By TREY WILLIAMS
For more than half a century Jerry Jenkins has been a man for all seasons in Washington County.
Jenkins played football and baseball at Science Hill (1964-67) and has coached since 1972 at Science Hill, David Crockett and Daniel Boone, where he was recognized prior to a baseball game with many former players in attendance.
Until this past season, when he helped solely with football, Jenkins had coached football, basketball and baseball every year at Boone. He’s been the head football coach at Crockett (1982-85), the head baseball coach at Boone (1994-2005) and the head girls basketball coach at Boone. He was an assistant football coach for Ken Green at Boone and under Tommy Hundley at Science Hill (while also helping Don Humston at Independence Hall Junior High), where the Hilltoppers had an undefeated regular season in 1979.
“I’m probably the only coach that’s coached at every school in Washington County (in so many sports),” Jenkins said. “I’ve been fired in football at one of the county schools and I’ve been fired in basketball – girls – at the other. And I don’t blame ‘em.”
Jenkins is liable to sell himself short. His son Jeremy is the longest-tenured football coach in Class 5A, and Jerry’s smarts, not to mention his sense of humor, have helped pave that path.
“I came over in 2004 and being able to have the opportunity to work with him was a big factor in why I came over here from Sullivan South,” Jeremy said. “He’s been there every day, every practice, every game, and there’s been a lot of good memories with him on the sideline and up in the box. I remember one call when (David Crockett coach) Hayden Chandley was playing. We were playing Morristown East and it was fourth-and-one and I asked him what to do up top (in the press box). I said, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t say nothing. And I said, ‘What do you think?’
“And he said, ‘Son, that’s why you get paid the big bucks. I tell you, these cookies are good up here.’”
Jerry chuckled recalling such moments.
“I just like to aggravate,” he said. “In staff meetings they’ll tell me to leave. I believe in humor. Well, you can’t be cutting up and joking all the time, but you can’t be uptight all the time neither.”
Daniel Boone baseball coach Rob Hoover retired this season. He’s leaving to go into the ministry full time. He said Jerry was a godsend for Boone athletics.
“Jerry’s an incredible man,” Hoover said. “He was a guy – I didn’t have this ability – he could match his ability to be intense and be in a game, but then five seconds later crack a joke and have a humorous side. I could never do both at the same time. He balanced that and he made it fun for the kids. The kids loved him just because he kept it loose. But when it was time to get serious he could get serious. I was always kind of more on the serious side, and I wish I would’ve had some of his humor at times. …
“My first year and we were playing a tournament at Sullivan East. We were playing pretty good and won five or six in a row and we’d just beaten Greeneville. And one of our parents after the game said, ‘Hey, Jerry. Who’s our next victim?’ And Jerry said, ‘I don’t know. The team we’re playing next is pretty good, not like this bunch.’ And there was a momma from Greeneville that heard him say that. She said, ‘You’re trying to tell me we’re no good?’ He looked at her straight-faced, ‘No, mam. You’re not.’ And he just kept on walking.
“His blunt honesty was one of the funniest things about him. You couldn’t ever get mad at him, and he told you the exact truth, whether you wanted to hear it or not.”
Like Hoover, Jerry’s son Jody also went to into the ministry after a productive baseball career. His career as starting catcher for Ken Campbell at ETSU ended prematurely.
Campbell lamented the departure, having seen an All-Southern Conference future for Jody. Jerry likened Jody to Craig Biggio in terms of undersized catcher.
“I think if Jody had went on in rookie ball they would’ve eventually moved him to second base,” Jerry said. “But there wasn’t a better catcher. And where I really cheated him was that he only pitched when we were out of pitching. Heck, he was the best pitcher.”
Jerry was just as proud of Jeremy’s knowledge and productivity on the football field. Jeremy reminded his dad of current Crockett coach Hayden Chandley, who played for Jeremy at Boone.
“It was like having a coach on the field when both of ‘em played,” Jerry said.
Jerry enjoyed coaching the Chandley- and Kevin Connell-led group at Boone that defeated Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High in 2009. Boone went 10-3 and reached the quarterfinals that season thanks to players such as Matt Duncan, Blake Shropshire, Austin Reppart and Ethan Good.
“How many county teams can say they beat the Tri-Cities,” Jenkins said.
Running wild with Charlie Cole and Easton Harrell in a win at Science Hill this past season, especially for a ground-oriented “old school” coach like Jenkins, is one of his treasured memories, too. Perhaps his favorite achievement was nearly beating a powerful Jefferson County team when he was at Crockett. He said a victory was essentially erased when an interception was nullified by penalty.
“When Craig Kisabeth had those great (Jefferson County) teams and the Collins brothers who went on to play pro ball, the biggest thrill was we had them at Crockett on a Friday night and had them beat,” Jenkins said. “We intercepted a pass and they called in the grasp. Well, you’d never heard of ‘in the grasp’ then. He came up after the game and gave us the game ball. That was one of the best games I’ve ever coached in. We had the man of men, Gary Cooter.”
Jenkins said Alabama was the Crockett’s game with Greeneville to recruit a Greene Devils safety while Cooter played at Crockett.
“Alabama sent the old man that used to scout for ‘em to Jonesborough to scout,” Jenkins said. “Greeneville had a safety that was supposed to be all-world. And I told Cooter, ‘Don’t let him hurt you now.’ And Cooter said, ‘What’s his number?’ I showed him his number.
“It’s the truth. We ran what we called ‘46 Power’ and kick out the end, and there he went in the C-Gap. He could’ve cut it outside to the sideline and gone. But he was like a Brahma bull. He sort of paused and he was looking for him. And buddy, I tell you what, he cut back and he ran over him. Broke his collarbone. So the kid played one play. I felt for the kid. Cooter was one of a kind.”
Jenkins is also thankful to have worked under baseball coach Sonny Miller at Crockett.
Among the great players he’s pleased to have watched, much less coached, are Dylan Pratt and Jeremy Hall (baseball), current Boone running back Charlie Cole, Rachel Glass and Steve Fields (Science Hill’s first 1,000-yard rusher). He said Greg Kilday and Mike Kiernan were two of the best he’s seen come through Boone.
A healthy Rachel Glass was something to see. An injured one wasn’t bad either.
“She tore that knee against Sullivan East and she finished the year before she had surgery,” Jenkins said. “She finished the year. It was so fun to coach her. She was some player.
“I got to work under Travis Mains there. And he put up a (girls basketball) program that was unreal.”
Jenkins grew up in Washington County, but began attending Johnson City schools in junior high. He played baseball and football at Science Hill.
“My dad (Ralph) was my baseball influence,” he said. “Of course, every dad’s ambition was for their son to go as far as he could, and he really made me. I don’t care what they say, you can either hit or you can’t hit. If you don’t have quick hands, wrists – quick to the ball – you’re not gonna hit too good. He really made a hitter out of me.”
Transferring to city schools wasn’t easy for a teenager from the county, Jenkins said, noting he’d never played football prior to the eighth grade.
“One of the main coaches that’s ever had an influence on me is Bob May,” Jenkins said. “He was like my dad. And Wanda, his wife – they took me in, because I was from the country and that was really hard then, because it was really hard to be accepted by those kids. But it worked out.
“I didn’t play in the seventh grade but I played eighth-grade football for Bob May and Keith Lyle. And I played basketball for Coach May. And I ran track for Coach May. They didn’t have baseball then in middle school. And then I went to high school and played for Kermit Tipton. Emory Hale was my position coach. Him and Bob May had a great influence on me.”
Hale, who was Steve Spurrier’s quarterbacks coach at Science Hill, went on to win three state titles at Oak Ridge (1975, ’79, ’80) before becoming head coach at Austin Peay. His ’79 Oak Ridge team beat Science Hill 50-0 in the playoffs after Tommy Hundley’s Hilltoppers had gone undefeated during the regular season.
“In the middle of the third quarter I was at McDonald’s getting the hamburgers,” Jenkins said with a chuckle. “Tommy Hundley treated me great. I learned a lot under him. … Steve Fields was a man.”
Jenkins played baseball at Science Hill for John Broyles, who won state titles in 1947, ’62 and ’63.
“Coach John Broyles coached me as a sophomore and junior,” Jenkins said. “And he was the coach my senior year, but he got real sick and couldn’t come to a lot of the games, and Duard Aldridge coached us. There wasn’t a nicer man than Coach Broyles.”
Jenkins said he hurt his shoulder during football in ninth grade, which affected his baseball career. Broyles put him in right field as a sophomore, mindful of the cozy confines in right at Cardinal Park, and told him not to try to throw runners out at third and home.
The shoulder never felt completely right, and Jenkins consequently played second base as a junior and first base as a senior. Among the baseball teammates he mentioned playing with were Ken Jones and Charlie Bailey.
Jenkins’ shoulder didn’t deny him a role in an impressive back end of a Science Hill defense for Kermit Tipton that included Sammy “Dee Dee” Stuart, Charlie Buford and Jerry Hartsaw.
“That foursome was powerful,” said Jenkins, who also mentioned Science Hill athletes such as Biggie Carpenter and Marvin Bell as some who impressed him a great deal. “Dee Dee would kick off through the goal post. Teams always started on the 20.”
Jenkins said Carpenter briefly quit the team once, and was working as an attendant at a full-service gas station. He said Hale drove up to the pump with a wig on so Carpenter wouldn’t recognize him, and convinced him to return to the team.
“Biggie Carpenter was something else,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also made a mark pitching for arguably the best slow-pitch softball team in the area, Clark Street Baptist. Teammates included Mike Snapp, Randy Ferrell and Joe Whitehead.
Howren Oil and Greeneville-based Buddy’s A’s also enjoyed Jenkins’ services on the softball field. Quality teammates in softball included Gary Scheuerman, Jerry Weston and Terry Dellinger.
“We had a lot of fun,” Jenkins said. “(Clark Street) was like family.”
A family atmosphere is what Jenkins has always wanted to help comprise in coaching. Connecting with players at pivotal points in their lives never gets old.
“I’ve won a lot and lost a lot,” said a chuckling Jenkins, who’s battled rheumatoid arthritis much of his life. “But I’ve always enjoyed it.”
He said he got replaced after taking the girls basketball team to the state tournament.
“It just kills you,” he said. “But I will say this: the good Lord knows best and he will work it out for the good. That’s all you can do – just say, ‘I don’t understand this. It’s in your hands, Lord.’ And he’ll take care of it. … I’ve been blessed to coach as long as I have. I coached daylight to dark (throughout) the school year, and you don’t see that much anymore.”
Jenkins has been an invaluable asset to his community and its athletes.
“Jerry can coach any sport,” Boone athletic director Danny Good said. “He has proven that over the years. There are very few coaches that can be said about. But more importantly, he has had a positive impact on many lives through athletics over five decades. And I believe if you asked him what he was most proud of, he would say the ones he turned towards his lord and savior would be what matters most to him. We have been fortunate he lived in our community and coached in Washington County.”