Best of Preps gym at the Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences steeped in history

Best of Preps gym at the Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences steeped in history

December 20th, 2011 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

Players from the Cleveland High and CCS girls' teams fight to gain control of the ball during the 2010 Times Free Press Best of Preps Basketball Tournament. The 2011 tournament tips off Wednesday morning at the Arts & Sciences gym.

Good morning. I'm the gymnasium at the Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences.

I'm 57 years old and the oldest active gym in Hamilton County. So many people have stood inside me and said, "If only these walls could talk ..."

Well, let me tell you my story.

First, I'm looking forward to the 24 games crammed into the next three days as the Times Free Press brings its Best of Preps tournament to my floor for the fourth consecutive year. Come visit me at 10 each morning and hang out all day.

I started as part of Chattanooga (City) High School, which was located on Third Street and previously used an upstairs gymnasium. My construction began in 1954, and I was named for John B. Steele.

My first action was the District 9 tournament in 1955. At the time I was the largest gym in the county, so I got to host the district tournament all nine seasons of my City existence.

The Carter brothers -- Charlie, Fred and Tommy -- were some of our best back then. Fred was a senior in 1957 when the Dynamos almost had an unbeaten home record on the way to a 32-3 state-quarterfinal finish, but Central beat us by two points in overtime in the district final.

Riverside royalty

My school changed names the first time 48 years ago. I had just gotten used to being adorned in maroon and white when decorations changed to Riverside blue-and-gold. And I wasn't housing the Dynamos anymore. I became home of the Trojans. My cornerstone was taken to the new City High in North Chattanooga, but these walls are still standing.

Being a big basketball fan, I liked these new guys. They took things to new heights.

Riverside was an all-black school, and the first few years our teams played other black schools. My first game with the Trojans was Dec. 3, 1963, and we had a good team from the start. Charles Rooker had 20 points and led a 119-30 victory that night over McReynolds from South Pittsburg.

Things changed with integration and the forming of the Hamilton Interscholastic League. We joined that the 1965-66 season.

It was a bummer that I missed out on seeing some classic Howard-Riverside games back in those days. I'm not near as big as Memorial Auditorium or Big Mac -- the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Maclellan Gymnasium -- so they got to have all that fun.

Some of my fondest memories are of teams from Memphis -- such as Melrose, Manassas or Hamilton -- coming to town for a weekend, playing us one night and at Howard the other.

One of my beloved Trojans, Ed Odom, class of 1976, recently summed up the atmosphere back then like this: "People were looking, trying to peep in the windows. It was a jammed-in party. There was no room on the sidelines to even stand to get the ball in."

Odom went to Oklahoma State, where as a senior he finished fifth in the nation in NCAA Division I scoring at 24.2 points per game.

I was home to some other dominant players, like future Oral Roberts University standouts Richard Fuqua and Anthony "Woosie" Roberts. The Poole brothers were really good, too, and Bo Ellis could score with the best of them.

Another of my Trojans was Mike Jones, a fierce rebounder better known for football. From 1979 to '82 he played wide receiver at Tennessee State, where he's now offensive coordinator, before going on to a seven-year NFL career.

I also remember a good horn player named Sam. He was in the pep band in the mid-1960s. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson. Yes, the multiple-award-winning actor.

Those Riverside teams brought me some beautiful gold state-championship trophies in 1968, '69 and '72. My buddy Leroy Alexander was head coach during the last one.

Dorsey Sims was head coach of those first two titles. He was extremely popular, so it was sad when he left to go coach at Melrose. I contributed a lot during a 70-plus-game winning streak back then. Ironically, it was the new City Dynamos that came back home and broke it.

Sims brought one of his Melrose teams back and played us in the early 1980s, but our guys spoiled his return. Darryl Murphy, who led the city in scoring one season with a 22.4 scoring average, lit my nets up for 23 points that December night and our guys won 56-49. Sadly, I heard Coach died in 2000.

Patriots games

After Riverside closed in 1983, I was pretty much dormant for a few years. The Erlanger School of Nursing had moved into the school building and didn't have much use for me.

Then in the fall of 1986, I heard the friendly sounds of children running around and playing again. The Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences had opened on my campus as a middle school.

Year by year more grades were added until it became a K-12 school with its first high school graduating class in 1991.

This school's nicknames are the Patriots and Lady Patriots. And in honor, they chose maroon for City and blue for Riverside as their school colors.

Unlike the Trojans, these Patriots didn't get off to such a great start. I do remember my first high school varsity victory with them.

Jack Silberman was coach and it was "Bag the Bobcats" night against Brainerd Baptist. The Bobcats were coached by Mark Dragoo, and he was assisted by now Grace Academy boys' coach Jon Mattheiss. Dragoo told his troops at the time: "Arts & Sciences is going to win a game against somebody. Don't let it be us."

Ha, take that!

And wouldn't you know? The next season Dragoo became our head boys' coach, and still is today. He became the CSAS boys' all-time winningest coach his first season -- when he won his fourth game.

I first started feeling my age in the early 1990s. My floor was so worn down, CSAS had no home games during the 1992-93 season.

My stands were packed one night when we had NCAA Division I signees Porter Roberts, George Hudgins and Carlos Clark and Brainerd visited in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately my roof kept leaking. Officials finally had to postpone the game about midway of the third quarter. That caused quite an uproar.

My goals were replaced in 1995, but one of them didn't last long. Big Kenny Mobley brought one down with a dunk during a season-opening midnight madness practice in '97. Word has it he did the same thing less than 12 hours later at a scrimmage playday at McCallie.

I've gone through many renovations over the last decade or so, so things have been holding up pretty well lately. And the Patriots and Lady Patriots have kept me rejuvenated recently with their play. They've allowed me in the last three years to host a total of four Class A state sectionals, where winners advance to the state tournament.

It was a party scene when the boys beat Friendship Christian last season, and Red Boiling Springs the year before. The Lady Patroits defeated Red Boiling springs in 2010 but lost a 29-26 heartbreaker to Pickett County the season before.

Thinking of the Lady Patriots, what about 2001 CSAS graduate Shanika Freeman? She seemed good for about 30 points and 20 rebounds every time I saw her. I wasn't surprised to hear she went on to become the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year in 2003, playing for Jacksonville State.

Still thrills

Presently, I'm looking forward to hosting the eight boys' and girls' teams competing in this year's Best of Preps tournament. Maybe we can provide more exciting moments like we did last year.

Remember the boys' semifinal when McCallie's C.J. Reese narrowly missed a 3-point shot from the top of the key against eventual champion Red Bank that would've sent the game to a second overtime? What about the girls' final when Baylor's Amber Howard scored 30 points with eight 3-pointers but Simone Busby banked in a short winning shot for GPS with two seconds remaining in overtime?

Come and see me over the next three days. I'm a runt compared to some of my younger and more modern relatives, but there's not a bad seat.

See you Wednesday morning. Well, at least some of you.

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653.