This story was updated Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, at 12:50 a.m. with more information.
The Frances B. Wyatt Center on Colville Street will be quieter and less entertaining than normal this Christmas Eve afternoon. That's because recently retired Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck and the rest of his Tennessee Bombers basketball teammates are taking a brief holiday break from their twice-weekly workouts.
"We usually play every Tuesday and Friday, but we're going to take off Christmas Eve through New Year's Eve," Shattuck said Saturday morning. "We'll get back after it after the first of the year."
A sitting judge for almost 37 years, the former all-state player from Soddy-Daisy and MVP of the 1952 Times Cup holiday basketball tournament has more time than ever for his favorite sport these days.
And to listen to him talk, basketball almost always has been his first love, or at least his second love after his wife Ruth, with whom he celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary on Aug. 26.
"Boundaries are something I've dealt with all my life," Shattuck said at the close of a retirement party of sorts thrown for him by Alan Pressley, David Bales, Dr. Larry Shears and David Carroll this past week. "If you step out of bounds, you lose the ball. We all have to live by the rules. Life is a lot like basketball in that respect."
It is a timeless message from one of our town's all-time public servants. It is also a message that too often seems lost today in a world where the real value of organized sports too often seems focused on dollars more than sense.
Not so with Shattuck, however. While to view his athletic résumé is to presume the lifelong University of Tennessee fan and UT grad probably could have played hoops for the Volunteers, he had a more thoughtful long-term plan.
"I thought about it, but I felt like I needed to concentrate on my schoolwork," he said, uttering words that might never be spoken by today's high school stars.
So he wound up with a law degree, which would eventually earn him a distinction precious few attorneys in the Volunteer State or elsewhere could ever claim. Every lawyer he ever worked with — be it Sam Payne, Ron Durby, Russell Bean, etc. — eventually became a judge.
And what kind of judge and mentor was Shattuck through those 36-plus years on the bench? Chattanooga defense attorney Lee Davis said of the judge upon his retirement announcement last February: "He has uncommon patience and will listen fairly. The thing I think is remarkable is (that) his patience and consideration is the same today as it was 25 years ago."
Added Bean: "Our offices were on the same floor. We've always had a kinship. I just miss talking to him about work, family, whatever. He's a dear friend."
This isn't to imply that Shattuck was in any way soft on crime or criminals.
At Wednesday's gathering, his longtime bailiff John Sertel said of Shattuck's tendency to point his fingers at defendants who particularly annoyed him: "If he pointed one finger (on one hand), there was going to be a good chewing. If he pointed (with both hands), they were going to jail."
Nor has that air of authority always ended in a court of law.
Kelly Price works for the city and often oversees the Senior Games program, of which the Tennessee Bombers have participated for 20 years, often practicing at the Wyatt Center.
"He loves to win," she said of Shattuck. "In a tight game, he'll show who the judge is and he'll sentence you to a loss every chance he gets. He can rip the 3! I know I prefer playing with him than against him."
But what she most admires about the 84-year-old Shattuck is his dedication to both his own fitness and encouraging similar fitness in others.
"He's awesome," she said. "Just being a role model, keeping in shape. Helping others understand how important it is to stay active, stay competitive."
That determination to stay active and competitive has had its tough moments. Two friends — Bill Chadwick and Sam Pearson — died while playing basketball with Shattuck.
This past summer, when the Bombers traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the National Senior Games, the hoops competition was staged in the Pit, the site of the iconic 1983 NCAA final between Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack and Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma.
"It really is a pit," Shattuck recalled. "It's about 50 rows below ground level. A few of our guys couldn't walk back up."
Still, the Bombers move into the 84-89 age group this season. Teammate Don Myers, who has played with Shattuck since their high school days, said of his friend: "He's always had a good set shot. He'd say, 'Throw me the ball.' I'd say, 'No, I got this.' But he was a really good player and still is."
Added the Bombers' Henry Jacks, a Tyner grad who competed against Myers and Shattuck in high school and who has been battling cancer of late: "Clarence is a good teammate. He's a good guy all the way around."
As if to underscore that good-guy image, Shattuck sought to clarify his MVP honor in the Times Cup tourney.
"They voted on the MVP at halftime," he said. "I'd had a good first half, but City High came back and beat us. The MVP probably should have gone to Bud 'Spider' Sloan."
Come the dawn of 2020, they'll all be back at the Wyatt Center playing their pickup games to 13 for close to two hours each Tuesday and Friday, another Senior Games appearance always on their minds.
Asked how long he intends to keep playing the game he so loves, Shattuck grinned and said, "Until they take me to the funeral home, I guess."