Traditions relived through Unaka, Cloudland game

By Tim Chambers
STAR Correspondent

   They say you can't relive the past, but Tuesday night's basketball game between Cloudland and Unaka brought back high school memories of days gone by. The crowd noise was electrifying, among the standing room only crowd at Snavely Gymnasium.
   The game began as though the horn sounded to signal the start of the Kentucky Derby. Like a three-year old Philly both teams ran up and down the floor, much to the delight of the crowd. Trading punches like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, this Thriller in Manila would be a classic from start to finish.
   Each basket was greeted with applause that shook the building. And though the temperatures were a frigid 15 degrees outside, the thermometer was quickly rising inside the Ranger barn.
   These well-coached teenage athletes performed valiantly. They laid it all on the line.
   What was displayed last night on Stoney Creek brought back memories of high school basketball in past days. I recall the era of Sam Rogers, Junior Holdren, Jerry Tipton, the Stocton boys and others.
   In those days, Cloudland would challenge the 1968 Science Hill state tournament team led by the great Sammy Stewart and Percy Hairston. Players like Jerry Tipton could run through a full court press like hot butter penetrating a baked potato.
   The '70s featured Grady Hill, whose shooting range extended from Shell Creek to Whitehead Hill.
   Barry Stocton had versatility much like duct tape, the world's greatest invention to fix anything. Stocton could play guard, forward or center because of his quickness and great athletic ability. Those teams were respected throughout our area.
   Who could forget the year 1977 when sharpshooting guard Tony Church, who would later star at Bristol College, rode his unicycle during warmups with a packed house at Sonny Smith Gymnasium. His pregame warmup routine put the Harlem Globetrotters to shame.
   The Rangers have tradition as well. They play before a full house nearly every home game.
   To see former Rangers standouts like Denny Ensor and Big John Taylor still take an interest in the program makes the younger players proud. Players like current Lees-McRae College star Aaron Dugger, who rarely misses a game when his schedule allows him to come, still get stares and high fives from the crowd.
   The coaching staff of Donald and Johnny Ensor along with Richard Thomas, whose roots go back deep inside Ranger basketball, brings pride to the program. It was in the early '80s that Unaka bowed out to a team from Dresden led by current NBA standout Popeye Jones.
   But Tuesday night's contest will go down in the history books as one of the greatest games ever witnessed. There was no trash talking, taunting, nor other antics that we see in the sports world today --and no showmanship, only two teams giving every ounce of energy inside hoping to come out on top in the end.
   As the ball bounced off the rim, the packed house stood amazed at what they had just witnessed. Players and coaches met on the court to shake hands in show of sportsmanship.
   As the players emerged from their locker rooms getting ready to depart for home, many stood around and talked Highlander to Ranger, Ranger to Highlander. Parents and fans were there to give a pat on the back to each participate.
   I sat in the stands and witnessed Craig Cooke, Mark Byrd and Robbie Tolley talking to Rusty Chambers and Josh Jones. Cody Collins would pat the backs of Aaron Stocton and Cody Jones.
   The noise level was no longer there, but the scene after the game was just as satisfying as the one we had just witnessed.
   The things that took place during and after the game are part of the tradition that makes high school basketball such a great game. These young men could have children participating in future games, and friendships can be everlasting.
   You can bet they will talk about this game for a very long time. Many more of this type could happen later this season and in years to come.
   But one thing is certain, Cloudland and Unaka have a rich tradition -- a tradition that remains everlasting.