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Warmer weather allows for more permanent fix for potholes

HUNTINGTON — Drivers in West Virginia are no strangers to potholes, but as asphalt plants in the region begin to open, it allows for road crews to address the familiar road nuisance.

While some crews have been working to repair sections of roads for months, they’ve been doing so with a “cold patch,” which provides only a temporary fix for potholes, as they waited for asphalt plants to reopen in the spring.

“(Cold patch) does not provide the bonding capabilities that asphalt can. Therefore, cold patch is a temporary fix, and the material can pop out fairly easily during the winter,” said Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city of Huntington.

Local asphalt plants began to open earlier this month, Chambers added, and now Public Works is able to provide a more permanent solution for road blemishes.

West Virginia Division of Highways road repair crews are also taking advantage of spring weather and getting a jump on repairing the road damage winter left behind.

“District 1 is going full at it,” said DOH Highways Administrator Arlie Matley. “There’s a right way to patch a pothole. If we show our new employees the right way to patch, they won’t know how to do it wrong.”

District 1 includes Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Mason and Putnam counties. Pothole patching has been made a top priority this year, the DOH said, but they, too, had to wait on asphalt plants to open.

A St. Albans plant was the first to open in late February. The DOH said transportation workers immediately got in line for hot asphalt to fill up their trucks and began their attack on potholes.

DOH also began work in District 2, which includes Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mingo and Logan counties, earlier this month.

Potholes form when moisture collects in small holes and cracks in the road surface. The moisture expands and contracts when temperatures go up and down. This breaks the pavement and, combined with the weight of passing cars, results in a pothole, which can create hazards for motorists.

To minimize vehicle damage from potholes, AAA East Central recommends that drivers regularly check their tire pressure for accurate levels, stay alert on the road ahead and slow down. If a pothole cannot be avoided, pay careful attention to your vehicle and inspect it if you do hit a pothole that may have caused damage, AAA says, and always carry a properly inflated spare tire in case of emergency.

Betting could contribute to rise in online harassment of student-athletes

HUNTINGTON — As West Virginia University’s March Madness run ended, senior guard Taz Sherman took to Twitter to express his disappointment and reflect on his career. Later, he tweeted again.

“Getting death threats and telling me you gonna kill me and my family is also not a part of sports fye (sic),” Sherman’s tweet read, followed by a second tweet saying the threats were from West Virginians.

Since the advent of social media, student-athletes have had to deal with nasty comments from the public. With ease, disgruntled fans can fire off a sassy tweet mocking the athlete or lamenting a bad performance.

But with the recent expansion of sports betting, including collegiate sports, are young men and women facing more harassment as the stakes are raised?

Marshall University Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said he has no evidence to prove online bullying/harassment from fans has increased, but he could see how irritation about a student-athlete’s performance could lead to that response, especially when money is involved. In his experience in athletics and with sports betting at the University of Las Vegas and now at Marshall, he’s seen that impact on some individuals.

“It’s very unfortunate a student-athlete would be criticized on social media when they don’t perform in a manner the spectators think they should,” he said.

“We have sessions with the football team in particular to try and help them deal with all the kinds of situations they could deal with on social media. It’s no secret everyone, including our student-athletes, are active on social media … The unfortunate thing about it is anyone can take a shot at you at any time.”

Upon hearing about Sherman receiving death threats, Hamrick said he was sick to his stomach.

“These young student-athletes are giving it everything they’ve got, and they have to deal with that?” he said.

The West Virginia University Athletic Department declined to comment for this story, but Sherman isn’t the only student-athlete to deal with fan harassment following March Madness play.

After a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State University’s E.J. Liddell received multiple threats and racist remarks online. According to NBC in Columbus, OSU head coach Chris Holtmann said the comments were “vile, dangerous and reflect the worst of humanity,” and OSU would take necessary actions to address the situation immediately. OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said the athletic department assisted Liddell in filing a complaint through university police.

Some research has been done into the impact of online harassment on student-athletes. One study found athletes may spend too much time focusing on the negative criticism, and put in extra work in areas they received criticism.

During a summer 2020 U.S. Senate panel presided over by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the impact of sports betting on college athletes was discussed briefly.

“Imagine the messages the student-athletes will receive based on the outcome of a game,” said University of Pittsburgh Athletics Director Heather Lyke. “If gambling is legal and money’s at stake, these pressures and threats become real and undermine the integrity of college sports.”

According to a Casino.org article about the panel, American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller told the panel banning betting on collegiate sports drives it underground instead of preventing it from happening. He said even with legalization in so many more states, underground bookings still thrive.

Graham reportedly “dwelled on the threat” of betting on college sports, saying it could ruin the game.

“You got a bunch of people who are amateur athletes,” he said, according to the article. “Even with name and likeness, most of them are not going to make a bunch of money. Just how much money could you make if you’re a trainer on the team and you tell somebody, ‘First play’s going to be a pass.’ We need to do something about it.”

West Virginia legalized sports betting, including collegiate sports, in 2018. According to the Problem Gambling Help Network of West Virginia’s 2020 report, sports betting is now the third leading form cited by people who called the state hotline, 800-GAMBLER, and sports betting calls more than doubled from 2019.

After passing the House of Representatives last year, the Ohio Legislature is once again considering passage of sports betting. The Senate majority leader said he would be discussing bills with members in early April, according to a Casino.org article.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. More than 6% of West Virginians are at-risk gamblers. Signs you may have a gambling addiction include being preoccupied by gambling, increasing amounts to get the same thrill, and feeling irritable/depressed when trying to stop. The 800-GAMBLER hotline can connect West Virginians with local support 24/7.

Judge dismisses fired teacher's lawsuit against superintendent

HUNTINGTON — A lawsuit filed against the state superintendent by a Cabell County teacher who was fired over social media posts has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Mary Durstein, a former history teacher and 17-year employee of Cabell County Schools, filed a lawsuit against the school system after she was fired when anti-Muslim and racially charged posts from her personal Twitter account surfaced in 2016.

Tweets from her now-deactivated personal Twitter (@pigpen63) condoned racist actions against the Black and Muslim communities.

Durstein argued that a law, which states a teacher shall maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times in and out of the classroom and allows the superintendent to revoke or suspend a teaching certificate for “immorality,” was overly broad.

She argued it had a “chilling effect,” language for laws that deter the right to free speech.

In dismissing the lawsuit Monday, federal Judge Robert C. Chambers wrote that “Durstein fails to establish that this law — which the State Superintendent points out has been on the books since 1908 — has had, or is likely to have, a substantial chilling effect on any speech, except perhaps her own.”

Chambers ruled the law did not target freedom of expression.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper praised the court’s decision Tuesday.

“We welcome this ruling as a reaffirmation that those who apparently hold biased views of others — while having the right to express even those bigoted views — should not be teaching our nation’s children,” he said.

A lawsuit against Cabell County Schools is still pending.

The lawsuit came after Durstein was placed on administrative leave in January 2017 when a Marshall University student shared her tweets with Cabell County Schools and area news outlets. She was fired two months later by the board.

She said the superintendent violated her First Amendment rights by ordering her to deactivate her account. It also claims the superintendent had told her not to speak with media when the story broke, despite the school facilitating its own interviews.

In one tweet dated July 18, 2015, Durstein said, “#cashinIn #WakeUpAmerica #viewcrew Who cares if we offend Muslims at least they keep their heads on tact. They’re the enemy!”

On Jan. 5, 2017, Durstein responded to a tweet that said, “Can you imagine how many riots we would have around the country if the terrorists were white?”

The tweet contained a photo of four Black people, two males and two females, with the caption, “Imagine if these were 4 white people torturing a special need black kid!”

In her response, Durstein tweeted, “This could have been Obama’s children,” seemingly a reference to former President Barack Obama’s children.

Although her account had just 20 to 30 followers, it was publicly visible. She had argued it had no impact on her professional duty. Durstein argued the school had made it a practice to suppress its educators’ views by asking them to delete social media when supervisors disapproved of their views.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the lawsuit against only the state superintendent was dismissed.