Blount Press Row

They Got This!

Townsend title perfect bookend for BPR sixth birthday

The Townsend Elementary girls basketball team readies to rush the floor during the trophy presentation Tuesday night at Heritage Middle School. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Six years ago today, a friend and webmaster, Brad Spires, flipped the switch and put us on the web.

Blount Press Row, still a dream, really, was off and running.

The first story ever published to BPR concerned the Townsend Elementary girls basketball team and its remarkable run through that season’s Blount County tournament. We chose the Lady Tigers because they were so much like us.

At 133 students, Townsend, located, appropriately, on Tiger Drive at the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is the smallest elementary school in Blount County by a wide margin.

BPR had two full-time staffers when we went live — photographer Jolanda Jansma and yours truly.

We’ve got several nicknames for her: “Duchess,” partly because she’s from the Netherlands, “Jo,” “J,” “JJ.”

The last three are from photographer Wallace Bowden, whose belief in us both humbles and motivates at the same time.

Thanks for hanging in there, Jolanda.

We don’t make it six months, let alone six years, without you.

The thinking went six years ago, “If Townsend could get in the fight with the odds so heavily stacked against them, we could, too.”

Townsend’s Gabby Golder goes up for a shot on the break as Prospect’s Faith Morris defends.

There are more than 25 elementary schools playing basketball in Blount County. Undaunted, the 2011 Lady Tigers cut their way through the tournament to reach the Final Four a week later.


For more on that magical team, click here.

Four people from the newspaper Blount Today — publisher Sherri Gardner Howell, advertising executive Susan Stout, Spires and yours truly — sat around a patio table at Stout’s home and drew up the first plans for BPR six years ago.

When Blount Today closed, the whole idea of BPR sparked with a passing, half-joking question from Spires: “Why don’t you start your own website?”

Brad, there are days when I want to drop everything and hunt you down for that.

Seriously, buddy, thanks a million. If Townsend can hang in there, so can we.

Lots of people have come and gone these first six years. Time and again, someone has come forward out of the blue to get us back on our feet after a setback.

The week of this season’s high school football playoff semifinals, BPR was hit with a massive cyber attack. We run the highest-rated security software out there, but it didn’t make any difference. The damage was extensive. We were down.

It took a full two weeks — encompassing the semifinals and the state championship games — to wrest the site from the webmaster we were using, move it, get the backup up and running and troubleshoot all the software.

Townsend didn’t have cheerleaders when the season began. These five intrepid young ladies — Kaylie Scarborough, Alyssa Sweeney, Ava Richardson, Cate McCambell, Aubrey Golder — went to Townsend principal Steve Stout and volunteered for the job.

To subscribers, your personal information was never in danger. No financial transactions of any kind take place on BPR. When you go through the registration process and hit check out, the whole process is hyperlinked to PayPal, where encryption takes over. Even we don’t know your credit card or other financial information.

We owe a few people mightily for helping us get back online as quickly as possible, most notably a friend and former webmaster Stephen Kiningham, whose wife, conveniently, just happened to be hitting finals at the University of Virginia law school.

Go Cavaliers!

Key in battling back from the attack was a subscriber who stepped forward with the funding to make it happen. When we repay that debt, he’s going to feel it.

All of which brings us to Tuesday night.

Six years after that first Townsend team stole our hearts, a new group of Lady Tigers were on the prowl, and they were in the championship game!

Waiting there was undefeated and defending Blount County champion Prospect Elementary.

Prospect, which handed Townsend (11-1) its only loss this season — in overtime — hadn’t lost a game in two years!

Sophi Carnes (10) had a game-high 11 points in the championship game to pull Townsend through.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: “Oh, no they didn’t.”

Oh, yes they did.

In an absolute thriller of a final — that again went to overtime — Townsend got big buckets late from Gabby Golder and Sophi Carnes and a finishing steal from Mary Jane Teaster to hold off Prospect, 21-16, for the title.

Golder’s free throw at the end of regulation to force overtime and a jumper in the extra session to put Townsend ahead to stay were her only points of the contest.

Thanks, Townsend. Thanks, Prospect. You guys are why we do this.

The shakedown cruise is almost complete, and BPR will be back operating at full power by the first of the week. We’ve got a lot to get to, but get to it we will.


Two words: “Gabby GOLDER!”

When you watch the accompanying video, pay particular attention to her face when she sinks the go-ahead basket in OT.

Thanks for giving us a shot, Blount County.

Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

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