The Living Legend: ‘The Fly’ Softball King

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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By C.Y. Peters
Most people don’t know his first name, but he is the most recognized person in East Tennessee. After all, there is only Jarfly Dugger.
Born in the Eastside community, Dugger attended Elizabethton High School before joining the Navy. He was a Navy Corpsman with the Marines 3rd FSR, FMF home based in Okinawa from 1966 until 1970.
When he returned home, the story of a legend began.
Cherokee Park in Elizabethton was the home of fast pitch softball. Jarfly would become a renowned pitcher and travel the world playing softball. As many have said, he was simply the best there ever was. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia, when people would ask me where I lived. When I would say Elizabethton, Tennessee, countless people would ask me if I knew Jarfly Dugger. The state of South Carolina inducted him into its sports Hall of Fame, because he beat its teams so many times. One of the qualifications of being in the hall of fame is to be a resident of South Carolina; that’s how good he was.
In Japan, Jarfly played softball for the United States of America. He sat on the bench for two years before he learned to throw a strike. Back home he teamed up with guys like Willie Malone, Kent Williams, Sam Bradshaw, Scotty Bunton and Wes Holly. Holly was his third baseman and was as quick as a cat. Bunton was his catcher and called all of his pitches. “Jar is the real deal as a teammate and a friend,” Bunton said.
Jarfly once beat the World Famous King and his Court, one of the best fast pitch softball teams ever; that’s how good he was. Jarfly could throw a fastball, a riser, a super drop pitch, a curveball and the best change up you would ever see. People have swung three times trying to hit that slow change up pitch.
Jarfly started playing softball for the Eastside Baptist Church in the 1960s at the age of 13. His first coach was Clyde “Baldy” Bullock, an ex-Marine who brought his Marine training to the ballfield.
“He was my toughest coach,” Dugger said, adding he inspired Dugger to pursue pitching.
“You are young and you can do whatever you want,” Baldy told Dugger. After playing for several teams, including the great Camara Inn team, Dugger started playing for Carter County Bank, where he teamed up with Wes Holly and Joe Colbaugh. They played in a lot of tournaments and went to the 1974 Tennessee State Tournament. Jarfly’s buddy, Jim Ensor, also played on that team that beat the defending state champs in the first game. Almost every weekend they were playing in a tournament somewhere.
Scotty and Jarfly traveled as a team playing for Rawl Coal Company in Matewan, West Virginia. Then they traveled to North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, where he played with Rick Anderson and Little Wes Holly. When Jarfly pitched, Wes would play third base and would only be about 15 feet from home plate. But Wes was never hit.  He knew no one could get the bat around on Jarfly’s pitching. He was as safe as being behind a brick wall.
Jarfly went on to play in Shelby, North Carolina, where he won 76 games in five years, pitching against the best teams in five states. His team went on to win the 1993 State Tournament where he was voted MVP. Jarfly played in the National Tournament where he won four games, losing only to Federal Lock and Key, who won the National Title. He also pitched a one-hitter against Dyersburg in the Tennessee State Tournament. In his career, he threw an astounding 46 no-hitters and an untold number of one-hitters.
His brother, Ken, was the best hitter he ever faced. Ken laid down a bunt against Jarfly’s team in a game that broke up a no-hitter. Ken was a very smart player. When Jarfly decided to hang it up he said, “The worst moment in all my career was the last pitch I threw.” He loved the game that much. “I had told them before the game, this is my last game. It was in 1996 and my catcher called timeout and walked to the mound. The count was two balls and two strikes and it was the last inning. My catcher told me if this is it, If this is really your last game, I want to see what you’ve got. He told me to go out on a strikeout. That’s when it really hit me, a career of 35 years was coming to an end. That was probably the hardest pitch I ever threw: a riser, that the batter missed about a foot. Then it was over.”
In his younger days Jarfly was pretty wild. If you crowded the plate, one pitch might catch you in the side of the head. It was his field, his game, and everyone knew that the pitcher controlled the game. He was the king of the mound, never replaced. If he started the game, he finished it; there were no relief pitchers. Jarfly remembered pitching 35 innings in a single day, four games and the last one went into 14 innings. In the final game he collected 23 strikeouts. His team won all four games and Scotty Bunton caught all four games.
While that was Jarfly’s softball career, he also shined at his job at United Telephone. If your phone was torn up, you called Jarfly. Every person on the creek that had a landline phone had Jarfly’s name written in the back of the phone book with his personal phone number. Whatever you needed, an extra jack, a longer phone cord or if your phone just wasn’t working correctly, you called Jarfly.
Jarfly is credited for helping kids graduate from school. For decades, he has helped many a girl learn the art of fast pitch softball, whether they attend Unaka, Happy Valley, Elizabethton, Hampton or wherever. He’s even helped some Unaka Elementary girls prepare for softball at the high school level.
 Jarfly doesn’t remember all the girls he has worked with but it’s well over a hundred. Ryann Musick was his first left-hander; Katie Robinson from Elizabethton, Sadie Shoun, and Trinity Bowers were super players; and Sallee Taylor was a good pitcher and a great athlete. “I had a lot of fun with her,” Jarfly said. Carla Buckles Brown from Hampton went on to college and all these girls went on to college, Dugger said. Corey Schuettler is at Cloudland, now back teaching what she learned in softball.
“Alana Parsons wasn’t a pitcher but I worked with her since she was about 10 years old. She and Brittney were two of the best hitters I have ever seen,” he said. “Then the catchers, Cat McInturff and Amy Holt, then Katie Johnson just graduated from UVA Wise. She was a great basketball player as well as softball. Then Megan Heaton was there all the time.
“It just pleases me to look out there and see these girls play and in all the years I’ve only had one that’s gone, Jessica Robinson. She was really special to me,” Jarfly said. “One thing about these girls that are successful they have really good parents. You can’t be negative with girls. Once you make a girl cry, they are done. I don’t holler at the girls if I have something to say; only me and her hear it, you don’t embarrass a girl. To sum it all up and look at the big picture, I’m still playing through them.”
Jarfly also became a movie star, playing beside Mel Gibson in the movie, “The River,” where Jarfly did the pitching for Gibson. The River was filmed in the Holston Valley area of Church Hill, Tennessee. The filmmakers purchased 440 acres (1.8 km2) along the Holston River for the farm set and planted corn. Most of the filming was done along Goshen Valley Road and around the Goshen Valley Park area. Goshen Valley Road heads south from Highway 11W in Church Hill, Tennessee. The cast and their families moved to the area a month before the start of production, to connect with the local people and learn farming skills. The floods in the film were supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers with water from the Fort Patrick Henry Dam.
In 1980, Jarfly was voted the craziest of the craziest. Radio station WQUT promoted Crazy Thursday, a day set aside to ease the burden of the everyday working person. As the search began for a President of Crazy Thursday, nominees poured in, like The Midnight Rambler, Dr. Zeke and television’s Mr. Bill. Tom Klein’s morning show proceeded with the votes by telephone. Jarfly won with 624 votes, followed by The Midnight Rambler with 500 votes. Jarfly was inaugurated on Sunday, June 15, 1980, during a baseball game that raised money for the Carter County Boys Club and the Johnson City Girls Club.
Known all over the world, Jarfly still lives in Eastside; he still attends Eastside Baptist and this makes his 72nd year in attendance there. You can also usually find him at the Legend Lunches at Dino’s every Wednesday in Elizabethton.
Richard “Jarfly” Dugger was inducted into the USA Softball Tennessee Hall of Fame in 2006 and is a member of the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 2012. Since that first induction he has been the emcee for most of the Hall of Fame inductions.

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