For more than 16 years, a group of early morning basketball players meeting at Maryville Middle School has had one thing expected of them before they arrive.
"Theres a rule they brush their teeth before coming," Maryville Intermediate School principal Larry Headrick said.
Headrick isnt opening the gym for teens hoping to get in extra practice. Hes one of the players.
Since the early 1990s, the group of teachers and professionals has been playing basketball every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 a.m. They work in classrooms or offices throughout the community from 9 to 5, but its the 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. timeframe that keeps them in shape.
Scotty Collins said the group, with its substitutes, consists of about 15 people. Ten of them show up to play at the scheduled time. It all started with Headrick, Archie Anderson, Tom Stinnett and Collins.
"It was four-on-four, half-court here at Maryville Middle School. Thats how we got this kicked off," Collins said as the 10 players for the Friday morning sessions warmed up. "It got to be where people were hearing about it. Whats funny is it used be just teachers at school. Now we have people representing every high school Alcoa, Maryville, William Blount and Heritage. Thats whats so neat."
When they first started playing, the teachers played after school was over. At the time, Maryville High School girls basketball coach Kim Bledsoe played, as did former Lady Rebel coach Stephanie Thompson.
"We had a two-on-two tournament with the eight of us playing," Collins said.
Each players schedule soon became too full for them to play after school.
"If we were going to do it, we had to do it before school. That was at six oclock in the morning," Collins said. "Its grown. Now we have 25 to 30 people who have played through the years."
The games are competitive and not without injuries.
"David Allen was the last guy injury we had," Headrick said.
The former Maryville police officer turned Maryville High School teacher injured his knee during a game in early February.
"Weve had injuries from blown-out knees to dislocated shoulders," Collins said. "We popped it back in so we could keep play going. Joe Robinette saw Joe Black (a physical therapist and trainer for Maryville High School football team) pop a dislocated shoulder back in, so he did it twice in one morning for Doug Jenkins."
On another occasion, Kenny Harper had his teeth knocked out.
"We had a dentist who popped them right back in," Collins said.
Collins himself was injured when he tried to kick a basketball and landed on his wrist.
"I had to drive a stick shift with one hand to the emergency room," he said.
Headrick compared the competition to the Warner Brothers cartoon where the sheepdog and the wolf clock in at the beginning of a day and fight one another until quitting time, when they leave as friends.
"Its competitive enough to where we all want to win, and were friends enough to when you get frustrated, we dont get mad," Headrick said. "Its competitive enough to where we keep score and leave here knowing if you won the series. People who say they dont keep score are fooling you."
Collins said the players who participate on any given morning include himself, Headrick, Jenkins, Anderson, Chris Whitehead, Mark Ross, Robinette, Kevin Kissell, Mike White and Jon Chambers. Current subs are Sam Keller, Chester Richardson, Jesse Robinette, Tom "Bill" Weston, Jon Robinette, Jeremy Russell, Micah Marsh, Matt Miller and Tom Gallaher.
Former players include: Ken Harper, Tommy Spears, David Allen, Lee
and Brad Huffaker, Greg Jones, Bruce Alwood,
Richard Harbison, Tom Stinnett, Jay Malone, Daniel Beckman, Tom Grauman, Ralph Goodson, Scott Feather, Andy Poklewalt, Daniel Romans and University of Florida senior Lee Humphrey.
"Lee plays when he comes in," said Collins. "He calls and says, If you need somebody, call. We always make a spot for him, and we take it easy on him. You can tell him I said that."
All the players give one another nicknames. Collins said Sam Kellers nickname comes from his on-court performance.
"We call him Big Pick. Hell set a pick, and no one will get through it," Collins said.
John Chambers gets his moniker from something other than basketball.
"He always has big hair. We call him Super Hair," Collins said.
There is also Mark "Potsie" Ross.
"Thats his nickname," Collins said. "Hes gone by that for a long time. Doug Jenkins is Awe. He always says Awe if someone misses a shot."
The ages of the players runs from the mid-20s to early 60s. Collins said 10 players are scheduled to play each morning and if someone isnt going to be there, they have to call Collins at least the night before so he can arrange a substitute.
"If you need a day off, you call him," Headrick said.
Headrick said the subs try to get on the court as often as possible.
"Once people start playing, theyll call Scotty. They want to make sure they get called," Headrick said. "To be on the sub list is sort of a prized possession."
Players also are expected to be on time or early.
"When were late getting started, I say, Are we going to
eat cream horns? That gives everyone the signal that its
play," he said.
Games are to 15, with usually four or five games in an hour. Play is
competitive. Once each player gets to work, they switch
on their e-mail.
"The bragging goes on throughout the day. We cant wait to get to the computer and get rolling for the day," Collins said. "We have fun but we do play and get a good workout."
The only game they play in front of a crowd is a Faculty vs. Maryville High School Boys Varsity game played at Maryville Intermediate School. The game is a fund raiser for Toys for Tots and is on the last day of school. Students pay 50 cents to watch and 900 students will show up.
Not much keeps players from making tipoff. One morning, Headrick woke to find his garage on fire. He called the fire department at 3 a.m.
"I had been fighting the fire for two hours, and Collins didnt
realize it," Headrick said. "I had black smoke around my eyes."
Headrick entered the gym and told the other players what happened.
"I had about 2 seconds of sympathy and someone said, Are we going to play?" Headrick said.
Whitehead said he loves the early morning basketball.
"I feel so much better during the day. The first couple of months I felt so bad, but you take time off and you miss it," he said.
Mark Ross, construction services supervisor with the City of Alcoa in the Public Works Department, echoed John Chambers thoughts on why he plays at such an early hour.
"This is a whole lot more fun than jogging," he said.
Richardson said he enjoys the early morning workout.
"It gets the blood flowing for the day. It keeps you young. We want to win, but everyones friends," he said.
Kevin Kissell said early morning basketball is one of the few things he does that keeps him in shape.
"Ive always loved basketball. We play around and its a
good time," the Maryville Intermediate technology teacher said.
Collins said playing basketball at 5:30 in the morning is just great exercise.
"Its just a great way to stay fit and not interrupt the rest or your day and get it done early," he said. "We all have families, and its the best time to do it."
Jesse Robinette said he could either chase a tennis ball or play basketball with the early morning crew.
"Its a fun way to get exercise, and I can have an extra piece
of pie every once in a while," he said. "Its a neat bunch.
not a regular. Im a sub. They call me every once in a while. I enjoy it. Its never a dull moment. Scotty and Archie, they keep you laughing. You get good exercise and fellowship - you cant beat it."
Headrick said the games are exercise without the thought of working out.
"Besides that, its a lot of fun. We laugh a lot. Honestly, in 16 years, I can think of maybe three or four times that someone got mad," he said. "By noon, theyve all sent out e-mails apologizing."
Headrick said playing now can sometimes be more difficult than when
he and the other players were younger, but the
routine and exercise keep everyone youthful and energetic.
"Archie Anderson is 63 and still playing point guard," he said. "If you leave him open, hell hit it."
Playing basketball for exercise was something Anderson picked up about 23 years ago, he said.
"I turned 40 and decided I needed to start doing something. I thought, Ill play as long as I can," Anderson said.
Anderson said the other players humor him and let him bring the ball up the court after the other team scores.
"Im no Lee Humphrey," he said.
The other players showed their respect when, unbeknownst to him,
they arranged for him to get the first basket when they
moved into the new gym at Maryville Middle.
"It took forever for me to score six possessions," he said.
However, Anderson said his real reason for playing is simple.
"Its a habit, and Ive got the keys to the gym," he said.