John Shearer: Random Thoughts About FIFA Soccer, Pinehurst, 1974, Holston Conference, And Nightfall

  • Saturday, June 15, 2024
  • John Shearer

Seeing that Chattanooga has been selected as a potential base camp for one of the competing FIFA World Cup soccer teams in 2026 was certainly exciting news for the Scenic City.

The announcement said the to-be-announced team would use the soccer facilities at Baylor School and stay at the Read House. That will be a neat experience locally as the World Cup games are staged at several big cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico that year.

I know in recent years – or at least well after I graduated from there in 1978 -- Baylor has built some nice grass soccer fields on secure school property behind Walmart, and that might be part of the reason the school was selected. FIFA has also required that all matches be played on natural grass, and Finley Stadium where Chattanooga FC plays is artificial grass and CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge is now natural grass. But the latter stadium might be busy with the Red Wolves.

Hopefully the visiting team will enjoy the setting near the Tennessee River and the mountains as well as staying at the Read House, the oldest current part of which was built in 1926 and will be 100 years old that year. They will probably enjoy the hotel’s beautiful lobby and mezzanine level but let us also hope the players will not have to stay in the supposedly haunted room 311 at the Read House. It was a room I first learned about and enjoyed writing about way back in the early 1990s for the Chattanooga Free Press.

Overall, the 2026 stay should be a great opportunity for goodwill back and forth between Chattanooga and that unnamed country’s team in this era when many people believe more international goodwill is badly needed.

I actually played soccer at Baylor in the seventh, eighth and 10th grades, and the varsity and B-team/junior varsity fields at the time were just on the outfield sides of the current baseball fields. The junior school practiced on the fields along the Tennessee River.

The sport was also played in the winter, so, needless to say, the fields became quite muddy over the course of a season and looked by the end of the year like something more suitable for a heifer than FIFA. But we still all managed to have fun and did not think about the bad field conditions.

I remember it was also considered sissy to wear shin guards at the time, and I recall getting kicked pretty hard and getting a bruise mark one time. Soccer is actually a sport that sometimes requires the aggressiveness of a football player, such as when opposing players are running in the direction of each other to get to a ball first. I enjoyed that part of it while playing about as much as I did the Oklahoma head-on tackling drills in football practice.

But I enjoyed the sport overall as a teenager after first playing it at Bright School. And I still remember fondly the early appreciation for the now-very-popular sport that such Baylor coaches as Andy Anderson, Sib Evans Jr., Bill Cushman, and David Harris had when I was in school in the 1970s. While Mr. Anderson and Mr. Evans are now deceased, I hope coaches Cushman and Harris are enjoying the FIFA announcement.

Speaking of sports and the 1970s, I have followed the fact that Pinehurst No. 2 in Eastern North Carolina has been host to this week’s U.S. Open in golf.

Way back during spring break in 1975 when I was in ninth grade and played golf enthusiastically in the spring and summer while growing up in Valleybrook in Hixson, I got to play that Pinehurst course. We had a book about the best golf courses in America and the world, and I saw that Pinehurst No. 2 was considered one of them.

Somehow, I got the crazy idea in my mind I would like to play it, since it was about the closest one of the esteemed ones listed in the book to Chattanooga at the time and was also a resort course and not exclusively private. I talked my father, Dr. C. Wayne Shearer, into taking us, so off we drove one day during spring break.

I remember we pulled into a gas station in downtown Charlotte after already being in the car for five hours and learned we were still about two hours or more away down some lonely highway. We arrived, however, and enjoyed our stay there that included visiting the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The next day we were matched up with a young college student from the University of Notre Dame and had a great time playing in the days before they took that course back to its natural look with surrounding sand. I had gotten a movie camera for Christmas the year before, and I remember I filmed about every hole. The treasured parts, however, are shots of us playing or walking, and I recently had a chance to get it converted to YouTube to save that cherished memory of long ago.

While I did not go on to become a pro golfer as I perhaps dreamed about then, the memories of that time with my father long ago and the fact that he took two days out of his busy life for me are pro level.

As one who is always thinking of anniversary times, I have also been thinking lately about the summer of 1974 – 50 years ago. Mainly, my memories involve two trips I took to two parts of the country. I remember I went with my parents and sister, Cathy, up to Washington, D.C., for the American Optometric Association convention.

After stopping at the Natural Bridge of Virginia on the way up, I enjoyed visiting the nation’s capital. I remember visiting the Supreme Court and even the U.S. Capitol building. I recall we just walked right in while some kind of discussion was taking place in the Senate chamber, and I recall recognizing U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

As I was leaving with my parents, we by chance got on an elevator with U.S. Sen. Bill Brock from Chattanooga, and my father introduced himself to him. Sen. Brock was polite, although not overly animated to see someone from Chattanooga. Perhaps seeing home towners was a daily occurrence for him.

I am sure tighter security surrounds such actions today, but we enjoyed rubbing elbows with the distinguished statesman.

Within a short time after getting home, I remember going to visit a former neighborhood friend, Mark Cathey, who had moved to Houston, Texas, as his father followed his career in the oil and gas industry after working for Kayo/Conoco here.

I think I stayed a week or so and was having so much fun that I talked my parents into letting me stay an extra three days or so, with Mark’s father kindly taking time from his busy schedule to change my flight tickets.

Besides playing golf and swimming in the hot Texas sun a few times and going to see the Astros play baseball at the Astrodome, I remember I developed a crush on Mark’s slightly younger sister, while of course not telling Mark.

I can also recall hearing a song there that was popular that summer. It was “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan, a song I still enjoy hearing today.

I got back home and went back to my normal teenage routine that summer and fall, and Mark visited me the next year. While that was an age for young people to change in all kinds of ways, Mark had evidently had a transformation in his Christian faith since the previous summer. As someone who went to church regularly but was not nearly that deep in my faith, I did not know how to take him, so the summertime visits ended, although we intermittently kept in touch as he went on to become a missionary in Russia.

My faith growth came years later, in part after I met and married my wife, Laura. She was undergoing faith changes as well and went on to become a United Methodist minister after graduating from seminary in 2003. Her first appointment was to pastor three small churches just north and east of Chattanooga, and I remember how excited she was.

I thought of all that not only because the role of women in ministry has come up recently at the Southern Baptist Church’s convention, but also for another reason. I learned while attending the United Methodist Church’s Holston Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C., last week that my old home and childhood church, Red Bank United Methodist, will get its first woman senior pastor in its century or so of existence. The Rev. Liz Hamilton is scheduled to begin serving there in a few weeks.

The recent United Methodist General Conference-passed legislation regarding friendlier language toward the LGBTQ community has brought mixed results from some United Methodist Church members, with some people whispering of church members wanting to leave. Others have heartily embraced the changes.

That did not come up formally in this gathering in which the 200th anniversary of the Holston Conference was celebrated – and I learned that famous Chattanoogan John Ross was a Methodist. But I was moved by the preaching of several of the bishops, including the Rev. David Graves, my former pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in downtown Knoxville when we lived there.

He has an almost magical way of preaching, and he in one sermon looked back at his ministry and all the people who helped him along the way, including after he became an associate minister at Hixson United Methodist after serving as the youth minister starting in 1989. He said the older members were skeptical of a youth minister becoming part of the church’s senior pastoral staff, but an older woman would come up to him regularly and tell him about other older people who were in the hospital or needed visiting.

He would start showing up where needed, and suddenly these older people began having a different and more positive view of him, he said, and he owed much of the change to this woman who helped give him a little guidance.

I felt another kind of positive inspiration Friday night going to Nightfall at Miller Plaza. Sometimes I will just drop by and listen to the music for 45 minutes or an hour and people watch if nothing more – while also realizing how few Chattanoogans I know these days.

Not every time am I overly crazy about the music, but for some reason I was mesmerized by the music of Glen David Andrews. He is an up-tempo kind of New Orleans-style entertainer, and he and his drummer and horn players really had me entertained and focused more on the stage than the crowd or even getting Braves’ updates on my phone.

The hour flew by before he and another band member marched out into the plaza crowd to end the show, and I was so glad I went.

May everyone find such positive inspiration in different ways from others along the road of life – and fondly remember them years later!

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