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Happy Birthday, Blount Press Row!

From all of us to all of you, here’s to a great 2015
Former Townsend Elementary basketball player Skyler Renteria (15) defends at the 2011 Blount County Elementary Basketball Tournament. Renteria and Lady Tigers were the subject of Blount Press Row’s first ever story. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

From the editor:

Blount Press Row turns 3 years old today.

As Priscilla Mae Cooper used to say, “My, how time flies.”

Three years ago, Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell, account executive Susan Stout, graphic artist Brad Spires and I took seats around a table on Stout’s patio, and away we went. On Dec. 15, 2011, Brad hit the switch, and we were live.

Words can’t express the importance of those three people.

Brad built and hosted the original site. A talented young man named Stephen Kinningham is responsible for most of the Blount Press Row you see now. The logo Brad designed remains.

Susan sold the first ad for Blount Press Row before Brad even had the site up: Never going to forget you, Lyle Moe.

Rest in peace, Marine.

Sherri is my rock. I’d be lost without her.

It’s with heartfelt gratitude Blount Press Row also acknowledges the contributions of writers Tate Russell, Chris Cannon and John Robertson. While each has since moved on to walk their own road, if they aren’t there that first year, we aren’t here now.

Photography is a vastly underrated element in conveying the passion that draws us to sports, even in the digital age. I’d put the work of Jolanda Jansma, Brandon Shinn, Jenifer Clark, Leslie Karnowski, Chris Ritchie, Hobe Brunson and G.W. Meredith up against anybody out there.

I can tell you, flatly, if Jolanda hadn’t stuck it out, we were out of options.

Started calling her “Duchess” a couple years ago, partly because of her nationality, Dutch, partly because she’s so European about things some times. She’s a fighter, though, and, instinctively, I knew that’s what it was going to take: If we weren’t ready to fight our guts out, absorb a great many blows and keep going, we might as well not start.

Little did we know.

We’ll never forget our first story. It centered on the Townsend Elementary girls’ basketball team, highlighting one of its players, Skyler Renteria, in particular.

Renteria looks for the bench for instructions three years ago.

Renteria scored her first points of the season at the 2011 elementary tourney.

Renteria hadn’t scored a point all season when Townsend began the 2011 Blount County Elementary Basketball Tournament. The Lady Tigers themselves weren’t projected to go very far. A week later at the Final Four, there was Townsend, still standing, and Renteria had played her way into our hearts with her first points of the season.

Whatever you do with your life Skyler, aim for the stars. Battle, all the way. Get back up, every time.

As things stand, 2015 could prove a big year for Blount Press Row. There are things in the works to supply the funding needed to give you the local sports outlet we first envisioned on that patio.

So, here we go, year four. We’re well aware so many, many battles still lie ahead, which reminds me of something else about Priscilla Cooper, who bid farewell to my brothers and I five years ago. It’s why I genuinely enjoy writing about sports for a living. It’s why things like the elementary basketball tournament are bigger to me than the NBA Finals, and always will be. It’s about the Yankees hat.

As an 11-year-old, I pitched, caught, played shortstop, second base and centerfield for the Alcoa Little League Yankees. Had a pretty good season that summer. After it was over, I decided I was done. There were surely other, more enjoyable things to do with your summer.

I didn’t hold a press conference or anything. I simply walked into the living room one day prior to my 12-year-old season and proudly announced to my mother, ‘That’s it. I quit.”

“Oh, no you’re not!” she shot back faster than I could blink. “If you start something, you finish it.”

That 12-year-old season remains one of my fondest memories when it comes to sports. Struck out 10 batters one game, including one of my best friends, Michael Rorex, throwing one pitch the whole time – a slider.

At some point that summer, I saw the movie “The Pride of the Yankees,” starring Gary Cooper, for the first time. It wasn’t long before I read everything I could find on Lou Gehrig. The man’s courage and dignity affected me deeply.

The Alcoa Yankees wore maroon hats, in keeping with the high school, but I had blue one before long. Been a Yankees fan ever since.

I never made it to the majors. I never even made the high school team. I did, however, learn what sports can mean to a kid, how it can give them something to draw on for the rest of their lives. If I never forget that, Blount Press Row at least has a chance.

To VIEO Design of Knoxville, which hosts Blount Press Row and maintains our software, thanks for not giving up on us.

To Lisa and Cat, much love and deep gratitude.

To the athletes and coaches who’ve appeared on our pages these first three years, we thank you sincerely for your patience.

To those who’ll join them going forward, get some.

See you at the games,

Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row


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