Today we will say goodbye to another Chattanooga sports legend and icon. My friend Grace Keith passed away last week at the age of 84. She has been a fixture in area sports for many decades as head girls basketball coach at Hixson High School, head Womens' basketball coach at UTC and most recently as a long-time board member of the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. I have served with her on that board for the past 12 years and I have no idea how we can replace her.
Grace was always in charge of the annual Hall of Fame banquet each year and, as you know, if you've ever attended one, they were always top-notch and organized to perfection. That's the way Grace handled every task she was ever assigned.
And even though we were really good friends, we did butt heads a few times over items on the board. When things were settled, (Grace usually won) we always hugged and we both knew how much we loved and respected each other.
Though we didn't officially meet until years later, I first saw Grace Keith when I was a sophomore in high school. She was coaching at Hixson High School and her Wildcat team was facing mid-state power Waverly in the Girls' State Tournament in Murfreesboro. My uncle, Gene Trotter, was head coach at Waverly and his team won pretty handily over Hixson as his star forward Sally Smith scored a new state tournament record 63 points, most of them coming in the second half. Years later, I teased her a bit about that game, and when I wrote my book, "Seasons of Change," I mentioned her and that game. Remarkably she remembered that night, her players and Sally Smith as well as my uncle, though I wouldn't call it a fond memory for her.
Things haven't been the same for Grace after she lost her best friend, Catherine Neely, last year to COVID-19. Those two were inseparable for many years. Their favorite trip was always going to the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament together. They were both huge Lady Vols fans and were both personal friends with the late Coach Pat Summitt. They were also regular visitors to the NCAA Tournament during Tennessee's glory years and, when the SEC brought its women's hoops tournament to the UTC Arena, Catherine and Grace were among the hosts and as always, everything worked just like clockwork. Paying attention to every possible detail is the trait that I most admired about both of these wonderful ladies.
So, as Grace Keith is laid to rest today, I can't help but think about the great reunion that is taking place in Heaven. Grace, Catherine, and Coach Summitt reminiscing about old times, talking about women's hoops and just enjoying each other's company once again. Rest easy, Grace. We'll miss you!
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Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org