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Arnetts invaluable part of Sullivan Central athletics

Tanner Cook • May 23, 2020 at 4:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — When going to any sort of Sullivan Central sporting event, most likely one of the first people you’ll encounter is Ned Arnett.

Ned is one of the gatekeepers for Cougars athletics, and he and his wife, Margaret, are Central super fans and the epitome of “Cougars for Life.”

“I’ve been involved with Sullivan Central athletics for 51 years,” Ned said. “I went to the very first game inside that high school and saw Dickie Warren coach his first game.”

“They are Central athletics and they’re at literally everything,” Cougars boys basketball coach Derek McGhee said. “They are there when the doors open and Ned has been keeping the scorebook for as long as I can remember. When you look up into the stands, you can see Margaret there cheering on the girls JV team.

“They mean so much to Central,” McGhee said, “and are invaluable.”

“They are two very special people to the basketball program and to the Sullivan Central community in general,” girls basketball coach Kristi Walling said. “They are literally at everything and that’s something even back when I was playing that they were there.”

The Arnetts do not have children but attend nearly every game religiously like their kids are on the team.

“They treat the players as if they were their own and that means so much to the kids,” Walling said.

“I started going to games and there were a lot of years where I didn’t miss any,” Ned said. “The furthest we’ve been for an away game is Daytona Beach and we went there five times.”

Ned said that he started going to games with the late Bernie Webb and the late Curtis Sexton, and his wife initially did not go.

“Margaret started going with me when Bernie passed away,” he said.

The Arnetts have seen some of the great highs and lows of Central athletics, but they’re mostly known in the basketball realm.

“I did the book for 17 years and I finally gave it up after last year,” Ned said. “I was just getting too nervous and when you’re doing the scorebook, you have to be on your toes all the time and not get nervous.”

Ned has seen a lot of change in the game from the beginnings of the school in 1968 to today.

“I think the biggest difference maker has been the 3-point line. That really changed the whole game of basketball,” he said. “Back in those days when Dickie was coaching at Central and Buck (Van Huss) was at (Dobyns-Bennett), you had to get to the gym at 4:30 to get a good seat. A lot of the time, they closed the doors an hour before the game because it was already full.

“I remember there was one time back in the ’70s when Powell Valley came over here and played. They had Barry Hamler and they were really good. That gym filled up so quick and they shut the doors at 5. There was even a little closed-circuit TV broadcast of the game out in the hall because it was full out there, too.”

Ned recalls one of his most memorable moments in Cougars basketball was during the 1970-71 season.

“Dan Moody hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt shot and beat D-B in the region tournament,” he recalled. “That gave us four wins over D-B that season and it knocked them out of the tournament.”

Ned remembers the legendary Warren as one of the nicest people, though fiery on the hardwood.

“There would be some games if they played bad that he’d be kicking a lot in the locker room at halftime and I could hear them,” he said. “He wasn’t like Bobby Knight, but he sure was fiery.”

This past season, the Arnetts were honored at a game and received a basketball signed by many prominent Central figures, including Warren.

“That meant the whole world to us,” Ned said. “They gave me a watch for 45 years with an orange Cougar paw in the middle of it, but the basketball is probably my favorite.”

“When we did that ceremony for them at the basketball game, that was a very special moment and it couldn’t have happened to two more deserving people,” Walling said. “It was a long time coming.”

When the new West Ridge High School opens, the Arnetts still plan on attending athletic events and supporting the kids.

“I hope that they’ll take us and want us to continue to be involved,” Ned said.

“For the kids to see some familiar faces when the new school opens, it will be huge,” McGhee said.

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