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Luring Rocky Top to BHS, Blevins praises hoop league

Through his friendship with Pilot Rocky Top League founder Andre Whitehead, Mark Blevins helped land Bearden High School as host site for a college basketball summer league featuring UT Volunteer players.

“Andre and I just know each other,” said Blevins, BHS boys varsity head basketball coach the past 13 seasons. “We just worked it out.”

Fans filled the BHS gym to overflow capacity for twice-weekly league play (three games each evening among the six-team league) that concluded its season Wednesday, July 18, after a nine-game schedule that began June 18.

“You see the children that have never gotten a chance to really get that close to [UT’s] Chris Lofton, or any of the other kids, especially U-T kids,” Blevins said. “… It’s tremendous to get to see those kids running around getting autographs.

“Then you’ve got fans that come solely to just watch the U-T kids play,” he added. “I think that’s a great benefit right there, because it’s up close. You’ll never get to do that when they’re over there playing at U-T.

“Secondly, I think the kids that are N-A-I-A players, or Division Two players, or the JUCO kids, they’re probably playing twice as hard as the Division One kids are because they’re trying to show that, ‘hey, I can play with you guys.’ I think that’s another great thing of having it. Third, I think it’s good for all the players, in general. Just keeping them in shape and progressing their game during the summer.”


The league also featured several former Bearden alumni in addition to ex-Farragut Admiral post Ben Bosse.

“Originally, what I wanted to do, I wanted to have just a Bearden team ’cause we’ve got enough kids in college playing,” Blevins said. “[Andre] felt a draft would be better, and if we drafted then all the Bearden players would be in the draft, too. It’s worked out great. … We just really wanted to have fun.”

Using the league as a means to raise money, Bearden Boys Basketball Booster Club was in charge of concessions, Blevins said, with the money to be used “if we need, maybe some sweats, shoes, during the season, something like that.” The coach had no estimates or hard numbers on how much money the boosters raised.

Blevins said Bearden High School basketball “kinda struggled at the gate” during BHS 2006-07 home games in terms of collecting a high enough percentage of gate receipts — hurt further by a large number of students who earned free admission based on high GPA scores.

With concerns raised about possible taxpayer funds going into the operation of BHS’s gym during Rocky Top action, both Blevins and Russ Oaks, Knox County Schools system spokesman, put those concerns to rest.

“The taxpayers aren’t paying for nothing,” Blevins said.

Oaks said, “[Whitehead/ league officials] do pay $100 a day for the use of that facility, which is the fee that’s set by the [Knox County] Board of Education. They additionally pay for their own security and cover all the custodial work that has to be accomplished in association with that league.”

Blevins brushed aside questions about overcrowding in the BHS gym. “We’ll see … we’ll be glad to host it through the booster club again,” the Bulldog skipper said. “It’s all up to Andre, whatever he wants to do.

“I think it may expand next year, and you may have to play four nights … and you have eight teams as opposed to six,” Blevins added.

As for crediting the league’s overall success, “Andre’s been the key to it, getting everything going,” Blevins said.

Helping run the league was BHS boys varsity basketball assistant Jason Barnes. “He does so much behind the scenes,” Blevins said.


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