Star power

Lynn Swann, Wade and Allan Houston help Charles M. Hall School alums continue a legacy of learning

Allan and Wade Houston stand in the gymnasium of the former Charles M. Hall School.

Allan and Wade Houston stand in the gymnasium of the former Charles M. Hall School.

What do an NFL football star and two basketball greats have in common? Golf of course…and a love for education.

Lynn Swann, NFL Hall of Fame football player, Wade Houston, former University of Tennessee basketball coach, and Allan Houston, former UT and NBA basketball great, are all coming together to support the Charles M. Hall School Alumni Association Foundation.

The second annual Wade Houston Invitational Golf Tournament will be played on Saturday, Aug. 14. The tournament and a reception honoring Swann that precedes it on Friday, Aug. 13, are vehicles to help fund scholarships for deserving students, all administered by the Charles M. Hall School Alumni Association.

Geneva Harrison, president of the Charles M. Hall School Alumni Association, said the 2009 Wade Houston Inaugural Golf Tournament raised $9,000. “That was our first time, and we hope we can do better,” she said of the 2010 event.

Wade Houston is certainly doing his part to ramp up the awareness and importance of the event. Houston said he didn’t hesitate to put his name on the event because of the great legacy of the Hall School.

“I just remember all the support that we got growing up in Alcoa and going to Hall School,” the 1962 graduate said. “When my classmate Logan Hill asked me to put my name on the event, I was glad to do it.”

The former UT basketball coach said the Hall School Alumni Association has been raising funds for years, gathering donations and having pancake breakfasts, dinners and other events to fund scholarships for deserving students.

“We’ve found so many young people deserving of opportunity to go to college, and there have been a lot of success stories. We want to continue that and give as many individuals opportunities to go to college as possible and make sure they have the financial support so they can be successful.”

Houston said he has met quite a few of those young people who have gone on to college using scholarships and financial aid from the organization. The coach joked that he feels his age when he meets these individuals.

“A lot of them are children or grandchildren of some of my ex-classmates and some are the children of friends who were in classes ahead or behind me, so it lets me know how old I’m getting to be,” he said. “These young people are appreciative, and they understand what it takes now to be successful in such a global economy. You have to get an education and go as far as you can go academically. The competition is so tough, you have to be as prepared as you can be.”

Houston said he appreciated Swann’s participating, and he also thanked his son, Allan, for coming back for the second year of the event. “To have those names gives us a chance to draw more people and raise more funds,” he said. “I’m really appreciative of Lynn for coming this year and Allan for coming again.”

Harrison said organization founder Grady Knighton, Sr., had the brainstorm for creating the group in 1990. Knight left Alcoa after graduating in 1941 to work with the U.S. Postal Service in New York because there were no jobs for African Americans in Blount County, Harrison said.

After working 40 years, he retired back home in Alcoa but found his beloved high school had been closed and turned into Alcoa Middle School.

“He was upset there was no alumni association for the school,” she said. “Grady talked to a bunch of people and decided it was worth forming an alumni association to keep the school name alive.”

The current group president said it was Knighton’s idea to raise money for scholarships. The founding group gathered for their first meeting on July 4, 1990, near the old swimming pool that is now a basketball court at the current Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center at Franklin Street Park, Harrison said.

“We had our first scholarship banquet in 1991 to celebrate our first anniversary, and we gave away two $500 scholarships,” she said.

The giving has grown over the years. “We just celebrated our 20th anniversary. This year we gave away $11,400,” she said. “We have given away right at $96,400 in 19 years. As of this year, we’ve assisted more than 50 kids.”

Harrison said the most they ever give to one individual is $2,500 and the lowest amount they ever give away is $700. “That at least buys books,” she said.

To qualify, the students must have at least a 3.0 grade point average. While there once was a specification the students had to be a descendent of Hall School alumni, there is no longer that stipulation. The change happened within the last three years after the group obtained 501c3 non-profit status, Harrison said.

“We gave scholarships to students from Maryville High School and one person from Karns High School got one,” she said. “We just decided we wanted to reach out to other young people because we get so much support from community.”

Harrison said the scholarship committee is made up of six people. These individuals make the decisions on who is chosen for the scholarships.

Raising money for the scholarship requires a multitude of events. The members hold a pancake breakfast and contributions come from clubs and individuals, donations from whichever class is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“The exciting part is every year, the class celebrating their 50th anniversary that year is recognized during banquet. This year, the class of 1960 celebrated their 50th reunion and gave us $4,400,” she said.

“Of course, our next big fundraiser after the tournament is the annual banquet,” she said. “We usually clear between $5,000 and $9,000 from dues and donations.”

Harrison said the annual banquet on July 3 was very well attended and those who came gave to help others. “It was excellent. We had over 300 people come to the banquet.”

The group president said Hall Oldfield Maryville Empowerment, Inc., gave $1,000 and the class of 1974 donated $1,000. “We gave away $11,400 and that made us feel real good and we got good support. It was just wonderful. I was on a cloud,”’ she said. “After 20 years and struggling our first 10 years, we’re on our feet, and we’ll be able to help more children. That’s our sole purpose.”

During the Aug. 13 reception at The Capitol Theatre in Downtown Maryville, Austin-East, Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers football legend Leroy Thompson will introduce Wade and Allan Houston and Lynn Swann.

Leslie Valentine-Kane, daughter of Hall School alumnus Lester Valentine, is a committee member for the Charles M. Hall Alumni Association and said the group’s goal is to sell 200 of the reception tickets officially honoring Swann.

There also will be a live and silent auction and sports memorabilia, including items signed by UT men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.

Valentine-Kane, who said she got involved with the Alumni Association out of respect for her father, said there’s more to the reception and the golf tournament than just raising money.

“Of course we want to pay homage to the athletes and our local celebrities, but mainly we’re looking at generating a perspective on the Hall community,” she said. “We want to let people know that in the Charles M. Hall area, kids are doing something and a lot of people are moving back. You have a lot of retirees who moved away and are coming back and taking over homes and beautifying them.”

Valentine-Kane said she lived on Newton Street until she was 5 and her grandmother, Katherine Valentine, lived on Franklin Street up until her death.

“I remember those streets. It was extremely family-oriented. This organization wants to bring people to the community and show what it can be in the future. People love the neighborhood and want to see it grow and progress.”

As part of the outreach in the community, Lynn Swann and Wade Houston will be at Alcoa High School at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 13 to make a presentation to the school, Valentine-Kane said.

The reception honoring Swann as honorary chair of the golf tournament will be from 7 to 10 p.m. Aug. 13 at The Capitol Theater. Cost is $35 per person.

The golf tournament begins at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 14, with lunch at Pine Lakes Golf Course, followed by a 1:30 p.m. shotgun start. Prizes will be awarded to the top finishers in three flights.

Top sponsor for the tournament is Charter Communications.

Harrison said group members are hopeful for a good turnout at both the reception and golf tournament. “The more money we make, more we can give to the children. We depend on people to support our reception and golf tournament,” she said. “We also appreciate our local businesses for their support down through the years.”

To participate in the golf tournament, call 865-982-8667 or email for information.

Tickets to the reception honoring Lynn Swann are available by calling Logan Hill at 865-982-8667; Melvin Love at 865-977-6488; or Geneva W. Harrison at 865-984-5641.

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