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Dobyns-Bennett to pay tribute to Douglass High School

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 30, 2020 at 12:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett will pay tribute to Kingsport Douglass High School by wearing special uniforms and recognizing former Douglass players, cheerleaders and other alumni at Saturday’s basketball games against Jefferson County.

In a kickoff to Black History Month, the Indians will wear the sky blue, gold and white Tigers uniforms. Players from the Tigers and Tigerettes teams will be honored, while many of the trophies will be on display.

It is free admission to the games at the Buck Van Huss Dome, with the girls game starting at 4:30 p.m. and a tribute to the former Douglass players between it and the boys game, which is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.

Douglass, open from 1913-66, was the largest African-American school in Northeast Tennessee. Now home of the V.O. Dobbins Center, the Indians practiced in the old Douglass gymnasium back in January.

Dobyns-Bennett athletic director Frankie DeBusk talked about the event coming together.

“It was a cumulative effort by a lot of people. Coach (Chris) Poore and I talked about it with Dr. (Jeff) Moorhouse,” DeBusk said. “Dr. Moorhouse and I were at Greeneville when they did something similar. Coach Poore does such a great job of creating a positive atmosphere and reaching out to the community.

“Calvin Sneed and Doug Releford have taken it and run with it. They’ve created a positive environment throughout Kingsport, and there’s so much history and tradition. It’s a great opportunity to get everybody under one roof.”

Releford, the president of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association, is the great-uncle of current Indians senior guard Abiah Releford.

When the Indians became the first high school team to practice at Douglass in 54 years, it was a learning experience for the young players and also a chance to show them the great tradition of the Tigers program.

For the former Douglass players, seeing the D-B kids on their old court brought back a lot of great memories.

“When I saw the players from D-B take the floor, I thought about how the gym use to hum with activity on a basketball night,” Sneed said. “It gave you goosebumps. It was so good to hear the court come to life and to see the faces of the former Douglass players who were there to witness it.

“The shoes were skirting against the wood floor, and the instructions were getting yelled to the players. All of that was ringing home to the former Douglass players. They were in awe, and you could hear them giving out advice like, ‘Don’t waste a shot or if you can make that shot, do it.’ They were impressed at how much of a team the D-B players were, how there weren’t any superstars and how it was about their teamwork.”

Teamwork has been a key in getting this celebration of great basketball traditions together. Dobyns-Bennett is the winningest high school program in the nation, while Douglass won numerous titles over its 50-plus years.

“There is so much athletic tradition and history in Kingsport. This is an opportunity to get everyone under one roof and celebrate,” DeBusk said. “We’re doing this to honor Douglass, but there’s so much tradition at Dobyns-Bennett as well.

“It’s great to get those two storied programs together, to have the Tigers and Indians do this for Douglass High School. Hopefully, the city of Kingsport will open its arms and support what we’re doing Saturday.”

If Sneed has one regret, he wishes the programs could have come together decades earlier when they were both East Tennessee powerhouses. While the teams never played against each other, some of the students from both schools would meet on the old Lee playgrounds.

“Back in the day, both Dobyns-Bennett and Douglass knew about each other,” he said. “They normally referred to each other as those guys on the other side of town. They couldn’t play because of segregation, and that stood in the way of a good rivalry.

“When you look now at Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill or like county schools with a North Greene and South Greene, none of those rivalries are because of race. It’s sad that the teams back then weren’t able to come together.”

Although Sneed wishes the tribute would have happened earlier so other Douglass alumni could have enjoyed it, he’s glad the moment is here. Dozens of former Douglass players, both local and those out of town, are expected to be at Saturday’s games.

“It’s way past due, but there’s a euphoria talking to people about this, how excited they are that it’s finally happening,” Sneed said. “You have to understand the past and you have to learn from it because it charts your future.

“You can’t go forward until you understand where you’ve come from. Douglass history is not just its history, it’s Kingsport’s history, too.”

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