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Sullivan High School has storied athletic past

Submitted by Jill Riggs Rich • Feb 20, 2020 at 10:59 AM

Editor’s note: Sullivan Middle School is currently slated to close in May 2021 when the Sullivan County school system realigns its middle schools in conjunction with the opening of West Ridge High School. A reunion for all classes and friends of Sullivan High School, Sullivan West High School or Sullivan Middle School, as well as anyone who ever lived in the Sullivan Gardens community, will be held May 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the old Sullivan High School. Organizers are sharing the history of the area through a series of stories.

Third in a series

Sullivan High School entered the athletic picture in 1930 when the newly built school fielded a basketball team. The newly organized outfit met with little success in the 30-31 season, but the groundwork was laid for the future.

Among the early defeats suffered by the Sullivan team was a 45-6 loss to Kingsport High School. The Dec. 27 edition of the Kingsport Times had this to say about the game: “This is the first year that the new Sullivan High School has had a team, and although outclassed by the Kingsport boys, it showed plenty of fight and it is predicted that Sullivan High will become one of the toughest opponents on the Kingsport schedule.”

Sullivan High School didn’t develop as a cage power in the section until the 1936-1937 season when both the boys’ and girls’ teams won more than they lost. One of the new-makers of that year was a forfeit given Sullivan over Blountville. After the game ended in an 18-18 tie, Blountville fans stormed onto the gym floor and refused to leave. The game almost resulted in a riot.

Under the leadership of Coach Tom Lady, Sullivan High gained nationwide recognition for its athletics in the 1937-1938 season. The girls’ team, led by Wilma Jackson, rolled through 20 games undefeated and then captured the district and regional titles — the highest goals a girls’ team could attain at the time. Members of this team were Wilma Jackson, Clara Wexler, Dorothy Light, Mildred Morris, Agnes Duncan, Madis Jackson, Mary Erlinger, Helen Duncan, Rachel Pectol, Thelma Fleenor and Mildred Lucas.

Wilma Jackson was a 6-foot-plus forward who led the nation in scoring that year with a total of 689 points. During the final games of the regional tournament, she scored 35 points. Wilma Jackson, Dorothy Light and Mary Erlinger all made the all-tournament team.

The boys also met with good success that season. They won 18 games, lost three and advanced to the semifinals of the district. Team members included “Cotton” Dykes, Henry Stone, Dee Jeter, Oscar Duncan, Don Cox, Ralph Grizzle, Earl Hale, Willard Gott and Kermett Duncan.

During the 1963-64 basketball season, Gary Martin scored 24 in a 52-40 win over University High. The boys’ team had a 30-7 record, one of the best in school history. This group of young men led by Coach Dickie Warren went to the state finals, a first for Sullivan High School. Gary Martin received unanimous votes for player of the year while at the state tournament and was named Region 1 MVP and second team all-state. Lollie Duncan, at this time coaching for Ketron, was named coach of the year. Lollie had graduated from Sullivan High School and later became principal.

Alvin Sells, a 1967 graduate of Sullivan High School, was a prominent baseball and basketball player. He was named a high school all-American by “Coach and Athlete Magazine.” During the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played six seasons for the organization.

Chris Morelock was selected to the All Upper Lakes Conference team three years in a row. In 1972, he signed a scholarship with Georgia Tech.

In 1978 and 1980, the Sullivan Pirates under the leadership of Gordon Zollman came in second in the TSSAA state baseball tournament. In 1979, the Pirates came home as state champions. Members, coaches and assistants were Jackie Strickler, Matt Bishop, Jim Miller, Danny Arnold, Roger Freeman, Todd Cox, Johnny Holden, Tim Riner, Dwight Ingrim, Tim Chandler, Brian Trent, Pat Shanks, Steve Candler, Rick Carter, Steve Freeman, Tim Blakley, Mike Williams, Jeff Gray, Gordan Zollman, Bob Ritz, Greg Porter, Tony Southers, Roger Hodges, Wally Crawford, Randy Grogg, Tom Easley and Jeff King.

When Sullivan Central and Sullivan East High Schools opened in 1968, Sullivan High School was designated as Sullivan West High School. In 1980, when Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools were ready for students, Sullivan West High School became Sullivan Middle School.

Read more:

Second in a series: Sullivan has rich history in community

First in a series: Exploring the history of Sullivan


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