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Injury led to Cash developing legendary shot

Jeff Birchfield • May 16, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Before becoming one of the most well-known evangelists in the Tri-Cities, Charles “Toonie” Cash earned a reputation for making the biggest shots in the biggest moments during his basketball career at Boones Creek High School and Milligan College.

In February 1967 during his senior year of high school, the 5-foot-10 guard hit a shot near the top of the key to give the Bars a win in a seven-overtime game at Happy Valley. A year earlier, he hit an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer in a 59-57 overtime victory over rival Lamar, which offset a 39-point performance from all-state player Kelly Aldridge.

Cash, 72, tells how his legendary shooting skills, which led him to becoming Milligan College’s all-time leading scorer, came as the result of an injury.

“Between my eighth-grade and ninth-grade year, we were going to Tullahoma with the Babe Ruth all-star baseball team,” he said. “I was waiting on somebody to pick me up and I was shooting ball in the old Rec building. I didn’t have shoes on, just socks, I tried to put on the brakes and my feet flew out from under me.

“My arm went over my head and it broke my left arm bad. I had to get a specialist to reset it, but I never got the strength back in it. I’d squeeze rubber balls, lift weights and all that. I had that cast on about nine weeks. It went above my elbow and it’s how I developed my shot.”

With his left arm broken, Cash learned to shoot with his right arm extended way above his head. He used his fingertips and wrist to control the ball and make it go where he wanted.

His passion for basketball was just building at that point. He played the sport in the fifth grade, but sat out the next couple of years as he was more interested in baseball. It wasn’t until high school coach Bobby Snyder talked to Cash that he decided to go out for the eighth-grade team.

Cash explained he wasn’t a star at first.

“People have said about me, ‘Toonie is just one of those natural-born shooters.’ ” he said. “I’m like ‘Natural-born nothing.’ I didn’t even start on my eighth-grade team. My freshman year, I didn’t start on the B-team. About the third or fourth game, I started and fell In love with the game.

“From then on, every Saturday morning, I would get up and jog over to Jerry Tucker’s home. His place had a lopsided court and I would go down there — shoot ball, shoot ball and shoot ball. I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Once a court was carved out at his own home, Cash spent as many as 10-12 hours a day honing his skills. He recalled there were many times after midnight that he would still be outside shooting ball.

“It wasn’t one of those natural-born things,” he said. “Sometimes you may have more ability than the next guy, but if you don’t work and develop it, it doesn’t happen. I fell in love with that game so much that I scored 25 points in a varsity game against Sulphur Springs my freshman year. I didn’t even start on the B-team at the first of the year, so there’s no way to explain that I’m on the varsity scoring 25 points except hard work, dedication and loving the game.”

As Cash improved, so did his coach’s confidence in his abilities. Down by one point to Fall Branch, Snyder drew up a play for the freshman to take the final shot.

“He calls timeout and he looks at these seniors, juniors and says, ‘We’re one point behind and we’re going to have Toonie shoot it,’” Cash recalled. “We’re about half-court and one of our players gets the ball and he throws it over here (on the right wing) to me. Here comes this big boy from Fall Branch towards me. I took a couple of dribbles almost to the out-of-bounds line and jumped and shot it. As I recall, it hit nothing but net.”

From then, Snyder’s biggest challenge was getting Cash to leave after practice so the coach could go home and eat supper.

It didn’t slow down Cash, who later found a way to sneak inside the gym by slipping through a window in the locker room. Then, he would take a screwdriver to open the door to the equipment room where he would take a ball and go out to the gym.

The dedication paid off as Cash led Boones Creek to wins over Science Hill in two of three games from his senior season. The victories included the Bars’ 58-52 win over the Hilltoppers for the district championship. Overall, the Bars went 25-2 after being upset by Bluff City in the region tournament.

Cash became even more of an offensive force at Milligan, scoring over 40 points on five different occasions. It included a then school-record 49 points against Wofford. He also scored 44 against Carson-Newman, 41 against Mars Hill, 41 against Maryville and 40 against the College of Charleston.

Without the aid of the 3-point line, he averaged 25.1 points over his college career. While it all seemed to come “natural,” it was the shot created out of necessity and developed through the hours on the court that paved the way to a record-setting career.

“Toonie is one of those natural-born shooters — no, no, no,” he said. “I worked very hard and God used all of that to help me be where I’m at today.”

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