Judy helped build Hilltoppers into powerhouse

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Dec 11, 2017 at 7:49 AM

Ray Judy coached multiple sports at Science Hill High School, but it was the golf course where his teams often parlayed low scores into great heights.

Judy, who died Friday at age 79, was remembered as someone quick to share a funny story and a smile, but one who also made a serious impact on Science Hill athletics and the Johnson City community.

The Hilltoppers already boasted a strong golf tradition including the 1959 boys’ state championship when Judy took over the program in 1977. But he set them on a course for the boys’ team to win two more titles under Coach Mike Poe in 2001 and 2003. The Science Hill boys finished runner-up five times in Judy’s 23 seasons at the helm, and the girls were state runner-up in 1983.

In Judy’s last season as head coach in 2000, Science Hill’s team of Richard Lowe, Derek Adams, Chris Halkowitz, Jimmy Humston and Mo Littleford finished just one stroke behind Hardin County at the Class AAA state tournament.

“When I think of Coach Judy, I think of a big-time personality and his love of golf, especially at Science Hill,” said Josh Carter, who served as an assistant to both Judy and Poe before becoming head coach in 2006. “In 2000 when we went to the state tournament, it was my second year at Science Hill, but I still remember how he got each of the kids a ball mark with the Tennessee flag on it. He took pride in playing at the state tournament and took pride in the kids having a chance of playing for the state championship.”

Judy’s influence didn’t end when he retired as coach. He played an important-behind-the-scenes role throughout the rest of his life as current Science Hill coach Kevin Vannoy explained.

“Since I’ve taken over golf, he’s been a quiet voice of support, got a lot of alumni involved in the program,” Vannoy said. “He’s always kept up with the program and always promoted the golf guys going into the (Science Hill Athletics) Hall of Fame. You could tell he really appreciated his time with the program.”

Judy, who was first hired to supervise the school’s weight room, was inducted into the Science Hill Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. He coached five sports, including cross country, track and football, and was an assistant on the 1979 Science Hill football team which went undefeated during the regular season and reached the second round of the playoffs before losing to Oak Ridge.

Carter pointed out that Judy was often a trusted voice when new selections were made for the Hall of Fame. His words on behalf of former ’Topper wrestler Kendall Murphy led to Murphy being announced for this year’s class.

Judy played college football at Wingate University, and served as a high school football coach at Gordon Military Academy in Georgia before coming to Johnson City. Carter recalled visiting Judy’s house and seeing some of the clippings of his exploits. He also remembered the pride that Judy had in operating an old-school gym in downtown Johnson City for 40 years.

“He was a tremendous athlete,” Carter said. “He had photos where he could do amazing feats on a trampoline. He was a college football player and had his own gym downtown. That was a big part of his life.”

Vannoy fondly remembered another big part of his life when Judy served as the clock keeper for Science Hill basketball. As a young teacher and coach, Vannoy particularly enjoyed early morning meetings with coaches George Pitts, Poe and Judy and all the colorful stories they shared.

Most of all, Vannoy remembered the kind of influence Judy had on the students at Science Hill.

“When Coach Judy was around, he was always positive with the kids,” Vannoy said. “Even when it was bad, it was really good with Ray. I think it goes back to his upbringing. He was about hard work, whether it was the weight room, on the football field, keeping the clock or golf. His personality was being happy-go-lucky, but he was also a serious competitor who strived to achieve.”

Visitation will take place from 5-8 p.m. Monday at Tetrick Funeral Home.  The funeral service will be at Tetrick at 11 a.m. Tuesday with graveside services at Monte Vista Cemetery. Friends and family will then meet at Doubletree Hotel from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. to share some Ray Judy stories.

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