TENNESSEE VALLEY (WHNT) — A look back at sports in the Tennessee Valley shows growth.
From UAH basketball to three NCAA championships won on the football field at UNA and the birth of hockey in Huntsville, the sports landscape is full and the history rich.
“Those are the things that were just sort of in that time. Entities that we know kind of take for granted,” said Huntsville Times and al.com writer Mark McCarter.
A look back shows sports look very different than it did in 1963.
Over the course of 50 years, two big currents shifted in Alabama, and those movements were felt across the Tennessee Valley.
First, sports became more diverse.
50 years ago, with few exceptions, blacks and whites in the Tennessee Valley did not compete in sports.
But over five decades, the talent pool of athletes became more diverse, and coaches say it made their teams stronger and more competitive.
The recent Collinsville High State championship soccer team was loaded with players of Hispanic heritage.
The other change is female sports. 50 years ago, high school and college sports were a testosterone soaked endeavor. The girls play now and compete fiercely.
Now, female athletes compete for in everything from basketball to softball and golf.
Tennessee Valley football fans follow Alabama and Auburn with religious zeal.
Over five decades, Bama fans travelled to Tuscaloosa to follow championship teams lead by Coaches named Bryant and Saban.
Auburn fans made the long trip to the plains to watch special talents like Bo Jackson and in 2010 watched an electrifying talent named Cam Newton lead the orange-and-blue to a national championship.
Conredge Holloway played football at Tennessee. Some say he was the best all-around athlete ever in north Alabama.
But the best football player, arguably, in the Valley may have played in Normal, Alabama.
John Stallworth played college football at Alabama A&M. He was a Bulldog legend and is now a NFL Hall of Famer.
Stallworth was a co-founder of Madison Research, a company he later sold for millions that employed almost 500 people.
His legacy here in the Valley comes from his life after football.
“I think that is what john would like for people to believe. He is a businessman who happened to play football at a high level to play in the football hall of fame. Developed his business and given so much back to the community in the way of his foundation,” said McCarter
Mark McCarter has forgotten more about sports than most people know. He says when you look back at 50 years of Huntsville sports, some of the biggest stories have fallen off the radar.
Like Huntsville`s Bryant Shelton, who reached the Wimbledon Quarters in 1994. He played in 17 majors and won two tournaments on the tour.
And Don Mincher, the first president and general manager of the Huntsville Stars.
A former major leaguer who was also president of the Southern League, Mincher , was the nicest, classiest man ever on the sports landscape in north Alabama.
“It was just one of those blessings the night I spent in the press box at Joe Davis Stadium just talking to him. Have him tell stories, just learning the game from him. Just being around him,” said McCarter
The Stars still play just off the Parkway in Huntsville in a stadium built in 1985. Terrific players from Canseco to McGwire to Tejada played ‘The Joe.’
McCarter says the Stars future may be dictated by what happens to an old tired stadium.
“I`ve been lucky to see every ball park in the Southern League but one since 1976, so I have a vantage point that may be unique. I`ve seen where other stadiums have done to their communities. And they’ve improved things and what it`s meant to a community. They look at Joe Davis Stadium and they said it’s serviceable and that is about all” said McCarter
But the most remarkable athlete to come through Huntsville is an Olympian whom McCarter says displayed courage in and out of the pool, Margaret Hoeltzer.
”She steadfastly trained and went to three Olympic trials. Went to two Olympics and won medals in Beijing and then came out after and talked about sexual abuse as a six year old kid by the father of one of her friends,” said McCarter.
Eric Lidell once wrote, “In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.”
And on any given day, on any given weekend, the fields of competition are loaded with athletes, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and more. Male, female, young and old leave their best on the field.
It`s a joy to watch.