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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Teacher Bill Phelps: Life's a Stage

In 2007 Bill Phelps's drama students won the Clinch Mountain District Theatre Championship when they performed scenes from Robert Fulghum's
In 2007 Bill Phelps's drama students won the Clinch Mountain District Theatre Championship when they performed scenes from Robert Fulghum's "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten." From left, they include Anna Davis, Sarah Green, Drew Proffitt, Ashley Comer, and Chris Hobbs.


Bill Phelps is a local boy who grew up in Bristol, Tenn.

During his tenure at John Battle, he has directed play productions, coached the school's Debate Team, and served on the Debate, Drama, and Forensics Advisory Committee for the Virginia High School League. Several of the plays he directed and many of the Debate Teams he coached have won district and regional competitions.

He also taught speech classes at Virginia Intermont College and East Tennessee State University. He has served as John Battle's curriculum and instructional coordinator and as a member of numerous school and school system committees. Phelps was named as John Battle's Teacher-of-the-Year (twice), the Washington County Secondary Teacher-of-the-Year, and the John Battle yearbook was once dedicated to him.

He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in English, a Master of Arts Degree in educational administration, and a Doctor of Education Degree in educational leadership from East Tennessee State University.


Phelps: The lives of many students have been changed because of their participation in the arts. I often tell students that they may not remember some things that they have learned in class, but they will always remember being in a play or participating in debate. I frequently see former students who tell me how much they enjoyed being in a play or debating. These students have become more confident, gained speaking and writing skills, become more organized, and learned to work with others. Some of these students have even chosen a career that is related to their involvement in theatre or debate in high school.

Several John Battle graduates have theatre-related careers:

Tom Childress, author of a one-act play that was presented by John Battle at a district theatre festival, is the house manager at Barter Theatre in Abingdon.

Sara Kate Hutchinson, who acted in a one-act play and was named to the All-Star Cast at the State Theatre Festival for her role in John Battle's production of Candide, assists the John Battle band and chorus and also works at the Ballet Arts Academy in Bristol.

Fred Dunagan, who performed in numerous school plays, for several years was involved in productions and the summer arts camp at Theatre Bristol. In 2006, A! Magazine featured Dunagan, his wife and three children in "Stage Parents: Unsung Heroes" (archived at

Rebecca Hood Jones is a judge for Virginia High School League competitions.

William Mullins is a writer, producer, and director and has a film and commercial production company in North Carolina. He was in the John Battle production of Candide presented at the State Theatre Festival in the 1980s.

Steven Kiser, who acted in school theatre productions, has coached debate at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

• There are many other graduates who have careers in theatre, and several former students have been involved in college and community theatre productions.


Heidi McElroy: Artistic Visionary