After 634 wins, White steps aside

By Jamie Combs

   Trying to detail the feats of Jerry White's stellar coaching career in a single story is like trying to pack for a two-week vacation with one suitcase. There's simply not enough room to cram everything in.
   It's only fitting, though, that White's top achievements find their way into print following his resignation as Hampton High head basketball coach, bringing an end to his 33-year run in the profession.
   "It's a tough decision, but I just feel like it's the right time," said White, who announced his resignation over the weekend. "Nothing really triggered it or anything like that. I said last year that I would probably go one more year. Regardless of what happened -- win or lose -- I pretty well had my mind made up."
   Spending the last 31 years of his career at Hampton (he coached two years at Cloudland), White calls it quits with a record of 634 wins and 410 defeats.
   He's the winningest coach in Bulldog history with 621 victories, while Hampton's VanHuss-White Gym is named one-half in his honor.
   Asked if his career has been fulfilling, White, 59, said: "I've been happy with it most of the time. For me, there's no place to coach like Hampton."
   According to Mike Matheson, who starred under White in the early to mid-'80s, his former coach knew how to instill a winning mentality.
   "The thing that I remember most about him was that losing was not an option," Matheson said. "I guess he's as good as I've seen at tournament time at changing things and mixing things up. That was evident this year at the district tournament."
   Playing the role of darkhorse, Hampton gave White a nice going-away present in his final season on the bench. The District 1-AA tournament saw the Bulldogs defeat Sullivan North and Sullivan Central before upsetting top-seeded Elizabethton in the championship game.
   "That was a little icing on the cake, coming up from single-A," said White of coaching his 13th district title. "Everybody had kind of conceded (the championship) to Elizabethton, but we were able to do that. That was a big accomplishment for us."
   Add in 14 conference and eight regional titles with the 11 sub-state appearances and five state tournament berths that White has to his credit, and it's easy to see why the Hampton High trophy case spilled over a long time ago.
   His '81 and '83 teams made it all the way to the state finals, then his '92 squad qualified for the state semifinals.
   Furthermore, White won exactly twice as many games as he lost in the postseason (98-49), recording a 47-21 district record and 40-15 regional mark along the way.
   However, no number of championship conquests or individual honors has given White as much pride as his players.
   "It's all the young kids that I've been around and seen mold into good players," he said. "I appreciate all the kids who ever played for me."
   On a different note, gone will be one of the classic head-to-head coaching matchups as White and Happy Valley head coach Charlie Bayless shared a friendly rivalry for a span of five decades.
   "You hate to lose an old coach from the game like that," said Bayless. "When you played Hampton, you knew you were going to play a good ball team. And when you beat somebody like that, you knew you accomplished something.
   "When coaches like Jerry, Dickie Warren, Buck VanHuss and Coach (John) Treadway leave, they take something away from the game for awhile."
   White, of course, played under VanHuss at Hampton, serving as a key contributor on the Bulldogs' 1960 state championship squad.
   The leading scorer on Hampton's 1962 state tournament team, White didn't leave the school until he had tallied 1,539 career points. He returned to the scene of his prep glory days in 1971, succeeding Jerry Nave as Hampton head coach.
   "I really appreciated the opportunity to go back to my home school and stay there as long as I did," White said. "I always had a lot of support from the home-office administration, the faculty of the school and the community."
   While White is mainly recognized for his work at Hampton, he looks back fondly on his two years at Cloudland.
   "I like Cloudland," he said. "Cloudland is a hard-nosed team -- they were a good team to coach. It was just a travel thing. Hampton was a lot closer to home, plus I came from Hampton. If I had to coach anywhere besides Hampton, Cloudland would be my choice."
   With his coaching days apparently behind him, White must now figure out what to do with all the spare time he isn't accustomed to having.
   "I'm sure my wife will have a lot for me to do," he said. "I'll still stay around the sport and go to the games and stuff. I know it won't be the same, but I'm not going to give up on Hampton. It's a place I really love. I'm still going to support them 100 percent and help them anyway I can."
   If Hampton is seeking input for the hiring of a new head coach, White says the school doesn't need to look very far. His endorsement goes to Bud Hazelwood, a veteran assistant on the Bulldog staff.
   "I highly recommend Coach Hazelwood," White said. "I think he would do an excellent job at Hampton High School. He and Kelly Oliver and Mark McClain work well together. I think the program would never miss a beat."
   White will definitely be a tough act to follow.
   "He's done a heck of a job at Hampton," Bayless said. "It's going to be different going to Hampton without him on the bench, and he's a real good friend of mine. We've had some great ball games the last 33 years."
   For Matheson, it was a privilege to play for a coaching legend such as White.
   "To me, he is Hampton basketball," Matheson said. "He played on a state championship team, then he coached in two state championship games. He was tough but he always let you know when you did well, in his own way. I sure enjoyed playing for him.
   "He deserves all the accolades he ever got."