Blast from the Past: The Coach of all Coaches, “Walter “Buck” VanHuss

Published 9:55 am Thursday, July 14, 2022

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BY C.Y. Peters

Nothing great is ever achieved without tremendous leadership. That leadership can take multiple forms in sports. Whether focused on strategy, work ethic, pure enthusiasm or level-headedness, the profound words of great leaders have led teams to historic achievements.

Playing basketball for Coach “Walter “Buck” VanHuss must have been worse than any Gomer Pyle could have ever expected.  Sergeant Carter was a wimp compared to the late, great Coach Vanhuss. I only worked a few games for Coach, and mostly during the summer games. I remember one time he had Coach Bayless and the Happy Valley Warriors over, and Bayless had a good team that year, but Coach Vanhuss’s Kingsport team was loaded.

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Coach Bayless’ full court press surprised Vanhuss’s Indians, and a running, gunning Warrior team put up over twenty points in just a few minutes. Vanhuss stopped the game, brought me and my referee friend over five bucks each, and said the game was over.  He made his players leave the gym, most still in their shorts for they were not good enough to play on his team. He apologized to Coach Bayless and we all left. I think Coach Vanhuss and Coach Bayless went and played golf. By November the Indians were hitting on all cylinders and won over 30 games.

He demanded respect, and he got it. One of Hampton’s greatest players and Coach Vanhuss’s favorite Willie Malone was what he thought was on time to catch the bus for a game at Science Hill, but as Malone was pulling into the parking lot as the bus pulled out. he knew he had better be 30 minutes early if he wanted to ride the bus to the games. Vanhuss waited for no one. Malone would write a book about Vanhuss nearly thirty years later and a couple of years before his death.

Coach Vanhuss won his only state title at Hampton in 1960 with his tallest player at 6’1.  Malone and Carl Roberson made All-State from that team, who didn’t even win the District.  Coach Vanhuss always said that was my best team and the one he talked about the most. The Bulldogs won 44 games that year with only four losses. They played in black high-top Converse shoes.

During the summer Coach VanHuss had them practice in Army boots, and he took the goals down and put up ones that the ball would barely go in. By the time the season started, they could jump out of the gym. The goal seemed so big that they scored 115 points in a single game. The game was against Lamar, who also went to the state tournament that year.

Eighteen teams were in the state that year and Hampton had to win five games to become champs. They had to beat two unbeaten teams in back-to-back games. Roberson said Buck was like a second dad to him. One time he had a sprained ankle, and Coach Vanhuss made sure he had crutches.  When he was sick, Coach Vanhuss would send him to the doctor.

Pastor Bobby Stout played on two of Coach VanHuss’s state tournament teams. Bobby said Coach taught them about tipping. They were at the S & W restaurant in Nashville, and Coach Vanhuss would give them a dime before they ate to tip the waiters. Jerry White, who went on to coach at Hampton from the early 1970s until 2011, was also on that team and was a big part of beating Union City in the finals.

Coach Vanhuss only losing season was his very first year. He won only ten games and lost sixteen in the 1954 season. After that, he had 36 straight winning seasons. Coach Vanhuss was 35 years old before he began coaching. He helped at the Carter County Boys Club and also umpired many little league games. Fourteen times he won more than 30 games in a season.

In 1972 and 73 he won 38 games and 36 games and lost only three games while finishing state runner-up in the 1973 state title game losing to Gallatin.  Coach Vanhuss’s team led the entire game until the final seconds. This loss hurt Coach Vanhuss a lot, and he never for over it.

One of his greatest players from Dobyns Bennett was Skip Brown, who played on both of those teams. Brown went on to play at Wake Forest and in his sophomore season averaged over 22-points per games. Skip scored 2034 points at Wake, and his jersey was retired. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics.

Coach Vanhuss won many coaching awards during the years and served on the Elizabethton City Council. He was National Coach of the year three times, and was inducted into the following Hall of Fames: E.T.S.U in 1978, Northeast Tennessee in 1983, the TSSAA in 1983, the Lincoln Memorial and the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Coach Vanhuss coached at Elizabethton for one year, then Hampton from 1954 until 1967 and Kingsport from 1967 until 1990. He passed away at the age of 71 during open heart surgery.

Jerry White said “I may have been an outlaw if it hadn’t been for Coach VanHuss, he bought me my very first suit of clothes. He cared about young players, said Jimmy Ensor.  Ensor played for Elizabethton along with Butch Issacs and Larry Bowling, and he took them to Brevard College for a try-out.

Buck once said, “Winning the state tournament wasn’t a dream come true because we never dreamed we could win one.