published Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Armstrongs double up in Cleveland State hall

One family took double pride in the second induction ceremony for the Cleveland State Athletics Hall of Fame.

McMinn Central High School boys' basketball coach Doug Armstrong and his sister, Karen Clark, both were among the 17 inductees honored Saturday at a brunch at the Mountain View Inn in Cleveland and again between games of the community college's basketball doubleheader against Walters State.

Armstrong was not able to hang around for the second recognition, as his Chargers had an afternoon game against Polk County in the District 5-AA tournament, but going into the hall with his sister as well as two of his Cougars teammates made for a great day.

"This really makes it special," he said. "Cleveland State was always kind of a family affair for us. I came down here a lot to see my sisters play before I came."

The Armstrongs all were McMinn Central standouts before moving on to the community college. Karen, in fact, held the Chargerettes' scoring record for years.

She and her twin Sharen, who was on the defensive end of their high school six-on-six teams, attended Cleveland State for a year before it had a women's program. In her thank-you remarks Saturday, Clark gave special attention to two of the other 2014 inductees, administrators L. Quentin Lane and the late George Mathis, for responding to the "begging" they heard from the sisters and other former high school girls' basketball players on campus about starting a team.

The Lady Cougars were formed the next year, 1974, under coach Hugh Walker, one of last year's inductees. Clark played in the program's first two years, while her sister moved on to Middle Tennessee State after one season.

"That was definitely an experience, that first year, but my second year I played with [2013 inductees] Liz Hannah and Zandra Montgomery, and we had a great team," said Clark, who had 12 assists in one game. "I loved five-man full-court. When we started playing that, it was like a light bulb went on."

As for the spotlight she shared Saturday, she said, "Amazing. Amazing. It's very much an honor to go in with my brother."

He was part of the first two Cougars teams Tom Losh coached after moving from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga staff, and as Armstrong said, the Cougars had struggled the year before but were "scrappy" in winning "19 or 20 games" that first season. The next year, he recalled, was golden, with a group of freshmen headed by fellow inductee Rodney Benson from Louisville.

Benson essentially was loaned out to Losh for a couple of seasons by UTC chief assistant Ralph Underhill, who by the time Benson ended his Cougars career was the head coach at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio. Benson went there and was an All-American and then played professionally for several years, and now he works for the city of Dayton.

"I appreciate what the people down here did for me," Benson said. "Cleveland State was a great place for me."

One of his teammates his freshman season was Tobin Davidson, who also was inducted into the hall Saturday but as one of four players from the baseball team that finished second in the 1980 Junior College World Series.

The others were fellow pitcher Ted Carson, shortstop Billy Butler and Greg Geren, who set a World Series record that still stands with 18 RBIs. He and Carson both went on to Tennessee, where they were roommates, and to pro ball and returned to the area and had outstanding coaching careers at Bradley Central and Cleveland High, respectively.

As for Davidson, later a Shorter College ace who also has coached in the area and now is Sale Creek's principal, Losh said, "Steve [Longley, the Cougars' Hall of Fame baseball coach] and I recruited Tobin together, because he wanted to do both sports and we wanted to make sure we didn't lose him. But he decided after that first year here to concentrate on baseball, which was a great decision for him."

Saturday's other inductees included former baseball and basketball coach Ed Coates, Charles "Bozo" Queener and Levi Scott from the first two Cougars basketball teams, Tracey Lynn Dixon James from 1977-79 women's basketball, tennis player and now longtime Cleveland Country Club pro and Lee University tennis coach Tony Cavett and golfer and now local industry leader Bob McIntire.

Another was Norma Nelson, the catcher on two CSCC softball teams that finished in the top five in the nation. She's now the East Hamilton high school coach after an illustrious career at Ooltewah and assisting at Gordon Lee.

Recently retired Cleveland State staff member Sherra Witt was inducted for meritorious service.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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