You don’t reach the highest levels of national and world politics without being a quick study.
Lamar Alexander needed only one take Monday morning in the Maryville High School locker room. The U.S. senator made a brief stopover on his way back to Washington to film his part of a documentary chronicling a “Decade of Excellence” of Rebel football in the 2000s. The senator from Tennessee and Maryville graduate consented to narrate the opening of the booster club-sponsored film, scheduled for release in August.
Alexander has remained in contact with his alma mater through the years. The native son launched his successful 1978 gubernatorial campaign at Shields Stadium prior to a Rebel football game. The booster club and Alexander’s Washington staff ensured the senator was well-versed in all that Maryville’s George Quarles has accomplished in 11 seasons as coach.
During an interview with a local television station after the filming, Alexander was still forced to pause when recalling many of the Rebels successes the last decade.
“How many wins?” Alexander asked, turning to the nearby Maryville coaching staff for assistance.
Quarles and his assistants, which included offensive line coach and team statistician David Ellis, would need a moment to come up with the number themselves.
For the record, the Rebels won 140 games from 2000-2009, losing nine. The run included seven Class 4A state championships, Maryville now tied with crosstown-rival Alcoa for a state record of 11 championships overall.
Midway through the decade, Quarles directed the Rebels on a state-record 74-game winning streak, a mark that ranks fourth-best nationally all-time. Along with the seven state crowns, Maryville made nine championship game appearances, including the last two.
Alexander consenting to narrate the documentary’s opening was “very nice, very gracious,” Quarles said. “Clearly, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. I think it’s pretty neat. I think it’s something people will really appreciate.”
There was never a question as to whether he wanted to help out, Alexander said.
“Why wouldn’t I,” he said. “I appreciate being asked. I’m really proud of coach Quarles and his staff.”
Athletic successes can do a lot to inspire a school’s academic performance, Alexander said. The Rebels weren’t quite the dynasty they’ve become when he played, he said. His senior year at Maryville in 1958 the team won five games, losing six, the Rebels still six years away from launching one of the unique streaks in Tennessee prep sports.
Maryville went 3-5-1 during the 1961 season. The program has yet to record another losing season since.
They weren’t quite that good when he played, Alexander said.
“Everybody was better than Maryville when I was here,” he said.
Everett High School really laid it on the Rebels his senior year, blanking the Rebels, 59-0.
“Howard Davis said they could have beat us 100-0,” Alexander said.
Alexander, who played end on that team, said he came away with a memorable play from that game.
“I ran down and tackled the punt receiver before he caught the ball,” he said. “I was pretty fast.”
The idea for the documentary sparked over a campfire after a game a couple of years ago, Maryville booster Joey Winders said. The Rebels had won a fourth consecutive state title by that point, the seniors that season concluding their careers as Rebels an unbeaten 60-0.
“We said, ‘Gosh, this is special; someone should document this,’” Winders said.
Winders and the rest of the “Rebels First” boosters have since conducted 65 interviews with former players and coaches, amassing better than 30 hours of film to edit down to the finished product.
The run should be chronicled in more places than the back of the game program, booster club member Archie Anderson said. With all the successes, it would be easy to forget just how far Quarles and a core staff of defensive coordinator Jim Gaylor and Ellis had come in their 11 seasons together.
“When you see something like this, it’s more about a coach honing young boys into men,” Anderson said. “It started with the wins and losses, but it became more about the young men.”
Asked by Alexander how long he’d been at Maryville, Quarles answered 1995, the year former Maryville coach Tim Hammontree hired the Jefferson County native to be his offensive coordinator. Hammontree left for Georgia after leading Maryville to its fourth state crown in 1998, with Quarles promoted to head coach the following season.
It was in the second season with Quarles as coach where Maryville’s decade of dominance took flight, although not right away. The Rebels lost their first four games that year. A petition began circulating to have the young coach fired. A for sale sign appeared in Quarles’ front yard.
The Maryville staff closed ranks that season and pretty much kept their own council. To do otherwise wouldn’t be very productive, Alexander said.
“It would be like fourth-and-1, and having everybody in the stands come down and say, ‘What do you think we should do?’” he said.
Entering the season’s fifth game, Quarles made a change at quarterback, promoting senior Nick Giles to the starting spot. The rest, as they say, is history, Maryville winning its next 11 games to win the first of the decade’s seven titles.
Agreeing to narrate the opening to the documentary didn’t take a lot of thought, Alexander told Quarles before leaving for the airport to board a plane back to Washington.
“I’m really glad to get the chance to do this,” Alexander said. “I’m really proud of you.”
Maryville fell to Alcoa for the first time in eight years last season.
“They didn’t throw a single pass,” Quarles to the senator.
Alexander said he’d like to be there for the rematch when the Tornadoes visit Shields Stadium this fall.
“We can probably scrape up some tickets,” Ellis said.
The following is the text of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander’s opening words in the documentary a “Decade of Excellence,” scheduled for an August release by “Rebels First” boosters.
“Around most communities in Tennessee, when people think of football, they probably think of the Tennessee Volunteers, the Memphis Tigers, or even the Vanderbilt Commodores. But, when it comes to high school football in Tennessee, another school of dominance is often remembered - the Maryville High School Red Rebel football team.
“Hi, I’m Lamar Alexander, and I’m proud to call Maryville my hometown. I’m also a proud graduate of Maryville High School, Class of 1958. During my high school years, I was active in Boys State, the band, newspaper, and I even played a little football. But while Maryville High has always been a leader in academics in the state, I’m afraid our football team wasn’t nearly as good during my playing days as they are today.
“Now, when I’m home in Maryville, I know I’ll see more than a few MHS ball caps, shirts and bumper-stickers around town - and that’s just a small part of the pride the local fans continue to show for their beloved Rebels.
“During this past decade, coach George Quarles, his assistants, the school administration, players, cheerleaders and trainers should all be standing tall. The Rebel Nation is very proud of you, and I am happy to count myself as part of the Rebel Nation.
“The story of the unequaled excellence displayed by the Red Rebels of Maryville High School between 2000 and 2009 is a story that needs to be told. It is a story that is unparalleled in the entire state of Tennessee, and one that is practically unmatched in all of the United States.
“The following film chronicles the entire story of the decade. It not only focuses on the games and championships, it also shows behind-the-scenes stories from players, coaches, trainers, managers, cheerleaders and fans. Most of all, this documentary demonstrates how the Maryville High School football program teaches young men about life, the importance of teamwork and how to be a part of something bigger than themselves, values that are carried far beyond the gridiron.
“My congratulations go out to everyone who has shared in this great decade. This is an incredible story.”