Paula Dickerson ‘epitome of what a fan should be’
By Kelly Hodge
Paula Dickerson is a Science Hill fan like few others.
For well over 50 years, she has been a fixture in the stands on Friday nights during football season to watch the Hilltoppers do their stuff. And she’s been a regular at basketball games for the last three decades.
Dickerson has fed teams, hosted receptions, headed up fundraisers and cheered on the kids so wholeheartedly through the years that she was inducted into the Science Hill Hall of Fame as a fan. It’s not an honor she takes lightly.
“It’s been an exciting time for me, just being around the kids and trying to help,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed myself.”
Last Friday was wet and gray, and at mid-afternoon the 81-year-old Dickerson wasn’t sure whether she was ready to sit in the rain and watch the ‘Toppers battle Tennessee High. By game time, the weather was a little less threatening and there she was in her seat in Section F, down on the aisle beside her son Phillip. Same as always.
“I’ve been going to games at home and on the road for so many years … it’s just what I like to do,” she said. “This is the first year I have not physically been able to go to away games. The stadiums are so hard to get in and out of. I sit at home and listen on the radio.”
Dickerson didn’t start out as a Science Hill partisan. She was raised in Big Stone Gap, Va., and attended East Stone Gap High School, which was consolidated into Powell Valley in the early 1960s.
She certainly made her mark in basketball there, once scoring 75 points in a game.
“It was back when we played half-court,” said Dickerson. “I was tall, maybe 5-10½, and they’d pass the ball in to me. I could pass off to the other two forwards or do a hook shot. I guess I did a few shots that night.”
Dickerson would come to Johnson City to attend East Tennessee State, and she played in the city leagues. Women’s basketball is still one of her favorite games to watch.
She first started showing up at old Memorial Stadium on football Fridays to keep from being bored.
“I met my husband Charles at ETSU,” she said. “After we were married, he started going out on Friday nights with the guys. I thought, ‘I’m not going to sit at home,’ and convinced him to let me go to the games. Pretty soon it was just the two of us.
“I think my first game was in 1958. I still have a cancelled check my husband had written for two season tickets in August of 1962. It was for $10.”
Charles has been gone for 23 years now. Paula comes to the games with Phillip, who was once a team manager when George Pitts was the ultra-successful basketball coach.
She started going to basketball games regularly then and hasn’t stopped. When Science Hill built its new gym a few years ago, Dickerson received VIP treatment from Darrell Barnwell, the former girls basketball coach.
“He called and said, ‘Paula, I’ve got time to go around and show you everything.’ He picked out a couple of seats that were good for me and gave me a choice of one up high or down low,” she said. “We took the higher one for a couple of years but couldn’t see as well, so we moved. I like to be closer to the action.”
Dickerson has always been close to the action at Science Hill, it seems. Lord knows how many athletes have come under her gaze.
Keith Turner, who now pulls double duty as athletic director and girls basketball coach, says Dickerson is a valuable asset to the school and community.
“She’s in our hall of fame as a fan, which says a lot,” said Turner. “She volunteers for so many different types of things and is so positive and uplifting. She’s always there no matter how she feels.
“She’s just the epitome of what a fan should be.”
Football coach Stacy Carter recalled that a couple of weeks ago when his team made its weekly church appearance, Dickerson was there along with Elvin Little, who was coaching basketball at Science Hill when she first got involved.
“She was definitely in charge of that place over there,” said Carter. “To see how much she cares about the kids and the program, it’s neat to see. She’s a fine lady.”