The Legacy of Walter “Buck” Van Huss: Tennessee’s Basketball Titan

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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BY C.Y. Peters

Walter “Buck” Van Huss was a name synonymous with basketball excellence in Tennessee. Born in 1919 in the rolling hills of Carter County, he grew up with a passion for the game that would eventually define his life. From his early days at Happy Valley High School, where he split his attention between academics and the bouncing basketball, to his legendary coaching career, Van Huss left an indelible mark on the sport and his community.

His journey began in earnest after a brave stint in the army during World War II. Post-war, Van Huss pursued higher education at Lincoln Memorial University and East Tennessee State University. Even before earning his bachelor’s degree from ETSU in 1954, he had already embarked on what would become a storied coaching career, taking the helm at Hampton High School in 1953.

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For fourteen years, Van Huss transformed Hampton High’s basketball program. His tenure at Hampton was marked by a remarkable record of 484-133. His strategic expertise and ability to inspire his players led the team to three district championships, four regional championships, and the pinnacle of success with a state championship title in 1960. Under his leadership, Hampton High became a powerhouse in Tennessee high school basketball, a testament to his coaching acumen and unwavering dedication.

In 1967, Van Huss took on a new challenge, becoming the head coach at Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett High School. Here, he would further solidify his legacy over the next two decades. At Dobyns-Bennett, his coaching genius shone even brighter. His teams amassed over 500 victories, a staggering number that spoke to both his longevity and success in the sport. Under his guidance, Dobyns-Bennett claimed ten district championships, eleven regional championships, and one state championship, cementing his status as one of the greatest high school basketball coaches in Tennessee history.

Throughout his career, Van Huss’s excellence did not go unnoticed. He was named Coach of the Year twelve times, a reflection of the respect and admiration he garnered from peers and the broader basketball community. His contributions to the sport were further recognized when he received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Basketball Foundation, a prestigious honor that highlighted his significant impact on high school basketball.

But Van Huss’s influence extended beyond the basketball court. He was deeply committed to his community, serving proudly on the Elizabethton City Council. His dedication to civic service earned him the Distinguished Community Service Award from the “Kingsport Times-News,” underscoring his role as a pillar of the community.

Van Huss’s story is not just one of personal achievement, but of the countless lives he touched along the way. His players, inspired by his passion and leadership, learned lessons that transcended the game. They carried forward his values of hard work, perseverance, and teamwork into their own lives, perpetuating his legacy.

Buck never forgot his players, especially stars like Willie Malone, Carl Roberson, and Wes Forbes. These athletes were more than just names on a roster; they were the heart of his 1960 state championship team, which Coach Jerry White frequently praised. Van Huss’s pride in their achievements was evident in every conversation. His bond with his gold buddy, Charlie Bayless, was just as enduring. The two shared countless laughs and a unique, almost secret language that developed over the years. Their camaraderie was a testament to the deep connections Van Huss formed both on and off the court. For Buck Van Huss, the victories were sweet, but the relationships he forged were the true legacy of his storied coaching career.

Walter “Buck” Van Huss passed away, but his legacy endures in the halls of the schools he coached, in the memories of the players he mentored, and in the annals of Tennessee high school basketball history. His life is a testament to the power of sport to unite communities, to inspire young minds, and to create lasting legacies. Tennessee basketball, and indeed the community at large, is richer for his contributions.

In remembering Van Huss, we celebrate a life well-lived and a man who will never be forgotten. His name will forever be carved in the history of Tennessee high school basketball, a beacon of excellence and dedication. Walter “Buck” Van Huss’s legacy is one of triumph, community service, and an unwavering love for the game of basketball.