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 firstname.lastname@example.org. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."