Another chapter concludes in storied career of this sportswriter

Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 7:07pm

This final day of The City Paper means the end of the latest chapter in my career, which began in October 1969 with the Nashville Banner.

This publication has graciously allowed me to continue writing sports stories for the past 11 years, and hopefully you’ll allow me a few moments of reflection on what I have done here and at the other places I worked.

First I think of the people. Sports editor Fred Russell headed the Banner staff, which included writers like Edgar Allen, George Leonard, Waxo Green, Joe Caldwell, copy editor Bill Roberts and outdoors editor Bob Witt. Buster Olney was a colleague who took his talents to ESPN.

Working for The Tennessean put me in the company of John Bibb and Jimmy Davy.

Most recently for City Paper sports editor David Boclair, one of the best colleagues one could work with.

A distinguished, Hall of Fame group indeed.

Now the events:

• October, 1969: My first beat was the Dixie Flyers hockey team. Two days after I started work Roberts informed me I was going to Port Colborne, Ontario to cover preseason training. Maybe the biggest story I had was a player strike the team had in October, 1970, which was resolved a day later.
The team folded in March 1971. I started covering preps that fall.

• September 1971: I gave Carton Flatt and brand new school Brentwood Academy their first write-up as a new program in their first full season. They practiced on an old cornfield next to campus. Flatt coached 34 seasons and won 10 state titles.

• September 1971: I staffed one of the last games for legendary Springfield High coach Boyce Smith before he retired as one of one of the state’s all-time leaders in wins.

As the tennis writer for the Banner, I met and interviewed several of the game’s greats.

They included:

• In August 1973, a Virginia Slims women’s tour made a stop at Centennial, where Margaret Court beat Billie Jean King in a great final.

• In June 1977, a Team Tennis match was played at Vanderbilt where Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors were participants.

• In November 1986, a Legends tour, featuring John McEnroe and Borg, made a stop at Municipal Auditorium.

• From 1977-1996, Belle Meade Country Club hosted the National Boys 16-under clay court championships for July stops when I was able to cover several future stars of the game, including Jim Courier, Aaron Krickstein, Justin Gimelstob, among many others.

Twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan of California, whom I interviewed while at The Tennessean, made stops at Belle Meade in 1993 and 1994. As no surprise, they won doubles titles both years.

Speaking of twin brothers, over the years I had the pleasure of covering Bill and Daniel McGugin as they dominated the prep scene. They won two state doubles championships at Montgomery Bell Academy, 1995-96, before competing for Vanderbilt.

Covering Municipal and City final matches between Russell Buchi and Peter van Lingen, especially the three-set thriller Buchi won at Centennial in 1981, were unforgettable.

Peter and son Van won six straight national Father-Son tournaments in the 1990s.

Back to preps.

• In January 1981, I landed one of my biggest scoops at the Banner with the announcement that Kent Austin of Brentwood Academy would sign with Ole Miss. He went on to have a great career with the Rebels, then the pro ranks.

Austin and Mike Wright of Father Ryan rank up there with the best quarterbacks I saw in Nashville prep history. Both led their teams to state championships.

On a funny note in the late 1980s, Gallatin High had a freshman quarterback named Markel Rice, whom coach Calvin Short wouldn’t let me interview since he was so young.

After a game, I went up to him when coach Short wasn’t looking and interviewed him anyway — a very sharp kid. Rice went on and led Gallatin to a state championship.

• In 1977, I wrote about Perry County’s Mike Rhodes (who later became one of Vanderbilt’s all-time career leading scorers) when he almost single-handedly lifted his team from near-certain defeat vs. Knox Catholic in the state tournament at MTSU.

Rhodes, who led the state in scoring that year, scored 48 points, 35 in the second half (both records at the time), as the Vikings rallied from 12 down midway through the final quarter. Perry (27-1) won its second straight title the next night.

• In the mid-1980s, I covered a game for the Banner in a region basketball tournament at Austin Peay where Franklin beat Clarksville by one point. Clarksville, leading by a point, had possession of the ball under its basket with one second left.

The Clarksville player who was the intended recipient of the inbounds pass slipped down under the basket and it went directly to a Franklin player who laid in the winning hoop. It’s still the most unbelievable ending to a basketball game I’ve ever seen.

• I covered the Pearl High teams, which won AAA state championships in consecutive years. The girls won in 1980 and boys in 1981, the first Metro Nashville public school school to do that.

• From 1981-83, I was returned to covering ice hockey, a sport Larry Schmittou brought back to Nashville, just as he brought baseball back to Nashville with the Sounds in 1978. But the South Stars folded in 1983.

The Nashville Knights gave Nashville a return to hockey from 1989-1996. At The Tennessean, my hockey highlight was covering Trevor Jobe, who in 1992-93 compiled one of the most unbelievable seasons a player has ever enjoyed in minor league history.

Jobe shattered East Coast Hockey League records with 85 goals and 76 assists for 161 points, records that remain to this day. He scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in one January game.

I interviewed female goalie Manon Rheaume, whom the Knights acquired in 1994 when she won her opener 6-5 in overtime against Knoxville at the Auditorium. She went 3-0 for Knights, coached by ex-NHL player Nick Fotiu.

• I was the beat writer at The Tennessean for the Music City Jammers, who won the only professional basketball championship in Nashville history, the Global Basketball Association, in 1992.

The Jammers franchise, which Schmittou started, sported local players Philip Hutcheson (now the Lipscomb University director of athletics) and Darren Henrie. They made the playoffs the final night of the season, then won three series, winning two elimination games, and beat the Greeneville (S.C.) Spinners in six games in the championship series.

The Jammers started the season at Municipal Auditorium (one game was postponed because of rain leaking in from the roof) and played in five different facilities. The team had to finish up the season in Jackson (Tenn.) because it couldn’t pay local rent.

The Jammers and the league folded the following season.

• With The City Paper, I covered all five tournament matches in Vanderbilt’s May 2003 run to the NCAA tennis final, ending with a 4-3 loss to Illinois in Athens, Ga. Led by All-American Bobby Reynolds, the Commodores just missed winning the school’s first NCAA men’s team title. Vanderbilt, coached by Ken Flach, also won the school’s first SEC tennis title two weeks before.

• I had the pleasure of covering Flatt’s 10th and final state championship at Brentwood Academy in 2006 with a 37-34 shootout win over McCallie at MTSU. It was kind of a bookend to my earlier mentioned story in 1971. He finished as the state’s top career winning coach (355). He retired a month later.

• More recently, it’s been fun interviewing Nashville’s Brian Baker, who has fought through all kinds of injuries to return to the tennis pro ranks, and former MBA star and 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

I’m sure there are other events along the way I overlooked, and I apologize for those I missed.

It’s been great interviewing so many outstanding coaches and players, particularly in the preps, people who have been so kind over the years.

Cheerios to all.

Filed under: Sports

5 Comments on this post:

By: courier37027 on 8/8/13 at 9:30

Harold, thanks for all your columns and coverage over the years. When high school sports coverage was standard fare for Tennessean and Banner readers, now pitiful box scores rule the day. Local, amateur non-college sports coverage has evaporated. Tennis, golf, track, auto racing were once reported, now are nary a blip on any sports media. May you find work elsewhere, and soon.

By: knilob on 8/9/13 at 7:59

I'd like to echo courier37027's remarks. This day marks a sad end to "true" local sports coverage in Nashville. I will miss your reporting on the local high school sports scene, and I will also just miss seeing your name in the byline.

I wish you all the best, and I hope we can all read more articles by you soon.

Thanks for everything,
Bo Link

By: buffpilot on 8/9/13 at 10:37

Great final column by Harold Huggins. Harold coached several of my YMCA youth sports teams including football and basketball. Later, I remember seeing him on the sideline as a reporter for our football games at MBA. His column reminded me about the importance youth coaches play in developing discipline, dedication, and teamwork that stays with you long after the games end. Without coaches like Harold laying a foundation, I'm not sure I end up playing college football or serving as a state representative.

Thank you to Harold Huggins for your excellent reporting of prep sports and your contribution as a youth sports coach in Nashville- he didn't write about it so I did!

Jason Powell

By: slacker on 8/9/13 at 6:01

Bunny, sad news indeed. You are the unquestioned authority on high school athletics, in Tennessee. Your reporting, and articles on bygone years, will be greatly missed. Thanks for the memories.

Richard and Nancy

By: cocolulu on 8/9/13 at 6:29

I hope future years hold a special place for you.
We have followed you from the Banner to here, and would love
to hear about where you write. Just let us know.
You have met and talked with some of the great greats and have shared them with us.
We appreciate you so much.
'you know who'