Earl the Pearl

Blazers guard puts the special in Special Olympics

Earl Anderson isn’t going to push the ball on the break a whole lot, but he can fill it up.

The Blount County Blazers guard knocked down seven straight shots, including four 3-pointers, in an opening round game at the Special Olympics regional basketball tournament last Saturday at Maryville College’s Boydson Baird Gymnasium.

Anderson’s outburst withstanding, the first-year Blazers weren’t able to stay with a team from Lenoir City, the defending state champions pulling away in the closing minutes for an easy win. Still, the showing from Anderson and the rest of the Blazers turned heads.

“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Blazers co-coach and Maryville dentist Tommy Spears said.

Spears and co-coach Scotty Collins took the reins of the fledgling Blazers a year ago at the behest of Blount County Recreation & Parks assistant director Cookie Crowson and Springbrook Recreation Center director Phil Eakins. Interest to form an adult men’s team for Area 15 Special Olympics had long been strong, Crowson said, with many of the players continuing with the game after they left high school.

Anderson, assistant director at Springbrook Recreation Center, is the very definition of a gym rat.

“So we knew he could shoot,” Collins said. “At Springbrook, he gets to shoot and play around with all those guys.”

With Anderson a long-time participant in Area 15 Special Olympics, Eakins said he approached Crowson about forming an adult men’s team. He’d been to the state tournament the year before and had been blown away by what he’d seen.

“A team from Nashville was throwing the ball off the backboard and dunking,” Eakins said. “One of the team’s from Memphis was taking off from the 3-point line and wind milling (a dunk).”

Eakins chuckles when he tells the story, but it’s not all exaggeration, Spears said.

“The team from Nashville put on a show just warming up,” he said.

Once the decision was made to form an area team, Collins said Spears contacted him about helping out. A life-long coach, Collins said he wasn’t sure what to expect when the team got together for its first practice.

“I really wasn’t expecting a whole lot,” he said. “They’ve really just blown me out of the water.”

Most teams have an Anderson on their roster, shooters who can fill it up with stunning frequency and accuracy. Anderson, who’s had some knee problems, takes a more relaxed approach to defense. During a break between quarters last Saturday, he walked over to a gathering of fans to say, “I need to lose some weight.”

Moments later, the player his coaches call “Earl the Pearl,” set loose on his seven straight scoring binge.

You marvel at the skill Anderson and others display, Spears said. You learn so much more, he said, from simply being their coach.

Players like Maryville’s Eugene Morton have “a brilliant basketball mind,” Spears said. Often, they’ll meet up at an area high school game.

“He gets there and studies them and makes comments that will amaze you,” Spears said.

Plus, he added, “Everyone of these guys, to a man, is very polite and very appreciative.”

It’s makes working with the Blazers the most enjoyable coaching job he’s ever undertaken, Collins said.

“This takes the cake,” he said. “Nothing compares. I’ve had more fun coaching this team than any I’ve ever coached.”

And every now and then you get to watch Earl the Pearl blow the place up.

Members of the inaugural Blount County Blazers includes Earl Anderson, Shenandoah Anderson, David Clerk, Thomas Clark, Robby Ellis, Eugene Morton, David Mucillo, Junior McGill and Boyd Webb.

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