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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reliving history Former Tribe basketball stars return to Buck Van Huss Dome for inaugural D-B alumni game




Above left, the gray and maroon teams huddle prior to Saturday night’s Dobyns-Bennett basketball alumni game at the Buck Van Huss Dome in Kingsport. Top photo, Corky Blye (12) makes a behind-the-back pass as Blake Leeper guards. Top right, Domingo Hale (21) puts up a shot.   Left Bottom, the Grey Team and the Maroon Team

KINGSPORT — Before Coty Sensabaugh became a defensive back for the Tennessee Titans, he dreamt of playing basketball just like Dobyns-Bennett standout Shane Carnes.

Before Blake Leeper was a world-class Paralympic sprinter, he was just a kid cheering from the stands as Carnes and JaMichael Mills led the Indians to back-to-back 30-win seasons, both ending with trips to the state tournament, under the watchful eye of D-B coach Steve Shipley.

All five men gathered inside the Buck Van Huss Dome on Saturday night along with several other former players for the first Dobyns-Bennett alumni basketball game.

The contest gave players like Leeper the chance to play with their childhood heroes while fans of all ages watched players representing more than 30 years of D-B history mix it up one more time.

“I grew up as a kid watching these guys and to be able to play on the same court is like a dream,” said Leeper, a silver medalist at the 2012 Paralympic Games. “It was like an all-star team of the best Kingsport guys ever.”

Sensabaugh wasn’t able to play because of a foot injury that parked him on injured reserve near the end of the Titans’ season.  But even as the defensive back posed for pictures with kids who came out of the stands to greet him on the end of the bench, Sensabaugh couldn’t help feeling like a kid himself as he watched some of his favorite players back in action.

“With my foot and everything, it’s healing up just fine, but it’s too soon to get back and start doing things on it,” he said. “Some of these guys, when I was little, they were my role models. Like my brother Travis, Shane Carnes — he was my favorite player growing up.

“Just seeing all those guys brought back memories of when I was little watching them. I used to look up to all those guys.”

Left top, Blake Leeper brings the ball down court.. right, he eyes a shot.  Left bottom, Dimingo Hale brings the ball up court.

The event was spearheaded by former D-B point guard Fred Smith, who ran into Shipley at a gas station and decided it had been too long since everyone on his tight-knit squad from the early 1990s had seen each other.

A basketball game seemed to be a natural fit, and pretty soon players from throughout the program’s history vowed to come back to Kingsport for the game.

“It’s a testament to our community and how they raise their kids to be men and how we support each other,” Smith said. “Not only did you have some great athletes out there, you had some great people.”

Smith was thrilled to get out on the floor at his former school, and he even managed to score six points.

“This is more than I expected and I’m really excited about it,” Smith said. “We raised a lot of money for the Slam Dunk Club.

“It brought back a lot of memories. I only scored six points tonight, but I haven’t scored six points in 20 years, so I’m overexcited.”

Former Tribe coach Shipley: ‘Once you’ve been a part of Dobyns-Bennett, it sticks with you for your whole life’

Shipley also came back, returning to the sideline where he amassed a 98-37 record as a head coach after taking over for the legendary Buck Van Huss, whom Shipley played for at D-B.

Shipley coached the maroon team, which won 100-97, but he didn’t accept much credit for the win.

“I didn’t have much control, but it was fun,” Shipley said. “Some of these guys I haven’t seen in 20 years, so it was a blessing to me just to be able to see and hug them and be reminded of how great they were.

“It was just a wonderful evening.”

At the conclusion of the game, the players and coaches gathered for a picture under the sign in the corner of the gym that gives each one of them a great deal of pride.

On that sign is a number — 2,156 and counting — that everyone who has ever worn a D-B basketball jersey has contributed to. It is the total number of wins in the school’s history, a number that makes D-B the winningest high school basketball program in the country.

That deep tradition is what Shipley believes helped bring so many former players, coaches and fans back to Kingsport even though life has scattered many of them to the four winds.

“This is a special place,” Shipley said. “I had a chance to play on some great teams and coach some really nice teams.

“Once you’ve been a part of Dobyns-Bennett, it sticks with you for your whole life.”