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Drinkwitz named Missouri head football coach: Updates with contract terms

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The path that led to Eli Drinkwitz becoming the new head football coach at Missouri went through Wilkesboro.

That was where Missouri officials met with Drinkwitz about becoming the new coach of the Tigers. But Drinkwitz had a few things to do before his meeting.

First there was coaching Appalachian State past Louisiana 45-38 in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. Then there was seeing his daughter perform in “The Nutcracker” at the Schaefer Center.

Finally, there was the task of becoming the head coach at Missouri.

After all the meetings, plane trips and negotiating, the last step was getting conformation from the UM Board of Curators at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on Dec. 10. A press conference was held at 11:45 a.m. ET that introduced Drinkwitz as the program’s head football coach.

“What an honor it is for me to become your football coach,” he told the crowd assembled. “For me, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and opportunities of a lifetime must be seized within in the lifetime of the opportunity. For this to occur, it took a lot of things to come together at the right time, but I know that in my heart, my soul and my spirit, this is the right place for me and my family — and the right time for Mizzou football.”

The job became open after coach Barry Odom was fired after four years on the job. Odom, who played linebacker at Missouri from 1996-99 and coached from December 2015 until one day after the final game of the 2019 season, finished 25-25 overall, 13-19 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers were 6-6, 3-5 in the SEC in 2019.

Drinkwitz’s contract is a six-year deal with $4 million annually. There are also a list of incentives that include a $100,000 bonus for playing for the Southeastern Conference championship and $150,000 for winning. There is also a $300,000 bonus for playing for a national championship and $500,000 bonus for winning. He would get a $250,000 bonus for participating in the College Football Playoffs semifinals.

Drinkwitz said the position appeared on his radar screen when he heard Odom was let go.

Drinkwitz spent one season as head coach at Appalachian State. He guided the Mountaineers to a 12-1 overall record and a 7-1 mark in the Sun Belt.

That was good enough to win the Sun Belt’s East Division and earn the Mountaineers a second straight berth in the conference championship game against West Division winner Louisiana.

“Appalachian State was a special place,” Drinkwitz said. “Those players, I owe them an unpayable debt of gratitude for all they did for me and my family. I would be remiss not to thank them and that place, but this opportunity was an opportunity of a lifetime. It wasn’t just another job.”

Drinkwitz was hired by Appalachian State Dec. 13, 2018, after coach Scott Satterfield accepted the head coaching position at Louisville just days after App State beat Louisiana in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game. Drinkwitz was the offensive coordinator at N.C. State in 2018 and helped lead the Wolfpack to a 9-4 record.

At the press conference held in Columbia, Mo., Drinkwitz thanked his family that included his wife Lindsey and daughters Addison, Ella, Emerson and Parker, who was born during the past football season, for their support of his decision.

“I need to thank my wife Lindsey, who gave me and our family the courage to chase this dream of college football in 2010,” Drinkwitz said. “To my girls, for their sacrifice and unconditional love, win or lose, when we score 17 or 45 (points), they’re always there to give me a hug regardless. It’s an honor of a lifetime to be your dad and I’m committed to loving you and taking care of you for the rest of your life.”

Drinkwitz also drew laughter from the crowd when talking about his extended family, which includes five siblings.

“For their constant support, faith and prayers and belief in me, we’ll bring a whole new definition of the Zou when we show up,” he said.

Drinkwitz said he met with the Missouri players Dec. 9. Many were still on campus even though the university is in the middle of taking final exams.

“We had a team meeting and got a chance to shake each and every one of their hands,” Drinkwitz said. “There’s a few who are already home for finals, so I had the opportunity to make some phone calls to those guys and I’m excited to start building a relationship.”

Drinkwitz provided other lighter moments by saying that University of Missouri system President Mun Choi was “a tough man to say no to” and invited him to join in on recruiting trips. He also thanked Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright for the way he handled the situation the last few days.

“Our conversation about it being more than football instantly turned me on to being in the right place,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s more than winning. It’s winning the right way and it’s about effectively evoking change in a young man’s life.”

Drinkwitz accidently referenced the Sun Belt Conference just once when he pledged one of his goals is to win the Southeastern Conference East Division.

“Our stated goal is going to be to win the Sun Belt — sorry, the SEC East,” he said, which drew laughter from the crowd. “(We want) to win a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence.”

Drinkwitz said the Tigers can do that.

“We are set up to succeed and we are going to attack success,” Drinkwitz said. “We are never going to fear failure and we’re going to go for it with everything we’ve got. We are going to do this by reigniting the passion we have for Mizzou football.”

Faculty concerned about student mental health ahead of enrollment growth

BOONE — Some Appalachian State faculty remain concerned about the university’s 20,000 enrollment goal amid a perceived deficiency in student mental health resources on campus, Faculty Senators said Dec. 9.

At the senate’s meeting, App State’s Faculty Senate members heard from Chancellor Sheri Everts, Provost Darrell Kruger, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Cindy Barr and Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte about the enrollment goal. Several senate members said faculty are unsure how the university can meet the mental health needs of its students with the incoming projected growth.

Additional concerns about the ability of online courses to expand, resource allocation as well as lack of physical space for students coming in — which Everts reiterated is a net gain of 351 students — were also voiced.

Chris Hogan, the director of the university’s Counseling & Psychological Services Center, said that in 2018-19 the center assisted 2,738 students. He said the center typically sees around 15 percent of the student population – which is a little bit higher compared to other public universities the same size.

The center allows students to come in for an initial consultation without an appointment during business hours. During the initial consultation, the student is provided with a variety of options to meet their needs. This could be individual therapy, group therapy, quick access groups (similar to a class to learn coping skills), referral to providers in the community and single-session therapy to focus on a concern.

According to Hogan, students may have about a six- to nine-day wait to receive individual therapy services depending on the time of the semester. Other aforementioned services typically do not have a wait, he said.

Faculty Senator Laura Gambrel — an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling — said finding services in a rural place like Watauga County can be challenging.

According to Everts, Brown has been restructuring and allocating new resources to the team that supports student wellness and focusing on developing innovative ways to meet the demands of the counseling center and student health services. She added that it is the upmost priority for the division of student affairs to meet the wellness needs of current and future students.

“We’re not choosing between caring for our current students and adding to our student population — we’re choosing to do both,” Everts said. “Narratives are often circulated that set up choice dichotomies between athletics and academics, growth and quality and between administrators and faculty. I think it’s important to know that I believe those are false choices and in many cases, a way of thinking that dates back several years and from which Appalachian can and should free itself.”

Forte explained that schools with reductions in funding often experience this due to enrollment stagnation or decline. For every declined of 100 students, there would be $1.5 million in loss of revenue for App State, according to Forte. He added that the university is attempting to pursue revenue on multiple fronts, such as a proposal for a 3 percent increase in tuition rates as well as trying to secure permanent summer enrollment funding.

Faculty Senator Jon Carter, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, said he is currently teaching seniors who are “livid that the university would move forward based on numbers and what they perceive to be a money grab without attending to mental health issues on this campus.” Several faculty members agreed that student mental health is on the decline across the nation, not just at App State.

Trent Spaulding — the senate’s parliamentarian and an associate professor in the department of Nutrition and Health Care Management — said he recognizes that the mental health trend is possibly just becoming worse, but he thinks the university’s increasing acceptance rate over the years could be affecting student mental health. He said because of the increase in admission rates, the department feels like it is experiencing students who may not have the academic skills and experience to cope with stress because they may not have the family or social circumstances to handle school.

At the Nov. 11 Faculty Senate meeting, a report by the senate’s campus planning committee on the 20,000 goal was presented — including information from Brown about wellness resources. Brown expanded on this during the Dec. 9 meeting, saying the university hopes to partner more with the departments of social work, clinical/mental health counseling and marriage/family therapy.

Brown explained that the university has seen an increase in the number of students coming into the counseling center each year for about the last 10 years. Roughly five years ago the university hired Alex Howard — now the director of wellness and prevention services — to work directly with the campus student health center, counseling center and university recreation to look at wellness in a broader sense. To aid student mental health, Brown said in recent years App State has hired a person to specifically work with marginalized communities as well as one additional member for mental health services.

Brown said Howard has been in conversation with the different wellness departments to discuss the possibility of partnering with second-year students in those programs to offer services as well as give them on-campus experiences. Brown added that the university is looking at innovative ways to provide these services for students that he understands is deeply needed.

While Gambrel said she approved of the vision for student mental health services, her department had not been consulted about these potential plans. Gambrel said as the internship coordinator for her program, she would be intimately involved with the process Brown referenced, and yet she hadn’t been told about it.

Brown said specific details had not been figured out yet, but rather conversations have been about the bigger picture. He added that the vision is to expand these services by August 2020 — a concern for Gambrel.

“It’s a concern that it’s being presented as a solution when as faculty we haven’t been involved in it,” Gambrel said.

Everts said she has asked Brown and Kruger to co-chair a committee associated with enrollment growth to look at what makes sense long term for the university. Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent took the time to remind the senators and administrators that faculty have shared governance — which according to the university provides opportunities for all stakeholders to engage in meaningful and relevant ways in a conversation. Behrent said he didn’t feel like the university was setting a proper model for shared governance.

“Shared governance for some of you is an after thought,” Behrent said. “What happens is we ... find these things out when we’ve passed unanimous resolutions that ask the chancellor and other people to show up and actually speak to us and be accountable. Shared governance should not just be something that you decide to do when faculty get upset enough. That is encouraging us to get upset.”

Behrent asked administrators to give more consideration to shared governance going forward and to take the opportunity to tap into the talents and abilities of the faculty. The Faculty Senate’s next meeting is Jan. 13.

Multi-modal pathway approved for Bamboo Road widening

BOONE — The widening of Bamboo Road and Wilson’s Ridge Road planned to start in summer 2020 will have a multi-modal path on the west side of the Bamboo Road portion of the project, as confirmed by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“I think it will be a real advantage for the citizens in that area to utilize (the pathway) with the developments throughout there and give them more opportunities and transportation options,” said NCDOT Division Engineer Mike Pettyjohn, who oversees the region that includes Watauga County.

The idea of incorporating a multi-modal pathway was pushed forward during NCDOT-hosted public input sessions with citizens and local leaders in February. Currently, there is no sidewalk on the stretch of Bamboo Road from the U.S. 421 intersection to the Wilson’s Ridge intersection, resulting in nearby residents walking along a narrow dirt path right next to the road.

The multi-modal path’s incorporation was celebrated by Harmony Lanes, a Boone-based nonprofit that advocates for safe pedestrian pathways.

“The ‘East Boone Connector’ will be the first on-street protected multi-modal path in Boone,” stated Dave Freireich, founder of Harmony Lanes, on Dec. 6. “It will allow East Boone pedestrians and cyclists to access the Boone Greenway, services like the Hospitality House and businesses like Center 45 climbing gym and Hatchet Coffee at Bamboo Road, the future town complex (near) Brookshire Park, the future Grove Street connector greenway and Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park.”

The multi-modal path is an enhanced sidewalk that is separated from the adjoining road by a curb and landscaping.

“Protected multi-modal paths incorporate barriers and green space to separate and protect walkers and bikers from vehicle traffic,” Friereich stated on Dec. 6. “This is a benefit to drivers also because every person you see in the path represents one less car on the road with you. Also safety for bikers, walkers and drivers is significantly improved, and safe corridors increase the percentage of people who will choose to navigate Boone by human power.”

The project, initially estimated at $9.5 million in early 2019, will widen most of the 1.9-mile stretch going from the intersection of U.S. 421 and Bamboo Road to Bamboo and Wilson Ridge Road and ending at Wilson Ridge and Deerfield Road. The roads will be widened to 12-foot lanes from their current 10-foot lanes, including retaining walls and four feet of paved shoulders on each side.

Roundabouts are also planned at the intersections of Wilson Ridge and Deerfield, Wilson Ridge and Bamboo, and Bamboo and Brook Hollow Road, in order to help reduce traffic incidents.

NCDOT plans also call for the rerouting of the Wilson’s Ridge Drive s-curve. According to the NCDOT’s presentation in February, the current grade of the curve is more than 17 percent and the rerouting would max out below a 12 percent grade.

Pettyjohn said that besides the multi-modal path, no other significant changes have been made to the project since public comment in February.

As far as funding the multi-modal pathway, Pettyjohn said that hasn’t been completely determined, but said since the project falls in line with the NCDOT’s “Complete Streets” policy, a local match that is normally required for a new sidewalk project could be reduced. The section of Bamboo Road in question runs through the town of Boone and Watauga County’s jurisdictions.

The project is slated to start with right-of-way acquisition in summer 2020, Pettyjohn said, with construction tentatively set for summer of 2021. Pettyjohn noted that it’s possible for construction to start after summer 2021 if right-of-way acquisition takes longer than anticipated. Full project time is currently estimated at three years, Pettyjohn said.

Board OKs primary election early-voting plan, adds Foscoe site

BOONE — After two meetings in two days and a contentious back-and-forth for which board members later apologized, the Watauga County Board of Elections voted to unanimously approve seven one-stop sites for the February early-voting period ahead of the 2020 N.C. primaries, adding a new site in the Foscoe community.

Under the approved plan, early voting starts on Thursday, Feb. 13, the earliest date required by new state law, and runs from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 13-14, 17-21 and 24-28, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29. The 2020 N.C. primaries are on Tuesday, March 3.

The seven approved sites include the Watauga County Administration Building in Boone, the Appalachian State University Plemmons Student Union, Blowing Rock Town Hall in Blowing Rock, the Western Watauga Community Center in Sugar Grove, Deep Gap Fire Department in the Deep Gap community, Meat Camp Fire Department in the Meat Camp community and High Country Vacation Rentals in the Foscoe community. All sites are open the same hours, as required by law.

The unanimous passage came on Dec. 10 in a meeting held in the Watauga County Board of Elections office after the Dec. 9 meeting in the Watauga County Administration Building went into recess without a vote.

On Dec. 9, two early voting plans were presented. The first plan presented by board Chair Jane Ann Hodges called for eliminating the early-voting sites at the Deep Gap Fire Department and the Meat Camp Fire Department, while creating one early-voting site for both communities in the Perkinsville area of eastern Boone. The proposed location for this new site would have been the Cornerstone Summit Church location at 1100 E. King St.

Hodges said that “even with both parties’ encouragement,” Deep Gap and Meat Camp sites recorded the lowest early-voting turnouts in the county. Hodges explained on Dec. 9 that a site around the U.S. 421 and N.C. 194 intersection in Perkinsville would be beneficial.

“I feel a site in that area would amaze us, startle us with those numbers,” Hodges stated on Dec. 9.

Finances were Hodges’ other concern, saying she wanted to be good stewards of the county’s money due to the state-mandated hours. According to a new general statute passed in 2019, all one-stop early voting sites in even-numbered election years must be open concurrently from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the weekdays the board votes to have open.

“We need to be more conservative and careful,” Hodges said.

The board’s two Republicans, Eric Eller and Nancy Owen, opposed Hodges’ plan for closing the Deep Gap and Meat Camp sites. Eller said the early-voting numbers in 2018 and 2016 from both sites were comparable to the Western Watauga Community Center and Blowing Rock Town Hall.

“We have four sites that are running at approximately the same level,” Eller said.

Eller said the rural sites do not have AppalCART and many people in Deep Gap and Meat Camp don’t drive into Boone often, if at all. Eller contended that closing two rural sites and opening a third early-voting location in Boone would send the wrong message to rural voters.

“It would be a considerable disservice if we were to close those two sites,” Eller said. “I fail to see utility to say ‘your votes are too expensive for us.’”

Eller presented his plan, which was mostly the same as Hodges’ with the exception of keeping the Deep Gap and Meat Camp sites and having no Perkinsville location.

Owen contended that the two sites Hodges looked to combine into one were Republican strongholds and said the board needs to make sure all people in the county, not just Boone, have access to vote.

“We seem to have forgotten our rural voters,” Owen said. “Our oaths were to Watauga County, not the town of Boone.”

Hodges said her plan did not have partisan motives in mind, saying she has never made a decision while serving on the board that is politically motivated.

The discussion on Dec. 9 went into a back and forth between board members. On Dec. 10, Owen, Hodges and board member Matthew Walpole apologized for their statements the day before.

During the discussion, Tom Rokoske of Boone asked about the potential of mobile units for the one-stop early-voting site problems, to which the board members said it’s something to consider.

On Dec. 10, Walpole asked Watauga County Board of Elections Director Matt Snyder about the budget for a seventh early-voting site, noting the county commissioners only budgeted for six sites.

Snyder explained that due to the 2019 municipal election budget being originally designated for longer mandated hours, the office had a surplus of money that would support a seventh early-voting site. The N.C. General Assembly passed a new law in 2019 that allowed county election boards to set hours and dates for all early-voting sites in municipal election years.

The High Country Vacation Rentals site, located at the corner of Church Road and N.C. 105 in the Foscoe community, was added due to what board members felt like was a need in that area.

Eller said that before the 2018 election, he was against such a site, but the number of mail-in and absentee ballots from the area indicated a need.

Snyder said that per the board’s direction, they had looked into several sites in the Seven Devils/Foscoe/Valle Crucis area, but no others could be worked out.

“I think we’ve exhausted most everything we could,” Snyder said of looking for a Foscoe area early-voting site.

The concerns with High Country Vacation Rentals was that it would require drapes and curtains to create a separate area, which board members said wasn’t ideal, but Snyder said the building owners were agreeable to other election security requirements such as having a room to lock up equipment at night and changing the locks for the election workers.

Snyder said he was also under the impression that High County Vacation Rentals would also be available as an early-voting site in the general election in October and November 2020.

During public comment, four ASU students spoke in favor of moving the county’s Election Day transfer voting site to the ASU Plemmons Student Union. ASU College Dems Vice President Dalton George said he saw a number of students who tried to vote on Election Day at the student union “scared off” by what he said were how election workers introduce provisional ballots to them if they were at the wrong precinct.

Hodges told the crowd the transfer site, which previously has been at the Watauga County Courthouse, will be decided at a future meeting.