Teachers, coach selected for Hall of Fame tribute awards

Published 6:14 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Four members of the Harlan County Public Schools faculty and staff were honored with tribute awards from the 2021 inductees of the Frank Brittain Academic and Athletic Hall of Fame.

Laura Johnson Curry, a hall of fame committee member and the inaugural inductee to the hall of fame, said the program allows students selected for the honor “to recognize a teacher or coach who had a significant impact upon them. We asked each honoree to name one educator who has been instrumental in their success.”

The following were honored by this year’s hall of fame class:
• Matthew Hammons by Brett Roark
• Jeanne Ann Lee by Edmund Dye
• Greg Longworth by Kiki Dean
• Mr. Ryan Vitatoe by Caleb Rigney

The students presented comments about their honorees and presented awards to them.

“Teachers and coaches often are much more than just teachers and coaches. They are mentors, advisors, encouragers, advocates and a whole bunch of other things,” Curry said. “They assist and support students in many ways, including one of the most important ways in identifying and pursuing postsecondary opportunities.”

Roark introduced his selection by stating that Hammons “is the most sincere teacher I have ever met. He is one of the most sincere people I have met in my life.”

Roark explained that Hammons would ask each “how are you doing, not just as a conversation maker. He truly wanted to know how we were doing. He wanted us to come to school every day.”

Roark said Hammons “cares for his students… He teaches as hard as he can. I know he probably isn’t liking me bragging on him, but he deserves it.”

Dye selected Lee, choir director and Gifted Education director as his honoree.

“Today really isn’t about me, it’s about everyone who has helped me along this journey,” Dye’s remarks at the induction ceremony. “Many of you here today have played an important role in that. My academic career, from kindergarten to senior year, was spent in Harlan County Schools. Our success is a testament to the quality of education that you can receive here. I have had many wonderful teachers who went far beyond their job description to help me. One stands out: Jeanne Anne Lee. For years, she has given her time, energy, and efforts to further my education. She has provided tireless support and friendship.”

Dye said Lee “has gone above and beyond the call of any educator. Mrs. Lee supported both my Governor’s School for the Arts and Governor’s Scholars Program applications. She helped me attend Kentucky All-State choir and inspired me to join the UK Men’s Choir. Next, when I was forced to make a difficult choice between an in-person but shortened GSP or a virtual GSA, I knew exactly who to call. Mrs. Lee, who had put in the hours for both, knew exactly what to say, and I ended up choosing GSP—even though I was scared. It was a wonderful decision that gave me friends across Kentucky.”

Dye said Lee’s “friendship has kept me connected to my roots, in Harlan. She inspired me to speak about Appalachia and the issues affecting it at the University of Kentucky Friends, family, educators…
“Mrs. Lee has had a profound impact on my education through her time, encouragement, and friendship.”

Dean introduced her selection, Longworth. She had him for pre-calculus and geometry.

“I want to thank Mr. Greg Longworth for everything he has done for me as a teacher and as a person in general,” said Dean. “As my mom would like to say, he knocked me out of cruise control and actually made me drive to do something instead of just passing by until I hit a brick wall.”
Dean noted that “Many at the high school say you are one of the most challenging teachers, one of the hardest teachers. They say to not take you. But, it really meant a lot for what you do for every student. If they need help you are there, whether it is in the classroom or outside, you were there.”

Rigney recognized Vitatoe, the Harlan County Cross Country and Track and Field Coach.

“When I first showed up to run track in the eighth grade, I realized from my first practice that Coach V was different than any coach I had ever had ever experienced before,” Rigney said. “I truly believe he cares about any athlete. I’ve watch him do above and beyond what any coach should ever have to do.”

Rigney said Vitatoe has “been a friend. He is out there in the cold and rain with us. He’s not someone that says go do something. He is out there with you. He is always going to put in the effort.”

“Throughout all the years I’ve run track and cross country, I believe I would not be standing here accepting the award I’ve gotten without Coach V. I don’t believe there is anyone who could take his place. He is truly a great friend and mentor. He has literally taught me everything I know… I really wish to thank him because without him I would not have the opportunity I have today.”

Rigney is running cross country and track and field at Lincoln Memorial University on an athletic scholarship.

“Caleb is so deserving of this honor, and I’m very proud him,” Vitatoe said. “I knew when he came out for track in eighth grade that he had the potential to be very special. His work ethic is unmatched and is the reason for his success. He’s a very special athlete and an even better person. He has earned his place in this prestigious group and I have little doubt that he will go on to represent the Frank Brittain Hall of Fame with class. His best days as a student athlete are ahead of him, and I feel fortunate to have coached him at Harlan County High School.”