Hunter's transient twins

By Kim Richardson
STAR Correspondent

   We the people have become a global society; we're a continual melting pot of transients. But when a business acquaintance of Rick Smith finally convinced him to uproot and head to the mountains, it wasn't without reservations.
   His wife, Debbie, was at first, understandably apprehensive. Their many friends, neighbors, business associates and customers, parents and relatives were there. Plus there were the twins, their little first-grade sons. 
   It's asking a lot of a young mother; it's asking a lot to expect her to leave familiar and familial surroundings to head off to Stoney Creek, Tennessee. 
   Meanwhile Rick had to decide to not only leave his job, but to sell it. He actually sold his custom chrome plating business in the thriving economy of Nashville to pursue a similar career in Elizabethton.
   He had to settle into a new job, provide comfort to his homesick wife and of course help the twins adjust to their new surroundings at Hunter Elementary School.
   Not to worry, Dad. The twins, Cody and Jesse, hit the ground running, literally.  They started playing basketball for the youth club just after beginning second grade at Hunter. It's been like that ever since.
   Today's game of basketball is practically a year-round activity. There are the countless hours of practice, the "voluntary" summer camps and individual workouts. But Cody and Jesse took everything in stride.
   Eighth-grade student and close friend, Emily Asher, said: "The twins" (are) really neat.. They're so smart. We're a close group; our class, we all help each other along. Cody and Jesse are always helping others. That's probably the best thing about them; they have great attitudes."
   They're also pretty good basketball players. So, from an athletic standpoint, what Nashville, and specifically Mt. Juliet High School -- where their dad played and starred on the gridiron during the mid-'70s -- lost is Hunter's, and soon-to-be Unaka High School's, gain. 
   These two guys are players. They're long-limbed and rangy and they run the floor very well.  That fits the Unaka mold. It fits the Donald Ensor coached Rangers approach to basketball. 
   There's a ways to go before we can label them stars, but the potential is definitely in place.  Presently around 5-10, both appear headed to higher levels, physically and academically. In fact Cody can envision continuing his love of basketball on into the National Basketball Association. 
   Which is the better player? "Me," they state in unison.
   "I think I shoot a little better than Jesse," continued Cody, "but he's a hawk on defense, hard to score on."
   "Yeah, maybe he can shoot a little better," Jesse stated, "but I'm sure not going to make it easy for him."
   Jesse feels that the strength of his game is indeed defense. He plans to make a career in the legal profession, to be an attorney.  Possibly a "defense" attorney?
   "Haven't given it that much thought," Jesse said, "but I'd like to become a lawyer." 
   Teammate and close personal friend Bryant Collins said: "We spend a lot of time together.  Everyone likes to be around them. They work hard in practice and I think they'll both make great basketball players."
   Hunter isn't having its best season ever. The Tigers have a new coach, and with a new coach comes a new approach, a different system. But the Smith's aren't complaining.
   "Coach (Chris) Collins has been great, stated Rick. "He makes the boys work hard, and they're getting better. But it takes time to get used to each other. And his assistant, Daniel (Unaka High junior Daniel McInturff), I think he'll be a great coach someday."
   But it doesn't end at school for the Smiths. They're also active members of Trinity Baptist Church in Lynn Valley. The twins are regular attendees, and demonstrate Christian values in school and on the basketball court; and maybe for Jesse, some day, inside the courtroom.  
   It's unfair to lay expectations on the shoulders of our youth; only to ask them to do as well as they can, in sports and in life. But how good can the twins be?
   "They have so much development ahead of them," stated Coach Collins. "They're young, but very talented.  They work hard at both ends of the court, and neither of them will have any difficulty academically. They're well-rounded student athletes. Each of them, though they look alike, plays a different game. They're diverse and disciplined. Discipline, that's important. We're lucky to have them."
   But do they really love the game of basketball that well? Last year Hunter played Hampton at Hampton. Cody was attempting to gather a rebound when he and two Hampton players hit the floor. Cody walked off the court, but the sharp bend in his arm told his mother that it was bad. 
   "That night they performed surgery on his arm," Debbie said. "They placed two metal plates and six pins in that arm, which he had broken in two places."
   But do they really love basketball that much? His mother thinks she has the answer.
   "Jesse took good care of him while he was home healing," she said. "Jesse brought his assignments home and helped him keep up with school for four weeks. He wanted his brother back in school and on the court. But after only two weeks Cody was begging to go play basketball."
   Kind of makes a mother proud?
   "Oh yes, we're very proud of both of them," Debbie replied.  "They're both kind-hearted, good-natured boys."
   So who do these guys look up to?
   "Our parents," they said.(again, in unison).
   "Alan Iverson is my favorite player," Jesse continued. "I know he's had some off-the-court problems, but he plays the game very well. But my role models are my parents."
   Cody's choice: "Tracy McGrady, because he has a great all-around game."
   The Smiths took nearly a full year to make the monumental decision that landed them in the Stoney Creek, Elizabethton area. That decision has affected so many lives. There are the friends and relatives back in the Nashville community that they miss, and who miss them. There were the typical, initial struggles with re-location. 
   "We left a lot of friends back home," Debbie said, "but oh, we've made so many really good new friends here." 
   She continued, "Moving here, leaving so much behind was so very difficult, not just for us, but for those we were leaving. But we feel fortunate. We feel that our sons are in a good school. We know they have some very good, very close friends, and we hope they will always stay that way."
   Rick said, "I told her we could always go back. It's been tough at times, but we're stronger for the move.  And the folks at Hunter, and lately the people at Trinity Baptist, have done so much to make us feel like family, like a part of this great community."
   "I feel that moving here was a very good decision," Debbie added, who now runs her own small shop, R and D Plating, in Elizabethton. "Gosh, it wasn't always easy. But yes, overall I think it was the best decision we ever made."