“You have to want to win” – a tribute to Coach Len Dugger

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Tennessee’s winningest basketball Coach Walter “Buck” Van Huss’ favorite saying was, “You have to want to win,” and no one wanted to win more than former Elizabethton Cyclones basketball coach Len Dugger.

Dugger played for Van Huss before he took the coaching job at D-B and after college, Dugger’s basketball coaching career begin at Hampton where he took the junior varsity coaching position under Coach Jerry White.

Dugger won 189 games while losing only 28 as a junior varsity coach.

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Dugger was named boys basketball coach at Elizabethton way back in 1979 and to watch him coach you would never think he could be a girls’ coach.

His long practices challenged the endurance of his players and pushed them way beyond what they might have thought possible; these attributes, along with their Hall of Fame coach’s relentless will to win, were the qualities that produced so many championship-level players.

Dugger coached many great players during his early career coaching the Elizabethton boys’ team and he took one team to the state tournament. He placed fourth in the 1983 Arby’s Classic and fifth the following year. 

Some of Dugger’s players included Elvin Brown who went on to play at Tennessee. Chris Troutman attended South Carolina and Emily Schubert will be a red-shirt junior at Duke this fall. Former Lady Cyclones coached by Dugger who went on to play for Milligan were Megan Pietrowski, Melenda Perry and Emily Kiser plus two-time All-American Sarah Robinson, all teammates on Elizabethton’s state championship team.

The Marosites twins signed with ETSU before transferring to Carson-Newman.

Kiser, now heading into her senior year at Milligan, Chelsea Bowling, Reazyn DeMoss and Whitney Roberts all played for King.

Morgan Depew played at Tusculum College. Cara Bowling spent four years as a Buccaneer and Kelli Culler and Kristen Powell was Regional MVPs for the Lady Cyclones.

Erin Kiser was a big instrumental builder and a very dedicated player.

Mariah Pietrowski garnered all-state tournament team honors her senior season and was a two-time all-district honoree while earning all-region accolades two times.

She netted over 1,000 points and was Co-Player of the Year for Carter County, first-team Johnson City Press, All-Northeast Tennessee team, a two-time all-conference selection in volleyball, and was a member of the National Honor Society.

Keith Turner and James Henry both went on to play at Tennessee Tech. Chuck Maggett, a key player for Dugger, was on the ’83 team and watched his daughter Savannah play for Coach Dugger as well. 

After leaving the boys, Dugger took off coaching high school for over ten years before returning as girls’ coach at EHS.

You have to want to win and in 2012, Dugger ran into a bunch of girls who shared this goal. He could not ride them hard enough to break them.

They stood by his side, worked hard every day, and became champions. They would outwork Dugger, coming to him for practice or to shoot basketball even after practices.

To them, every day was a basketball day and everyone knows hard work pays off. Dugger surrounded himself and his players with great assistant coaches like Eddie Carver who had been a former head coach and played basketball at Milligan College.

Richard Hyder, a longtime friend, and a player on the 1960 Hampton TSSAA State Championship team, and Elvin Brown who played for Dugger and also played three years for the University of Tennessee.

Coach Bobby Chambers and scorekeeper Perry Perkins, who was one of Johnson Counties best-ever players.  He added Todd Whittemore who coached at Volunteer before joining Austin Atwood at Mountain City where they hosted camps for kids in elementary and high school.

Russ Lyons, Will Conley, John Young, and Brandon Nave were also a few more that lent a hand.

Dugger attended many games and never lost the love for sports.

His return in 2007 re-kindled a fire that had been burning for years. Dugger’s girls’ brought thousands of fans to Treadway gym to watch his great teams and they followed him to Murfreesboro for four straight years.

Dugger’s love for the game of basketball guided him to eight Regional titles and six District titles.

In his final four years as ‘Betsy’s coach, he won all four League, District, Regionals and Sub-states titles and a State Championship.

In his final two seasons, his only defeats were in the state tournament for an incredible 67-2 record and a winning percentage of .903. His overall wins stand at 732. They cut a lot of nets down under Dugger’s leadership.

Kayla Marosites was voted the best player in the state of Tennessee and was MVP in the state tournament. Kayla was also named A.A. Miss basketball as a junior.

She, as a three-year starter, averaged 21.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 4.3 steals per game. She shot 54.8% from the field, 45.2% from three-point range, and 86.4% from the free throw line.

Her sister, Kelci, also scored over 1000 points by her junior season.

Johnson County girls’ basketball coach Leon Tolley said, “Len could take his team and beat yours, and then take yours and beat his.”

Former Voice of the Cyclones John Holsclaw once said, “Nobody is going to duplicate what they did,” some scored over 1000 points as a Cyclone and many went to college and played basketball at that level. 

Dugger never left sports during his time away from high school coaching.

He was a Boys’ Club coach, a baseball coach alongside former pro player Jeff Reed who played for the Minnesota Twins (1984–1986), Montreal Expos (1987–1988), Cincinnati Reds (1988–1992), San Francisco Giants (1993–1995), Colorado Rockies (1996–1998) and Chicago Cubs (1999–2000).    

Dugger would always say things like, “Everyone on the line.” “You look like a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.”

“You’d make the Pope lose his religion.”

“Basically, we just want him to know that we love him and appreciate all that he’s done for us in basketball, but more importantly in everyday life,” stated Emily Kiser.   

In the mid-’80s, Dugger coached Emily’s father, Kevin, and Keith Turner who won the league scoring title in 1983.

He took the boys team to the first state tournament appearance in over 40 years and won over 500 games coaching boys’ basketball.   

He ranks as Carter County’s fifth winningest coach of all time behind Buck Van Huss, John Treadway, Charlie Bayless and Jerry White. 

Former heavyweight Champ Deacon Bowers once said “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you can get back up,” and for Len, he was knocked down when the boys were on top.

His last year, 1995, the team went 23-5.   

Josh Wandell, Patrick Norman, Adam Walton and the Gilmer boys played on that team and three of them were juniors.

They were a solid team and may have been Dugger’s best boys’ team. While coaching boys’ basketball, Coach Dugger had 37 boys that went on to play college basketball.

Another knockdown came when his girls final two seasons were over, undefeated and 67-0 in regular season play.

Dugger pleaded with his players to play hard, he asked the ref’s for fair calls and questioned them when he disagreed.   

He built character for his players, and he instilled church, family, and then basketball in them. His players became champions, he earned respect from the officials, and for his followers and loyal fans, he fulfilled many dreams and left them with a lifetime of memories.