Sep 7 2009
09:05 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett

Hello Readers,
Football season has started once again and our Vols sure opened the "Kiffen" season with a bang didn't they. Let's hope it continues. Our Tigers are certainly giving a good account for themselves also, two games and as of yet unscored on. How about a little history on Rockwood football..
Rockwood began competing in athletic events in 1921 and oddly the Tigers won that one 69-0 over Harriman. This game was played on what was known as the old Kelly lot, located where the Sanitary laundry once stood. There was no fence around the field, no bleachers, no field of well mowed Bermuda grass. The players were furnished with jerseys, stockings and pants. They had to furnish their own pads (if any) and shoes. The colors were orange and black and remained from that day to 1950 when RHS kept the nickname of "Tigers" but because of so many conflicts of colors changed to Green and White.
Their first coach, Rev. Leland Cooke, pastor of First Christian Church, organized the team, coached 4 years without pay, turning over the reins in 1926 to Gene McMurray, who coached until 1929 when Ivan Donnely took over. During what was known as the war years, 9 head coaches tutored Tiger players from 1939 through 1945.
The late Earl Gibson was the first captain of an RHS football team which included William Snow, George Turner, E.I. Tedder, John Elliot, Guilford Millican, Willard Stevens, Clint Collier, Frank Millican, E.T. Ingram, Elbert Haltom, Clyde Baldwin, Wade Chandler, Jim Lawrence Tarwater, Aaron Grant, Alton Janey, Morgan Clack, John McCluen, Theodore Watt, Earl Johnson, Bert Brown, Robert Collette, Tommy Brown, Morgan Brown, Ed Roberts, Bernard Rose, J.C.Mee, Eugene Johnson and Roy Haggard.
Down through the years, Rockwood has turned out many excellent football and basketball teams. To pick out the best would be impossible, since the style of play within the last 25 or 30 years has changed considerably since 1921, but I would like to mention some teams with great records. The teams of 1942, 1943, and 1947 lost only one game. The teams of 1946, 1947, and 1962 lost only two, while the team of 1957 lost but 2 games and was the winner of the Tri-County Conference. Many think the team of 1947 was the best since they were the first RHS team to play in a bowl game, defeating Clarksville 14-6 at the first annual Lions Bowl in Athens. In fact, this was the first bowl game ever played in the state of Tennessee. Clarksville, the week prior to the Bowl game, had defeated Springfield who was rated number 1 in the state. Rockwood was ranked number 5 and 6 that year. Johnny Lawson, tackle on the 1947 team is the only player from RHS to make the first team on the annual all state selection. Several have made the second, third, and honorable mention. Johnny, who weighed 235 had good speed and was signed by the University of Tennessee but changed his mind about attending U-T and attended Tennessee Tech. He played there his freshman year and was called to active duty as a member of the local National Guard in 1950 during the start of the Korean War. Upon his return three years later, he joined an industrial firm in Indiana giving up his football career.
I remember in 1952, the Roane Theater sponsored a contest to let the fans determine the most outstanding player for the previous ten years. Tommy Roberts, a fleet back with the teams of 1946, 1947, and 1948, received this honor. Others in the running were Pat Evans, Johnny Lawson both of the 46-48 teams, Eddie Roberts of the years 44 and 45 and C.D.Mee from the teams of 50-51-52.
Perhaps the most famous player ever to come from the Tiger Den is Coach Ray Graves. Coach Graves coached the University of Florida for many years as well as Georgia Tech as an assistant. He also served many other capacities in football. He played for the Tigers in 1936-1937 , moving on to Knox Central and TMI. He joined the Vols around 1940 playing four years there.
Another former RHS player who received nationwide publicity was Clarance "Shank" Knight, who played with the 1941-1942 teams and was a Student-Coach in 1943 guiding the team to a 9-1 record. Shank was a senior at RHS in 1943, ineligible to play football, he was chosen by Prof. T.R.Eustler to coach the team, since no one was available to hire because of the war, draft, and better paying industrial jobs. Only 17 years of age, he took the Tigers, and not only ran up a 9-1 mark but was ranked in the top 10 and turned out several players who received college scholarships. Among those players were Dillard Whittier and George Murray. Both played at U-T in 1944 and participated with U-T in the 1945 Rose Bowl.
One of the strangest plays ever to take place occurred in 1938 when Gordon Hickey was out in the clear on his way for a touchdown against Crossville. Suddenly a Crossville player jumped from the sideline to haul down the surprised Hickey about midfield. The officials placed the ball on the One yard line and Rockwood scored on the next play. Rockwood won the game 20-0 but this was still the strangest play that has probably ever happened in RHS history.
I know there have been great teams and players at RHS that I didn't mention, but just wait your turn and you will be mention somewhere down the road. It takes a few years to make the "Rockwood Memories" column.
"Rockwood Memories" Volume One and Volume Two can be purchased at Gail Score's "Western Apparel" , "Yonder Hollow", O'Those Were The Days Antiques", "Shack's Restaurant" all in Rockwood, and at David Webb's "Rocky Top General Store" in Harriman.
Until next week, keep sending the emails.....Ray

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