Looking back at a true Legend: John Holsclaw

Published 8:48 am Friday, April 19, 2019

When you think of Elizabethton High School sports a few names come to mind like All-American Johnny Mills, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and a special voice on the loudspeaker Sonny Hunt. If you’ve not attended the game and you want to listen to the Cyclones, you turn on WBEJ. I can’t remember anyone on the radio before this man when I hear the call letters WBEJ and Friday football. John Holsclaw was Mr. Cyclone and played every sport, mastered all of them, then after school took a shot at boxing and became a great boxer. When you get too old to play sports, you look for something that will keep you close to the game and “Peeps” as many called him, made the Elizabethton Cyclones radio announcer a home forever.

In all my many years as a sports writer, I never heard anyone say anything bad about Mr. Holsclaw.  He was always laughing and talking about Cyclone football, basketball, occasionally about the Tennessee Vols. Anything orange, John was the man. In the past several years he was really high on Lady Cyclones basketball and when they won the State Tournament, I don’t think I ever saw a happier man. I don’t have a clue how many games he commentated on the radio but he always made the Cyclones seem like they were playing their best, even if they were behind and maybe going to lose, John was always looking for a way to win. 

I couldn’t tell you how many awards he won over the years like 14 varsity letters. He was the quarterback for the Cyclones football team, a great basketball player, scored 36 touchdowns and even took the Cyclones baseball team to the state runner-up his junior season or how many times people had recognized him, but I want to tell you about the John I knew.   

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I got to know John a little when his daughter Tammy was a cheerleader at T.A. Dugger when we would drive by his house hoping to see her out in the yard and hoping John wasn’t going to catch us and maybe shoot at us or run us down. It was tough sneaking around in those days because most of our cars didn’t have much of a muffler and usually there were four or five of us riding in the same car and yea we were pretty loud.

Years later I was offered a chance to be in the Lions club where John was what they called a tail twister. The Lions Club was full of business people and great men, still don’t know how I got in. During the meeting, if someone said a bad word or something out of line John would fine them, mostly a nickel or a dime, but sometimes Shelby Miller would come off with a good joke or say something that Holsclaw thought should not have been told and would find him a quarter.  It was all in good fun and Shelby likes to get John going. If I remember correctly they would always leave the money as a tip for the waitress after our meeting.  We would usually meet at Bonanza and sometimes at O’Delly’s up on the state line road. I remember in the Lions Club when someone needed glasses John was always ready to help. If a family could not afford glasses for their child, he helps make sure they got them.

Former Cyclone and Tennessee football player Dale Fair stated “Cindy and me moved back to Elizabethton, our hometown, in 1981. A week before the ‘82 Cyclone football season, Johnny called to ask me to help with one game, which was Volunteer. Thirty-five years and over 400 broadcasts later, we developed a great relationship.  We always tried to make listeners feel the excitement, joy and fun that we were enjoying.  I am glad to have been a small part of his legend.”

Former Cyclone and Tennessee football star Johnny Mills said “When I was a freshman football player at Elizabethton I remember John telling me I should be a receiver because I had good hand-eye coordination that I could go up in a crowd and make the catch. I never played receiver in high school, but when I went to UT, I started playing receiver after 3 or 4 days of practice and never looked back.  John was ahead of his time in judging talent and I think that was one reason he was so good at being a sports broadcaster”.

John was always an important man around town and was well respected, held a local office for many years and helped many people during his time here. John was a great family man who loved his wife Donna and his children. It was good to see them together every football season in the press box, John on the radio and Donna was taking care of the food for the workers.

John played some football for the University of Tennessee and attended ETSU, won many trophies and made many Cyclones proud of him. He became known as the voice of the Cyclones and he was our John Ward. Ward may have been the best radio man ever, but Holsclaw was right there with him.  He never wanted to give up even when you knew the game was out of reach. 

John called me one day and asked If I could help him on the radio do an Elizabethton play-off game.  His side-kick Dale Fair had to be out of town and John gave me a chance to be on the network with him. I was so excited to have the opportunity to work with him.  I called everyone I had a number for and told them I wanted to do good and make John proud of me, maybe later I would get asked to work with him or Dale again.  We got there a little early and got set up and he handed me a paper with the Cherokee players name and position on them.  John said he would start the show off by giving the Elizabethton players info and I could give Cherokees. John was a professional; he knew every player on the Cyclones team, touchdowns they had scored and who their parents were,  how their dads did when they played for the Cyclones. I was amazed.  John said we’’’ be back in 60 seconds with C.Y. telling you about the Cherokee Chiefs. I thought I’m in real trouble, John had done such a wonderful job and I knew nothing about Cherokee. There was a lot more to calling a game on the radio that I had imagined.  SO when we came back, John said “Here is C.Y. Peters with the line-up of the Cherokee Chiefs. I hung my head down toward the mic and started off with the Cherokee quarterback, told how many touchdowns he scored, how many yards he had gained and worked my way down the line-up bragging on each player.  I told how many were ready to sign scholarships who the leading yard gainers were and how they were a favorite on their home field for tonight’s game. We went back to break and John just stared at me and said, “Son you did your homework, you really knew a lot about those boys.”  I said John I just made all that up, I said no one in Elizabethton cares what these players did they are the opposing team, they only care about the Cyclones. He laughed every time we went to break in the game.

One of the biggest highlights of high school for Holsclaw was winning the 1958 Tennessee-Virginia all-star game MVP where he scored the winning touchdown to give Tennessee a 14-13 win. Holsclaw then went on to be tailback at the University of Tennessee, where he played for Johnny Majors, who was an assistant coach at the time just getting into coaching.

John’s eyes sparked with gleam once again when his son John Jr. ran for office. John was out talking to people, asking them to vote for his son; it was like John himself was running. We get to live, sports, again through our kids and grand-kids and John loved every minute of it.

“I looked up to John in high school. He had it all, great athlete, penny loafers always shined, just a way cool guy that we all looked up to” stated Johnny Mills. John was a professional; he knew his stuff, did his homework and was always ready for anything.  He left us way to early; he was like a sports history book.  If you ask him about someone, he knew them, where they played and could always give you details on what kind of person and player they were.  We all miss John and will for years to come, but John lived a great life, loved his children and grandchildren, loved the Elizabethton Cyclones and Tennessee Vols. He has left a lasting memory on people for decades to come.  John Holsclaw was a Deacon at Elizabethton Church of Christ, a Legend, the voice of the Cyclones, a true friend, everlasting life.