These two combined stories by Calvin Sneed were written for the Kingsport Times-News, Saturday June 19, and Sunday June 20, 2021. Events happened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Juneteenth
KINGSPORT — About 75 people joined in the Juneteenth Parade in Kingsport on Friday, June 18th, making the journey from Centennial Park downtown to the V.O. Dobbins Ballfield in Riverview.
Community leaders, children and seniors joined in the parade, either riding or walking the distance.
Kingsport’s parade came just over 24 hours (25 hours to be exact) after President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It’s the first federal holiday designation since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was named a holiday in the 1980s.
The recognition of Juneteenth resulted in a jubilance in the marchers and the people waiting on them in the Riverview community.
Friday’s parade kicked off a full slate of activities planned for Saturday to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation in Kingsport and the ending of slavery in the United States.
On Saturday, June 19th, it had all the ceremony and pageantry of a celebration and a festival to follow.
But when the ceremony is the end of slavery in America, the program is a little more formal, and the festival is a little more joyous.
Kingsport's Juneteenth commemoration began in the V.O. Dobbins Ballfield on Saturday morning, with a welcoming letter from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. The governor congratulated Kingsport for "honoring the memory of those who were held in bondage," realizing that "while work remains unfinished, we are thankful for all that has been done in the years since the first Juneteenth to fight discrimination and prejudice."
Through the "Eastman Connects" initiative, Karen Ellison presented longtime Riverview resident Jack Pierce with an honorarium, then Bishop Ronnie Collins related the purpose of Juneteenth up to today and beyond.
Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull presented a proclamation honoring the holiday, followed by City Manager Chris McCartt updating the participants on Kingsport's growth as a community. Chamber of Commerce CEO Miles Burdine shared a poignant moment when he read the names of Pal Barger, Ruth Montgomery, Tony Hewitt, Ken Lane, Herb Ladley, Sid Cox, Richard Watterson, Carrie Upshaw, Ernie Rumsby and Geraldine Swagerty, all prominent Kingsporters who passed away this year.
After remarks by Kingsport police chief Dale Phipps and Sullivan county deputy chief Tracy Kittrell, alderman Paul Montgomery read a resolution on Kingsport's Juneteenth commemoration by the Tennessee legislature, then alderman Betsy Cooper officially began the Juneteenth observance by declaring that "Freedom is ringing in Kingsport!" It did indeed, in the form of a bell that tolled the beginning of the celebration.
From then on, the commemoration took a sport-related turn, in fact.. the Dobbins ballfield became a "sports central" of sorts for kids with three popular camps.
First up was the wrestling camp in the Dobbins gym led by DB coach Wesley Idlette, who taught 25 kids the basics skills of wrestling along with former DB wrestling standouts Clint and Tre Morrisette.
From left, former DB football coach Graham Clark, DB athletic director Frankie Debusk, and DB wrestling coach Wesley Idlette
"These were skills the kids can have fun with at the beginner level. Once they get to the high school level, we can fine tune some of the things they learn to make them the best possible wrestlers they can be."
Outside, a football camp was conducted by legendary former DB coach Graham Clark, present coach Joey Christian, and former NFL player Teddy Gaines and DB current assistant coach and former UT player Malik Foreman. Coach Clark immediately zeroed in on a 14-year old freshman quarterback, Layton Kennison, visiting the Model City from Florida.
"That kid's got some skills," Coach Clark noted. "We're trying to teach him basic footwork on quick game, and what we called in the old days five-step-drop. Since you're in the shotgun already, it's one, two, three and you're ready to throw."
"They're showing me how faster footwork comes in," Layton says, "how to set my feet faster, which gives me a better release technique when throwing to a receiver. The quicker I can learn it, the better I can get at it. That'll help me play high school and then college ball."
Left, Layton Kennison of Florida, working out with DB assistant coach Ty Hayworth
"We're got some property up here in Kingsport if he needs it," Coach Clark joked. "He's a talented player and a fast learner with good-looking skills."
On the basketball court, the skills being taught came from assistant DB coach Dimingo Hale and former player Travis Sensabaugh. It was a fast seventh-grader that caught Coach Hale's eye. "We're showing him and the other campers dribbling, getting low and passing the ball, and learning the right way to do a layup."
He says, Sevier student De'ron Clayton may have what it takes to get to the NBA one day, an observation not lost on Clayton. "It helps me a lot to be ready for high school and college and the big leagues," he says.
Coach Hale says the idea of hosting sports camps on the Juneteenth holiday goes hand in hand with setting goals and not giving up. "Even in failure, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue pushing forward. "Junteenth has always been about celebrating a goal and never straying from it. These kids can learn that valuable lesson as early as possible."
Going hand in hand with the sports camps was food and music in the Dobbins ballfield on a warm partly cloudy Saturday afternoon. All kinds of food from fish to wings to barbeque and baloney sandwiches tempted everybody's diet plans, along with cotton candy, drinks and flavored ice.
Christian singer Aaron Cole sang rap music songs to the crowd that won him the Dove Award for Best New Artist of the Year, the first Christian hip-hop artist to ever win that award.
Speaking of hip-hop, the Holloway Dance Studio put on a show inside the Dobbins gym, while Doris Kaifa's group from Johnson City modeled the latest outfits in an outdoor fashion show on the ballfield.
Sunday's Juneteenth event was a Gospel Fest at 4 PM on the ballfield stage, featuring songs from Atlanta's Bonita Williamson and music from Christian singer-songwriter Tobias.