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Historical gym echoes the final bounces of basketballs

Douglas Fritz • Jan 9, 2019 at 8:21 PM

From FDR’s New Deal to Bobby Snyder to a 2019 middle school game, Boones Creek’s gymnasium served its purpose well.

In the 1930s, the United States was trying to dig its way out of a recession and president Franklin Roosevelt appropriated money for the building of parks, bridges and schools. One tiny part of the massive $4.9 billion Works Projects Administration was the construction of Boones Creek High School in 1939.

Twenty-two years later, the gym became the starting point for the legendary coaching career of Bobby Snyder.

On Tuesday, the gymnasium — closing in on 80 years old — housed its last-ever regular season basketball games. Boones Creek Middle School played Sulphur Springs, which spoiled the going-away party with wins in the varsity boys and girls contests. Boones Creek won the junior-varsity boys game.

But it was still a special evening, and it gave the younger generation a chance to connect with days gone by.

Boones Creek Middle will close as the students move into the new Boones Creek school in the fall.

“It’s the last game being played, so it’s pretty important,” said Boones Creek eighth-grader Sam Witherspoon, prior to Tuesday’s game. “I think everybody is excited about going to the new school, but I guess they’re sad about leaving this school.”

The gym is extraordinarily small by today’s standards with the half-court line close to the 3-point line. Snyder’s teams took full advantage of the small gym, and were nearly unbeatable in the Hoosiers-like confines. They ripped off 66 straight league wins at one point.

Luke Scott, a teammate of Witherspoon, said knowing how to play on the small court still works in favor of the home team.

“We kind of use that to our advantage,” said Scott. “We just like playing here. It’s our court, and we like the fans here.”

In 1971, Boones Creek High School became a memory as Snyder took his coaching prowess to a long and fruitful career at Daniel Boone. Current Trailblazers’ athletic director Danny Good said Daniel Boone can’t be separated from the history of places like Boones Creek High School.

“You think about Fall Branch and Sulphur Springs and Boones Creek,” said Good. “That school had been there for a long time before my dad played there. He graduated in 1961, and was on Coach Snyder’s first team at Boones Creek.

“There were some historical names that came through there, like Tooney Cash, Monroe Ellis, Dickie Hamilton and Tony Glass. And you had middle school players like Steve Cox, Steve Crowder, Nick Jones, Tonya Jenkins and Rachel Glass — along with coaches like Bobby Snyder, Bobby Roller, Sherman Starnes, and James Gosnell. There were some special basketball players and great men who are still active in our community today.”

Gosnell was a successful coach before Snyder arrived. His 1959 team finished fourth in the state with Ellis as one of the standout players.

“James Gosnell was a really good coach and the finest man you would ever want to meet,” said Ellis. “I loved him to death.”

The 1959 state tournament was played at Vanderbilt University’s gym, and Ellis said he remembers the contrast from the Boones Creek gym.

“I couldn’t believe that place,” said Ellis. “It looked like the seats were a mile away. It was intimidating.”

Boones Creek lost to eventual state champion Lenoir City in the semifinals, 46-42.

The old will give way to the new later this year.

“I think the new gym is going to be really nice,” said Scott. “They won’t have to play on a small court. They will get to run a lot more and get in shape more. It will be way nicer.”

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