Hyatt made presence felt during coaching career

By Kim Richardson
STAR Correspondent

   It was like meeting a childhood hero. In fact, John Hyatt was just that to me. Not because he was a big-time politician, All-American athlete or rock star. No, it was much bigger than that. I was raised a Stoney Creeker, and John Hyatt was the head basketball coach of our beloved Rangers of Unaka.
   There was no choice; not for most of us. It was understood that if you were born and raised on the creek you'd attend Unaka High School. Well, not the only choice; one could simply get married -- and many did -- just after grade school, and avoid the high school scene altogether. 
   Sure, we'd heard the occasional rumors that someone, some "traitor" as we were taught to call them, had fled the creek for the bright lights of the City.
   And on those rare pre-adolescent occasions when we were actually allowed (if we could find and sell enough "pop bottles") to thumb down the creek to watch a "Real Game," it was comparable, I suppose, to today's children heading off to Myrtle Beach or to Disney World. 
   On the 15th of December, 1966, Walt Disney, creator of Orange County's Disney Land, predecessor to today's Disney World in Florida, passed away. His works live on today through his brilliant animated features and amusement parks.
   Coach John Hyatt was in the beginning stages of his first of five seasons coaching the Rangers.  It wasn't what he'd hoped for. His inaugural nine-and-fifteen season was short of Unaka standards, but since Coach Hyatt had managed to sweep Elizabethton he was allowed to stay.
   Season two's 15 and 13 record was an improvement and included a sweep over County and Watauga Conference rival, Happy Valley, the school that Coach Hyatt's Rangers would ultimately defeat eight of 11 times. And it would get even better. The 1968-69 season saw Unaka win 22 of 30 games. Ultimately he won 90 games and lost 56 while coaching at Unaka.
   Coach Hyatt would leave Unaka after the 1971 season to assist Charlie Bayless at Happy Valley through the 1974 state title run.
   "He was a very hard working man, an honest man who stood by his principles," said Ronnie Taylor, who assisted Coach Hyatt at Unaka. "He loved sports, loved teaching and working with kids."
   John Hyatt is a modest man who attempted to attribute his success at Unaka to "some very good ball players." 
   "There was Johnnie Bennett, Keith Bowers, Ronnie's brother, Terry, the left-hander; so many good ones. There was Javy Taylor, Phil Hardin, the Fletcher brothers - Mike and David - Randy Berry, and of course "Bubba" Davis.  Ole Bubba was a character." 
   "Oh, and the other Johnnie, "George" they called him," (so nicknamed after the popular cartoon character of that time). "Big John."
   "Johnny turned out to be just as good as the kids today are told he was.  He was very quick, and especially on defense. He learned to work hard and became a very valuable player for us."  He literally stole the Watauga Conference Championship for us when Hampton was trying to stall the game.  He stole the ball and scored the winning basket."
   The best you coached? "Eddie." Not only was he the best I ever coached, he was the best high school player, and in three sports, that I ever saw play."  Three sports? "Oh yeah," said Coach Hyatt. "He didn't play football; in fact he had a lung collapse during his junior year of high school, and we were afraid he would be unable to play anything; but he bounced back, and obviously did pretty well in the other sports."
   "His third sport was track.  I'd take him to our track meets, usually after he'd just thrown a shut-out or something.  Most folks don't know this, but Eddie was so naturally blessed that he could have signed a full scholarship in any of the three sports.  He'd go out and win the long jump, the hundred yard dash and two-twenty as they called it in those days, before they started running meters.  Then back out on the diamond the next day."
   Eddie Holly opted for professional baseball. Drafted by the Chicago White Sox he played for five seasons, before injuries forced him to call it quits.
   Many of us remember so many outstanding athletes from the late sixties to mid-seventies, to include:  Dennis McKesson and Skip Brown at Elizabethton and Dobyns-Bennett; Barry Phillips at Hampton, Doran Marcus who dominated track and field events for Happy Valley, while Sandy Johnson, Johnny Pansock and Dale Fair were the talk in football. Grady Hill and Barry Stocton were writing basketball History for Cloudland, and so many others since.
   Coach John Hyatt saw many of those great ones, and many others.
   "But, and this is my opinion, Eddie was indeed the best, and by far," he said.
   And there's the head coach.  "Yeah, some of today's coaches are single; but for me, I'd be absolutely lost without Helen.  She's washed more uniforms than the local laundromat," he said.  And there were all those nights after losses, all the things a coach has to go through.  She was there for all of it, through thick and thin."
   Then there are the boys: John Jr., Matt and Mark. John and Mark are teachers like their dad. John Jr. is married to Kim Hyatt, head volleyball coach at Milligan College.
   John said of his dad: "He told me to first, be honest. Keep it simple but be firm. He taught me how to read zone defenses. I wasn't a very quick, gifted athlete, but Dad taught me how zones shifted, and where I could position myself to get the best look."
   He knew defenses all right. "I feel that I learned from the very best," John Sr. said. "I learned from Buck." Hyatt was of course referring to the late Walter Vanhuss, who the Hampton High School Gymnasium is named after, along with Jerry White. "He was such a fundamentally sound coach. He actually was the first to use the full-court press around here. I tried to do things like he did; don't know if I ever got close."
   John Hyatt got very close indeed. His fifth and final season at Unaka ended with a win over the Elizabethton in the consolation round of the district tournament of 1971. But it was the preceding game that got so much attention from young and old alike.
   The Rangers lost to Science Hill, 62-60, but not without controversy. Several Ranger fans, felt that Unaka had been robbed because in Coach Hyatt's words, "we weren't suppose to win." One unnamed official was very aware of the Unaka fans' disappointment. He was knocked down after the game by an Elizabethton attorney. The late attorney will remain unnamed as well. Most Ranger fans know all to well who their hero of the night was.
   Matt Hyatt and many others can only imagine how far those John Hyatt coached teams could've advanced if playing under today's classification brackets. "Well, I sure think it would have been something to behold, but we'll never really know," he said.
   Hyatt rturned to coach during the mid-eighties at Cloudland High School before retiring. He and the "head coach" now reside in Hampton where he starred in basketball during the early 1950's. Coach Hyatt enjoys fishing and spending time with his grandchildren, one, John Jrs' daughter, Morgan plays volleyball for her Mother at Milligan.