Mark Dragoo has been part of the history inside the Chattanooga Arts & Sciences gymnasium before he even called it home and Tuesday night with friends, family, and dozens of former players and coaches on hand, he permanently became part of the gym’s long and proud history.
In a gym that has housed perhaps more basketball talent than any building in Chattanooga, CSAS officially dedicated its beautiful new hardwood basketball floor in homage to both its past and its present last night with its dedication as Mark Dragoo Court.
With Dragoo’s majestic signature adorning both sides of the court, there was still room to honor Chattanooga City High (1921-1963) and Chattanooga Riverside (1963-1983), both former schools to have called the building home.
“It was a no-brainer. Both Riverside and City High are part of our community here at CSAS and while we wanted to honor Coach Dragoo for all that he has meant to our school, we also wanted to remember the greatness of both those former schools and the athletes who left their mark inside these walls,” said CSAS principal Jim Boles last night.
And while many of this town’s greats – guys like legendary coach Dorsey Sims who led Riverside to three state titles with the likes of Anthony Roberts, Richard Fuqua and Frank Jones – left their mark inside the gymnasium on East Third Street, last night was about Dragoo and the 31 years he has paced the sidelines within the building.
“It’s actually a little embarrassing, but it’s a wonderful honor,” said the modest Dragoo prior to the ceremony. “My whole time here has been a family thing and tonight is more about them and all the kids and the assistant coaches who are the real ones being honored tonight. If I didn’t have good kids and good coaches, and the wonderful loving support, especially that of my wife Julie, none of this would be possible.
“You don’t get honors like this without all that support, and the kind of athletes who have come through here and bought into what we do. If I had 31 years here of losing seasons, they wouldn’t be putting my name on the court, and those wins are a tribute to the kids and the coaches,” Dragoo deflected once again.
And while all of that is certainly true, the spotlight was squarely on Dragoo and rightly so. There may not be a more humble and certainly more successful coach in this town than the man who has directed the Patriots program since 1989.
His young Patriots finished the night off with a 60-31 victory over visiting Rockwood before an appreciative crowd to bring his win total at the school to 559 in his 31-year span that has brought with it 15 regular-season title, 10 district tournament titles, 10 sub-state appearances and four trips to the state tournament in Murfreesboro. Twice he has brought home runner-up state trophies, and from 2002 til 2018 every CSAS basketball team he has directed has made at least the region semifinals. So dominate has his reign been in the district that from 2005 to 2012 the Patriots won 77 straight district games.
Dragoo has actually won over 700 games when you add in the nine years he spent at Brainerd Baptist, but in typical Dragoo fashion he laughingly recalls his first foray into the CSAS’ history books.
“I was the coach at Brainerd Baptist and my first trip here to CSAS provided them with their first win in school history. It was “bag a bobcat night” and I had preached to my kids, don’t let us be their first win. But the place was wild that night, and we came out and the whole crowd was filled with kids wearing trench coats, and I think it frightened the Baptist boys that night,” laughed Dragoo.
Several years later, he got the call to join the Patriot staff and by the time he had won his fourth game that first year, he had become the all-time winningest coach in school history, such was the foundation he had inherited.
But it didn’t take long for him to make his mark, and the Patriots have emerged as one of the most-feared Class A programs in the state. And Dragoo has done it by playing the best competition possible, regardless of classification much in the way Pat Summitt built the Lady Vol program into a force.
Case in point was one of the few losing seasons the program endured in 2012, finishing 11-17, but making it all the way to state sectionals that year.
While Dragoo may not have been in his element last night once the official ceremony began; all someone needed to see to know that naming the court in his honor was the right thing to do, could be found in the hour or so leading up the big event. Dozens of former players and assistant coaches came from across the state to pay respects, and listening in to the memories was worth the price of admission.
Dragoo reminisced with one former player who now coaches in Murfressboro about the time the team went to Oliver Springs for a substate game and the opposing team would not allow the Patriots access to basketballs until 15 minutes before tipoff.
“It never happened again. From then on out, every time we went somewhere I called the TSSAA to make sure if we got there an hour or more before the game we had access to warm up. A few years later we went to Pickens County and the AD said the only way we were getting basketballs was if (former TSSAA director) Ronnie Carter called him personally and told him to give them to us. I called Ronnie right there and handed him the phone, and we got the basketballs.
“They were so mad when we beat them. We ordered pizza from a place after the game and when we went to pick it up, they saw it was and turned off the lights and acted like they were closed,” Dragoo laughed with his former player.
Those are the things which make Dragoo such a special commodity. He proudly brags about the fact all but three of the assistants he has ever had, have been former players.
“We open up our house to all our kids. Julie and I feel like this is our ministry and we were put here at CSAS to impact kids and help mold them into solid citizens and good Christian men. I wouldn’t still be here after 31 years if it hadn’t been a good fit,” Dragoo smiled at the thought.
And while he relishes that fit, and he was most proud to have his 86-year-old father Paul along with his sons Zach, Will and Tyler along with seven grandchildren by his side last night, he still felt uneasy about all the hoopla being made in his honor.
“It is a little discerning. I mean with all the great players and coaches who have been in this gym, I’d easily say it’s the most historic basketball facility we have left in Chattanooga. Just so much history in here, and I couldn’t be prouder of the fact we have honored and remembered Riverside and old City High School with the court. That would have been enough for me,” Dragoo lamented before finally finding one bright spot in the whole deal.
“I have two of my grandchildren who go to school here, and Carter, who is in the second grade, insisted on getting his teacher to bring his class to the gym today so they could see his name on the court. So at least one person thinks it’s really cool,” Dragoo smiled.
For all those who have been touched by Dragoo, though, it was not only cool, but oh so fitting for nothing has been more synonymous with the CSAS athletic program than the name Dragoo, and just as he has left his mark on so many individuals, his mark will always be found on the hardwood floor of Mark Dragoo Court.
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)