Randy Smith: Coach Neely’s Legacy: 50 Years Of Excellence

Friday, January 17, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

To do the job you love for 50 years is a real blessing. To do it well is not only a blessing to you but to the people you have touched in those 50 years. East Ridge Volleyball Coach Catherine Neely announced this week that she was finally stepping down as the Pioneer’s volleyball coach. She will stay on, however, as the school’s athletic director. “It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Coach Neely said. “I’m fine health-wise, but I decided it was just time.”

In 50 years Neely has posted 1,395 career wins in volleyball, which ranks her third nationally. That includes a pair of TSSAA State Championships and when you add her 625 wins in girl’s basketball, it gives her more than 2,000 victories. Catherine Neely is listed in eight different halls of fame, including the National High School Hall of Fame. She is the only woman from Tennessee named as an inductee to that group.

What makes Catherine Neely special is not the amazing number of career wins, the championships or the hall of fame inductions. It is her dedication to young people. She started at East Ridge High School right out of college and finally retired from the class room in 1997. She remained on as a coach and A.D. and has reluctantly dropped one of those responsibilities every few years. When I came to town in 1975, Coach Neely had already been on the job for more than a decade.

Coach Neely has been instrumental in policies surrounding girls athletics on the high school level for many years. She helped the TSSAA implement its Title IX format more than 40 years ago. “She is a role model not just for the girls that play for her, but for every coach in every sport at every school in the state on how to run a program,” said former TSSAA Director Ronnie Carter.  

One might ask how she stays so active. If you’ve ever tried to follow her around for an entire day, you would know how. She is a go-getter; someone who gets the most out of every minute of every day. In addition to teaching, coaching and running programs, Coach Neely has been to every SEC Tournament with her good friend Grace Keith for more than two decades. The two coaching icons have also been to every NCAA Women’s Final Four since basketball became an NCAA women’s sport in the late 1970s. They were there when Coach Pat Summitt won each of her eight NCAA titles at Tennessee.

Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden has the best quote regarding coaches and retirement. Bowden was asked why he kept coaching a few years ago, and he replied, “I haven’t retired because I’m not looking forward to the next big event in my life.” That quote doesn’t even factor in for Catherine Neely. When she leaves one particular part of her career, she finds something else to fill her time. She is also very active as a member of the Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame board, and does a super job as the board’s secretary.

It’s hard for Coach Neely to talk about her favorite things to do; almost as hard as it is for her to tell you who she thinks is the best athlete she ever coached. As far as the general public is concerned, we should all be thankful to Coach Neely for doing what she did and is still doing. Thanks Coach….for 50 years of excellence.

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Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson, TN. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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