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Farragut, Bearden boys hoops coaches celebrate 10 years battling in Knox; 20 overall

Donald Dodgen and Mark Blevins first crossed paths about 20 years ago as rival college basketball coaches in the NCAA Division III Volunteer State Athletic Conference. While Dodgen was a successfully established head coach with the Tennessee Wesleyan College men in Athens, Blevins was in his first season as men’s coach at Bluefield College (Va.).“He was the new guy on the block and I was president of the of the Volunteer State Athletic Conference, and I called him up and welcomed him to the conference,” said Dodgen, 56, in his 11th season as head coach of the Farragut High School boys varsity team. “That’s the first contact we’d ever had.

“Ever since then we’ve been fierce competitors, but we’ve always been great friends — except for two nights a year, and sometimes more.”

Blevins returned the welcoming favor 10 years later — once again as a rival coach — as third-year Bearden varsity boys head coach welcoming Dodgen to Farragut.

Add 10 more years and 29 head-to-head battles as Bearden and Farragut coaches and mutual respect is the result.

Though Blevins, 53, holds a distinct edge in head-to-head contests in West Knox County, “We’re great friends, but we don’t talk much the week before [going against each other] or the week after,” Dodgen said. “I think that’s the reason we’ve probably stayed great friends.

“He’s a fierce competitor, great coach, an Xs and Os man. You couldn’t find a better person than Mark Blevins on the court.”

How has the friendship endured?

“I think we’ve been friends for years because we respect each other,” Dodgen said. “We don’t talk about each other in the negative part. If we get mad at each other, we straighten it out over the phone or face-to-face.”

Without citing specific examples, “Mark and I have been mad at each other a couple of times,” Dodgen said. “But we’ve worked it out ourselves, I think that’s why we’ve stayed great friends. Now we’re great competitors at rival schools, Farragut and Bearden.”

As rival coaches in college, Blevins and Dodgen went at it from 1986 to the early 1990s.

Blevins said, “The game I remember the most, our center, Lamont Woods, was injured, he injured his back in the game and I had to take him to McMinn County hospital immediately after the game. Don came out and we sat there and talked for a couple of hours while Lamont was getting checked out. He met me out there. I think that was the eighty-nine season.

“Don, he’s a real personable guy, he’s going to be someone that gets along with everybody,” Blevins added.

Within the Volunteer State Athletic Conference [later renamed the Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference], Blevins said he and Dodgen stuck together when it came to conference issues. “We kind of formed our own voting block on all the major issues that came up at meetings,” Blevins said.

After a standout career as a TWC player in the early 1970s, Dodgen began his coaching career at Riceville Elementary School.

More than 30 years and a handful of conference and district championships later, Dodgen’s career win-loss total stood at 578-230 entering the week.

Just before Dodgen’s move to Farragut, “I knew Don had applied for the job and I had hoped that we could coach against one another again,” Blevins said. “Of course, we had coached against each other in scrimmages when he was at Gatlinburg.

“I knew he’d be a welcomed addition to the league, and especially at Farragut,” Blevins added. “I thought that he would be the right type of person to coach at Farragut.”

After seven seasons at TWC that included VSAC championships, Dodgen spent four years as head coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School prior to arriving at Farragut. After Bluefield, Blevins took over at Johnson County before piloting the South-Doyle girls’ team for one seasons.

And their paths crossed again at rival schools beginning in the ’96-97 season. “I guess it was just fate, who knows,” Dodgen said.

Despite the rivalry, “We share scouting reports,” Dodgen said.

After beating Blevins and Bearden in a scrimmage as G-P head coach, Dodgen said he remembers his rival coach taking it hard. “Boy he’s a sore loser a little bit, like I am,” Dodgen said.

Even going back to elementary school level, Dodgen said he carries nightmare coaching losses with him to this day.

“I can remember my losses more than I can my wins,” he said, recalling specific losses dating back to Riceville Elementary — an undefeated team losing to Niota in the tourney title game.

Also included was a heartbreaking setback to Crossville while head coach of McMinn County High in Athens, blowing a six-point lead with a minute to play.

“You don’t learn from your wins, you learn from your losses,” Dodgen added. “I can tell you every tough loss from here to Gatlinburg-Pittman to Tennessee Wesleyan College to McMinn County High School, I can tell you to this day exact ones we lost and how we lost ’em.”

Another of those nightmares, the coach said, was a loss to Blevins and the Bulldogs on a last-second shot during the 2001-02 season.

In addition, “My worst loss here was probably in the district tournament when we were so good [1997] and got beat by Bearden for second-place,” Dodgen said.

Blevins will try and add another nightmare to Dodgen’s collection Friday, Jan. 19, when the two veteran skippers collide for the 30th time as high school coaches when BHS comes to Lynn E. Sexton Gymnasium.

Dodgen is looking to pilot his team to a season sweep after a 64-51 win at BHS Dec. 9, and duplicate his best year versus Bearden as Admiral skipper: 2003-04 when he beat Blevins and the ’Dawgs three times in four meetings.

Either way, these two rival coaches will likely remain friends.

And fierce competitors.


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