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Rogersville's Gladson had a bright future

Tanner Cook • Jul 2, 2020 at 7:30 PM

On a rainy September night in 1969 off Highway 66 about three miles south of Rogersville, tragedy struck the Warriors football team.

It was not a loss on the gridiron, but a loss of a promising young player that had his whole life ahead of him.

David Gladson — a star sophomore quarterback for the Warriors — was a passenger, and around 11:45 p.m., the car skidded off the road and he was flung about 80 feet when the car overturned.

He was alive upon arrival at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital, but he died of severe head and neck injuries 15 minutes after being placed on the operating table.

All this came on a Friday night when Rogersville was scheduled to play Sullivan in a contest that had been moved to Saturday due to the rain.

The game was delayed indefinitely, but was eventually played, and Rogersville High was closed the Monday after the wreck in Gladson’s memory.

‘BEST FRESHMAN ATHLETE I’VE EVER SEEN’

Gladson broke into the football ranks as a starting quarterback for the Warriors as a freshman and played most of the games.

He was described as one of the most diligent players that was dedicated to his craft. He studied many former East Tennessee greats, like 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier.

“(Gladson) was the best freshman athlete I’ve ever seen,” then-baseball coach Bill Lloyd told Kingsport Times News sports editor Bill Lane. “That includes Steve Spurrier and Steve Sloan (former Alabama quarterback from Cleveland).”

On the baseball diamond, Gladson was regarded as the top pitcher in the old Upper Lakes Conference and had the unique ability of being able to pitch effectively with either hand.

Gladson won more games as a freshman (15) than any other pitcher had in the school’s history. He wasn’t too shabby at the plate either, batting over .300.

“He had the potential of being an all-state player,” then-football coach Joe Davis said.

Back in the old days, the ULC had a preseason jamboree in which conference schools showed off their most talented athletes.

Gladson won the longest pass competition both times and also won the longest punt contest.

He was also a part-time starter on the basketball team, but he was going to be heavily relied on the next season. In golf, he shot low 40s on a nine-hole course regularly, and in track, he had the potential of doing every event from the 100 meters up to the mile and a variety of field events.

It is safe to say that Gladson was talented in many areas, and he was looked at many times by the University of Tennessee and Major League Baseball scouts in the area.

“He was a fine boy and a fine athlete,” Davis added. “His death was a tragic loss to the community and the school.”

HONORED POSTHUMOUSLY

The Warriors finished up the season 7-3 and finished runner-up to rival Church Hill (9-1).

Rogersville’s Mike LaRoy, Donnie Morelock and Phil Bates all made the Times News All-ULC first team.

Gladson was named the honorary captain of the team and was also named to the All-East Tennessee team by one of the Knoxville papers as well.

Hundreds of people showed up for Gladson’s funeral, according to the Times News report.

HEARTACHE AGAIN

A little over one year later in 1970, Steve Gladson — David’s cousin and a lineman on the football team — had a heart attack and died on the field in a bowl game in which Rogersville was matched against Knox Catholic.

The game was stopped before halftime and was ruled a no-contest with Rogersville leading 14-6. 

In 1971, Rogersville again matched up against Catholic in the Tomato Bowl in Jefferson City.

Before the game, it was announced that 25% of the proceeds would go to a David and Steve Gladson memorial fund. 

As for the game result, Rogersville blew out Catholic 68-0 and outgained the Irish 508 yards to 94. The Warriors finished up the 1971 season 9-1. 

LaRoy — a teammate and friend of both Gladsons — was named the game’s most outstanding offensive player as he gained 200 total yards (184 rushing and 16 receiving) and scored three touchdowns. 

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