KINGSPORT — Though soccer is not typically thought of as a powerhouse sport in Northeast Tennessee, it has been popular for quite a while.
In the mid-1980s, a decade of building finally came to fruition for the Dobyns-Bennett boys program, which brought home the 1984 and 1985 TSSCA (Tennessee Secondary Schools Coaches Association) state tournament titles.
Soccer didn’t have an official state-sponsored tournament until 1987.
“It’s really hard to believe that it’s been that long ago,” said Tony Weaver, a title team member and now coach of the D-B girls team. “Time sure does fly. It was one of those things where we had all played together for like 10 years and it just came together at the right time.”
The Boys Club and the Kingsport Youth Soccer Association helped cultivate the quality and quantity of the Tribe players on those back-to-back title teams.
“Claudio Carlan really started soccer in Kingsport and I think he started at the Boys Club,” Weaver said. “We played soccer year-round back then and I can remember practicing in the snow.”
Players like “Buckwheat” Dougherty, Michael Kuo, Scott Bowen, Rich Generdson and keeper Karl Keesling flourished in the system under then-coach Wayne Peters.
“The best team we had, talent-wise, was probably that first year,” Peters told the Times News in a 1985 article. “But they changed the rules and we weren’t eligible that first year (1983). They said you had to play 10 conference games and at the time, the closest place with teams was Chattanooga.
“There was no way we could work it out so we could play that many that far away. There were schools around here with teams, but they didn’t feel they were ready to compete.”
In 1981 and 1982, the first two years of Indians soccer, D-B reached the state tournament, including a finals appearance in 1982.
“Coach Peters was an awesome coach,” Weaver said. “He was a football coach and really didn’t know much about soccer, but he went to all the camps and all the clinics just for us. I think that made him an even better person that he was willing to do that for the kids.”
“IF IT HAD BEEN FOOTBALL …”
The Indians entered the 1984 state tournament with a 9-1 record after allowing only eight goals on the season.
Pegged as the No. 1 seed, they opened with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Murfreesboro. Dougherty provided the match’s riveting moment when he scored the winning goal with two seconds left in the extra period.
In the title game against Hendersonville, Bowen — who had missed the majority of the season with a leg injury but returned for the state tourney — scored the game’s lone goal. The defense stymied Hendersonville and the final tally ended up being 1-0.
On the way back into Kingsport, some players expected pomp of some sort, but nothing ever came.
“If it had been football or basketball, there would have been a parade or something,” one D-B player quipped to the Times News’ Ron Bliss.
“We looked for a band on the way in, but didn’t see one,” Dougherty said in the same article.
Even though there was no band, the feat was a big one. The team claimed the school’s first state championship since D-B won in boys track and field in 1979.
The victory also marked just the second time in six years that a public school won the title.
AN EMPHATIC RETURN
The following year, defending champs again took a 9-1 record into the state tournament at Brentwood, joined by Sullivan Central and Sullivan South in the mid-state.
D-B had a draw in the first round and made the finals again, but it didn’t come easily.
Thanks to the heroics of Scott Necessary and Keesling, the Indians defeated Brentwood 4-3 in the semifinals after two extra periods and a penalty kick shootout. Necessary scored the game-tying goal with 35 seconds left in regulation after the Tribe had trailed virtually the entire second half, and Keesling stepped up in the shootout. After allowing four Brentwood players to score, he stopped the fifth attempt and then buried the match-winning kick for the Tribe.
“I had been practicing all week,” Keesling said in the postgame article. “And I didn’t do it right tonight.”
“I told our kids even if they missed, they’d still get their lunch money tomorrow,” Peters said. “Keesling played a super game. He might be the best goalie in the world, but he didn’t get a chance to show it until tonight.”
“We went absolutely crazy when Karl scored,” Weaver said. “We dog-piled on top of him, but he was a football player so he was used to it. He was fearless and you did not want to go into the box when he was playing.”
D-B once again faced Hendersonville in the title match and again came out on top by a 1-0 margin. Mike Shoun had the goal, and the Tribe rode the ball control prowess of eventual Furman signee Andy Malcom in a shutdown of the Hendersonville offense.
“Like so many of our games this year, it was a team game,” Peters said. “Our kids don’t get a lot of individual recognition and that’s why. We played as a unit. Even the kids you don’t see a lot contribute in practice.”
The Indians again finished with a 12-1 worksheet.
“We had to beat a lot of the private schools to win it back then, and I think that adds a little bit more to it rather than taking away from it because it wasn’t state-sponsored yet,” Weaver said. “We knew what we had done was pretty big. We still didn’t get a big welcoming back into Kingsport, but we got more coverage by the paper and that was huge for us.”
CONTINUING TO BUILD
D-B soccer has found success in the years since, but it was Peters who helped establish a dynasty.
The team won three consecutive Big 9 Conference titles and compiled a record of 40-3, and D-B saw 10 total players from both the ’84 and ’85 squads go on to play soccer in college.
“I have so many good kids that in a lot of games, I play three different units,” Peters said in a 1985 Times News article. “Our first unit hasn’t had the chance to play as much as they might at another school.”
Peters helped grow the game in Northeast Tennessee, though he never gave himself much credit.
“I’d like to say it’s because I’m a good coach,” he said. “But it’s the recreational program and the youth coaches. When I get the kids, they already have the skills.”
The program created a source of pride for the community and the school.
“Some of those guys still live in town and there’s an alumni game that we do,” Weaver said. “When we see each other, that’s instantly what we start talking about. We’re all still pretty close.
“I can’t say that soccer taking off in this area is a direct result of us winning, but we were a direct result of the years of building prior to us. I can remember going to the games when I was younger and watching those teams play and they were really good, too. We had the opportunity and we just capitalized on it.”