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Dadgum! What a week for fathers

June 14th, 2014 11:04 pm by Trey Williams

Dadgum! What a week for fathers

Father’s Day will wind down a week stalked by Father Time.

An enjoyable dinner at Firehouse on Tuesday was spent with three former San Antonio Spurs and three former Tennessee Volunteers. Soft-spoken Dale Ellis was entertained by hard-spoken Harley “Skeeter” Swift, as were former Vols Reggie Johnson and Damon Johnson.

Ellis was a two-time SEC Player of the Year (1982-83) at Tennessee. Swift was the 1968 OVC Player of the Year at East Tennessee State.

As for Johnson and Johnson, Reggie led the Tennessee in scoring three straight seasons after averaging double figures as a freshman on a Ray Mears team that included Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld and Mike Jackson. Damon, who was on Science Hill’s state championship team in 1990, started at UT for Kevin O’Neill. 

Reggie, Ellis and Swift each played for San Antonio. Reggie and Swift both mentioned Mears several times, and I kept picturing how proud Mears’s sons Matt and Steve were when they recently presented new UT coach Donnie Tyndall a replica of their late father’s orange blazers.

The Firehouse dinner was hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Greeneville and Greene County’s Scott Bullington, who has effectively utilized all four players — and many others — for fundraising through the years. The Boys & Girls Clubs, as Damon Johnson pointed out during a luncheon at Greeneville’s Trinity United Methodist Church on Wednesday, have assisted countless youths who needed a father figure.

I remembered a worried Damon going over the railing and on to the court at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro when his daughter, Shy Copney, tore an ACL early in the fourth quarter of Science Hill’s state semifinal win against Bashaara Graves-led Clarksville in 2012. 

Ellis, whose son Chris played at Wake Forest, spoke at Wednesday’s Trinity luncheon about having his jersey retired at UT and improving his game on his own at places like the Boys Club and rec centers. The first NBA player to make 1,000 3-pointers, Ellis talked about how he spent high school and college playing in the frontcourt, even noting how he guarded 7-foot-2 center Ralph Sampson in the NCAA Tournament.

Ellis and Reggie Johnson (class of ’80) were teammates with Science Hill graduate Gary Carter at UT. Carter’s sister, Chauntini, was at the luncheon, and it was fitting when Ellis mentioned wanting to be as good as Gary Carter early on in his career.

Reggie also respected Carter’s game — and Reggie played with everyone from Ernie and Bernie to Dr. J and Moses Malone. Part of his seasoning came from “getting 50 dropped on you” by Bernard King in practice.

It was gratifying to have my father Carl and Bart Lyon, a father of three and the Junior Toppers youth football patriarch, attend the Wednesday luncheon. And it was surreal to drive Reggie Johnson from the church to the rec center for an afternoon basketball camp with dad and Lyon in the backseat.

It was as if I could have twisted the radio dial and heard John Ward say, “Bottom!” Dad enjoyed the likes of Ward and TV analysts such Bones McKinney, Joe Dean and Al McGuire.

The week included a call to wish Science Hill 1947 state championship pitcher Billy Joe Bowman a happy birthday on Thursday, and learning that he was spending it with his son, Joel Wayne (named  after John Wayne). Billy Joe, a former Houston Astros coach, is steadily recovering from heart surgery, and Joel is in from Houston to assist. 

“I got to be with him for his 84th birthday and Father’s Day,” Joel said. 

A son like Joel is the gift that keeps on giving, according to Billy Joe. They grilled ribs for his birthday Thursday, and Joel said today’s grill will be covered with filet mignon and corn on the cob.

Billy Joe said he’ll be up and around in another week or so, and is looking forward to seeing many more Johnson City Cardinals games. He was 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA for Johnson City in 1953.

Thursday offered plenty of opportunity for reflection. The Press career of my boss, Kelly Hodge, concluded that day. 

He’d been at the Press 32 years. His late father, Tom, worked at the Press nearly 52 years, and I’m frequently reminded of it by readers and trips through the microfilm.

Kelly is hardly a sentimental fool like me, but he always seemed to enjoy when I’d e-mail him a microfilm clip of yesteryear. The last one I sent was spotted while researching Buck Van Huss’ 1960 Hampton state championship basketball team in March. One night in the winter of 1960, Tom rolled the high series (499) to lead the Press-Chronicle bowling team to a victory against the Bristol Herald Courier at Larry’s Lanes in Bristol. 

Most charming, the scores were on a page beside East Tennessee State’s basketball statistics, and thanks to the legendary Tom Chilton’s 75.2 percent free throw shooting, Tom Hodge and a Buccaneers basketball player he enjoyed watching play were separated by a couple of lines of agate.

Kelly appreciated the e-mail in a way any son worth his salt would — and I appreciate the opportunity Kelly gave me during the spring of 2000.

During a lunch at Swift’s on Friday, I was reminded how excited former Science Hill basketball coach Elvin Little’s daughter Terrijan is that he was recently interviewed for a documentary ESPN is doing on Steve Spurrier. She’s proud of her father, who made the Hilltoppers a state tournament fixutre during his career (1960-79) after winning a state title at Lenoir City.

Spurrier’s brother Graham was eating at Swift’s on Friday, and mentioned some of those that were interviewed for the documentary including himself, former Spurrier teammates Ken Lyon, Cotty Jones and Tom Hager, and Science Hill football coach Stacy Carter. Among the places ESPN shot was Beeson Hall (Johnson City Athletic Club), a gym next to Calvary Presbyterian Church, where the Spurriers’ father John Graham preached.

Also at Swift’s on Friday was Johnny Russaw, a beloved father and father figure. Russaw, a Langston Golden Tigers legend, the first African-American football player on scholarship at ETSU and as classy a guy as you’ll ever meet, mentioned how he likes to be a positive influence to as many as possible, particularly those that weren’t fortunate enough to have a father in their lives.

I thought of fathers and sons again a few hours after leaving Russaw. Tennessee Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was signing autographs at Logan’s Roadhouse and his father, Kim, was among those smiling proudly.

The friendly Kim mentioned going to ETSU with Wayne Franklin, the father of NFL defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin. Incidentally, Chauntini Carter is Aubrayo’s mother.

I once joked with Wayne that Christmas must be good with an NFL son, and he smiled and said the best gift any dad can get from a child is time and love.

Kim Sensabaugh has lived the dream — and the nightmare. Coty’s brother Jamaar died with leukemia when he was 16. Coty was 11 at the time, and said he wouldn’t be where he is now if not for Jamaar.

It felt like Jamaar was there Friday among the Sensabaugh’s affectionate joy. Love for fathers never dies.

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