But for Joe Ebarb, the light has shone for two decades.
When his daughter, Whitney, chose Shooting Stars as a catchy name for her traveling basketball team, neither she nor her dad could have imagined it would become the vehicle to help him touch the lives of tens of thousands of kids.
“I don’t know the exact numbers, but in the past 20 years we’ve had around 25,000 participants play in leagues or tournaments,” said Ebarb, who lives in Erwin. “We’re starting to see the children of those who played in the 1990s come to play. It’s really cool to see it last that many years.”
Wildcat at heart
The 60-year-old Ebarb is a native of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was born with blue blood, not in terms of nobility, but because of his love for the University of Kentucky.
“My dad is from Louisiana,” said Ebarb. “One of his buddies from Tennessee introduced him to my mom on a blind date. When he retired from the military, mom wanted to move near her family so we moved to Kentucky. What I tell people is someone from Louisiana is called “cajun” and someone from Tennessee is called “hillbilly.” So when a cajun and a hillbilly get together, they have a wildcat for a son.”
Catching the coaching bug
Ebarb’s first coaching experience came in 1991 when his daughter was 6 years old. It was with the Boone Hoops program.
“Being from Kentucky, I had loved basketball my whole life,” said Ebarb, who moved to Tennessee in 1968 and later spent many years working for Eastman in Kingsport. “In 1996, when we first started the Shooting Stars, I could tell there was a need in the community for it. This area didn’t have travel ball. You had to go to Knoxville. That’s why we started a local team.”
The first Shooting Stars practice drew only three girls. By the end of the season, the 10-and-under team had 13 players. The next year it grew to 22.
“We just made additional teams,” said Ebarb. “I didn’t believe in cutting a child at that age.”
A change in direction
For the first few years, Ebarb’s teams traveled quite a bit.
“There weren’t any local tournaments,” said Ebarb. “So we decided to play at home and host our own tournaments.”
Those tournaments have been a fixture in Johnson City ever since.
In 1999 Ebarb helped start a summer league program, and it is still going strong. In 2001 he helped form a fall three-on-three league. Sixteen years later it is still running.
Ebarb also coached basketball in the Johnson City Schools system. He was a non-faculty girls coach for Indian Trail Middle School from 2004 to 2012.
“I was fortunate enough to coach Tianna Tarter and Gabby Lyon,” said Ebarb. “We had a good run. We kind of figured out the Shooting Stars served as a feeder program to the school program.”
Ebarb stepped away from Eastman in 2009. He became director of the Unicoi County YMCA in 2012, a position he held until January of this year.
Taking care of his mother was the main factor in leaving the YMCA.
“The reason I did that was to spend more time with her,” said Ebarb. “She’s elderly and not in good health. I’m an only child, and she needed me.”
Involvement with Kiwanis and Rotary clubs in Erwin are just part of Ebarb’s varied community resume. He was president of both clubs, and also served on the board for the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce.
“The Lord has blessed me, and I feel this is my niche in society for a chance to give back,” he said.
Ebarb is also treasurer of the ministerial association in Erwin. He said the group has a transient fund for individuals stranded in Unicoi County, and also gives a scholarship each year to a senior at Unicoi County High School. The association is a partnership of all the churches in Erwin.
Ebarb was also on the Court Appointed Special Advocates board for four years.
Through it all, he has seen people struggle and it hasn’t gone without impact on him.
“The Lord has blessed me, and if I’m living under a bridge and I’m homeless, I hope I still feel blessed because of what Jesus did on the cross,” said Ebarb. “That can get me through any difficult situation.”
Kids and basketball
“There’s just something about children playing sports or anything,” said Ebarb. “They have an unlimited future, and they can do anything they want to do. Just being able to be a small part of that so they can explore the possibilities is wonderful.”
Ebarb has been married to Sandra for 35 years. They have two children, Whitney and Aaron.