Greeneville and Greene County’s annual Field Day athletics event for students in grades 1-8 returned Friday on Tusculum University’s campus after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
Friday’s events were dedicated to the late basketball and soccer coach William “Bill” Lorch, a beloved longtime physical education teacher at Hal Henard Elementary School who later coached boys basketball at Greeneville High School and started the school’s soccer program. A press release from the Exchange Club, which sponsors Field Day each year, said Lorch inspired the Championship Division in Field Day for special needs students. Lorch passed away in 2021 at the age of 79.
Students competing on Friday said they gave it their all and had fun cheering each other on.
“It was hard, but I tried my best,” said Nolachuckey Elementary School fifth-grader Helen King, who won first place in her division in the running broad jump.
She said she was proud of her accomplishment.
“Even though I didn’t do my best, it was still fun,” said Emmy Dotson, a seventh-grader at North Greene Middle School.
Madalyn Livingston, a South Greene Middle School sixth-grader said she was nervous to compete, but she placed second.
“That was nerve-wracking,” she said after her jump.
According to the release from the Exchange Club, Field Day initially included sawing logs. Events turned more toward track and field competition before track and field was introduced at the high school level, and when it was, other events were added to Field Day to give it its “present-day form of fun competition.”
Field Day includes all 17 area schools, and students compete in 11 events, which include tug-of-war, sack races, sit ups and even crab walking.
“It’s wonderful that we could do this again,” Jim Holt, president of the Greeneville Exchange Club, said. “The Exchange Club has sponsored this for over 60 years, except for COVID or due to weather, so we are very glad to be back.”
Greene County voter turnout in the May 3 County primary elections was the lowest it has been in 20 years.
Only 9,284 Greene Countians cast ballots in the primary races out of 42,479 registered voters in the county.
That is about a 22% registered voter turnout.
According to data provided by the Greene County Election Commission office, 2002 was the last time voter turnout was lower for a primary election.
While the percentage of registered voters turning out to vote in Greene County primaries was still low in the 20 years since 2002, more than 10,000 ballots were cast in each of the primary elections including 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018.
Tennessee holds open primaries, which means a voter chooses to declare his or her affiliation with the party at the polls on primary election day in order to vote in that party’s primary. A voter can choose to vote in either primary on election day.
According to census data, more than 70,000 people live in Greene County, with more than 42,000 residents being registered voters.
However, out of those thousands of people, a little over 9,000 Greene County citizens decided the future of local government for the next four years except for a handful of Greene County Commission races that will be decided in the Aug. 4 General Election. That was due in part to there being no Democratic primaries for some offices and only one candidate running in some of the races.
The Greene County Republican Party and Greene County Democratic Party called for the primaries, and the chairmen of both parties would like to see higher voter turnout in local elections.
“While we appreciate all the voters that do participate in our elections, I would, absolutely, like to see a higher participation rate for our local elections. It is sad to think that less than 22% of registered voters decide the leaders for 100% of the county,” Greene County Republican Party Chairman Brett Purgason said in an emailed response to questions. “I am thankful for the participation of the Greene County Republican Party. Our party is comprised of well-informed, dedicated, hard-working individuals who realize the significance of participating in the election process.”
Greene County Democratic Party Chairman Darrell Key said said that he would like to see a larger turnout in primary elections and more Democrats on the ballot.
“The Tennessee Democratic Party is constantly encouraging voter registration drives and those are important, but how do we motivate individuals to do their civic duty and participate in the process for which America stands. The process of governance for the people by the people,” Key said in an emailed response. “Locally, among Democrats, I have been very vocal about it’s not registering voters, it’s about turnout. I know it can’t be about access or limiting times or locations, and not even proof of identification as the local political parties and the local election commission work so closely to ensure that obstacles to voting are identified and removed.”
Purgason said while it is not out of the ordinary for local, midterm elections to generate low turnout, he hopes Greene County residents will take local races more seriously.
“It is not unusual for a midterm, local election to garner fewer votes. National and state level races attract more attention. People have the misconception that the ‘big’ offices like Congress, Senate and the Presidency affect them more than the local offices. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Purgason said. “Government closer to those represented impacts in a more direct way. Local leaders decide on property taxes, road improvements, schools, and emergency services funding, just to name a few, for all of Greene County. Local elections are, sometimes, decided by only a few votes. So, local elections impact our community in a major way.”
Key said he also expected turnout would be low for the election, but he did not expect it to be historically low.
“I had predicted that the voter turnout would be low and anticipated less than 18,000, but I don’t think anyone that’s involved in the process saw a 20-year low. I haven’t taken a look at numbers across the state to see if turnout was repeated in most counties. I understand why many Democrats didn’t show up as we had no contested candidates on the primary ballot but I’m equally certain that Democrats did show up and pulled Republican tickets in this election,” Key said. “I have to think that voters, at least the majority, are satisfied with local government services and how Greene County is managed, and I agree that Greene County overall is managed well; however, with that being said, I equally believe that two party representation remains important in a democracy.”
Key acknowledged that a perceived lack of support has kept many local Democrats from running for office in traditionally Republican-leaning Greene County.
“I know why Democrats tell me they don’t run for local political offices as they already feel politically disadvantaged in such a heavily Republican stronghold, which is one of the reasons I was so outspoken against the partisanship of our local school boards,” Key said. “I’m an extremist in favor of non-partisan elections, and I just have to wonder how soon municipal governments become partisan. In areas where the political party is more important than the candidate, it’s extremely difficult for the smaller political party to win even though they have the better individual for the office.”
Purgason said he wants local residents to know that even one vote can make a difference, and that many have died protecting the right to vote in the United States.
“Every vote counts! Many sacrifices have been made to give us the right to vote. Our forefathers fought, bled, and died for this right. Please, honor those sacrifices by taking time to research the candidates and exercise your right to vote. The right to vote should be cherished and revered by all Americans. Future generations of Greene Countians, Tennesseans and Americans will be impacted by our action or inaction now,” Purgason said.
Key said a lack of highly controversial issues locally could have contributed to the low voter turnout.
“I also think that this year there were no ‘hot button’ topics facing local voters and most all the candidates offered the status quo which is the foundation of the ‘conservatives.’ People need those ‘hot buttons’ to get motivated to take action or participate,” Key said.
Both Purgason and Key said they will do their best to boost turnout and get more people involved in local Greene County elections as they both view that as part of their responsibility as local party chairs.
Purgason said he will continue to encourage voter registration, and try to find good candidates for local races.
“One of my roles in the local election process is to make sure we have good candidates. Good candidates bring excitement and interest to local races. Recruiting common-sense, conservative, Republican candidates is my main goal for each election. Encouraging voter registration, welcoming new members of our community into our party and other community involvement help us encourage others to get involved,” Purgason said. “The Greene County Republican Party is working hard every day to help inform voters on local, state and national issues and encourage participation within our party. Our monthly meetings bring voters opportunities to hear from our elected officials and interact with them about issues that affect the county and state. Also, our meetings help open dialogue, educate voters on current political issues, and encourage involvement in the political process.”
Key also said he will continue to recruit candidates to run in local elections, and that he hopes to see a change to more non-partisan elections in the future.
“I’d like to see a movement toward non-partisan elections much like Johnson County and that would help motivate local Democrats to participate removing the need for them to feel as if to win they have to run as an Independent or worse as a Republican,” Key said. “Beyond that, I’m thankful that we don’t have those ‘hot button’ issues in our local communities that I mentioned earlier. We are fortunate, for the most part, to live in communities where people try to find the common ground that is best for the majority. The larger issues that have greater impact on our lives originate in the Statehouse and at the federal level.”
Above all, Key said he wants those in Greene County to be further encouraged to use their voice and exercise their right to vote, a right that those in Ukraine are fighting for right now in their war against a Russian invasion.
“We all have to encourage each other to use our voices and participate, and not take for granted the right to vote, after all, it’s one of the foundations that sets America apart from many countries around the world. It’s why men, women, and children are dying in Ukraine,” Key said.