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Picture of the first Mountain City football team jogs memories from days long ago

During my employment at the Tomahawk Newspaper I was sports editor, sports writer, photographer, circulation manager, process camera operator, darkroom technician, advertisement sales manager, with a few other duties thrown in. Although all those duties weren’t concurrent, some were.
One special task was to cover the Johnson County High School Football Team. I had mixed emotions about that part of my job. By that I mean I really enjoyed it, especially the photography part. What I didn’t enjoy was the rainy and cold weather. I remember once that it was so cold at an away game my camera froze up and failed to operate. Fortunately, I was able to get some shots before the malfunction occurred. Anyway I have good memories of those times. It was an exciting time shooting action photos and following the game. I commend Jonathan Pleasant for the great job he is doing covering Johnson County sports.

Recently Harold Arnold, who was Johnson County High School football coach for many years and who had some great seasons guiding the team, loaned me a picture that he had of the first Johnson County High School football team. Arnold was also basketball and baseball coach at JCHS for many seasons. The picture of the football team was taken in 1927 and football was new to the then high school in the county. The school was then called Mountain City High School. Each team member wore a big “M” on his jersey. Later came the name Johnson County High School. The nickname of the team later was the Johnson County Rangers.

I recently asked John Arnold of the Class of 1948 if he remembered when the nickname was changed to the Longhorns and the circumstances surrounding the change. Arnold said his class was instrumental in the nickname change in 1947. He said at that time farmers were importing a lot of Longhorn cattle, hence the new name. The nickname “Rangers” is now the nickname of the Unaka High School football team.

The first coach for the Mountain City squad was H. E. Wallace, a graduate of East Tennessee State Teacher’s College (Now East Tennessee State University.) N. C. Kelly was the second coach at the helm for the Mountain City team. He was from Morristown. He reportedly was a graduate of the University of Tennessee. The late Tom Gentry, who served as Johnson County Historian until his death on September 5, 2005, reported that the first year the Mountain City team lost all but one game on the schedule. The next season the team did much better, losing only one game and that was to Tennessee High at Bristol. Gentry said Back then the team played Elizabethton, Abingdon, Jonesborough, Saltville, King College, Appalachian State, Emery and Henry College, Gate City, Tennessee High, Virginia High, etc.

High School Football is a long standing tradition in Johnson County and a tremendous number of Johnson County folks get ready for the first game of the season and follow the fortunes of the Longhorns all season long. The fans are very loyal. The Paul H. McEwen Stadium is filled each home game and JCHS fans turn out in large numbers for away contests.