'America's Favorite Crossing Guard' Wears Many Hats...Literally

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2019-03-11

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Lyn Woolford wears many hats as police chief of Ashland, Missouri. He estimates about 55 of them.

Woolford, who oversees the safety and well-being of 3,707 citizens in the Midwest town, directs traffic every morning outside the middle and high schools at a chaotic intersection. As part of his successful effort to tame congestion and frustration as people rush to get to school and work, he wears a goofy hat to break the tension and get their attention.

"Once I was selected as police chief I wanted to find something where I could introduce myself to the community and maybe solve a problem," Woolford said.

He saw success. He recently won "America's Favorite Crossing Guard," beating out the other 168 crossing guards nominated by students and parents across the country.

"I got out in the middle of the street and took control of the intersection and it worked! I mean it was just the answer for sure to this issue," he said.

Woolford loved interacting with students and parents in the mornings, not a common role for police chiefs.

For his first Halloween in the city, he bought a hat to celebrate the holiday.

"It was just an instant hit. You know, here's this police chief standing in the middle of the intersection wearing this goofy hat," he said.

Since then, Woolford has collected about 55 hats, many of them gifts from parents.

"I've got basically one for each week of the year with a few spares," he said, adding that "a lot of them are seasonal."

Woolford's job is neither trite nor unimportant.

Five teen pedestrians are killed each week, according to SafeKids.org, which cosponsored the "America's Favorite Crossing Guard" award with FedEx.

One in six middle schoolers and one in four high schoolers are "distracted" while walking, and what Safe Kids describes as "unsafe street crossing" was observed in 80 percent of students, according to the 2016 "Alarming Dangers in School Zones" report.

Three siblings were killed last October in Fort Wayne, Indiana after a driver struck them when she allegedly sped around the school bus they were exiting. Killed were twin 6-year-old brothers, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, and their 9-year-old sister Alivia Stahl. The driver, 24-year-old Alyssa Shepherd, pleaded not guilty to three counts of reckless homicide and awaits trial.

The accident was one of at least four that week in Mississippi, Florida, and Pennsylvania, which left two additional children dead and many more injured.

Last week, just a few days after a teenager suffered head injuries from being struck by a car who ignored a school bus's extended stop sign, the state legislature of Oklahoma introduced a bill which would fine motorists for passing stopped school buses.

Since Woolford has taken over directing traffic outside the Ashland Middle and High school, he says no accidents have taken place.

"Nobody's been hit by any vehicles since I've been there so I think we've been successful," he said.

And for that, along with his commitment to making students and parents smile on weekday mornings, the community nominated him to be named America's Favorite Crossing Guard by SafeKids Worldwide - an honor that comes with $10,000 for his school district to fund future road safety projects.

Though Woolford says he imagines his role will not last forever, as Ashland will likely construct a roundabout where the four-way intersection is, he thinks that there will always be a need to help pedestrian children safely cross the street.

"I don't know if the concern is ever going to go away," he said.