Remembering the legendary 1972-73 Unaka Rangers basketball team

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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By C.Y. Peters

In East Tennessee basketball lore, the 1972-73 season stands as a testament to the golden era of elementary basketball. Among the luminaries of the court were the Unaka Rangers, a team whose legacy still echoes through the decades. Led by exceptional coaching and a roster of talented players, the Rangers soared to unparalleled heights, carving their names into the history books with an unforgettable season.

In the heart of Carter County, where basketball was more than just a sport but a way of life, three teams reigned supreme: Unaka, Midway, and Keenburg. The rivalry between these powerhouses electrified the community, each game a spectacle of skill and determination. Throughout the season, these titans battled fiercely, each vying for the coveted top spot.

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At the helm of the Unaka Rangers stood Coach Norman White, a master tactician whose leadership propelled his team to greatness. Alongside him were Daniel Holder of Midway and Richard Ensor of Keenburg, guiding their respective teams with unwavering dedication.

For the Unaka Rangers, the starting lineup boasted names that would become legendary: Mike Nave, Perry Rambo, Noel Branch, Glenn Morris, and Charles Peters and Alan Ensor providing invaluable support off the bench taking turns as starters, one a guard the other a forward. Together, they formed a formidable force on the court, executing plays with precision and flair.  Midway had players like Donnie Blevins, Ed Holder,  Dale Williams and Steve Estep, and Keenburg had Big Ernie Morrell, Carpenter and Marc Campbell who went on to be Keenburg’s leading scorer.  Siam’s top guns were Tim Heaton, Johnny Combs and Charlie Edwards.  Valley Forge had a great group of talent including Tim Chambers, David Snyder, Craig Fair and Dino Senesi along with Johnny Barnett and Jack Tester.

As the season unfolded, the competition reached a fever pitch. Unaka, Midway, and Keenburg remained locked in a three-way tie for first place, each team boasting an impressive 13-1 record. Memorable victories and hard-fought battles punctuated their journey, with Unaka’s only loss coming at the hands of Midway in a thrilling 33-31 showdown.

In the quest for supremacy, the Rangers showcased their dominance, sweeping through league, county, district, and regional tournaments with unparalleled finesse. With a remarkable 30-1 record, they left a trail of defeated opponents in their wake, their triumphs etching an indelible mark on the sport.

Yet, the road to glory was not without its challenges. Fierce competitors like Donnie Blevins of Midway and the formidable Big Ernie Morrell of Keenburg posed formidable obstacles, pushing the Rangers to their limits. But with unwavering resolve and a commitment to excellence, they overcame every obstacle in their path.

As the season culminated in the championship showdown, the Rangers faced off against Keenburg once more, their fifth encounter of the season. In a display of sheer brilliance, they emerged victorious, securing their rightful place in the annals of basketball history with a 53-41 win.

Decades may have passed since that fateful season, but the memories of the 1972-73 Unaka Rangers basketball team continue to resonate. Their legacy serves as a beacon of inspiration for future generations, a reminder of what can be achieved through teamwork, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of greatness. In an era when basketball was at its zenith, they stood as giants among men, immortalized forever in the hearts of fans and the annals of sports history.