Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of …
Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of Black & Gold Glory” book by Gary Ownbey. It is due to be published in December. This is Part 1 of a two-part story, which will be concluded in Monday’s Banner.
There have been thousands of athletes to represent Bradley County throughout its history.
Numerous ones have not only stood out on the high school level but also gone on to great college careers, gathering national attention, before reaching the professional ranks.
However, when the discussion turns to who’s the best ever from our county, one name is immediately proclaimed — Steve Sloan.
The mention of Sloan and Bradley Central athletics brings back some of the most vivid emotions and memories to a great many members of the Bear Nation.
Whether you were on one of the athletic teams of which Sloan was a member or whether you were an opponent playing against him, you certainly became aware very quickly of the God-given talent this young man brought to any endeavor in which he participated.
As a multi-sport athlete, he was honored in about every way that an athlete could be honored.
The son of C.L. (Preacher) Sloan and Virginia Byrd Sloan, he began life in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 19, 1944. From the time he was born, until the family finally settled in Cleveland in 1953, Steve and his family bounced back and forth while his dad served in the United States Air Force.
There were numerous moves between Tennessee and Texas, but once settling in Cleveland, Sloan quickly became a player in the spotlight throughout his high school days leading into college and beyond.
After advancing through elementary school at Arnold Memorial to Bradley Central, he became just another student walking the halls and having fun, all the while making friends and excelling athletically.
His athletic prowess and success got him honored with a ‘Steve Sloan Day” after his playing career had ended.
“He had to study to make the grades and he did just that,” according to Inez Clemmer, Bradley Central assistant principal at the time.
“All A’s and B’s and never any trouble. He was so good in sports that you would think he would be distasteful, but he was not,” added Clemmer. His four-year grade point average in high school was 91.285. Not bad for such a talented “jock.”
Sloan was also a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club during his days at BCHS and continued with that organization into his days at the University of Alabama while playing for the legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
But let’s start with his success at Bradley and work our way forward through the years.
As a Bear, he played on the baseball team as a freshman but dedicated his final three spring seasons to the golf team.
Playing for legendary coach Jim Smiddy, Sloan would lead the Bears to a second-place finish in the state golf tournament in his sophomore season. As a senior, he helped the team nail down a fourth place finish, while placing third in the individual competition.
The three-sport athlete was also a standout on the gridiron in the fall and the hardwood winter.
He would feel the pain of athletics in football at Bradley. His dad recalled how he got really beat up in practice with injured ribs and bruises, “One Sunday morning he was so sore he couldn’t get out of bed,” remembered “Preacher” Sloan.
Former teammate and great friend, Louie Alford recalled the time he injured Sloan in a practice. “I was a senior fullback, and Steve was a sophomore quarterback. Everyone knew he was going to be outstanding. Anyway, in practice I was matched up with Sloan, and we collided and I threw my arms up in a blocking move and broke his nose,” he now recalls fondly.
“I was worried sick that Coach Billy Frank Smith was going to throw me off the team for injuring the star player,” he added. By the way, that 1959 team finished the season with a perfect 10-0 record and was voted No. 2 in the state in the final poll. Many consider that team to be equal to any Bear team in history.
In football, Sloan’s first position on the field was as a 145-pound tackle according to then assistant coach Harold Henslee. “He was tall and skinny when he made his first appearance as a tackle. A tackle had gotten hurt in practice, and head coach Billy Frank Smith called for a replacement, and Sloan answered the call.”
“Later, he also sneaked in as a linebacker before Coach Smith caught him and sent him to the sidelines and said he was a quarterback. And what a quarterback he turned out to be,” Henslee said.
Another great friend of Sloan’s was Rev. Walker of First Baptist. “Of all the young men I have ever met in my entire ministry, Steve is the most outstanding Christian young man I have ever met.”
Sloan was blessed with the ability and talent to pick up any sport that he chose to try.
Alford recalled the time Steve was challenged to a game of bowling. Seems like Jimmy Corn, who built the old Village Shopping Center, which included a bowling alley, felt the need to challenge Sloan.
Sloan had never bowled before, but Corn was quite proficient at it. Corn just knew that with all the bowling experience he had that this would be one sport that Sloan could be bested. As you may have guessed, Sloan picked up a bowling ball and smoked Corn at his own game. The kid was simply amazing!
An unprecedented feat awaited Bradley in Sloan’s senior season with the Bears with something never before or since accomplished — the Triple Crown of state championships.
The fall of 1961, the Bears were voted the state championship in football (TSSAA playoffs didn’t begin until 1969) with No. 14 calling the signals, plus playing outstanding defense.
On the hardwood, the basketball teams also had the look and feel of state contenders under the guidance of Bill Walker for the Bears and Jim Smiddy for the Bearettes.
Both teams were loaded with talent as Sloan and his running mate, Lloyd Hewitt, as the mainstays for the Bears, finished the season 33-6.
The Bearettes would finish 36-1 and claim the first state championship in Smiddy’s illustrious career one week after the boys knocked off Knox Fulton in the title tilt for the Bear’s third state title.
Three state titles in the three major sports in the same school year had never been achieved before 1962 and has not been equaled since.
However, in the calendar year of 1994, Bradley pulled off another unique achievement winning state titles in volleyball, baseball and wrestling. Plus, Eddie Coates picked up a state tennis championship in singles, while with Heath Eslinger and Alan Patterson nailed down individual titles in wrestling. Quite a year by any measure for the Bradley athletic programs.
In his book, “Field of Dreamers,” Gene Pearce proclaimed that Steve Sloan was “one of the greatest multi-sport athletes of the 1960s.”
Sloan was in high school at the same time as standout athletes Steve Spurrier of Johnson City Science Hill, Knox Fulton’s Ron Widby and Charlie Fulton, from Memphis Whitehaven. Ironically, it would be Spurrier who followed Sloan years later at Duke as head football coach.
In Pearce’s book, Sloan was queried about why Bradley was so dominant. He replied, “We had only one high school in a fairly large town, plus we had good coaches. I was really crazy about basketball, and I loved Coach Walker. He was a great guy. We really had a lot of fun. Billy Frank Smith was my football coach the first three years and then Coach Harold Henslee my senior year. I think we had about 2,800 students in the school. Bradley had a great history.”
Athletes like Sloan gave no thought when switching from sport to sport. “It’s not the case now where athletes specialize more in sports. It wasn’t that way when I was playing. It was no problem for me to play the last football game and then go play a basketball game the next week,” he mentioned.
Sloan was named All-State in both football and basketball before accepting a scholarship to play for the Crimson Tide and “Bear” Bryant. He most likely would have attended Tennessee if the Vols had not been running the single-wing offense at the time.
Part 2 of this story will be in Monday’s edition of the Banner.
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