Hargis: Tyner Academy’s football field holds special memories

Staff File Photo / Former Tyner coach Wayne Turner speaks to his team in 2016. Turner will be among those honored as Tyner plays its last home game Friday on the field that bears his name.

There are specific faces that always come to mind whenever I visit any of our Chattanooga-area schools. Coaches and athletes who became local legends by a single performance or through sustained greatness remain connected in memory to a particular area of their school's athletic facilities.

At Tyner, the lasting image anywhere around Bob Evans Stadium is of a man whose beard, polyester Bike shorts, sweat-stained ball cap and white socks pulled up just under his kneecaps made Wayne Turner the textbook definition of old-school football coach.

Once anyone got to know him it quickly became clear that the gruff exterior was just a cover for someone whose true love was working with kids. And in return those kids — the players who made up the Rams football roster for Turner's 30 years as head coach — were fiercely loyal to him.

So when top-ranked Tyner hosts York Institute in a Class 2A semifinal Friday — only the second time the program has hosted a semifinal — it will also be the final game ever played on the field the Rams have called home since 1967.

It is fitting that Turner, for whom the field is named, is returning to be honored by the school, along with the family of the late Bob Evans, as well as Ernie McCarson, who coached the program from 1974-82. Turner and the Evans family will be given a plaque to commemorate the night and their contributions to the school.

Soon after the season ends, the football stadium and practice field that adjoins it will be leveled and become the site of a portion of the new Tyner Academy. The Rams new football field, which is scheduled to include artificial turf, will be built in an area in front of where the old school now sits.

The game will be a night of nostalgia for Tyner alums of all ages, and for some of us who never attended the school but have fond memories of the place nonetheless.

The first prep football game I covered in my career took place at Tyner. At that time — the fall of 1990 — Hamilton County had a competitive freshman league and, as the youngest reporter on the sports staff, naturally my first beat was to cover those games.

The next season Turner took over the Rams and throughout the next 29 seasons built them into the county's most accomplished public-school program. Under "Coach T's" direction Tyner won 15 region championships, 25 playoff games, finished state runners-up twice (1996, 2017) and became the county's first public school to claim a state title in 1997.

I was there the night the Rams, with a roster of just 32 kids, won their state championship. Standing on the sideline at Vanderbilt Stadium next to my good friend and mentor James Beach, a proud 1981 Tyner graduate, we watched as the Rams put together a gutsy drive late in the fourth quarter. With barely more than a minute remaining, Rory Hinton launched a perfect spiral through the frigid air that covered the needed 29 yards and fell into the arms of a diving Windarek Stewart in the end zone, lifting the Rams to a 13-10 win over Union City.

Along with numerous other alumni, several members of that incredible title team will help fill the stands to bid farewell to the old stadium and try to cheer this year's Rams on to a return to the championship game.

Like many of them I plan to arrive early for one final walk along the hill that leads to the home-side bleachers, to greet so many familiar faces lining the field until I find the one with the unmistakable beard and relive a few shared memories of a special place.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.