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Tribe plays on historic court at V.O. Dobbins for first time

CALVIN SNEED • Jan 12, 2020 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — No Dobyns-Bennett basketball team had ever been inside the old Douglass gymnasium, much less played, practiced or scrimmaged there.

Until one day last week.

With the precision of a drill team, the D-B players went through routine after routine — set-up after set-up, block after block, players doubled-teamed and even triple-teamed. It was electric. The old basketball court at V.O. Dobbins came back to high school life again, a life that has seen relative calm in the 54 years since Douglass closed. But then, the floor became loud as sneakers hit the hardwood and abrupt stops made their concurrent squeaking noises.

The Douglass court was humming once again, but this time, the faces were totally different. The D-B players were a blur as they went through their paces.

And this time, it was the former Douglass players watching in amazement.

“I would have never thought I could see the day that a Dobyns-Bennett team would be practicing on the very floor that we made famous in our league,” Rauls Bradford said. “I’m reliving the old memories that coach (John) Cox, coach (Bob) Deering and coach (Daniel) Palmer instilled in us forever.”

Memories old are memories relived today.

“It’s exciting to see the young people from D-B out here in the Douglass house, right here where I played,” says Rolax Jones. “We share the same ability for the same goal: Get the ball down the court, and get it to the best player to make the best shot.

“The payoff? Get it in the basket and get your two points recorded.”

“To see them on our court is almost surreal,” noted Gary Maxwell. “I wish we’d done this visit years ago. We’ve got quite a few Douglass players who would have loved this opportunity, but sadly are no longer with us.”

One of the D-B players does have a Douglass connection. Abiah Releford’s Great-uncle Doug Releford not only played football for Douglass, but these days he’s president of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association. His senior guard great-nephew remembers more about playing on the old Douglass court as a child than the historical significance about where he was playing.

“I just remember it was a pleasure to have a gym so easily accessible to play basketball,” Abiah Releford remembers. “We know it’s pretty historic practicing here where the Douglass players played. I’ve learned a lot today. It’s also a huge honor to have all these former players here watching us practice. It makes us run a little more, gun a little bit more and respect what they did here years ago.”

“We respect this court and the fact that the Douglass people loved good basketball,” says teammate guard Zane Whitson, who also quarterbacks the D-B football team. “Their trophies prove that. It’s all about respecting our elders and realizing how good they really were.”

“Our players had no idea of what the culture was like during those days,” D-B coach Chris Poore says,”and why segregation kept Douglass and Dobyns-Bennett apart, each school one of the best in their leagues. To give the players a piece of that history is pretty special.”

A TRIBUTE FOR THE AGES

A huge tribute is planned for all former Douglass men and women basketball players, their families and the Douglass alumni on Feb. 1 at the D-B Dome in Kingsport. The ceremony and program will happen during the Dobyns-Bennett/Jefferson County men’s game that night. In a nod to nostalgia, D-B’s men’s and women’s teams will wear replicas of the Douglass uniforms worn by the Tigers and Tigerettes. 

“It’s gonna be nice wearing that special blue and gold uniform to honor the Douglass team,” says Whitson. “It shows where we have come during the years to get where we are. Whether it’s Douglass or Dobyns-Bennett, you’re representing Kingsport, putting it all out there for your city.”

It’s personal for one of his teammates.

“My favorite color is blue anyway,” Releford said, “and the gold just sets that off.”

“The idea for a tribute to Douglass came from up top,” Poore noted, in a nod to Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse. “He does a lot of outreach in the community, and the idea to honor the Douglass basketballers filtered down from him to Athletic Director Frankie DeBusk and down to me. I started talking to Doug Releford about the idea, and we laid the groundwork for a fantastic tribute.”

The tribute will also served as the kickoff to Black History Month in the area.

“The timing is perfect,” Poore says. “A lot of people have come together to make this special, and we’re hoping as many people as possible can come out to make this a special event right at the beginning of Black History Month. We’re hoping to expand on the concept in the future and do something permanently to honor those great Douglass teams. Those young men and women represented their school and the city of Kingsport quite well, and it’s just a way to keep showing our appreciation.

“It’s tough for the younger people these days to understand the historical significance behind the Douglass School, but we wanted our players to know that it is a really big deal.”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Meanwhile, on the old Douglass basketball court watching the D-B team going through some rigorous paces, John Bradford couldn’t help but remember Douglass locker room talk generations ago about that team “on the other side of town.”

“Of course, we thought about them,” Bradford remembers. “Hardly a single day went by that we did not wonder out loud what a Douglass-DB game would have been like. We wanted to know just how good they really were. They were winning championships and we were winning championships. Separate, but equal. We felt that we had just as good a players as they did. That’s the way athletes think. ... They always wonder, ‘What if?’ To have bragging rights was one thing, but to settle it on the basketball court would have been nice.”

The winner of such a game?

“You never know how somebody’s gonna get motivated for a special game,” Bradford says. “We would have been tough with them. We would have ridden with them. Back then, the coaches had enough trouble trying to get us to stop playing street basketball when we started playing for the high school, but some of that ‘street stuff’ might have snuck in. In the end, I think D-B might have beaten us, but we would have had fun making them do it.”

Then he thought about that dream game again.

“Yeah, they might have beaten us, but they would have gotten a good whupping doing it.”