Flooding in low lying areas after a hard afternoon storm brought heavy rain Saturday in the JC Area. Flooding at Montgomery St and King St. (Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
Far from its days as a J.C. Penney department store, the open space next to Hands On! Regional Museum in downtown Johnson City was temporarily transformed into a boxing arena Saturday night complete with a ring, judges, referees and spectators for the 1st annual “Jazz” Akins Memorial Box-Off during the 17th annual Umoja Festival.
But before the boxers squared off in their respective bouts, Mother Nature delivered an upper cut of her own to Johnson City and the surrounding area Saturday in the form of a severe thunderstorm that left behind many flooded roads, but no reports of serious damage.
Inside the Penney building, the crowd intently watched different sets of boxers –– ages 8-36 –– throw jabs in the ring from their chairs, coaches near the ropes shouted instructions to their pupils.
One-by-one bouts were scored and winners were announced and given medals for participating.
Jessica Townsend, of Elizabethton, was at the box-off Saturday watching her friend’s kids compete and said she was enjoying the event.
“It’s just fun and I enjoy watching it. I used to kickbox myself and I actually trained for MMA until I had my daughter,” Townsend said. “They’re a good set of kids locally. They put their heart and soul in it and train every day and do the best that they can.”
Townsend said she likes the idea of having a boxing event at the Umoja Festival.
“I think it’s something good. A lot of people have showed up for it,” Townsend said. “I come to Umoja every year. I’ve been coming for the past five years and ... I love coming down here. It’s really enjoyable.”
Roger Hensley, box-off coordinator and owner and coach at F.N.O Boxing & Fitness, said during intermission that the event was going well.
“(I’m) very pleased,” Hensley said. “It’s gratifying to see the people that turned out, not only for the boxing, but to honor Jazz. He was a great man. This is what he wanted. He wanted boxing at Umoja.”
He said even with the heavy rain that fell on the festival grounds earlier, the box-off was off to good start with 25 fights and said he hopes it continues to grow.
“Next year I hope it gets big enough to where I can move it outside and I can let ... everybody ... enjoy the festivities and to show what these kids can do,” Hensley said.
Ralph Davis, Umoja Festival chairman, said the festival got off to a great start Saturday, with the biggest parade in festival history.
“It was just a fantastic parade,” Davis said. “Then the rains came and kind of put a damper on everything.”
Around 3 p.m., the severe thunderstorm moved through the festival grounds, blowing over some vendor tables and tents, as participants scattered for cover from the rain underneath building overhangs and inside downtown businesses and restaurants.
The heavy rain in downtown Johnson City quickly escalated to high standing water and flooding on roadways. Johnson City police and fire personnel were helping secure and block off impassable roads at flooded areas, which included parts of South Commerce, Boone and Market streets.
Other flooding in Johnson City was reported at Science Hill High School’s football stadium, as well as the flood prone area of East Brook Lane near Cobb Creek off Oakland Avenue.
Washington County/Johnson City dispatchers said flooding was widespread and that they had a few cars get stalled in the high water. No water rescues were reported.
Jonesborough dispatchers said during the height of the rain storm that there were reports of roadway flooding, which included the Walnut Grove subdivision, as well as the 1200 block of West Jackson Boulevard. They said the flooding didn’t last long and roads were back to normal Saturday evening.
Elizabethton and Carter and Johnson counties reported having rain, but nothing too severe.
Unicoi County dispatchers said a tree had blown down when the heavy rain started, but did not have any other weather-related reports. Greene County had no reports of rain.
Jessica Winton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said Saturday’s rain was the result of a front stalling over the region.
“The storms that we’ve had over the past week ... have had a lot of rain in them,” Winton said. “The way that the flow’s setup, there’s a lot of moisture in there anyway. We’ve had rainfall amounts around 2-3 inches every day. This storm that actually moved over Johnson City was around 2 and a half inches on our radar.”
She said the front is expected to stall again before moving back west and said that will produce more rain for the region.
Even with the heavy rain, the Umoja Festival was only temporarily delayed and was able to start again later Saturday evening.
“People are coming back,” Davis said around 7 p.m. “We lost two or three tents during the rain storm and a couple of vendors lost ... merchandise. We didn’t have anybody get hurt or anything, so that’s the main thing.”
He said as far as entertainment, they were only thrown off schedule a little bit and said the main attractions were still scheduled to go on.
Davis said he’s been with the Umoja Festival from the very beginning and said the festival is “a dream come true, but it is also a work in progress, because we always feel that we’ve got work to do to make it better. Don’t forget us next year, because we’ll be coming back.”