White takes great memories into retirement

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Jerry White has 634 wins, 14 conference titles, almost 100 postseason wins and two state championship appearances to take into his retirement as head basketball coach at Hampton High School.
   But, those accomplishments make up only a fraction of the memories White has after coaching the Bulldogs and two years prior to that Cloudland High School players.
   "I appreciate all of the players," said White, one day after publicly announcing his retirement. "Some of them were role players and some of them were stars, but they're all special. All of them were just as important as the others."
   Still, there are a few with special skills that the coach took time to mention. "I don't like naming names, because you are going to leave somebody out," said White. "Probably our best athlete was Barry Phillips. He shot 'em from NBA range, well before there was a three-point shot.
   "The '74 team that got beat by Happy Valley may have been my best team. We only lost two games that year. They could all play. Every player on that team was very good. Randy Waycaster was the best outside shooter and John Paul Mathes was a great defensive player.
   "You go to the 80's, Mike Matheson was the most fierce competitor I ever had. He hated to lose even more than I did. Leon Tolley was the state tournament MVP off a second-place team. He had a great tournament and was on the all-decade team.
   "Kevin Ward might have been a Division I player. Chris Wilson was a top player and Mark McClain was a great shooter. I hate to name names because all the players meant a lot to me."
   If any of you know anything about Jerry White, one reason he hates to single out players is because the coach always emphasized the word team. His 1981 and 1983 teams went all the way to the TSSAA State Championship game. In both cases, they knocked off the top team in Tennessee en' route to the title matchup.
   "In 1981, we beat defending champion Middleton to get in the finals," said White, himself a member of Hampton's 1960 state championship team. "They had a lot of players back from the previous year. Then, we got beat by Bolton in the finals.
   "The '83 team, we had a mediocre season. We were 16-14 and went all the way to the state finals. We beat the best team in the state Houston County in the first round."
   This past season, Hampton experienced many highs and lows, evident when they beat Elizabethton to win the District Title, only to get knocked out the first round of the regional by Chuckey-Doak.
   "It was kind of a roller-coaster year," said White. "We played real good two or three games, then would hit a snag. We depended on our outside shooting. When we didn't hit outside, we didn't do good.
   "The highlight of the season was beating Elizabethton. Everybody had conceded the tournament to them. But, we had three games in the tournament, we did real good. The players did everything that we expected them to do."
   Through the good times and the bad times, White could always count on the words of his former coach, the late Buck Van Huss. That's one reason sharing his name on the gym where each helped build one of the state's top roundball traditions means so much. "Co-naming that gym with coach Van Huss is at the top of the list," White commented. "I always remember what he said. 'I never scored a point, never got a rebound, didn't play defense. The players did that.' That always stuck in my mind.
   "He was the first one to call me when we lost to Happy Valley in '74. He told me, 'That's the way the cookie crumbles. That's the way it is. Don't second-guess yourself. You did the right thing.'
   "You sometimes get disappointed, but sometimes you get surprises too. You get that in coaching."
   White made special friendships with several other coaches, but remains partial to the ones in this area. "Charlie Bayless is number one," said White. "His teams were always one of the hardest to beat. He was the master at keeping himself in the game. Bobby Snyder does a great job over at Boone. Year in and year out, he has the most competitive team in East Tennessee.
   "The coaches in this area are tops. Not to belittle the coaches in the other parts of the state, but if the coaches in this area had all the athletes and all the materials to work with they have, it would be no contest. Take Unaka this year. They were very competitive and just barely got beat by a team with great athletes. We have to overdo things and outwork them."
   Closest among those in the coaching ranks are the ones, he taught beside at Hampton. "J.C. Campbell and Doug Phillips are my best friends," said White. "If I had to do it over, I'd pick Hampton again. The coaches in the other sports here support you 100 percent. You don't see that at other schools. I wouldn't want a situation where the football coach didn't like the basketball coach or the girls' coach didn't like the boys' coach."
   He says the Bulldog program will continue to be strong, even when he's not roaming the sidelines. "The tradition is there," said White. "The kids expect to win and we expect them to win and be competitive. This year we moved up to double-A, stepped up and won the district.
   "With athletics at Hampton, we don't always win, but we expect to. It was a dream of mine to go back to the home school and have success. But all those wins were not mine, they were because of the players and how they expect to win."