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Cyclones will have army of fans, old and new, for Saturday

Douglas Fritz • Dec 6, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Football is different in Elizabethton.

It’s different because of the players who have come through the program, and the coaches across the years. And it’s different because of the community’s view of it.

When the Cyclones take the field in Cookeville for Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game against Springfield, their support will come from Cyclones past and Cyclones present.

Near the top of the list is the grandfather of Elizabethton football, Dave Rider. He owns that title because of his longtime success — coaching the Cyclones from the mid-1970s through the 1990s — and because his grandsons have done so much to put the Cyclones where they are today. Rider fielded some great teams and got agonizingly close to this game.

For Rider and many other people, this week has been a special one.

“There’s a deep-rooted legacy, and it starts with him,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten, one of Rider’s grandsons. “We are where we are because of him. This community has been really good to our family. Elizabethton football is really all we’ve known. My uncle (Scott Rider) played here, my brothers (Jason and Ryan) played here. It just has a special place in our hearts.”

Witten doesn’t shy away from the past as some coaches do.

He embraces what has gone on in a school with a proud tradition that includes a state championship in 1938, an undefeated regular season in 1951, a pair of one-loss teams (1972 and 1988) that missed the playoffs despite state-title aspirations, and state semifinals appearances in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2009, 2010 and 2012.

“We don’t allow our guys to forget about the history,” said Witten. “We talk about the past and the players who came before them. I thought it was pretty cool last week, having Jason there to remind them about the great players who put on the Cyclones’ uniform — including Jason and Vince Redd (both made it to the National Football League and Jason is likely a future Hall of Fame member) — and we were never able to capture this.”

Yes, the families and fans of the current players will be rooting their hardest come Saturday at 4 p.m. EST. And they will have the full support of the “old guard” as well.

The late John Holsclaw won’t be delivering play-by-play on the radio broadcast, nor will Dale Fair provide the commentary. But part of the reason the Cyclones are who they are is because of former players like Holsclaw and Fair — salt-of-the-Earth folks who promoted and supported the team not for personal gain, but out of love for the program and caring about the kids.

There’s a veritable parade of people who have helped Cyclones’ football remain important in a day and age where too many people are finding other things to do. Witten remembered a pair of recent head coaches who fit into the picture.

“Tommy Jenkins and Eddie Pless did a great job of trying to keep it going once (Rider) got through,” Witten said. “And the coaches who were part of this program — Jim Perkins, Danny Smith with 42 years dedicating his time on the sidelines, Hack Hyder and Roger Childers, and you could go on and on. There are so many devoted people who have been committed to our program: Rick Wagner and Jerry Jenkins, who volunteered their time, Pink McKinney, Gerald Jenkins, Greg Hyder, and the ones who have coached here before.”

Stan Ogg, the longtime defensive guru, stepped down prior to this season. But his influence hasn’t been forgotten.

“Coach Ogg is a huge reason we are here,” said Witten. “He did a lot of behind-the-scenes work no one knows about. His experience helped me when we first took over in 2007.”

Pless said it is an honor to be a part of the Cyclones’ legacy.

“I think anybody who ever coached would say it was an honor to be over this particular program,” Pless said. “We were always a small fish in a big pond. We’re even playing up a division now. We never shied away from the competition. And it’s about time that things happened in a positive way in the postseason. There are no apologies.”

There are so many people who could be mentioned when it comes to molding the Cyclones’ program. Former superintendent Ed Alexander played a key role in helping Citizens Bank Stadium become a reality. Not only is it a sharp-looking landmark, it has a turf field — which means the Cyclones won’t have to make any playing-surface adjustments for Saturday’s game. When thinking about the number of people who worked together to make the stadium become a reality, it’s mind boggling.

In fact, when putting together a list of people who have made Cyclones football a cut above, it’s a near-impossible task. You just have to find a stopping point. There are too many people.

Think about that for a second.

Some programs don’t have enough support or people who care. Elizabethton’s cup overflows, rushing through the community like a river painting an indelible black-and-orange swath.

And now the program has a chance to knit the decades together with one more win.

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