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Memory Lane: Jack Light was Rye Cove's first 1,000-point scorer

Bill Lane • Aug 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Jack Light

Born: Oct. 7, 1940

Where: Natural Tunnel

High School: Rye Cove

Residence: Nashville

Then: Not even the rigors of Southwest Virginia’s rough-and-tumble basketball could have prepared Jack Light for the life he would lead after playing at Rye Cove.

He spent 41 years as a state trooper before retiring in 2002 with the rank of sergeant. Light — in the line of duty — was shot twice, fired upon several other times and struck over the head with a telephone. He spent the first seven years of his law enforcement career in Virginia and the last 34 in Tennessee.

“Every day I worked, it was a challenge,’’ he said, “but I enjoyed helping people. The joy was greater than the disappointment.’’

Light, who graduated in 1960, was Rye Cove’s first 1,000-point scorer. He was deadly with a one-handed shot from the corner that would have been a 3-point goal by today’s rules. He also got a lot of points on putbacks. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound forward was quite a leaper and always jumped center.

In his four years as a starter, Rye Cove won 70 games — including 20 victories in each his junior and senior seasons. In the lineup with him during the 1958-59 season were Bill Salling, Billy Rollins, Darius Head and Wally Pat Ford. James Babb moved into the lineup after Head graduated.

Light twice was selected to the All-District 8 team.

He dated cheerleader Mary Etta Carter, his future wife. She wrote a letter of encouragement to him before every game when he was a junior. “I want 25 points tonight,’’ she once wrote. He scored 25. This went on for some time and coach Herman McCall picked up on it. She got help from the coach with a few letters after that. Light usually produced what McCall needed to win.

One humorous incident between Light and McCall had the student body buzzing.

Players weren’t required to participate in physical education class on game days. One of the players kept whistling at the cheerleaders and was warned if it didn’t cease the entire team would have to do exercises with the class. The whistles continued and McCall kept his word.

A peeved teammate suggested that Light give McCall a scare by pretending to pass out in the gym. Light put on his act and the coach, after learning of the plot, told Light that he had no choice but to paddle him.

“If you paddle me, I’m going to paddle you!’’ Light shot back.

Surprisingly, the coach agreed to it.

With dozens of students looking on, they paddled each other. McCall found himself in hot water when the principal walked in and asked what was going on.

“There isn’t a student in this school who wouldn’t like to hit a teacher,’’ McCall explained.

Light fondly recalls one particular game when he was a sophomore. Appalachia led Rye Cove by a single point in the final seconds. Light grabbed a rebound, took a few quick dribbles and turned loose a one-handed push shot from the backcourt that swished the net, winning the game.

“The ball traveled on an arc toward the balcony and dropped in,’’ he said. “I went crazy. Teammates carried me off the floor on their shoulders. The older players were encouraging, telling me how good I could be.’’

Light especially enjoyed games with Scott County rival Gate City and Northeast Tennessee foe Ketron.

“I loved every minute I played against Gate City,’’ he said. “They had Walter Carter and Kenny Ervin and beat us every time, but it was an experience. McCall told us that he could put Gate City uniforms on Blackwater and Blackwater would beat us. He said we were scared of Gate City.

“When we met Ketron, I got to face Howard ‘Hot Dog’ Dale. That was another challenge.’’

Light credits McCall with taking Rye Cove’s program to the forefront in a hurry. “He was a tiny fellow — barely 5 feet tall, but he brought in modern training aids and we learned a lot.’’

Early on, Light’s potential was realized. He practiced with the varsity as an eighth-grader. The district annually awarded an individual sportsmanship trophy at each member school and Light received it before he ever played an official game. Johnny Majors, an All-America football player at the University of Tennessee, made the presentation.

By the time Light was a sophomore, he’d already become the school’s all-time leading scorer. He averaged 12 rebounds and 20 points a game. His highest scoring total was 32, his lowest 10.

Light ran track as well. He was clocked at 10.3 seconds in the 100-yard dash. He also participated in the 220 dash, two relays and the shot put.

Light turned his back on a couple of opportunities to play basketball in college. He had his heart set on becoming a state trooper and when he reached the age of 21, it happened.

He had grown up admiring Virginia Trooper C.G. Cunningham, who was based in Scott County. “He was my childhood idol,’’ Light said. “I wanted to be like him.’’

In Virginia, patrol officers were addressed by their initials — not first names. Light was called “J.J.’’

In Middle Tennessee, he stopped a former Olympian for speeding. “You don’t recognize me, do you?’’ she said. “I’m Wilma Rudolph. I’m fast, that’s why I drive fast.’’

Now: Light closed out his law enforcement career in the Davidson County Court Clerk’s office, serving as evidence custodian of the district.

At his urging, a Tennessee Highway Patrol model car was manufactured. Light’s collection includes one from every state.

The Lights have lived in Nashville for 30 years. They have four children, 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He spends a lot of time surfing the Internet. “I’ve met a lot of friends on Facebook,’’ he said.

Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at blane@timesnews.net.

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