Bear standout was more than a ‘Rube’


Bradley Central Sports Historian

Among the hundreds of players to have worn the Black-and-Gold, only a few have reached the pinnacle of success both on and off the field that Reuben North “Rube” McCray, Class of 1924, did. 

“Rube,” as he was always known at Bradley, was born on June 13, 1904 in Greeneville. He passed away in Lake Waccamaw, N.C., on Nov. 20, 1972, at the age of 68.

McCray’s family moved to Cleveland from Atlanta between his freshman and sophomore years, attending Bradley “County” High School as it was then known for three years, beginning in 1921.

There he would become one of the most heralded athletes to ever grace the halls of Bradley as he played football, basketball and baseball.

McCray played under the leadership of head coach and athletic director Jimmie Lovell.

McCray’s personal leadership and athletic gifts would lead to him being named captain of the Bear teams in all three sports. 

The positions he played in football included running back, linebacker and punter, leading the gridiron Bears to a record 28-5-1 during his playing days.

The basketball Bears were 44-14 during his career and McCray led them to the East Tennessee Championship in 1924.

They then advanced to the very first state tournament that the Bears would participate in where they lost to Ramer 18-14 and ended the season recognized as finishing 11th in the state tourney. Ramer is now closed but was located in southern McNairy County, near the Mississippi state line.

After graduating in 1924, McCray would play football and basketball for one year at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, but would move to Milligan College in Greeneville the following season.

Both of those colleges were two-year junior colleges at that time. He finished up his final two years at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Ky.

Upon graduation from college, he returned to Athens where he joined the coaching staff of the Bulldogs, who played junior college football in those days.

At TWC, he coached for eight seasons and led the Bulldogs to the National Junior College National Championship in 1938, along with six conference championships. His tenure included a 21-game winning streak. 

He moved to William & Mary College for the 1939 season, where he was an assistant to Coach Carl Voyles.

McCray became head coach for the 1944 season, serving in that capacity for eight years while compiling a 44-21-3 record.

In 122 years of football at William & Mary, McCray has the second most wins for a head coach.

While he achieved this total in his eight seasons, the record is held by current coach Jimmy Laycock who has held the post for the past 36 years.

A couple of other coaches for the Tribe will be familiar to any football fan — longtime Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, who led them to four straight Super Bowls from 1990-93, and college football guru Lou Holtz came along in later years.

During his days at William & Mary, McCray also served as athletic director, men’s basketball coach and baseball coach, in addition to his duties as the football coach.

He resigned from William & Mary in 1951 and was later named to their Hall of Fame.

He led the Tribe to two different New Year’s Day bowl games, where they lost to Arkansas in the Dixie Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., 21-19, on New Year’s Day 1947 and beat Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State University), 20-0 in 1948.

After a life in athletics, McCray decided to go into the automotive dealership business and joined the West Point Motor Company in West Point, Va., as president and general manager.

He also served on the town council there from 1956-58. 

In 1958, he moved to Lake Waccamaw, N.C., where he became director of the Boys’ Home of North Carolina.

He served as the director until his death in 1972. Six months before his death, he was presented the “Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award” by the North Carolina Civitans statewide organization.

He also served as the president of the National Association of Homes for Boys.

In 1992, the new library in Lake Waccamaw was named the “Rube McCray Memorial Library,” in his honor for his “outstanding service to youth, his years of coaching and developing young men, and his civic and religious activities.” 

This is just another truly great example of a great player, coach and citizen who exemplifies the spirit of the Bear Nation.


During McCray’s first season at Bradley, something special happened that began what is today refered to as “Bear Nation.”

The following is derived from information reported in the Cleveland Banner of Dec. 3, 1921, with author comments added:

Bradley Central (or Central High as it was then known) would begin the 1921 season with high expectations.

Many of [the previous year’s] varsity members would return from a 6-2-1 team and the Bears were expected to continue to be the toast of East Tennessee football.

Bradley coach Jimmie Lovell had scheduled an early season game with Tennessee Military Academy on the road in Sweetwater for October, but requested that TMI move the game to the last game of the season, Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Day. They agreed and the excitement leading up to this game began to build.

Coach Lovell had a plan in mind and it began to unfold when an announcement was made that the Bears would be taking a private-charter train to the game.

Traveling by train was the normal mode of transportation in those days for the football team and coaches (Lovell and J.F. Conrey) for road games, along with the regular train passengers.

However, this trip would be different, as Lovell had quietly reached an agreement with Southern Railway to take not only the team and coaches, but also loyal members of Bear Nation to the game on this train.

The train company agreed, as long as Lovell could come up with 125 adults paying the round-trip train fare of $2.39 each (including the war tax) for the charter train to become a reality.

The Bears had been extremely successful as the season built to a climax for the big battle between the Bears and Cadets, two powerhouse teams in East Tennessee.

Bradley’s 6-1 record was marred only by a very controversial loss at Chattanooga City, in a game played at Chamberlain Field on the campus of the University of Chattanooga, one of only two football fields in existence in Chattanooga at that time.

The Bears dropped a 7-6 decision there when a Bradley safety was disallowed late in the game, preserving the win for the Dynamos of City.

On Thanksgiving Day the Bears fans more than surpassed the requirements set by the railroad company as over 400 fans paid the ticket price for a chance to go with their beloved team to Sweetwater.

The crowd gathered for the 11:30 a.m. train ride and needless to say, emotions ran high as the Bears annihilated the Cadets, 26-7, on their home field as Bear Nation went berserk.

With such a large crowd coming up from Cleveland, it was TMI and their fans that were intimidated. The only thing preventing a Bear shutout was a touchdown scored late in the game on a blocked punt.

The ride home must have been electric as the team and their fans celebrated the season-ending win and the Bears were named the champions of East Tennessee for 1921.

Long known for carrying large crowds with them wherever they play, even then the Bear Nation was there, and it continues to be there as the Black-and-Gold play in their 100th season.

Coach Pate, Chancey key to 40's Bear success

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

In the early 1940s, the Bradley Central football program enjoyed some of the greatest success in its 100-year history.

Just the third head coach in the program’s first 23 years, Lee Pate took over as head coach in 1939 and directed the Bears until 1942 and then returned for the 1946 season.

“Coach Pate” has the distinction of having the highest winning percentage in Bear football history. His 45-10-2 record with a winning percentage of 81.8 percent is far and away the best.

He followed a legend when Bear coach Jimmie Lovell resigned to move home to Mount Pleasant, near Columbia.

Coach Pate came to the Bears as head coach in 1939 and proceeded to establish some very successful seasons, going 7-4, 11-1, 11-0 and 11-0-1 during those four seasons, and returning for a final year in 1946 with a 5-5-1 record.

His first coaching stint at Bradley was interrupted in 1942 when he joined the U.S. Marines during World War II.

At the completion of his enlistment he came home to take an assistant’s position at Baylor before coming back home to Bradley in 1946.

In anticipation of his joining the military to fight in World War II, Coach Pate began to groom Milburn Waller to follow him when he left.

Pate coached the Bears to their longest winning streak of 25 games and an unbeaten streak of 33 games (with one tie) from 1940 into the 1943 season.

He had the pleasure of beating both Chattanooga Central and Chattanooga City in the same season (1940). This was the first time in Bear football history that a Bradley coach could make this claim.

Some of the players during his tenure were Arch Fitzgerald, Dee Gibson, Bill Schultz, Lee Ownby, “Doc” Ellis, “Rabbit” Horner, Ralph Chancey, Winston Welch, Gilbert Varnell, Austin Davis, C.L. Bivens, Jack Manis, Buddy McLeod, Don Lyle, John Cate, Kermit Maupin, Clifton Farmer, Sherrill Hayes, Sammy Horner, Garren Haven and Robert Huffine.

Following his football coaching days at Bradley, Pate moved to Murfreesboro where he became the head coach for the Murfreesboro Central Tigers in both football and basketball.

In 1950, the Tigers under Coach Pate were named the No. 1 football team in Tennessee.

In 1965 his Tigers won the Tennessee Boys Basketball Championship and it would be 44 years before another Murfreesboro boys’ basketball team won it again, when Blackman claimed the title in 2014.

Pate set the all-time record at Murfreesboro Central for the most wins for the boys basketball program with 516.

Pate coached football through 1972 when Murfreesboro Central closed, and then retired from teaching at Riverdale in 1977.

“He was good, he was strict, but everybody respected him,” recalled former Tiger player Billy Heath.

Coach Pate was born in Greeneville and passed away at the age of 88 in Murfreesboro in September 2010.

He was inducted into the Tennessee Football Coaching Association Hall of Fame and the TSSAA Hall of Fame after his passing.



On the glorious Sunday afternoon of Jan. 19, 1986, seven former Bears were honored in a reception at Johnston Park in downtown Cleveland.

Those honored included former Bear All-State player and later a captain for the Tennessee Vols, Ralph Chancey.

Honored along with Chancey that day were two other All-State players and All-American players at UT — Dale Jones and Chris White.

Longtime equipment manager Roger Frazier, who still works with the Vols today as equipment supervisor, was on stage that day as well.

Jim Aszman was at UT to play baseball and had some spare time, so he walked on to try out for punter. He became an integral part of the 1985 football team.

Also making the list of honorees that day was Wes Rakestraw, who played linebacker for the Vols and brother Mike who was a football manager. All-in-all it was a great day to be a Vol as over 2,000 gathered in support of Rocky Top.

At Bradley, Chancey played basketball for legendary coach Clifton “Tip” Smith.

He was named to the All-District and All-Region teams in basketball in both 1941 and 1942 and named All-State in basketball and football in 1941 and 1942.

Chancey was one of the first Bradley players to make it big with Tennessee after performing as an outstanding fullback and linebacker with the Bears.

He enrolled at UT in 1942 but entered the military during World War II before returning to Tennessee to play for the legendary Gen. Robert Neyland, from 1946-49.

Chancey was named a co-captain on the 1949 Vols while playing fullback.

After graduation he began a longtime stint as an assistant coach on the staff of Coach Neyland and continued there under Harvey Robinson, Bowden Wyatt and Jim McDonald.

He left for West Virginia from 1962-66 before entering private business

He returned to the Big Orange as an administrative assistant to former teammate Johnny Majors until he retired in 1988. He passed away at 80 years of age in 2002.

Perhaps his greatest claim to fame was having served as the position coach for the linebackers and defensive backs on the 1950 and 1951 national championship teams, considered by many Vols followers to be two of the best teams ever assembled in Knoxville.

While at Tennessee he also played basketball, in 1946, after helping lead the Bears to state titles at Bradley in 1940 and ’42. The Bears also placed third in the state in his junior season, and fifth when Chancey was a freshman.

The Bear basketball team had an incredible four-year record with Chancey of 135-16. The Bear football team was 36-10-1, including an unbeaten 11-0 team in 1941 and a powerhouse team that was 11-1 in 1940.

He was inducted in the Bradley County Hall of Fame in 1984.

Bradley to cap off first 100 years of football​

By JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor

Although Bradley Central High School celebrated its 100th graduation in May, the Bear centenni-al football team won’t take the field until Thursday evening. The first Black-and-Gold gridiron squad played a trio of games in 1916, but two years later the 1918 season was canceled due to a deadly influenza pandemic, which afflicted 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic. It resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people (3 to 5 percent of the world’s population), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

In their first 99 seasons, the Bradley football team has recorded more victories than all but one other public high school in the state. The Bears have a 580-419-28
overall record, for a 56.5 winning percentage. The lofty victory total trails only Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett, which is 768-201-28 since beginning its program in 1921. With a pair of state championships (1961, 1976) to its credit, Bradley has a varied gridiron history with 62 winning seasons, including four perfect records —1941 (11-0), 1942 (11-0-1), 1959 (10-0) and 1976 (13-0). The Bears have had seven 10- win campaigns — the four unbeaten, plus 1940 (11-1), 1952 (10-1) and 1980 (10-2).
Bradley also has five years when they lost just one game —
the previously mentioned 1940 and ’52, plus 1955 (9-1), 1960 (9-1) and the 1961 (9-1) state championship team. Making the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s playoffs a dozen times since the format began in 1969, Bradley has a 15-14 overall postseason record, including a 7-3 mark in bowl games.

Dating back to the opening of Central High School on

Charleston Pike, now known as North Ocoee Street (the current site of Ocoee Middle School), the Bear football program played its first game on Nov. 11, 1916. Coach J.F. Cory’s team defeated Tyner 43-6 and later shutout McMinn County 18-0, with a 26-0 loss to powerhouse private school Baylor in between for a 2-1 record in their inaugural season.
After Conry coached the initial Bear squad, legendary coach
Jimmy Lovell (1917-38) directed the Bears for the next 20 sea-
sons, amassing a program record 123 victories, against 72 losses and 16 ties.

After Lovell stepped down, Lee Pate (1939-42, 1946) took over the reins and posted the highest winning percentage (78.9) in Bear history, going 45-10-2 in his five years in charge. Bradley went 32 straight games without a loss, while going 33-1-1 in the first three seasons of the 1940s. In the 1950s, the Bears went 10-1 in coach Billy Frank Smith’s first season (1952) to start his run as one of the most successful head coaches in Bradley history, winning nearly 76 percent of his
games, going 71-21-2 in nine seasons. The Bears posted a 21- game winning streak and missed out on being the 1959 state champions by one vote.

The following year, with future NFL quarterback Steve Sloan
once again running the offense, Harold “Red” Hensley inherited Smith’s powerful squad and claimed the school’s first state football title, going 9-1 and being voted the Associated Press and Likenhous State Champions. That school year the Bradley boys and girls basketball teams also won the TSSAA state championships to complete the “Triple Crown” of Tennessee high school sports.

Fifteen years later, in Coach Louie Alford’s second season at
the helm, the Bears made their first TSSAA playoff appearance
count, sweeping a trio of playoff games, including a three-over-
time thriller for the state title, holding off Jackson Central-
Merry 50-48 in a record-setting outcome. In two stints (1975-80, 91-93) as the top Bear, Alford won better than 67 percent of his games, going 66-32, including a 7-3 postseason mark in his nine campaigns.

One of the most beloved coaches to lead the Bears was Bill
“Chief” Robertson, from 1983-90. Although his teams won 58 percent of the time, they never made the TSSAA playoffs, but his players loved playing for the “Big Guy.” He did direct Bradley to a 27-7 win over his alma mater, Sevier County, in the 1987 Smoky Bowl. 

Bradley had some limited success in the final decade of the 20th century, as Coach Marty Wild’s 1995 squad advanced to
the second round of the TSSAA playoffs, falling to Farragut in a record-setting seven-overtime battle that posted the most combined points in Tennessee high school history with its 65-64 outcome.

Head coach Bill Price put together high-scoring seasons in
1999 and 2000 with back-to-back playoff runs. Averaging more than 36 points a game, the Bears went 9-1 in the ’99 regular season, but fell to Hendersonville Beech in the opening round of the postseason. The following fall, the Black- and-Gold put up more than 38 points an outing, but only went 7-3 in regular season games before whipping Lebanon (42-20) and McMinn County (42-0) while making a run to the state quarterfinals before falling to the Gerald Riggs Jr.-led state championship Red Bank squad.

After just nine wins in the following five seasons, Bradley pro-
moted a very young (28) assistant coach to the top spot, beginning current head coach Damon Floyd’s rebuilding of the program, which has led to six straight TSSAA playoff appear-
ances. Entering his 11th season with 107 games under his belt, Floyd passed Alford (98 games) to become the second-longest tenured head coach behind only Lovell (211). Although his overall record is just one game above .500 (54-53), Floyd’s Bears were state ranked last season for the second time in
his tenure and have won 38 regular season games in the past
half dozen years. His best season was 2010, when the team went 8-2 during the regular season. As a top seed in the playoffs, the Bears demolished Coffee County in the opening round, before slipping up in a 28-26 battle against Oak Ridge
the following week.

Last year, the Bears were in The Associated Press Top 10
most of the season and went 7-3, with two of their losses coming to top-ranked Maryville and Science Hill, which was No. 5 in the state at the time of the meeting. As Bradley heads into its 100th football campaign, Floyd’s Bears are a preseason Top 10 pick and are expected to once again battle
No. 1 Maryville and Science Hill, which is tied with them for the
10th spot in the Murphy Fair poll, for the Region 1-6A crown.

Bradley opens the new campaign against county-rival Walker
Valley on Thursday at Bear Stadium, and then will continue
what is believed to be the second longest continuous rivalry in the state when McMinn County comes to town Aug. 26.

Squaring off every fall since the Cherokee football program began in 1927, the neighboring county schools have met 88 times on the gridiron. Due to the current TSSAA
setup, Bear Team 100 will open the play-offs Nov. 4th.

Bears Play 1,000th Game

By Kelley Smiddie (Times-Free Press):

The immediate importance for Bradley Central and its home football game tonight against Soddy-Daisy is that it's a District 5-AAA matchup and one the Bears need to win to improve their chance to qualify for the state playoffs. But there is added historical significance.

When the ball is kicked at 7:30, it will signify the start of the 1,000th football game in Bradley Central High School's history.

Bradley brings a 2013 record of 4-4 and an overall school record of 564-407-28 into the game against the Trojans.

Gary Ownbey has been involved with the local radio broadcasts of Bradley football and basketball for 23 years. The appointed historian because of his record-keeping and study of Bradley's programs over the years, Ownbey said he was putting together season-by-season accounts of Bradley's football teams a couple of years ago and projected 2013 would likely be the year for the 1,000th game.

"It's nothing anybody else knew about, I don't think," Ownbey said. "They're all amazed we'd played that many games."

Corky Whitlock heads the Bradley radio team in his 53rd season as the play-by-play man. Color analyst and former Bradley boys' basketball coach Earl Rowan worked on some home football radio broadcasts in 1966 and has been a full-time member of the broadcast team since 1972.

Rowan said his first vivid memory of working the games was in '67 when the Bears lost to McMinn County at the old ballfield where Ocoee Middle School is now.

"It was one of the worst beatings I've ever seen," Rowan said. "In '66, '67 and '68, we were not a good football team."

Terry Sweeney, a former head coach at Sevier County and a Middle Tennessee State assistant who was once a running back for the Baltimore Colts behind Pro Bowler Alan Ameche, arrived in 1969.

"He brought some swagger, some pizazz, some confidence," Rowan said. "He would've stayed 10 years, but that cockiness cost him his job after four seasons. He wanted to run the football program, but he wasn't taking instructions from anybody, including the school superintendent."

That former field Rowan referred to was named in honor of Jimmie Lovell, who still has the most coaching victories in program history. He compiled a 124-70-15 record from 1919 to '38, and his 1925 team beat Loudon County 92-6, which remains as Bradley's largest margin of victory over an opponent.

Lee Pate, who coached 1939-42 and '46, is tops in winning percentage at .818. His teams went 45-10-2.

Bill Smith is second in coaching wins and winning percentage. His 1952-60 teams were 72-20-2 (78.2 percent), including a 10-0 season in '59.

The Bears' first undefeated season was under Pate in 1941 when they went 11-0. He led them to another (11-0-1) the next season.

Coach Louie Alford (1975-80, 1991-93) led them to their fourth and most recent unbeaten year, which was 13-0 in 1976 when they won their only state championship.

Rowan lists the triple-overtime victory over Jackson Central-Merry at Middle Tennessee State University as his most memorable behind the microphone. Close behind is the 65-64 seven-overtime loss to Farragut in the 1995 state playoffs.

That game was the last in a Bradley uniform for current Bears head coach Damon Floyd, who was hired in 2006. He said as a defensive back he visualized, what seemed like in slow motion, the conversion pass that beat them that night.

Rowan said winning 27-26 in overtime in 2009 at neighbor Cleveland -- a team Bradley hadn't beaten since 1989, although there was an eight-year cooling-off period between the heated rivals -- is another high on the memorable list.

Game No. 998 was against Cleveland and No. 999 last week was against McMinn County -- the team Bradley has played more than any other. The Cherokees got the best of them this time, but Bradley leads the all-time series 50-38-3.

"The first thing that popped in my mind when I heard we were about to play our 1,000th game is actually how amazing it is that football has been played at this school that long," Floyd said. "We have a saying around here, 'Once a Bear, always a Bear.' One thousand games, that's a lot of Bears."

Bears Play 1000th Game

Alumni News

​​Bradley Football 

Gridiron accident didn’t slow Climer

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

Most folks remember Claude Climer for having served 36 years as the County Court Clerk, where we all handed him our money for new license plates or decals each year.

However, many of the old-timers will remember his playing days at Bradley Central for coach Wendell Sullivan, and the unfortunate accident that cost him his leg.

America was still recovering from World War II and here was a young man wanting to play football who literally did not know the difference between offense and defense.

The first time he ever saw a football game was a 7-6 Bradley win over Rossville, Ga., and he knew that football was the game for him.

Assistant coach “Bozo” Baker discouraged him from playing but Claude told Coach Baker to draw up some plays for him to study so that he could be a part of the Bear football team.

Coach Baker relented and before long this 127-pound freshman was the left tailback in the “T” formation for the junior varsity under Coach Baker.

He hit 145 pounds as a sophomore and topped out at 168 pounds for his fateful junior year.

Besides playing the fullback position as a junior and safety on defense, Claude was the Bear punter.

Punting was an important position in those days with many low-scoring games won by playing for field position.

In 1949, Chattanooga Central, the Bears’ most bitter rival at the time, came to Jimmy Lovell field to take on Coach Sullivan’s Bears.

Central’s coach at the time was the legendary E.B. “Red” Etter, who retired in 1983 with the most football coaching wins in Tennessee high school football history, and is still fifth all-time.

It was an extremely big deal for the Pounders and Bears to collide with some of the largest crowds in the two schools’ history watching them battle it out.

That year’s game would be played on Thursday, Oct. 27, due to a teacher’s meeting on Friday and it would turn out to be the last game of junior Climer’s Bear career.

A scoreless first half began with the Bears taking the ball in the third quarter but failing to achieve a first down and having to punt.

Claude was the safety valve as the punter, and the last man to stop the punt returner if he got past the other Bears.

That was the case on this particular punt and as Climer hemmed in the ball carrier along the sideline, a Central player blind-sided him behind his right knee, freeing the ball carrier for a touchdown run.

The scoreboard would show a final of 14-0 and a Central win, but it would be irrelevant to everyone attending the game.

Climer was attended to on the sidelines by the Bear trainer, Dr. S.J. Sullivan (brother of Coach Sullivan) and was taken to P&S (Physicians and Surgeons) Hospital which then stood on Inman Street near where the museum center is located today.

X-rays miraculously revealed no broken bones, but the intense pain caused by ligaments and arteries that were shredded was almost unbearable.

Climer was taken to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga on Sunday, Oct. 30, after his leg turned black from lack of blood circulation due to the ruptured arteries.

On Monday, Halloween Day, Dr. Higginbotham, his attending physician, gave Claude the grim news that they would have to amputate his right leg about six inches above the knee.

The operation was performed and Claude was back in school in three weeks’ time.

Before leaving Erlanger, he would meet Bill McKenzie, the player who blocked him from behind and who extended a wholehearted apology.

Coach Red Etter along with assistant Coach Farmer, McKenzie and other Central players presented a signed game ball to Claude which he still has and cherishes to this day.

Claude shrugged off the play as unfortunate but an unintentional accident that could happen to anyone. He merely wanted to get back into the routine of high school and accept the hand that life had dealt him.

Claude was honored with a ‘Climer Night’ at the homecoming game where his future wife, Dolores Kile, would be crowned Homecoming Queen.

They had first met at Bradley when Claude randomly drew her name during a school activity period.

Before that happened, Claude did not know her and asked a friend to point her out to him because drawing her name meant that he would have to buy her a Christmas gift that year.

He was chagrined that he had drawn a girls’ name but one look at her was all it took for him to fall in love.

After 63 years of marriage Dolores passed away in October 2015. Claude referred to his lovely bride as his “angel without wings.” Together they had three sons and seven grandchildren.

Money was raised for Claude and he secured enough for a scholarship to attend watch-making school in Clinton.

He became so proficient at repairing watches and clocks at his new shop in Cleveland that he decided he wanted to get into something with less hours so that it would provide him more time to spend with his young wife.

After a lot of coercing from his business associates, he was talked into running for the County Court Clerk position.

After getting elected, he served in the position for 36 years, covering over four decades.

He is still the longest-serving elected official in Bradley County history.

This is just one of the many great stories and life lessons from another member of the BEAR NATION!

Speedy Senters key to ’61 Bear title run

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

While several prominent names in Bradley Central football history came from the powerhouse teams of the end of the 1950s and the 1961 state championship squad, one that might not ring a bell with many, other than those who were there, is William Senters.

Senters still holds the Bear record for the longest run from scrimmage, even some 57 years after he made that fabulous run as a sophomore in 1959. He was considered one of the all-time greatest running backs in Bradley Central history and helped lead the Bears to a 36-5 record from 1958 through 1961. His 95-yard run from scrimmage is second to none in Bear history, but was almost equaled by teammate Ernest Droke during the very same game against Polk County in a 48-0 Bear rout. Droke ripped off a long gainer that was a yard shy of Senter’s masterpiece by carrying the pigskin 94 yards for his touchdown.
Senters also had an 88-yard run for a touchdown in another game that season, which is also still in the Bear Top 10 of all-time.

Senters and the Bears during that run had the distinct pleasure of playing for what many old-timers in Bear Nation call one of the very greatest coaches in Bear history — Billy Frank Smith.

In his senior season of 1961, Senters and his teammates would land the Bears their first state championship in football under Harold “Red” Henslee, who had taken over as head coach when Smith became the Bradley county superintendent of schools.

The different Bradley players, coaches and teammates from that era were quick to point out that Senters had a quiet personality until you turned him loose on the gridiron, where he quickly morphed into an unstoppable runner with blazing speed.

In a recent interview, one of his teammates and great friends to this day, Steve Sloan, who went on from Bradley to play for legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama and in the NFL, had a lot of kind words for Senters.

“During those four years I was on the Bradley Central football teams, we had a lot of outstanding players at every position. One player during those four years who always stood out to me was William Senters. He was a great player ALL the time. William didn’t say a lot, but he played on a very high level every play. Someone like William doesn’t come along very often.

“We would never have won a lot of those games without William carrying the load for the Bears,” Sloan assessed. “As I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of great players but none were more dependable to give an all-out effort than William.

“I cherish those high school days together with William and my other great teammates as precious memories. Players like William helped to show our teammates that you could be successful if you simply applied yourself on every play, and that epitomizes William Senters.”

After high school, Senters opted for McMurry College in Abilene, Texas, as his college of choice. He chose the Highlanders due to the fact that a man he dearly admired, former Bradley Central principal and a mentor to William, the late Bill Schultz, attended college there.
There he ran for the track team and bested a teammate on a couple of occasions who would later compete in Olympic competition in 1964.

Besides playing on the first Bear state championship football team, Senters was talented enough to be selected to the 1961 Sporting News All-American team that season. He also had a couple of teammates join him, David Tyrell and Steve Sloan. It is the first and only time that Bradley Central had three teammates selected to an All-American team in the same season.

Even with the first Bear football title for the 1961 team, the 1959 team was undefeated and it has often been said that it was one of the very best teams in Bear history.

Sloan and Senters along with Droke, Richard Davenport, Tyrell, Buddy Rogers, Charlie Snyder, Rex Dockery, Gary Kelly and many others were nearly untouchable.

In the final game of that season the Bears routed McMinn County 54-27. That Cherokee team was led by a standout player named Benny Monroe, who would later become a Bear coaching nemesis at Cleveland High and Ooltewah. Senters had 228 yards in that game on 16 carries, with Alford nailing two touchdowns and 97 yards. Droke gained 117 yards and scored four touchdowns. Senters’ 228 yards set the Bear standard for the season and he finished with 1,109 yards for the year.

The Bears accumulated 228 points for the season while only giving up 78 in the 10 games played. Their opponent from Franklin, N.C., called the week of the game and said they were not coming to play the Bears. The reputation had spread about this strong Bradley team.

Christy Critchfield, former Bradley County School Board member, is the stepdaughter of William and daughter of his wife, Sandy Kerr Senters.
Senters also has one daughter by a previous marriage, Anitra Murphy, who resides in Senoia, Ga. They have a total of five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

William Senters was invaluable to the Bears as they captured that first state title in football in 1961. He was truly a legendary player and one of the best to ever wear the Black-and-Gold for the Bears.

Bear history to be discussed Sunday. Author Gary Ownbey will be the guest speaker for the Bradley County Historical and Genealogical Society meeting Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library in the large community room. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Ownbey will provide historical information about the Bears as well as early schools in Bradley County. His book, “100 Seasons of Black and Gold Glory” will be published in December at the conclusion of this season, the 100th in Bradley Central High School history.

Bear history includes 4 Elmore generations​

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

In the 100-year history of the Bradley Central football program, one family has done something no other has.

The Elmores are the only documented family in the Bear Nation that has had four different generations play football for the Black-and-Gold.

Starting with Ben Elmore in the mid 1920s, carried on by his son Harry, in the mid 1950s, whose son Franklin was a standout in the late 1970s and finished up by great-grandson Grayson just over a decade ago, they have excelled while representing Bradley Central.

Ben Elmore,

Class of 1927

Ben had the honor of playing for the legendary Jimmy Lovell, the longest-tenured coach in Bear history.

Ben was a part of the Bear team that wore Black and Gold for the first time as their uniform colors in 1924.

He was there when the Bears laid 92 points on Loudon County in a game that still remains the most points scored by a Bear team.

Ben was also on a team that played schools such as Grant University, the forerunner of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens. Grant University of Athens at that time was a satellite location for Grant University of Chattanooga, now known as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Other schools they played included many that are now closed or consolidated into other and larger schools. Schools such as Tennessee Military Institute in Sweetwater, a military academy that was a powerhouse throughout their existence, often using players that were much older than many public school players.

Other schools included Hiwassee College, Maryville Poly Tech, Etowah and Knoxville City, all of which are no longer in existence.

Little did he know he would lay the groundout for decades to come with his bloodline playing a prominent role in the success of the Bears. Ben’s brother, “Hoppy” would play football Bradley before going on to play at the University of Chattanooga. 

Harry Elmore,

Class of 1956

Playing for hugely successful Coach Billy Frank Smith, Harry was known as the “Galloping Ghost” in his playing days.

He was part of the backfield, alongside such teammates as Rusty Clayton, who was considered one of the fastest Bear running backs ever, later coaching and becoming the athletic director at BCHS.

Harry also played with teammates such as Dewey Ownbey, Jackie Malone, Wendell Neeley, Jimmy Mavity, John Crowe, Billy Chapman, Don Hill, Ronald Rogers and Jack White.

The Bears posted a gaudy 35-6-2 record during Harry’s playing days from 1953-56.

Three of those losses were to the nearly unbeatable Purple Pounders of Chattanooga Central, coached at that time by E.B. “Red” Etter, who retired in 1983 with a record of 324-102-12, still good for fifth all-time in TSSAA history.

Bear Nation, even in the mid-1950s, was known to travel well with the team and even had a road game in 1954 with Bay High in Panama City, Fla.

This game would christen a new stadium for the “Tornadoes,” as they were known. The result? A Bear win and thorough beatdown, 26-6.

Harry would sign a football scholarship and play for the University of Georgia before transferring closer to home to the University of Chattanooga, where he played for another legendary coach, Scrappy Moore.

Harry married Barbara Wilson and together they raised their three children — Franklin, Beth, and Amy.

Franklin Elmore,

Class of 1979

Franklin had the privilege and honor of playing on the last Bear team to win a state title, the 1976 squad of Coach Louie Alford.

That season the Bears ran the table to complete a perfect 13-0 record with a triple-overtime win over Jackson-Central Merry in the state championship game, 50-48.

The title game was declared the “National Game of the Year” by Prep Sports Magazine.

The ’76 squad was undoubtedly one of the most talented and deepest teams to ever don the Black and Gold.

Every position had starters who were constantly pushed by the second-team players for playing time.

A who’s who list of Bradley Central players included Greg Geren, Scott Kyle, Kinny Hooper, David Goodner, Barry Varner, Bobby Delay, Derrick Burrell, Randy Goins, Gary Austin, Doug Saffles, Tim Tinsley, Everett Blair, Eddie Albornoz, Bobby McLemore, Steve Gatlin, Howard Hamilton, Terry Scoggins, Tim Kuhns, Danny Wooden and Dennis Carroll.

Most every player on this list went on to play college football or was offered a scholarship to continue their career in college, if they opted to do so.

The coaching staff was maybe one of the best that ever worked the Bear sidelines. In addition to Coach Alford, the staff included David Cawood, Dale Woodard, John Chuy and Bob Zvolerin, with Joe Adams coaching the freshman team.

Including his freshman season of 10-0, Franklin’s days in a Bear uniform would end with a record of 39-6 including the state title and making the playoffs in 1977 along with three bowl games.

The Bears played two bowl games in 1978 when they could only find nine opponents for the regular season.

Three of the six losses for Franklin’s Bear teams were to private-school powerhouse Baylor.

There was no separation of public and private schools until the 1990s and at this time the Red Raiders were coached by that old nemesis, E. B. “Red” Etter who had moved from Chattanooga Central to coach at Baylor in 1970. The Elmore clan just could not escape this legendary coach.

Franklin signed a scholarship offer to play football at Carson-Newman College.

He married Marisa Scoggins and they reside in Cleveland and continue to be intensely loyal to the Black and Gold. Grayson is their only child.

Grayson Elmore,

Class of 2006

Grayson wore the Black and Gold of the football Bears during the 2002-2006 seasons.

Grayson’s time as a Bear coincided with a tumultuous time for Bear Nation as the Bears would suffer through three head coaching changes (Bill Price, Dean Ratledge and John Allen) during this four-year time span.

Also, district realignment pitted the Bears against formidable competition such as Oak Ride, Knoxville Farragut, and a resurgent Ooltewah High School.

While wins were scarce for the Bears, the 2005 seniors along with Grayson Elmore were Andrew Walsh, Tyler McGuire, Kody Fox, Caleb Disney, Chad Crye and Josh Heffington, who made their mark in Bear History by securing the first football victory against new county-rival Walker Valley High School.

Grayson is most remembered at Bradley Central as a track athlete specializing in the long jump and 100 meter dash.

He attended King University in Bristol on a track scholarship.

He is currently an Instructor of Human Performance at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.

Grayson is married to Ellen Elmore and they have one son, Orion.

No other known family has represented four generations in Bear football history. It’s quite an incredible story, just one of many that belong to Bear Nation.

Sloan stands alone as best Bear

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

There have been thousands of athletes to represent Bradley County throughout its history. Numerous ones have not only stood out on the high school level but also gone on to great college careers, gathering national attention, before reaching the professional ranks. However, when the discussion turns to who’s the best ever from our county, one name is immediately proclaimed — Steve Sloan.

The mention of Sloan and Bradley Central athletics brings back some of the most vivid emotions and memories to a great many members of the Bear Nation. Whether you were on one of the athletic teams of which Sloan was a member or whether you were an opponent playing against him, you certainly became aware very quickly of the God-given talent this young man brought to any endeavor in which he participated. As a multi-sport athlete, he was honored in about every way that an athlete could be honored.

The son of C.L. (Preacher) Sloan and Virginia Byrd Sloan, he began life in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 19, 1944. From the time he was born, until the family finally settled in Cleveland in 1953, Steve and his family bounced back and forth while his dad served in the United States Air Force.

There were numerous moves between Tennessee and Texas, but once settling in Cleveland, Sloan quickly became a player in the spotlight throughout his high school days leading into college and beyond. After advancing through elementary school at Arnold Memorial to Bradley Central, he became just another student walking the halls and having fun, all the while making friends and excelling athletically. His athletic prowess and success got him honored with a ‘Steve Sloan Day” after his playing career had ended.

“He had to study to make the grades and he did just that,” according to Inez Clemmer, Bradley Central assistant principal at the time. “All A’s and B’s and never any trouble. He was so good in sports that you would think he would be distasteful, but he was not,” added Clemmer. His four-year grade point average in high school was 91.285. Not bad for such a talented “jock.”

Sloan was also a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club during his days at BCHS and continued with that organization into his days at the University of Alabama while playing for the legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

But let’s start with his success at Bradley and work our way forward through the years. As a Bear, he played on the baseball team as a freshman but dedicated his final three spring seasons to the golf team. Playing for legendary coach Jim Smiddy, Sloan would lead the Bears to a second-place finish in the state golf tournament in his sophomore season. As a senior, he helped the team nail down a fourth place finish, while placing third in the individual competition.

The three-sport athlete was also a standout on the gridiron in the fall and the hardwood winter. He would feel the pain of athletics in football at Bradley. His dad recalled how he got really beat up in practice with injured ribs and bruises, “One Sunday morning he was so sore he couldn’t get out of bed,” remembered “Preacher” Sloan.

Former teammate and great friend, Louie Alford recalled the time he injured Sloan in a practice. “I was a senior fullback, and Steve was a sophomore quarterback. Everyone knew he was going to be outstanding. Anyway, in practice I was matched up with Sloan, and we collided and I threw my arms up in a blocking move and broke his nose,” he now recalls fondly.

“I was worried sick that Coach Billy Frank Smith was going to throw me off the team for injuring the star player,” he added. By the way, that 1959 team finished the season with a perfect 10-0 record and was voted No. 2 in the state in the final poll. Many consider that team to be equal to any Bear team in history.

In football, Sloan’s first position on the field was as a 145-pound tackle according to then assistant coach Harold Henslee. “He was tall and skinny when he made his first appearance as a tackle. A tackle had gotten hurt in practice, and head coach Billy Frank Smith called for a replacement, and Sloan answered the call.”

“Later, he also sneaked in as a linebacker before Coach Smith caught him and sent him to the sidelines and said he was a quarterback. And what a quarterback he turned out to be,” Henslee said.

Another great friend of Sloan’s was Rev. Walker of First Baptist. “Of all the young men I have ever met in my entire ministry, Steve is the most outstanding Christian young man I have ever met.”

Sloan was blessed with the ability and talent to pick up any sport that he chose to try. Alford recalled the time Steve was challenged to a game of bowling. Seems like Jimmy Corn, who built the old Village Shopping Center, which included a bowling alley, felt the need to challenge Sloan.

Sloan had never bowled before, but Corn was quite proficient at it. Corn just knew that with all the bowling experience he had that this would be one sport that Sloan could be bested. As you may have guessed, Sloan picked up a bowling ball and smoked Corn at his own game. The kid was simply amazing!

An unprecedented feat awaited Bradley in Sloan’s senior season with the Bears with something never before or since accomplished — the Triple Crown of state championships.

The fall of 1961, the Bears were voted the state championship in football (TSSAA playoffs didn’t begin until 1969) with No. 14 calling the signals, plus playing outstanding defense.

On the hardwood, the basketball teams also had the look and feel of state contenders under the guidance of Bill Walker for the Bears and Jim Smiddy for the Bearettes.

Both teams were loaded with talent as Sloan and his running mate, Lloyd Hewitt, as the mainstays for the Bears, finished the season 33-6. The Bearettes would finish 36-1 and claim the first state championship in Smiddy’s illustrious career one week after the boys knocked off Knox Fulton in the title tilt for the Bear’s third state title.

Three state titles in the three major sports in the same school year had never been achieved before 1962 and has not been equaled since.

However, in the calendar year of 1994, Bradley pulled off another unique achievement winning state titles in volleyball, baseball and wrestling. Plus, Eddie Coates picked up a state tennis championship in singles, while with Heath Eslinger and Alan Patterson nailed down individual titles in wrestling. Quite a year by any measure for the Bradley athletic programs.

In his book, “Field of Dreamers,” Gene Pearce proclaimed that Steve Sloan was “one of the greatest multi-sport athletes of the 1960s.”

Sloan was in high school at the same time as standout athletes Steve Spurrier of Johnson City Science Hill, Knox Fulton’s Ron Widby and Charlie Fulton, from Memphis Whitehaven. Ironically, it would be Spurrier who followed Sloan years later at Duke as head football coach.

In Pearce’s book, Sloan was queried about why Bradley was so dominant. He replied, “We had only one high school in a fairly large town, plus we had good coaches. I was really crazy about basketball, and I loved Coach Walker. He was a great guy. We really had a lot of fun. Billy Frank Smith was my football coach the first three years and then Coach Harold Henslee my senior year. I think we had about 2,800 students in the school. Bradley had a great history.”

Athletes like Sloan gave no thought when switching from sport to sport. “It’s not the case now where athletes specialize more in sports. It wasn’t that way when I was playing. It was no problem for me to play the last football game and then go play a basketball game the next week,” he mentioned.

Sloan was named All-State in both football and basketball before accepting a scholarship to play for the Crimson Tide and “Bear” Bryant. He most likely would have attended Tennessee if the Vols had not been running the single-wing offense at the time.

​From the thousands of athletes that have played in Bradley County, there is one whose name is mentioned immediately when discussing the best of the best — Steve Sloan.

Sloan was an All-State performer in both football and basketball his junior and senior seasons, leading both Bradley Central teams to state championships in the 1961-62 school year.

The three-sport standout also led the Bear golf team to a second (1960) and fourth place (1962) finish in state golf championships, plus finished third individually his final season.

He then accepted a scholarship to play collegiately for legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

When Sloan went to the University of Alabama, freshmen weren’t allowed to participate in varsity sports, so he played for the freshmen team while future NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath led the varsity Tide.

Sloan first rose to prominence for Bama in 1963, when Namath was relegated to Coach Bryant’s doghouse for some of his misbehavior.

Although he had played mainly defensive back throughout the season, Sloan got his opportunity to shine at QB in the Sugar Bowl, leading Bama to a 12-7 upset of Mississippi and against another legendary coach, Johnny Vaught of the Rebels.

The following year Namath was injured and Sloan was “the man” as the Crimson Tide ran the table to an unbeaten regular season, winning the SEC crown and the National Championship even though they lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl, 21-17. During those days the national title was awarded before the bowl games were played.

In 1965, Namath graduated and left the guidance of the Crimson Tide completely for Sloan’s senior season and he responded by winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top passer while leading Alabama to a second straight SEC and NCAA National Championship, plus a 39-28 victory in the Orange Bowl over Nebraska.

Bama was ranked fourth in the polls prior to the game while the Cornhuskers were ranked third. However, earlier in the day No. 1 Michigan State lost in the Rose Bowl while second-ranked Arkansas was upset in the Sugar Bowl, setting up the Orange Bowl game that night as the National Championship battle when the Tide prevailed.

During his playing days in Tuscaloosa, Sloan led Bama to three consecutive New Year’s Day bowl games, twice in the Orange Bowl and once in the Sugar Bowl, plus the two SEC and national titles. Not too bad for a Texas-born Tennessean.

After being drafted and playing two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, Sloan returned to Alabama as an assistant coach and then became the youngest collegiate head coach in America at age 29, when he took over the Vanderbilt Commodore football program.

In his second season, Sloan earned the 1974 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year award by leading Vandy to their first bowl game in 20 years, where they tied Texas Tech 6-6 in the Peach Bowl.

He must have really impressed the folks at Texas Tech because they offered him their head coaching position. After originally declining, he accepted the offer in January of 1975, taking five of his assistant coaches with him including boyhood friends and fellow former Bradley standout Rex Dockery and local coaching legend Bill Talley. Sloan’s coaching staff also included future NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and former NFL head coach and current defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans Romeo Crennel.

Sloan led the Red Raiders to the Southwest Conference championship with a 10-2 record in 1976 and was voted as the SWC Coach of the Year.

After three seasons in Texas, Sloan returned to the SEC, taking over the Ole Miss program for five years before making his final head coaching stop at Duke before hanging up his coaching whistle in 1986.

Next up for Sloan was filling the athletic director’s shoes at Alabama, North Texas, Central Florida and UT-Chattanooga. He is now living the retired life of a football coach, playing golf about anytime he wants to in Orlando, Fla.

One of the most coveted awards presently annually since 1966 by Bradley Central is the “Steve Sloan Award.” It represents a student who has character and integrity with Christian values that will take him far in life.

Sloan recently reminisce about his playing days. “When I think of Bradley football during those years, I think of all the great players we had. They always came to play,” he recalled. “I am always thankful that I got to attend Bradley Central. The administrators, teachers and coaches made a big difference in my life. Bradley is one of my favorite memories.”

He was also extremely appreciative of his teammates while playing football for the Bears. “During those four years I was on the Bradley football team we had a lot of outstanding players at every position.

“One player during those four years that always stood out to me was William Senters. He was a great player all the time. He didn’t say a lot but he played on a very high level every play. Someone like William doesn’t come along very often,” he spoke from the heart.

Asked about the most inspirational person in his career in high school, Sloan replied, “Coach (Bill) Walker coached basketball and assisted in football. He meant a lot to me. He was a very special man and an inspiration to me while at Bradley Central.”

As for his inspiration in college, it’s no surprise he pointed to “Bear” Bryant. “In college Coach Bryant was the most dominant person I ever met. I don’t think anybody would intentionally ever cross him. His leadership and motivational skills were superb. Coach Bryant also helped a lot of players after they graduated.”

“Coach Bryant was very clear about the goals and objectives. He was tough, competitive and a great leader.”

As for his greatest memory in a college game he stated, “It was probably the Orange Bowl game with Nebraska in January 1966. It was basically for the National Championship and we won 39-28.”

Sloan’s modesty forbids him to in any way brag about his own personal part in this game but the fact is he hooked up with future Super Bowl player and Alabama head coach Ray Perkins for two touchdown passes and was named the MVP in that Orange Bowl game.

At Bradley, Sloan was named to All-State teams in his junior and senior years in both basketball and football while leading both Bear teams to state championships his final year.

In 1965 at Alabama he was named First Team All-American by the Football News, First Team Academic All-American, MVP of the Southeastern Conference, MVP of the Orange Bowl and a member of the SEC Legends Hall of Fame. An incomparable career to say the least.

Steve and his wife, Brenda, are enjoying their retirement years in the Orlando, Florida, area.

They have two sons, Steve and Jonathon. Steve is currently living and working in the Czech Republic while Jonathon continues to live in Orlando.

Sloan summed up his feelings about Bradley with these words:

“When I think of 100 years of Bradley High School football it makes me appreciate the teachers, coaches and administrators even more.

“Bradley is not just bricks and mortar. It is teachers who helped thousands of young people along the way.

“Teachers have an important job in our community. They set the tone for young people and put them on a path that makes their life count.

“Bradley is a high school to be proud of. Yes, athletics are important but people are important too. I hope and pray that teachers realize the influence that they have on these young adult lives.

“This book (Ownbey’s ‘100 Seasons of Black & Golf Glory’) is a tribute to all the student-athletes and coaches who played football or coached at Bradley Central for these 100 years. Thanks to each of you for leaving your mark on Bradley Central High School,” he summarized.

Sloan is considered an icon when it comes to local athletics. There has never been a more beloved athlete in the history of the school and his love of Bradley Central comes through loud and clear when he speaks of it.

He is also one of the most humble and modest Southern gentleman that you will ever meet in life and is truly a treasured member of the Bear Nation.

Another award honoring Sloan was being named No. 1 in the Top 100 Athletes of All Time on Sport Talk radio in Chattanooga.

It is an honor that listed him above the likes of NFL and UT legend Reggie White, Bobby Scott of Rossville, Georgia, former major league pitcher Rick Honeycutt of Lakeview, Georgia, Andy Kelly of Rhea County and many other legendary sports figures of the past 50-plus years.

Even those who live or played outside of Cleveland and Bradley County know what a special student, friend, athlete and Christian gentleman that Steve Sloan represents.

He is simply the greatest multisport athlete who ever attended Bradley Central High School.

Lovell started Bear tradition on right foot​

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

Coach Jimmie Lovell came to the Bear program straight from his beloved University of Tennessee, where he lettered in four different sports — football, baseball, basketball and track.

In every picture with his Bradley teams you can catch Coach Lovell always wearing a top with the letter ‘T’ for Tennessee displayed prominently.

His leadership was legendary, especially for one so young. When his coaching tenure started at Bradley Central, there was no age restriction for players, and there were several players on the team that were older than the coach.

Some of his players had left the team to join the Army and returned after fighting in World War I. All of the teams back then played fast and loose with the rules (pertaining to who could play on the teams) to be honest about it in those days. 

Coach Lovell was on the faculty at the new “Central” High School, as it was known then, when he started as coach there in 1917.

He was an agriculture teacher, but also served as school’s athletic director, as well as head coach for the football, boys basketball and baseball teams.

He quickly made a name for himself and the Bears in all sports and was highly respected across the state.

When the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association was formed in 1925, Coach Lovell was named a vice president, representing the grand division of East Tennessee.

Prior to the formation of the TSSAA, the ruling body was the Interscholastic Athletic Association (IAA) that was organized in 1902.

By 1924, Coach Lovell and other coaches had grown weary of so many games around the state ending in tie scores.

While the Bear program had only recorded two ties in their history up to that point, other schools were complaining about unresolved games.

Back in those days there was not a lot of scoring and many games would be won or lost on the ability of a team to make the point-after-touchdown (PAT) following a score.

A look back at the historical scores shows that the Bears along with many other schools often were lacking the extra point which was a single point whether you kicked it or ran it in. In those days the extra-point attempt was drop-kicked if you didn’t try to convert it with a running play. 

In those days they played 15 minute quarters … most of the time. In the recap of the games in the newspapers in those days, one of the stats given in the wrap-up was “Time of Quarters.”

Some games were played with quarter lengths of 12 minutes, while other games were played with 15 minute quarters.

Still others were played with variable times for the quarters in the same game. For instance, in a 1923 game with Rhea County, the length of quarters was given in the wrap-up as 14, 12, 14, 12 minutes.

How it was determined as to the length of quarters was never documented.

Once the TSSAA came into being it seemed that rules were established and some consistency came into play statewide.

While Coach Lovell enjoyed coaching the different sports he also enjoyed playing them.

Being just out of college and playing four different sports while there, he was still in top-notch shape himself.

He was very active on several athletic teams in the immediate area, such as industrial basketball and baseball teams.

Back in his time there was very little chance that a high school graduate would have the opportunity to play sports in college.

To fill that void there were many teams organized from the just-graduated high school players who were still in tip-top shape and needed some way to release their pent-up athletic energy.

Several basketball games were played against alumni teams and are listed among opponents for both boys’ and girls’ basketball and those were games that counted on the historical record of games played for the Bears and Bearettes.

Coach Lovell would find his programs in multiple sports hugely successful during his 21-year tenure at Bradley.

He is still the longest serving head football coach and has the most wins with 124 victories in the program’s history.

He would resign his coaching and AD duties after the 1938 school year and return to what he loved most — farming.

He returned to Mt. Pleasant, which is near Columbia in southern Middle Tennessee, where he was originally from, to live the life of a gentleman farmer.

Oh, by the way, he also got back into teaching soon after moving to Mt. Pleasant as the agriculture teacher at Haylong High School (now closed). 

After leaving Bradley, he was first honored on Oct. 10, 1940, during the football game with Chattanooga Central, the biggest rival for the Bears at that time.

This was the night when the football field was dedicated to him and named “Jimmie Lovell Field.”

It was quite an honor that he modestly accepted among a huge crowd of well-wishers, including many fans for the opponent that night.

The Bears won a 7-6 battle with 3,000 fans there to offer their love and support.

The monument marking that occasion was moved from the school on North Ocoee Street to the current Bear Stadium and is now proudly displayed by the main entrance. 

Coach Lovell had another unique opportunity that most coaches would never have.

He coached against his brother, Joe Lovell, who was the AD, football coach, boys’ basketball coach and baseball coach at Winchester High School, now Franklin County High School.

The Bears won football games in the “brotherly” matchup in 1922 and 1923 by 35-0 and 6-0 scores respectively, and for good measure he beat them in basketball in 1924, 26-9.

Coach Lovell was honored once again in 1969, and once again it would happen on a night when the Bears were playing against Chattanooga Central.

But this time the Purple Pounders would prevail on a night set aside for Coach Lovell. The Pounders were coached at that time by the legendary E. B. “Red” Etter just before he moved to Baylor in 1970.

Lovell and his wife returned to be greeted by the five remaining players that were still living at the time of the reunion, including Bill ‘Pokey’ Schultz, who was the Bradley Central principal at the time.

Principal Schultz’s father, Bill Sr., was quite a player as well. He was known as “Zoom-Zoom,” but so was his son who once rushed for 227 yards in a 39-5 blistering of bitter foe TMI from Sweetwater in a 1939 game.

Also still living and attending the ceremonies that night were Fred Brown, Mason Kelly, Bill Carter and Dr. D.A. Sullivan, father of another later Bear coach, Wendell Sullivan. 

In his remarks to the crowd and the press that gathered that night, Coach Lovell related that “we had two plays. One that was a run straight ahead and one that was a run nearly straight ahead. We had no money for equipment and we would use horse collars for shoulder pads and had to share our leather helmets.”

Quite a bit different from today’s player that wears the latest and safest equipment available.

“We had no money for shoes so every player had to wear whatever they had.”

Look at some of the old pictures and annuals from those days and you’ll see a scruffy looking bunch of young men. 

Coach Lovell certainly enjoyed his night of recognition and continued by saying, that “Those country boys were big and strong and made good linemen. The city boys were light and with a lot of speed made good backs. Our ends were primarily for blocking but nowadays they catch passes.

“There really has been a major change in football since I coached. There was no age limit at the time and many were older than me,” he laughed.

He hesitated to name who was his best player but was quick to point out his memories of the Calloway brothers, six total for the Black and Gold in this one family group that played during different years for Lovell including Gene, Hugh, Frank, Edd, Lloyd (Gabby) and Luke. 

“I was concerned about what football could do for these boys,” he continued. “It made a man out of whoever played. Working with the boys made me a better man and after seeing my players years later, I’m even more convinced that the game builds men.

“Over the years there were so many good boys who are today good citizens. They all contributed something and it would just be impossible and unfair to even try to name the best,” he concluded.

Coach Lovell was scheduled to return to the ‘new’ Bradley Central High School located on South Lee Highway for the opening game of the 1974 season against Chattanooga City.

The ceremony was to be the dedication of the new Bear Stadium and the naming of the playing surface as “Jimmie Lovell Field,” but Coach Lovell passed away just four days prior to that ceremony at the age of 76.

The scheduled ceremony was postponed to the last game of the year when the Bears hosted crosstown rival Cleveland. At the ceremony, principal Bill “Pokey” Schultz commented that Coach Lovell “is the finest gentleman that I ever met. In the eyes of a football player he was the best.”

Gene Calloway, one of six brothers to play for Coach Lovell between 1922 and 1932, summed it up best, “There was not a better man anywhere. He expected you to do your job but he was always understanding and never very critical. He always called us his boys.” 

Calloway also related the story of the time when a student in Coach Lovell’s class sneaked out a second-floor window by sliding down a rain spout only to be met at the bottom by Coach who had a big board in his hand.

The student never touched the ground and quickly scooted back up the rain spout “like a squirrel.”

Fittingly, in the game to honor Coach Lovell and dedicate the new stadium, the Bears won 14-13 over the Blue Raiders when Greg White scored the winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining in the game, and Johnny Baker added the winning point-after-touchdown to clinch the win.

Coach Lovell would have been proud of his “boys.”

Former Bear Dale Jones Making an Impact

By George Starr

Dale Jones recently returned to Appalachian State as the defensive coordinator under new head coach Shawn Clark.

Jones, who spent last season coaching linebackers under former App State head coach Scott Satterfield at the University of Louisville, has come a long way since his high school days. 
He weighed around 170 pounds when he played his final high school game for Bradley Central in 1981 and was twice named an All-State linebacker.
Former BCHS coach Louie Alford called Jones “the epitome of a kid who had nothing and made something of himself through hard work and dedication. He was one of the hardest workers I ever coached.” 
Jones, the next-to-youngest in a family of 13, always dreamed of wearing the orange jersey and playing for the University of Tennessee Volunteers. He says his mother, Ethel, was always a motivating factor behind his success. The dreams of being a Volunteer were put on hold for the senior when Tennessee didn’t have a scholarship available for a 170-pound linebacker. 
That’s when a loyal Vol fan and local Cleveland businessman, Jim Jones (no relation) entered the picture. He encouraged Dale to talk with veteran coach Bill Dupes, who was running a fifth-year prep program at TMI in Sweetwater and had solid connections with most SEC coaches. 
Things began to turn around quickly for a young man who loved the game of football. As he prepared for his season at TMI, Dale could be found on the streets of Cleveland, running miles to help make his legs even stronger. He also never missed a meal and after a year under the tutorage of Coach Dupes, Jones tipped the scales at just over 200 pounds and his dream came true when UT coach Johnny Majors made a scholarship available. 
The story, which could easily be turned into a movie, continued. Dale was injured his freshman season in Knoxville and was redshirted. However, he seized on an opportunity the following year and never looked back.
During his four years at Tennessee he helped lead the Vols to three wins over Alabama, and was named All-SEC and All-American.
In 1986 he thrilled thousands of Volunteer fans with two sacks of Miami Hurricane All-American quarterback Vinny Testaverde in the Sugar Bowl, resulting in a 35-7 UT win.
Coach Majors called Jones "one of the greatest leaders I ever had. He personifies what college football is all about to the highest degree.” 
Jones was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 10th round in 1987, but was placed on waiver prior to the beginning of the season. When many of the NFL players went on strike, Dale returned and played in three games for the Cowboys, but was released when the strike ended. 
His coaching career began as he served as a defensive assistant for one year at UTK.
He then would follow his Bradley and Volunteer teammate, Chris White, to the Italian Football League.
He returned to the United States and coached at Florida (defensive assistant) and Georgia Military Academy for four years before beginning a long 23-year career at App State in 1996.
He was promoted to defensive coordinator/linebacker coach during the 2010-12 seasons and co-defensive coordinator/inside linebacker coach again in 2018.    
Jones followed former App head coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville for one season, but when he heard the Mountaineer positions of defensive coordinator and coaching inside linebackers were open at App State, he called it “a no-brainer” to return to the mountains of Boone, North Carolina. He is quoted on the App website as saying he has no desire to coach at any other institution.
“I always wanted to come back,” Jones said. “This is home, and this is what I’m all about. I don’t have to be in a Power Five (Conference). If that was the case, I would have gone a long time ago. This is something that feels like family.” 
After working overtime to become an All-American college player and developing into one of college’s top defensive coaches, Dale Jones has earned the right to settle in and prepare ways to defeat opponents in the Sun Belt Conference. The Mountaineers will begin the 2020 slate against Power Five teams Wisconsin and Wake Forest before conference play begins. 
Jones and his wife, Heather, have two children: a daughter, Brooke, and a stepson, Cooper.

Coach Billy Frank Smith keys ’50s Bear success

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

Billy Frank Smith is a name that is synonymous with success, and much of that success occurred while he was the head football coach at Bradley Central.

Anyone who was around and following Bradley football during the 1950s can vouch for his coaching skills and how he drove his players to be the best they can be.

His coaching tenure is quite often referred to as the “Golden Years” of Bradley football and it’s easy to see why.

His coaching success actually began at Meigs County, before he switched to Spring City which is now a part of Rhea County High School.

To show you the strength of his program at Spring City, you might take note that he was offered $1,000 to take his team to Dobyns-Bennett to face the defending state champions.

Champions who, by the way, had a 33-game winning streak. It came to an abrupt end, 20-13, as his Spring City team prevailed. Not bad for a little old school against the big boys of Kingsport.

His 1951 Spring City team would only sustain one loss and that was to the Bradley Central Bears, 12-0.

It just so happened that the Bears had a coaching opening the next season as Wendell Sullivan resigned that position to move into administration.

Coach Smith moved from Spring City to take over the Bear program and see what he could do here.

Not too bad, would be the quick answer as the Bears rolled to a 9-1 record in his first season.

In fact here are his coaching records year-by-year: 1952 (9-1), 1953 (8-2-1), 1954 (8-2-1), 1955 (9-1), 1956 (4-7), 1957 (6-4), 1958 (9-2), 1959 (10-0).

His career record was 72-20-2. His 72 wins are second only to coaching legend Jimmie Lovell with 124 and his winning percentage of 78.2 is second to Coach Lee Pate at 81.8.

The unbeaten 1959 team ended the season ranked No. 2 in the state, behind Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett by one slim point, 213-212, in the AP Sportswriters Poll.

“I called a Knoxville newspaper to ask for help in making us No. 1 but Dobyns-Bennett had already called every newspaper in the state”, Coach Smith said about that close call for the state title.

He tried to work out a date to challenge the Indians that season but the Bears had a McMinn County game on the Dobyns-Bennett open date and “there was no way I could cancel the game with McMinn,” he frustratingly noted.

While coaching at Bradley, he was one of the first coaches to advocate for a playoff system.

“I sent cards to every coach in the state trying to get a playoff system. I don’t know if it helped but a few years later it was started. It’s probably the greatest thing to happen to Tennessee high school football,” he concluded.

Coach Smith would be the first to tell you that a coach can’t win without the players and what a multitude of talent came through while he was coaching the Bears.

A veritable Who’s Who list of Bear talent with players like Jack White, Rusty Clayton, Don Hill, Bob Hoffman, Bob Rymer, Charlie Snyder, Bill White, William Senters, Louie Alford, Steve Sloan, Rex Dockery, Buddy Rodgers and Ernest Droke to name a few.

“We had tradition going for us. Not better players and better coaches, but the players gave 100 percent in every game and practice,” Coach Smith remarked.

In regard to pressure on him to succeed at Bradley, he commented, “Pressure is what is mostly put on by yourself. Many folks considered me a cocky coach but I was scared to death every game. I read a great deal and went to see college games and studied film when I was coaching. I considered coaching a great challenge,” he stated.

In an interview in 1988 he reminisced, “If I had to go to war and charge up a hill, I’d want the 400 kids I coached at Bradley by my side. They didn’t know the meaning of quit”.

Kingsport made an offer to Coach Smith to take over as their coach with a much higher salary but he turned them down to stay with the Bears.

Two years later, while still a young man of just 33 years of age, he would give up the Bradley coaching position to become Bradley County Schools Superintendent.

“I would have loved to have stayed one more year”, he lamented. “I had great players coming back and it was Steve Sloan’s senior year.

“For some reason I knew this guy would go on to be an All-American. I knew it from the time he was in the eighth grade. You could just see it in him”.

The Bears were awarded the state championship the year (1961) following Smith’s resignation.

Many members of the Bear Nation regard that team as Coach Smith’s, even though he was no longer coaching.

Coach Smith would remain as superintendent of Bradley County schools for four years before moving to Chattanooga.

He worked in their education system for five years before he moved to Chicago to work for the U.S. Department of Education for one year.

His next move found him working for the University of New Orleans for the final 12 years of his working career. He then returned home to Chattanooga in 1987.

Bradford Broke Down Color Barrier

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian

Although the Scott brothers, Terry and Levi, broke the color barrier for Bradley Central basketball in 1964, it would still be a few years before the Bear football program would see that wall come tumbling down.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Steve Bradford would become the first African-American gridiron Bear and be the only one to wear the home Black-and-Gold uniform on the old Jimmy Lovell Field, while the school was located on North Ocoee Street.

Bradford came to Bradley as a sophomore for the 1966-67 school year. He had previously attended the all-black College Hill school, where he was a student from the sixth through ninth grades. He spent his earlier years at Norman Chapel School as a first- through fifth-grader.

Bradford knew that he could have it tough as the first black player on the football team, but he had never been a quitter throughout his young life and he wasn’t going to let a little adversity or prejudice sideline him from the desire to play football at Bradley.

He was fully accepted as a member of the team by his teammates and all the other students in the student body. His only issue came from some “old school” coaches who were having trouble accepting the Equal Rights Act of 1964.

Not only would Bradford hang in there through some tough times but he would excel as big No. 77, a standout defensive tackle for the Bears. He also played some offensive line when needed.

As one of the biggest players on the team at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he anchored the defensive line.

In what were some less than spectacular years for the Bear football program, Bradford was a bright spot on the defense.

Nowadays, he fondly remembers the camaraderie of some of his teammates like Tom Johnson, Pudgie Payne, Stevie Williams, Gary Jobe and quarterback Mike Ledford.

The highlight of his playing days at Bradley included being named the Most Improved Player on the 1968 team when he was also named the Best Defensive Lineman.

His best game came in 1967 in a 27-7 Bear romp over Maryville Everett, when he collected 17 solo tackles and 11 assists. That’s one of the best performances in Bear football history. To top it off and show how he truly meshed with the student body, he was selected as the “Friendliest” superlative in his senior year.

Who says you can’t be a “bad hombre” on the football field but also be highly respected and become simply another student walking the halls of Bradley Central? At Bradley it’s irrelevant whether you are rich or poor, at the top of your class, or who your parents are, our blood runs Black-and-Gold with the heart of a Bear!

Bradford is retired from the Cleveland Fire Department after a career serving the community and now enjoys life with his wife, Doris, and their three children — Bill, Pam and Samanthia.

Gary Ownbey's Book on Football  History is Available

JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor

Just in time for that Bear fan on your shopping list, a local sports historian has his second book coming out this week just in time to put it under the tree.

Following up his 400-page history on the storied Bradley Central basketball programs a year ago, Gary Ownbey has published a 350-plus page comprehensive detailing of the school’s football program.

“100 Seasons of Black and Gold Glory” is expected to be hot off the Advanced Photographic Services presses Tuesday, hopefully in time for Bradley’s final pre-Christmas basketball game against Knoxville Webb at Jim Smiddy Arena.

“I got the final proof this morning and just have a couple of small corrections to make before they print,” related Ownbey Saturday afternoon, who received the hardback cover and pages while doing Ron and Debbie Moore’s “Old Town Cleveland” radio show on WOOP-FM that morning.

Ownbey, who broadcasts Bradley games on My Mix 104.1 and 101.3 The Buzz, has been talking about the forthcoming book on those stations as well this past week.

“They (APS) had actually already printed about 50 copies earlier this week when I realized I hadn’t given them the final, up-to-date records, including the last three games from this season,” he explained. “I got them the changes and they brought me another proof copy to make sure everything was right.”

After selling out of the initial 250 copies of the basketball book quickly last winter, Ownbey has 500 football books on the way, plus hopes to have another 100 of the hoop history printed by early January.

The football book will be available at Town Squire, Murmaid Mattress, Express Athletics, County Trustee Mike Smith’s office at the Bradley County Courthouse, WCLE and BCHS offices.

Ownbey will also have them at Bradley home basketball games and wrestling matches. He can also be contacted at to purchase a copy of either book or both.

“This book not only goes back to the beginning of the Bear football program in 1916, but it has a complete history of schools in Bradley County, dating back to 1873,” shared the author. “I couldn’t find a name of the first school, which was located in Charleston, but it was built by a Mr. Henegar so his daughter could attend school.”

What is now known as Bradley Central, began in 1916 with the construction of a new four-year high school north of the then city limits on Charleston Pike (now known as Ocoee Street).

“Central High School,” as it was named then, played its first football game on Nov. 11, 1916, under the direction of Coach J.F. Conry. The Bears defeated Tyner 43-6 in that game and later shut out McMinn County 18-0, with a 26-0 loss to powerhouse Baylor in between for a 2-1 record in their inaugural season.

Changing its name to Bradley County High School in 1921, and eventually to Bradley Central in 1948, the Bears have compiled an overall record of 580-419-28 in a century of football seasons.

“I had to change the name of the book from ‘100 Years of Black and Gold Glory’ to ‘100 Seasons’ because there was no football in 1918 due to World War I and a worldwide flu pandemic that killed millions of people around the world at that time,” explained Ownbey. The school celebrated its 100th graduating class in May, so it is currently in its 101st school year.

The compilation of the gridiron history, not only has the complete game scores for each contest, but numerous details on many of those contests, as well as feature stories on prominent players and coaches, as well as detailed accounting for the unbeaten 1959 season, plus the state championship campaigns of 1961 and ’76.

The book also has a recap of the very first Bradley-Cleveland game in 1965, a story about the time the Bears flew in airplanes to a game in Kingsport in 1960, plus it tells about a time in 1920 when the team chartered a train to go play TMI in Sweetwater, “which is what I call the beginning of Bear Nation,” commented Ownbey.

“There were so many stories I had no idea about. Meeting the people and hearing their memories of playing, or their husband, father or son playing, was overwhelming,” said the 1968 BCHS graduate, who has been broadcasting Bear sports on local radio stations for the past 26 years.

“People know the stories of players like the Johnson brothers, Steve Sloan, Rex Dockery, Claude Climer and others, but there are also stories people haven’t heard like Jack Manis, who was a local war hero, Rube McCray, from the 1920s, coaches Jimmie Lovell and Billy Frank Smith, William Senters, the four generation of Elrods, the six Callaway brothers from the 1922-32 years.”

In its long history, Bradley has had 65 “winning seasons,” including four undefeated marks — 1941 (11-0), 1942 (10-0-1), 1959 (10-0, voted by AP as the state runner up) and 1976 (13-0) — and nine one-loss seasons — 1916 (2-1), 1921 (7-1), 1922 (8-1), 1927 (7-1-2), 1940 (11-1), 1952 (10-1), 1955 (9-1), 1960 (9-1) and 1961 (9-1, state champs).

With the TSSAA state playoffs beginning in 1969, the Bears have qualified a dozen times, plus are 6-3 in post-season bowl games.

Ownbey has taken more than a year to compile the exhaustive collection of information, including the painstaking task of compiling school records as well, which are completely updated through the most recent season.

He has also included a game-by-game recap of the recently completed 100th season, which saw the state-ranked Bears win their first seven games and advance to the second round of the TSSAA playoffs before finishing with a 9-3 record.

Along with the many interesting stories included in the book, are more than 150 photos, ranging all the way back to the very beginning of the school and Bear program.

A retired salesman, Ownbey’s labors of love for his alma mater bring him no monetary benefit, as all proceeds from the $30 book go to the school’s football program. Proceeds from the $20 basketball book benefit the Black-and-Gold hoop programs. The price difference comes from the cost of the hardback binding on the football edition.

“I didn’t do this to make money. I did it to tell the history of the programs,” related Ownbey. “I started broadcasting with Corky (Whitlock) in 1991 and we pretty well knew the history of how we’d done against local teams, but when we’d go to a playoff or a tournament, we didn’t have any record if had ever played those teams or not.”

Ownbey dedicated his basketball book to Whitlock, the “Voice of Bradley County Sports” for more a half century.

The football book, which includes a forward written by Steve Sloan, is dedicated to longtime Bear broadcaster and enthusiast Coach Earl Rowan. Rowan also worked alongside Whitlock and Ownbey for decades, keeping stats and chronicling the Bradley program.

“Earl has been compiling Bear history for years and, along with others, helped me tremendously in putting out this book, and the basketball book, together,” Ownbey explained.

The new offering by the local author is already creating a buzz.

“People who heard me talking about the book have already been going by the places that are going to be selling it and looking for it.

“One lady this morning (Saturday), who was listening from South Carolina on the internet, called her friend and sent her down to get her a copy before they ran out. They won’t be able to print until Monday and then the binding has to set for 24 hours.”

While hopes are to have the book available by Tuesday evening’s basketball games at Smiddy Arena, if they aren’t they will be in the previously mentioned locations by midweek, if all goes as planned.

While the book is too big for a stocking stuffer, call the North Pole and have Santa make it a late addition to your wish list if you’ve been good. If you haven’t, just see Ownbey and make sure you can get your hands on one.