Now that the 2019 – 2020 basketball season is over, I have had time to reflect on a question that I was asked. A good friend of mine, Trey Foster, the head coach of the Yellow Jacket golf team and the Junior Jacket baseball team, asked me, “Where does this game rank in Jacket history?” The game he was referring to, of course, was the dramatic buzzer beating District 7 AA Championship game against the Cumberland County Jets 53 – 52 on Jaden Ruehling’s three pointer.
I have been watching basketball at Grundy County High School since at least 1963 – 1964 season. For the better part of five years, I can only remember players, but very little details of the games. However, beginning with the 1968 – 1969 games, details became more vivid. Obviously, I don’t remember all the games, but nevertheless over the years, I do remember several exciting games that the Yellow Jackets played.
Over the last 50-plus years, there were times that for one reason or the other I didn’t follow the team as close as I did at other times. I am sure I missed a lot of exciting games during those times, but I know I have seen many games during my life as a fan, player, and coach.
As I reflect on these games, I remember games that were very exciting where the Jackets won some and lost some. However, I would like to concentrate on games that are more memorable that the Jackets won. As I said before, I know I have left many games out, but these are the ones that stand out to me over the years.
I want to highlight five games that I feel are the most memorable to me. Before I do, I want to add three games that I would have to say are honorable mention, because they were Sequachee Valley Conference Tournament Championships. The 1969 – 1970 season, the Jackets defeated the Sequatchie County Indians on December 20, 1969, 50 – 46. The following season the Jackets repeated as SVC Tournament Champions with a 63 – 59 victory over the Bridgeport Tigers on December 19, 1970. On December 17, 1978 the Yellow Jackets defeated the Tennessee Temple Crusaders 60 – 57 to capture their fourth SVC Tournament Championship in nine years.
Here are the five most memorable games, to me, in Yellow Jacket history:
5. 7 Sequatchie County 66, January 28, 1975
After Jackets 10capturing the SVC crown, the Jackets of 1974 – 1975 made another mark in history. They became the first team to hit the century mark in a game. In those days, that was a big deal. Very few teams reached that mark during that time. It was a home game on a Tuesday night and over an SVC rival. The crowd could sense at the beginning of the fourth quarter that this team could finally be the one to hit the century mark. Indeed they did with the 107 – 66 win. Sequatchie County had a tough year, but when the Jackets visited Dunlap a couple of weeks later, the Indians led the Jackets for three quarters before the Jackets rallied to win the game by 10 points.
4. Jackets 87 Stevenson, Ala 76, December 13, 1974
The Sequachee Valley Conference Tournament semi – finals of the 1974 – 1975 season at South Pittsburg High School was the scene. The Yellow Jackets of the 1974 – 75 season were led by a group of blue collar, hard nosed basketball players that were as tough as any team that I saw at GCHS. Darrell Brown, Jesse Graham, Ricky Hill, Garry Miller, Ronnie Sweeton, and Jeff Winton were the seniors on the team. Junior Mark Sartain was a starter and very much a leader with this group of seniors.
After blasting the Bridgeport Tigers 78 – 46 in the quarterfinals, the Jackets entered their semi – final tilt with the undefeated Stevenson Panthers, who were ranked number one in the state of Alabama. The Jackets jumped out to a big first quarter lead and held off the Alabama powerhouse behind Hill’s 24 points to earn a spot in the finals with an 87 – 76 victory.
3. Jackets 83 Sale Creek 75, December 14, 1974
What would the Jack-ets do for an encore after upsetting the Panthers the night before? How about repeating the feat against another set of Panthers. The Sale Creek Panthers were also undefeated and were ranked number one in Class S (Small Classification) in Tennessee. The Jackets followed the same script against the Sale Creek Panthers as they did against the Stevenson Panthers. The Jackets jumped to a double digit first quarter lead and never fell be-hind. Tournament MVP Graham tossed in 30 points to lead the way as the Jackets snared their third SVC Tournament Champi-onship in six years with the 83 – 75 victory.
2. Jackets 63 Riverside 61, December 11, 1979
This game was number one for a long time. For those of you that have never heard of the Riverside Trojans, this school was located where cur-rently the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences resides next door to Erlanger Hospital.
The Riverside Trojans were perennial state champions and own the longest winning streak in Tennessee history with 66 games that began in the 1968 – 1969 season and ended early in the 1969 – 70 season. The Trojans captured state tournament crowns in 1968, 1969, and 1972 were fixtures in the state tournaments throughout the late 60s and all through the 70s.
On a Tuesday night in December at the old Grundy County High School a Greg Meeks tip in with :02 left gave the Jackets their first ever win over the storied program from Chattanooga 63 – 61.
The tip – in capped an unlikely, but remarkable comeback against the Trojans. The Jackets rallied in the fourth quarter behind senior Steve Nunley’s 10 points. Senior Lebron Coffelt tied the game at 61 – 61 with a jumper with :24 left. Nunley, junior forward Danny Childers, and junior guard Gerald Burnett netted 13 points each. Meeks and Coffelt added 10 points each. Junior point guard Ricky Meeks scored four points and is familiar to many basketball fans as one of the best basketball coaches in girls and boys basketball in Big 8 history.
1. Jackets 53 Cumberland County 52, February 24, 2020
To answer Coach Foster after reflecting on my history of following Yellow Jacket basketball, it was quite simple. An unbelievable finish to an unbelievable game resulted in a district championship. It was the first district championship in 19 years (2001) and possibly what could be counted on one hand in the history of the program. That easily makes this game number 1!
Jaden Ruehling’s 25 foot three pointer nestled in the twine as the horn sounded sending the Yellow Jacket faithful into a frenzy! What a finish, not only to the greatest game I witnessed, but the most exciting three game series between two teams, I have had the privilege to see.
Well, there you have it. I know I left a lot of games out, and I apologize to those of you that remember others. However, it would be hard to argue number one and for those that remember the other four games that I mentioned, they were pretty special, too.