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‘We Were Pat’s Boys’

January 19, 2018

In the early 1980’s,  University of Tennessee head basketball coach Pat Summitt realized that the harder her Lady Vols practiced against each other, the more their injuries increased before the game clock even began. So she came up with a plan that would allow her team to practice at a high level of intensity without beating up on one another. Instead, they would practice against the best UT’s Men’s Intramural Basketball League had to offer, the Tuppers, featuring Manchester’s own Tony Clayborne, Keith Duke, and Robbie Swain, Billy Heath of Fayetteville and Ricky Smith of Shelbyville. Little did they know, their hard work and excellent play would lead to an opportunity to help the Lady Vols reach the NCAA National Championship game and to share in the making of history. For before all the National Championships, there were “Pat’s boys.”

Clayborne, Duke and Swain played together at Coffee County Central High School during the 1978-79 season. After graduating high school, Clayborne and Swain joined Heath and Smith and played basketball the next two years for Motlow State Community College. After graduating from Motlow, the four enrolled at UT and wanting to continue the sports they loved, they picked up fellow Raider Keith Duke and formed the Tuppers. As it turned out, the Tuppers were a force to be reckoned with throughout the different I-M sport leagues on campus and they had the wins prove it.

In a recent interview with CCN – Coffee County News, Clayborne, Duke, Swain and UT Lady Vol stand out player Pat Hatmaker recall those early days on the court during the 1983-84 season, playing together under legendary coach Pat Summitt.

After the Tuppers won the pre-season intramural basketball tournament, Deane Edlemen who worked with the UT Women’s Athletic program, met with them and asked if they would like to practice against the Lady Vols, saying they had the right temperament for what was needed.

“We were just so excited,” said Clayborne. “I asked if we were to go straight to the court and we were told no, first you’ve got to meet the coach. I don’t think she was going to bring us to the court until we passed the Pat Summitt test. In 1983, Pat Summitt was not yet ‘Pat’ but she was still very direct and looked you in the eye. She was intimidating in a nice way.”

When they arrived at Coach Summitt’s office, Tony remembers her saying to them, “There are three things I will demand of you or you won’t be out there. I know y’all are a little bigger, (but we weren’t that much bigger, but we were a little bigger),” he said with a laugh.

Tony Clayborne as a CHS Raider. CHS Yearbook Photo

“One, I don’t want you blocking any shots. Two, I don’t want you taking any charges and three, most of all, don’t hurt my girls,” Tony said quoting Summitt.

“To be candid, we sort of took the Lady Vols for granted going in,” said Swain, “but quickly learned to respect their physicality, effort and talent, which exceeded many of the male players we had competed against.”

The Tuppers were put to work their first day on the Stokely basketball court. At this time, the Lady Vols were playing exhibition games because the season had not yet begun and they played at Stokely because the new arena had yet to be built.

“We didn’t play games against them,” said Clayborne. “We would get with the assistant coaches when we got there and they would go over the opponent offense and then we would run that and then we would run that half-court against them, over and over and over and over. Then, we would run their defense and the Lady Vols would be on the offense.”

“Because most of us had played together in good high school and college programs, Coach Summitt appreciated that we could run any number of concise offensive and defensive schemes to help her team prepare for the game plans of upcoming opponents,” added Swain.

Robbie Swain as a CHS Raider. CHS Yearbook Photo.

“They had two teams, their starting team and their subs. And there were times they would wear us down. That is true,” said Clayborne. “But, we were in the best shape of our lives.”

“The biggest thing I noticed about Pat was she was so meticulous about every detail,” added Clayborne. They (the team) could run everything perfect for 45 seconds or a minute but one little mistake would ruin it all. Remember in those days, they didn’t have a 3 point line or a 30 second shot clock, but in one minute, one little thing could ruin it all,” he echoed.

“She (Summitt) was as demanding of hard-nosed play and perfecting of the fine details as any coach I’ve demonstrated on the court in crunch time. Many talk a good game about coaching, but the true indicator of superior coaching is displayed by the performance and teamwork of their players executing their coach’s instructions on the floor. No teams did that better than UT under Coach Summitt.”

“We got to see her wrath at the ladies almost every day,” said Duke. “And when she yelled ‘everybody on the line’ it meant that we could get a drink of water and take a break.”

Clayborne remembers a day when the team experienced the consequences of breaking team rules.

Keith Duke as a CHS Raider. CHS Yearbook Photo

“Pat said, ‘Boys, I’m not going to need you today, but you’re welcome to stay.’ So, we were curious and we stayed. She put garbage cans at the four corners of the gym and they ran until they all threw up.”

Pat Hatmaker played for the Lady Vols from 1980-1984 and she remembers when the team started practicing against the Tuppers.

“The guys really helped us tremendously with helping us to become stronger and helping us to play at a faster pace. Playing against different people each day instead of ourselves made a big improvement also,” said Hatmaker.

Coach Summitt expected the Tuppers to give their best effort for them to truly help her team.

“Trust me, Pat treated the practice guys just like she did her players and held them to the same standards so we always had really good practice guys on the floor who were really dedicated to helping us get better,” added Hatmaker. “And, we really appreciated the effort and hard work they put in to helping us succeed.”

Pat Hatmaker was a team leader and stand out player for the Lady Vols. She helped lead the team to the NCAA National Championship Finals. UT Athletics Photo

Duke remembers playing against Hatmaker and what a talented player and asset she was to the team.

“She worked alongside Lea Henry at guard in 1982-83 (her junior year) and then she basically ran the team in 83-84 when the Lady Vols went all the way to the championship game,” said Duke. “I remember how confident she was at directing and setting the offense. She was great at getting the ball to the scorers like Mary O’ (Ostrowski) and Tanya Haave. She was a steady leader for a great team her senior year.”

The Tuppers matched up by size when deciding who guarded whom. Tony was matched with Mary Ostrowski, one of the best players on the team.

“Why I was guarding her I don’t know. I was the worst defense player on our intramural team,” said Clayborne.

The practices were demanding and although injuries were avoided at all cost, at that level of intense play, unexpected things happen.

“I remember one practice where the team star, Mary Ostrowski, was knocked down hard by one of us practice guys on a rebound and the place got quiet while she laid there in pain,” said Duke. “I remember thinking, ‘what are we going to do if we broke her hip?’. Thankfully, Mary was fine.”

Asking Hatmaker if she remembered that tense time she replied, “I saw it myself. But that’s part of it and it made us tougher. So, when we played against women, we were ready for anything. We all got knocked down pretty hard,” she replied laughingly. “Even the guys at times.”

“When you play against stronger, bigger guys, you feel like you can play better against anybody. Because, you’re so much better prepared.”

Mary Ostrowski was instrumental in helping to lead the Lady Vols to the NCAA National Championship Finals. UT Athletics Photo

Coach Summitt treated the Tuppers as though they were part of her team. When the Lady Vols played in the Stokely Center, the Tuppers were seated right behind the bench where they could hear what was being said in the huddle and share in the excitement of the games.

“You know what, going over there to practices, I guess was some of the most memorable times I had at UT. I enjoyed heading over there, knowing that we were going to get beat up knowing that we couldn’t block shots, we couldn’t take charges, and we couldn’t hurt her girls, but obviously she didn’t give that same speech to them,” said Clayborne with a smile. “We worked them hard. We would steal balls from them if we could, and we did anything that we could that didn’t go against Pat’s rules. It was some of the best times, knowing that we were going to practice with the Lady Vols.”

The Lady Vols made it to the National Championship game that season but were defeated by University of Southern California 72-61 as USC had Cheryl Miller leading the Lady Trojans to their second straight championship.

“It was great to play a part in one of Pat’s first Final 4 teams,” said Duke.

“Pat tried to get us to go with them to the Final 4, but the school wouldn’t allow it due to liability, and I couldn’t afford to go to Southern California,” said Clayborne.

The 1983-84 Tennessee Lady Vols Basketball Team. Pictured from front left are Amy Gamble, Shelia Collins, Lisa Webb, Pat Hatmaker, Sonya Cannon, Shelly Sexton, Kristie Snyder and Pam Marr. Pictured from back left are Linda Ray, Paula Towns, Cheryl Littlejohn, Tanya Haave, Mary Ostrowski, Lynne Collins and Valerie Freeman. UT Athletics Photo

Not only did the Tuppers enjoy the Lady Vols winning season, all their hard work also contributed to them winning the UT overall I-M title and Clayborne being named the men’s Most Valuable Player of the Year in I-M athletics.

With a winning season behind her, Summitt spent the summer coaching the USA Women’s Basketball Team in the 1984 Summer Olympics including Lady Vol 1983 graduates Lea Henry and Cindy Noble. Henry and Noble had spent time on the practice squad trying to keep their skills fresh and stay in shape in preparation for the Olympic Games. Coach Summitt and her team did not disappoint as they won the gold medal that summer.

Though Duke’s Tupper days were over when he graduated in the spring of 1984, he still had occasion to see Summitt.

“I was blessed to be in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984 on a Campus Crusade for Christ summer project and I attended a couple of the Team USA women’s games and was able to reconnect with both Cindy and Lea after one of their easy victories early in the tournament,” said Duke. “I saw Pat Summitt several times over the years and would remind her of those early practice squads. She was always so gracious and nice to me.”

Clayborne and the rest of the Tuppers were asked to stay on for the upcoming 1984-85 season.

“She kept us the second year so we must have done pretty good,” said Clayborne. “She didn’t go out and find another team while we were there,” he said with a smile. “It was fun. We had a blast!”

Clayborne graduated in 1985 and stopped by Coach Summitt’s office to say good-bye before leaving.

“She was so kind and she said if there was ever anything she could do for me to let her know and if there was anything she could ever do or influence, to let her know.”

CHS Lady Raider Basketball Team pictured with UT Coach Pat Summitt. Photo by Gail Clayborne

Clayborne echoes Duke’s sentiment on the graciousness of Summitt. He especially remembers the day he was able to introduce his wife, daughter and the rest of the CHS Lady Raider Basketball Team to Summitt when they attended the UT vs Stanford game in December of 2010.

“Ginny’s basketball team at the high school was going to watch UT play Stanford. Over the Christmas holidays, I called up (UT) and tried to get a hold of Pat. Of course, 30 years later, she’s not going to remember me. I finally got to talk with somebody and she was really nice. I told her I was one of Pat’s boys back then. She said for me to bring the girls to the court and the Lady Vols will be having a shoot around before the game and they can watch. The girls were happy with that, so we did. While we were there, the lady came up and took the girls and gave them a tour of the locker room. All the team pictures were on the walls from when they first started. The National Championship team picture there stays up until another team wins the championship. Then we went back to our seats. We didn’t see Pat anywhere. Later, my wife Gail and I were heading to the restrooms and there comes Pat walking toward us. I smiled and told her ‘I was one of your boys way back then’. I don’t know if she remembered me but she was nice. I told her we had our basketball team and they would love to meet her. She said after the game if I would get the team together, she would take a picture with them if she had time, and she did.”

‘Pat’s boys’ have many fond memories of the time she made them part of her Lady Vol family; lasting memories they will never forget of the team, practices, games, coaching staff and of everything that made Coach Summitt “Pat”.

“Anybody that Pat Summitt touched, she had an impact on you,” said Clayborne. “We spent a lot of time with her in practice, but I think you could have gotten the same feeling even if you had just been with her one day. You would have had the same love and respect for her, even after just being with her one day.”

University of Tennessee head basketball coach Pat Summitt often said her players were her family. UT Athletics Photo

“It wasn’t just a job; it was my life, my home, and my family, and the players were the second-deepest love of my life.” Pat Summitt, Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses and a Life in Perspective.

April 1, 2017 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Special thanks to Eric Trainer, Associate Director of UT Athletics Media Relations for his assistance with the article. Photos courtesy UT Athletics, CHS Yearbook and Gail Clayborne – Reposted with permission







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