Golden Memories: Central baseball in 1973 had a golden tourney run

By Steve Williams

High school baseball teams of this era can learn something from the Central High team’s story of 1973. Coach Tommy Schumpert’s Bobcats were 10-8 in the regular season that spring, but got on a roll and won the TSSAA state championship with an 8-2 victory over Tullahoma at Engel Stadium in Chattanooga.

With that triumph, Central gave Knoxville its first state crown in baseball since the tournament started in 1947.

Fifty years later, that team was honored April 18 on the field that bears their former coach’s name – Tommy Schumpert Park – and Coach Schumpert was there with his former players and received the loudest applause when the team was introduced.

“I just remember our record was around .500 because he played everybody in non-region games,” recalled Mike Huskisson, a senior righthander who was named the MVP of the 1973 state tourney.

It was Coach Schumpert’s way of getting everybody prepared for the post-season.

“You never know when one of them needed to be playing,” said Schumpert. “And that non-league game never meant a thing really.”

“Then, as we baseball people know,” said Huskisson, “you can get on a roll in baseball.”

And that’s what happened.

“We came back when we were down,” said Huskisson. “We shut people out. Mark Boggs (a tall sophomore righthander) and I pitched every game (the rest of the way) and we ended up winning the state championship. We were very blessed and just had a great bunch of kids that refused to lose and that was it. I mean, we were the same team when we were 10-8, but it’s something that only baseball can do. We took it up to another level so to speak. Coach Schumpert was great and we just jelled.”

Lee Beeler, the Bobcats’ senior shortstop that season, added: “We were all good friends. A lot of us were from the Inskip area and played ball all our lives together. I think it was just destiny for us – something we really worked for.”

Members of the 1973 team who were introduced on the field prior to Central’s game against Powell (Two of the players are deceased but were represented by family members) are: Jim Atchley, Lee Beeler, Mark Boggs, Greg Cunningham, Jeff Duncan (represented by brother Ronnie Duncan), Jim Flemming, Steve Griffin (not present), Dennis Hill, Dan Housley, Mike Huskisson, Stan Loy, Bob McGhee, Drew McTeer (represented by brother Will McTeer and sister Elaine Neubert), Phil Payne, Randy Trusley, John Walton, Kemp Wynn and Head Coach Tommy Schumpert. The team’s scorekeeper, Amy Hawkins, also was introduced.

Each player was presented a gift bag by 1973 classmate Mike Blankenship.

Fate, it appeared, brought Chris Freeman to the ceremony last Tuesday. A pitcher on Central’s 1990 state title team who was born in 1973, Freeman had talked with the current Central team earlier in the day and heard about the recognition, “so I wanted to see some of these guys and support them.”

Chris had heard about the team growing up and playing Little League ball at Inskip Ball Park himself. “We knew that they had won the state, and were a great bunch of guys,” he said.

“By the time we got to Central, (our mindset) was we got to get a state championship, so it’s not the last one from ’73. Pride and Tradition was already established by these guys, so it’s always been that way.”

Freeman became one of Central’s greatest pitchers. He made it to Double A with the Smokies when they were part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He played at UT in 1993 and ’94 and pro ball in 1995, ’96 and ’97.

Team scorekeeper Amy Hawkins was a junior in 1973 and didn’t make it to the state tourney, but she found a way to celebrate the state title when the team returned to Knoxville.

“Coach Schumpert had a little white Dodge Dart,” she said, “and I wrote ‘State Champs’ all over it in black shoe polish, which did not wash off.”

Amy laughed at the memory. “He never got angry with me at all. He said, ‘I thought it was good advertising.’ And he loves to tell that story to anybody that will listen.”

Huskisson, who now lives in Canton, Ga., expressed his appreciation for Central Athletic Director J.D. Lambert organizing the event to honor the 1973 state champs.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of this and for J.D. bringing us older guys back,” he said. “This is a really special moment for high school sports. I love Knoxville and am sorry I moved away a long time ago. It’s just great to be here, a beautiful night.”

The 1972-73 school year at CHS had a lot of success in sports. The football team was undefeated and advanced to the state quarterfinals. The basketball team won the district championship and advanced to the regional semifinals. And the baseball team capped it off with the state championship.

Schumpert changed hats and became the Bobcats’ head football coach in the fall of 1973 and Bud Bales took over the baseball program and kept it rolling for many years.

Schumpert said, “It was a great time to be at Central and in Fountain City” during his coaching career.

The ’73 CHS baseball team was a big part of it.