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March 27, 2003 Issue


The Carver Elementary dance team earned an unheard of standing ovation at the 2003 International Dance Challenge Regional Competition along with numerous awards.


Stepping up, Stepping out

Carver Elementary's dance team wins big in regional competition

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Anyone who does not think that dance is serious business better think again.

By the end of the 2003 International Dance Challenge Regional Competition March 15 at the Gwinnett County Civic Center the boys tap dance team from Wadley's Carver Elementary Magnet/Theme School had blown away the competition from 29 dance teams and studios throughout Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama.

By the standards in place in the world of dance, it was an event to see. And at the end of the day, Carver walked away with four awards, including a highly prized Platinum Champion Award. The awards were even more meaningful considering the dance team is function of a magnet/theme component that is less than two years old.

"I was so emotional," said a jubilant Melonie Jones, Carver dance instructor and owner of Southern Dance Connection in Swainsboro. "They have so little experience that they were not intimidated. They were so pumped up and ready to dance. It's like when they get to class, being so eager to get on their tap shoes. They were extremely ready to get on stage. I was backstage with them so it wasn't until later that I heard there was a standing ovation for them. The co-director of the convention told me afterwards that she had been with the convention for five years and she had never seen a standing ovation in any city, and they have approximately 45-50 regional competitions per year."

The Carver dancers competed in the 9-10 year-old division for Tap dance and in the Large Group category designated for teams with eight to 14 dancers. They danced their way to winning the Platinum Champion Award in their age division in the Large Group category based on receiving the highest scoring from judges. The team also brought home the Large Group Challenge Champion Award and Entertainment Challenge Award, both given to only one team out of the 29 dance teams and studios competing. The Entertainment Challenge Award was presented after the Carver team was called back on stage because judges considered their entertainment value and merit worthy of a repeat performance. The Carver boys also scored 1st Runner-up for the Ultimate Challenge Champion Award where all 29 dance teams performed a total of 95 dance routines, placing them only behind Jones' own Southern Dance Connection and by only one point. In all, the team brought home four trophies, multiple ribbons for the dancers and a $100 prize.

Louisville resident Randi Beckworth was in the audience for the competition supporting her daughter Emilie, who dances with Southern Dance Connection. She said her reaction and that of the audience to the Carver team was ecstatic.

"The Carver team has something that makes people excited," Beckworth said. "The audience was excited and enthusiastic. The team got called back for a repeat performance and after they finished, everybody went to their feet for a standing ovation."

The competition was judged by dance instructors from New York and Michigan. Each of the three judges assigned a numerical score of up to 100 points, for a total perfect score of 300. Points were awarded based on the routine as a total entity while scoring including factors such as entrance and exit, costumes, choreography, technical execution of choreography, emotional execution, age appropriateness, presentation and precision.

"It was absolutely wonderful to have the opportunity to be judged by such fine instructors with both studio and Broadway experience," said Jones. "For our team to be judged so fairly by such quality instructors says a lot for the natural talent that I knew they had from day one. I knew they were good but I had no idea they would be so well received. I'm blown away by the results."

The Carver dance team was accompanied by a busload of families and supporters, including District 1 school board member Donald Hatcher.

The performance by Carver's Tap dance team did not go unnoticed by others attending from around Georgia. Calls and emails were received at Carver and the school board office.

"I can not say enough good things about the young men who performed," said Evans resident Linda Merritt, whose daughter was a member of a competing dance group. "They truly represented Jefferson County very well. The audience just went nuts when they were chosen a second time to come back on stage and compete in the Jr. Challenge. We attended another competition at Georgia State University on Sunday and those boys were the talk among the other dance studios."

Principal Shawn Johnson said the spectacular performance in Gwinnett County brings further pride to a school that set out on a course two years ago to break new ground for students, parents and the community. Since the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year, Carver became a magnet/theme school emphasizing basic curriculum, technology and performing arts, staff turnover decreased dramatically, test scores have improved, parent involvement has increased and the decision to implement school uniforms has strong support and positive results from students, parents and the community.

Their high scoring performance in Gwinnett entitles the Carver boys to compete in the 2003 National Finals in June in Daytona Beach provided the necessary funds can be raised. Those interested in helping to fund the trip can do so by contacting either Johnson or Jones. Donations are tax deductible if designated to Carver.

Jones praised the behind the scenes efforts of those at Carver and in the school system involved with her student's success. She credited the enthusiasm and assistance by teachers, administrators and the school board as fundamental in the successes stemming from Carver's new direction.

"Our success in life has to come, also, from opportunity," said Jones. "Without opportunity it is next to impossible to succeed. Everyone needs to determine their own self-worth. These kids just need some encouragement, the talent is already there. And through this program that I am so thankful to have, I am in the awesome place of developing that talent. As long as they have the opportunity here the sky is the limit. I think it will make a huge difference in their success in life and whatever they choose to do."

All things considered, the boys dance team proved March 15 that, in another way, the magnet/theme concept works and that Carver is more than just a diamond in the rough.





Stolen car recovered, suspects get away during road check

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

An Augusta newly-wed has her stolen Honda back, but law enforcement officials were not able to catch the individuals who fled from it Friday night during a periodic road check.

Officers were winding down the operation at 3 a.m. and about to check the last two vehicles as they approached the US 1/Fall Line intersection from the south. The car in the rear veered suddenly off the roadway, into the parking lot at the Lil' Dutch House restaurant and maneuvered quickly behind the building.

The remaining Sheriff's deputies, state troopers and state probation officers jumped into their vehicles and drove quickly to the location some 200 yards away. As officers pulled into the parking on the right side of the building the occupants of the vehicle that had come to a stop no more than 30 seconds earlier, were making their way across the rain-soaked field behind the restaurant and into the woods. Officers gave chase, fanning out in a wide arc into the woods.

Several officers searched the woods, emerging more than half an hour later, pants soaked nearly up to their knees from the swampy terrain, with water still standing after persistent rains in the two weeks. Shortly after the initial chase other officers drove the short distance to the Fall Line Freeway in an attempt to cut off the vehicle's occupants, apparently two of them, and prevent them from crossing the highway and eluding their pursuers.

The officers continued searching in area until nearly 4:30 a.m. but were unable to locate the two, who may have made their way across the road in the darkness or may have ventured in another direction.

Officers were able to verify only later in the morning Saturday that the mid-1990s Honda Accord with a Richmond County license plate had been stolen from its owner. An additional tag was found in the trunk, listed as being owned by a woman with a different last name. The owner of the Honda, who had recently been married and in whose name a second license plate found in the trunk had been registered, was not aware of the theft until she checked her yard later in the morning after being called by officers.

Though vehicle occupants do not customarily lead officers on chases through the woods during road checks, the overall purpose of the exercises remains one that is meant to help keep roadways safer by reinforcing motorists' knowledge of the presence of law enforcement, said Sheriff Gary Hutchins.

"The purpose of the road checks is to help the citizens stay safer by getting alcohol and drugs off the road," he said. "We want the people of Jefferson County to feel safe and to be safe on the road."

The road check began near dark along US Highway 1 south of Wadley, moved to a location on SR 17 north of Wrens and ended after 4 a.m. at the intersection of US 1 and the Fall Line Freeway in Wrens. The event was a multi-jurisdictional operation by Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Georgia State Patrol, Richmond County K-9 Task Force and state probation.

Officers wrote a total of 65 tickets and issued 96 warnings. Taken into custody at the scene were five people charged with driving under the influence and six on drug charges, including two felonies.





Natural gas prices skyrocket in county

Residential customers who purchase natural gas from the cities of Wrens and Louisville can expect to pay about about a third more for the resource next month.

The Wrens City Council voted March 18 to increase the city's residential and commercial natural gas rates. The new residential rate will increase from $8.20 per thousand cubic feet to $10.85 MCF effective with the bills due in April.

The new commercial rate is $10.38 MCF.

The rate increases are necessary because of significantly higher wholesale natural gas costs, which have increased approximately 69 percent in the past year, according to city officials.

"We have had to raise our rates because of the higher cost the city is now paying for natural gas on the wholesale market," said City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson. "Fortunately this increase comes at the end of the heating season. We will look at rates again in July and hopefully be able to reduce them then if the natural gas market stabilizes."

Natural gas prices have been extremely volatile for the past several months, according to Eric Robey of SCANA Energy Marketing Inc., the company that manages Wrens' natural gas service.

"The colder than normal winter coupled with concerns about the Middle East have resulted in much higher natural gas costs," Robey said. "Other commodities, such as fuel oil and gasoline, have also experienced dramatic price increases. We hope to see this situation stabilize in the coming months."

Current rates in Louisville, where rates are not locked in over a period of months, showed that gas for March will cost $13.37/thousand cubic feet for customer inside city limits and $15.14 for customers outside the city. Prices are up from January where the rate was $10.19 inside the city and $11.22 outside. Prices in February were $10.49 and $11.55, respectively.

The cost of natural gas to consumers is dependent upon three factors, according to US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). These include transmission costs, distribution costs and commodity costs. Transmission costs are those associated with moving gas by pipeline from its source to the local gas company. Distribution costs are those involved with bringing natural gas from the company to a residence. Distribution costs tend to be the largest portion of the price paid by consumers. Commodity cost is the cost of the gas itself. The local gas company passes cost of the gas on to consumers without any mark-up, according to EIA.

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