When Central Fell 1 Shot Short Of Winning The State Basketball Championship (Part 2)

Monday, March 16, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

After the disappointing loss to Lenoir City in the 1958 finals in the “Sweet Sixteen” State Tournament at Vanderbilt University in Nashville some might have asked if the defeat might adversely affect the players who had come so close to immortality in the history of Central High athletics.  However, every player on the team either graduated from college or served honorably in the military.

            Eddie Test played both basketball and baseball at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Freshmen were not eligible to play in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) at that time, but as a Sophomore he was elected on the All Sophomore team.  After obtaining a Business Degree with a minor degree in Finance, he initially taught and assisted Coach Smith at Central. In 1986, Test went into business for himself and established Test Medical Equipment in Ringgold, Georgia, which is an ongoing and successful medical supply business with his wife and other members of the family.

            The only other senior on the 1957-1958 squad was Bill Culpepper who was an important contributor to the success of the team on several occasions.  Bill was the star of the Pounders’ upset victory over the top-seeded Kingsport Dobyns Bennett Indians in the third round of the State Tournament on March 14.  He graduated in the Class of 1958 and did not go to college but he did play on the semi-pro Peerless Woolen Mill squad in the Southern Textile League prior to the plant closing down in the 1960s. 

He served three years in the United States Army, was honorable discharged and married his high school sweetheart, Susie Hartman, and they had three children, William, Jr. , Joella and Nathan.  After returning from his Army service, Bill worked at Singer-Cobble Manufacturing Plan and National Life Insurance Company before starting a 40-year career at Colonial Baking Company.  He died in 2003. 

After the Kingsport victory, Coach Gordon Smith was very specific about Bill’s performance to the press.  “Bill Culpepper made the difference for us tonight.”

            Diminutive 5’7” junior guard Ken Connelly was a solid and consistent player for three years, including the 1959 season where he was co-captain with forward Ron Cole after the exciting 1958 season.  He also was an outstanding baseball pitcher for the Pounders and was selected to be on the All City Team along with several other Pounders. After graduating from Central in 1959 he attended Austin Peay University on a baseball scholarship and was chosen Most Valuable Player both his junior and senior years and was an all Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) selection his senior year.

Following his graduation from Austin Peay in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Ken worked for 42 years with the Boy Scouts of America, rising through the ranks from District Executive through various positions in the United States and elsewhere in Europe and the Carribbean to Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the national organization headquarters in Dallas, Texas.  He was recognized as one of the top fundraisers for the Boy Scouts of America and was primarily responsible for raising $45 million in Capital and Major Gifts for various programs of the organization.

James Ron Cole was a 6’1” forward under the backboards along with Bill Culpepper and Webb Cate.  Ron was selected to be co-captain along with Ken of the 1959 team and would be selected as an All City and second team All-State player from Central. Following graduation in 1959 he was awarded a basketball scholarship at the University of Chattanooga where he played for four years. Ron graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and subsequently served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War in that combat theater.  He later obtained a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Georgia. He relocated to Lumberton, North Carolina where he served as an Adjunct art professor at Pembroke College and Southeast Community College and also established his own business in the field of art.  He died in November, 2009.

Webb Cate was the third of the 6’1” forwards who contributed much to the success of the team.  Not as muscular as Cole and Culpepper, he nevertheless played an important role in the success of the Pounders under the goal and on the backboard. Following graduation from Central he attended Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee and played basketball for the Governors during the 1961-1963 seasons.

Webb graduated in 1963 with a degree in Accounting and a minor in Economics.  He subsequently enlisted as a naval lieutenant and served in the United States Navy for four years. After leaving the Navy he and his family relocated to the Escondido, California, area where he became involved in the investment field for 34 years and subsequently retired in 2005.  He also served on the City Council and as the Mayor for a total term of public service of 15 years. During that time he was employed as a manager with several investment firms in California and retired as an Executive with A.G. Edwards.  His upward advances clearly indicated that he was extraordinarily talented and successful in the financial world.

Junior Blaine Allen at 6’4” was the tallest player on the 1958 squad and primarily was a substitute, but on occasion Coach Gorgon Smith would start him against the taller teams to try and offset the Pounders’ lack of height. Blaine attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  After graduating from UT, the Allens moved to Greeneville, Tennessee where Blaine became the operator of Allen Petroleum in Greeneville and Dogwood Oil in Johnson City, Tennessee. He prematurely died at the age of 41 allegedly caused by a latent gene that was present from his childhood.

Sophomore Paul Smith would be the third guard that would occasionally relieve the two starting guards. Paul did not go to college but served in the United States Army for 20 years and eventually settled in the Dallas, Texas area after serving in Vietnam.

Sophomore William Millsaps 6’2” played on the record team and got playing time when he relieved one of the starting forwards.  William entered the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) and was a walk-on-player on the freshman basketball team for the Volunteers. He also got a job that ultimately led to his newspaper career at the Knoxville Journal as a sports writer. He later joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the sports department in 1966 and in 1973 he was the newspaper's sports editor until 1991 when he became the managing editor. 

As a sports writer he has acquired remarkable success, being an 11-time Virginia Sports Writer of the Year Award winner.  In 2011 he was the recipient of the Red Smith Award from Associated Press Sports Editors, for career contributions to sports journalism. Bill has also been elected to the Virginia Communication Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, and the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, in addition to being a juror for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for 2001-2002.

The 10th player on the ’58 team was 5’6” junior Jerry Cox.  Jerry was unique in that in spite of getting limited playing time he was a loyal and dedicated member of the team.  After graduating from Central in 1959, Jerry attended Georgia Tech.  An Honor Society member while at Central, he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the Atlanta school in 1963.  After serving in the Army for two years, he attended the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania and obtained a Master’s in Business Administration advanced degree. After starting and selling several companies, he went to work around 2009 for Coastal States Insurance Company in the investment division in Atlanta and became a successful financier.

In spite of the 34-33 loss to Lenoir City the 1957-1958 squads demonstrated that they were all successes in their life after March 15, 1958.

(The other starting guard who missed the last shot has probably survived!)

* * *

Jerry Summers


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