John Shearer: McCallie’s Adams Robinson Latest To Honor Late Baylor Player Jason Green With No. 17 Jersey

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - by John Shearer

For 18 seasons, McCallie School has recognized a senior football player who shows leadership and toughness on the field by letting him wear jersey No. 17.
 
This year’s honoree has been Adams Robinson, a main defensive anchor for the Blue Tornado.
 
In somewhat of a strange twist, the tradition actually has its origin with a former Baylor School player. Jason Green, a 1996 Baylor alumnus who wore No. 17 while at Campbellsville University in Kentucky, was killed in a car accident in 1999 during his last year in college.

 
Mr. Green was coached by current Blue Tornado head coach Ralph Potter and assistant coach Chris Richardson while they were coaching at Baylor. As a result, the two decided to memorialize the young man in a way that transcended the school rivalry that was once again staged on the gridiron last Friday at Baylor in a 40-14 win by the Blue Tornado.
 
“Jason had come back to visit us in 1999, and he died in a car wreck the night after he came to visit us,” coach Potter recalled recently. “We didn’t want his mom to think everyone had forgotten him, so we started naming a guy who reminded us of him.”
 
It is a move that to this day is still appreciated by the late Mr. Green’s parents, including Jason’s mother, Mrs. Martin (Gail) Panzica.
 
“It was a very emotional and very supportive thing that they thought enough of him to do that tradition and continue it,” Ms. Panzica said last week. “He (Jason) thought a lot of them (coaches Potter and Richardson) at Baylor.”
 
While the tradition has created a family-like fraternity at McCallie among the honorees over the years, this year’s recipient has a real family connection to a past recipient as well.
 
Adams Robinson’s first cousin, Tommy Robinson, wore No. 17 in 2000, the year the tradition began. 
 
Adams Robinson – whose full name is Michael Adams Robinson Jr. – is the son of Mike and Kelly Robinson, while Tommy is the son of Mike’s older brother, Wejun Robinson.
 
Also, one of Adams’ other uncles, Dan Robinson, along with Adams’ late grandfather, Harry “Wig” Robinson, are members of the McCallie Running Backs Hall of Fame, according to Kelly Robinson.
 
Coach Potter also considers Adams a kindred spirit to the late Mr. Green.
 
“Adams is a tough guy, very smart, very coachable and he loves the game,” he said. “He makes our whole defense tougher because people see how he’s playing. That’s the kind of guy we want to give it to.”
 
Coach Potter says the wearer of Green’s former No. 17 should be somebody who loves the game of football, someone who is a hard-nosed player, somebody who is smart, and someone who can be like a coach to the team as a player.
 
While Adams admitted during an interview after a recent practice that he is not aware of Mr. Green’s full life story other than what Coach Potter has told him, he is quite cognizant of the No. 17 tradition and is honored to be this year’s recipient. But he also knows the recognition comes with plenty of responsibility.
 
“When guys aren’t going hard at practice, you’ve got to make sure they pick it up, and you’ve got to hold everybody accountable,” he said.
 
In a game, however, being a leader by example apparently comes easy for Adams. A two-year starter at outside linebacker on defense who also started a couple of games as a sophomore, he admits to having a love and passion for the game of football.
 
“I love to hit people,” he said with a smile. “I like to be the hammer instead of the nail. And it’s the ultimate team sport. I love how it brings guys together. It makes you tougher.”
 
Mr. Robinson, who could be seen several times on the field last Friday night making hard tackles against McCallie’s biggest rival, added that he has noticed positive changes about himself off the field due to what he has been able to do on it.
 
More than 20 years ago, Mr. Green was finding out the mostly positive lessons of playing football and sports, too.
 
As Ms. Panzica recounted over the phone last week from her Shaw Industries office in Dalton, Ga., while having to fight back tears, even after all these years, Mr. Green had become interested in sports at a young age. It started, she said, when he would go to the youth baseball games of his uncle, who was only five years his senior.
 
He played baseball and football with the Harrison Recreation Department and then enrolled at Ooltewah Middle School.
 
While there, his skills became known to longtime Baylor baseball coach and football assistant Gene Etter. He ended up enrolling at Baylor in the younger grades and shined athletically and as a student before graduating in 1996, making such academic lists as the Commended List at Baylor.
 
Coach Potter took over the football program from the successful coach Fred Hubbs before the 1994 season and continued the Red Raider success.
 
Among his assistants was coach Richardson, who also helped with baseball. Coach Richardson had gone to Central and, like Jason, went through the Harrison area youth sports programs.
 
In 1995, with Mr. Green a senior running back and linebacker and Kurt Keene a quarterback, the Baylor football team overcame a disappointing and close loss to McCallie during the regular season to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
 
During his Baylor years, Mr. Green actually wore jersey No. 7.
 
On and off the field, though, he was considered a 10.
 
His mother described him as a hard worker with a lot of heart, and one who never gave up. And he tried to never give up on others, either.
 
“He always made a friend everywhere he went,” she said, remembering that the family used to go to horse shows and he would always make friends there. “He was very easygoing, very easy to talk with. And he rooted for the underdog.”
 
She remembered that he once had a friend who many people picked on, and he would always stand up for him.
 
Ms. Panzica also remembered that when he was in high school, Ooltewah Elementary School teacher Allison Scarbrough – who was the mother of one of his friends – had asked Mr. Green to come and talk to a student. The youngster liked sports, but Ms. Scarbrough could not get him to focus on his schoolwork.
 
Mr. Green went and met with the youngster, who was in awe of Jason, and told the child that he would have to work hard in school and keep his grades up to keep playing sports.
 
The talk apparently worked. As Ms. Panzica remembered, “Mrs. Scarbrough sent Jason a thank you note and told him that the little boy was a different student in class, and she was so thankful that Jason took the time to talk to the boy.”
 
Ms. Panzica said one reason she thinks her son took a special interest in the youngster was that he had struggled in school about that age trying to catch up academically when the family moved from North Georgia to Ooltewah.
 
Longtime Baylor coach and teacher Bill McMahan, who was an assistant on the Baylor football teams in the 1990s, remembered that everyone thought well of Mr. Green on and off the field.
 
“He was a country boy, but really well mannered, tough and hardnosed,” coach McMahan recalled. “Everybody had so much respect for him by how hard he played.”
 
Mr. Green’s period for shining as a high school upperclassman came not long after his parents had separated and divorced during his sophomore year. His mother remarried, while his father, Thomas Green, remained supportive of Jason, and the former couple maintained amicable relations.
 
After graduating from Baylor in 1996, Mr. Green headed off to Campbellsville University in central Kentucky and became a standout defensive player. According to sports information official Jordan Alves, he was a National Christian College all-American in 1998. He also had two interceptions against Austin Peay in 1998, had two fumble recoveries against Union College in 1997, and had 19 tackles against what is now U.Va.-Wise in 1998.
 
He did not play baseball because of the extra travel, which might have made it difficult for him to graduate in four years, his mother said.
 
While he was considered the same tough football player on the field and the same likable leader type off it, he did have one aspect of his life that was different at Campbellsville – he wore No. 17 instead of No. 7.
 
As his mother explained, “When he went to college, the jersey No. 7 was too small to fit him, so he had to go with No. 17 his freshman year, and had that number throughout his college career.”
 
In his next-to-last game his junior year in 1998, he injured his knee, and had to have two surgeries. But he quickly began physical therapy in his typically determined manner.
 
“That injury did not stop him, and he was bound and determined to come back,” his mother recalled. “He did physical therapy, and the trainer said he had to put the breaks on him because he wouldn’t quit.”
 
Mr. Green was unable to go through spring practice after the surgery, but was able to coach some.
 
That summer while back in Chattanooga, he also helped out some at McCallie with coaches Potter and Richardson. They had kept in touch with him and even talked to him when they were planning to move to McCallie after the 1996 season, when he was a freshman at Campbellsville.
 
Mr. Green was understanding of the move to the rival school, where Ralph Potter had played under his father, Pete Potter, his mother said.
 
During that summer of 1999, Mr. Green was thinking of putting his exercise science degree to work when he graduated by trying to get on at McCallie in a position like strength and conditioning coach and join his former mentors fulltime.
 
A few days later, Mr. Green headed back up to Campbellsville for his senior year. He was a linebacker and defensive captain and was able to come back from his injury and contribute and play during the team’s first two games.
 
The Tigers then had a bye week, so he came home for a family reunion. That is when he stopped by to visit again with coaches Potter and Richardson at McCallie.
 
That Saturday, Sept. 18, he also went to Chattanooga to watch the Tennessee-Florida football game on TV, a game in Gainesville won by Florida, 23-21.
 
Early the next morning, Sept. 19, he was driving home to Dalton when his 1993 Honda Accord left the roadway, struck a ditch and he was ejected. He died a short time later at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton.
 
“He was within two miles of being home,” his mother recalled with much sadness.
 
For his funeral at Grove Level Baptist Church in Dalton, Campbellsville University brought a busload of coaches, team members and the team chaplain, with the players serving as pallbearers.
 
Ms. Panzica remembered that the chaplain helped do the service and talked favorably about her son.
 
“He stated that even after coming in late from traveling with the football team on Saturday night, Jason would still get up on Sunday morning to come hear him preach at Campbellsville Baptist Church,” Ms. Panzica remembered. “It was an honor for all of them to travel that far a distance to pay their respects to Jason. It is a five hour trip one way from Campbellsville to our town.”
 
When a memorial service was held later in Campbellsville, coach Richardson came up for the funeral, she added.
 
Mr. Green’s memory still lives on through a McCallie football player displaying similar traits to his of toughness and leadership and respect. Ms. Panzica said that when coaches Potter and Richardson kindly approached her about having a player with similar attributes wear his number, they decided to use his more recent college number of 17 instead of the No. 7 he wore at Baylor when they coached him.
 
Mr. Robinson, the current wearer of No. 17, said he respects what Mr. Green stood for, even though he knows little about him. And like Mr. Green, he also respects coach Potter and Richardson and others.
 
With three wins over rival Baylor the last four years under coaches Potter and his assistants, McCallie has cut Baylor’s lead in the series to 44-36-3, or 44-38-3 if one includes the 1905 and ’06 McCallie victories over a more informal Baylor team.
 
Mr. Robinson said there is no secret to coach Potter’s winning seasons, other than repetition.
 
“He does it over and over and makes sure you get it right,” Mr. Robinson said. “And he makes sure that when we’re doing them, we’re really focused. It is not like we are out here going through the motions.”
 
Adams, who has also wrestled some at McCallie and been a track decathlete, hopes to attend a top Ivy League school or possibly Washington and Lee, Middlebury, or Bowdoin and play football and study economics or business.
 
His dream situation is to play for the Princeton Tigers, he said.
 
But for now, he hopes to lead McCallie into a deep run in the playoffs wearing No. 17.
 
“It’s a great honor,” he said.
 
And Ms. Panzica believes her son would be honored as well to have his number continue to be worn and for his memory to not be forgotten, even though she said he was not cocky and might initially be embarrassed by such recognition.
 
“I think he would be proud,” she said.
 
She certainly knows how she feels about it.
 
“I will be forever grateful,” she said.
 
* * * * *
 
Shortly after finishing his senior football season at Baylor in 1995, Jason Green penned an essay titled “What Football Means To Me.” His mother came across it in his own handwriting a couple of months after he died, and thinks it was done in connection with his college applications. “I felt like he was telling me that I could not give up, that I must continue to go on and live, because quitting was not in his vocabulary,” she said.   
 
Here is the essay as he wrote it:
 
“Throughout my 18 years I have participated in many activities.  The one activity that has been the most important to me is football.  Through football I have learned about life.  I have learned the importance of hard work, determination, and friendship.
 
“Football, more than any other sport, requires countless hours in the weight room and long grueling practices.  All of this has taught me that in order to reach a goal, I must apply myself and work toward reaching that goal.  Nothing comes easy in life and football illustrates this perfectly.  To be successful in anything, one must put what he wants to get out of it, into it.
 
“In football there must also be determination.  The ability to overcome adversity plays a huge role in football as well as in life.  No matter how many bad things happen, you must pick yourself back up and get ready to go again.  In life things do not always go right, and when they don’t we must overcome that and continue to live.
 
“The most important thing I have gained from my football career has been the many friends I have made.  I have gained lifelong friends with my teammates and coaches.  When things got rough, we all pulled together to achieve a common goal.  Each and every one of us cares deeply for one another, not only as players, but as people, too.  One of the biggest gifts in life is friendship, and when you have 50 to 60 best friends, life tends to be more enjoyable.”
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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