By PATRICK MacCOON
Burnt out on playing high school basketball, Karen Hall received a piece of advice that would put her in position to learn from one of the greatest coaches of all time.Currently, Cleveland High …
Burnt out on playing high school basketball, Karen Hall received a piece of advice that would put her in position to learn from one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Currently, Cleveland High School’s assistant athletic director realizes the decision to take initiative to write a letter to Pat Summitt was one of the best decisions she ever made.
“The head boys basketball coach at Cleveland High School at the time, Carl Zimmerman, told me I needed to go be a manager for the Lady Vols,” Hall said. “I was like, 'No, that isn’t going to be a good look for me. I am not into water and towels.' He said, 'Trust me, give it a shot.'”
The eight-time Division I national championship coach soon after wrote Hall back offering an unpaid manager position with the Lady Vols basketball team.
Soon after starting her freshman year in Knoxville in Fall 1990, Hall began diligently and tirelessly working for the superior program.
“Pat treated me as if I was family from day one,” Hall said. “Starting in January of 1991, I was on a full ride to be a manager through my senior year. I was treated with the utmost respect. There was a lot of organizing duties and I was also a practice player before they had the boys' team come on. We went wherever the team went.”
At the summit of women’s college basketball was where Hall learned unique time management skills and gained a champion-type mindset.
She was right among the action to see Dena Head take over the 1991 National Championship in New Orleans with a game-record 28 points, as Tennessee defeated Virginia 70-67 in overtime to win its third title in five years.
“To be there for that was the experience of a lifetime,” said Hall. “We got to meet the president, the governor and Duke’s basketball team won it all that year so Coach K and his crew were there as well. The memories and connections I made from my time with the Lady Vols are amazing.”
Hall roomed and became good friends with former Bradley Central star and Tennessee guard Jody Adams-Birch, as both came in as freshmen together.
After gaining a “firm foundation” in life after receiving advice and standing up for her decisions to Summitt, often described as one of the most intimidating coaches in basketball history, Hall’s passion for women’s basketball continued.
Hall has coached high school basketball off and on for a total of 16 years and most notably helped legend Rachel Moore lead the CHS Lady Raiders high school basketball team.
Similar to the Lady Vols, a standard for excellence was set at Cleveland for a program that gained respect nationally.
“Rachel’s mentality when she first got here was we are more than Bradley County schools; we need to be on the state level and be nationally competitive,” Hall said. “We were. We got to go play in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, went to play in New York twice, and went to Ohio and Chicago.
From 2004 to 2010, the Lady Raiders set the standard for Bradley County basketball as they compiled a record of 188-48 (.797) to go along with five district championships, three region championships and four straight trips to the Class AAA state tournament (2005-2008).
In the 2007 Region 3-AAA championship game, Cleveland walloped Bradley Central, 70-38. Lady Raider Michelle Smith drained six 3-pointers and scored 22 points, while Cacy Burtnett added 13 in the victory.
“People were coming out of the woodwork to watch us play. The girls gave their all for her because she gave her all to them. It was fun working with her and she let all the coaches have a say-so. All the stars lined together at the right time. Everyone was on board with the same goal to get to the next level.”
Hall’s love for her family has been evident through her entire life and very much so on the basketball court as well.
With two children — Rheagan and Tripp — who are in 12th and 6th grade at CHS and CMS currently, Hall has made sure she has been able to give them all the time she possibly can.
“Rheagan was four days old the first day she went to practice,” Hall said of her daughter, who recently signed a scholarship to play golf at UT-Chattanooga. “As soon as we got out of the hospital we went to the gym. She did not miss a single practice or game until she was in sixth grade.”
Not only listening to her advice on plays and when to call timeouts, Moore loved to see the family-first mindset at practices and games.
“Rachel knew how important it was for me to be around my daughter and family,” Hall said. “If I couldn’t have that part with me, I wouldn’t have been able to do my all for her. When Rheagan decided to stop playing basketball, I realized it was time to step away from basketball and spend time with my family.”
While stepping away from the coaching aspect of things, Hall has been very much involved in other duties at CHS.
For the past 11 seasons she has been part of the “chain gang” for home Blue Raider football games, an opportunity she told former Athletic Director Charlie Cogdill she could handle.
She also is the scorekeeper for Cleveland during home varsity boys and girls games.
“Chains put me in the middle of where the action is and sitting at the scores table doing the book does the same thing,” Hall said. “I want to be in the best seat of the house. Doing those things is my way of giving back to the program for having the best seat in the house.”
Hall has also devoted herself to helping student athletes be successful in all walks of life.
Assistant basketball coach Reggie Tucker marveled at the job she has done and bragged that one day she had placed paperwork in every basketball players' locker telling them what they needed grade wise and on the ACT to help them reach the next level.
“Pat (Summitt) had amazing pride that she had a 100 percent graduation rate,” Hall said. “She said, you are always going to be a Lady Vol, but you are going to be something once you leave here. She wanted to make sure everybody had an opportunity for a future. For these kids here at CHS, they have to get their high school diploma for that next step in life.”
Hall also credits her parents for helping her dive into, and explore, any sport she wanted to while growing up, instead of pressuring her to play a certain one.
The opportunity to see her daughter set all the program records on the golf course at Cleveland High School, including golf in the state tournament for all four years, was also something she will never forget.
“It’s particularly special for your daughter to walk the same halls that you walked in,” Hall said. “She has achieved more when it comes to records, and as far as leaving a legacy with the school, more than I could ever dream of. It is cool that we are both going to be Cleveland High School graduates. Tripp will have the same opportunity as well."
Still, when Hall looks back to finding where she became who she was as a young adult, it is easy to reflect back on the late and perhaps greatest coach of all time.
“Pat’s influence continued my love of not only basketball, but sports,” she said. “The way she was able to promote women in sports was special. What she did was just unbelievable. For me to be a part of that in that breaking-through time period was just amazing.”
“Pat treated me as if I was family from day one. Starting in January of 1991, I was on a full ride to be a manager through my senior year. I was treated with the utmost respect. There was a lot of organizing duties and I was also a practice player before they had the boys' team come on. We went wherever the team went.” — Pat Summitt
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