- [S106] The Mountain Press, 7 Nov 2010.
Upland Chronicles: Little Smoky Bowl was a Thanksgiving fixture
by CARROLL McMAHAN The Mountain Press
Sevierville Mayor Robert S. Howard (right), who was also the Sevier County High School principal, was honored as grand marshal of the first Little Smoky Bowl Parade. He is pictured riding in the 1949 parade with his daughter, Mary Bob Howard, and wife Mary Temple Howard.
The Sevier County High School Smoky Bears’ starting lineup for the first Little Smoky Bowl: Jim Cox, M.T. Helton, Cleve Compton, Clyde Hodge, Roy Biddle, Ben Clabo, W.D. Kilby, Charles Watson, Bobbie Kenner, Frank McCroskey and Bon Hicks.
The Sevier County High School Marching Band needed new uniforms in 1949.
In early autumn of 1949, the Rev. Robert L. Houston, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sevierville presented a detailed master plan to the Sevierville Lions Club that aroused the imagination of the club and community.
The Lions Club, formed in 1939, had supported several community projects, including the planning and construction of the Sevierville-Gatlinburg Highway, the local Boy Scouts, a bowling alley, traffic lights, street lights and eyeglasses for school children.
After World War II, the club treasury was “in the red” and there were no fundraising projects on the horizon.
Houston, a star athlete at Maryville College and chairman of the Lions Club finance committee, suggested a Thanksgiving Day post-season football game between Sevier County High and an invited team, complete with a parade and crowning a queen. The event would be called Little Smoky Bowl.
The Smoky Bears had lost games by scores of 44-0 and 66-0. The fledgling marching band was struggling for existence and in desperate need of new uniforms.
Newly elected Lions Club President Bill Atchley, together with the entire membership, accepted the challenge and worked tirelessly promoting the initial festivities. Franklin (N.C.) High School was invited to challenge SCHS in the game on Nov. 24, 1949. The club felt a team from another state would add interest.
Each class at Sevier County elected a representative to compete for Little Smoky Bowl Queen. The Lions Club membership selected a captain and teams for each candidate to assist the students raise funds. Whichever opponent brought in the most money, would be crowned Little Smoky Bowl Queen at halftime.
Using purple paint, several members of the club painted “Little Smoky Bowl” on the corner of downtown sidewalks to generate interest.
While pitching the idea, Rev. Houston declared, “I will leave town if we don’t net at least $1,000 the first year.” He did not have to move away as the first Little Smoky Bowl was a tremendous success, netting almost $2,000.
A crowd of several hundred lined the downtown streets for the pre-game parade. Two thousand fans witnessed the Smoky Bears defeat the Panthers at Alumni Field. Joanna Bailey was crowned queen .
For the next two decades, the Little Smoky Bowl was a Thanksgiving Day tradition. The Lions Club put the funds raised to good use, supporting the high school school athletic and band programs and other worthwhile community projects.
TSSAA regulations eventually prohibited invitational post-season bowl games unless they were tied to a favorable win-loss record by participating teams in the regular season. The 20th and last Little Smoky Bowl was held in 1968.
For several years following the last bowl, a regular season game was incorporated into a Smoky Festival but did not generate the enthusiasm of the original holiday game which had become the oldest post-season high school bowl game in Tennessee.
Sevier County High School was host team in 19 of the 20 bowls. They were victorious in 15 games, tied three and lost one. The only exception was 1966 when the Smoky Bears were prohibited from competition for the entire season due to TSSAA rules violations.
A list of opponents and results in the Little Smoky Bowl:
1949: Sevier County 19, Franklin 13
1950: Sevier County 26, Mars Hill (N.C.) 13
1951: Sevier County 7, Carter 0
1952: Sevier County 7, Vonore 7
1953: Sevier County 20, Harrison-Chilhowee 6
1954: Sevier County 13,Walland 7
1955: Sevier County 6, Clinton 6
1956: Sevier County 19, Halls 7
1957- Sevier County 14, LaFollette 6
1958: Sevier County 0, Knoxville West 0
1959: Sevier County 28, Knoxville South 0
1960: Sevier County 25, Holston 7
1961: Sevier County 13, Karns 6
1962: Sevier County 40, Knoxville South 0
1963: Sevier County 35, Rule 0
1964: Sevier County 21, Church Hill 6
1965: Sevier County 14, Holston 14
1966: Seymour 7, Maury 25
1967: Sevier County 7, Powell 0
1968: Sevier County 40, Newport 0
The Little Smoky Bowl Queens:
1949: Joanna Bailey
1950: Louise Bales
1951: Bitsie Owens
1952: Faye Ruth Frost
1953: Mary Alice McCarter
1954: Libby Jo Ownby
1955: Dorothy Randles
1956: Nancy Baker
1957: Judy Pat Delozier
1958: Jewel Dean Thomas
1959: Geraldine Chance
(Beginning in 1960, Kings were added)
1960: Jerri Thomas and Jimmy Whaley
1961: Janie Delozier and Bill Robertson
1962: Joyce Cates and Paul Henderson
1963: Patsy Atchley and Gary Wade
1964: Janelle Cutshaw and Chucky Finchum
1965: Gayle McMahan and Charles Burridge
1966: Mary Mac Whaley and Tommy Wilson
1967: Brenda Brackins and Bob Hogan
1968: Sandy Cardwell and Barry Williams
The fundraiser to select a queen and king continued during the years of the Smoky Festival. Debbie Watson, who was the daughter of 1951 Little Smoky Bowl Queen Bitsie Owens, was crowned Smoky Festival Queen in 1976.
At the conclusion of the first Little Smoky Bowl in 1949, Rev. Houston proclaimed his only regret was being too shy to kiss the queen when he placed the crown on her head. In 1958, the red-faced minister was brought onto the field during halftime ceremonies of the 10th Little Smoky Bowl to rectify the earlier omission by kissing the queen.
Each year, as Thanksgiving approaches, many local residents reminisce about the community spirit and pride associated with the Little Smoky Bowl.
— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact McMahan at 453-6411 or e-mail to email@example.com; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [S74] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume IV, 1987-1999, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 15 Jan 1992.
Howard, Robert Samuel 83 b. 7-13-1908 Knox d. 1-15-92 Knox UT Hosp educator f. William Decatur Howard m. Lee Henderson Shiloh Cem Survivors: wife Mary Temple 225 Prince St Sev 1 dau Mary Bob & Dick Rowe 113 Buena Vista Dr Sev 1 g-son Howard Clinton 2 g-dau Rachel Clinton Debbie & Kevin Hoffman KY step-sis Gladys Wynn Knox mem Mountain Star Lodge # 197 F & AM.