Stoney Creek "Title town Tennessee"

By Tim Chambers
STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com

   The five-hour trip down to Murfreesboro was rather long for many Unaka basketball fans, but for the ones who stayed through championship day, the drive back would be the ride of their lives.
   No, it wasn't Hickory High School from the movie "Hoosiers," but this script was one that would be much better.
   Instead of Jimmy Chitwood being the focus, this story wasn't about any one particular individual. It was about 13 players who were willing to do whatever it took to bring bragging rights back to a close-knit community called Stoney Creek.
   I had the opportunity to sit at courtside during the entire tournament. As I was asked by the TSSAA radio broadcaster where Unaka was, I simply replied: Stoney Creek, Tennessee.
   As the team was introduced before the championship game, cold chills ran over me when the public address announcer said, "The visiting team on the scoreboard will be the Unaka Rangers from Stoney Creek, Tennessee." Never have I heard the crowd noise at that level inside the Murphy Center.
   The sounding of those magic words, "Stoney Creek, Tennessee," was all the Rangers had to hear to feel at home. And why shouldn't they have felt this way?
   The Stoney Creek community has supported Unaka High School athletics for a great number of years. The Ranger fan base is nothing short of amazing.
   People come to the games decked out in maroon and white and they cheer non-stop for their beloved team.
   I had the opportunity to live in Danner Subdivision for six years. I was blessed with some of the finest neighbors you could ever have. I moved to the city after six years, but my son wanted to stay in school at Hunter and attend Unaka High School.
   With little discussion, we decided that Unaka High School would be the best fit for Rusty. It's a decision we'll never forget.
   At times, I have felt like an outsider, but the good people of this community have embraced our children in all their school and sports activities. On Sunday afternoon, they embraced us all.
   I have learned in four years that Unaka High School is blessed with a great faculty. I have grown to have a great admiration for Principal John Fine. Mr. Fine touched on what this state championship meant to Unaka High School and the community.
   Fine praised the work of head coach Donald Ensor not only for his coaching ability, but for his Christian ethics and the things he taught these kids that go far beyond basketball.
   He praised this group of players in how they excel on and off the basketball court. He spoke of how they had great ability, yet they were role models inside the school.
   "They set their goal for a state championship and they went out and won it for the right reasons," Fine said.
   As for the players and Coach Ensor, they feel the same way about Fine.
   "Mr. Fine is the greatest," said Rusty Chambers. "He is always willing to help us anyway that he can."
   Baseball coach and assistant principal Mike "Acie" Ensor was also among the crowd. He and athletic director/softball coach Ronnie Hicks altered their playing schedules, allowing players and parents the opportunity to be at Murfreesboro.
   It's just another way of showing how special the folks are at Unaka High School.
   But the community needs to be commended. Blue Springs, Possum Hollow, Midway, Lynn Valley, Buladean, Bulldog Hollow and Peters Hollow all were represented at Murfreesboro. So were many other places, extending from Betty's Burger Hut to Hodge Branch and far beyond.
   But for those who couldn't make the trip to Murfreesboro, the show of support was phenomenal when the Ranger caravan reached Interstate 26 heading up toward Johnson City. The show of fan support left tears in everyone eyes.
   Ranger fans braved the frigid temperatures to welcome home the state champions from Stoney Creek, Tennessee.
   The ride through downtown Elizabethton was wonderful, but the journey up Highway 91 was breathtaking. Elderly people stood and cheered as each vehicle passed by with "state champs" painted on the windows. Cars honked their horns to show their team support.
   A crowd of over 350 people were waiting at the high school to welcome home the Rangers - a group of young men who had fought the sports battle of their lives and came out victorious.
   Sherrill Bowers has been a lifetime Ranger fan.
   "I have come every season to the games even when we didn't have good teams," said Bowers. "This was worth coming all those years just to know these boys and witness what I seen this week."
   Who could ever forget the following Ranger moments?
   Derek Cline and Rusty Holtsclaw hit last second shots to win key games in the district and regional; Cline's free throw with no time remaining gave Unaka the district title.
   Holtsclaw's shot at the buzzer against University High kept the Rangers' title hopes alive and clinched a berth in the regional finals. Cody Collins' superb defensive effort in the finals of the regional was the key in hosting the sub-state game at Unaka.
   Rusty Chambers hitting the last second three-pointer against Cosby before a packed house to send them to the dance and leave a crowd of Eagle fans stunned.
   Or Tyler McCann drilling a last-second shot against Franklin Road Academy to clinch a berth in the semi-finals. Did you ever think that Unaka could knock off two-time defending state champion Tennessee Temple in the semi-finals?
   The great effort of Josh Jones' 4-for-4 shooting and six key rebounds in the finals will long be remembered. The key minutes that Josh Lowe, Chase Reeves and Tee Blevins played, giving starters a much-needed rest, will also not be forgotten.
   The unsung heroes such as sophomores Aaron Greer, Adam Buckles, Chris Buckles, Mike Walsh and team manager Alex Daniels worked so hard in practice and gave our team the encouragement and vocal support needed throughout every game. They are future stars in the making.
   Unaka set three state records: highest shooting percentage ever in the state tournament -- 60 for 96 for 62.5 percent -- breaking the record set by Nashville Goodpasture in 1978; the perfect 10 for 10 in the second half against Tennessee Temple, the highest percentage shot in a half by a team; and Chambers shooting a perfect 12 of 12 for 100 percent from the foul line, which ties the state tournament record.
   There was McCann's 12-of-13 performance from the field against Temple and being named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, and Chambers and Collins being named to the all-state tournament team.
   Those things might be forgotten in the years to come, but two things will always be remembered: that on Saturday, March 20, 2004, the Unaka Rangers won the Class A boys TSSAA basketball state tournament defeating Grace Academy 63-47.
   The second is that regardless of how many miles you travel across the state of Tennessee, you will find no greater fans than those at Unaka High School.
   The gold ball now sits inside of Unaka High School and fittingly so. After all, Stoney Creek is now known as "Title Town, Tennessee."