From standout player to tenacious coach, Sheuerman made his mark

Howard “Woody” Underwood, left, and Robin Daniels with Gary Scheuerman when he coached at North Junior High in the early 1970s.

By Trey Williams

Gary Scheuerman coached a Skeeter at East Tennessee State and a Skeeter at Science Hill, and he bugged a few powers that be during an impactful career as player and coach.

Scheuerman played basketball and ran track at Science Hill (class of 1960) and played basketball for Madison Brooks at East Tennessee State.

A fiery coach, it was easy to think of Gene Hackman’s character in “Hoosiers” stalking the sideline when Scheuerman’s juices were flowing, although Dabney Coleman would’ve been better cast to play Scheuerman.

He coached the ETSU freshman team when it had future OVC player of the year and ABA player Harley “Skeeter” Swift during the 1965-66 season. The Bucs had two scholarship basketball players, but upset Ray Mears’ freshman team, coached by A.W. Davis, in Stokely Athletic Center.

Scheuerman later coached Melissa “Skeeter” McCray at Science Hill when the Hilltoppers girls program made its first two state tournament appearances in 1984 and ’85.

George Pitts played on the ETSU freshman team when it beat Tennessee. Pitts guarded fellow Knoxville product Bill Young.

“George guarded Young, and he put the clamps on him,” Scheuerman said. “George would get after you and George could jump pretty good. … We’d clear it out for Skeeter and I don’t know how many he scored, but they couldn’t stop him. I’ve always heard Mears started recruiting Skeeter after that one.

“Anyway, we beat ‘em with two scholarship players, and they had (Billy) Hahn and (Bill) Justus and Young. It was right before Tennessee played (LSU). So it was pretty cool.”

Pitts said Scheuerman had a significant role in the upset.

“He’s very low-key about what he did coaching at Science Hill (and ETSU),” said Pitts, who won three state championships at Science Hill and four more at Brentwood Academy. “But trust me, Gary is an excellent basketball coach.”

Scheuerman played for Madison Brooks at ETSU and later coached ETSU’s freshman team.

Scheuerman wasn’t low-key about a lot of things. Swift wore on him, and when Swift retaliated with an intentional foul in a game against Brevard, Scheuerman decided he’d had enough.

“Skeeter liked to have killed a kid from Brevard,” Scheuerman said. “Now, he could play, but he could drive you crazy.”

The two became friends, and they laughed nearly 50 years later when Scheuerman recalled basically telling ETSU head coach Madison Brooks he couldn’t work with Swift anymore. Brooks promptly thanked Scheuerman for his time and perhaps wished him luck with future endeavors.

“Skeeter wasn’t going anywhere,” Scheuerman said with a chuckle.

Scheuerman’s pesky principles again reared their outspoken head when he was coaching the Science Hill girls. Freshman Leah Jackson, who went on to become a Carson-Newman Hall of Famer, wasn’t eligibile to play when McCray was a senior due to Science Hill’s campus only including grades 10-12.

“We could’ve won the state if Leah had been eligible when Skeeter was a senior,” said Scheuerman, who grew frustrated that nothing was done to change the situation.

So he resigned and went to David Crockett, where he became the athletic director. He hired Mike Poe, who coached the Crockett boys basketball program to its first sectional appearance. Poe and Scheuerman also started the Hardee’s Classic tournament, which is going strong 30 years later.

“We did some good things at Crockett,” Scheuerman said. “Mike Poe was the seventh-grade quarterback when I coached at Church Hill. And he played Little League baseball in the league I started down there and he came on Saturday mornings to basketball.”

Scheuerman also coached baseball at Church Hill, which upset John Whited’s powerful Dobyns-Bennett team with a season-ending shocker one season.

“I started a kid named Gary Oliver and I swear to you, he could not have broken a windowpane,” Scheuerman said. “But he could drop it off the table. He could throw a curveball.

“Dobyns-Bennett was coached by John Whited. They had a bunch of college players, they were 16-1, I believe, and their only loss was to VPI’s (Virginia Tech) freshmen. Whited was a great baseball coach.”

Scheuerman went on to coach at North Junior High in Johnson City, where his rival for a time was South Junior High coach Lonnie Lowe. He loved coaching guys like Paul Faw, Ralph Kiser and Little Joe Bradley while taking on “the Stuarts and the Simpsons” when facing South.

“I liked to beat Lonnie,” Scheuerman said, “and I’m sure he liked to beat me.”

One of Scheuerman’s wins against Lowe came at a cost. He’d played zone defense to beat South, and Science Hill coach Elvin Little didn’t want the junior high teams playing anything other than man-to-man defense.

Lowe told Little that Scheuerman had employed a zone, and Scheuerman and Little butted heads over it.

Little said decades later that he had a lot of respect for Scheuerman.

“Gary has a great basketball mind,” Little said.

He was a good player, too. Scheuerman averaged 15.8 points per game on a Science Hill team that was 19-4 and ranked No. 10 in the state late in season when he was a senior. Bill Wilkins’ Hilltoppers ended Dobyns-Bennett’s 43-game conference wins streak under Guy B. Crawford that season and defeated a Buck Van Huss-coached squad at Hampton that went on to win the state tournament.

But lead guard Graham Spurrier sustained a season-ending ankle injury late in the season and the ‘Toppers lost four of their final six without him, including a first-round loss to Erwin in the district tournament.

“We were sorry,” Scheuerman said. “We were individuals. It wasn’t a team involved in that at all. Everybody was interested in their own thing. I moved in here and I was kind of a foreigner because I had come from Ohio (his freshman year) and there was a couple guys I stepped in front of. But you know, we just we just didn’t play as a daggone team.”

Scheuerman was a one-man show in a regular-season win against Erwin his senior year. He scored Science Hill’s final 10 points in the last 70 seconds of regulation to force overtime in a 56-52 win. The Blue Devils had led by nine points with less than three minutes remaining.

Scheuerman’s outburst included scoring a basket while getting fouled with eight seconds left in regulation. He intentionally missed the free throw and emerged from the ensuing scrum with the offensive rebound and scored again. The final two points of his game-high 24-point tally gave the Hilltoppers a 54-50 lead in OT.

“Scheuerman could play some basketball,” the late Spurrier said 50 years later. “And he really wanted to win.”

The late McCray, who was instrumental in Pat Summitt’s first two national championships at Tennessee, said playing for Scheuerman was great preparation if you wanted to play for Summitt.

“I didn’t think he liked me for the longest time,” she said with a chuckle. “But I really have a lot of respect and admiration for Coach Scheuerman. When you’re a kid sometimes you think coaches are being too tough, but I appreciate what he did. He invested a lot of himself in us and he affected my life in an extremely positive way.”


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