Swift part of new class

By Tim Chambers
STAR STAFF
tchambers@starhq.com


  Friday night's Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame dinner had the perfect setting -- A future hall of famer who grew up in the friendly confines of Elizabethton, speaking to a group of new inductees.
  On a night that saw the Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club host the 2004 annual even, one hometown hero showed everyone present why he's a class act both on and off the football field.
  Jason Witten was the guest speaker during Friday night's ceremony, which honored three men being inducted into this prestigious group, at Johnson City's Best Western. Harley "Skeeter" Swift, Robert Leonard and Al Nida were the 2004 Hall of Fame honorees.
  Swift came to ETSU on a basketball scholarship in 1965, but not before overcoming a weight issue. Swift was nearly 40 pounds overweight while being recruited but managed to drop 36 pounds over the summer, later becoming an All-Ohio Valley Conference performer for three seasons.
  He once scored 41 points in a freshman game against Tennessee, a game in which ETSU won.
  "Back at that time s freshman wasn't eligible for varsity play," stated Swift. Former Tennessee Vols head coach Ray Mears, who was in attendance, certainly remembered Swift.
  Swift was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the third round but chose to go the ABA route. He played for the New Orleans Buccaneers, Memphis, San Antonio and Pittsburgh, logging five seasons in professional basketball.
  His number 54 was retired by ETSU. Swift later became coach at Elizabethton High School before coaching at Rogersville and Oak Hill Academy. During his tenure, Oak Hill won a national private school championship.
  Swift reminded Witten not to ever take a moment of his career for granted, which the Dallas tight end shared with the crowd.
  Witten spoke about taking advantage of every opportunity you have.
  "There's not a day goes by that I don't remember how I am blessed," he said.
  Witten touched on his draft day and the first four NFL games being a nightmare.
  "Draft day was horrible," stated Witten. "My thoughts were 'Not much money for a third rounder, I should have stayed at Tennessee.'
  "My first game as a pro I dropped a pass, didn't have a catch in my second and third games and broke my jaw in the fourth."
  Witten then took the opportunity to share with the crowd an important lesson he learned from Cowboys coach Bill Parcells.
  Parcells coaxed Witten in believing he had received medical clearance to return.
  "Coach said 'Jason, are you ready to go?' and I responded 'Yes sir.' He was testing me to see if I would go out and play or not."
  "We all face tests in life and it's important to be ready for each one we face."
  Former Cyclone head coach Dave Rider introduced his grandson due to the absence of Danny Smith, whose mother passed way. Rider spoke of how Jason turned down visits to Michigan and Notre Dame because of wanting to become a Volunteer.
  Witten was an All-SEC first-team selection, academic All-SEC and named first-team All-American by the Sporting News at tight end.
  He set weight lifting records at Tennessee for almost every position and every lift except one, along with records for catches by a tight end on the field.
  Rider added he could tell the crowd a lot of things about Jason but the biggest things was that God was big in Jason's life and that he married a wonderful wife in Michelle.
  Kortney Goulds was honored as one of three student athletes of the year. Goulds had a remarkable career during her four years at Happy Valley, and graduated with a 3.75 GPA and ranked 20th in her senior class of 121.
  She excelled in the classroom as well as the field. Kortney was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Prayer Club, National Honor Society and Student Council.
  Kortney's was a true warrior, earning all-conference and all-region for cross country on three occasions, and all-state twice.
  As a member of the softball team, Kourtney was three times named to the all-conference, all-district and all-regional teams. Kortney was co-MVP for the 2003 basketball season, capping off four years as a stater on the team.
  "This is a great feeling to be recognized among so many great athletes," stated the Milligan College-bound Goulds. "I look foward to competing at the next level."
  Katie Williams was honored for her outstanding career in track and field at Happy Valley High School. She was named all-state for four seasons, setting a school record in the three-mile run with a time of 18:34, and also the mile at 5:16.
  Also inducted were Al Nida, former basketball coach at King College; and Robert Leonard, former Kingsport D-B and Wake Forest player.
  Two state championship teams were recognized, the Elizabethton Cyclone 4x800 relay team and the 2004 Unaka High School state championship basektball team.