’Toppers streak through Big Eight record books
Jan 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Science Hill won its 48th straight Big Eight Conference regular-season game on Friday, which is believed to be the fifth straight game it set a record.
According to Bill and Henry Jenkins’ Basketball Yearbook, the previous record of 43 was set by Guy B. Crawford’s Dobyns-Bennett Indians. It began on Jan. 20, 1956 and didn’t end until Jan. 26, 1960, when D-B lost 55-51 at Science Hill against coach Bill Wilkins’ final Hilltoppers team.
Coincidentally, this was discovered Thursday night, some five hours after a 31â„2 hour visit at Wilkins’ Elizabethton home. Some of his former players, Gary Scheuerman, Graham Spurrier, Rockne Stump and Charlie Morris were there, as was Ernie Ferrell Bowman, who played for Wilkins’ predecessor, Sidney Smallwood. Bowman played for the San Francisco Giants in their seven-game World Series loss to the New York Yankees in 1962, and almost always mentions how Wilkins helped get him discovered by pro scouts.
Scheuerman and Spurrier were the starting senior guards on the 1960 team. Scheuerman and 6-foot-6 Steve Wilson scored 22 points apiece in the Hilltoppers’ streak-snapping triumph.
The spoils of victory included Scheuerman and Spurrier getting to sleep through Frank Tannewitz’s next typing class. Scheuerman said Tannewitz had told them beforehand they could do whatever they wanted if they beat Dobyns-Bennett.
The win put the teams in a first-place tie, but Spurrier suffered a season-ending ankle injury late in the season. Science Hill subsequently lost a regular-season game at Tennessee High and was upset by Erwin in its postseason opener after sweeping the Blue Devils during the season.
It was the final game for the self-deprecating Wilkins, who came to the area from Illinois to begin his professional baseball career with the Elizabethton Cubs in 1947. He is always quick to downplay his coaching skills, especially in the company of other Science Hill coaches like George Pitts and Elvin Little, and old buddies such as Charlie Bayless and the late Buck Van Huss.
But Wilkins’ Hilltoppers also beat Van Huss’ Hampton team in 1960, and Hampton, which featured Willie Malone, went on to win the state that season. And that was before classification.
Science Hill beat Hampton in the semifinals of the Dobyns-Bennett Christmas tournament that season.
“Coach Wilkins had us lob it up to big Wilson to help beat Buck’s press,” Scheuerman said. “Wilson was a good player – tall and strong, and he could shoot. … Bill was a better coach than he gives himself credit for. We weren’t the easiest bunch to coach.”
Science Hill’s starters included Wilson at center and Larry Miller and Bob France at forward. Personal agendas apparently were aplenty.
“It was a hard team to coach, but Coach Wilkins did the best job he could,” Spurrier said. “He knew the game and we practiced hard. We were in good shape, that’s for sure.”
The warm, engaging Wilkins got out of coaching and spent 20-plus years broadcasting as the voice of the Elizabethton Cyclones.
He still fondly recalls coaching the Hilltoppers. Among the memories that surfaced on Thursday: a near brawl after some “awful” calls in a game at Elizabethton against John Treadway’s Cyclones; discovering embalmed cats hanging in their locker room at Hampton; Scheuerman eating all the fat his teammates had left after eating their steaks during a pre-game meal before a game in Asheville.
The 1959-60 Dobyns-Bennett lineup had center Toby Hale, forwards Clark Bryan and Frank Bridwell, Bill Sproles and fellow guard Mike Ainslie, a sophomore who Scheuerman recalled being the best player.
The best player D-B had during that 43-game wins streak was arguably Charlie Leonard. He scored what was then a school-record 50 points in a 78-62 win against Rogersville on Dec. 7, 1957.
Dobyns-Bennett prevented Science Hill from tying its mark in 1992. George Pitts’ Hilltoppers, led by players such as Shane Williams, Orville Whittington and Damon Johnson, had won 42 straight league games (beginning in 1989) before losing in Kingsport in 1992.
D-B’s success in the series was as about as short-lived as Shipley’s career in Kingsport. Pitts’ teams began a streak against the Indians that his successor, Mike Poe, helped extend to an astounding 25 games.
Science Hill has currently beaten D-B 12 straight times.
Unicoi County won 49 straight in the Watauga Conference before losing to Happy Valley 63-60 in overtime on Jan. 23, 2009. It was the last notable victory in the career of the legendary Bayless.
Bobby Snyder coached Boones Creek to 66 consecutive Washington County League victories (1966-71). Snyder’s notable Bars during that streak included sharpshooter Charles “Toonie” Cash, who went on to score 2,989 points at Milligan College.