The amplifiers in the Austin-East (Tenn.) High School gym buzzed faintly while basketball players from AE and Brainard sat quietly together in one section of the bleachers. The man in front of them towered over the small group, even while sitting down.
All of the players had their eyes glued on Tennessee basketball legend Steve Hamer.
“Don’t let one moment in time define you,” Hamer’s words echoed throughout the gymnasium.
The players listening are used to the deafening noise coming from the Roadrunners’ home court. Saturday, Hamer’s wisdom was the only sound they heard.
“In everything you do, do it with all your might,” Hamer told them. “No matter the circumstances, you play for your brothers, you play for your parents, you play for the name across your chest, and you play for Him.”
AE and Brainerd have been trying to rebuild their reputations after a fight cost both teams a chance at the postseason in 2018. The brawl started on the court and quickly spread to the stands during a game between the two teams on Jan. 26 at Brainerd.
Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association placed both teams on restrictive probation for two years, which includes a postseason ban. The schools also canceled the football game they were scheduled to play in the fall.
Both schools hoped Saturday’s Sportsmanship Clinic put their respective programs in a more positive light.
“After the incident at Brainerd, Coach (Levar) Brown and I were talking about different ways that we could show that there’s no animosity between these teams,” said Austin-East coach Marcus Stanton. “They’ve always been together. They’ve played this game for a lot longer than I’ve been here.”
Both teams are hoping TSSAA officials will reconsider their appeals after organizing community service projects, like the event Saturday morning, and overturn the postseason ban for the 2018-19 season.
TSSAA will hear appeal cases for both Austin-East and Brainerd next month.
Austin-East players have already served meals at the Love Kitchen, which is part of a new and ongoing partnership between Austin-East and the Scarecrow Foundation, led by Executive Director Jimmy Buckner and Board Chairman and former Tennessee football player Derrick Furlow, both of whom spoke on Saturday.
The Scarecrow Foundation’s primary purpose to provide food for those in need, and the group has now started its first high school sponsored club at Austin-East, led by the basketball program.
“The overall message of today is community, sports, service, and sportsmanship,” Furlow said.
Between speakers, the teams mixed up to form groups and led several children who came for the clinic through shooting and skills drills. Guiding them through proper form and technique, some players even lifted the smallest kids to the basket.
“We just wanted to have people come out, especially the younger kids, to show that this is a good vibe place,” Stanton said. “We want people to know that when you come here, there’s no team that comes here that’s ever in any danger of anything.”