Until last Saturday, Tusculum College had never retired the jersey number of any student-athlete in any sport. Now, there are two hanging from the rafters at Pioneer Arena. One of them belongs to Greeneville native Susan Starnes Brown, the other to Blountville basketball great Ralph Horne.
“This is an honor that has been long overdue. Susan and Ralph are two of the greatest players that Tusculum has ever seen,” said Doug Jones, vice president of student success and athletics. “They have been outstanding ambassadors to their alma mater and are so well deserving of this honor.”
The two Tusculum basketball legends were honored with the retirement of their jersey numbers during halftime of the women's game as part of a South Atlantic Conference doubleheader on Jan. 27. Both athletes are already members of the Tusculum Sports Hall of Fame. Ralph (Class of 1957) was a charter member in 1981, while Susan ('97) was a 2002 inductee.
"It's the only (retired jersey) from the men's side hanging in the rafters. Whenever you talk about how long the school has been there, that really means a lot," said Ralph. "It was nice. I was a little nervous, but I had a lot of fun. ... They've been working on this for several years and Dom Donnelly in the sports information department, and Will Prewitt before him, did a lot of work to find the records and information."
Horne, who graced the Tusculum hardwood from 1953-1957, scored a school record 2,487 points during his stellar career. His teams compiled a 62-38 record, including an 18-7 campaign in 1955-56 where the Pioneers swept both the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. He earned All-SMAC honors three times and was selected to the SMAC All-Tournament Team on three occasions as well.
The Kingsport native scored a then school-record 692 points in his senior campaign, which is tied for the third most in Tusculum history today. His point total that season - coming before the three-point goal entered the college game - ranked him 16th among all college scorers in the nation that year. Some of the noteworthy players listed ahead of him that season were basketball hall of famers Lennie Rosenbluth (North Carolina), Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas) and Elgin Baylor (Seattle).
Horne scored 650 points during the Pioneers’ SMAC championship run in 1955-56 while leading the conference with a Tusculum single-season record 27.7 points per game average. He scored a career-high 45 points against Bluefield College in 1957 to break the previous school record. It was one of five 40-point games for Horne, which are the most in program history.
"One time we were playing Bluefield College and I had 39 points at the end of 30 minutes. Their coach came down to the locker room to talk to my coach and told him, 'If you don't take him out of the game, I'm going to pull my players off the floor,'" Ralph recalls with a chuckle.
"He took me out and set me out for 28 minutes, and then they realized I was close to the record. He put me back in with two minutes to go and told the team to give me the ball. For the first minute, I couldn't have thrown it through the front door. But I finally got six points to break the school record."
Horne, who grew up in the Indian Springs area and played his high school ball at Blountville High School, graduated from Tusculum in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After graduation, he earned a tryout with the NBA’s Syracuse Nationals.
"If I'd been a little bigger and a little heavier, I might have been able to stick with them. But they had 7-footers even then," Ralph said. "When I came back, I went to work for Magnavox and played with several independent teams (around the area). ... We used to have some good independent leagues around here."
Ralph worked for the Magnavox Corporation for 22 years before moving on to private business. He eventually returned to the sidelines at Tusculum where he served as an assistant coach on Mike Hollowell’s staff for 12 seasons with the Pioneers. He still calls Greeneville home today.
Starnes, who played from 1993 to 1997, accounted for the greatest playing career in the history of Tusculum women’s basketball.
The three-time All-American established numerous school records including 2,927 career points and 1,426 career rebounds. Upon completion of her career, she was the NAIA’s all-time leading scorer. Her teams compiled an impressive 98-32 record (.754 winning percentage), won two Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference and NAIA District championships and advanced to the NAIA National Tournament on three occasions. She established a Tusculum College single-game record by scoring 47 points against Piedmont (Jan. 16, 1997), a mark which still stands today. The Greeneville, Tennessee native was named the TVAC Player of the Year three times and earned NAIA National Player of the Week accolades on four occasions. She currently resides in Knoxville.