Memories of the Kingsport Police Department’s “gentle giant” floated around the National Night Out event at the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Community Center last Saturday as easily as the balloons that were released in Officer Sean Cornett’s honor.
The event was held in partnership with Riverview’s third annual Community Cook Off Cookout.
KPD policeman and Dobyns-Bennett School Resource Officer Cornett passed away unexpectedly in April, leaving friends, family and his fellow officers with a deep void.
“If Sean were still among us, he’d be right here continuing to bridge the gap between the police department and residents,” said Police Chief David Quillin. “He enjoyed reaching out, especially talking to people on their level. They loved him, and so did we. We will never forget him.”
CELEBRATING CORNETT’S LIFE
Community Cook Off Cookout co-organizer Ryan Smith and New Vision Youth Director Johnnie Mae Swagerty approached the police department with the idea of celebrating Cornett’s life with the National Night Out observance along with the Riverview neighborhood’s annual community get-together that Cornett rapidly grew to love.
“We had several meetings about partnering with the National Night Out observance,” Swagerty said. “It’s the 35th anniversary for that program, and everybody wanted a way to remember Sean during the ceremony. What better way to combine all of the observances into one huge event.”
And what a huge event it was.
The Community Cook Off Cookout featured games for the kids, music with the latest dance tunes (the kids also participated in a dance contest), prizes, giveaways and gift cards. There were also beanbag tosses and a hoops competition. The biggest addition to all the fun and games was a 100-foot homemade slip-and-slide that immediately drew kids away from the nearby Riverview Splash Pad.
“We first thought of a neighborhood get-together three years ago as being a back-to-school event,” Smith said, “but then school had already started. One of my cousins suggested a ‘cook off.’ He’s never cooked anything in three years, but it sounded like a good idea, so away we went.”
The food included barbecue ribs and chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, fried fish, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, chips and plenty of sodas and water on a hot summer’s day.
The food was free, all of it donated by area merchants.
“We couldn’t do something like this without the generosity of the local stores,” Smith noted.
“The cookout easily became one of Seanie’s favorite events,” said Mary Lee Watterson, Cornett’s aunt. “Anything that celebrated family and community was a priority with him.”
COMMUNITIES COMING TOGETHER
An estimated 1,400 people from around the neighborhood and the city attended the Saturday gathering, including Alderman and County Commissioner-elect Collette George and Kingsport Vice Mayor Mike McIntire, who presented a municipal proclamation on behalf of the National Night Out, Officer Cornett and the Cookout.
“It’s a blessing to see the number of families represented here on the ball field today,” McIntire said. “We’re seeing more of Kingsport’s communities coming together to fellowship at some of our great facilities. The kids are playing in the wide open spaces, and we’re improving where we can. Even the older kids are getting in on the act.
“Hobnobbing with teenagers is not something I get to do a lot of,” he laughed. “But events like this bring us all together, and while we’re generations apart, we can still learn from each other. Believe it or not... we’ve all got a lot in common.”
Both Smith and Swagerty echoed that sentiment, adding that all the neighborhoods in the city need this type of event, and not just once a year.
“I’d really like to see this event more,” Smith said. “It is a lot of work to pull it together, but just look around. It’s almost like people were saying, ‘Let’s keep this going. We don’t want to leave today. Let’s have more of these. We want something else to look forward to.’ I love bringing people together like this, just like our mothers and fathers, grandparents and aunts and uncles used to do. Every neighborhood benefits when its people come together in fellowship.”
The fun and fellowship at the cookout paused for two poignant moments: a candlelight vigil and the balloon launch to honor Sean Cornett and William Demar Lewis, a former Riverview resident and Dobyns-Bennett basketball player who passed away in June. Blue and white balloons, colors that resemble the Dallas Cowboys’, were released to remember both men’s favorite football team.
The launch was special to Lewis’ family in attendance and especially so for Cornett’s family and friends.
A storm cloud to the southeast approached and threatened the balloon launch, but participants immediately noticed a change as the balloons began their heavenly climb.
“We saw the dark clouds part,” remembered Watterson, “and from our angle, two lone balloons separated and floated towards a brilliant white cloud revealed behind the rain clouds. The balloon drifted right through the gap in the dark clouds towards the white one that appeared to have some kind of halo around it.
“It was a very spiritual feeling that came over us,” she said. “It was almost as if God Himself was saying to us, ‘Seanie’s here with Me. He’s OK. Do not worry about him.’ ”