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2019 Year in review

There were many interesting headlines in Lincoln County that we reported on in 2019. The many topics reported on ranged from crime to education to county discussions, including the Texas Eastern pipeline explosion and cities and counties adopting geospatial readdressing. While there were many other important moments reported in 2019, here’s a look at some of the big stories in Lincoln County.

Pipeline explosion rocks Moreland area

By far the biggest news story in Lincoln County in 2019 was the Aug. 1 pipeline explosion in the Indian Camp Subdivision in Moreland.

In the early morning hours, the phone lines of the Bluegrass 911 Communications Center were lit up as calls came in both locally and statewide to report the massive rupture.

The explosion of the 30-inch gas transmission pipeline killed one person, blasted a 13-foot-deep, 36-foot-long crater in the ground, blew a 29-foot piece of pipe over 500 yards away and shot intense flames over 300 feet into the air.

As local and regional first responders converged on the disaster area, Donnie Gilliam, director of Lincoln County Emergency Management, became the source of information for the many media outlets covering the event.

What follows is a recap of the early-morning explosion.

Pipeline explodes

At 1:20 a.m. Aug. 1, a Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline exploded in northeastern Lincoln County, sending an enormous fireball an estimated 300 feet into the sky; it could be seen from counties away, including Fayette and Nelson, and many who live several miles from it have said they could feel the heat.

The explosion was in the Moreland area, greatly affecting the Indian Camp subdivision.

Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, was the person killed in the explosion; her death is still being investigated by the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office.

Several people were treated for injuries. According to Trish O’Quin, deputy director of EMA, the blast destroyed at least five homes and damaged several others along with vehicles and other property. The tracks of Norfolk Southern Railroad were also damaged. An area of 30 to 40 acres was damaged, with some spots left virtually untouched.

During a press conference, Kentucky State Police’s media liaison, Trooper Robert Purdy, said due to the area impacted by the explosion, it has been “really surprising” there were not more casualties or destroyed structures and homes, especially due to the early-morning hour it happened, when most are at home and asleep.

The natural gas pipeline is owned by Enbridge Inc. and operated by Texas Eastern Gas Pipeline Co. An incident commander with Enbridge, Jim McGuffey, said it “could take three days or could take a week” to find the answer of what made the pipeline rupture.

Officials said a resident who was leaving the scene of the incident described it as looking like Mars – the affected area has no trees or grass left, and an asphalt road in the area was turned into gravel.

Viewing the explosion site from a field adjacent to the Indian Camp neighborhood, the entire area was black, flat and barren. Pockets of smoke were rising above the ground and several wooden fence posts were still burning. Vinyl siding on homes closest to the fire appeared to have dripped off, and burned out vehicles sat in driveways.

Officials asked residents of Indian Camp to report to New Hope Baptist Church in Moreland, so that a headcount could be taken. O’Quin reported that around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, everyone had been accounted for.

 

School board votes to close McKinney

On May 9, the Lincoln County School Board voted to close McKinney Elementary School at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The board heard emotional testimony from several people opposed to the closure, including school administrators, staff, students and students’ parents, and some who were in favor of the proposed move, but ultimately voted 3-1 in favor.

Sixteen different people presented their views on the proposed closing of the McKinney school. Each speaker was limited to two minutes.

Skyler Yellowwolf was one of four McKinney Elementary students who pleaded with the board not to close McKinney.

“I want others to have the same opportunity that I did,” the McKinney fifth-grader began. “If McKinney is closed, they will be put in a bigger school. They won’t get the attention like I did as there will be more kids. I love my school, our teachers. Please don’t take it away from us.”

McKinney Elementary Principal Paige Hackney also addressed the board.

“I don’t need to reiterate the enormity of your decision tonight,” she began. “I’d like to say that in my 25 years of education, I’ve worked in two states, three districts and six schools. I’ve never experienced the passion and support for a school that I’ve seen from the stakeholders of McKinney Elementary. As we have seen from Kings Mountain and Broughtontown, when a school is closed the community dies. McKinney residents deserve a school they can call their own. I’ve heard it thrown around that we represent only 3% of the students in the district and that such a small population doesn’t matter. Our students do matter. And, if you’re representing all students, then you will allow us to stay open.”

Not all in attendance were in favor of keeping McKinney open. Several boos were mixed in with the applause when Lincoln County HIgh School Business teacher Allen Lewis spoke in favor of closing McKinney.

“I’m a proud alumnus of McKinney Elementary, however, I’m here tonight to ask you to vote in favor of closing McKinney Elementary,” he said. “As someone in business and in education, we live in a data world. Every decision that we make should be based on data. The data and the facts that have been presented are, that it is clear that we are continuing to pump money into a school that the state has recommended that we close and, quite simply, the state is going to close McKinney Elementary. So, we can do it on our terms or we can wait until the state comes in and we have to scramble,as others have said relocating at that point in time.”

“We cannot continue to progress as a district if we do not make sound financial decisions. We must be progressive-thinking. We must think about the future, the money that will be saved. It’s true, we will not save as much money as projected the first year, the second year, the third year. It’s going to be more and more and more. We have to keep that futuristic thinking in mind.

We have to think of all students in the entire county. Consolidating will give students of the entire county a better education while allowing more funds to be available to be spent on them. If we’re truly for the students, then we will make this decision. To quote Jim Collins, ‘Bad decisions with good intentions are still bad decisions.’”

Several local citizens have accused the board of rushing to vote on closing McKinney, however, Vance Mitchell of the Facilities Planning Committee says that is just not the case.

“It’s been said that a decision to close this building is being rushed while McKinney has no representation on the board. Well, I have served on the Facilities Planning Committee for 10 years and this has been discussed over and over again,’ he said. “For many years, the Facilities Planning Committee has put together with representatives from all schools, including McKinney, and that committee has made recommendations to this board about closing it. I ask everyone, particularly the board, to look at this objectively, logically and with sound reasoning.”

“The majority of people here will agree that one of the biggest issues with government, and anything political for that matter, is that decisions are not based on how a business would be run or how they would operate and handle their own personal finances. So I ask you to look at this situation from that viewpoint. No matter how much personal attachment you have for something, if you can’t afford it, you simply can’t afford it. I From a business standpoint, if you want an unbiased opinion you ask a third party or someone from outside to provide you with facts and recommendations. I don’t think you’ll find one business or school professional … who will tell you it makes sense to keep McKinney open from a financial point of view.”

Board member Win Smith made the motion to close the school and board member Ricky Lane seconded the motion. Smith, Lane and Tom Blankenship all voted to close McKinney. Alan Hubble cast the only no vote.

 

Demolition halted after log cabin found

In April, the demolition of a home on Hustonville Street was suddenly halted after crews made a potentially historic discovery.

The historical significance of the log cabin that was discovered underneath the vinyl siding of the home is still unknown but with the proximity to Logan’s Fort, local historians and lovers of history have been buzzing with theories since Saturday.

The property at 135 Hustonville Street has since been roped off with caution tape.

Demolition orders were sent to the owner of record, Cassandra Brown, on Oct. 3, 2017, according to Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Knouse.

No formal response was received, Knouse said, and no appeals were filed.

“At that point it stopped. Then we sent out new violations for the grass, yard and stuff like that,” he said. “Citations were issued and the city ended up abating the nuisance for 2017-18.”

As time elapsed, the property deteriorated further and was declared an “imminent danger.”

“It became a fire hazard, structural collapse, unsanitary conditions on the inside, so I declared it an imminent danger,” he said. “The city had several thousands of dollars worth of liens on this property already, before this demolition ever started.”

According to House Bill 422, a code enforcement ordinance adopted by the City of Stanford in 2016, demolition orders can be made when an “imminent danger exists on the subject property that necessitates immediate action, or there is reason to believe that the existence of a violation of this chapter with respect to the structure presents a serious threat to the public health, safety and welfare or; the structure is so old, dilapidated or has become so out of repair as to be dangerous, unsafe, unsanitary or otherwise unfit for human habitation or occupation, or demolition is other reasonably necessary to protect the public interest.”

Knouse said normally a Code Enforcement Board hearing is held prior to the city undertaking demolition of a structure, unless an imminent danger exists.

The city will be demolishing another structure in town, located at 214 Maxwell Street, this week after declaring the structure an imminent danger, Knouse added.

Lincoln County Property Valuation Administrator and local historian David Gambrel did some research on 135 Hustonville Street and found it belonged to Mrs. (Eliza) Wright as far back as 1879. She purchased the property in 1853 and by 1880 she had moved to Louisville to stay with her sons Thomas, Isaac and George.

“Thomas was a railroader,” Gambrel said. “The Wright’s oldest son John E. Wright was a Corporal in G Company 1st Ky Union Cav and died in Andersonville, GA prison.”

Gambrel said in 1891, Eliza (Wright) sold the property to John Miller Broaddus and his wife Eliza J. Boone Broaddus – the first African American family to live there.

For now the demolition of the structure will remain halted as the city works to identify more information about the log cabin, the mayor said.

 

Charges filed against 3 LCHS school employees

In January, charges were filed against three Lincoln County High School employees after an “alleged incident” that happened on Jan. 3, according to Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day.

An investigation of the incident is currently underway, according to a statement released by Lincoln County Superintendent Michael Rowe.

The investigation was the result of a tip to school administration, which prompted the opening of an internal investigation including both state and local law enforcement agencies.

“Due to the nature of the alleged incident and the ongoing investigation, no additional details are available at this time,” the statement reads. “While we strive to be open and transparent with stakeholders, investigations are confidential, which means information concerning the investigation cannot be shared.”

Rowe said sharing information could harm the investigation or the individuals involved but said at the conclusion of the investigation, specific information about the alleged incident would be provided.

“Rest assured students are safe at Lincoln County High School,” the release states.

County Attorney Day said three employees of the Lincoln County School District have been charged with second-degree criminal abuse, a class D felony in Kentucky.

According to Day, Kentucky State Police obtained video evidence of an alleged physical altercation between one special needs student and at least one adult in the classroom.

“The judge issued the charges as a criminal summons,” Day said at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. “Best to my knowledge, none of them have been served yet but they will have a court date coming up.”

The three charged were adult employees in a Lincoln County High School Alternate Curriculum Classroom, according to Rowe.

There was one teacher and two instructional assistants charged as a result of the investigation.

“My understanding is there were three adults in the room and all three adults were charged,” Day said.

Rowe issued a second press release Tuesday, both as the Superintendent and as a “father of two school-aged children.”

“If the investigation confirms the allegations, I will be sickened and dismayed,” Rowe said. “School employees are placed in a position of absolute trust Students and their families should always have confidence in that. We realize trust within our own system may have been broken due to the actions of a few. This does not reflect our staff overall, and we will work diligently to regain the trust and confidence in us.”

The statement goes on to say the Lincoln County School District will not tolerate inappropriate behavior or contact between adults and students.

“Any allegations will be handed over immediately to law enforcement for investigation, and if verified, will lead to arrest, prosecution, and termination of employment to ensure these individuals can never work with children again.”

Rowe said communication with stakeholders is “key now and moving forward.”

 

Employees accuse Lincoln Co. jailer of sexual harassment, discrimination

In November, in a lawsuit filed against Lincoln County Jailer Rob Wilson, and Lincoln County, a total of eight employees accused the jailer of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and the county of failing to take action when it was reported.

A total of seven female jail employees filed affidavits in support of the motion for a restraining order, detailing their individual experiences with Wilson and the alleged sexual harassment they have endured as employees of the Lincoln County Regional Jail (LCRJ).

From May 2015 to present, the lawsuit alleges Wilson “engaged in a continuous and repeated course of conduct constituting sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, as well as quid pro quo sexual activities to the legal and physical detriment of the plaintiffs.”

In a signed affidavit, Brettany St. Lawrence alleges Wilson made comments regularly that made her uncomfortable at work, such as wishing he had a large amount of quarters so she could “bend over and pick them up in front of him” and “what he could have done with me if he were 20 years younger.”

“Wilson repeatedly hugged me and has kissed my face,” St. Lawrence writes. “Jailer Wilson once showed me a nude picture of a female and told me that the female had sent him the picture.”

Wilson “frequently and repeatedly” attempted to get LCRJ employee Erica Sampson to send him nude pictures of herself and allegedly asked her to perform oral sex acts” according to her signed affidavit.

Sampson also alleges Wilson grabbed her and her breasts and patted her down.

Sexual and verbal comments were also made to employee Charlotte Burchett, who accused Wilson of making crude comments while staring at her breasts, such as “I bet your husband has his hands full with all that” and “I could get that but it would cost me.”

Wilson allegedly told Sergeant Deputy Jailer April Benedict that he’d like to make yoga pants her official uniform “just for him to see.” According to her affidavit, Wilson also asked Benedict’s minor daughters if they “would like to call him ‘daddy’.”

Each of the seven affidavits, which were notarized by Chief Deputy Jailer Robin Jones, claim that Wilson gave favorable scheduling, positions and promotions to one or more females with whom he was engaged in a personal relationship.

A male employee, James Gibson, also claims that Wilson denied him a promotion and demoted him in order to “give preferential employment treatment to a female employee” with whom Wilson was “personally and closely affiliated” and who was “no better qualified for the job.”

If anyone complained to Wilson or asked him to stop, he would tell them to quit, according to the employees. Several employees said they feared for their safety during their breaks and therefore went several hours without taking breaks, just to avoid Wilson.

Tiffany Ellis, who started working full-time at LCRJ in 2018, said every time she walked outside for a break, or came into work, Wilson would wrap his arms around her in a tight hug and kiss her on her face.

“This caused me to work five-to-six hours without a break because I did not want to encounter Jailer Wilson,” she wrote.

On another occasion, Ellis claims Wilson told her that he would like to kick her husband out of the hotel room on her honeymoon. That comment was witnessed by another employee, Lecia Hoskins.

Hoskins had her own set of complaints, including being demoted in order for Wilson to promote another female deputy with whom he was having a personal relationship.

Brittany Tillett, wrote that Wilson began taking pictures of her at work and when she asked him to stop, “he just laughed.”

“He would sometimes send me copies of the pictures he was taking,” she wrote in her affidavit. “This made me feel very uncomfortable because I didn’t want some man, especially my boss, taking pictures of me.”

Tillett claims Wilson often told employees they were “replaceable” and “brags that he is ‘untouchable.’”

At another time, Wilson allegedly told Tillett she was “built like a brick house” when she was selecting uniform pants. On another occasion, Tillett said Wilson found her alone in the stock room and said “Mmm, mmm, mmm, what I would have done to you if I was 20 years younger.”

Wilson attempted to get Tillett alone in a room often, according to her affidavit. At one point, he allegedly found her alone in the stock room, locked the door and stared “creepily” at her.

“I was seriously concerned that Jailer Wilson would make some effort to sexually assault me or make sexual advances toward me in the room with the door locked,” Tillett wrote. Eventually, after giving him a “menacing stare,” Wilson left the room, she said.

Wilson is being sued in his individual and official capacity. Lincoln County has also been named as a defendant.

According to the lawsuit, in an effort to stop Wilson’s conduct, “some of the plaintiffs recently met with the Lincoln County Attorney, and met with the Lincoln County Judge Executive, Jim Adams Jr., to seek assistance with the situation” but were allegedly informed by Judge Adams that there was nothing the county could do because Wilson “holds the constitutional office of Jailer and cannot be terminated.”

Adams said he was unable to comment on the allegations at this time.

Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day said since the suit involves employees of a county agency making allegations against a county elected official, he is not involved in the legal representation.

“Obviously, my first priority is the fiscal court, but we have referred it all out to KACO (Kentucky Association of Counties),” Day said. “They will be handling all of the defense of it, from the county side and also from Rob’s (Wilson) side.”

Plaintiffs are seeking a restraining order and temporary injunction to keep Wilson from making any direct contact or communication with them, at least until the litigation concludes, and to restrain him from entering the Jail, the Jailer’s Office, and the homes of plaintiffs.

According to one affidavit, Wilson has recently “begun to state that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder” and that he has been checking himself into a rehabilitation facility.” A duty weapon was reportedly missing from the jail, causing employees further concern, as it was found in Wilson’s possession.

On Oct. 10, the gun was reported missing and the following day, the local police department alerted the jail they had received a suicide note from Wilson and stated that he was missing.

Wilson was not available for comment this week. Day said a hearing has not been scheduled as of Wednesday this week.

The lawsuit states the court is the “only remaining avenue of protection for the plaintiffs” and the relief sought by them would still allow Wilson to “communicate with other employees at the jail, which can be supervised by a Chief Deputy Jailer” in Wilson’s absence.

Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a trial by jury “on all issues so triable” and recovery of legal costs. They are being represented by Lexington attorneys of Cooley Iuliano Robey, PLLC.

 

Lincoln Co. takes ownership of William Whitley property

Ever since the William Whitley House became a Kentucky state park on Feb. 25, 1938, Lincoln County residents have boasted of the property’s history and beauty. Now, Lincoln Countians can truly claim it as their own.

On Tuesday, March 26, the William Whitley House, which is situated just outside Crab Orchard, became the property of Lincoln County. Judge Jim W. Adams Jr. put his signature on the deed just after 11 a.m. Tuesday to finalize the land transfer between the state and the county.

“This is an opportunity for us to own a part of our history, much like this courthouse,” Adams said. “We have a (fiscal) court that is very conservative. So, if we see that the William Whitley House is going to be a huge financial burden, then we will seek a different path. In the short term, I don’t see it. You can rest assured that we will not spend any more dollars than we absolutely have to.”

Don Parkinson, Secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said the state has been considering this type of transfer for some time.

“Over the last year or so, we’ve been spending some time on trying to get our asset state parks in line to where they can be best managed,” he said. “We have 49 parks. We’re down to 48 as of today. What we’ve done is transfer assets …. We’ve done a lot of that work around the state.”

Among the assets already transferred to local government include White Hall State Historic Site (transferred to Eastern Kentucky University), the theaters at My Old Kentucky Home (transferred to Nelson County) and Jenny Wiley State Resort Park (transferred to the City of Prestonsburg) and transfer of the airstrip at Kentucky Dam Village to Calvert City.

“This is not all that unusual. It’s been going on for some time,” Parkinson said. “We believe Whitley, which is such an important piece of history in Kentucky, is better managed locally. It’s a great asset. Lincoln County has done a great job … Stanford has done a great job with all the work you’ve done for restoration of this town. It’s amazing to come down here and see this town. It’s like a movie set.” 

“We believe the closer you can get to the local community to manage it is better than trying to manage these properties from Frankfort,” he added. “That’s what the idea is, is to try to put them in the hands of the community. We’re not selling them to gas stations or anything like that so the property would be destroyed over time. This is to give a longer life, better management of the property and restoring it as it should be done. This should be considered a positive.”

“We believe very strongly that this community, this county can handle this. This is a good fit for them and for us. We think it will be in better hands locally.”

The William Whitley House, also known as Sportsman’s Hill, is considered a monument to “pioneer ingenuity and resourcefulness.” The home, completed in 1794 by William Whitley and his wife Esther, is believed to be the first brick home built west of the Allegheny Mountains and had the first circular racetrack to run counter-clockwise in the United States. The house was a gathering spot for early Kentuckians, including George Rogers Clark and Daniel Boone.

W.N. Craig, president of the Whitley Park Association, initiated the effort to first acquire the property in 1936 and owner Nellie May Engle of Lexington sold the house and grounds to the state for $2,500 with the stipulation that the property become a state historic site.

Tuesday’s transfer of the William Whitley estate to Lincoln County, which was an inter-government transfer where no monies were exchanged, includes the home and around 100 acres. The property transfer also includes Sportsman’s Hill and the Lair Tract, purchased by the state several years ago using Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation funds, as well as a cemetery. Included within the deed are conservation easements and preservation easements to protect the historic property. The Lincoln County Historical Society already owns another cemetery on the grounds.

 

Lincoln Co. Patriots win 12th Region championship

On March 2, less than 24 hours after a five-overtime win in the region semifinals, Lincoln County was cutting down the nets.

The Patriots defeated Danville in the 12th Region championship Saturday 63-45 after a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. It’s the first region championship for Lincoln County since 2008.

“Our kids just came out and played hard tonight,” Lincoln head coach Jeff Jackson said. “I’m just really proud of them. Great effort. Just really proud of our kids. I’m happy for our school, our community, our team, our kids.”

Lincoln senior Blake Smith said the team’s dominance started on the defensive side of the ball: The Patriots allowed just 13 points the entire first half. Danville was 4-of-26 from the field and 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.

“Coach has always told us, if we start playing defense, playing hard, our shots would start to fall. That’s what happened tonight,” he said.

The Patriots, by comparison, shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and were 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

The second half picked up where the Patriots left off: Senior Bryson Yaden, who had hit just six 3’s this year, hit back-to-back corner triples to push the Lincoln lead to 35-15 just moments into the third quarter.

“We said last night after those five overtimes that we needed to bring a better effort (against Danville),” Yaden said. “I think we did that, we took it personal. We came out and whipped their tail, if you ask me.”

Danville’s offense finally started to click in the fourth quarter: The Admirals forced turnovers with their press and cut the Lincoln lead to 10 with 1:57 remaining.

“This is a high-character bunch of kids,” Danville head coach Ed McKinney said. “They did surprise me, we had four seniors out there and they wanted to go out the right way. I think they did. I’m very proud of that. They deserved to go out like that, where people see them fight till the end. That’s a good way for this team to go out. After the fog of this clears, you look back, it was a pretty good year for Danville basketball.”

After the Admirals cut the lead to 55-45, Blake Smith stepped to the line and hit three free throws to put the game away.

“When they cut it to 10 I was a little worried but I knew it would be alright,” freshman Jaxon Smith said. “When (Blake) went to the line, I was cool. I knew he would make it.”

Lincoln put the game away in the closing moments and held the ball for the final 30 seconds, winning 63-45.

For Lincoln’s seniors — Blake Smith, Yaden, Darius Napier and Sawyer Carrier — the region title is a surreal moment. They’ve brought the Patriots back to Rupp Arena.

“It ain’t clicked in yet,” Yaden said. “I remember back in 2007 back when Ryan Young, Daniel Ralston and them played here. I was sitting up there, this place was packed. Lincoln vs. Boyle. I told myself, told my parents that I was going to play in Rupp one day. We’re playing in Rupp.”

Yaden and Blake Smith were eight years old the last time that Lincoln won a region championship.

Jaxon Smith was five, and he has put together MVP-like performances this postseason. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game in his last four (he missed the region first round game against Mercer due to the flu).

During the regular season, Jaxon Smith averaged 12 points per game.

It’s his development — and a commitment to the defensive end — that pushed Lincoln over the top.

“He competes. Our kids love him, respect him,” Jackson said. “Talk about a great teammate, he’s a great one. There’s a lot of good things he does on both ends of the floor. Our kids look to him and Blake to do good things for us and they do. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”

Yaden said the seniors call Jaxon Smith “pup” because he’s a freshman, but said that he certainly doesn’t play like it.

“He’s really grown into himself,” Yaden said. “He’s realized he can score against anyone, he’s just as big and strong as anybody out there. We’ve taken him under our wing, tell him that it’ll be fine.”

The Patriots are on a 7-game win streak and have flourished after an up-and-down season. Before their current win streak, the Patriots were 16-12.

“We were so up and down earlier in the year,” Jackson said. “When we play hard and compete, our effort is good and we’re defending and rebounding, we’re pretty good. We were so inconsistent with our effort this year. But the last seven games, our practices have been better, our intensity and focus has been better. It’s carried over into our games. Our senior leadership has been really, really good. Our kids like each other. They respect each other. It just came together, we kept trying to encourage them and they got on a run. I’m real proud of them.”

Yaden said the team took a new focus in practice on the defensive side of the ball.

“There towards the middle of the season, a lot of people started marking us off,” he said. “After that, we started just buying in to the defensive end. There were teams putting up 70 on us, that’s not us. We really bought into the defensive end during practice and since then, we’ve been on a roll.”

The region win marks the first time in more than a decade that Lincoln has won the region — the fifth since schools in Lincoln consolidated in 1974-75 .

“It’s long overdue, we’d like to have had a few other ones in there,” he said. “To win a region is very, very difficult to do and we’ve had opportunities that just didn’t happen. For it to happen for these kids, I’m real proud of them.”