Alumni Spotlight

The KCHS “Hoosiers”: 1954 District ChampionsIrish Ink Cover Fall 14

by Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr., Class of 1954

It was a magical 1953-54 basketball season for the Catholic High boys team under the tutelage of second-year head coach Father Phil Thoni.  Our nickname was Shamrocks or simply Irish.  Before the season started, my teammates elected me captain.  I was a defense-minded guard who averaged only eight points per game.  The starting forwards came from this group: Dan Rankin, Jim Larison, Bob Puckett and Jim Shea,  Larison was also a sometime starter at center.  What I am about to tell you happened over sixty years ago but I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

The 1952-53 season had been a disappointment—we won only five games while losing fifteen.  When we started practice in the fall of 1953, we were determined to be better.  When we finally hung up our uniforms at the end of the season in March 1954, we had compiled a record of 21-11 en route to a Sixth District (Knox County) tournament championship.  We were the first, and as it would later turn out, the only KCHS boys basketball team to ever be crowned district champions during the years when all of the schools in Knox County—regardless of size—played in a single tournament.  Along the way to our championship, we would scrimmage an all-black team—a scrimmage that violated a Tennessee law prohibiting competition between white and black teams (remember, this was before Brown v. Board of Education); beat four teams in a tournament by a total of ten points; produce a star—Frank Dowling—out of nowhere; and enjoy a moment reminiscent of the game-ending action in the movie “Hoosiers.”  This is our story.

Father Thoni arranged the scrimmage with all-black Austin High School on its home court.  We had been practicing for about two weeks; Austin had practiced only one day.  Here is how The Independent Call, a newspaper in the black community, reported the game in its March 6, 1954, edition:

The Catholic High team who won the sixth district … Tournament … provided only mediocre competition against … Austin High … in a practice game early in the season.  The game was … played behind locked doors … as Austin defeated … Catholic 68-32.

Wow!!  What a downer, but the fact of the matter is that Austin was the much better team that day.

The 1953-54 team had eleven players, six of whom were seniors.  The scorers on the team were Bob Gentry, our 6’3” center/forward, and 5’10” guard Frank Dowling.  Three of our team members have passed away: Rankin, Shea, and Bob Willard.  In addition to myself, there are seven surviving members of the team:  Gentry, Dowling, Larison, Puckett, Dickie Holliday, Joe Waters, and John Luttrell.  Our manager was Richard Deatherage, who passed away last year following a long career in the Air Force.    Father Thoni was assisted by the late Herb (Red) Kidd, a KCHS graduate of 1952.  All contributed to our success.  We wore old fashioned short pants (no baggy pants for us) and the two-handed set shot was still in vogue.  No, we didn’t have a jump ball at center court after every score.  That rule was dropped long before we came along.

We started the season with three straight wins followed by three straight losses.  The next game was with unbeaten and powerful Central on its home court.  We prevailed in overtime.  The leading scorer was Frank Dowling with 22.  Frank was quite a story.  An Oak Ridge resident who commuted to Catholic for school, he played sparingly and scored little in 1952-1953.  In the summer after that season, he had worked tirelessly to get better.  He, along with Bob Gentry, turned out to be our starts.  Frank would play the “leading role” in our “Hoosiers” moment.

We got hot toward the end of the season, winning 9 out of our last 12 regular season games.  Then came the Sixth District tournament.  First up was Karns.  We came from behind to

win 54-51.  Frank scored 27 and Bob had 16.  Next up was Fulton.  The final score was Catholic 58-55.  Bob had 20 and Frank had 22.  On February 6, we played Central.  We were victorious 66-64.  Bob was unstoppable, scoring 30 points.  Frank had 22.  We were in the finals.

KCHS—an unseeded team—was matched in the finals with third-seeded Powell, which had beaten us twice in the regular season, both losses by one point.  The South High gym—the site of the tournament—was packed for the final game.  The crowd was full of Catholic supporters, both young and old.  Our fans, particularly the student body, had been vocally behind us all season long.  The newspaper reported that many people were turned away that night because of overcrowding concerns.

In the Powell game, the score was tied 60 all as the clock was ticking down to the end of the contest.  The ball was in Frank’s hands.  Here is how the Knoxville Journal of February 28, 1954, described what happened next:

Frank Dowling, whose frail little structure does well in disguising a big fierce heart, bounced the ball for a minute and a half and then turned the joint upside down with a driving, falling-down one –hander that settled gently in the basket and won for Catholic the Sixth District championship last night.

I remember it well. Frank passed the ball to me.  I didn’t want it; I passed it back to Frank.  He was our shooter.  I wanted him to have the ball.  Three things happened almost simultaneously: (1) the game clock sounded and went to zero; (2) following his shot, Frank landed on the floor; and (3) the basketball swished through the net.  The game was over and tiny 125-student KCHS had finished its vanquish of four much larger school.  Bob Gentry had 26 points in that final game and was named the tournament MVP.  Who was second in the voting?  Glad you asked.  It was Frank Dowling.

In the regional tournament the next week, we lost in the first round to Lake City 61-53.  It was a hard-fought game and close to the end.  Lake City won the Regional and went on to the state tournament.

Bob and Frank were selected to various first team All-Knox Prep League teams.  As I recall, Frank with 574 points and Bob with 573 were among the top five scorers in Knox County.  Each averaged just shy of eighteen points a game.  The Nashville Banner voted Bob to its third team All-State team.  Locally, Father Thoni was named Coach of the Year.  Bob received a basketball scholarship to UT, the only KCHS cager to ever be so honored.

It was a great season and the win against Powell was a real “Hoosiers” moment.  As they, “truth is stranger than fiction.”  Did all of this really happen to little KCHS?  It did.  I was there and I have the scrapbook to prove it.  I’ll close by again quoting from the report on that final game by the Knoxville Journal:

More talented teams most certainly have won the district championship.  But never has a gamer group with more guts copped the crown than the Catholic bunch that won last night.  Sheer fortitude with a big assist from Gentry and Dowling settled many furious arguments in a Sixth District tournament that has had no equal for closeness, thrills and enthusiasm.

I couldn’t agree more.

May our deceased participants in this magical season rest in peace.


My Journey to Kilimanjaro: An International Women’s Day SummitSchmitt1

by Meg Schmitt, Class of 2004

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.

–Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”

My journey to Mt. Kilimanjaro started back in May of last year when I ran into an old acquaintance of mine at our 5-year college reunion. I didn’t know Allison well, but we had studied abroad together in Rome our sophomore year. Like any good reunion attendants, we sat at the bar late one night, reporting on where life had taken us since graduation. While I had moved across the country and then back, pursuing a career in academic philosophy, Allison and her friend, Danielle, were about to quit their jobs to start an all-women’s adventure travel company. I thought everything from the name—WHOA (Women High on Adventure) Travel—to the logo, to the business cards, to the philanthropic mission was perfect. As I perused their website a few days later, I noticed their upcoming trip to Kilimanjaro and, without a second thought, jumped on the chance to rally two close friends from college schmitt3to go with me. I was 27, settled into grad school and ready for a new challenge.

On March 3, 2014 twenty-eight women from nine different countries began a trek to the roof of Africa. Led by a team of sixty porters and ten guides, including the only local and first female guide on the mountain (to this day there are only about four female guides), we made our way through five climate zones up the Machame (or “Whiskey”) route, one of the six routes you can take up Kilimanjaro. We’d begin each day around 6am, waking up to “hot drinks” (coffee, tea or hot chocolate) and slivers of mountain views sliding through openings in our tent. After eating breakfast and gathering our gear, we’d spend the day gradually making our way up the mountain, leaving signs of plant and animal life behind us as we went. After 5 days of this and one long, snowy trek through the night under the most star-filled sky I’ve ever seen, we summitted at sunrise on International Women’s Day (March 8). All twenty-eight of us made it, and one woman in our group—who we came to call “the Russian rocket”—passed every other hiker on the mountain to be the first one at Uhuru peak for that day. After a gradual descent over the next day and a half, we finished the climb and were welcomed at the gate with a feast of beer and pizza. (I was almost as proud of Allison and Danielle for organizing the beer and pizza as for organizing the trip itself!)

As with all their trips, this WHOA trip included an advocacy project aimed at giving back to the local community and connecting women from different corners of the world. Leading up to the climb, we raised funds for two women’s schools in the region, and the day after finishing the climb we visited the one school that was located in town to meet the students—to hear their stories and share our own.

The event began with two volunteers giving a short presentation on International Women’s Day, informing us about its history, the mission it involves, and where and how it’s celebrated throughout the world. As we stood outside in the sunny courtyard listening to the presenters talk about the extant gaps in women’s rights—including rights: to vote, to hold public office, to work and equal pay, to bodily integrity and autonomy, to own property, to education, to serve in the military, to enter into legal contracts, to have marital and parental rights, etc.—I struggled to hold back tears. Hearing them rattle off this list of basic human rights that are regularly denied to women, I was reminded that we have a long way to go in the fight for justice and equality. But at the same time, the scene in that courtyard brought with it a palpable sense of change. Not only had twenty-eight women from nine different countries just come together to climb one of the world’s tallest peaks (something relatively unheard of through recent history), the journey had been organized by a company that is by and for women, and it was concluding with us standing amongst an even larger group of women at a school started by a woman for women, engaging in dialogue about the struggles we each face in our own corners of the world as well as our individual and mutual aspirations going forward (all of which, we discovered, are more similar than different.)

While I went to Africa focused mostly on the climb itself and the way in which the experience would challenge me and enrich my life, I left Africa thinking at least as much about the people I had met and the conversations we had shared.


Duke football player tackles athletics and research

Conor Irwin graduated from KCHS in 2008 with a football scholarship to Duke University. However, more than football was awaiting Conor, and now he is poised to leave his mark off the field as well. Below is an excerpt from an article by Joel Silberstein, published in The Chronicle (Duke) on October 2, 2012.

“Senior Conor Irwin uses Duke’s resources to combine brawn and brains- he balances his time playing as an offensive lineman on the Duke football team and conducting medical reseach that he aims to publish in a peer-reviews journal.

Irwin has complied research on medial collateral ligament injuries, which particularly affect offensive linemen, and is in the process of editing a review paper for publication that seeks to streamline the literature and provide a comprehensive sourcr for the sports medicine community, he said.

An evolutionary antrhopology major, Irwin pursued an independent study focusing on the nature of MCL tears in athletes with Dr. Claude Moorman, director of sports medicine and professor of evolutionary anthropology. The study commenced in Fall 2011 and is ongoing.

‘Football as afforded me an amazing opportunity to play at an ACC school, and study at a great instutition.’ Iriwn said

Irwin said he is seeking to submit his paper to the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons within the next five years, and hopes that it can be used nationally to help standardize surgical and rehabilitative procedures for MCL tears.”

A League of Her Own
Remembering Kay Malach Webb ‘45Kay

On December 19, 2011, the Knoxville Catholic Alumni community lost a shining star with the passing of Kathleen Malach (Kay) Webb.  Shortly after graduating from KCHS in 1945, Kay went on to play semi-professional baseball with the Fort Wayne Daisies.  She also enjoyed a successful 24 year fencing career.  She competed in local and regional tournaments and taught fencing at the University of Tennessee for several years.

Kay’s brother, Phil Malach ‘63, visited the campus this summer to loan the Alumni Office several items from her illustrious athletic career.  The items—including her glove, copy of her contract with the Daisies,  and competition photos —will be on display in the trophy case near the gymnasium.   Thank you to the Malach family for sharing these precious memories with our students, faculty, and the many alumni that visit our campus.

Harrison Smith ’07 Signs with Vikings
First to go First

On April 26, former Knoxville Catholic football standout Harrison Smith made history when he became the first KCHS alumnus to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.  Smith, a 2007 graduate, was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings—29th overall in the 2012 draft.

SmithWhile at the University of Notre Dame, Smith was recognized for his strong leadership skills.  The two-time team captain played safety and linebacker, and recorded 93 tackles and seven interceptions during his senior year.  Off the field, Smith earned his degree in Management-Entrepreneurship and was accepted into the university’s Management-Entrepreneurship graduate program.

His success on and off the field is no surprise to his KCHS family.  During high school, Smith was named a 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year, he earned All State and Mr. Football awards, and he was the 2007 state champion in decathlon.  In addition, he was Sergeant at Arms of the National Honor Society and was a member of Mu Alpha Theta.  “What is so neat about seeing the success that Harrison is enjoying is he represents everything that you want to see in a KCHS graduate.  He is humble, driven to excellence, has great character and is very compassionate,” says Principal Dickie Sompayrac.  “I know I speak for all of his former teachers and coaches when I say how proud we are of Harrison!”

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