50 years ago: Remembering Happy Valley’s 1974 State Championship Season

Published 2:55 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2023

1974 state champs to gather

By Buff Walker

It’s hard to believe that the current basketball season represents 50 years since we (Happy Valley) won the Class S State Championship in the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis on March 15, 1974, under the guidance of legendary coach Charlie Bayless. We knew that we had a good team in the 1973-74 season.  

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The prior year we had played a tough schedule, playing both Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill twice.  D-B finished 36-3 and State Class L Runner-up, losing to Gallatin by three in the finals.  Science Hill lost to Gallatin in the state semifinals, 57-54, and finished 30-3.  We had beaten Lynn View in double overtime in the Ketron Classic during the Christmas holidays; I hit a game-winning field goal at ETSU as we completed a comeback to beat University High 46-45; we beat Elizabethton by 16 with the 1-2 punch of Marty Street and Teddy McKeehan having their typical good game; we beat Daniel Boone by eight and finished the regular season with a comeback win at home over Unicoi County, 49-48, when Teddy McKeehan hit two free throws with five seconds left.  

We finished runner-up to Hampton in the District One finals, unable to overcome a 4-22 first half shooting performance. We advanced to the Region One tourney at Morristown East and had to overcome a 14-2 early deficit to Rutledge in the Quarterfinals to win, 65-64.  We were knocked out by Gatlinburg-Pittman in the Semifinals, 52-47, to keep us from a rematch with Hampton in the finals, which Hampton won. G-P won their substate and lost in the Class S state semifinals to eventual champion, Collierville. 

Hampton had a great team and probably would have won it all if not for a freak car accident the morning they were to leave for the state tournament (held in Knoxville in ’73) that involved their senior All-State player, Barry Phillips.  They had to play their opening game in Knoxville the day after the accident and Barry was not his usual self by any stretch of the imagination.  Hampton lost to Peabody, who lost by one point in the finals to Collierville, 64-63. 

One of our key players, Phil Goulds, had broken a bone in his foot and missed the last three games of the regular season and the entire postseason. All that is to say that, in 1973-74, having all but one player back, we felt we could play with anyone in Class S.  We also knew that Hampton was loaded with most of their players back.

Through mid-December of 1973, we were feeling pretty good, having won eight of our first nine games.  Our only loss was by four to Unicoi County when we went 5-12 at the foul line.  We had won at Science Hill (Big 9 Champs that year), 58-53, and had beaten a strong David Crockett team twice and a good University High team at ETSU by nine.  On December 20, 1973, we hosted Dobyns-Bennett with both teams coming in with 8-1 records.  D-B’s only loss was in November, at home, to Hampton, 61-60. 

Three days before D-B played us (December 17th), they avenged their only loss by beating Hampton, 66-60, in overtime, at Hampton.  We had our biggest lead of the night, 29-18, early in the 3rd quarter.  It was rare for us to lose a second half lead, especially one like that.  The game was tied at 44, but D-B won 47-45.  We made only 5-10 free throws. Dobyns-Bennett was one of the better teams in the state, but was upset by Greeneville, 44-43, in their Region Semifinals.

Eight days after the disheartening loss to D-B (which many of us players still remember well today), we played in the Hampton Holiday Round Robin. We beat a very good Cloudland team led by Grady Hill and Barry Stocton, 67-46, and Hampton beat Unicoi County by five.  

This set up our first meeting with Hampton, who was now 14-1.  Marty got in foul trouble in the first half, but Teddy led us to a 28-26 lead at the break.  The lead changed hands throughout the game, but the difference was Hampton’s dominance on the boards, securing 32 rebounds to our 18.  Hampton won, 48-46, which didn’t count as a conference game.  We took our frustrations out on Science Hill, beating them 65-48, at home in our next game.  By the way, we made 15-17 free throws against the Toppers…what a difference making those jewels are!  

We followed that game with wins over University High and Cloudland and moved to #3 in the state!  Daniel Boone (Upper Lakes Conference Champ that year) then brought us back down to earth, beating us at home, with our first official conference game against Hampton, at home, next. January 15, 1974, had Happy Valley at 6-0 and Hampton at 5-0 in the Watauga Conference.  

Hampton entered the game at 18-1 overall, having lost only to Dobyns-Bennett in overtime in December, and was ranked #1 in the state.  It was another battle, as we led 23-22 at the half.  Randy “Chopper” Ingram made a key three-point play in the 3rd quarter and the Bulldogs led 34-30 to begin the 4th.  Hampton, who had a legendary coach of their own in Jerry White, stretched the lead to 40-33 with over five minutes left. 

Coach White decided to do something that Coach Bayless would certainly have done if his Warrior team had the lead.  Hampton decided to freeze the ball.  It pulled us out of our zone and we went to man to man defense.  We pulled to within four, at 46-42, with just over two minutes left.  

Hampton was incredible at the free throw line, at one point hitting 12 straight and finished with an outstanding 20-22 for the night.  Hampton won 54-47.  We had to hear Hampton fans yelling, “We’re #1, we’re #1,” in our own gym.  Our next game, we blew out Johnson County, 75-48, behind Randy Curde’s hot hand, followed by the consistent, outstanding tandem of Marty and Teddy.

We moved back up to #5 in the state ranking and won at South Greene before we had to reschedule a home game against Elizabethton due to the passing of Jeff Sisk’s mother. Our first game after that, we exploded for a 94-51 win at home over Unaka. We got another shot at Daniel Boone and Marty was off the charts great, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. 

Phil Goulds and Teddy had their usual good games and I hit two free throws with two seconds left to provide the final margin of victory, 58-56.  We then beat Elizabethton by 28 and South Greene by 18.  We were rolling, with a game at Hampton and the conference lead at stake.  Hampton was 25-1, 9-0 in the conference and was #1 in the state.  

For future reference, Maury City was 21-2 and #3 in the state; Knox Catholic had won 12 straight and had moved up to #6.  Hampton had not lost since November and had now won 13 straight.  We had won six in row, were 18-5 overall, 10-1 in the conference and were ranked #7 in the state.  If we win this game, we are guaranteed at least a share of the conference title.  Like our previous games with Hampton, this was standing room only, with some fans turned away. Hampton shot the ball well and the downtown shooting of Randy Waycaster (finished with 28) and the inside work of Gary Leonard (scored 20) led Hampton to a whopping 55-37 lead after three. Coach Bayless had us go to a full court press with just over seven minutes left.  It worked big time.  

With 2:45 left, we had pulled within five points, at 60-55.  Marty had been phenomenal and finished with 29, but it was not enough.  Once again, Hampton’s tremendous foul shooting kept us at bay, as they hit 11 of 12 free throws in the last two minutes and won, 74-64.  It was the most points any team had scored on us all year.  While we lost, we also knew that our defense was not going to let that happen again and our comeback, outscoring them 18-5 in less than five minutes in the 4th, reassured us that we could hang with Hampton.  Hampton would go on to finish the conference at 12-0 and we finished second at 10-2.

A week went by before we played again and we lost a close game at Elizabethton and then Unicoi County hit a foul shot with three seconds left to win by one on their home court.  We were reeling a bit after three straight road losses.  Our fourth straight road game was against Washington College Academy in our final regular season game.  

We jumped on them early and were up 42-12 at the half, as everyone on the team saw plenty of action in the 92-29 blowout.  Our first District Tournament game was only five days away and we drew University High. We struggled in our District opener, shot only 32% and truly escaped with a 36-34 win over University High.  We had another tough night shooting against Sullivan West in the semifinals and were upset, 46-41. 

We beat a very good Surgoinsville team, 60-57 in the consolation to advance to the regional.  Hampton continued to roll, winning the district.  Our losing the district semi put us in the same portion of the region bracket as Hampton.

We seemed to get it back together and our defense was top notch as we rolled over Hancock County, 62-44, while our fans chanted, “We want Hampton, we want Hampton,” in the 4th quarter.  Hampton crushed Rush Strong, 87-44, to advance.  The Region One semifinal was set.  Hampton, winner of 21 straight and still #1 in the state, was now 33-1 overall.

This was our 4th meeting with Hampton.  We had played against most of these guys throughout elementary and high school.  There weren’t going to be any surprises.  Hampton was #1 in all the polls with ONE EXCEPTION.  Dr. Litkenhous’ poll (“Dr. Lit”) had us #1, Hampton #2, Maury City #3, and Knox Catholic #6.  We believed in ourselves.  We felt good about our 4th quarter push in the last game less than a month prior.  We had heard that there were a lot of Hampton fans who had made their reservations in Memphis for the state tournament.  

That just added fuel to our desire to pull off what many felt would be an upset.

Our defense was fierce and our offense was deliberate.  We were going to control the tempo in this game from start to finish.  We led only 6-4 at the end of one and led 16-15 at the half.  The sellout crowd was tense and play was physical, but the refs were letting us play.  

Things got chippy near the end of the 3rd period.  Marty picked up his 4th foul with just under two minutes left and sat out the rest of the period and most of the 4th. Randy “Yogi” Williams came on in relief and was outstanding. Nobody was going to move Randy off the block and when he blocked you out for a rebound, you felt it.  The physical play reached a fever pitch with 15 seconds left in the 3rd when Teddy McKeehan was upset with Randy Dunlap’s physicality and basically forearmed him to the floor near the stage.  

Teddy was called for a flagrant foul and ejected from the game.  Dunlap hit his two free throws and Hampton led at the end of three, 23-22.  Through three quarters, despite the physical play on both teams, Hampton had attempted only 12 free throws and we had not attempted any.  

We were fired up over Teddy’s ejection and more determined than ever.  Hampton tried a full court press in the 4th and we broke it easily.  Phil Goulds hit a layup and two free throws and we led 26-23.  After a Randy Waycaster bucket, Phil and Jeff Sisk scored on layups to make it 30-25.  Waycaster made two foul shots to make it 30-27 with just under two minutes left.  

Coach Bayless had us in a weave offense.  I broke off the weave and drove to score on a layup; our defense held and we went into the weave again.  Randy Curde scored to make it 34-27.  With the score 35-30, Marty was back in the game and we worked it into him and, after being fouled, hit two free throws to make it 37-30 with 34 seconds left.  We got a steal and Randy “Yogi” Williams scored and was fouled and his free throw completed the scoring, as we won, 40-30. 

It was a hard fought game both physically and emotionally.  Hampton finished 10-18 from the line and we shot all 14 of our free throws in the 4th quarter as Hampton had to foul, but we only made six.  I’ll never forget the noise and happiness in our dressing room. Coach Bayless stepped out because he thought we might throw him in the shower!  Some outsiders were concerned about us having a letdown after beating Hampton. No way.  

At this point, we felt we were the team to beat.  We beat Sullivan West 51-43, for Coach Bayless’ first Region Championship and Happy Valley’s first since the State Championship team of 1950 beat Tennessee High, 47-40, for the Region title!  Marty was the MVP of the tournament while Teddy McKeehan and Phil Goulds were also selected to the Region All-Tournament team.

We had little trouble disposing of Friendsville, 55-39, two nights later in the sub-state game at Morristown East.  Now it was on to Memphis!  We opened against Maury City, who was 29-4.  We couldn’t throw it in the ocean.  Marty and Teddy were a combined 4-30 shooting.  We went over 13 minutes without scoring a point and trailed 22-12 with a minute left in the 3rd quarter!  Marty scored to make it 22-14 at the end of three.  I scored a field goal with under seven minutes left to make it 22-16 and Phil scored two buckets to make it 24-20.  Game on.  It was 26-21 with just over three minutes left when Marty fouled out.  Randy Curde and Teddy scored to make it 26-25.  Our 1-3-1 defense never wavered.  

We got a turnover and had the ball with 43 seconds left.  We were going to play for either the last shot or a clean shot from relatively close.  Phil, Teddy, Randy Curde and I passed the ball around the outside as Jeff Sisk moved around on the inside.  Time was running out.  When Phil passed the ball to me, I checked the clock and knew this was the last pass I was going to make in this game.  I flipped it to Randy.  If he passed it back, I was shooting it. Fortunately for us, Randy decided to dribble and twist his way for a layup with four seconds left to lift us to a “beautifully ugly” 27-26 win.  

Our defense earned that win, since we only shot 23% for the game!  Next up was Battle Ground Academy, who won their opening round game, 64-54, to move to 25-8.  Marty and Teddy had their normal great games against BGA in the semis, with a combined 32 points and 18 rebounds.  Although we played much better, we had a tough time with BGA and with 55 seconds left and the game tied at 37, they had the ball. They ran the clock down, using three timeouts when our defense caused them problems.  Coming out of their last timeout with nine seconds left, BGA worked closer to the basket and Marty made a tremendous defensive play to steal the pass with one second left.  We headed to overtime. BGA had taken a 39-38 lead, but Marty hit a layup with 16 seconds left; we got a steal and I hit a foul shot with 5 seconds left to make the final, 41-39. Knox Catholic won their semifinal game 84-62 to move to 32-4 with their 26th straight victory. 

They were a cocky bunch and we were going to play them for the title the next night. The day of the game, Marty came and got a few of us to show us something he found.  We were staying at an Admiral Benbow (yikes!) and Knox Catholic was at a Holiday Inn.  Marty took us to the Holiday Inn and showed us a big conference room all decked out in Knox Catholic’s green and gold, with a “Congratulations State Champs” banner already hung.  

We used that as well as the pregame introductions that night to motivate us even further.  The game was televised across the state and each player from Knox Catholic took their turn running to half court, to be introduced for the television cameras, and held up their index finger to indicate they were #1.  We told each other to not do anything in response; go to half court when your name was called, smile (or not) and run back.

The final was a nip and tuck affair.  We led 22-20 at the half. At the end of three, it was tied at 36.  Phil put us in front at 38-36, but Catholic came back to go ahead 39-38.  We were deliberate on offense and I ran as fast as I ever have to save an errant throw from going out of bounds and Teddy made it pay off with a goal to put us up 40-39.  Marty blocked a shot and scored on the other end to put us up 42-39.  We had held their All-State guard, Greg Patterson, to two points, but their All-State forward, Matt Brown, was hard to keep down.  He made a free throw and then came back with a big field goal to tie it at 42 with 43 seconds left.  

We were going to hold it for one shot. Coach Bayless decided not to call a timeout and motioned from the bench to go for the last shot. Phil, Teddy and I moved it around on the outside while Marty and Jeff roamed the inside. Our plan and everyone knew it, was to get Marty a good shot. The clock moved under eight seconds. The ball went to the side to Teddy and he passed it into Marty, who was immediately triple-teamed. Jeff made a move underneath the basket on the opposite side of the lane and Marty flipped a “perfect pass” to Jeff, who laid it in with three seconds left and we won, 44-42.  

How appropriate it was for the winning basket for the emotional State Championship victory to be made by Jeff, who had lost his mother less than two months before. Teddy was selected to the five-man all-tourney team and Marty was named the MVP.

An important part of our success was our cheerleaders, who kept the hundreds of our fans who made the 500 mile trek to Memphis, excited and involved from the first game to the last.  No other team we played came anywhere close to having the support our cheerleaders and fans gave us. One could say that our cheerleaders started our whole year out right by winning a ton of awards at a cheerleading camp at Tennessee Tech in the summer of ’73.

We had our own All-Staters in Marty and Teddy, but they were quick to say that it was truly a team effort.  The Elizabethton Star said that we might not be the best Happy Valley team ever (I would agree), but this team “was blessed with the courage and attitude it takes to be a State Champion.” The Johnson City paper labeled us, “The Wonder Warriors” because we had won our three state tournament games by a total of five points.  A writer in Memphis observed a spectator saying, “Happy Valley MAKES you come down to their level.”   The Knoxville paper said our victory was “a tribute to their never-say-die defense and their exceptional hustle.”

As we got closer to home from the long bus ride from Memphis, cars lined up along the Jonesborough Highway.  It only got more crowded as we weaved our way through town and into Elizabethton before arriving to a packed gym and throngs of fans on Warrior Hill to celebrate.  It’s a memory of a lifetime.

The 1974 team and cheerleaders will be honored before the Happy Valley home game against South Greene on Friday, January 12, 2024.   The team and cheerleaders (and current Happy Valley coach, Shane Williams) are also having a little get together at The Black Olive in Elizabethton on January 11th, at 6:30.  You are welcome to stop by and say hello.  We’d love to hear your memories of back then and/or even meet some people who weren’t born yet, but would like to meet the team and hear stories from “back in the day.”  We hope you come to one or both of these and share in our memory.