The wins, the losses, the tears

Blount Today Sports thanks you all for all you’ve given

Ryan Click hitting that shot had to be the wildest thing to happen in seven years of Blount Today sports.

We got to see Cait McMahan and Lee Humphrey cut down the nets on national television. Maryville got so good at football that the Rebels didn’t lose a game in Blount Today’s first four years. They won 74 straight to set a new state record before we saw them lose for the first time. Still can’t wrap my mind around that.

Since Blount Today opened its doors on Aug. 26, 2004, my beloved Tornadoes have crowned every season with a state championship.

We’ve been with you to see some amazing things. Some sad ones, too. The wins, the losses, the heartbreaks, we felt them.

We miss you, Aaron.

Mr. Gilley, you were a beautiful man.

Connie Overholt, Teresa McMahan, Priscilla Cooper, it’s still hard to believe you’re gone.

When we were given the news Monday morning that this edition of Blount Today would be the last, my first thoughts, after an obvious sense of loss, were how best to look back on so much that’s taken place. We tried, as best we could, to bring you not only the scores in our seven years, but the stories and the people behind them.

Aaron Douglas ranks with the top 10 athletes I’ve ever written about on any stage. He made a catch at Alcoa four years ago I still think about. When I learned of the former Maryville High star’s death this spring, I thought of the kid I’d watched kiss his grandmother after that game. I thought about his parents.

Blount Today didn’t lose an athlete we liked covering the day Aaron died. We lost a friend, and we miss him.

Connie Overholt was a mom who was so much fun to watch her watch her daughters, Sarah and Laura, play sports at Maryville. Both her kids were really good, but she’d get so nervous watching them, it became such fun to tease her. She would see me coming after a while.

Once, in an incident that predates Blount Today a little, Sarah and tennis doubles partner Kelli Kiefer were playing in the championship match of the district tournament at William Blount. Connie got so worked up from pacing she walked away from the courts, across the parking lot, into the football stadium there at William Blount, climbed to the top and watched the match from there. How that woman loved her kids. When Connie passed away so suddenly and so unexpectedly two years ago, it shook me.

I sometimes chafe at being labeled a sportswriter. Whether it’s football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, bowling, track, swimming, wrestling, tennis, cross country or golf, you’re still writing about people. With our “Monday Morning Quarterback” snapshots section, Blount Today strove to remember the families and parents involved as well. Teresa McMahan was one of the best of those parents we ever got to know.

Cait McMahan is the only athlete we’ve ever heard of, anywhere, to have her jersey retired while still a student at the school. She deserved it. When Cait was still in elementary school at Eagleton, Teresa was diagnosed with cancer. By Cait’s senior year at Heritage, there wasn’t much time left.

Teresa once confided in Cait’s elementary coach at Eagleton, Paul Gilley, who relayed the story to yours truly, that she wasn’t going anywhere until she got to see her daughter play a game as a Lady Vol. It had been Cait’s lifelong dream to play for Tennessee and Pat Summitt. When Cait injured her knee her senior season at Heritage, making a redshirt year her first season at Tennessee a very likely possibility, you worried. You worried a lot.

On Nov. 12, 2006, with Teresa, then confined to a wheelchair, there with Cait’s father, Earl, Summitt sent Cait to the scorer’s table at Thompson-Boling Arena. I wept like a baby.

We lost Teresa a short time later, but not before Cait could return home from the Final Four with a piece of the netting after the Lady Vols had claimed the program’s eighth national championship. At her mother’s bedside, Cait slipped the piece of netting around Teresa’s wrist.

I thought of that when I lost my own mother, Priscilla, two years ago. Cait called to extend her condolences.

I’m genuinely amazed by some of the people I’ve written about at Blount Today, not because of what they’re capable of on the playing fields and courts but who some of them are as people. I saw William Blount shortstop Hannah Smith play softball for the first time when she was 9. She graduated from high school last year and signed a college scholarship. She turned out to be a great kid.

Maryville’s got this tennis player, Yusuke Yodono, who’s got a good shot at a state championship this spring. Off the court, the kid’s a riot. Maryville softball/volleyball player Allison Barbee left me in stitches every time I tried to interview her. Her Lady Rebel teammate, All-American shortstop Bry Blanco, is the best softball player I’ve ever covered and an even nicer person. I still say Jake Olvey will be a great quarterback at Heritage. Keep working, man. When William Blount catcher Cameron Campbell was named the district softball tournament’s most valuable player last spring, I thought, ‘Sometimes, they really get it right.’

I’ll miss Madison Costner and “the Bug,” William Blount senior and Lady Governor tennis teammate Haley Finley. The Michael Cermak show against Catholic two years rocked. Ditto for William Blount two weeks ago. Former Alcoa Tornado and Green Bay Packers rookie Randall Cobb had me yelling at my television like an idiot when he returned that kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown on Monday Night Football.

Three years ago, Maryville wrestler Blake Ridenour went 43-0 for the season, becoming Blount County’s first state wrestling champion in almost half a century and the first ever at his school. Former Heritage basketball coach Ron Wilson’s passing was painful thing.

I live for the day when Heritage and William Blount make it to state and win a football championship. I would walk to the championship game if Maryville College’s Randy Lambert, Kandis Scrham, Pepe Fernandez or Tony Ierulli ever got a team there.

If George Quarles didn’t keep killing my Tornadoes, I could really learn to like the guy. The Maryville football coach, already the winningest coach in his school’s storied history, has taken the Rebels to the state championship game every year since Blount Today opened. He’s reached the title game 10 times in his 13 seasons, winning eight championships. That’s off any scale you want to use.

The Rebels are currently unbeaten and the state’s top-ranked team. If Quarles keeps this up - and since he’s got Jim Gaylor running his defenses and the best line coach I ever saw, David Ellis, working the guys up front, I don’t see why not - he’ll own every coaching record in the state before he’s done. That is, if a coach that really says it for me, doesn’t leave the bar too high when he’s done.

Gary Rankin won his 300th game as a head coach two years ago. He’s won nine state titles between Alcoa (5) and Riverdale (4). He’s within two seasons and two more championships of owning the two most hallowed records in Tennessee high school coaching. Because of him, Alcoa now owns the record for consecutive championships (7, and counting) and is even with Maryville’s 12 for the most titles overall.

None of that is why I’m a fan of the guy.

Shortly after arriving at Alcoa five years ago, Rankin dismissed one of the state’s top prospects, a kid with several Division I offers, from the team. Not hating on the kid, but he did something Rankin just will not tolerate from one of his players. You hear about coaches who will do something like that, but you never really see them, especially at a football-mad school like Alcoa. I know. I graduated from there.

I love all the titles, but, when Rankin dismissed that kid, it was one of the most important things to ever happen to Alcoa football. We still want to win. We still want to beat Maryville, but not at any price. Coach Rankin, you are truly the man. My best to your family.

Football is king in this town, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about the two coaches who don’t have the momentum of state championships at their backs.

Brint Russell is a bright, young coach. He knew what he was up against when he took the Heritage job three years ago. He knew it wasn’t going to happen right away. He knew it was going to take some time.

The win over Catholic, at the time a defending state champion the Mountaineers should never have been able to stay on the field with, is proof the guy can coach. I hope the people who watch their football in the most scenic stadium in the county are willing to give the guy the time he’s going to need. Good luck, coach. Thanks for the call.

Then there’s William Blount’s David Gregory. It can’t be said enough how very important it was for Gregory to take the Governor job three years ago. With the previous coach leaving for another school after the team had already gone through spring practice and school having let out for the summer, if Gregory had not taken the post, William Blount would have been in big, big trouble.

It was May already. Gregory, a state championship coach from Mississippi who’d been hired as William Blount’s new defensive coordinator only the previous winter, could have walked away. He had his title. He has a beautiful wife and family.

When he decided to stay and stand up for those boys, I cheered him. Again, good luck, coach. We could sure use a few more like you.

In closing, when Click hit that jump shot at the end double overtime to win Maryville a state basketball championship four years ago, Blount Today was there. We were cracking up, too. The 3-pointer Click made was only the second shot he’d attempted for the whole tournament. It was better than “Rudy.” There’s no way that happened. Yeah, and Humphrey, a former Rebel himself, didn’t win back-to-back national championships with Florida after getting passed over by hometown Tennessee during recruiting. Still trying to make sense of that one.

Blount Today may be closing, but the games will go on. We’ll see you out there when we can. Got to find a job first. Like the rest of you, I’ve got to buy a ticket now.

You’re worth it, though. It’s been a pleasure to be your sports editor.

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Comments » 1

Virginia writes:

Ah Stefan, I love you!
Virginia Whitehouse Seals