It started as suggestion; an idea of how Hickory Flat could celebrate its homecoming this year. The end result brought members of the school’s first state championship team back to the school, commemorating the 30-year anniversary of the event.
The Rebels were among the most dominant teams in the area, making numerous state tournament appearances during the decade, but in the 1982-1983 season, the team brought in the school’s first state title after falling short at the state tournament the two previous seasons.
“I’ve always felt that the first championship is the hardest to win,” former head coach Milton Kuykendall said. “We won 41 ball games that year, and that was the most we had ever won while I coached. I don’t know of many teams that won over 40 games in a season, but our kids were dedicated and it was their goal to win state.”
Kuykendall and his former assistant coach, Jack Gadd, and members of the ‘83 team were honored throughout the homecoming festivities, beginning with Thursday night’s parade. The group served as the grand marshal and were also recognized in between the homecoming games against Ashland on Friday as well as in a postgame reception, held in the school’s old gym, where a sign remains honoring the team.
“It meant the world to me,” Kuykendall said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen these guys, and we had most of them back. One of them even had a daughter that was on the homecoming court this year, and I couldn’t believe he has a child that old.”
Add Gadd, “Anytime you’re honored it’s great, but it was special to have all of us back together. We shared so much time together, and there were so many fans who loved and followed us. To me, this was more like a family reunion.”
Most of the starting five from that season were in attendance for the reunion, with the exception of the late Perry Weatherall. In his absence, his mother dedicated a lot of time to organizing the festivities, which included everything down to the song the team ran out to every game.
“Hard to believe it’s been 30 years,” Gadd said. “We had a certain song we ran out to before every game, and we played that for them. They didn’t run out like they used to, because they don’t all move as well, but it was still something special for them.”
Both coaches spoke of how loved the team is at the school, and that was shown throughout the ceremony.
“We let the players who wanted to talk do so, and all of them spoke of how special the fans were and still are,” Gadd said. “They know how much they were loved.”
For everyone involved, the 1983 basketball team is one that will forever be cherished, like so many other things in the community.
“I was 35 years old the year we won that championship, and it was such an exciting time for me,” Kuykendall said. “Both of my kids were born in Hickory Flat, and for me, that community will always hold a special place in my heart.”