Remembering Jay Nidiffer

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Jay Nidiffer grew up in a time when there was not much to do for little boys.  He worked in the garden, picked a few beans and bailed up hay to feed the livestock.

Jay and his friends would gather up to play a little stickball, shoot some hoops on the old woodshed that acted as a backboard from a made up basketball goal from an old tractor rim. Sometimes the ball would have a knot on the side, be flat half the time, but they played in the rain, heat and even the snow— sports was Jay’s middle name.

Jay went to Unaka High School where he became a three-sport athlete. He played basketball, baseball and football for the Rangers.   

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His basketball career saw him average over twelve points a game his senior year and with some recognition, he would try his hand at the college level.

In 1951 Jay began college at ETSU and was there for a year and a half before being drafted into the United States Army. He spent two years in the Korean conflict.

After service Jay was awarded a scholarship to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate.

Jay played baseball for the Rail Splitters and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree.

While at LMU he met his future wife, Katie Hodge, who was a cheerleader. She graduated from LMU in1956 and the couple married soon afterward.

Jay begins his first coaching and teaching job in Mountain City in 1958 where he coached basketball and baseball while being named assistant coach on the football team.

He spent two years with the Longhorns before taking a job in Hot Springs, Virginia.  One of his famous basketball stars went on to be a golf legend, J.C. Sneed, but he also won the state tournament in basketball his senior season. 

In 1963, Jay would coach the first black athlete to play for a state-supported high school in the south at Clinton High School in Clinton.

Ralph Boulware was the player’s name and his son, Peter, would become a great football player at Florida State and play in four Pro-Bowls as a Baltimore Raven.

Jay tried his hand at college sports where he took a position at Mercer University and when Coach Dwayne Morrison left for Georgia Tech, he took Jay with him.

There they coached the Yellow Jackets basketball team for eight years having much success.

Nidiffer would then work as an assistant at South Carolina before joining Cloudland native Sonny Smith at Auburn where he coached and led Auburn to the Elite Eight.

Nidiffer coached Chuck Person, who was selected fourth overall in the 1986 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers for whom he played six seasons.

He would go on to played fourteen years in the NBA and was the 1987 Rookie of the Year.

Chris Morris was another player who played eleven seasons for the New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz, and Phoenix Suns. Morris graduated at Atlanta’s Douglass High School where his jersey has been retired. 

In 1987, Nidiffer returned to LMU to serve as Athletic Director until 1991 when he decided to get back into basketball, returning to ETSU until his retirement in 1999.

Even after he retired, he still wanted to be a part of basketball and went to Walters State and was an assistant to Coach Bill Caryle.

Jay returned once again as Athletic Director to LMU in 2003 and put in five more years before he re-retired.

Nidiffer is a member of the LMU Sports Hall of Fame and was selected to the 2013 Carter County Sports Hall of Fame.

Jay was married to Katie Hodge Nidiffer for 62-years before he passed away earlier this year. Jay and his wife were active members of the First Baptist Church and he served four years as Chairman of the Carter County Republican Party.

Jay lived to be 85-years old.