Blast from the past… The wonderful life of Larry “Nanner” Bowling

Published 11:44 pm Monday, April 4, 2022

George Bailey said “No man is a failure who has friends,” Clarence replied by saying “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. I am not sure I know anyone who has more friends than Larry Bowling.
For me, my life is better for having known men like Coach Larry “Nanner” Bowling. He has become one of the most famous men in East Tennessee.
His love of sports has taken him to many cities and his love for children has made him thousands of friends. Larry grew up in Blackbottom, one of Elizabethton’s most famous communities, in the 50s and 60s.
There you could find ballfields, the community swimming pool and the Watauga River. A carnival was also there in the summertime. All the kids gathered in Blackbottom. Larry, along with Johnny Mills, would become two of the most famous Cyclones from the class of 1963.
One day, several of us were talking and Larry Bowling’s name came up. Jarfly Dugger said, “Bowling is so old, he played ball with Moses.” Dugger went on to say that he would sneak up to Larry’s house at night and put fertilizer on his lawn, so he would have to mow two times a week. We all laughed and went on our way.
Two weeks later, I was looking through some old newspaper articles and there it was in black and white. Dugger was right! The article said, “Larry Bowling and Moses exchanged baskets before Dick Ryan scored two points and put Elizabethton ahead.” Bowling did play ball with Moses and thus the jokes began.
I was at a Hunter ballgame when I heard Larry on the phone say, “I don’t have a price, my house is not for sale.” A few minutes later another call, this one from his neighbor, and again I heard Bowling say, “My house is not for sale.”
He didn’t know it, but about an hour before his first call, I had put a real estate “For Sale” sign in his front yard. We still laugh about this one and Dugger tells Sam Bradshaw I’m going to put a for sale sign in his yard.
I started inserting Larry in old pictures using Photoshop. He was at The Last Supper of Jesus; his senior class photo had him sitting for a photo using a camera from the 1800s; and his signature was below John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence. Rick Walters sent me a photo of Bowling’s first car, which was a picture of Fred Flintstone’s vehicle.
Dugger swears that Larry is the all-time leading scorer at Elizabethton High School. He says Bowling took over the scoring title after only three years of varsity play. Then in his fourth season, Bowling became a sophomore. He said that Bowling started playing for the Cyclones sometime in the 50s and graduated in 1963.
Well, Dugger is correct on this one. Bowling began playing basketball at Elizabethton in 1959 and played all four years on the varsity. He scored over 1200 points in a time when basketball was a much slower game.
No three-point shot and sometimes you only got one shot from the free throw line as teams held the ball for a good shot. It was a different time.
Bowling became a two-time all-Big Seven Champ, helping the Cyclones achieve back-to-back titles. In his senior season, he tallied over 500 points and helped the Cyclones break Kingsport’s 21-game winning streak.
He was Honorable Mention All-State and was the 1963 District One MVP, despite his team finishing third! He also was a track star, setting a long jump record that stood for decades.
He ran the 440 in 53 seconds, won the high jump at 5’8″, and set the broad jump record at 21 feet. After high school, he attended Hiwassee College, a two-year college, where he was a leader on the basketball team. In 1965, he signed with Milligan and was an instant star for the Buffaloes. His scoring and rebounding led them to many wins.
He also got to play four quarters with the Harlem Globetrotters before leaving for the Army.
In the mid-1960s, Bowling worked for the Elizabethton Star. I remember many times watching him tie up college newspapers and load them in a van. I got to ride with him and my Dad to Knoxville to deliver the papers.
Christmas was a special time for Bowling because he played Santa Claus in the Elizabethton Christmas Parade. He loved playing Santa, riding in that big sleigh and waving at all the kids, while his elves threw them candy.
Bowling became a TSSAA official, refereeing basketball and football for 53 years. He was presented the Award of Merit by the TSSAA for his many years of loyalty to area sports. Larry wanted to do more with kids, so he became a teacher and a coach. He was Don Parkey’s assistant for many years, whose teams won over 200 straight conference games and won nine consecutive Regional titles. My daughter Alice and Bowling’s daughter Heather played on some of those teams.
He married Sherry Lou Smith in 1972, a few years after returning from Korea where he had served his country from September, 1966, until December, 1968. They had a son Kevin and a daughter Heather.
After leaving the U.S. Army in ’68, he joined the Army reserves and remained there until 2002. In October of 1990, he was called up and sent to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm, where he stayed until May of 1991.
He became head coach of Unaka High School’s girls varsity basketball in 1993, where he remained for seven years. Over the next 21 years, he was an assistant coach in boys basketball, girls basketball, softball, football, and baseball. He was the team bus driver and logged thousands of miles taking the boys and girls to their games.
He drove the bus for every sport. He was an assistant in football from 1989 until 1995 under head coach Mickey Taylor, where they had some of Unaka’s winningest seasons since Lynn Goddard’s teams in the 1950s. Larry was an assistant on the 2004 Unaka Boys State Championship team. He was also an assistant on Coach Kenneth Chambers 2017 Unaka girls basketball state tournament team and the 2018 Unaka girls softball state tournament team.
Through his years in sports, Bowling has been recognized for many accomplishments. He was inducted into the Elizabethton High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame.
On April 18th, Mayor Patty Woodby will present Coach Bowling with a Proclamation on his contributions to our community. In the past few years, we started a Legends Lunch and Bowling frequently attends.
Before he leaves, he walks around to all the guys and tells them he loves them. One of Bowling’s favorite stories is when his brother, Joe Bob, came and got him out of his room and took him to play basketball. He gives Joe Bob the credit for his basketball career.
One last story – when I was walking through the hall at Hunter School, one of the teachers asked me if I knew where to send the Dear Santa letters. I told her I had the address at home and I would send it to her that afternoon.
I went by Bowling’s house, got his address from the mailbox and sent it to the teacher. All the kids mailed their Dear Santa letters to his house. Two huge mailbags arrived on his doorstep just before Christmas. He blamed Dugger.
He is very proud of his students as he taught Drivers Education  for over 40 years, not one ticket and not one wreck.

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