Blast from the Past: Sonny Pierce, revered TSSAA referee, celebrates 90 years of a lifetime on the field

Published 8:36 am Monday, December 4, 2023

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BY C.Y. Peters

Sonny Pierce, a distinguished figure in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), reflects on a lifelong journey woven with sportsmanship, dedication, and unwavering commitment as he celebrates his 90th birthday. Pierce’s legacy as a TSSAA referee for 42 illustrious years remains an indelible mark in local sports history.

Pierce’s saga commenced when he married his beloved Emma Ann Wooten and was subsequently drafted, serving in Korea in the late 1950s. Despite the hardships of war, Pierce’s love for sports persevered. He transitioned into officiating, imprinting his expertise across baseball, softball, basketball, and football games, becoming a revered figure on the field.

Even at 82, Pierce’s passion for officiating remained undiminished until a tragic accident while en route to a game at Milligan College brought his stellar career to an unexpected halt.

His legacy continued to flourish, rooted in his work at the N.A.R.C for nearly 25 years until the plant closed.

Family remained central to Pierce’s life. With his wife Ann, they raised their son, Chris, who now has two children. The late 1970s and 1980s saw Pierce and E.J. Johnson co-managing local basketball and softball industrial leagues, with Pierce as a player-coach and Johnson meticulously maintaining scorebooks.

Pierce’s philanthropic endeavors shone brightly as he collaborated with Al King, organizing heart-fund tournaments for the Red Cross and staging a poignant cancer basketball tournament in honor of a former player.

His contributions didn’t go unnoticed. The TSSAA honored Pierce with awards for his meritorious service, while Boys Town recognized his invaluable assistance to children. He comes from a family of achievers, with brothers Joel, an assigning office for various TSSAA sports, and Jerry, a talented musician.

In 2017, the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Pierce, acknowledging his exceptional contributions to local sports. As he marks nine decades of a life dedicated to the spirit of fair play and camaraderie within sports, Pierce remains a beacon of integrity and passion for all who have had the privilege of witnessing his sporting journey.

In the words of Pierce himself, “It’s not just about the game; it’s about the values we instill and the lives we touch through sports.”

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