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."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.
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