Born: Dec. 6, 1948
Where: Bristol, Va.
Residence: Bristol, Tenn.
High School/College: Holston Valley/East Tennessee State
Then: Holston Valley, one of the three high schools that closed in the late 1960s to form Sullivan East, traditionally had taller basketball players than most of its opponents. The Rebels turned out such legends as Billy Smith, who signed with Georgia Tech, and Bobby Hogsett, who chose the University of Tennessee.
Harmon Peters, the school’s head coach for 27 years, was always on the lookout for his next superstar. Height was an indicator.
He spotted Ronnie Wallace, a 6-foot-1 eighth-grader, in study hall, and asked if he was interested in playing. “Sure,’’ Wallace replied.
That was the beginning of an unforgettable era. Wallace was placed on the junior varsity the first season and became a four-year varsity starter. Peters realized Wallace’s true potential when he hit 27 points in the final game of his freshman season.
It wasn’t unusual for Wallace to walk away from a game with 30 points. A post/wing player who routinely scored on tip-ins and putbacks, he occasionally drifted out to shoot 15-foot jumpers.
The 6-7, 230-pound Hogsett, who played for the Detroit Pistons, held the Holston Valley single-game scoring record with 52. Wallace came close to eclipsing it when he blazed in 50 points against Dickie Warren’s Sullivan Pirates in the 1967-68 season. He had a free throw nullified by a teammate’s lane violation late in the game and Wallace missed a last-second field goal attempt.
He scored 41 points against Unaka as a junior despite fouling out of the game with an entire quarter left to play. “On the fourth-quarter tipoff, I was charged with my fifth personal foul,’’ he said. “I’ve never figured that one out because I was the jumper.’’
When Holston Valley met Unaka the next season, the 6-3½, 185-pound Wallace was undercut on a play and suffered an elbow injury that kept him out of the Mary Hughes game. He appeared in 109 varsity games and this was the only one he missed.
A member of Holston Valley’s last graduating class, Wallace finished his career with 2,111 points. His four-year average was 19.7 points per game, with a 24.1 clip as a senior. He was the school’s leading scorer every season and also averaged in double figures as a rebounder.
Wallace feels his best game was a 33-point performance in the district tournament against Tennessee High. He was 10-of-17 on field goal attempts and 13-of-13 on free throws. Several other times, he scored at least 30.
Wallace spent countless hours in the gymnasium. “I lived a mile from the school and would stay as late as 7 p.m. shooting alone,’’ he said. “The janitor never seemed to mind.’’
Holston Valley’s gym was small and the fan support created quite an atmosphere. “People lined up along the walls,’’ Wallace said. “We could count on an overflow crowd for every home game.’’
Wallace was greeted with an assortment of gimmick defenses. Church Hill, with three players guarding him, limited Wallace to seven points, though Holston Valley won the game.
In a 36-34 loss to Ketron, only two Holston Valley players scored. Wallace, a sophomore, hit 27 points and Glen Graybeal got seven.
There was no TSSAA classification. By today’s standards, Holston Valley would have been a Class A school. Therefore, the Rebels faced long odds when it came to getting out of the region. There were only 67 students in Wallace’s graduating class.
Peters had picked up an effective offensive pattern from state champion Linden in the 1950s and made it his own.
He had a unique style of motivating players. “Coach Peters did a lot for me,’’ Wallace said. “I learned many of life’s lessons from him. I’m certainly blessed to have had him in my life. He’d say all kinds of things to me in practice but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to play. I knew I’d always be in the lineup on game night.’’
In spite of Wallace’s prolific scoring, Holston Valley had some lean years. The Rebels went 1-26 when he was a freshman. “It seemed we couldn’t scratch,’’ Wallace said. “Finally, we beat Bluff City.’’
Holston Valley gradually increased its win totals. The Rebels were 19-10 when he was a senior — in the lineup with Bobby Pentecost, Charlie White, Cecil Booher and Dave Mahaffey.
The Northeast Tennessee area was loaded with talent when Wallace played. “Being around good players inspired me,’’ he said.
Wallace had scholarship offers from the area’s small colleges. He backed out of signing with King College.
“Nobody in our family had gone to college and I lacked confidence in my classroom work,’’ he said. “Looking back, I’d like to know how well I’d have done as a player.’’
After a military stint, he earned his degree with a B-average at ETSU.
Wallace has taught social studies, health and physical education for 36 years at Vance Middle School.
“I considered becoming a forest ranger but liked being around kids,’’ Wallace said. “Bobby Chambers, then Tennessee High’s basketball coach, hired me.’’
Derrick Hord, who made it to the national stage with the University of Kentucky, played for Wallace as an eighth-grader.
“Derrick was a wonderful kid, the kind you just prayed that another one like him would come along,’’ Wallace said. “He stood 6-3 at the time and had so many skills — leaper, ball-handler and shooter.’’
Now: Wallace has been married to his high school sweetheart, the former Donna Pentecost, for 38 years. She is a retired teacher’s aide.
Ronnie Wallace is Tennessee High’s freshman basketball coach and does scouting for the varsity.
Bill Lane is a Times-News sports writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.