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Sullivan: Will East’s Joe Mack putting WNY baseball back on the map

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Sullivan: Will East’s Joe Mack putting WNY baseball back on the map

With the truly special ones, you can see it early. Matt Clingersmith remembers working a youth baseball camp several years ago. It was a brutally hot day, so the coaches gave the kids a break. They split them into two groups for a water balloon fight.

“I look over and Joe Mack has a bucket of balls,” said Clingersmith, the head coach at Niagara County Community College. “He’s tossing them to himself and trying to hit them over the fence. You could tell he wanted it more than any other kid in the camp.”

Mack was 10 years old. Even then, he was dead serious about baseball. Water balloons? What could be more fun than popping the ball over the fence? Clingersmith told Joe he’d pitch to him. He could see the kid was going places in the game.

Two years later, at age 12, Mack won the Home Run Derby in Cooperstown. He broke the record of Bryce Harper, a legendary phenom who went on to be a star in the Major Leagues.

“He hit nine out of 10 home runs,” said his mother, Christina, a physical education teacher in the Sweet Home district. “That was a huge eye-opener! From there, he kept moving up a little bit at a time.”

“Even when he was small, you could see it,” said his father, Allan.

In seventh grade, Joe batted cleanup for Williamsville East. Yes, the varsity. He played on a Flames team with his older brother, Charlie, who was taken in the sixth round of the MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins in 2018.

In eighth grade, Joe hit a grand slam against Hamburg to win a playoff game. Clemson, which was recruiting his brother, watched him play in the Perfect Game Select Festival that summer and offered him a scholarship, too.

So before he even got to high school, Mack was on his way to becoming the hottest Western New York baseball prospect in nearly half a century — what one MLB writer called “a legend written in the winds of time” in a recent scouting report.

On July 11, Mack is projected to be the first WNY player drafted in the first round since 1978, when Matt Winters of Williamsville South went 24th overall to the Yankees. Mock drafts have him going in the 19-25 range, maybe to the Yanks at 20th overall.

Only two other locals have gone in the first round since the MLB draft began in 1965: Marty Cott of Hutch Tech was the third overall pick by Houston in 1968, and Rick Manning from Niagara Falls went second overall to Cleveland in ’72.

Scouts rave about Mack’s “pop time” — the amount of time between when the ball hits his glove on a steal attempt and when the ball hits the infielder’s glove at second base. (Courtesy of Kathleen Kramer/Williamsville East)

That’s it. Mack, a 6-1, 200-pound senior catcher, is a rare phenomenon in local baseball, which is why about 400 people were on hand Tuesday night at Williamsville East’s modern sports complex for the rivalry game against Will North.

Mack isn’t lacking for confidence. He says his goal is to make the Hall of Fame, the one in Cooperstown. But he seems remarkably unaffected by the attention swirling around him. Chris Gruarin, the first-year East head coach, said Mack has the calm and equanimity that’s vital in a sport with so much inherent failure.

“He’s never too high, never too low,” Gruarin said, “and we love that about him. It’s a super emotional game. He’s the same level whether the score is 10 runs or one run or tied game. He’s learned that. To be successful at the next level, you have to do that, playing every day.”

Mack said he doesn’t talk about baseball much in school. Bragging was never allowed in his family. His parents taught him the virtue of humility, which is well-suited for baseball.

“It’s either stay humble or be humbled,” Joe said. “It comes from my parents and my brother. This is the best game ever invented, I can tell you that. Just being able to play this game is awesome. There’s no bigger thrill, and if you’re not having fun, you’re not playing it right.

“Being around your teammates, having fun, talking about the game. Just hitting, fielding, throwing, catching, everything you can think of on the field is just the greatest.”

The scouts love Mack’s “next-level” power and his raw athletic ability. Last summer — still looking to put on weight after a March bout with COVID-19 — he hit .400 with six home runs for the East Cobb Astros, an elite Georgia team that performs in front of Major League scouts.

Mack’s defensive skills behind the plate really catch the eyes of the scouts. One scout, Joe Doyle, said Mack’s transfer on throws to second is uncommonly quick for a high schooler. He said Mack’s natural athleticism “jumps out in his actions behind the plate.”

On a recent afternoon at East, there were about 20 MLB scouts gathered around, watching Mack take batting practice, holding up their cell phones or writing down notes.

“He’s worthy of the attention,” said Ray Montgomery, an Angels scout who pitched briefly for Houston in the bigs. “He certainly had a great summer and put himself in a good spot. He’s no secret. He’s bounced around with those (elite) teams and is well-versed in the community of baseball.”

Scouts are universal in their respect for kids who play multiple sports in high school. Mack lives for baseball, but he also played basketball and volleyball at Will East.

“They like my work ethic a lot,” Mack said. “They like my natural ability, my athleticism and just who I am as a person. That’s probably the biggest thing they’re looking for. Obviously, raw talent, but then who you are as a person.”

“They ask how much you love the sport, stuff about my family, stuff about me, about other sports … learning a little more about me and unraveling who I am, piece by piece.”

Montgomery, who spends about 200 days a year on the road, said most of the scouting work is already done by this point in a player’s high school career. Watching Mack play with East Cobb showed them how he measured up against elite opposition.

“When he faces the better competition around those caliber players in the summer, then he has to step back in his high school season,” Montgomery said. “So it’s a little challenging.”

Mack struck out twice against Williamsville North, seeming well ahead of the baseball. At one point, students along the North side were chanting “overrated!” It was a rare tableau for a local high school baseball game. Joe Mack’s game was an event, with about five other Division I prospects on the field.

Gruarin, who was an assistant coach at Will North under Max Zimmerman and teaches with him at North, said Mack might have been pressing a bit in that rivalry game.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “There’s a lot going on in the moment with the cameras and people and this and that. We had 10-12 scouts lined up along the fence, watching his every move. He’s an 18-year-old kid. But he’s totally fine. If there’s anybody I believe in, it’s him.”

“If I can just eat, sleep, breathe baseball, that’s just a dream come true,” Mack says. (Courtesy of Kathleen Kramer/Williamsville East)

The Mack baseball brand is something to believe in. Allan and Christina produced three elite players: Charles, 21, is now in low-A ball in Fort Myers. The Twins have converted him to catcher, a cerebral position that’s obviously well-suited to the family.

Christy, the middle child, was a softball star who earned a scholarship to Hartford. They say she was capable of playing baseball on the boys team. She’s since retired from the game. Then there’s the baby, Joe, an old soul who loves baseball and gets a little hot when people criticize it as boring.

“They don’t understand,” Joe said. “Baseball has lessons that teach you about life. They don’t know what the game is about. This game has so much more meaning. People see it as hitting a ball with a stick. It’s way more than that.”

The love of competition derives from his parents. Allan played high school baseball and was a pitcher in MUNY ball until he was 50 years old. Softball at 50 is one thing. Striking out men 25-30 years younger in hardball?

“Oh, he threw,” Christina said. “We went to Arizona about three years in a row.”

The kids got some of that athletic ability from their mother, too, who emphasized the importance of academics and sports.

“Hey, I’m a Phys Ed teacher,” she said with a laugh. “I played everything. I played volleyball, softball, basketball and soccer. Then I played volleyball at Cortland State.”

Christina stayed home for four years after having her children. Then it was time for Allan, an independent contractor, to spend four years at home.

“He was Mr. Mom,” she said. “He put a bat in their hand, a golf club in their hand. He played with them.”

“That’s all it was,” Allan said. “Athletics.”

“We were talking about this last night,” Christina said. “We had games in the basement. Allan would say, ‘If it hit the wall, it was a single, so far up was a double, up here it was a home run. He played with them. I give him a lot of credit. He always played.

“I was too tired to play. Phys Ed teacher – I didn’t want to play at home!”

Allan said there were times when he wondered if he was pushing Joe too hard, dragging him to practice his hitting, throwing and fielding.

“But over the last couple of years, it’s all been self-motivated,” he said. “And that’s when he really took off.”

Joe learned a lot from watching his older brother. They both bat left, throw right. Now they’re both catching. He watched him in the recruiting process. He visited Clemson with Charlie and fell in love with the place. Charlie passed on Clemson, signing with the Twins for around $500,000 after being drafted 184th overall.

“I know that number one, he loves waking up and playing baseball, every day,” Joe said. “It’s his favorite thing to do. It’s obviously my favorite thing to do. If I can just eat, sleep, breathe baseball, that’s just a dream come true.”

The question is where he’ll do it next. If the projections are right, and Mack is drafted in the 20-25 range, the signing bonus figures to be around $3 million. That would require signing right out of high school and eschewing the college route.

It’s not about the money for Mack and his family. But that’s a lot of money.

“Well, if he goes that early,” Allan said. “But if it goes into the second or third round, you don’t know how things unfold.”

“We don’t assume anything,” Christina said. “Whatever happens, happens. We’re very happy with what he’s done so far. That’s all we can say.”

Christina sees it as a choice between two dreams. She’d love for Joe to go to college. He loves Clemson. But playing in the big leagues is his life’s goal. Either way, he’ll get there.

“Three million is great,” Joe said. “But going to play for a team is my No. 1 goal. It’s the thrill of being able to go and play on a team. I would just love to go and play baseball.”

It will be tough to say no to a large signing bonus and the status that comes with being a first-round pick. You get the impression that Joe will take the same route as Charles if the draft projections are right.

But there’s a very good chance that come July 11, Western New York will see a kid taken in the first round of the MLB draft for the first time since Jimmy Carter was President.

Gruarin only wishes he had Joe for another year. Imagine getting your first head coaching job and inheriting the best baseball player to come along locally in more than four decades.

“I’m extremely lucky to coach a kid with that talent level,” Gruarin said. “Joe is a great kid, and he’s the real deal. He’s got it all, he really does. I don’t think we’ll see anyone like him again.”

Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.

Fashion

Emmys Red Carpet Fashion: Most Memorable Looks from Anya Taylor-Joy to Billy Porter

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Emmys Red Carpet Fashion: Most Memorable Looks from Anya Taylor-Joy to Billy Porter

After a 2020 awards show where the nominees appeared virtually, the Emmy Awards are back and in person this year. Taking place at L.A.

Live in downtown Los Angeles, the red carpet parade started at 3 p.m. PT with early arrivals including The Crown‘s Josh O’Connor wearing Loewe, Nailed It! host Nicole Byer in a purple Christian Siriano gown, Rita Wilson in Tom Ford and SNL‘s Bowen Yang in silver platform heels.

Read on to see the the best and the worst of the night — from the head-turners to the head-scratchers — of the Emmys red carpet.

Anya Taylor-Joy in Dior

Nominee Anya Taylor-Joy wore a pale yellow gown and yellow opera coat by Dior Haute Couture. Tiffany & Co. diamonds completed the look.

Regé-Jean Page in Giorgio Armani

The Bridgerton nominee wore made-to-measure Giorgio Armani: a midnight blue silk jacquard double-breasted evening jacket with a modified shawl collar, paired with classic evening trousers and a midnight blue evening shirt with a hidden placket. His accessories included a Longines watch, velvet tuxedo slippers by Gianvito Rossi and a sapphire and gold stud earring by Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Cathy Waterman.

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Regé-Jean Page
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Michaela Coel in Christopher John Rogers

Quadruple nominee Michaela Coel wore a bold neon two-piece gown by Christopher John Rogers.

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Michaela Coel
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Kate Winslet in Giorgio Armani

Winner Kate Winslet paired her black silk cady and chiffon gown by Giorgio Armani Privé with vintage jewelry from Fred Leighton.

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Kate Winslet
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Elizabeth Olsen in The Row

Nominee Elizabeth Olsen wore a caftan-like gown designed by her sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, for The Row, plus jewelry by Chopard.

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Elizabeth Olsen
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Hannah Waddingham in Christian Siriano

Emmy winner Hannah Waddingham, with co-star and fellow winner Brett Goldstein, wore a peach silk draped dress by Christian Siriano.

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Hannah Waddingham
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Mj Rodriguez in Versace

Pose nominee Mj Rodriguez wore a custom teal gown by Atelier Versace with jewelry by Bulgari. “I wanted to look like water coming out of the sea,” the actress said on the red carpet.

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MJ Rodriguez
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Sarah Paulson

Sarah Paulson wore a red ruched gown with a deep V neck by Carolina Herrera with diamond earrings by Mateo.

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Sarah Paulson
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Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling wore a black column gown with a custom bow by Carolina Herrera and shoes by Jimmy Choo, plus more than 50 carats of diamonds by De Beers Jewellers.

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Mindy Kaling
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Taraji P. Henson in Elie Saab

Taraji P. Henson wore a plunging gown by Elie Saab, jewelry by Roberto Coin and shoes by Sophia Webster.

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Taraji P. Henson
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Jason Sudeikis in Tom Ford

Ted Lasso winner Jason Sudeikis, ditching his hoodies, wore a velvet tuxedo and boots by Tom Ford.

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Jason Sudeikis
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Billy Porter in Ashi

Pose star Billy Porter wore a winged custom look by Ashi with jewelry by Lorraine Schwartz and H. Crowne. “You know we got the wings. It was supposed to go all the way to the floor. That didn’t work out,” said the actor on the EW / People pre-show.

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Billy Porter

Kaley Cuoco in Vera Wang

Nominee Kaley Cuoco wore a neon-hued gown by Vera Wang Haute with diamonds by De Beers Jewellers.

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Kaley Cuoco
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Issa Rae

Issa Rae wore a gown by Jason Rembert for New York-based Aliétte with graphic earrings by London-based jewelry designer Fernando Jorge.

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Issa Rae
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Kerry Washington in Etro

Kerry Washington wore a custom pale lilac bias-cut silk gown with corset detailing by Etro.

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Kerry Washington
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Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore wore a crimson gown by Carolina Herrera.

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Mandy Moore
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Cynthia Erivo in Louis Vuitton

Nominee Cynthia Erivo wore a custom feather-trimmed leather halter gown by Louis Vuitton with diamonds by Roberto Coin.

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Cynthia Erivo
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Josh O’Connor in Loewe

The Crown star Josh O’Connor, winner for best lead actor in a drama series, wore a custom suit by Loewe with a black-tie element in the shape of a flower. “I’m wearing head to toe Loewe and this is a flower. We’ve had some kind of issues with keeping it up but it’s holding, that’s the story,” he said on the People/Entertainment Weekly red-carpet pre-show.

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Josh O’Connor
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Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett wore a black column gown with pink ruffle detail by Greta Constantine, paired with jewelry by Gismondi 1754.

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Angela Bassett
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Jurnee Smollett in Dior

Lovecraft Country nominee Jurnee Smollett wore Dior Haute Couture paired with Bulgari jewelry and Christian Louboutin shoes. “Thank you @dior and @mariagraziachiuri for making me feel like a princess in this dreamy dress,” wrote the actress on her Instagram.

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Jurnee Smollett
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Cedric The Entertainer in Jason Rembert

Emmy Awards telecast host Cedric the Entertainer wore a graphic blue suit by stylist and designer Jason Rembert. “I feel good. I feel swaggy. We gonna do a couple other looks tonight. We gonna go hard with it,” the comedian said on the EW / People pre-show.

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Cedric the Entertainer
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Emma Corrin in Miu Miu

In London, The Crown nominee Emma Corrin wore a custom gown with matching gloves and cap by Miu Miu. The star called the look “crucible realness for EMMYS 2021″ on Instagram.

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Emma Corrin
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Jean Smart

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Jean Smart
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Kathryn Hahn in Lanvin

Nominee Kathryn Hahn wore a strapless jumpsuit with belt by Lanvin and an emerald. She also wore a diamond necklace, with diamond and emerald rings, all from New York-based estate jewelry Briony Raymond. “I love wearing a jumpsuit. It feels like me,” said the WandaVision star on the THAT ONE/People pre-show.

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Kathryn Hahn
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Yara Shahidi in Dior

Yara Shahidi wore a custom emerald-hued gown by Dior Haute Couture, jewelry by Cartier and nude leather pumps by Christian Louboutin.

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Yara Shahidi
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Allison Janney in Azzi & Osta

Nominee Allison Janney wore an ivory look by Azzi & Osta, comprised of a structured crepe belted jacket with a peplum and draped neckline that transforms into a shawl with a custom full-length fitted skirt with slit.

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Allison Janney
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Leslie Odom Jr.

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Leslie Odom Jr.
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America Ferrera

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America Ferrera
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Annie Murphy in Valentino

Annie Murphy wore a crepe and chiffon draped shirtdress by Valentino Haute Couture with one-of-a-kind earrings and ring embellished with aquamarines by Los Angeles-based jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth.

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Annie Murphy
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Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Keri Russell, seen on the red carpet with partner Matthew Rhys, wore a rose-hued beaded gown with a front slit and caped train by Zuhair Murad.

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Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys
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Michael Douglas in Canali and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Christina Octavian

Catherine Zeta-Jones wore a gown by New York-based designer Christina Ottaviano, diamonds by Lorraine Schwartz and satin pumps by Christian Louboutin, while nominee Michael Douglas wore a suit by Canali.

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Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones
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Robin Thede in Jason Wu

Double nominee Robin Thede wore a custom gown by Jason Wu Atelier with vintage jewels from Fred Leighton.

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Robin Thede
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Ellen Pompeo in Elie Saab

The actress wore a black velvet long-sleeve jumpsuit with crystal detailing by Elie Saab.

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Ellen Pompeo

Nicole Byer in Christian Siriano

Nailed It! host Nicole Byer, nominated for outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program, wore a purple ballgown by Christian Siriano. Getting ready, she said on the People/THAT ONE pre-show, “took like a full two hours.”

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Nicole Byer
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Catherine O’Hara

Catherine O’Hara wore a jumpsuit by Cong Tri with jewelry by Anne Sisteron.

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Catherine O’Hara
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Tracee Ellis Ross in Valentino

Nominee Tracee Ellis Ross wore a beaded chiffon dress by Valentino Haute Couture with jewelry by Tiffany & Co. and patent-leather pumps by Christian Louboutin.

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Tracee Ellis Ross
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Rita Wilson in Tom Ford

Rita Wilson, taking part in the opening of the awards show, wore a black silk tuxedo with sequined top by Tom Ford with jewelry by David Yurman.

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Rita Wilson attends the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards at L.A. LIVE on September 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
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Samira Wiley in Sara Cavazza Facchini for Genny

Nominee Samira Wiley is wearing a tuxedo by Sara Cavazza Facchini for Genny, with jewelry by David Yurman and Lark & Berry and shoes by Sophia Webster.

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Samira Wiley
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Bowen Yang in Ermenegildo Zegna

SNL nominee Bowen Yang wore a tuxedo by Ermenegildo Zegna, jewelry by Tiffany & Co. and silver platform heels by Brooklyn-based Syro, a queer-owned cult footwear brand co-founded by Henry Bae and Shaobo Han.

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Bowen Yang
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Kenan Thompson

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Kenan Thompson
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Dan Levy

Presenter Dan Levy wore three pieces from Valentino Haute Couture’s fall winter 2021 collection: a gabardine jacket in electric blue, a velvet-lurex shirt and wool trousers with gabardine panels.

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Dan Levy
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Uzo Aduba

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Uzo Aduba
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Bo Burnham

Nominee Bo Burnham wore a blue velvet tuxedo by Etro and jewelry by David Yurman.

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Bo Burnham
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Amber Ruffin

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Amber Ruffin
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Carl Clemons-Hopkins

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Carl Clemons-Hopkins
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Gillian Anderson in Chloe

In London, nominee Gillian Anderson wore a midriff-baring look by Chloe.

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Gillian Anderson
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Trevor Noah

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Trevor Noah
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Brendan Hunt

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Brendan Hunt
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Susan Kelechi Watson in Markarian

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Susan Kelechi Watson
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Dave Burd

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Dave Burd
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Cecily Strong

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Cecily Strong
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Ashley Nicole Black

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Ashley Nicole Black
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Beth Behrs in Georges Hobeika

Beth Behrs wore a beaded silk gown by Georges Hobeika with diamond Vine ear cuffs by Graziela.

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Beth Behrs
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D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai

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D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai
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Madeline Brewer

Nominee Madeline Brewer wore a bronze lacquered knit tank dress by Tom Ford.

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Madeline Brewer
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Anthony Anderson

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Anthony Anderson
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Sophia Bush in Markarian

Sophia Bush wore a pink silk-faille gown by Alexandra O’Neill for Markarian.

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Sophia Bush
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Ken and Tran Jeong

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Ken Jeong and Tran Jeong
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Dynasty Baseball: 5 Impactful Waiver Wire Adds for 2022

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Aaron Ashby Dynasty Waiver Wire Adds

Fantasy baseball is a grind. It is six consecutive months of checking your lineup every day and making sure you have the best team you can put out there. The luxury of a dynasty league is that you can stash players for next season, assuming you have a decent-sized bench. When you are out of it and there is nothing to compete for this year, there is always something you can do to improve your odds for the following season–this is where the waiver wire comes in. Staying active on the waiver wire will allow you to get those late bloomers or post-hype prospects that no one cares about anymore. Let’s go over five players that may be available on your waiver wire and could impact your team in 2022.


What?! Your season-long fantasy baseball league is not using Fantrax? Inconceivable! Check out everything Fantrax has to offer and I’m sure you’ll come around to our way of thinking.


5 Waiver Wire Adds for 2022

Aaron Ashby, Milwaukee Brewers (23% Owned)

No one has done a better job developing arms than the Milwaukee Brewers, see: Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy peralta, Devin Williams, Josh Hader, you get the idea.

Aaron Asby may be the next in line here. Ashby features a strange mix, 37-percent sliders, 37-percent sinkers, and 21-percent changeups; along with a curveball and four-seamer that he barely throws.

One thing that stands out about Ashby’s game is the vertical movement on all of his pitches. This allows him to generate whiffs and ground balls with his main offerings. The curveball, changeup, and slider all grade out well-above average in terms of vertical movement. While the sinker grades slightly above average, throwing it at 94-98 mph.

Ground Ball King

Combining his Triple-A and big-league outings, roughly 89 innings pitched. He has managed to induce a 67% ground ball rate. That isn’t just special, it is near league-leading good.

Just to give you an idea of how special it is. If you take the qualified innings down to a minimum of 100 innings pitches. The best ground ball rates in the entire league are Framber Valdez at 69.2% and Logan Webb at 61.1%, two obviously great pitchers.

His sinker is currently inducing a negative-eight-degree launch angle on average. It doesn’t matter how hard you get hit, if virtually every batted ball you allow is on the ground, you are going to have lots of success. So while the sinker is the ground ball pitch, the slider is the whiff pitch.

Ashby’s slider is currently whiffing hitters at a 46-percent clip while only allowing one single base hit in 133 pitches. Granted, he has only pitched 23 innings, impressive nonetheless.

The main concern here is command. This is where we go back to our first point, the Milwaukee Brewers. Do you remember when Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes had command issues? Even Woodruff had over four walks per nine in almost an entire season at Triple-A in 2018. Just to see that number cut in half his first season in the big leagues.

When an organization has shown over and over again an ability to turn talented arms into effective big league pitchers. You should keep betting on it because they clearly have a plan for talent and how to develop it at the next level.

Don’t let Ashby stay unstashed in your keeper or dynasty league, go out and add him immediately.

Connor Joe, Colorado Rockies (34% Owned)

Despite being on his sixth different team since being drafted in 2014, there is a lot to like about Connor Joe. He hits the ball hard, makes contact, and has a great eye at the plate. If he were say three or four years younger, there would probably be a lot more interest here.

While the outfield for the Rockies is relatively crowded. It’s not crowded with that much talent. Charlie Blackmon is approaching his age-36 season, Garrett Hampson and Raimel tapia are two of the worst hitters in baseball, and Sam Hilliard probably doesn’t deserve to be in the big leagues.

You aren’t going to see a better dart throw in a dynasty or keeper league waiver wire than a potential everyday outfielder for Colorado.

Underlying Metrics

We will start with the batted ball metrics. He has an elite max exit velocity at 113 MPH, 90th percentile in all of baseball. Max exit velocity is important because it’s a general idea of what your ceiling is as a power hitter. Given Joe rates so well in it while calling Coors Field his home, gives him roughly a 30-home run ceiling.

Another reason, his strikeout to walk rate is fantastic. During his first 211 plate appearances this season, he has managed a 19.4-percent strikeout rate and a 12.3-percent walk rate. Even digging deeper into the plate discipline metrics– a 17.4% chase rate and an 83.8% in-zone contact rate would dictate to us that what he is doing is absolutely sustainable. Those underlying metrics have led to a .285/.379/.469 slash line (115 wRC+). This includes 11 more away games than home games, giving his line the potential to be better in a larger sample.

Joe to me is just someone I want to round my team out with, regardless of where I am in the standings. A solid bench bat that provides a good offensive floor is always something you will need. Go make sure you add him off the waiver wire before he gets activated from the injured list prior to the season-ending. If not, you run the risk of a contending team scooping Joe up for the last couple of games.

Yonny Hernandez, Texas Rangers (13% Owned)

Considering the era we now play fantasy baseball in, stolen bases are hard to come by. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. Getting cheap steals from someone like Yonny Hernandez can make a huge impact on your team.

During his first 27 games as a big leaguer, he has 10 stolen base attempts, being successful on nine of them. Getting on-base at a .341 clip and playing on one of the worst teams in baseball allows him to have a green light quite often. Something you can rely on, even if he continues to hit eighth or ninth for the Rangers.

Everyday Speedster

Though he isn’t a special player, there is potential there. On a Rangers team bereft of talent, there is an argument to be made that he should be playing every day.

Hernandez has two strong arguments in his favor, outside of the stolen bases. One, he makes a lot of contact. Even during his stints in the minor leagues, he has never had a strikeout rate above 17.5-percent, while posting one as low as 12.1-percent. You can even see those skills translating to the major leagues. Hernandez has a 4.5-percent swinging-strike rate and a 92.1-percent in-zone contact rate. Both elite rates, without even factoring in that this is his rookie season, at age-23.

The second argument for playing every day is that he is a plus defender. The issue becomes, where does he fit on this Rangers roster. Hernandez is mostly a third baseman while ranging around to second and short as well. One of the few Rangers prospects close to the big leagues is Josh Jung, who projects to be an everyday player. Nick Lefty has the potential to block Hernandez at second base, though he’s had his fair share of struggles. At least next season, those positions may be taken up.

The position that makes the most sense for Hernandez in the future is shortstop. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not a long-term option, as he projects to be similar to Hernandez except three years older and two years away from being a free agent. It’s easy to see a trade scenario that sends Kiner-Falefa to a team in need of a competent backup infielder, such as the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

There is no guarantee that Hernandez is in the Rangers starting lineup on Opening Day in 2022. But, it’s a great risk to take given his stolen base upside and floor as a fantasy player in general. Not killing you in batting average or on-base percentage while providing a category that is hard to come by. If you have any empty bench spot, it makes sense to stash him, and hope he can give you 30 plus stolen bases next season.

Reid Detmers, Los Angeles Angels (42% Owned)

Reid Detmers was taken 10th overall in the 2020 draft. Only to pitch 60 innings in the minor leagues before making his big league debut at the beginning of August. If you were to look at his surface stats, it would appear there is nothing to get excited about with Detmers. But taking a deeper look, we can find a lot to like with the Angels left-hander.

Looking beyond the numbers

Despite having an ERA north of seven, Detmers’ stuff has shown to be good enough to get swings and misses at the highest level. He possesses two plus pitches in his curveball and slider. Both pitches grade well-above average in terms of vertical movement, with the results to back it up. Each pitch has over a 30% whiff rate to go along with a batting average below .200.

Clearly, something is wrong mechanically. Just by looking at his pitch locations per pitch, on Baseball Savant. It will be apparent to anyone that he has no command of any pitch, so far. The weird thing is that Detmers is supposed to be known for his command. Most scouting sites have him at a 55-future command, which is more than good enough to compete in the big leagues. Even in the minor leagues, he walked eight percent of batters and gave up 1.67 home runs per nine. Way too high a number for someone that graduated to the big leagues.

Considering Detmers just turned 22 years old literally last week. We should see some progression next season as he matures in the big leagues. So while it may not look pretty now, the idea is that you can stash him for free off the waiver wire and reap the rewards as he develops in the near future.

Rowdy Tellez, Milwaukee Brewers (40% Owned)

You never want to make assumptions in the world of Major League Baseball. Though, it is safe to assume that the National League will implement a DH next season. This means a handful of players will gain a lot of value next season. One of those players includes a left-handed slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers, Rowdy Tellez.

Tellez brings a unique set of skills to the table that most 6’4” first basemen do not have in common. An elite-batted ball profile that pairs an elite max exit velocity, 117, with a great barrel rate, 11-percent for his career.

What separates him from the pack of first basemen in his tier is the ability to make contact. Even though we haven’t seen this set of skills turn into results yet, Tellez has put together a 445 plate appearance sample, 2020 and 2021 combined, of an 18.9-percent strikeout rate. Not only is that impressive for a batter with so much power, but it ranks 12th best of 39 qualified first baseman in that span.

Why it has not worked so far

Trying to dig deeper into why his profile hasn’t produced results yet. Sometimes it just takes time to adjust to the big league level. We are talking about someone who has only played in 273 big league games spanning over four seasons– roughly 68 games a season to get an idea of how little that is.

He hits the ball in the air enough, so launch angle isn’t the issue. There are some struggles against the shift but not so much so that it tanks his entire batting line, .290 wOBA with the shift, .320 wOBA without it. While chasing at balls outside the zone is an issue, he has seen that number go down since his first full season, which is encouraging. Nothing really stands out as to why he isn’t performing better than expected. It’s probably safe to say, it’s a little bit of a shifting problem, he is quite slow, and probably chases at pitches outside the zone a little too much.

If we get a full season of Rowdy at Miller Park, in what should be an improved Brewers lineup next season with a DH. It’s possible we see Rowdy crank out 30 home runs and hit close to .250 with a middling on-base percentage. Again, nothing crazy but to pick that up on the waiver wire for free? You have to jump on it if you’re a rebuilding team that plans on making a push next season.

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Brunswick commissioner accused of and denies meddling in health department decisions

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Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department's handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department’s handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY –– At least two Brunswick County Board of Education members believe Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes intervened in a February school-related health department decision by pressuring the health and human services director to back off school closure determinations.

The matter colors how the school board views the health department, prompting mistrust and discomfort that lingers today, given the department’s alleged willingness to bend to political pressure.

Both Sykes and Brunswick County deny any impropriety and insist no change in procedure occurred.

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

The matter remains relevant, important enough that the school board is willing to potentially risk its federal funding for school nurses by holding up a memorandum of agreement renewal with the health department past its Wednesday due date to squeeze in a new provision: All future recommendations must be in writing.

What happened?

On the heels of the largest statewide cluster reported at the time in Town Creek Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools was trying to adjust to a return to in-person instruction at the beginning of the year after a two-week remote-only start.

Information about Covid’s impact and transmission among young people in a school setting was scarce.

BCS was hit with a cascade of closures –– each lasting as little as 10 days to as long as 20. It shuttered Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary, Union Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, North Brunswick High, and South Brunswick High all within a three-week timeframe. Each closure was prompted by the county health department’s identification of a cluster among students at each campus, defined as a link between five or more positive cases.

The pressure from overworked parents and pending legislation to keep the schools open was palpable.

As school was preparing to let out on Friday, Feb. 19, the district announced a two-week closure of South Brunswick High School. The following Monday, commissioner Sykes placed at least two impassioned calls to two school board members, herself prompted by emails and calls from upset parents.

“She called me on the phone and was upset, very upset about quarantine activity,” school board member David Robinson remembered. Sykes told Robinson the district was making some sort of administrative error in closing the schools. “She had me convinced we had a problem,” he said.

School board member Gerald Benton had been fielding parent emails, letting them know the district was compelled to follow the health department’s recommendations. Sykes called Benton, angry about the emails and the SBHS closure. As the county commissioners’ appointee on the health board, Sykes told Benton she had a health board committee meeting within the next 45 minutes where she would see health and human services director David Stanley and would make him “do something about it,” Benton remembered.

Two hours later, Benton said he got a call from school superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates, who relayed unexpected news.

Stanley had called the superintendent and told him he was reversing the decision made just days prior on his department’s recommendation to close SBHS. The health department would also stop sharing closure decisions with the school district altogether, according to Benton’s recollection of his call with Oates, confirmed by Oates through a spokesperson.

No reason was given for the decisions, Oates said. Dismayed, the superintendent asked for the decisions in writing.

A watered-down version of the verbal notice arrived via email the next day, Feb. 23. Notably, it did not include any word on rescinding the SBHS closure. “Ultimately, decisions on school operations reside with Brunswick County Schools,” Stanley’s email to Oates –– which BCC’d the county commissioners –– concluded.

Since the notice, the health department has taken a more passive approach, school officials said.

Six months passed from the incident before a department representative appeared before the school board again and the department never recommended another school closure (Oates said he doesn’t recall there being a significant event after the SBHS closure that would have warranted similar guidance out of the health department, as Covid-19 trends were on the decline). The district did continue to receive guidance on Covid-19 outbreaks within the schools, Oates said.

Despite repeated requests to explain why –– most recently under direct questioning at a school board meeting last month –– health officials have never provided the reason that prompted the abrupt Feb. 22 communication. At the August school board meeting, when asked if he knew what happened and why Stanley suddenly withdrew recommendations from the school district, health services director Cris Harrelson said he didn’t know and turned to staff members in the audience to ask if they did (Stanley is Harrelson’s boss).

Asked specifically what prompted the February change, county spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said, “There were no changes in our procedures from Brunswick County’s end,” and redirected questions about operating procedures to the school district.

The county health department provides Covid-19 guidance to the school district, Kascsak explained, the authority ultimately responsible for making operational decisions.

“[The school district’s] decisions might factor in the health department’s guidance along with other needs such as their known staffing levels, resources, and any concerns among their staff, students, and parents,” she wrote in a statement. “Again, this process is the same one the health department has followed throughout the pandemic, and staff are not aware of any directives that changed this course of action in February or any other time.”

County chairman Randy Thompson said his understanding is the public health department only provides guidance to the school district.

“No action by me or the County Board of Commissioners has occurred to stop guidance being provided to the school system or any citizen of our great county,” Thompson wrote in an email.

Commissioner Mike Forte said if there was evidence the health department was interfered with, the school board should have already presented it.

Still tense

School board member Steven Barger, who said he can’t recall getting a call from Sykes or Oates that day, said he considers the health department’s recommendations tantamount to directives, given state officials’ repeated calls to follow established health guidelines.

“I’m willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions we make, but I’m not willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions another agency makes who’s supposed to be making recommendations to us based on their expert GFN,” he said, speaking to the importance of being able to transparently determine where a directive is coming from.

Barger trusts the health department’s expertise but supports his board’s move to get future recommendations in writing. “When I don’t trust the health department is when we get a recommendation over the phone, and then they turn around and say, ‘Oh, we had no part in that,’” Barger said.

In general, Barger and other board members take issue with Sykes’ involvement and public opposition to school-related decisions.

Robinson said especially after the February incident, Sykes has immersed herself in school board matters. “She has been a thorn in the school board since at least I have gotten on the board,” he said. “She will quickly blast us in public, but when we try to work with her, there’s no interest in doing that.”

At a June North Brunswick Republican Club Meeting, accompanied by school board member Robin Moffitt (the lone member to vote against masks in August), Sykes and Moffitt shared concerns about critical race theory and sex education. Sykes threatened to “shut down” the county’s public schools and make them charter schools, according to a witness’ account of the meeting.

The commissioner did not return a request to comment. However, a public records request shows Sykes forwarded Port City Daily’s questions and the county’s response to them to fellow commissioners, county staff, school board members, both health directors, the founder of the local charter schools, and a local conservative radio host. In the Aug. 19 email, Sykes wrote (in bold) she had “never given direct orders” to anyone, especially the health director. She acknowledged she’s disagreed with Stanley on several issues but added her role on the health board did not equate to having any authority.

The commissioner also denied being part of an organized group that has protested the school board’s recent meetings. “I am not [part of the group], however, I do agree with them,” she wrote. Recent protested issues include opposition mask-wearing and keeping board-led prayer, which the board quietly dropped in April under a legal threat.

Sykes’ email included an actionable request: she sought a private meeting with two commissioners, two school board members and the superintendent, three representatives from the charter schools, both health directors, the county attorney, county manager, “and anyone else that will help cleanup [sic] this mess.”

Meetings that involve two members of two or more elected boards are frequent, as they allow officials to quickly move through and debate issues without public knowledge or scrutiny while avoiding triggering the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Responding to Sykes, Benton said he wasn’t interested unless the meeting was public. “The school system and Charters deserve the right to publicly explain the inconsistent or punitive actions your Health department has taken against us,” the school board member wrote. “The idea of two members meeting in secret to clean this up is disgusting and most certainly in bad faith with the idea of transparency.”

(Seperately, the leadership of the local charter schools penned a letter Aug. 30, accusing Harrleson of taking “inappropriate and ​​precipitous” actions associated with the health department’s recent Covid-19 control measure orders, served to two charters by deputies. Harrelson said the severity of the outbreak and the schools’ violations of quarantine procedure warranted the strong response.)

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

Benton told Sykes the school board did its job exposing the matter at the August meeting and made fruitless attempts to privately address the matter with Sykes and the county manager. “We need a reliable and consistent Health Department making recommendations based on science,” Benton wrote. “This department is either completely disorganized or are being politically pressured in their decision making.”

In a response to Benton, Sykes denied running interference in February. “The fact is there was no politics played with the Health Department, so I don’t know what you are talking about and yes, I do call David Stanley on issues that I get calls about daily,” she wrote.

After Barger responded to Sykes’ request stating his concerns with her approach with the school board, she responded stating she doesn’t think masks work –– “they are nasty and cause health problems,” she claimed, also acknowleding each person can wear one if they so choose. The school board voted 4-1 to mandate masks on Aug. 9 and Brunswick County required face-coverings in county buildings on Aug. 26.

The meeting could bring the parties together to unify the county, she wrote. It never happened.


Send tips and comments to Johanna F. Still at johanna@localdailymedia.com

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