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Rogersville track team made history in 1926

Tanner Cook • Jul 5, 2020 at 2:16 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of an ongoing series, called “BackTrack: Exploring Lost Track and Field Legends,” looking at past outstanding performers from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Big things were happening around the world during the Roaring Twenties, particularly in 1926.

Television was in the experimental stages. Historic U.S. Route 66 was established that November and Richard Byrd made the first flight over the North Pole.

Meanwhile, Rogersville celebrated the first state championship in any team sport when the boys track and field team brought home the gold from the Tennessee Interscholastic Meet held in Knoxville.

Powered by Donald Armstrong’s individual titles in the 220- and 440-yard dashes, the Warriors won the Class A title with 36.5 points. Armstrong also was part of the winning half-mile relay team that clinched the championship at the end of the meet.

The title the Warriors won on that first Saturday in May 1926 remains the only state championship in a team sport that now- Cherokee High School and the Rogersville community have won in any sport.

ARMSTRONG, THE ATHLETE

Armstrong graduated in 1928 as one of a 22-student class.

He made the most of his athletic abilities by excelling both on the track and on the basketball court.

Armstrong ran a 54.2 in the 440 and a 23.6 in the 220 at the 1926 state championships. He also placed fourth in the 220 low hurdles.

His winning time in the 440 was actually one-tenth of a second faster than the winning time in the higher Class A-1 division. The Warriors’ winning half-mile relay that day was only one-tenth of a second slower than higher classification Knoxville High at 1:41.1.

In a dual meet with Dobyns-Bennett, the Tribe won every individual event except the 440; Armstrong won the event with a time of 54.9 seconds.

He was also a standout on the hardwood and played a key role in Rogersville’s 1928 district championship.

Armstrong regularly competed against D-B in basketball and track. Tribe stars back in the day included guys like Bobby Dodd, Fred “Speedy” Clyce, Paul Hug and Nat Reasor.

TEAM EFFORT

Among the other major contributors to the state title-winning track team were Charles “Rufus” Sanders, Robert Webb, Joe Brown, Sam Arnott and Clyde Moneyhun.

Sanders won the 100-yard dash in 10.9 and was the runner-up in the 220. Webb finished third in the 440 and led off the half-mile relay. Brown placed second in the high jump, discus and broad jump and Arnott was fourth in the pole vault. Moneyhun excelled in the high jump, winning title with a leap of 5-3, and he took third in the broad jump.

TRAGIC END

After working for the Armstrong Furniture Co., Armstrong moved on to work for the Holston Electric Cooperative.

In October 1945, he came home and complained of being ill. His father found him on the bathroom floor the next morning dead from what was believed to be cardiac arrest.

Donald Armstrong was only 36 years old.

According to accounts by both the Times News and Rogersville Review, the sudden passing of one of its sports heroes saddened the entire community or Rogersville.

He left behind a daughter, three sisters and his parents.

FORGOTTEN LEGACY

The original Rogersville school building burned in the late 1920s, and the metal champion’s trophy from the state track meet is one of few pieces to survive the fire.

The trophy is currently housed inside Rogersville Middle School.

There is no known picture of the track team.

“Obviously this was a great group of athletes from back then that won a lot,” Cherokee track and field coach Chad Laster said. “This story has largely been forgotten by the people of the community.

“They left a legacy and should be remembered properly. To my knowledge, this is the only team state championship that any team in Hawkins County has ever won, so it’s pretty unique in that sense.”

Laster contributed to this story.

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