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Athens confirms the return of its annual July 4 fireworks

This year’s Athens Fourth of July fireworks show will reach the highest heights in its history.

The City of Athens and the Athens Parks Foundation, Inc. Board of Trustees announced on Sunday that the Independence Day fireworks show will be held on Saturday, July 4, at 9:30 p.m., with Athens Regional Park serving as its launching pad.

“Thanks to the hard work of the Foundation trustees, the city and our donors, I am so pleased to be able to announce we will have fireworks on July 4 in Athens and McMinn County,” said Athens Parks & Recreation Director Austin Fesmire.

“The Friendly City celebrates the anniversary of our nation’s independence each year with one of the grandest fireworks displays in all of Tennessee,” added Athens City Manger C. Seth Sumner. “I’m thankful to the Athens Parks Foundation, our donors and my staff for their perseverance to continue with our annual fireworks display.”

Arrangements have been made by the Foundation to shoot a high-altitude show designed to be seen from a large viewing area around the park. This will allow people to watch from an expanded area while practicing social distancing.

Due to the nature of this show and the fact that these high-altitude shells require an expanded safety area, the park will be closed to people and traffic all day on July 4, including during the fireworks show.

“Shooting this type of high-altitude show came with some logistical challenges we had to work through,” said Fesmire. “Obviously, getting a show higher requires quite a bit more lift and that is accomplished with larger shells. Larger shells come with an expanded safety zone inside of the park, which eliminated quite a bit of our parking and road use, which necessitates the park being closed. The result, however, will be 15 minutes of extreme pyro intensity that normally is reserved for much larger venues.”

Viewers are being asked to find a safe location in the vicinity of the park to watch the show.

The Athens fireworks will represent one of the largest local gatherings since the start of COVID-19 shutdown.

“As we continue to thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic, mourn the losses of our loved ones due to the virus, and wish to bring our people together in the spirit of America, while doing our part to physically stay apart, it is more important than ever to continue in traditions and grand celebrations,” said Sumner.

“Everyone working on this show wanted me to convey that their work was done to honor America and to provide a bit of normalcy to the area,” added Fesmire. “Over the years, we have learned that when the fireworks are in the air on July 4, everyone is united in a kindred spirit and we wanted to do everything we could to provide that feeling to our community in 2020.”

The City of Athens will provide additional details regarding the fireworks closer to July 4.

For more information, contact the Parks & Recreation Department by calling 423-744-2700, ext. 3.

Riceville Elementary School held its 8th grade graduation ceremony in drive-in fashion recently due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. See the story and more photos on Page A8.

Community set to host parade for MCHS seniors Saturday

A community-led parade to honor the seniors of McMinn County High School is set to be held this weekend.

The parade is set for Saturday, June 6, in Athens.

Gathering of those who wish to be in the parade will start at 1 p.m. with the parade beginning shortly after at 2 p.m.

The current parade route will follow the traditional pattern of other festive parades in the City of Athens.

The organizer of the event, Tony Shirk, proposed the idea of hosting a parade after finding out that other cities were holding parades for the senior students in their area.

“I called the mayor, Chuck Burris, and he thought it was a good idea,” Shirk said as he described the process of starting the project. “Then I spoke with the city manager, C. Seth Sumner, and he explained to me what I needed to do to get things started.”

Through the urging of Sumner, Shirk filled out the proper paperwork with the city’s Public Works department in order to obtain the permits to host the event.

“I didn’t know it would be such a big job but I had no problem doing it,” Shirk stated. “I enjoyed doing this because I have a daughter who is also graduating this year.”

He believes this event is important to hold for the students because “they lost a lot” of their events due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have gotten a lot of feedback and some of the students are excited about it,” Shirk noted. “We are trying to help some of the students who don’t have a way to the parade.”

The parade will start at the soccer complex and then will go to the courthouse before turning and returning to the origin point.

“It is pretty much the same parade route (as for other festivities),” said Shirk.

He expressed his gratitude to all the people who helped sponsor the event.

“We have Buffy Jones of All Things Exterior who donated, Domino’s donated and the Gondolier donated for the insurance money,” said Shirk. “I would like to thank them and let them know that they helped out a lot.”

McMinn Central High School seniors are set to be honored with a parade in Etowah on Saturday and Meigs County High School previously held a parade through Decatur to honor its graduating seniors.

All three schools in Monroe County have also held parades to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduating seniors.

ACS to begin giving out dinner as part of food service program

The goal of keeping local students fed will continue throughout the summer for Athens City Schools officials.

During Wednesday’s monthly work session, ACS Director Dr. Melanie Miller announced that the system will expand its offerings and begin adding dinner meals along with breakfast and lunch, which already have been given out since schools were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miller noted that the system has handed out more than 125,000 meals since the schools were shut down.

“Think about that — in our little system, over 125,000 meals have been packaged,” Miller said. “I’m very, very proud of all our food service ladies have done.”

Miller also stressed the importance of not letting the coronavirus spread to the schools that are handing out food.

“We’re working very hard to keep Ingleside and Westside quarantined, so to speak,” she said. “We don’t let anybody in the kitchen area because we don’t want our food service shut down. If there were a case, it would be shut down.”

Miller said the system is also seeking more volunteers for the summer months to hand out food as well.

“Many of our volunteers hope to take vacation this summer,” she said, noting that any volunteers would help hand out food and would not work in the kitchen area.

Infrared thermometers have been acquired to take people’s temperatures and volunteers and staff are wearing gloves and masks and dropping off food in vehicles without making contact.

School Board Chairman Mike Bevins recently helped out giving meals to families who came by.

“They took my temperature as soon as I walked in the building,” Bevins said. “I was given gloves and a mask and pointed in the direction.”

He said he really enjoyed the experience of assisting with the food service program.

“I think I got more out of it than they did,” he said. “Just to see the reaction of teachers and students, you can tell they were mutually glad to see each other.”

Coronavirus shutdowns lead to major unemployment increases locally

Unemployment rates spiked in both McMinn and Meigs counties in April, largely as a result of the shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The rate in McMinn County jumped nearly 14 percentage points to 17.3%, the highest rate ever recorded in the county since record keeping began in 1990.

In Meigs County, the rate skyrocketed to 18.6%, an increase of 14.1% over the March rate and the second highest rate of all-time in the county. The highest rate ever recorded in Meigs is 24.2% in March of 1993.

The two local counties were not alone in seeing their rates spike, however, as all 95 counties across the state saw huge increases. The rate is now between 5% and 10% in only three counties, between 10% and 20% in 79 counties and above 20% in 13 counties.

The counties where the rate remains in single digits are Fayette County (9.4%), Hardeman County (9.7%) and Weakley County (9.6%). Hardeman County saw the smallest rise across the state, with a 5.2% increase.

Regionally, the rate increased more than 10% to 13.5% in Bradley County, more than 11% in Loudon County to 15.2%, more than 18% in Monroe County to 21.9%, almost 10% in Polk County to 13.4% and more than 19% to 24.5% in Rhea County.

The statewide increase was 11.8%, leaving Tennessee’s overall rate at 15%. Nationally, the rate rose 9.9% to settle in at 14.4%.

State of Tennessee Statistical Analyst Patrick Todd said that before they were released, he wasn’t sure what the numbers would look like, given the unusual nature of the situation.

“It was such a wild card, I don’t think that I had expectations,” he said. “It was really anybody’s guess.”

He also said that the uniqueness of this makes it hard to determine how quick the rebound will be.

“I hope the spike is temporary and we’ll recover,” he said. “How fast that’s going to occur is anybody’s guess.”

However, he said he’ll be surprised if it’s a short term correction.

“I wouldn’t expect anything sharp in the next couple of months,” he said. “There will probably be some recovery over the next few months, then it might hit a snag. Elevated unemployment rates could be with us for a while.”

Further complicating matters, he noted, is the seasonal school layoffs of non-teaching personnel. If that gets factored into the rate, he noted, that could extend the high rates.

“That temporary rise may offset any recovery going on,” he said.

For the week ending May 23, there were 26,041 new unemployment claimed across the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Workforce & Development. Of those, 2,494 were filed in the Southeast Tennessee region, the department numbers showed.