Panther College Academy students at SKYCTC brought back memories
By Jim Turner

Posted on June 22, 2019 8:08 PM


The last three school years have been especially meaningful for me, and the Panther College Academy (PCA) has been an important factor in making that come true.

Beginning with the fall semester of 2016, Russellville High School has been busing top students to Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College’s Franklin-Simpson Center to take their dual credit classes from college teachers. Generally, in-house dual credit courses are taught by high school teachers at a more advanced level than high school, but when the high school students come to the college campus, they get to study under professors who are accustomed to teaching the college subject matter and they realize they are in college, not high school, while taking their courses.

Sadly, this relationship is about to end. Russellville students are no longer going to be coming to the SKYCTC campus. The decision has been made for RHS dual credit students to take their courses online from Campbellsville University. This will eliminate the time and cost involved in busing them. I’ve also been told by an administrator that many students who don’t meet SKYCTC admissions requirements can qualify for Campbellsville.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know students from RHS these three years. I found them to be very much like the young people who were my schoolmates in the Russellville Schools in the 1950s and early 60s, and like the students I taught and coached at RHS from 1968-77. They were pleasant to be around and very good students.

There have also been a number of connections between these students and those I taught and coached at RHS 40 to 50 years ago.

I have long wondered when I would start writing about third generation school athletes, those whose parents and grandparents were part of my sportswriting subjects. I’m not sure that has happened yet, but some speech coaching legacies popped up this semester.

Hunter McDowell, who put together a remarkable multi-sports year in 2018-19, is the grandson of Diane Gilliam Walker, who won a state championship for the Speaking Panthers I was coaching in 1976. Diane was also a marvelous actress, one of the best I ever directed. She and her sister Sherrie were perfect as two older women chatting while breaking invisible beans in Our Town. I have long been friends with Hunter’s great-grandparents--Herbie and Linda Gilliam,I knew Linda’s parents--the John Guions, and I even knew Hunter’s great-great-great-grandmother.

Hunter may, in fact, fit the three-generation role in sports I have reported on. One of his grandfathers, Ricky Walker, played football and his step-father, Bill Costello, was a standout on one of the best Panther football teams ever.

Ethan Paul’s bloodline also brings back many memories. His grandmother, Sherry Hinton Violette, was also one of my top interpreters and actresses. I had, in fact, chosen a play for her to star in as a senior in 1974 before she decided to graduate a year early. Ethan’s maternal great-grandmother, the late Rachel Hinton, was my dad’s favorite bank teller. Ethan’s great-grandfather, Harold ‘Tub’ Hinton, may be the oldest living former Panther athlete. His mom, Kelley Violette Paul, is a source I rely on for RHS news.

Ethan, who was captain of the RHS Archery team this year, loves to talk sports, as does his close friend, Kyran Williams. We had a lot of sports conversations after class, often with Jayce Buchner chipping in. Kyran’s grandfather, Zane ‘Z-Man’ Williams, is one of my good friends and coached our son Trey in tennis at Logan County High School.

Kyran reminds me of one of my earliest PCA students, Brennan Hughes. Not only are they extremely smart but they are deep thinkers. If RHS still had a speech team, they would have been excellent debaters. They also were starters on the football team and on the academic team. Both are very versatile.

Jayce is a well-rounded athlete. She was the star of Russellville’s first girls soccer team last fall, was a versatile starter on the Lady Panthers’ 20-win basketball team, and played number one in tennis before switching over to track. An intern working at the dynamic Woodlawn Baptist Church, Jayce will play soccer for Kentucky Christian College.

Back to the family connections: I worked with Sherry Violette, Donna Robertson Bryan & Sharon Milam Ray at The Logan Leader. Donna’s nephew, Hunter Moneypenny, was in two of my classes. Sharon’s granddaughter, Ashlee Gilbert, is one of the smartest people I’ve ever taught and has unlimited potential for the future.

Ashlee’s great friend, Emma McReynolds, is the daughter of Keith and Ann Page McReynolds. Emma is a talented and lovely student now at Belmont University. I covered Keith extensively as a high school and college baseball player. Later Keith coached our son Clay on Logan County’s first-ever state champion Babe Ruth baseball team. Emma’s grandfathers, Warren McReynolds and the late Bill Province, have been my good friends.

Always by Ashlee’s side was Dylan Porter, whose parents, Donnie and Polly Porter, and maternal grandparents, Roger and Mary Lee Brewer, and lots of other relatives are very important to the Turners. We joined most of Russellville and Logan County for about three years pulling for and praying for Dylan while he was fighting cancer in high school and were thrilled when he beat the disease and signed to play college baseball.

The Vanzant twins, Paige and Peyton, are well-known for their basketball skills as they enter their senior year at Logan County High School, but their older sister Kristin was in my SKYCTC class as part of Russellville’s PCA. She is an excellent student. Their great-grandparents, Ron and Martha Switzer, were the owners of the famed Tastee Treet drive-in restaurant. Mr. Switzer was a great storyteller, but he told me I missed out on a great story by not writing more about his granddaughter being the first girl to play Little League baseball in Russellville. He was right. That granddaughter, Lori Switzer McClure-the daughter of my high school friends Judy Greer Suiter and the late Ronnie Switzer—is the mom of the Vanzant girls.

Patrons of Logan County Public Library are fortunate that two of the PCA students are working there this summer. One is Morgan Todd, who has just graduated from RHS in the top 10 in the class. Smart, sweet and humble, she is going to be a success at whatever she decides to do with her life. I taught her dad, Forrest Todd, at RHS. I may have written about her uncle, Coach Phil Todd, more than anyone else in my 48 years as a sportswriter when you combine his days as a player and as a coach.

Another summer librarian is Tony Pacheo Ramirez, who thought he wanted to go to college in California but not only is back at SKYCTC but has just completed a term as president of the school’s Student Government Association which includes a seat on the college’s board of directors. He brought new ideas to the role and has been the most visible and active SGA president in my time at SKYCTC.

Sam Cundiff’s bloodline includes his grandfathers. His late maternal granddad, Rick Keeton, played on the first tennis team I coached at RHS and later teamed with Bobby Elrod to become one of the best adult tennis duos ever around him. I’ve bought vehicles from his other grandfather, J.R. Cundiff. His aunt, Rosemary Cundiff-Brown, was my star actress and interpreter when I was coaching speech and drama at LCHS. Rosemary has fashioned a Hall of Fame career as a speech coach, in addition to being a professional singer, actress and award-winning photographer as an adult. Sam is going to combine his intelligence and dexterity into some form of advanced manufacturing, I believe.

Bobby Sue Clark has been one of my favorite people since we were sent to the principal’s office as second graders for talking to each other too much. She married one of the greatest Panther football players and a great guy, the late Gary Silvey. Their granddaughter, Kaylee Silvey, was a joy to have in class. She’s going to make a great band director for some school. Kaylee’s dad, Brian Silvey, is manager of the Casey’s General Store in Russellville.

I talked a lot of sports with Jordan Blick. He was a key player for a good RHS football team and the best player on the baseball team. He and I were disappointed his baseball coach (now gone) didn’t report any individual accomplishments of his players. Jordan would have been among the state leaders in some categories. I knew his dad, Tim Blick, when he was much younger that Jordan was when I taught him.

Steve Matthews spends a lot of time around our farm. The preacher/substitute teacher/coach spends his summers mowing and baling hay in fields of various sizes around Logan County. Our fields and sheds have been his home base much of that time. We watched as his family pitched in, including some big, young strongmen. Turns out they were Trey and Chris Matthews, who had good careers as Panther football linemen. They are also brilliant students. I was fortunate to have Chris in class. He’s one of those guys you’d like to buy stock in, because he has all the tools to be a huge success.

I first knew Shirlee Yassney as the mom of one of my RHS speakers 45 years ago. We knew her then as Darlene Gefeller. Now she is former Logan County 4-H Agent Pat Payeur. Shirlee, of course, served as mayor of Russellvile during some tumultuous times. Our daughter Lindsay was president of the Mayor’s Youth Council during Shirlee’s administration. This spring I had Brett Kinser in class. He’s the son of Russellville civic leader Amy Stafford, Shirlee’s daughter. It was during that semester that Shirlee Yassney died. Brett and I shared memories as he dealt with the loss of that special grandmother.

When our son Clay was playing basketball for Russellville Middle School, we met a fiery but talented young Todd Central coach and his lovely, feisty and very pregnant wife. They are Calvin and Tracy Naylor. Their oldest son, Christian, came along soon. He was outstanding at RHS, as have been his brothers, Micah and Jacob, both of whom I had in class. Micah is the more reserved and subdued of the trio, and I kept trying to get him to speak on how to play four years of varsity basketball and never get a hair out of place. He’s a solid, likable guy.

Jacob Naylor is one of the most outstanding and honored students ever to graduate from RHS. He was the All-WKC small school quarterback and finished among the top 3-point shooters in the state. He set the school record for points in a game this season, and he was the number one player in tennis. Additionally, he was co-valedictorian of his graduating class and has been repeatedly honored for his character.

Each of my speech students has to tell me and the class something about himself or herself the first two times their class meets. Instead of talking about his sports accomplishments, Jake told about his relationship with Jesus.

Jacob Naylor has signed to play basketball for Roane State Community College in Tennessee. It’s going to be difficult to find courses for him to take at a two-year school because he almost has enough dual credit and Advanced Placement hours to be a junior now. I’m glad I got to know him in one of those classes.

Bryan Ison is one of the most unique students I’ve ever known. He never gets in a hurry and just when you think he doesn’t understand what you’re trying to explain, he does everything perfectly. His classmates tend to want to watch after him, but it turns out he can handle situations just fine on his own. The University of Kentucky has great programs to work with students who need accommodations, and the last I knew he was sporting a 4.0 grade point average there.

Blake Clark is the son of Jennifer Fitzhugh Fritsch, who fits a rare place in my experience, since I taught her both in high school and college. Blake is the great-nephew of my newspaper colleague ‘Princess’—Kathy Wilcutt Hathcock.

One of my students during the first year of PCA was Allison McDaniel, the daughter of former RHS Principal Kim McDaniel. Credit for creating the Panther College Academy goes primarily to Kim and retired superintendent Leon Smith.

I admired Dominique Gatewood while having her in class this spring. Often she would work most of the night at a distribution center and then appear in class, presenting excellent speeches. Despite a rigorous work schedule, she finished as one of the top students in her graduating class.


Many of these students were athletes, cheerleaders and band members. Among them were Mateah Black, Javier Canales, Nathan Cates, Derrick Deen, Elizabeth Fisher, Tonisha  Hampton, Shawn Steele and Shayla Oberhausen.

Ashley Pitts has waited on me while working for Riley-White Drugs and Jewelry.

Fortunately, four of my PCA students this year were juniors. I won’t have them in class next year, but at least I can count them as my ties to RHS in 2019-20. They are Rian Saul, Benjamin Slack, My Duyen Tran, Brandy West.

(I know that the word and should come between the last two, but nothing comes between close friends My and Brandy.)

The Panther College Academy had a great run. Thanks to all who let me be a part of it.



Copyright © The Logan Journal 2009 - 2019