Wiedmer: A Hall of Fame class that doesn't come along every year

Schaack van Deusen, right, coached wrestling a combined 40 years at Baylor and Notre Dame. He was one of eight inductees to the Lookout Mountain Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Unlike most such entities, the Lookout Mountain Sports Hall of Fame doesn't elect a new class every year. It waits for one large enough and deserving enough to come along, then stages the ceremony in the ageless Lookout Mountain School gym, where most of the inductees had their first P.E. classes, participated in their first kickball game or swished their first basketball shot.

Given that the school in its current form was built in 1929 and still houses but 175 students, it's a pretty warm and fuzzy event, one wrapped in both wistfulness and wisdom, and every now and again, a wisecrack or two.

And so it was that when it came time for two of this year's eight inductees to introduce each other Sunday afternoon, great friends and old tennis rivals Pem Guerry and Jack Webb - opponents during their days at Baylor and McCallie, respectively - couldn't resist a wee bit of fun.

In noting how Webb had helped lead the Blue Tornado to the 1975 Rotary tournament team title, Guerry reminded him of the rival Red Raiders, "half our team had been suspended that weekend for drinking."

Sort of returning the favor, Webb recalled how iconic McCallie tennis coach Yo Strang never failed to pray for both teams before any match began.

"I think that's why you all always won," said Webb, who never tasted victory against the Red Raiders in a dual match.

All of these eight inductees were and are winners, of course, and more than worthy of becoming the hall's fifth induction class since 1991. Swimming great Caroline Caulkins Bentley is not only in the GPS and Greater Chattanooga sports halls of fame, she's a past president of the Junior League and a Chattanooga Woman of Distinction.

Said Caulkins - whose father Bill and sister Betsy Caulkins Bookout preceded her in reaching the Lookout Mountain Sports Hall of Fame - of her decades of coaching: "It's so rewarding to see kids swimming smarter and faster today."

Talk about smart. And fast. Schaack Van Deusen, who coached wrestling for a combined 40 years at Notre Dame and Baylor, was not only an intramural boxing champion at Virginia but also the longtime head of the drama department at Baylor, where he had lettered in baseball, football, tennis and wrestling.

Naturally, his final remarks drew from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," with Van Deusen telling the audience: "I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks; and ever thanks."

No inductee earned more thanks than sports writer B.B. Branton, a former employee of the Times Free Press.

Despite battling a serious illness the past year, Branton stayed up past 11 the Friday night of the recent Rotary tournament to help Webb find where a single missing point had gone.

A prolific writer for numerous publications who once won the Lookout Mountain checkers championship as a 7-year-old, led the Lookout Mountain School in scoring as a sixth-grade basketball star and helped McCallie win three Mid-South Conference wrestling crowns, Branton was especially praised by Webb, who spoke for both the selection committee and fellow inductees.

"What B.B. has done for sports in the tri-state area is unbelievable," Webb said. "He's the most hard-working, unselfish guy you'll ever meet, and most of us wouldn't be entering this Hall of Fame today without all the work B.B.'s done over the years to keep track of our careers."

Such attention to others was everywhere. Longtime NFL referee and Lookout Mountain resident Lee Dyer - having now officiated on one level or another for 38 years - made sure to thank his wife Diann.

"You have to have a very understanding wife," he said, "because you're gone every weekend."

Former GPS tennis great Elisabeth Donnovin, once the top-ranked 18-year-old in the South before injuries shortened her career, singled out her parent.

"They sacrificed a great deal to help me play tennis," she said. "That enabled me to do what I loved."

Webb, Guerry and Kappie Clark Boles - who won five state high school titles at GPS in the 1970s - all referenced their summertime youth coach, former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Vanderbilt coach Bill Tym.

"We never even hit a tennis ball in the morning workouts," said Guerry, who was a team captain at Baylor and SMU.

Added Boles: "He had us all doing these leg lifts every days and repeating over and over, 'I will persist until I succeed.'"

All eight inductees persisted until they succeeded. But returning to the LMS gym, its walls echoing the long-ago urgings of dedicated men such as Buck Stamps, also shed light on their softer sides, those touched by family and friends.

As proof, Kappie's sister Sholar recalled an email from Boles' friend in Houston, a woman named Julie.

Wrote Julie of her tennis buddy: "She has the right perspective on how to enjoy tennis."

Each of these eight have long had the right perspective on how to enjoy and succeed in both sports and life.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.