When Stan Sherlin and I first met over 30 years ago, I instantly knew that we were kindred spirits.
We were both from the Chattanooga area and had graduated from high school in 1979 – he was a multi-sport star at Bradley County High and would later play both basketball and golf at his hometown Cleveland State and Lee University. But what really solidified our friendship was our mutual devotion to Tennessee football even though we were living behind enemy lines in Montgomery, Alabama.
This was an era where the Vols enjoyed prominence when it came to football bragging rights, and the fact we resided among Auburn and Alabama loyalists made our bond even stronger.
We would occasionally attend games together, celebrating Big Orange successes like the ’99 national championship, and, for much of the past decade, wondering if Tennessee would ever regain relevance.
Stan became a phenomenal golfer, competing as a professional for several years in the old mini-tour days and even participating in the early days of ESPN’s long driving competition. He became one of the state’s most accomplished amateur golfers, winning five Alabama Golf Association state titles as well as serving as a member of the organization’s governing board.
His last state championship was the 2018 Alabama State Senior Four-Ball staged at his home course, Wynlakes Country Club, where he and partner Joey Holley made a late charge on Sunday to win the title.
Little did anyone know at the time, but his life would take a sudden detour. Stan was diagnosed with brain cancer last year and had surgery to remove the growth. It seemed as if the procedure produced miraculous results. It did buy my friend another year of his storybook marriage to his beloved wife, Cheris, and gave him the chance to see their daughter, Emma, begin her junior year of high school.
But the cancer returned with a vengeance this summer, claiming Stan’s earthly body at the age of 59 earlier this week. But his life and legacy endures, perpetuated by the impact he had on those who were privileged to know him and from those who played a role in his upbringing.
Stan was a hulking figure who could hit a golf ball out of sight, but he was also a kind soul whose gentle spirit and quick wit attracted others to befriend him. He was always proud of his upbringing in Cleveland, and was fiercely devoted his family’s heritage.
Stan’s late father, Jay, was one of six Sherlin brothers along with a sister who planted deep roots in Bradley County. The family was anchored by a unwavering faith in God, a solid work ethic and a propensity for athletic achievements.
One of Stan’s cousins, Roger Frazier, who has spent the past 42 years as Tennessee football’s equipment guru and now is Director of Equipment and Team Apparel, has fond memories of being part of the Sherlin clan as his mother was the lone sister.
“Stan and I were like brothers in high school,” Frazier said. “We played from little league all the way up. He was such a phenomenal athlete that was gifted in everything he did.”
During his freshman year at UT, Frazier made the trip to Chattanooga to see Stan’s Bradley hoops squad take on perennial powerhouse Howard featuring NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White. A fast start by the Bears capped by a Sherlin breakaway dunk left the home crowd restless.
“It got pretty tense inside the gym when someone threw a bottle from the stands, and (Bradley coach) Steve Williams pulled his team off the court,” Frazier said. “Thankfully, things calmed down and they finished the game. The only thing on my mind was that I had driven Stan’s TransAm to the gym and I was worried it might not survive if things got out of hand.”
Before becoming a fixture on the sidelines at Vols games, Frazier hoped to caddy for Sherlin as he pursued making a living in golf. But the opportunities to compete professionally weren’t as plentiful in those days.
“I tell everybody that if they had the different levels of pro tours back then like they do today, Stan would have made a career out of golf,” Frazier said. “He could absolutely hit the ball out of sight. He was always everyone’s top pick at our family reunion golf outings.”
Another of Stan’s first cousins, Eddie Sherlin, was nine years older and equally gifted athletically. He averaged 31 points per game his senior season at Gallatin High in 1970, and was a three-sport commitment – basketball, football and baseball - to Tennessee before opting for professional baseball after Pittsburgh drafted him in the fourth round. His early life was also chronicled in a New York Times bestseller “More Than Rivals”, a moving story of racial reconciliation through basketball during the Civil Rights era.
“Stan was a great athlete. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it, but hope he saw me in a favorable light as a role model,” Eddie said. “My son was playing in a golf tournament in Montgomery last year and we stayed with Stan and Cheris. Every morning Stan would be up reading his Bible first thing and spending time in prayer. He was such a guy of high character and he will be missed.”
Although a man of few words, Stan’s strong faith in Christ was evident in his life. With little fanfare, he regularly sought to meet the needs of those could use a helping hand. Much of this goes back to the foundation laid by his early life in Cleveland.
“Our grandparents lived in a small house on South Ocoee Street and they made it a priority for all of their children to be involved in the church,” Frazier said. “I think of the verse that says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Stan is someone who continued that legacy of faith in our family in a real way.”
Stan was never shy about living out his faith in all facets of his life – at work, on the golf course and among friends. The manner in which he faced cancer with hope and assurance impacted many. Even in the depths of his sickness, he would regularly text encouraging messages to others.
Doug Amos, a long-time Montgomery sports talk radio host, covered many of Stan’s links exploits as a golf writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He shared his feelings via a post on Facebook.
“He was a giant of a man, a giant of a player and a giant of a friend. Most of all he was a giant of a husband and a giant of a father,” Amos said. “I met Cheris, his bride, on the Lagoon Park golf course when Stan was playing in the first city championship I covered. She was always there, by his side. And she remained there for 35 years, and their daughter Emma soon made it a fun-loving trio. Heaven is celebrating Stan’s arrival, because he was most importantly a giant of a Christian. I was blessed to know him and love him.”
Paul Payne can be contacted at email@example.com or via Twitter @Paul_A_Payne