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April 16, 2014

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South Greene To Honor 1988 State Championship Team

Originally published: 2013-01-15 11:01:25
Last modified: 2013-01-15 11:02:05


Sports Editor Emeritus

There are still plenty of pleasant memories for Debbie Hawhee when she recalls the South Greene High basketball team of 1988 that won the TSSAA State Championship.

Hawhee, now Dr. Debbie Hawhee, is an English professor at Penn State University, and she won't be making the trip home this Friday night when South Greene honors the team that captured the school's second straight state title in 1988.

But several of her teammates are expected to be on hand for the ceremony, the 25th anniversary of that state championship season.

Between her duties as a college professor, and as a mother who has an almost three-year-old daughter, there just isn't enough time for the visit to Greeneville.

"I so wish I could come," she said in a telephone interview last week from State College, Pa. Hawhee's parents, Ed and Mary, still reside in the Meadow Creek Community of southern Greene County. "But there just isn't enough time."

Hawhee, now married to John Marsh and the mother of Nora Marsh, who will be age three next month, was named Class AA Miss Basketball for the state of Tennessee during her senior year at South Greene.

A 6-0 post player who ran the floor like a gazelle and who could put the ball on the floor as well as most point guards, was recruited by Pat Summitt and eventually went on to play at the University of Tennessee for four years, where she obtained national championship rings in 1989 and 1991 to go along with the high school championship rings she earned at South Greene in 1987 and 1988.

"I've always thought that South Greene team had the most cohesiveness," she said. "We all had a role on that team and we knew what that role was. The previous year when we won state, we had Nicole (Hopson), and she could do so many things, plus we had Gwen Cobble at point.

"I guess the key was when Lanna (Owens) came back to South Greene (from Knoxville) and took over at guard," Hawhee said. "We had the speed in Tiffney (Casteel) and Donna (Fillers), and Laura (Higgins) and I complemented each other in the middle."

After going unbeaten (39-0) in 1987, Hawhee's 1988 squad lost only once, and in two years South Greene composed a remarkable record of 77-1, including a 52-game winning streak.

She well remembers when that winning streak was stopped, a loss to powerful Oak Ridge in a Christmas tournament at Bearden in Knoxville.

"That was the game I got the technical," she remembers with a laugh.

Not only did Hawhee get a technical, but the late Coach Larry Ricker got two of them, ousting him from the gym.

Ricker, who led South Greene to four state titles during his remarkable career before his death, related the story of the Oak Ridge loss to me several times in his later years.

Hawhee was whistled for a technical when she slammed the ball on the floor in frustration after getting called for a personal foul. Ricker, always quick to take up for his players, argued with the officials that Hawhee didn't slam the ball and let it bounce away, didn't say anything to the officials, that she was just mad at herself.

The men in the striped shirts didn't see it that way. After two technicals, Ricker had to leave the building.

Unfortunately, Ricker related to me later, it was a bitter cold night outside, and he left the building without a coat, headed for the bus. When he got to the bus, he had forgotten to get the keys from Rusty Miller, the bus driver, and he was literally left out in the cold.

"I almost froze that night," I can still remember Ricker laughing to me later.

Hawhee said she was blessed to have coaches as she had during her playing career.

"The day it was announced that I was Miss Basketball, we had a game that night, and I played awful," Hawhee recalls. "It was a road game, and I just knew when I got on the bus Coach Ricker was going to really get after me.

"We hadn't much more than left the gym until he came to my seat and sat beside me. I can still remember him saying, 'Deb, there's a lot of pressure comes with that honor. You'll be OK. Just shake this one off.'"

Later, she had the honor for playing for Coach Summitt. She said she and her daughter along with another college teammate visited Pat's home last summer. The veteran coach resigned after last season due to the early-onset dimentia.

"I got a picture of Nora sitting on Pat's lap," Debbie said. "That was special."

Hawhee met her 6-6 husband at the University of Illinois, and she laughs "he's one of the few men I had ever dated that could beat me in basketball."

The two still play ball regularly for recreation purposes. She's not sure if Nora will be a basketball player, but "she is a bit taller right now than most of her friends."

She earned her doctorate in 2000, and she obviously enjoys her teaching duties at Penn State.

"Right now I have a sports ethics and literature class that I really enjoy," she said.

While the former Miss Basketball will be missing Friday night at the ceremony, several others from that squad will be on hand.

Except for the 77-65 loss to Oak Ridge, who went on that year to win the Class AAA state championship, the Rebels were seldom tested during that 1987-88 campaign on their way to a 38-1 worksheet. Twice they scored over 100 points. Four more times they scored in the 90s.

To win the state, they beat York Institute 76-49, Gibson County 70-47 and Cannon County 68-54 in the championship game. Hawhee was the unanimous choice as tournament MVP. Owens, Higgins and Casteel joined her on the all-tourney squad.

Most of the season the starting lineup consisted of Hawhee, Owens and Fillers, all seniors, along with juniors Higgins and Casteel. The remaining team members were sophomore Pam Bettis, freshmen Amy Bible and Brandy Redmon, junior Dawn Stills, sophomore Sherry Casteel, freshman Marcy Davis and sophomore Katina Lafollette.

Those ladies will all be honored Friday night during the basketball game with West Greene. A reception is planned for the team members and invited guests at 5 p.m. The squad will be recognized in a ceremony at halftime of the girls game.

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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