Mattingly: Memories of 1960s are still fresh

There are moments in a lifetime of watching and playing hoops that grab your attention and remain indelibly etched in your mind more than 40 years later. We go back, way back, to the early 1960s at Chilhowee Elementary School, 5005 Asheville Highway, to begin the story.

In 1960-61, seventh-grade teacher Don Burchfield introduced us to hoops as well as other sports in big-time fashion. We were the "Frogs," wearing gold and green uniforms, with the less said about that, the better.

We traveled throughout Knox County, playing at places called Spring Hill, Alice Bell, Ritta, Corryton, Sterchi, Shannondale, and Smithwood.

In 1963-64, our best player at Holston High School came from Alice Bell, first seen wearing No. 52 on a gold jersey. His name was Jimmy England, a young man who ended up at Tennessee, becoming the school's best free throw shooter and a two-time All-SEC selection.

The mind's eye, working overtime, harks to a night in early 1965, as a homestanding Holston quintet, led by England, wearing No. 14, squared off against a Fulton five featuring Bill Justus, wearing No. 13.

Tennessee coach Ray Mears showed up to watch the contest, mainly looking at Justus, but obviously filing England's name away for future reference. There wasn't a seat to be had, but when Ray entered, wearing his trademark orange blazer, the waters parted, and he found a seat in the Holston student section. The man could make an entrance.

Justus ended up at UT, while England ended up as the state's Mr. Basketball in 1967. They played together in 1968-69 at UT.

There was also a significant moment in February 1966. Rick Mount, the pride of Lebanon, Ind., became the first high school athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, complete with spit curl and knock-'em-dead Levis.

Newspaper reports indicated he was a "pure jump shooter," indicating everyone else was competing for second place. Consider that the prep Class of 1966 included not only Mount, but also Dan Issel, Calvin Murphy, Bob Lanier, and a kid named Pete Maravich, known best as "Pistol Pete."

A year later, there was a never-to-be-forgotten week in early March. The Warriors stormed through the state tournament to the finals against nearby Alcoa, right there at Stokely Center, defeating Chattanooga Howard, Trenton, and Johnson City along the way.

Jim Bailes, now Rev. Jim Bailes of Kern Memorial United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, assembled a daily edition of the Holston student newspaper, chronicling each victory. Sadly, he says he doesn't have them today, but, if anyone does, hire security. They're valuable.

Making the state finals was good. Having to play Alcoa wasn't. The Tornadoes had ended the 1966 Holston season with a win at the Fieldhouse in the Region 2 semifinals and had defeated the Warriors a week earlier in the finals of the 1967 Region 2 tournament.

Before a packed house, the teams battled into three overtimes. Late in the third overtime, game tied, England made a steal off Alcoa's David Marsh, made the basket, and canned a free throw to give the Warriors a 45-42 lead.

There were 16 seconds left on the clock. Alcoa quickly made a layup, and all that had to happen was to get the ball in England's hands or find an alternative way to kill the remaining seconds.

The dream was apparently coming true. David had slain Goliath. Excalibur was being pulled from the stone. Happiness was headed eastward toward Chilhowee Drive.

It didn't make it. Instead, the extraordinarily fickle creature headed southward on Alcoa Highway into Blount County.

Alcoa stole the ball and called time out. David Davis, a marvelous player during his prep tenure, then canned an 18-footer on the right baseline that bounced on the rim a couple of times before falling through.

The buzzer barked. Alcoa won. The arena was still for a brief second before their side exploded in jubilation. Announcers and journalists searched frantically for the right words to describe the scene.

That was then.

This is now.

Stokely Center is headed for demolition, after enough magic moments to keep columnists busy for the next several years. You can still hear the echoes of countless games, including this one, as you walk through the lobby. The participants in this game are in or nearing their 60s. The newsprint of the game is fading, best viewed on microfilm.

These guys were pretty good players for their day. That's all you can ask. The march of time has, for better or worse, changed the way the games are played.

That doesn't detract from the excitement fans felt on a March Saturday night 42 years ago. There were young men in 1960s-looking uniforms giving their all for their schools and communities.

There's nothing wrong with that.

Nothing at all.

Tom Mattingly is the author of "The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006" (2006), to be published in second edition in 2009, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). He may be reached at tjmshm@comcast.net. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."

Get Copyright Permissions © 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2009 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 8

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

a minor memory of my own...
playing pickup games outside at the local juco....one of the guys (we where all just out of high school) would bring a net, jump, grab the rim, and hang there while he threaded the net. there where maybe 15 or so of us that would show up, white kids and black kids. It really was a LOT like the movie 'white men can't jump'; guys with tricked-out cars, guys with guns, and if you where white, you'd BETTER be there with a black friend. we never played for moeny, though.

kids would go off and smoke a joint, then come back to play...sometimes we'd play in the afternoons, sometimes at 11:30 at nihgt.

I don't know if kids play ball that way anymore, but to us it was a blast. As long as you didn't dog anyone, you could play and be reasoanably assured of living to see the next day.

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

A stroll down memory lane. The worse thing about those years was the hippies, and the drug dealing, and smoking pot. That's where the what can my country do for me came into existence. And now it's a marketable commodity. But not in the sports area, there everthing was normal, the 50's were cruisin' into the 60's, and competing and being someone was a plus. Not turning on, and dropping out! Sports teaches people not to give up, and we worked well as a society on those notes. It's been a great bunch of years, but I think we let people like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather dictate too much policy to us and political correctness now is our enemy. Let's unite and defeat this monster and in 20 more years we will still be playing our ball, and living to tell about it! The economy is only as strong as our weakest links, and our greatest asset is our financial independence. We will have to work for it , no one gave it to us, and no one is going to start now. The business of America, is BUSINESS!

arkyvol writes:

i was there myself, welove..., and its amazing, just how many of those free loving, pot smoking, flower children are productive members of society now. i remember your kind as well, the up tight, sanctimonious, y.a.f. types, the kind who condemned us liberated ones, mainly because they were jealous as hell. so sorry the 60s passed you by. so get off your soapbox and turn off rush. you might just find out life ain't so bad after all.

p.s.: i work for a living (a good one), i served in vietnam, i've served in public office, i'm married to the same wife since 1970, and i've got three grandkids. so, spare me the sermon. it didn't work then, it ain't gonna work now.

TWintVol writes:

in response to arkyvol:

i was there myself, welove..., and its amazing, just how many of those free loving, pot smoking, flower children are productive members of society now. i remember your kind as well, the up tight, sanctimonious, y.a.f. types, the kind who condemned us liberated ones, mainly because they were jealous as hell. so sorry the 60s passed you by. so get off your soapbox and turn off rush. you might just find out life ain't so bad after all.

p.s.: i work for a living (a good one), i served in vietnam, i've served in public office, i'm married to the same wife since 1970, and i've got three grandkids. so, spare me the sermon. it didn't work then, it ain't gonna work now.

Nice Post. The thing that eludes a lot of posters is the fact that it takes us all to make America great. Liberals,Conservatives Hippies,Y.A.Fs. whatevr that is. We all have to be here to make it work. The 60's changed things,sometimes for the best,sometimes for the worst. We survived and will again. Who knows it might take change on that level again to straighten this thing out. Personaly I don't know how we could ever see that type of change again.

Caspian writes:

in response to arkyvol:

i was there myself, welove..., and its amazing, just how many of those free loving, pot smoking, flower children are productive members of society now. i remember your kind as well, the up tight, sanctimonious, y.a.f. types, the kind who condemned us liberated ones, mainly because they were jealous as hell. so sorry the 60s passed you by. so get off your soapbox and turn off rush. you might just find out life ain't so bad after all.

p.s.: i work for a living (a good one), i served in vietnam, i've served in public office, i'm married to the same wife since 1970, and i've got three grandkids. so, spare me the sermon. it didn't work then, it ain't gonna work now.

Ark, you give a pretty good sermon for someone that has a problem with sermons. "Welove" criticized drug dealing, pot smoking, and "dropping out" from that era. Which ones are you for? You said yourself that "many of those freeloving, pot smoking, flower children are productive members of society now." Do you mean that they were not productive members then?

arkyvol writes:

gee thanks, gate. always good to hear from one of w's 20%.

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

kids 'dropped out' back then because the whole country was still run like a military unit. Even Eisenhower warnted against the 'military-industrial complex', though not from a soical point of view. Still, most jobs where in factories, and your boss was basically a god.

In schools, strict regimentation was the order of the day. kids marched to classes, were forced to say prayers, and the pledge of allegiance. careers where hand-picked by parents, who also did a lot of angling for prep scools and colleges. Kids felt pretty much 'boxed in'.

I was too late for the 60's, was just a little kid. The main fruits of that time from late 1960's to, say, teh mid-80's?? All the hot girls wnet braless and wore tight t-shirts or halter tops. Damn, the secnery was outstanding then. Add to that you could actually LOOK at girls without getting a purse thrown at your head...ah, hell, those girls are the prudes now, but back then, they had a spark, that's for sure.

Caspian writes:

in response to arkyvol:

gee thanks, gate. always good to hear from one of w's 20%.

That's what I thought.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features