Challenger League Lifting Kids Up to Their Potential One Game at a Time

Challenger League Lifting Kids Up to Their Potential One Game at a Time

Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

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“We rise by lifting others.” That is a saying I am sure we have all heard at one point in our lives. What does that mean? Sometimes, the simplest way to lift others is just by making sure they feel loved and are included. That is exactly what one local youth sports program aims to do. 

The Challenger League program is designed to provide a safe, controlled environment for children to be able to experience the joy and camaraderie of playing a sport and is inclusive of children with various diagnoses including but not limited to ADD/ADHD, Down Syndrome, Autism and so much more.  Every child should have the opportunity to experience what it feels like to sink that first basket on the court, hear the pop of a ball flying off of a bat, or run home and hear your teammates and family cheer for you.

Amy McGuire, the Director of Special Education with Russell Independent Schools, started the Challenger League Program.  Through her passion for working with these kids, she organized a partnership with the Russell-Flatwoods Little League to start a baseball team in 2016. In 2017, she partnered with the high school basketball team at Russell, so kids had something to do in the winter months.

The Challenger League was inspired by none other than the children themselves. Taylor Stumbo, one of the coaches with the Challenger League, shared in a previous interview, “The inspiration is derived from the kids themselves to allow them the same joys other kids find in team sports. This is a place where the kids as well as the parents are just happy to have their child healthy and experience the joys of having a crowd cheer them on. It is set up in a way to hopefully be peer-driven, so the entire community reaps the benefits.”

Programs such as the Challenger League not only provide an opportunity to make lifetime memories for these kids and their families but for the volunteers and fans as well. Plus, being peer-driven with their classmates, allows for more inclusion to form relationships outside of a school setting. These kids are no different from anyone else; they just happen to have something that makes them much more special. The best thing anyone can do is to go out and support them. The memories that are built from this league will stay with these children for the rest of their lives.

With the Challenger League’s basketball season ending, it’s time to get ready for America’s favorite pastime…baseball!!! Organizers of the Challenger League are all eagerly excited to announce that registration is open for the upcoming Challenger League 2024 Baseball season!

All games will be played at 263 W Central Ave. in Ashland. The Ashland Little League fields are located right behind River Hill Walmart. All games will be played in the evening with the opportunity to play under the lights on some Saturdays.

Sign-ups for the upcoming baseball season are going on now and will end March 3. Enrollment has been made simple by using the QR code to access the official Google enrollment form. You can also text Coach Taylor Stumbo at 606.232.7132 if you have any questions or concerns.

Please help spread the word about this wonderful program. Enroll your child today and become part of the Challenger family. Stumbo shared, “Let’s embrace diversity, foster inclusivity and celebrate every child’s potential.”

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Sixth Grader with a Dream and Community Comes Together

Sixth Grader with a Dream and Community Comes Together

Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

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   One local sixth grader at Boyd County Middle School has taken charge of a significant animal food drive to support our local shelter. Carson (Joseph) Holbrook, better known as “CarJoe,” was born with an unwavering determination and a deep sense of empathy for our furry four-legged friends, and it is because of that deep sense of empathy that young Holbrook has taken on the task of organizing a massive animal food drive that will benefit AARF and the Boyd County Animal Shelter. Holbrook’s father, Jeremy Holbrook shared that, “Parenting is such a unique adventure.  I'm sure I've placed my focus on the wrong things numerous times, but Carson's superpower is without a doubt empathy; and when he cares about something enough to want to make positive change happen (instead of just talking about what change is needed) I feel my role as a parent is to encourage, support, and fuel his passion as much as possible.”

   With AARF and the Boyd County Animal Shelter joining forces sometime in mid-February, Carson’s animal food drive couldn’t have come at a better time. Holbrook’s animal food drive will take place from February 15 to March 15.  Holbrook’s father shed a little bit of light on what his son is looking for with this fundraiser, “We are asking for food or financial donations that will benefit AARF/ Boyd County Animal Shelter; Items such as Purina dog chow, puppy chow, cat chow, kitten food, etc.  (a list of needed food items can be found on the website; Donations can be dropped off at The Neighborhood in Ashland, Boyd County Animal Shelter, AARF, and even Malibu Jack's is giving people game cards for animal food donations from February 15-March 15.”

   This fundraising project will also be celebrated after its conclusion by being named the theme of the first quarter horse race (March 17, 2024) of the Sandy's Racing Days at the Red Mile in Lexington KY. Carson will have the opportunity to meet the winning jockey of the race and present them the award with the details of all of the donations that were given over the month. Malibu Jacks has also joined forces with young Holbrook’s endeavor and will be offering "free play" for people who donate a bag of animal food.

   “I am so extremely thankful as what started in the heart of an 11-year-old has grown into a community partnership.  Celest Kouns from Five-Star/Malibu Jack's is such a community hero.  When she heard about this project, she was so incredibly generous to get Malibu Jack's as a collection site and offering free-play cards to those who donate. I know I'm extremely biased about our community. But I do not regret it for one second. I love our community.  my family loves this community. and we want to make sure we do our best to help it grow in healthy ways. Thank you, Boyd County for helping my son Carson Joseph (CarJoe) learn that great things can happen when we work together!!” an excited Holbrook explained.

   With AARF and Boyd County Animal Shelter’s new partnership about to launch both Holbrook’s are extremely excited for what the future holds. “We think that this is a great time to help the new partnership by hopefully reaching our goal of more than 10,000 pounds of animal food and $10,000,” shared both dad and son. Holbrook’s father went on to add, “I know I'm extremely biased about our community. But I do not regret it for one second. I love our community...  my family loves this community... and we want to make sure we do our best to help it grow in healthy ways. Thank you, Boyd County for helping my son Carson Joseph (CarJoe) learn that great things can happen when we work together!!”

   So, if you are a lover of animals and community alike this is the perfect opportunity for you to get involved and really make a difference. No donation is too big or too small and all will be very much appreciated and just in case you needed a little more convincing check out what this kindhearted 6th grader had to say … “This fundraiser is super important to me because it makes sure that animals get enough food as they stay at the new animal shelter or at AARF before they get adopted by a family who will love them and care for them.  I'm really thankful that so many people care about our local animals and want to make sure they have a safe future.  So, if anyone is considering supporting by donating food or money, I want to say thank you!”  So, there you have it folks… change driven by empathy for others is what you get when a sixth grader and a community come together!

Giving Thyroid Cancer A Throat Punch

Giving Thyroid Cancer A Throat Punch

Lisa Patrick

Ashland Beacon

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        When Michelle Salyers’ lymph nodes started swelling last fall, she went to a local urgent care and was diagnosed with a virus. Followed up with an ENT specialist—still diagnosed with a virus. Then, her throat started hurting, and she made a visit to the emergency room. She was once again told that it was a virus. Followed up with an allergist—diagnosis-virus. Being a survivor of kidney cancer, Salyers just knew that something was wrong. She finally managed to talk the ENT specialist into ordering an ultrasound just to “make you feel better.” It turns out that she was right. It was not a virus.

        When Salyers got a notification from her MyChart that her results were in, she was driving home and pulled over to read them. She has no idea how long she sat on the side of the road crying after reading that, for the second time of her life, she was going to have to battle cancer. She didn’t bother calling her ENT specialist, but immediately called her primary care provider who “took care of everything.” She immediately ordered a biopsy and a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread anywhere, but it hadn’t. The PET scan showed that it was isolated to the thyroid.

        On Dec. 13, Salyers had a complete thyroidectomy. While removing the thyroid, her surgeon found that the cancer had completely wrapped around some of the lymph nodes, nerves, and a muscle in her neck as well as wrapping itself around her vocal cord, which explained why she was “losing my voice at random times” in the couple of months before her surgery. The surgeon scraped off as much as he could and also had to “cut out part of the muscle in my neck” to remove the cancer.

        Salyers said that she kept being asked if they had “got it all,” but it wasn’t “that simple.” During the days after the surgery, she was on an “emotional roller coaster” while she waited for the pathology results to come back so she would know what she was facing. Three days following her surgery, she had spilled coffee in her husband’s truck and had a “complete meltdown.” She would have times that she was ok and times when she would just sit and cry.

        She now knows that she does have to have one iodine treatment. It’s not the same as having chemotherapy, so she won’t lose her hair but “it isn’t a party” either. She was scheduled to have the iodine treatment done on Jan. 17. She spent the two weeks before on a low iodine diet. This caused more emotional upheaval as she spent “half an hour crying in the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store” before finding a recipe online for a dressing that she could make herself. She could mostly eat fresh fruits and vegetables but could not use lettuce or any other vegetable sold in a bag because they use iodine products as preservatives. She could only buy chicken from White’s Meat Market because they do not package it with salt. She went to a restaurant with her husband and was only able to eat a sweet potato. During this time, she “discovered that a person can live without meat even when they don’t want to” although she had terrible “cravings for hamburgers, French fries, and Giovanni’s pizza.”

        The objective of the low iodine diet is to starve the body of iodine so that when the iodine treatment is given, “it goes in and starts killing” any thyroid cells that are left-both normal cells and cancer cells. It requires two doses of thyrogen to be given in the two days before the iodine treatment to boost the thyroid hormone in the body. She took those on Jan. 15 and 16. However, when it was time for her iodine treatment on Jan. 17, she was unable to get it due to a snowstorm in Memphis delaying delivery. It wasn’t able to be delivered on Jan. 18 either. This meant that she would have to start all over. After the initial breakdown, she took advantage of being able to eat real food again by buying a dozen donuts from Jolly Pirate and ordering Giovanni’s pizza for dinner.

        The iodine treatment was rescheduled for Feb. 14, Salyers’ wedding anniversary. Since she had to begin the diet again on Jan. 29th, Salyers said that she ate “pizza and cheesecake all weekend” before having to go back to living on vegetables.

        For a week following the treatment, Salyers will be considered “radioactive.” She will have to stay in a separate room from her husband and clean the bathroom after every use. She will also not be able to leave her home because she cannot be around animals, children, or women who are pregnant and “can’t take the chance.” She stated that the hardest part is going to be separating herself from her dog because “she’s Mama's baby.”

        Though the battle has been hard, she said that she still has plenty to be thankful for. She thanks God for her primary care provider because “she no doubt helped save my life.” Her husband, family, and friends went to appointments with her. Other friends sent her flowers and gifts. Her children, who do not live locally, worried and prayed for her and some of her coworkers “donated PTO so that I wouldn’t have to go without a paycheck.”

        The biggest thing that Salyers would like to impress upon everyone is to be your own health advocate. “You know your own body” and “if something doesn’t feel right, be adamant until you feel it’s been checked enough that you are satisfied.”

Ashland Area YMCA: “Big Things Are Happening Here”

Ashland Area YMCA: “Big Things Are Happening Here”

By: Sasha Bush

The Greater Ashland Beacon


The Ashland Area YMCA is one of the cornerstones of this community and as such they are always providing both members and non-members with a plethora of things to do. From gospel youth rallies to block parties, the Ashland Area YMCA knows how to create an event and have fun while doing it. On Feb. 6, the Ashland Area YMCA will be holding not one… but TWO very special events.

The first of these events will be a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house for the newly renovated women’s health center. This will take place at 9 a.m. Over the course of the last few months, the staff of the Ashland Area YMCA have been hard at work making some major upgrades to their Women’s Health Center (WHC). Recent renovation on the WHC was completed and the outcome is nothing short of amazing. The newly renovated WHC truly has it all. The WHC features all new state-of the- art equipment. What is really innovative about this new equipment is the ease of use it offers to its members. Gone are the days of keeping track of pesky metal pins when loading the weight machines. Now it’s as easy as the flick of a switch.

Right after the ribbon cutting ceremony, join the staff in the WHC for the open house event that will be taking place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Personal trainers will be onsite giving demonstrations on how to use the new equipment. You can also get a free blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol screening while you are there. Results of these test will be reviewed by Cardiologist Michele Friday, M.D., who also happens to be the Director of UK King’s Daughters Women’s Heart Program.

“We have this area for women only ages 18 and up. That way women can come in here and do their thing with no men or kids. A lot of women have self-confidence issues when it comes to working out and prefer to workout in an area. You can get your cardio, your strength training, and relax in the steam room, whirlpool, or sauna after your workout. Our second phase of the innovation for the WHC is to bring in a massage room, tanning room, and so much more. We really want to utilize every inch of this area to make this area a true delight for our members. Our goal here at the Ashland Area YMCA is to make this a one-stop-shop for everyone. We have something to offer everyone regardless of age. We just want anyone who walks through those doors to feel like this is a place they can bring their families and know that they will always have something to do. We always have something in the works, so you never know what you will find here at the Ashland Area YMCA,” explained Missy Griffith, Membership and Marketing Director.

If you are looking for something more to do Feb. 6, you can always head back out to the Ashland Area YMCA from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for their Family Night as they team up with UK King’s Daughters for a night full of excitement and fun. Free fitness class demos will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will run every 30 minutes during this event. You can enjoy some healthy snacks from Bubbles and Sweets. Personal trainers will be back in the WHC offering more hands-on demonstrations of the new equipment, and the kids will love King’s Daughters Heart Challenge Course. Don’t miss out on this fun-filled day at the Ashland Area YMCA. You do not have to be a member to attend any events that day.


Loretta Lynn Tribute Show Honors the Queen of Country Music

Loretta Lynn Tribute Show Honors the Queen of Country Music

Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

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In a celebration of country music royalty, Ashland’s iconic Paramount Arts Center is set to host a spectacular tribute show dedicated to the legendary queen of country music, Loretta Lynn on January 27. This musical extravaganza promises to be an evening of nostalgia and heartfelt renditions as Kentucky native, Emily Portman and Loretta Lynn’s original members of her band “The Coalminers,” come together to pay homage to the queen of country.

The tribute show, aptly named 'Always Loretta,' will showcase Portman’s uncanny Loretta-like voice singing a full lineup of some of Loretta’s biggest hits. From chart-topping classics to soul-stirring ballads, the audience can expect an immersive experience that captures the essence of Loretta Lynn’s illustrious career. With so many people out in the world doing tribute shows for Loretta Lynn, this is the only one you will find that has the blessing of the family of Loretta Lynn.

From a very young age, Portman was often told that she sounded a lot like country music legend, Loretta Lynn. Over the years, Portman has worked tirelessly to emulate Loretta Lynn’s vocal style as well as her on-stage mannerisms. In 2004, Portman entered a “Sing Like…” contest that was held at the Kentucky Opry and won $1000 for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn. Two short years later, Portman was discovered by Michael Twitty (eldest son of the great Conway Twitty) who reached out to Portman to offer her the casting role of portraying Loretta Lynn in the nationally touring musical, “Its Only Make Believe.”

This was a truly defining point in Portman’s career that would lead her to mingle with some of the greatest names in country music such as the late George Jones, Archie Campbell, Vern Gosdin, Toby Keith, Chris Cagle, and even Loretta Lynn herself. After meeting Loretta Lynn, the two formed a very close friendship.

After the unfortunate passing of Loretta Lynn back in 2022, Portman connected with the band members of Loretta Lynn’s backup band, “The Coalminers.”  Dave Thornhill- lead guitarist and bandleader, Robert “Bob” Hempker- steel guitarist, Dennis Digby- bass guitarist, Monty Parkey- piano/keyboard player, Eric Kaberle- drummer and vocalist Jean Anne decided to join talents with Portman and form the Always Loretta Tribute show.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview David Thornhill and Emily Portman for this article. Thornhill shared that he had first seen Loretta in a movie in 1965 and recalled looking over at his wife and saying, “If I ever get to play with any country music star, that’s the one I want to play for.” A few short years later Thornhill was doing just that. He shared that had been part of Loretta Lynn’s band since 1969. “I was playing in a band near Columbus, Ohio at a country music park called the Frontier Ranch. The band I was in would play backup to any singer who would take the stage at the Frontier Ranch. In 1967, Loretta came in without a band and we played her music for her on that show.  After the show, she said that she was really impressed and said that if she could ever afford a band that we were the band that she liked to have.” Two years later, Loretta Lynn hired that band. Little did they know that they would spend the next 30 years playing together.

One of Thornhill's most prominent memories of his days on tour with Loretta Lynn took place in Inez, Kentucky. “There was this toll bridge that cost 10 cents to cross, and we needed to cross over with our tour bus. Well at the start of the bridge, there was a sign that said ten-ton limit. Well… Loretta said, ‘I’m not crossing that bridge in this bus!’ and she asked me to get out and walk across the bridge with her. By the time we had reached the midway point of the bridge, here came a cement truck that had to weigh about 40 tons. It passed us up and Loretta looked at me and said, ‘Oh please bridge don’t fall!’ Of course, we made it across just fine and the bus followed.”

Portman recalled, “My first impression of Loretta was that she was very down to earth. She was someone that I could really relate to and really talk to. I first met her when I was 22, and she never gave me the impression that I had to prove myself to her. You know a lot of people go and meet a celebrity and get nervous or anxious because you worry about what you might say or do. I never felt that when I was around Loretta. She just had a way of making you feel comfortable enough to just be yourself whenever you were around her.  I always felt so at ease. She didn’t act like she was any better than me or anyone else.”

For Portman, having the opportunity to portray someone like Loretta Lynn is simply a dream come true, and being able to work with The Coalminers makes that dream an even bigger reality. “I love what I do. Being able to get on stage and sort of walk in the shoes of Loretta is one of the best things to happen to me in my life. I’ve always felt like it was a natural gift that God has given me. I love to sing. I never dreamed that my career would take me this far. Being able to be a part of this show is just really special to me,” stated Portman.

With the Paramount Arts Center’s touch of old-world elegant charm, Portman’s uncanny vocal likeness to Loretta Lynn, and the musical talents of the Coalminers this show is sure to be an evening filled with toe-tapping tunes, nostalgia, and heartfelt lyrics that any fan of the late Loretta Lynn is sure to enjoy.  Fans of Loretta Lynn will have the opportunity to relive the magic of her music and share the experience with fellow enthusiasts as The Always Loretta Tribute show aims to create a moment of connection, allowing both long-time enthusiasts and new listeners to appreciate the enduring legacy of this iconic artist. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Paramount Arts Center’s box office or by visiting their website at