By Steve Williams
Lee Beeler scored the first touchdown on Central High’s new football field in 1971.
“It’s a record that never will be broken … my claim to fame,” said Lee recently in a light-hearted manner as he reflected on that historic opening game and team of 50 years ago.
Beeler and others connected with the ’71 Bobcats reunited Friday night and were recognized prior to Central’s game against Sevier County.
Rodney Neil also brought back the football CHS Head Coach Frank “Boomer” Boring gave him from the 28-0 win over Holston on Sept. 3, 1971 and presented it to the school for future remembrance and safe-keeping.
“I do remember it being extremely hot that night,” said Beeler, a junior wingback who scored on a 57-yard pass from Mike Huskisson in the first quarter and added a 39-yard touchdown run on an “end-around” before halftime.
“The month before, I had my tonsils taken out. I was weak because I hadn’t practiced a whole lot. I was so tired and exhausted; I stayed on the sideline at halftime.”
Ruel Ball also had a 1-yard TD run and Jeff Sharp recovered a fumble in the end zone for the other touchdown. David Poole chipped in one interception and one fumble recovery in the shutout.
An estimated 6,000 attended the contest.
“The stadium was packed, with 10 people deep around the track,” recalled Beeler. “It was a great time to be playing high school football.”
Central was a junior-loaded team that season and ran the Veer. Jan Lund was the quarterback. Huskisson and Ball were the halfbacks. The defense included middle linebackers Mike Hensley and Neil.
“We were a team – not just a bunch of individuals out there,” said Beeler, who also played free safety on defense.
The team posted a 6-4 record after Oak Ridge had to forfeit its win over the Bobcats for using an ineligible player.
“Our biggest game that season was at Clinton,” pointed out Beeler. “They had (wide receiver and future UT All-American) Larry Seivers. We won 26-20 at Clinton. They were ranked No. 2 or No. 3 in the state I believe at that time.”
The Dragons also had standout running backs Terry Moore (another UT signee) and David C. Fritts. Ken Honea (a former UT player) was the Clinton coach.
“Clinton only had 17 players, but they all were good,” said Beeler.
“I had to guard Seivers. He caught one touchdown pass. I caught two.”
Lee ended up playing quarterback as well as defensive back in his senior season of 1972 and the following spring was the shortstop on the Bobcats’ 1973 TSSAA state championship baseball team.He earned All-State honors in both sports that school year.
“Quite a few of us grew up together in the Inskip-Norwood area that were on the state championship team,” said Beeler. “I would like to stress that they were all fine kids and became great men. We had team camaraderie and are still good friends today.”
Bud Bales, who was an assistant football coach on the 1971 Central team, became the school’s head coach in baseball in 1974, after Tommy Schumpert became the Bobcats’ head football coach in 1973.
Beeler went on to play college football at Auburn and was a defensive back for three years. He didn’t play his senior season for medical reasons.
After these many years, Lee still remembers the time leading up to the 1971 football season at the high school’s new location.
“We were out there with five gallon buckets, picking up rocks three weeks before the season began,” he said.
“And the goalposts for the new field were being put up in the eleventh hour.”
He remembers a truck with double back wheels putting ruts all the way down the middle of the field and they didn’t go away that season.
Just like the memories of the first game and season on the new field 50 years ago are still etched in his mind.