Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
November 05, 2021

Happy Friday and cheers to finally making it to the weekend.

  • Today's weather: Sunny and a high of 58. It'll be an all-around pleasant weekend with a high of 63 on Sunday.

Today's newsletter is 886 words — a 3.3-minute read.

1 big thing: Hometown hero leads East Nashville High

East Nashville High coach Jamaal Stewart addressing his team.
East Nashville High coach Jamaal Stewart, in the black jacket, addresses his team. Photo courtesy of Jamaal Stewart

Jamaal Stewart is East Nashville High's head football coach, but his actual job stretches far beyond the gridiron.

  • "We're more than just football coaches," Stewart, an East Nashville native and rising star in Tennessee prep football, tells Axios. "We're Uber drivers, we're parents. We cook for them. It's so many hats we have to wear."
  • "I have two daughters myself, but I spend more time with (my players) a lot of the time."

Why it matters: Stewart's approach has paid off for the Eagles, who last Friday won the first region title in school history and are steamrolling into the playoffs.

Context: Located in the epicenter of East Nashville's affluent Five Points area, East Nashville High is a working-class school. According to the most recent state data, 43% of the students are economically disadvantaged.

  • Stewart hopes the on-field success will lead to community support for the cash-strapped program.
  • Several local businesses have donated money, while Noble's Kitchen and Beer Hall partnered with nonprofit Foundation for Athletics in Nashville, Inc. to feed the football team, cheerleading squad and band members prior to tonight's game.

Details: One big way neighbors can help the team is simply buying a ticket to home playoff games, which kick off tonight at 7pm against White House Heritage at J.J. Keyes Stadium.

  • "We really need a lot more for us to be successful," Stewart tells Axios. "The high school football budget solely comes from gate tickets and donations. And last year with COVID, we didn't make any money because we couldn't have any home games."
  • Stewart has an annual fundraising goal of $40,000. Hosting up to four playoff games could be a golden opportunity for the program to raise money.

What he's saying: Stewart, 32, says his team is full of "good kids," but many of them come from single-parent homes and have issues to deal with outside of football.

  • "Some of my kids have to work to make ends meet," Stewart says. "All good kids though. Literally, I'm not just saying that. Really good kids, but some of them have a tough upbringing."

The bottom line: "This is really the job I've always wanted, and it's good to be back in East Nashville," says the 2007 Stratford grad. "With all the gentrification going on, the ability to be on my side of town and make a difference is something I always wanted to do."

2. TBI wants 40 new scientists

The TBI seal
Image courtesy of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation wants Gov. Bill Lee to fund positions for 40 new forensic scientists who test crime scene evidence and maintain DNA records.

  • The agency is looking to chip away at long turnaround times that slow down cases.

Why it matters: TBI has grappled for years with a backlog in evidence processing. During a Thursday budget hearing, director David Rausch told Lee it has been a looming goal since he took the job in 2018.

What he's saying: "We continually hear … from the judges, from the prosecutors, from defense attorneys that they’re waiting on our evidence," Rausch said. "The only way to address it, frankly, is personnel."

By the numbers: The TBI budget request includes more than $10 million for 40 new scientists and 10 administrative positions in forensics.

  • Fourteen of the scientists would handle forensic biology evidence, including processing DNA in violent crimes and sexual assault cases.
  • The rest would focus on drug evidence, toxicology reports, and DNA collection, among other things.

The big picture: Rausch said he hopes the new positions will bring the maximum turnaround time for evidence testing to 12 weeks.

Meanwhile: TBI also asked for nearly $3 million to expand its cybercrime division to accommodate a "dramatically increasing prevalence" in cases.

What's next: Lee will evaluate proposals from all state departments before announcing his budget plan next year.

3. Ballet makes a comeback

Ballet performers dressed in Nutcracker costumes gathered around a christmas tree on stage.
The Nashville Ballet performs. Photo courtesy of Nashville Ballet/Karyn Kipley Photography

The Nashville Ballet is returning to live, indoor performances for the first time in 19 months.

  • The company next month will launch "Nashville's Nutcracker" at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

What they're saying: "As a dancer, there is no greater feeling than performing for a live audience," artistic director Paul Vasterling said in a statement. "It's something our artists have missed dearly."

The details: Performances run Dec. 15-24, with tickets on sale now.

The Nashville Symphony will accompany live with music from original composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a chicken wearing sunglasses with fire reflected in the lenses.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tennessee is scheduled to resume executions next year after a lengthy delay caused by the pandemic. (Nashville Scene)

An East Tennessee student is suing to overturn the state's transgender sports law. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Keith Urban and Jennifer Hudson joined the roster of performers set for the CMA Awards next week. (The Tennessean)

Fisk University is teaming up with an HCA-owned nursing college to create a new path for students to get a nursing degree. (Nashville Business Journal)

5. Titans move up Axios Sports Power Rankings

Table: Axios Visuals
Table: Axios Visuals

The Titans continue their climb up the Axios Sports NFL Power Rankings, elevating one spot to No. 8 after a big divisional overtime win over the Colts.

  • If the season ended today, the Titans would have the AFC's top seed. But Tennessee trails the No. 3 Bills (who the Titans beat in mid-October) and the No. 7 Ravens in the rankings.

Our sports desk is also concerned about Derrick Henry's injury, it seems. Playing their first game without the superstar running back on Sunday, the Titans have another challenge in the form of the second-ranked Rams.

Our picks:

🕹 Nate is listening to this band and playing the Animal Crossing update with the family.

📺 Adam is so glad he finally got around to "Only Murders in the Building."