They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a photo of a signed basketball remembering a moment of sports success for Kirkman High in the 1950s started quite a conversation recently among three former players about playing for their well-liked coach, Jack Carr.
Coach Carr had died in 2008, and one of his sons, Allen, with whom I had gone to Baylor in the 1970s, was going through some of his father’s items recently and had emailed me saying he had a signed basketball.
He was wondering if it was from his father’s playing days at Chattanooga City High or Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, or maybe his coaching stint at Kirkman, and he also asked if I knew any of the names.
I did not recognize any initially, but I gave him one or two tips of ways he could possibly find out.
He then emailed me back less than a week later excitedly saying that it was from his father’s Kirkman coaching days.
Not only that, but he also said he had located one of the players – former city of Chattanooga parks official Darrell McDonald. He added that Mr. McDonald was full of old sports stories about his Kirkman days and that he might be neat to be interviewed.
So, I contacted Mr. McDonald and went by his East Brainerd home recently and talked with him and fellow Kirkman teammates Bill Green and U.S. Myers about their days playing for a school with a sports history not as decorated or as heavily documented as some other local schools.
But their appreciation for Kirkman in general was great. Their love also highlighted the significance of a vocational education at a time when plans are being made to get a vocational program going in the old Mary Ann Garber Elementary off Roanoke Avenue in East Chattanooga.
The three said the now-razed Kirkman vocational school located on Chestnut Street where much of the downtown riverfront attractions are now only offered basketball and baseball in the 1950s and had to use facilities elsewhere. That included the old Frye Institute up the hill from the former Electric Power Board building on Fifth Street.
It was used for Golden Gloves boxing, but it was also used by the Golden Hawks for the home games at that time after the boxing season was over and the ring in the middle was removed.
The gym helped, because in December 1954, the usually undermanned Kirkman boys’ team under coach Carr did the unthinkable by finishing as a runner-up to then-local-powerhouse Soddy-Daisy and coach Ernest Eldridge in the Times Cup, which was then considered the premier local basketball tournament.
As Chattanooga Times sports writer George Short described the game at Memorial Auditorium in the next day’s paper, “Soddy-Daisy’s Trojans won their fifth Times Cup Series last night, breaking the backs and hearts of an inspired little Kirkman team in the last half.”
Kirkman had actually upset a very good Red Bank team in the first round and then beat Ooltewah before playing Soddy-Daisy, the former players said.
“It was the first-ever tournament game we won,” recalled Mr. McDonald as he and the others reminisced about the event that resulted in a reunion a few years later, when the basketball Mr. Carr possesses was signed.
The victory is significant because Mr. McDonald remembered that they would often have to scrimmage at places like Baylor and Hixson and Soddy-Daisy early in the season before Golden Gloves was finished and they could use the Frye Institute.
Golden Hawk baseball was played at one of the two nice fields at Warner Park at the time, and coach Carr also led Kirkman to an upset win over a good Red Bank diamond team in 1955 as well.
Kirkman had started as a vocational school in 1928 at Fourth and Chestnut streets, and eventually built the first of its familiar later facilities north on Chestnut Street in 1939. Mr. McDonald remembered that the school also later bought the former Freeman Pontiac that was adjacent to it and converted it to a cafeteria and print shop.
At Kirkman, regular subject classes would be held in the mornings, with vocational ones offered in the afternoon. Some of the students who had a little extra money and did not want to eat in the cafeteria or bring their own food could find some places in the surrounding Cameron Hill area. Mr. McDonald recalled that the Westside as that area was called featured a grocery store where he could purchase ready-made sandwiches and a beer joint that sold chili dogs.
The principal at the time was Robert Taylor, who helped Kirkman lead the state in attendance every year by making sure the students were there and on time.
Despite being more of a school with students from working-class families, a number of whom were going to enter the workforce after high school rather than attend college, it did have several graduates who went on to distinguish themselves. The late local civic leader John Germ went there, and the late County Executive Dalton Roberts went there for a period after getting kicked out of Tyner before later returning and graduating from Tyner.
Another person got kicked out following a misunderstanding about breaking into a car, but he later became a top official for a large technology-focused company and made a sizeable donation for some Kirkman programs, the three remembered.
Mr. McDonald said that he went out for the basketball team when he was a sophomore. He said he had seen a sign talking about basketball tryouts one day, but he could not find where the team was practicing. Finally, he saw Coach Carr, who told him he was late. But he joined the team and became a contributor despite being only 5 foot, 7 inches tall after developing his skills at the Ridgedale Community Center, the building of which is now part of McCallie School.
“Coach Carr would get you out there whether you wanted to or not,” he recalled with a laugh of his coach’s sales skills.
“He was in charge,” he said, adding that coach Carr left after Mr. McDonald’s sophomore year to go back to graduate school to make more money and that the Kirkman basketball program was not as good after he left.
Mr. McDonald went on to head the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, working there for nearly 50 years total after starting at age 21. He also enjoyed such sports accomplishments as being a good tennis player, a softball player and coach, and coaching and playing with some early integrated industrial basketball teams. Among his players with Jorges Carpets were Al and Charlie White, the uncle and father, respectively, of the late NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White.
Former Times sports writer Buck Johnson once said Mr. McDonald was pound for pound the best athlete to come out of Chattanooga, and Mr. McDonald credits Kirkman for much of his success. He is also appreciative of the Ridgedale center for keeping him out of trouble beginning at age 10.
U.S. Myers, who was a senior in 1954-55 during coach Carr’s last year, also has great praises for his time at Kirkman and for playing for coach Carr. “He was laid back, but he was a disciplinarian,” he said of his coach. “He led by example. He was there for the young people.”
Although only about 15 years older than the three who recently reminisced, coach Carr had already enjoyed plenty of life experience that made working with some enthusiastic teenagers a piece of cake.
The three remember that he was all-state in football at City as an end and was nicknamed Jack “the Fly” Carr.
After serving as a radio operator in the South Pacific during World War II, coach Carr played sports at Tennessee Wesleyan before beginning his career at Kirkman. He would go on to serve as principal at Kirkman from 1961-66, with his obituary saying his time there earlier coaching basketball and baseball was among his happiest in his work career.
He later became an assistant superintendent with the Chattanooga City Schools and stayed active as a civic volunteer giving back in various realms, including with his church, Brainerd United Methodist. He was 83 when he died.
Mr. Myers, who had grown up playing sports in the East Chattanooga community and recreation center and selling concessions at Lookouts games at Engel Stadium under Ruby Williams, said that coach Carr was even a great influence on him after Mr. Myers finished playing. He said coach Carr had encouraged him to go to Tennessee Wesleyan, but he ended up working at Peerless Woolen Mill for a few years.
However, when he reached his early 20s, he went back to college with coach Carr’s help. He ended up meeting his wife in college and went on to work for a steel company as a sales representative for 30 years, saying he tried to handle situations as coach Carr would.
“Coach Carr meant everything to me,” said Mr. Myers. “To make a living back then was hard. He stressed education. He helped me.”
Bill Green, a 1956 Kirkman graduate who came up playing sports through the East Lake recreation center, also appreciates coach Carr. He went on to the University of Cincinnati on a baseball scholarship and became acquainted with such people as Oscar Robertson, a member of the basketball team, and future Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who had played baseball for the Bearcats before his professional career.
Mr. Green also played a couple of years in the Washington Senators organization with future big leaguers Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.
Mr. Green also became a local fastpitch softball star in Chattanooga, reaching almost legendary status, according to Mr. McDonald.
His Kirkman work also helped him in the real world after taking machine shop under Joe Frazier, whom both he and Mr. Myers also praise.
Mr. Green went on to start the machine shop program at Chattanooga State. “I put over 500 boys to work,” he proudly said.
All three are proud of their time at Kirkman as well, including playing for coach Carr, and said the vocational offerings at Kirkman were helpful to countless others until it eventually closed in 1991, much to their chagrin.
“We fought against closing,” Mr. McDonald said.
However, they are happy to hear that a new vocational and trade school for upper high school students and young adults is scheduled to open in 2022 in the former Mary Ann Garber Elementary School.
They hope another coach Carr or some other influential teacher will be there to encourage the current generation of students.
* * *