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Recalling preps of the past in our area

The South High School Rocket eventually landed at Mooreland Heights Elementary School, where it is honored today. "It's old, but it's not forgotten," said Leslie May, secretary/bookkeeper at Mooreland Heights. South High closed in 1975. Reaching its new home in 1994 was quite an adventure for the Rocket, May added.

By Steve Williams

Once upon a time, Golden Bears romped atop the ridge above Lonsdale.

Panthers snarled in other areas besides Powell. In fact, some were on the prowl in East Knoxville, not very far from downtown.

A little farther east, there used to be battles between Mountaineers and Warriors, sometimes taking place close to streets named Chilhowee, Indian, Iroquois and Mohawk.

Across the river, South Knoxville has always been like a town of its own. One side of Chapman Highway was long known for swarming Yellowjackets. On the other side, there was a Rocket that attracted attention. And believe it or not, where Pioneers once settled, Cherokees now live.

Have you caught on to my story yet? Maybe so, if you’re from an older generation.

For the younger, like CAK quarterback Charlie High and the present day Warriors – their nickname comes from a Biblical reference – what you’ve been reading are some of the nicknames of high school football teams that once played in this area.

At least 10 high schools have come and gone over the years in Knoxville and Knox County . . . the Rule Golden Bears, the Austin Panthers, the East Mountaineers, the Holston Warriors, the Young Yellowjackets, the South Rockets, the Doyle Pioneers.

The list of departed also includes the South-Young Trojans, a consolidation of rivals South and Young. South-Young eventually merged with Doyle to form the present day South-Doyle Cherokees.

It appears all the school changes over the years in South Knoxville have strengthened the unity of the people in that area, as South-Doyle High proudly announces on its web site that it “shares a history” with the three former schools.

That’s good to see. There are a lot of past players, cheerleaders and band members that shouldn’t be left out, even though their school is gone.

In our research, we found that Knoxville High School and Stair Tech were the first local high schools to close, more than two generations ago.

If Hardin Valley Academy is the new kid on the block as far as high school football goes today, Knoxville High was the granddaddy.

With school closings, athletic programs came to an end, including some great football traditions.

The Knoxville High School Trojans were recognized as state champions for three consecutive years (1942 through 1944) as they were No. 1 in the Tennessee Litkenhous Ratings. The Trojans were perennial Top 10 finishers in the state. In 1950, its final season, Knoxville High was 10-1.

Rule High also was often a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron and was Class AA state runner-up in 1980, losing 21-20 at mighty Brentwood Academy. This was in the days when public schools and private schools competed against each other in the state playoffs.

Brentwood Academy was a private school powerhouse. Coach Bob Polston’s boys were just plain tough. I was fortunate to cover the showdown for The Knoxville Journal.

Population growth and decline in different areas created the need for new schools and the closing of others over time.

After Knoxville High closed in the spring of 1950, four high schools – East, South, West and Fulton – opened in the fall of 1951.

Integration brought the end to two schools – Austin and East – and the birth of a new one in 1968 – Austin-East.

South and Young were consolidated in 1976 and South-Young merged with Doyle in 1991. That same year saw Holston and Rule close.

Through the years, many local high schools have had to move into bigger buildings because of overflowing enrollments but didn’t lose their names or traditions.

Other schools were dealt a different fate. But those that are gone are not forgotten. There are success stories behind each one worth recalling.

In the weeks ahead, we hope to bring you some of those. Like the story of the South High Rocket that still stands today. Really.

The end.

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