TOP PHOTO: Hugh Garner at a La Follette High School reunion in June of 2018.
By Jim Freeman
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TN (WLAF) – He played football on the field he called “the hole down behind the school.” That’s Liberty Park these days, and it sits behind where La Follette High School once stood, now an empty bank building and the Ridgeview Clinic are there.
Hugh Garner was a standout football player for not only the La Follette Owls, but the Tennessee Vols as well. Garner, a career attorney after his playing days, passed away last week.
CLICK HERE for the complete interview with Hugh Garner from June of 2018. It was recorded at an LHS reunion.
“I’m so glad I talked with him a few weeks ago,” said Linda Sharp-Agee. She grew up across the street from Garner, and they played sports together. Garner grew up in the house his father, Isaac, built, the stone house that still sits at the corner of 9th and Beech Streets.
Garner mentioned Agee in an interview with WLAF nearly three years ago. “She played everything we played; tackle football, baseball and basketball. Linda was the greatest female athlete that ever lived,” said Garner.
“He was always a special person to me and was a good friend. Hugh was always so sweet and was just a very good person,” added Agee. She could never think of a time Hugh ever caused his parents any trouble.
In that same interview, Garner called Ron Murray, the former coach of the Owls, his closest friend in La Follette. “Now that’s not to say I didn’t have some other great friends, like the Troutmans,” Garner said.
“Hugh started as a sophomore on the football team when I was a senior,” said Murray. He thought Garner was really good even as an underclassman.
Murray went on to say, “We’ve remained close all these years, and I’m glad we did.” Before Garner graduated from LHS in 1951, Murray helped coach him in football and basketball.
Garner played for two of the greatest coaches to ever pace the sidelines at La Follette; Jack Armstrong in football and John R.W. Brown in basketball. Garner described both coaches as demanding on becoming as proficient as you could possibly be. “They practiced us that way,” added Garner.
For the Owls, Garner starred in football and basketball. He played safety and tailback in football. “Jacksboro, Jellico, Lake City and Clinton were our big rivals. We could just never seem to beat Young High out of south Knoxville,” said Garner.
Fans would pack it out to see Owl football down in the hole behind the school. The concrete bleachers, that still stand, would be full while others would stand on the bank behind First Baptist Church to watch Garner remembered.
Garner credits his father’s friendship with Tennessee Football Coach General Robert Neyland for his scholarship to play football for the Vols. “I started three or four games my freshman year, but I injured my shoulder and missed the last of the season. I was just a little short on my quarters to letter that first season,” said Garner. Tennessee won the 1951 national championship Garner’s freshman season.
At Tennessee, Garner played on Neyland’s last two teams before he retired. There were several games where Garner played the entire game. His main position was defensive halfback though he did get in some time at tailback.
Garner shared that “we bussed to some games but for any distance to a game, we always flew.” He did mention that one time they took a train for a game at Memphis.
Dan Butler played tackle for the Vols and was Garner’s roommate. At the request of Dan, Hugh was in his wedding. He ended up meeting the sister of the bride and later married her, Marilyn Burnett.
Garner called La Follette the perfect town to grow up in. “At least it was for me, because I love it, and I still do,” said Hugh. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 02/15/2021-6AM)