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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Tiger Trophies Have Come Home!

The Tigers are now back in their lair.

The Douglass Tigers, that is.

As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the V.O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex, the Douglass athletic trophies are now resting in their new display case in the Douglass Community Room of the building.


"It's good to have the trophies back home," says Bobby Joe Johnson, a member of both the Douglass football teams that won the 1946 and 1948 Tennessee State Championship for Negroes. "They're good to have around for the kids to see. Their mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, they're all part of the history, too. Maybe the kids will recognize some of the accomplishments we have made, by seeing the trophies. Maybe they were told some of the things we did, and now they can see for themselves."

"It's something they can be proud of, too."

Honored guests during the dedication were Mr. and Mrs. Frank De Nobriga, Sr, Kingsport Times-News columnist Vince Staten, Kingsport School Board President Wally Boyd and School Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller.

The trophy dedication began with "Mama Jill" Ellis, former Douglass and D-B teacher, welcoming the enthusiastic group that filled the Douglass Community Room. "We were so proud of our football and basketball teams over there on Walnut Street (now Sevier Avenue) and Center Street," she told the group. "We had no money for equipment, we had no money for uniforms.. we had the hand-me-downs from Dobyns-Bennett. Since they were not our colors, we would dye them blue and gold. When the players started sweating, that dye would start running, and it'd be all over the floor."

Pastor Geraldine Swaggerty blessed the event with prayer, and Andra "Puddin" Watterson, former DHS basketball player, Class of '65, acknowledged the former Douglass athletes present in the audience.


When Douglass closed in 1966, all of the school's trophies were taken en masse to Dobyns-Bennett. About five or six of them were displayed in D-B's big trophy cases outside the Buck Van Huss Dome. The rest simply vanished into the equipment storerooms behind the D-B gymnasium.

For years, Douglass alumni had asked about the trophies... where they were, and were they safe and intact.

Calvin Sneed gave a history of how the trophies were discovered in a backroom, and how permission was granted from D-B and the Kingsport city school board to transfer ownership and possession of the trophies to the Douglass Alumni Association. Once plans were announced for the V.O. Dobbins Community Center renovation, it seemed a natural fit for the trophies to, one day, come back home where they were won.

Douglass Alumni president Douglass Releford, former DHS football player, Class of '63, then unveiled the trophies in their new home, which had been hidden behind a cloth until the right moment. All former Douglass athletes present at the re-dedication participated in pulling off the cloth. The unveiling brought forth a standing ovation.

The trophy case was custom-built for the Douglass Community Room, using specifications from the trophies' weights and heights, with some extra room built in for newspaper articles. The room was constructed so that the trophy case would be the main focal point.

Vernell Allen, introduced by Van Dobbins, Jr., was a player on the 1946 football and basketball teams at Douglass. Allen, the son of V.O. Dobbins, Sr.'s sister Leola Allen, and cousin to Van Jr., Melrose and Maxie Dobbins, told the audience of how, when his father passed away, he, his mother and 2 came to live with the Dobbins in Kingsport, and was immediately indoctrinated in the Dobbins ethic: to stay out of trouble, to be a positive example to the other Douglass students, and to excel at everything thing you do.

Vernell took that last one to heart.

Not only did he help the 1946 Douglass men's basketball team to win the state championship, he was also a Most Valuable Player on the team for that year. He travelled to Kingsport all the way from Detroit to attend the trophy re-dedication as its guest speaker.

"My father had passed away in 1945, and the Dobbins family sprang into action," Mr. Allen remembered. "My mother with 3 children were summoned to Kingsport to live with Uncle Van and Aunt Mae (Fannie Mae). We arrived on Friday and by Monday, Uncle Van already had me a job," said Mr. Allen, to the delight of the audience, most of whom knew V.O. Dobbins Sr. as a inspirational man who believed everybody should pull their own way. "That year (1946), we won the state basketball championship, and I made All-State." Mr. Allen went on to Tennessee State on basketball and boxing scholarships.

Before Mr. Allen sat back down, the Douglass Alumni Association had a surprise for him.. among the Douglass trophies recovered from Dobyns-Bennett, was his "Most Valuable Team Player" from 1945-46. In a symbolic moment, Mr. Allen was given the honor of placing his trophy back in with the rest of the Douglass trophies in the new display case.


Several former Douglass athletes told the group of their wonderful associations with teammates that resulted in regional and state championship trophies. Kathy Stewart mentioned her teammates Andra Watterson, Helen Watterson, Melrose Dobbins, and a few "hook" shots that many of the others had become famous for. The former Constance Hall saw some trophies from 1956 through 1960 and told the group, "many of these, I am responsible for." (The audience chuckled). Bobby Joe Johnson told the group that Vernell Allen had been his mentor while on the football and basketball teams of the 40's, and took some ribbing about his nickname during that time: "Egghead." (He says, a few folks from that time, still affectionately call him that).

After that, came a special presentation.

Many players from the 1946 state championship football team are no longer with us. The ones that are still here, incluing Nate Smith, Bobby Joe Johnson and Jack Pierce, all say they can not remember getting a championship trophy for that year. Maybe, it was just the society of the time. But since there was no trophy presented to Douglass for that year, only the newspaper articles remain. The headline picture proudly proclaims 1946 state football champions, while crowning Betsy Ann Summers as Miss Douglass High, 1946.

To honor those valiant Douglass players, the Douglass Alumni Association presented the community and the surviving team members a trophy commemorating that state football championship. The statue is that of a football, tilted to show its full elegance, along with a antique plaque with "State Football Champions 1946 - Douglass Tigers" on it. The commemorative trophy was quite a surprise for the audience and the former athletes, who all mentioned that they never thought for a moment after winning the championship, that they would ever get an acknowledgement for it.

Most of the players and alumni from 1948 (Bobby Joe Johnson and Jack Pierce) do remember the 1948 state football championship trophy. Unfortunately, that one disappeared from the D-B storage room after Douglass closed in '66. Newspaper articles from the year, mention Douglass playing and edging Knoxville Austin High School 14 to 13, and winning the crown, and after years of enjoying it in the trophy case in the hallway at Douglass, it is now gone.

The audience was equally as surprised when a new trophy was presented, to commemorate that 1948 football team. The trophy features a huge silver football player in the motion of kicking the ball, on a wooden base, with the plaque inscribed "1948 State Football Championships: Kingsport Douglass 14 vs. Knoxville Austin 13," and the date "November 13, 1948." Both trophies brought standing ovations from an appreciative crowd.

On Thursday, one more trip had been made through the dusty backrooms of the Dobyns-Bennett gymnasium before the Friday ribbon-cutting and trophy re-dedication. Surprisingly, that trip produced FOUR MORE Douglass trophies. As if waiting to be rescued and reunited with their bretheren, those were presented to the re-dedication audience in a round of surprise and applause.

After the ceremony, refreshments were served from luncheon platters furnished by local churches. Our thanks to:

Bethel AME Zion Church
Central Baptist Church
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Full Gospel Mission Church
Great Commission Church
Lyons Chapel AME Church
Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Shiloh Baptist Church

The Douglass High School Trophy case is located prominently inside the Douglass Community Room of the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex at 301 Louis Street in Riverview, Kingsport. They can be seen usually by appointment with the City of Kingsport Parks and Recreation Department. Call (423) 229-9457 to schedule a visit.

Here is a slideshow of the Douglass Trophies commemoration on the day the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex was dedicated

Created with flickr slideshow.