By James Mack Adams
During my early high school years, my goal was to earn a position on at least one of the varsity sports teams. As I remember, that was the desire of many of the guys in my small school. Earning a sports letter to wear on my school sweater or jacket was a dream. It was an unfulfilled dream.
I did try. I gave it my best and had the aches and bruises to prove it. But it was not to be. I was too underweight for football, too short for basketball, and too uncoordinated for baseball. Those were the extent of the sports offerings at Norton (VA) High School when I attended.
Adding to my frustration was the fact my dad had played football for Norton and was named all-district center in 1926. That year, Norton scheduled a post-season game with Dobyns-Bennett High School. That was the same year Kingsport Central High School changed its name to Dobyns-Bennett.
DB’s quarterback and kicker in 1926 was a senior by the name of Bobby Dodd. Yes, you are correct. It was THE Bobby Dodd who went on to play college football for Tennessee and later become the legendary coach at Georgia Tech. To say that Dobyns-Bennett “cleaned Norton’s clock” would be a gross understatement. My dad told me the final score was brutal and embarrassing for him and his Norton teammates.
When I became a sophomore, I decided to take my life in my own hands and go out for the football team. At the time, I was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 118 pounds. Coach Sam Lawson suggested I daily drink a chocolate milkshake with two raw eggs. I tried it. You could find me at the soda fountain at Passmore’s Pharmacy most every evening after practice. It didn’t work. Oh, how I would like to have the same problem now.
Norton ran a now-outdated offense called the single wing. It was strictly a power offense.“Four yards and a cloud of dust,” as we once described the Ohio State offense during the days of Coach Woody Hayes. The backfield consisted of a fullback, tailback, wingback, and blocking back. There was no quarterback under center. The ball was centered directly to one of the running backs.
When the team scrimmaged in preparation for the next game, Coach Sam usually put me in as defensive linebacker. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically a live blocking dummy. I was a sacrificial lamb and I got slaughtered on most every play
In the single wing offense, the blocking back usually led the play. Our blocking back was a muscular guy named Doc Lyons. Doc was missing about three front teeth as I recall. Football helmets were not then equipped with face masks. One of the end positions on the offensive line was manned by Lonnie Quillen. Lonnie was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed in at 250 pounds. His nickname was “Bigun.” On some plays, Lonnie would pull out from his line position and lead the ball carrier. I knew that on every play either Doc or Lonnie was going to make my 118-pound body suffer.
After giving my situation much thought, I concluded I could probably better serve the team, and myself, in some other capacity. I asked Coach Sam if I could turn in my pads and become one of the team’s equipment managers. He agreed and I did just that. I became the team’s specialist in treating muscle pulls and strains.
Not to be deterred from my dream of being a star high school athlete, I tried out for the basketball team. That also didn’t go well. As I wrote previously, it was a small school and several football players also played on the basketball team. In those days, the seasons didn’t overlap. As you might suspect, “Bigun” Quillen played center. I don’t remember Doc playing basketball. He just liked to hit people.
Unsuccessful in athletics, I decided to try the marching band. That did work out for me. I finally found my niche. At the start of my junior year, my family moved to Kingsport and I enrolled in Dobyns-Bennett. I tried out for and was accepted into the DB marching band as a member of the color guard. Three years later, I was lucky enough to become part of the ETSU band, first as a color guard and then as manager and music librarian.
So, I didn’t make it as an athlete. I didn’t receive my once-coveted athletic letter, but perhaps things turned out for the better in the long run. I received school letters in band in both high school and college. Somehow, I managed to do that without learning a single note of music. That’s another story.
There was another unexpected perk to my not making it in sports. It was my involvement with the ETSU band that allowed me to first meet and hang out with the lady who now shares my life. Some may want to call it fate. I call it luck.