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Leaders celebrate new pipeline in county; $25 million development by Atlanta Gas Light

Banks County officials gathered with state leaders and representatives with Atlanta Gas Light on Tuesday to celebrate the installation of a new gas line in the county.

Atlanta Gas Light invested $25 million to provide the pipeline through Banks County.

“This project is part of Atlanta Gas Light’s commitment to provide clean, safe reliable and affordable gas to the communities we serve,” a release from the company states. “It also is designed to protect and promote economic development in the region.”

“We appreciate Atlanta Gas Light for putting lines through the heart of Banks County,” Banks County Board of Commission chairman Charles Turk said at the gathering Tuesday morning at the Annex Building in Homer. “I’ve had several people ask about connecting to it. Hopefully, you will get a lot of tie-ins to it.”

Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission and a former long-time resident of Commerce, was present and stated, “You’re very fortunate to have a project like this. There are a lot of projects like this on ‘want lists’ in counties and cities. As far as tie-ins, you haven’t seen anything like you are going to see.”

State Rep. Chris Erwin, who serves District 28 in the Georgia House of Representatives and lives in Banks County, stated that the $25 million investments is a great opportunity for Banks County and he is very proud of it.

“We look forward to the good things that are going to happen in Banks County because of this opportunity.”

Atlanta Gas Light vice president Dean Marianos also spoke stating, “Every time we put a pipeline in, I get excited. Every time we put a pipeline in, it means growth. This $25 million investment will create jobs in the long-term. The clean air future will be with us for generations to come.”

Atlanta Gas Light is one of four natural gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, providing natural gas delivery service to approximately 1.7 million customers in Georgia.

Banks County celebrates Special Olympics

"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt"

Banks County celebrates Special Olympics

Leopards from across the county, both past, and present, gathered last Friday to honor Banks County's finest students and special Olympians for the 2022 Special Olympics.

The day was filled with excitement, hope, anticipation, friendly competition, and most importantly, an abundance of support from the Banks County community.

The celebration began with the reciting of the Special Olympic Motto: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," from a nervous and courageous Banks County athlete. Sensing the athlete's nervousness, the student buddies assigned to the athlete quickly jumped from the stands and stood alongside the athlete to help recite the motto.

For Tondra Boswell, Banks County Special Olympics Coordinator, it was something that she will never forget.

"The buddies just jumped in to aid the athlete. To see the smiles and the hugs afterward, it was something I won't forget."

Boswell, who also serves as Banks County's district Programs Specialist, said the day was more than special. It was a day where the entire Banks County community came together to celebrate, honor and award some incredible young athletes.

The day's events included Track and Field events of running, jumping, and throwing competitions. The day began with a parade and torch run; then, athletes rotated between Olympic village carnival games, track and field events, face painting, and enjoyed a handmade snow cone or a fresh batch of cotton candy.

Each athlete is matched up with student volunteers that serve as buddies and help with activities throughout the day. Over 110 student volunteers were available that day. Numerous coaches, teachers, and community members also volunteered. The Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance division also volunteered their time at the snow cone station. In addition, Banks County Board of Education member Dr. Mark Stroud volunteered his time to serve as the day's Master of Ceremonies.

"It was such an incredible experience for me, especially with one young man enthralled by my microphone. He was so smart. He knew everything about microphones. He was so intelligent. It just doesn't get any better than this," stated Stroud.

Rebecca Montogomery's daughter, Kayleigh, participated in the wheelchair race.

"This is such a great time to celebrate our community coming together," she said. "Special needs families supporting each other and interacting. The Banks County school system has been so incredible in its support. To many of these kids, this is like Christmas Day. It is truly a day where they feel like rock stars."

Dawn Byrum also attended to support nephew their nephew, Seth. "He was super excited for today, the only better day for him is the last day of school," Byrum stated.

Occupational therapy assistant Andrea Dixon was on hand to support the athletes, and for her, this was her first experience with the program. "My favorite event was the torch run. It was exciting to see the athletes learn to be part of such a special community," she said.

The day concluded with athletes earning a trip to the award podium and hearing their names on the speaker.

From one young man, he was so excited that he screamed and jumped with excitement when he heard his name called by the speaker. The cheers from the stands also added to his excitement, and it was truly a moment that he will never forget.

Banks County's 2nd and 5th-grade classes added excitement this year by cheering on athletes during the parade, on the field during events, and in the stands for the awards ceremonies.

"Our athletes loved the excitement of having their peers cheering them on," Boswell said. " We are thankful for the support we receive from all of our administrators and the willingness to allow so many students to attend and volunteer."

Special Olympics is funded solely through donations from the community.

"Our community is so giving and wholeheartedly supports our athletes," Boswell said. "The joy this day brings is priceless! Currently, our only fundraiser is a letter-writing campaign, held each year in January. We send fundraising letters to businesses and community members requesting donations for the year's events."

Shelby Simpson, a BCHS teacher, and Special Olympics organizer, was also astronomical in helping to organize the event. Simpson stated that the program received several donations from various vendors, businesses, and community members such as Wendy's, Little Cotton Co., Paige Whitlock, Augusta Bakes, New Grace Church, Homer Baptist, Robin Rider, My GA Credit Union, Printhouse Graphix, J&K Concrete, Air Mechanical, New Salem United Methodist, Keller Williams (Barrow/Jackson/Hartwell), Kares 4 Kids, Nancy Carpenter, Gillsville Baptist, Peach State Health Plan, Inc., Care Source, BC Family Connections, True Life Church, Martha Payne, Commerce Veterinary, Funopolis, Christine Bray, Commerce Cinemas and Pamela Willard.

Athletes were also required to have health screening before participating in any Special Olympic event. Dr. Lionel Meadow, Medows, Surgical Arts, Commerce, GA, was instrumental in providing these screenings for our athletes. Dr. Meadows brings his staff to the high school for a "Health Day" and completes these screenings. Dr. K. Anthony Merati, Homer Chiropractor, also assisted athletes.

"If we tried to name every person, business, or group that has contributed over the past seven years, we would certainly leave someone out, but we want these people to know how much we appreciate them and what their donations mean to our athletes and their families," Boswell said. "Still, even this list is not comprehensive."

Both Simpson and Boswell stated that the entire community plays an incredible role in making the day successful. With countless volunteer hours from Simpson and Boswell, seeing the smiles on the athlete's faces made it worthwhile.

Banks County Schools has been a part of the Special Olympics program for many years, but it was in the fall of 2015 that a simple conversation occurred in Tondra Boswell's classroom, and she began her journey as coordinator of the program.

The goal of Special Olympics, according to its website, is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families and other Special Olympics athletes, and the community. In addition, it also provides persons with intellectual disabilities opportunities to interact with society in conditions where they are accepted, valued, and respected, which gives the athletes skills for employment, independent skills, form relationships, and help others understand their extraordinary abilities.

Boswell and Simpson added that the local goal targets many areas: to provide opportunities for our Special Olympic athletes to participate in sports and training programs, showcase their abilities, allow athletes to develop lifelong relationships with peers, and enable the Banks County school system and community to experience the true joy that Special Olympics brings to its athletes and their families. 

The Banks County effort exceeds expectations every year, but the program also gives back by instilling long-lasting friendships between the athletes and their buddies.

Boswell recalled a moment several years ago when a former Banks student and stand-out basketball player for the Leopards, Dylan Orr, was paired as a buddy with Daniel Pruitt, the former Banks County Special Olympic athlete. Dylan and Daniel were not only buddies but became friends. They sat together in the hall, ate lunch, and remained friends long after high school. 

The program's future is bright with the addition of the Young Athletes (TM) program within Banks County.

SOGA (Special Olympics Georgia) is a homegrown effort, and as stated on its website, 26,620 Georgia athletes are given a chance to express themselves and test their limits. However, SOGA only serves 23 percent of the eligible population, and Boswell hopes to change those statistics.

Local agencies must be accredited by the Georgia Special Olympic Organization every two years.

"We completed the accreditation process, and in the spring of 2016, Banks County Special Olympics held its first local event," Boswell said. "Spring games are held the day before spring break each year (except for 2020 and 2021 because of Stated Special Olympic restrictions)."

The Banks County program has since grown to include two local events each year and participation at the state level. Local agencies must have special Olympic certified coaches to participate at this level. Banks County currently has several coaches certified in Track and Field, Bocce, Powerlifting, and Bocce. These athletes have participated in Track and Field events at Emory University and Bocce in Valdosta and Gainesville.

In 2022, athlete Taylor Cheek participated in Powerlifting and won three gold medals at the state games. Banks County Athletes have earned ten gold medals and two silver and placed fifth at state events. 

 In addition, Banks County also has a trained bowling coach and is hoping to develop a Unified Bowling team to compete at the state level in January 2023. 

The program hosts a Special Olympic bowling event each year. This year the event was held at the Station 300 Bowling Center in Gainesville. Unified teams participated in a day of bowing while growing and developing relationships with peers. In addition, the athletes and their partners received ribbons and goody bags. 

Boswell has high hopes for the program, including more inclusion of typical peers through participation in unified teams, increased opportunities to participate in training and activities throughout the year on a local level, and increasing participation at the state level.

Beginning in 2023, Banks County Special Olympics will utilize an Amazon wishlist for items for goody bags.

Parents interested in their Special Olympic athlete participating at the state level should contact Tondra Boswell@

If any community member or business would like to help or contribute to future Special Olympics, email

Update on Country Cafe remodeling

Commerce Country Cafe will be closed for approximately two months for remodeling following a kitchen fire that damaged the restaurant.

"Thanks to everyone for supporting us during these times," the restaurant said on social media on April 11. "We are currently renovating the kitchen and expect to be serving y'all with a yummy breakfast in two months! Thanks again for all the support and we look forward to seeing y'all then."

Commerce Country Cafe is a well-known, beloved Commerce eatery on Faulkner Rd. at Banks Crossing.

9th District Congressional Republican Candidate Debate planned April 23

A 9th District Congressional Republican Candidate Debate is planned for April 23 at the North Georgia Technical College in Clarksville. Doors will open at 9 a.m. and the event will start at 10 a.m., finishing at 11:30 a.m.

A free breakfast will be provided. Seating capacity is limited to the first 200 attendees.

All five candidates, incumbent Andrew Clyde, Michael Boggus, J.Gregory Howard, John London and Benjamin Souther, have committed to attend. 

The election is May 24. The winner of the Republican race will face Democrat candidate Michael Ford in the Nov. 8 General Election.

BCHS prom planned April 16

The Banks County High School prom will be held from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, at Hidden Acres in Gillsville.