The January Edition 2022

MTSU gambles that $100 million facilities makeover will lead to other upgrades as well

By TOM WOOD / January 21, 2022

Middle Tennessee is in the process of investing $100 million in its athletics facilities, a process that could boost everything from attendance to future conference affiliation during a time of fast-moving changes in collegiate athletics. I explore the subject for the Ledger in the January 21-27 edition, and it has energized both school officials and fans alike.

The changing face of college sports seems to be the catalyst for MTSU’s massive facility upgrade. In the world of realignment, MTSU has to make itself attractive to possible suitors. MTSU, currently a member of Conference USA, recently declined an invitation to join the Mid-American Conference.

AD Chris Massaro says the upgrades will make MTSU “more attractive to fans and potential conference suitors, as well,” Massaro says.

MTSU upgrades its facilities in order to stay competitive.

Submitted photo, MTSU Athletics Communications; Ledger cover by Mike Hopey

“When you look at it, probably the most important thing with all this recent movement from one conference to different conferences is they wanted schools that showed a commitment to their athletic programs from a facility standpoint,” MTSU football coach Rick Stockstill says.

“When conference realignment, the (next) waves of that come along, that’s a major part of what those conferences are looking for,” adds Chip Walters, the Voice of the Blue Raiders. “And if you look at what the (American Athletic Conference) did, and the schools they brought in, a lot of those have new football facilities, things like that.”

Crowdfunding lifts ‘Wingfeather Saga’

Before being assigned the Ledger’s Dec. 17-23 cover story, I didn’t know much about crowdfunding. But Andrew Peterson, a Nashville singer/songwriter turned author, knew all about it. So his Shining Isle Productions partner J. Chris Wall.

Peterson has written a successful four-book fantasy series and always thought it would make for a great animated movie or television series. Now, thanks to a $5 million crowdfunding effort through Angel Studios, production has begun on the six-episode first season. It will air via streaming in late 2022 or early 2023.

“We felt this huge love from the readers who demonstrated that they really wanted to see this story (animated).” Peterson says of the crowdfunding campaign. “The four books tell a big story and the thought of trying to compress that into 90 minutes or whatever just didn’t make sense to me.”

Peterson’s book series has been relaunched by Penguin Random House.

Submitted photo by Kristi Jones; Ledger cover by Mike Hopey

Peterson, an executive producer on the animated project, says the animated series — which is expected to run seven seasons if it’s as successful as everyone hopes — will stay mostly faithful to the books.

““There are definite changes but the good thing about the fact that I the get to be the author who is in the room is that I get to to have a voice in the room about how far those changes go because it’s a different medium altogether,” Peterson says.

“The nice thing about it is that the changes so far have all made total sense to me and I’ve agreed with a lot of them. There are things that we’ve done in the series that I’m like, ‘man, I wish I thought of that when I was writing the books.’ That’s actually cooler or that’s better and so it’s kind of like watching an adaptation of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ or something.”

Wall notes the crowdfunding campaign was completed in just 20 days because of the loyal “Wingfeather” fans whose cries for an animated version were heard loud and clear — and were eager to support the project.

“For us, we had this opportunity where we had a large audience following from the books. We thought we could tap into those folks and appeal to their commercial sensibilities with, ‘Hey this thing could be a really big success,’ and it’s making a show that they’ve all wanted to see — because they love the books, they want to see it,” Wall says.


Here’s a look at some of my recent stories and things I’ve been doing.

Dickens of a Christmas was a success

Because of Ledger deadlines I wasn’t able to spend the full day with fellow authors for the Dec. 11-12 Dickens of a Christmas event in Franklin, Tennessee. The Authors Circle sponsors a booth at several events to sell and sign our various books, including the Franklin Main Street Festival in April, Pumpkinfest in October as well as the Southern Festival of Books as well as Dickens.

Some of the other authors who were on hand included Bill Peach, Tim Bishop, Sally Burbank and Dave Norem, among others. I was there with Vendetta Stone and our Harpeth River Writers anthology Words on Water.

The Authors Circle booth at Dickens of a Christmas.

-Submitted photo

We are also making plans to host a Franklin Book Festival next June 4-5, 2022, at Williamson County Library on Columbia Avenue. More on that as it draws nearer.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dickens of a Christmas, it’s an annual two-day event. This year it was limited to just one day because of the storms and tornadoes that ripped across Tennessee, Kentucky and other states. Prayers for all those affected, especially those in Mayfield, Ky., and Bowling Green, where so many lives were lost.

FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance program

Before being assigned the Ledger’s Nov. 19-25 cover story, I had no idea that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a funeral assistance program. And unless you lost a loved one to COVID-19 over the last two years, you probably weren’t aware of its existence, either.

But as of its Nov. 1 monthly report, FEMA has reimbursed more than 200,000 U.S. families more than $1.3 billion to help offset unexpected funeral costs. Claims can be made dating back to Jan. 20, 2020.

It’s a different type of disaster than we usually see FEMA stepping into offer aid … tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and fires … but the pandemic has been far, far, FAR, deadlier than all those others combined with more than 762,000 U.S. deaths to date.

If you have already lost a loved one to COVID-19, my condolences. Make sure they know of this program. More than 16,500 fellow Tennesseans have died already and some $34 million has already been disbursed to more than 4,400 program applicants. Click here for FEMA’s state-by-state breakdown:

Or if you have a friend or neighbor who lost a family member, tell them about it. They will thank you in their time of grief.

FEMA has paid $1.3B to COVID-19 victims’ families in funeral assistance.

Ledger photo by Michelle Morrow; cover by Mike Hopey

Lipscomb animation program draws attention

I’ve lived in and written about Nashville for more than 40 years, but until recently I had no idea of how big Nashville’s reputation for animation had gotten.

Sure, I knew “VeggieTales” was done here. But I didn’t know that in 2015 Lipscomb University launched an animation program that was spearheaded by former Disney animator Tom Bancroft and other industry pros to teach their art to the next generation. You can read my story in the Oct. 22 edition of Main Street Nashville.

“I really feel like we’re at that point now where we have an animation industry here in Nashville,” says Bancroft, who recently launched his crowdfunded Pencilish Studios.

“We’ve always had a couple of small studios (notably Nashville Magnetic Dreams Animation Studios, IV Animation and Fivestone Studios) but now we’re adding to that — about three or four more studios that have popped up just in this last year, all with major projects.”

“We’re at the point where we have an animation hub in Nashville,” says Tom Bancroft

Lights, Cameras, Action for Nashville

These are exciting times for Tennessee’s evolving film and television industry, as evidenced by both the release of “Old Henry,” a Hideout Pictures film produced in partnership with Shout Studios and “game-changer” news that the Nashville and Memphis areas will likely see some sort of studio or film campus construction on the horizon. I have written about this for Main Street Nashville.

Filmed in Watertown in January, “Old Henry” was written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli and stars Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze and Gavin Lewis with Trace Adkins and Stephen Dorff. It is the first of a three-film Western deal for the companies. Producer Shannon Houchins said Hideout Pictures, a subsidiary of Average Joes Entertainment, will next film an untitled children’s horror story in November, then begin work on “Hardin,” the second in the Western trilogy.

It comes at a time of unparalleled growth for the state’s film industry, according to Bob Raines, executive director of the Tennessee Entertainment Commission.

Now on Video On Demand

Home Workouts or Go to the Gym?

Stay home or go to the gym for a workout? That’s a question people face daily as they try to stay in shape during the pandemic era.

Some have no qualms about heading to a fitness facility and working up a good sweat next to equally sweaty people while others choose to work out in the relative safety of their home gym.

I recently talked to owners and athletes at three Donelson-Hermitage fitness centers — Competitive Edge, CrossFit Donelson and the YMCA branch for the Sept. 24 edition of the Nashville Ledger and learned that the overused phrase “personal choice” really is the best answer.

The facilities are doing all they can as far as sanitizing equipment and making the environment a safe haven for gym rats. And if you still don’t think it’s safe enough for your standards, build a home gym or, better yet, try one of the online classes being offered by the new YMCA360 program.

“It just seems too risky to us right now, all that’s going on,” Nick Sullivan says of returning to the YMCA

-Ledger cover by Mike Hopey

As always, thanks for reading.

Tom Wood

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