By Steve Williams

Frank “Boomer” Boring took a peek into the future 50 years ago and what he foresaw is scheduled to come to fruition this Friday night.

Boring was entering his 16th season as head coach of Central High’s football team when the Bobcats moved into their “new” high school in 1971.

The Monday prior to Central’s season opening game against Holston, Boring told senior Rodney Neil he would be the game captain because he had grown up with a lot of the Holston boys and figured his middle linebacker would be excited and fired up for that role.

“I don’t recall how many tackles I made, but they didn’t score any points,” said Neil, recalling the Bobcats’ 28-0 win over the Warriors that Sept. 3 night.

The following Monday or Tuesday, Coach Boring gave his strong 5-10, 190-pounder the game ball from that victory.

“He told me to hang onto it,” said Neil, who is now 67 years old and a UPS retiree. “He said he thought that it would probably mean something someday.”

Someday will be this Friday.

Team reunions are always special, but the one Central is hosting for the 1971 Red and Black Friday night is extraordinary for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it falls on the exact date (Sept. 3) of that 1971 season opener. And secondly, the hard rubber Voit football used in that game will be given back to CHS. No doubt, it will find a prominent place at the school, whose mantra is “Pride and Tradition.”

The ’71 Bobcats, who finished with a 6-4 record, will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony at 6:30 before Central plays Sevier County at 7 o’clock.

Lee Beeler, who scored two touchdowns in the win over Holston, will be part of that group and has been contacting as many of the players on that team as he can as well as managers and cheerleaders.

“I’m expecting we’ll have 28 to 35 to attend,” said Beeler, who was a junior split end and safety on the team. “It was mostly a junior team that season. There were 11 seniors and three have passed away.”

The present-day Central football site was later named Dan Y. Boring Stadium (no relation to “Boomer”) and Joel Helton Field.

Prior to then, Central played its games on Pruden Field at the high school’s former location, which is now Gresham Middle School.

Neil has taken good care of the historic football over the years.

“I did come in a time or two and catch my boys playing with it when they were little,” he said. “I took it away from them of course. They didn’t hurt it. But it did sort of freak me out when I’d come in and they had it outside.”

He kept the football in a plastic storage tote in the garage the last several years.

In 2019, Neil went to meet former Central coaches Tommy Schumpert and Bud Bales for breakfast at Panera Bread in Fountain City and ask them what he should do with the ball.

“I said, you know, it’s time for me to do something with it before it gets lost and nobody will know what it is,” recalled Neil. “Without hesitating, Coach Schumpert said: ‘J.D. Lambert. He would love to have that football.’”

So, Neil got in touch with Lambert, the Central athletic director.

“I told him who I was and what I had, and you’d thought I had told him Christmas was tomorrow,” laughed Rodney.

Schumpert was Coach Boring’s offensive coordinator and Dave Emory was his defensive coordinator that season, said Beeler.

Schumpert also said “Boomer” Boring never gave away a football … unless it was for a special reason.

“I think he had the foresight to see that it would be a special ball sometime if I kept it,” said Neil.

“It’s been setting on a desk there at the house the last few months, so I’ve got to enjoy looking at it.

“I’ve had it for 50 years, but I know I won’t be here another 50 to take care of it.”

Rodney said Pee Wee youth football started organizing in Knoxville in 1963 and he played with the boys from Holston at the Alice Bell recreation field. The Holston High players in that 1971 game that he grew up with included Steve Morris, the Warriors’ team captain, and Danny McMahan and David Proffitt.

In addition to being Central’s defensive captain throughout his senior season, Neil and teammate Neal Keny were voted co-captains by the team’s players at the end of the season.

Lambert also learned from Schumpert that there was a huge turnout for that 1971 opener.

“Conrad Majors, who was a teacher and the school’s basketball coach, and Earl Hoffmeister, who I think was probably an assistant principal then (later he became superintendent of Knox County Schools), were selling tickets,” said Lambert. “And that night it was an even more important job.

“The ticket booth wasn’t ready. They went out in the middle of the crowd and stood back to back and just sold tickets out of a nail apron. At one point, Majors told Hoffmeister he had dropped some money. Hoffmeister replied; ‘If it’s less than a $20, don’t worry about it. Just keep selling.’

“We get good crowds now,” added Lambert. “Imagine that game. I mean everybody and their brother wanted to be there.”