ELIZABETHTON — It was a time for celebration Friday night on Warrior Hill.
Forty years after winning the Tennessee Class S state basketball title, members of the 1974 Warriors were presented with their old jerseys and new championship rings to honor their accomplishment.
It was the idea of current Happy Valley coach, Chuck Babb and the gesture was well-appreciated by Randy Curde, who hit the game-winning shot in the state quarterfinals.
“The older you get, the more importance you see in it and the more you appreciate it,” Curde said. “Teams from Northeast Tennessee have always been underdogs against the rest of the state. We will always have bragging rights.”
The state title is the crown jewel in the 62-year coaching career of Charlie Bayless, who retired in 2012 as the nation’s longest tenured high school basketball coach.
Bayless, who won 965 games as a head coach, was ever the showman, dancing his way through the crowd to take his place on the court. The still spry 90-year-old remembers the road to the title and the 44-42 championship win over Knox Catholic like it was yesterday.
“We played Maury County and Hampton who were No. 1 and No. 2 in the state that year,” Bayless said. “Curde made that last shot. I mean you’ve got to have some luck. It was like Auburn and Alabama and the football game. You have to have some luck.”
On a team filled with stars like all-state forward Marty Street, Teddy McKeehan, Buff Walker and Curde, it was an unlikely hero who scored the biggest bucket in school history.
Street had the ball in his hands as the clock wound down. When the defense collapsed on him, he dished off to Jeff Sisk, whose shot under the basket with three seconds left proved to be the winning score.
“Obviously, I was unconscious,” said Sisk about his only two points of the game. “It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think about it. It was just an instinctive thing. Marty made a good pass and the fundamentals we had practiced kicked in. I was in the right place at the right time. It was kind of hard to miss it.
“My game was more defense and rebounding. I only scored five points all throughout the state tournament. Marty, Teddy and the rest did enough scoring.”
Street added, “It wasn’t a particular play. We had worked the clock down and I was told later that Coach Bayless was trying to get a time out. Nobody recognized it and they worked the ball inside. I was double-teamed and Jeff was standing right under the goal.”
It was a bittersweet moment for Sisk.
His mother died earlier in the season, and he seriously considered quitting basketball. Even to this day, his biggest regret is that his mother wasn’t there to share in the joy.
“It would have been fantastic if she could have been there,” Sisk said. “She would have really enjoyed it.”
With the surprise ending, many have called the 1974 squad a team of destiny. Happy Valley won its three state tournament games by just a combined five points.
`Walker hit a pair of free throws to lift HV to a 41-39 overtime win over Battle Ground Academy in the state semifinals.
Against Maury County in the quarterfinals, the Warriors trailed 22-14 heading into the final quarter. They rallied for a 27-26 victory with Curde providing a game-winning layup at the buzzer.
“Coach Bayless told us that we could come back and we could win,” Curde recalled. “He said we should win if we wanted it bad enough. I was in shock like the whole audience when I made it. They put me up on their shoulders and carried me off, but I was still in shock that it happened.”
Bayless recalled how the team was filled with players who brought a variety of skills to the court.
“They were good defensive players and they were good ballhandlers,” Bayless said. “We ran a 1-3-1 matchup zone and our defense carried us more than anything.”
The championship game was broadcast live by WCYB, making it the first high school game televised in this area. Returning home from Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum, the Warriors learned their fanbase had grown far beyond the borders of Carter County.
“There were people all the way up 11E from Greeneville up, but we didn’t know it was for us,” Curde said. “Where the Chick-Fil-A is across from the hospital now, there were cars on both sides of the road. State troopers met the bus and started escorting us in. We went to Elizabethton and circled back up here.”
Once the team reached Warrior Hill, the crowd was overflowing.
“The gym wouldn’t hold all the people,” Street recalled. “It was an overwhelming feeling to look out there and see all the people. It was like going through a parade all the way through town.
“It was an East Tennessee championship. There were cheerleading squads from other schools that showed up. All that combined to make it huge.”
It was Happy Valley’s second state championship and their third appearance in the title game. The John Treadway-coached Warriors won the 1950 state championship, and the 1941 team, which featured Bayless as a point guard, finished state runner-up.
Another Carter County school was actually the favorite heading into the 1974 tournanment. Hampton was 33-1 when it faced a 23-9 Happy Valley team in a regional semifinal game.
The Bulldogs had beaten the Warriors three times and their only loss came against Dobyns-Bennett. Hampton routed Rockwood, the state’s No. 1-ranked team, just weeks before the state tournament. The Jerry White-coached Bulldogs breezed through the District 1 tournament.
Meanwhile, Happy Valley barely made it to the regionals, edging University High in the district tournament.
In their fourth meeting with the Bulldogs, both Street and McKeehan where out of the game, but the Warriors still pulled off a 40-30 upset.
Street remembered the celebration among the team was even more raucous than when they won the state.
Friday night’s celebration wasn’t on the grand scale of the return from Memphis, but it served as a reunion for a special group of players, coaches and managers.
The only player absent was Mitch Campbell, who missed due to his daughter’s wedding. All the others: Scott Teague, Rick Pope, Richard Wilson, Larry Ferrell, Paul Warner, Randy Williams, Jimmy McKinney, Jeff Little, Mike Miller, Buff Walker, Tony Walker, Goulds, McKeehan, Sisk and Street were in attendance.
“It is special,” Sisk said. “I really appreciate Coach Babb and all the people who put in the effort to make this possible. We just hope everybody enjoyed it as much as we did. I’ve been so proud to be part of the Happy Valley program through the years.”