Recent issues concerning Memorial (initially called Roosevelt) Stadium at 540 E. Main Street evoke cherished memories from many older residents who attended SHHS football games and other sporting events there.
I fondly recall Dick Ellis’s play-by-play broadcast over WJCW radio of the Topper’s Friday night football games, Steve Spurrier’s spectacular quarterbacking years and Kermit “Little Tip” Tipton’s memorable coaching era.
SHHS football began in 1914. Fifteen years later, legendary coach, Stewart “Plowboy” Farmer, became head of the Hilltopper football program and remained at the helm until 1948, excluding the four war years when he served in the Army. Tipton was a star player for “Plowboy.” In 1946, the popular trainer again took charge of the football program for two additional seasons before wrapping up his illustrious career.
The Big Five Conference consisted of Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett, Tennessee High, Elizabethton High and Unicoi County High. Coach Farmer won several league titles and is credited with putting Hilltopper athletics at the top of the heap.
In the mid 1930s, Farmer was honored for his coaching prowess with a parade in his honor that began at 2:30 p.m. on Lamont Street behind Hill-Summers Chevrolet Company and traveled up East Main Street into Roosevelt Stadium. That Friday was declared “Farmer Day” and the guest of honor was presented with an unspecified gift. Science Hill and Unicoi County high school bands participated in the festivities and squared off at 3:15 that afternoon on the gridiron.
Roosevelt Stadium was built between 1933 and 1935 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The facility was funded partially by WPA (Works Progress Administration) money, by city funding and from several people who offered $1000 loans to the project. Johnson Citians wanted a nice stadium and they got one. The sports complex was initially named after the 32ndpresident of the United States.
During the summer of 1947, the final year after “Plowboy’s” return, renovations were made to the football home of the fighting maroon and gold Hilltoppers. At that time, the school was located on top of the hill at Roan and Water streets diagonally facing the John Sevier Hotel.
Concrete stands were built north and south from goal to goal on both sides of the playing field, which provided for 8,000 seats. Also, the use of knockdown bleachers along each end zone further expanded seating capacity to 12,000. Other improvements were the installation of an electrically operated scoreboard and a new wide entrance along the north end. A field house was also planned for that year, but it was not ready in time for the opening game of the season.
Farmer’s returning lettermen in 1947 included Kenith Bryan (captain), William Haynes, Danny MaHaffey, Cad Shoun, Robert York and Ollin Clark. Those lost to graduation were Gene Arnold, Dick Booze, Jack Bible, Glenn Cox, Homer Bechtell, Bill Coleman, Johnny Carr, Robert Evans, Tom Hodges, Hartsell Lawson, Herman May, Eudy McKinney, Jim Speropulous, Tom Vance and Jim Whitmore.
The school’s 11-game schedule for 1947 included Mountain City (Sept. 12, home), Virginia High (Sept. 19, away), Knoxville City (Sept. 26, away), Morristown (Oct. 3, home), Tennessee High (Oct. 10, away), Knoxville Central (Oct. 17, home), Elizabethton (Oct. 24, home), Newport (Oct. 31, home), Erwin (Nov. 7, away), Kingsport (Nov. 14, home) and Landon High (Nov. 21, away, Jacksonville, Florida).
I plan to write additional articles on the teams that played under “Plowboy” Farmer.