie ISD said its homeless student population is not an issue.
Superintendent Joey Light said there are students in the district who are using the services the district provides, but the numbers are small.
"There has been no problem I'm aware of, and we haven't had difficulty working with the kids," Light said. "The numbers are low but we do have options to meet the needs of those kiddos. We just don't have many."
One of the most publicized benefits Abilene ISD can offer its homeless population is access to its store.
However, these items aren't for sale — they're available to everyone.
New socks and underwear, shirts and shoes, backpacks and school supplies. They're available thanks to a number of donors who have stepped up over the course of the past three years to turn the store into a full-fledged shopping experience for anyone who walks through the district's administration center doors at 241 Pine St.
"There's not a day where somebody doesn't bring me something," Cox said. "And there's not a day someone doesn't come in to get something."
Cox started the store small, with whatever he could gather in an effort to provide some form of support to some of the neediest students who came through his office.
As word spread throughout the community of Cox's efforts, donations started coming in by the truck load. With the increased support, those emotional barriers to success started coming down and students became supported in ways they struggled with before.
"We've moved forward a lot," Cox said. "Everything a student needs to go to school is here, and we have help for them every day. There's no reason anymore for a basic need to get in the way of going to school."
Cox said the store, which now occupies multiple rooms in the district's Federal Programs offices and a storeroom in the administration building's bottom floor, is completely incapable of holding on to enough socks and underwear for the student needs it faces.
It's always running short in that department, he said.
School supplies are another struggle, as students continue to go through paper, pens and pencils throughout the school year.
Part of Cox's inability to keep the shelves stocked might be his attitude toward providing these items to those who ask.
"I don't say 'No,'" Cox said. "Every time someone asks. It's crazy, it's fun and I'm enjoying my job."
Hierarchy of needs
In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a new look at human motivation. It's a scientific theory that permeates all aspects of the student homelessness issue within the district.
Maslow believed that human needs best fit on a triangle. The base of the shape is where basic, physiological needs reside. Above are the security needs, such a food, water and shelter.
You have to climb the triangle to the top to find areas where education becomes a need, with self-actualization being the peak. This is where a person studies morality, creativity and is able to concentrate on fact-finding.
Maslow's theory suggested people — young children or adults — need base needs fulfilled before they are motivated to seek these higher goals such becoming educated.
"When a child is coming from that sort of situation, when they come to school, the first thing on their mind is not learning," one AISD first-grade teacher said.
(The Reporter-News granted anonymity to focus on the issue, not the teacher's school).
"If they don't have a place to sleep that's warm in the wintertime or comfortable in the summertime, they're not going to sleep," she said. "If they're exhausted, they're not able to learn. Many times, these kids are way behind where they should be when they're coming in."
This is where Cox's store comes in, the teacher said. Maybe it's getting the students clean clothes to wear so they're not ridiculed or their own set of crayons so they feel they belong. But each barrier that's broken allows the students to focus on education a little more than the day before.
The teacher said day-to-day work with these students to build relationships with them. Working in small groups helps, allowing them to form relationships not just with the teacher but with a few others in the class.
The goal is to make sure the student feels accepted in the classroom.
"Often, their behavior issues are the result of something that's gone on at home," the teacher said. "It's something they have no control over. So, before we can close those gaps, we have to build those relationships so they trust us.
"Often, we modify some of our expectations to get that relationship going. We start where they are and get them to where we need them to be. It's helping them understand that we all make mistakes, we're not perfect. We help them feel safe here, that they're not going to have this held over their head all day or all week.
"We know if those basic needs aren't met, their minds are on those things and not in a place where they're ready to read."
Big need, big ask
While day-to-day life requires undergarments and students need new tools to complete their school work, there's a much bigger problem at play that both Cox and Melchor said needs immediate attention.
"The biggest thing Abilene needs is a youth shelter," Melchor said. "A 17-year-old kid who leaves home because his mom is on drugs goes to a friend's house, then is told they have to leave because of an argument or something.
"You don't want to put a 17-year-old in the system. But they're just regular kids, just like all of the rest, from the valedictorian on the tennis team to the kid in trouble. They're all the same with the same basic desires."
Abilene has created facilities for homeless adults. And the foster care system addresses needs for young children. It's the teens who fall through the cracks, Melchor and others say.
It's like that all around the country and throughout the world. Abilene is no different than other communities, they say.
Cox also is working on expanding some of the programs that help get food into the hands of the students who need it the most. It's another barrier that could come down if he's able to expand programs such as the Taylor Snack Pack program, which provides students food for the weekend.
Improvement, but not finished
Abilene ISD has taken steps to address its homeless population's needs.
And with interest brewing in expanding the food programs and building up a new youth and teen shelter, there might be hope for bigger things in the future.
"We need to take some serious steps in the next two years," Cox said. "We've seen drastic improvement over the last two years but we still have some who are below where we can even help them. Some of our students are in drastic situations."
That's where getting the word out, spreading the message of AISD's programs, can help, Cox said.
Community groups have played a tremendous role in helping expand the store. He's enjoyed having an intern, Samantha Pennese of Hardin-Simmons University, spending part of her time organizing and restocking the store when she's not working directly with Melchor.
The more the word spreads about the school district's efforts and what they want to do in the future, the more they'll be helping, Cox said. And it'll end whatever negative stigma gets attached to seeking help when unable to help yourself.
"It's not a disgrace or an embarrassment to come in here for help," Cox said. "We don't want anyone to feel that way, because it's not. We're just here to help. We just want to help."
And “as the health of it goes," City Manager Robert Hanna continued, "So does the rest."
“Downtowns are special places,” he said, serving as a cultural, social, commercial, and residential centers. “Abilene is blessed to have all of these components in the downtown because of the work of those that came before us.
"Our job now is to capitalize on that work and leverage it into further growth and prosperity.”
Building on a legacy
Abilene is thankfully, “beyond the days of worrying about our city center being on a respirator,” Abilene Chamber of Commerce president Doug Peters said.
Many still remember Abilene's downtown in the 1980s, said Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council. The area was a "boarded up, lifeless area attracting no residents or visitors."
“One by one, beginning with the Paramount, then the Grace, The Center for Contemporary Arts, the (National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature), Abilene Ballet Theatre, Frontier Texas!, etc, a new and vibrant life was brought to an area that was on life-support,” Barnett said.
Today, a still-in-the-works downtown convention hotel is expected serve as the major “catalyst” for new development, Mayor Anthony Williams said in his recent State of the City address.
That project expected to be funded through a mix of private donations, Hotel Occupancy Tax dollars, $1.5 million in public sector funds and $40.5 million in private sector development.
Hanna said at a recent council retreat that he planned to bring discussion about the hotel project to the council by spring.
The chamber, Abilene Downtown Association, city of Abilene and others have committed to help advance the cause of downtown, Peters said.
But while many consider the downtown hotel to be essential to the city's future, it's not — by far — the only card in the deck.
An effort of the chamber, the city and more than 1,000 area residents created the City Center Growth and Development Plan, a four-part planning document that identifies key development, infrastructure, and public/private partnership opportunities to spur the successful redevelopment of Abilene’s downtown core, he said.
In recent City Council actions, Williams also created a Downtown Task Force, charged with studying the plan, identifying ways to implement it and recommending realignment of on-street parking in the downtown area, with the aim of increasing the number of parking spaces available.
Among manifold focus areas of chamber's efforts, Peters said are focus on housing, making certain downtown is a clean and safe environment for people to invest in and to visit, improving walkability, and identifying opportunities to leverage public and private investment for the greater good of the community.
“We want to help downtown Abilene to become a recognized to live, work and play, and as a partner we are focused on the elements of an 18-hour downtown rather than one where the population drives home to the suburbs at 5 p.m. each day,” Peters said.
Many already are working directly to bring what Hanna termed their own "sweat equity" toward downtown endeavors.
For example, at 202 Cypress Street is the future home of a 30,000 square-foot commercial development that will include a brewery, Grain Theory, along with other tenants, Hanna said.
Alex Russell and her husband, Justin, are renovating the old Busch Jewelers into a taco bar featuring local produce and fresh ingredients with an interior highlighting pieces by local artists and stocking Texas spirits.
The goal is to have an "updated atmosphere, good food, and a celebration of all things local," Russell said, noting in early March that remediation and abatement had been completed and the couple were in the process of collecting bids to start construction.
And they and others work to bring businesses online, efforts continue to beautify downtown's public image in eye-catching ways.
Based on those successes, nascent plans were recently discussed at a Parks and Recreation board meeting to revivify Minter Park, with ideas floated such as a performance area, digital water curtains and/water mist projection systems, a tree-and-trellis structure that would allow for projector systems, security cameras,or lighting, and seat- and stool-height stones.
Committed to the cause
The yearly Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, venues such as the NCCIL and the city boasting the largest collection of storybook sculptures in the United States have created new opportunities for visitors and helped cement an identity for the community as the “Storybook Capital of America,” Barnett said.
That designation conveys to the rest of the country the value that our community places on art, literacy, and family.
“The arts should remain a strategic partner and focus moving forward, and an anchor for the on-going development of a possible downtown hotel, new restaurants and other businesses,” Barnett said.
But neither the community's storybook components and theme, nor the arts by themselves can be a successful strategy for downtown development, since a downtown is “far more complex than just its cultural elements,” she said.
Creating a "unique urban vibe" that can help attract workforce necessary to long-term economic success is a vital goal, Peters said.
Downtown is the first impression of Abilene many visitors get, "and for those of us who call Abilene home, our downtown’s vitality is a big part of what retains us," said Megan Dobbs, marketing and communications director for Community Foundation of Abilene and a member of the Downtown Association.
Dobbs said that in her opinion, the more the community bolsters imaginative and capable small entrepreneurs, the better downtown and other pockets of town thrive.
From a city perspective, "we need to be careful not to create a regulatory environment that messes up much of what the private sector is already trying to accomplish," Hanna said.
"We need to meet the private sector where their ability to solve a problem is limited, and work with the private sector to solve it," he said. "It's going to take the city and the business community working together to continue to make our downtown into the best version of itself."
Offense was hard to come by for the purple-clad Wildcats who got on the board with Hayden Farquhar's 3-pointer three minutes, 36 seconds into the game after Kentucky scored the first eight points. ACU trailed 39-13 at halftime before having its season end with a 79-44 loss.
And while it ended, this is a season and team that will be celebrated at ACU for years to come.
"I think it was the best season in ACU history," ACU coach Joe Golding said. "I don't think it was one of the best, I think it was the best season in school history. And we're going to celebrate those three seniors and this team like it was the best because they deserve it."
ACU missed its first four shots before Farquhar got his trey to fall. But it would be five minutes before ACU scored again, at that point Kentucky built an 18-5 lead and took away any hope.
"In this tournament, (starting well is) really important," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "What happens when teams are desperate, they'll do stuff they don't usually do, and if you let a team hang around, something stupid, crazy, like what just happened, can happen ... We got out of the gate really guarding and blocking shots and did a pretty good job and shot a high percentage."
That left ACU looking for answers, and it took until the second half to find them. ACU was just 5 of 26 shooting over the first 20 minutes of the game and had eight turnovers — leading to 10 Kentucky points — at halftime.
"We just couldn't make shots, shot 19 percent in the first half," senior guard Jaylen Franklin said. "And then the second half we pretty much shot 45 (percent) — 45? Yeah, I guess. And just the first half, turning the ball over first half really hurt us."
Senior forward Jaren Lewis was one constant for ACU, finishing with a team-high 17 points and pulling down an ACU-best five rebounds. The result is a hard pill to swallow, but playing on the biggest stage in college basketball against a premier program is something to be proud of.
"I mean, it was a great experience being out there for March Madness and everything," Lewis said. "It was great knowing it was the first time in our school's history, but at the end of the day, it stings losing like that. And being me, Jaylen and Hayden's last game, it hurts, but it was a great experience, probably something we'll never forget."
And as much as Golding stole the show from a torn suit at the end of the Southland Conference championship game through telling his team, "I love you. And thanks" before the game, he wanted to make sure the real story was his team.
ACU was led by its three seniors all year long and battled through two players being removed from the team late in the year. They battled through it all to win the Southland tournament and reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
"I want to make sure moving forward that this team is celebrated," Golding said. "It's not my hole in my pants, it's our team, and it's our university because they deserve it, man. These guys have been incredible, man. I'm fortunate to coach them. They took me on a hell of a ride, one that I'll never forget the rest of my life."
Payten Ricks scored all nine of his points in the second half while Franklin scored seven of his nine in the second half. ACU was more itself over the final 20 minutes of the game.
"It's tough adjusting to all the length at the rim, and we knew what we had to do," Lewis said. "It was just a tough challenge for us getting on the glass. But yeah, the turnovers killed us, and then we just couldn't see anything fall in the first half, so it was tough."
It was the final game at ACU for seniors Franklin, Lewis and Farquhar. And when the time comes to shift focus to the 2019-20 season, ACU will do so with an experienced group coming back, but a question on how to round out the roster.
With two rising seniors no longer with the program, Golding doesn't need to just find bodies. He needs to find experienced bodies who can have an instant impact.
"I mean, time will tell with that, but we have a bunch of young kids back," Golding said. "We're also losing three really good seniors, but we've got some good young kids back ... We've built this on high school kids and a culture and really developing, evaluating talent and trying to develop, and so we might have to get creative in recruiting here through grad transfers, JuCo or something, but we're not going to change who we are, and I think our program is going to move forward."