It’s a Wednesday tradition of food, fellowship and fine storytelling in downtown Elizabethton.
Each week, local sportswriter Charles Peters hosts the Carter County Legends Lunch at Dino’s Restaurant. Former and current coaches, players and officials meet to share stories from the past, catch up on the present and simply enjoy each other’s company.
Peters, a former athlete at Unaka and longtime official, started the luncheons three years ago at Big Dan’s BBQ after putting something on Facebook. It soon grew from 5-6 people to as many as 20-30 attending. They moved locations once the banquet room at Dino’s became available.
The lunches provide Peters with information for the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame, which he oversees along with local sports writer Jamie Combs. Fueling his love for local sports, it has inspired him to do other projects as well.
“I’ve written three books out of these, starting with the 1960 Hampton state championship team,” Peters said. “Willie Malone and Jerry White came to the first meetings, then here comes Wes (Forbes) and Carl (Roberson) who I became good friends with. Then, Bobby Stout and a couple of others came. I heard story after story about the state tournament and games they shouldn’t have won.
“Every Wednesday, it got where I couldn’t wait to pick their brains and ask what Coach (Buck) Van Huss did. They told stories how he wouldn’t let Carl come into the dressing room one night at Science Hill where he was playing so bad. The second half, Carl scored about every point, grabbed about every rebound and they ended up winning the ball game.”
Peters learned how Van Huss had his players practice in combat boots before the season started. By the time they tipped off in basketball shoes, they were “jumping out of the gym.” One game, Hampton scored 115 points against Lamar during an era when there wasn’t a 3-point shot and players usually got only one free throw when fouled.
On Wednesday, the Legends group consisted of a dozen individuals representing multiple sports, including football, basketball, baseball and boxing.
The group included Shelby Miller, a football official for 55 years and a 2020 TSSAA Hall of Fame inductee. Miller has worked five state championship football games, including the 2019 Division II, Class AA game between MBA and McCallie.
“When I first started as an official, some of these guys were real little,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve umpired and refereed their kids’ games and now I’m getting their grandkids’ games. There are so many friends I probably wouldn’t have known without sports.”
Miller has umpired Little League baseball for decades and he served 25 years as a basketball official. He told a funny story about officiating a game involving legendary Elizabethton basketball coach John Treadway, who got rather animated after a call.
“He had a kid who walked as he was coming to the hoop,” Miller said. “I called walking and Coach Treadway came out on the floor about 10-15 steps, stomped his foot, wringing his hands and started arguing with me. I called a technical on him and he told me later on, ‘That’s the only call you got right all night.’”
Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett has been coming to the luncheons for several months. A former football and basketball player at Hampton, Barnett was thankful to bond with the guys from the 1960 state championship team.
“Being a Hampton guy, I really enjoyed coming and meeting the guys from the 1960 team, the old coaches and players and the guys they played against,” Barnett said. “When I think about Hampton, coach (Jerry) White, coach (J.C.) Campbell and coach (Doug) Phillips, they helped make me what I am today. They were strict on us, made us toe the line, but I respect them a lot.”
Barnett recalled his top high school sports moment in 1971 when he was a tight end for Hampton and on the receiving end of an 83-yard pass play from Cotton Smith. It lifted the Bulldogs to a 7-0 win over Happy Valley and set a school record — for longest reception — that stood for decades.
“My junior year, I wasn’t a speed demon,” he said. “We ran a what we called a 69-sprint out which was a 10-and-out. They threw the pass, I caught it and some guy tried to tackle me and just bounced off me. My buddies aggravated me where Coach Campbell outran me down the sideline. It was so funny because I saw the film and Coach Campbell is standing there, looking at me with his hat off. They’re all saying, ‘Look there, Coach Campbell outran you.’
“There are a lot of good memories shared. I look forward to every Wednesday.”
So does Peters, who recalled the stories from Duard Walker, who earned 12 varsity letters in five sports at Milligan. Walker, 95, coached five different sports and served as the longtime athletic director at Milligan.
“Duard Walker, coming over, everybody knew him,” Peters said. “They would come in and see him, and it would be like Duard coached this guy and it was story after story. That’s why it’s so good for me. Just to learn the history of the sports in Carter County, it’s amazing.”