Last year after moving into my new house, I finally took twelve years worth of boxes out of storage. One of the boxes fell to the floor of my empty bedroom and popped open. Spilling out were papers, and a couple of scrapbooks from my earlier misspent youth.
The first book I picked off the floor was one of those “Memories” books that a lot of highs school seniors get. In it you write down stuff like your favorite classes, teachers, social/political events, and what was on the top of the music charts – that kind of stuff. When I was a senior in high school I was all about that stuff. I had the book, bought a class ring, class key, and every other trinket available for the “Class of “81”.
Man, that was a great time, I thought to myself. Digging deeper into the box I found one of two annuals I had from my high school experience. Why I’m back in this reminiscent mood I’ve been in lately is because of the 6-A/AA Soccer Championship match last Thursday. My alma mater, Chattanooga Christian won 2-0 over rival CSAS. The game also marked an end of an era. As the final seconds ticked off the game clock, so too came an end to coach David Stanton’s varsity coaching career – and to a degree the rest of my youth.
I am one of the few (because of size) members of one of the school’s original classes. Chattanooga Christian opened their doors in 1973. With the open doors stood this young guy from the Midwest, by the name of David Stanton, a history teacher, who took the physical education program under his wings also. Both the school and the program continue to grow to great heights. I arrived at the school to begin my eighth grade year in 1976, Back then the school was named the Lookout Mountain Christian School.
Those days are a far cry from where the school is now. When I arrived the school boasted a grand total of 32 students. We were housed literally in this house that was at the bottom of this hill from the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was literally across the street from the original soccer field of Covenant College.
The house was a glorified three-bedroom affair with the downstairs – an unfinished basement put to use for other classrooms. The small faith-based school relied n a lot of faith and belief in the parents involved to survive, as well as the young teaching staff.
One of the many things I remember from the old days of LMCS was the cleaning assignments we all had. Of course Mr. Stanton was in charge of the list, too. They ranged from everything from sweeping the stairs, taking out trashcans in different rooms to vacuuming the entry hall of the building. The school couldn’t afford to hire a janitor. I’m not sure how long that tradition lasted, but by the time I was a senior I had the cushy job of keeping the Pepsi machine stocked.
Another memory I recall from that first year was a bulletin board with the school’s bills posted – electric, water, supplies, etc. The board requested us to ask our parents if they could help pay these bills to keep the school in operation.
The school despite its small size always prided itself on a quality education with parental involvement. While a Christian school by name, it wasn’t something that was forced down any of the student’s throats.
In the time I was there from eighth grade to graduation, I saw three different principals, and I can’t tell you how many more have hallowed the halls since my departure almost a quarter of a century ago. The one constant of the school has always been David Stanton. They call him the ”Iron Horse” I read in an article on the Chattanoogan.com, but he’ll always just be Mr. Stanton to me.
During my years there I made a lifetime of memories at the school, many involving Mr. Stanton. Always being a football player, I was put off initially that the school had no such program due to funding. That’s when I took up soccer. After all, it was called football overseas.
Back then Mr. Stanton kind of resembled a young Errol Flynn. He was on the field mixing it up with a team that was definitely mixed up. The team was evenly split with both guys and girls playing. Games were hard to come by back then and we were lucky to get in a half dozen or so. And I never remember winning one that year. From the sidelines no matter where on the field you were, you could hear Mr. Stanton barking instructions to us. And if we messed up, mainly through lack of concentration on our part, you could hear him get exasperated. He would always address us by formal names. It was never Dave – it was David. Never Greg – but Gregory, you know, the way our parents would address us when we were in trouble. You never wanted to hear your name called out. When he got really upset he would yell, “Jeepers!”
That word “Jeepers”, we would get a kick out of. You see, despite his young age at the time – Mr. Stanton was still in his 20s and he already was a deacon at his church. Never a curse word passed his lips. And during my time at CCS we tried a lot. “Jeepers” was as close as he got. He said this word in different tones, and we knew it meant different things. Being from the Midwest he also said “Oh, yo!” a lot. We took great pride in mocking him – or should I say imitating him. He had this was of cocking his hand with his fore and middle finger extended, rolling them while he said his two catchphrases. We’d give him a hard time about it and would imitate him in front of him, much to his delight. We after all did it out of fun and admiration, not mean-spiritedness.
When we weren’t on the ball field we were in his classroom. Every now and then during a lesson the subject of baseball came up. He would tell us how he’d like to something go catch a Milwaukee Brewers game and drink a beer. Knowing he was a deacon and didn’t drink this room of 12 and 13-year olds thought that was cool. A lot of the tension of being in his class was cut by one of his stories.
The school, much like students such as myself were a work in progress. The one constant has always been Mr. Stanton. I will even go out on a limb and say if it wasn’t for the work and dedication of Mr. Stanton the school would have folded a long time ago.
My tenth grade year the school moved off the mountain to the Hixson Presbyterian Church. The new principal thought the school would be better off in a more accessible area. This meant providing bus service for the school, which now had almost 50 students at the time. Since 90 percent of the student body was from Lookout Mountain, that’s where the bus originated. As I stood at the end of my street to wait for the bus the first day, who do you think was driving the bus? That’s right, the Jack-of-all trades David Stanton.
Not only did he drive the bus, teach history, coach soccer, but also the basketball team had fallen in his lap. The school was unable to find a volunteer to coach the team and Mr. Stanton took the reigns on what was the most memorable season in the school’s history to that point.
Once again, being a small Christian school we weren’t taken seriously. We did well to schedule 10 games that year. The season started with a scrimmage game against some Christian school from somewhere I don’t remember. We were getting beat pretty good during the first half. They weren’t keeping score, but you know when you’re getting beat.
That atmosphere at halftime seemed to change and you could sense something in the air. During the second half we looked like a different team. We were making passes hitting shots, hitting our free throws. We definitely won the second half. In fact that season, we went on to win every game we played. We finished 10-0. This was a pretty good feat seeing we were more like a nomadic school. We had no real home or home court to call our own. We played wherever they could schedule games, like places in Alabama and so forth. But we came away with the only undefeated record in school history to the best of my knowledge. At the end of the year we were each given a little token trophy emblazoned with the year and 10-0 inscribed on it. The trophy still sits on my dresser to this day.
That year was a year of great growth for the school, myself and my appreciation of Mr. Stanton.
I quit sports after that year to pursue other extracurricular activities. I can’t even tell you anything how the teams faired. Throughout this whole era at Chattanooga Christian I somehow always ended up with Mr. Stanton as my homeroom teacher. It was during my junior year that my marginal writing talents began to flourish a little.
I still can remember getting a history paper back from Mr. Stanton with a note telling me that he could tell who wrote the paper by the end of the first paragraph without looking at the name. He told me I had a distinctive writing style, and that he really looked forward to reading my writings. That to this day is still one of my fondest memories and biggest compliments – even more memorable than my Pulitzer nomination.
During my senior year as my personality continued to form, I started to long to compete in sports again. Mr. Stanton welcomed me back to the soccer team with open arms midway through the season. I passed on basketball because I didn’t get along with the coaches. In the spring, the school started to compete in a spring soccer program.
We were undermanned, but we were better athletes than the team from my eighth grade year. We now had enough guys playing to field a team entirely of boys – not that we cared, but the other schools couldn’t give us a hard time about it.
During my entire time to this point I cannot remember us ever winning a game. It wasn’t until this senior year that we had actual soccer uniforms. In the early years we had Hanes Beefy –Ts with numbers silkscreen on them. My original number was number 8. Back then they couldn’t afford to buy enough basketball jerseys for the team, nor did they have one my size. Did I ever mention I was overweight? For basketball I had to buy my own blue t-shirt and have an iron-on number put on. By my senior year we had real uniforms in all sports.
We also started playing “legitimate” programs like Baylor, McCallie and Hixson. At this time the school had moved back on Lookout Mountain into the Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church two blocks from my house.
We still hadn’t won a game. We played Hixson really close and Mr. Stanton was proud of us and our newfound dedicated work ethic. Our next game was against the Blue Tornado of McCallie, one of the top private schools in the nation. When we arrived we discovered we only had ten players. After conferring with the refs, Mr. Stanton talked them into letting us play one man short. This meant no substitutions for the entire game.
After the whistle blew one of the kids from McCallie yelled, “You’re not gonna let those fags beat you are you?!” I stopped turned to the team captain Chris Thomas and said, “Fags? Let’s show him who the fags are.” The two of us went on a tear. We were slide tackling their guys and yellow penalty cards were being waved left and right. I looked down at one of the McCallie boys who was covered in grass stains and blood and said to him, “Who’s the fag now?” He actually started to cry – cruel, I know. We were actually ahead at this point 2-0. I think this was the first lead in the school’s history. But heat and cramping took over as we started to fall down a lot. We ended up with a 2-2 tie. But it was a moral victory.
The next game Chris and I decided to see how many flags we could have thrown on us for rough play. We never told Mr. Stanton about this. During that game between the two of us we were yellow carded 18 times. I know because Chris and I kept a running tally.
The last game of the season came and we were 0-3-1. We were hosting Tennessee Military Academy, whom we just lost to barely a few weeks earlier. For us at least, we put on a show that made Mr. Stanton beam with pride. I even took a shot on goal and had one assist as we won the first and only game that I can remember 2-1. There was joy in Mudville that night, Casey.
It was during my junior and senior year that I really started to appreciate Mr. Stanton. He was more than a coach or my teacher. He was kind of a mentor, and quite honestly just one of the guys – a great role model. And of course a fierce competitor. He never hesitated to mix it up with us on the soccer field. In the spring our fancy turned to softball. He would brag about his great skills at the plate and in the field. He could throw a straight, low line drive in from the outfield wall (or in our case the chain link fence guarding the tennis courts at Covenant College. I never caught one of his throws. I had quit wearing a cup at this point and feared the worse, as I held my glove in front of my crotch for protection and hoped for the best.
We got to the point where were started challenging each other. When I came to bat he would go to the outfield to catch my fly balls and taunt me, and I would relish in the going out to try and catch one of the line drives off of his bat and taunt him. We taunted each other relentlessly during PE that way. One time he actually hit a lazy pop fly that I had in my radar. I was thrilled at the opportunity of getting him out. This girl in our gym class knocked me out of the way to catch the ball that was an easy out. The only problem was she didn’t know how to play baseball. The ball glanced off her glove and to the ground. I was mad.
Weeks later graduation came. I said my goodbyes to everyone. Mr. Stanton had the senior class over to his house for dinner. That may sound like a lot of people, but there were only nine of us in the graduating class. It was, however, the largest in the school’s history at the time. We shook hands, and a look of relief came over his face. We had made it. This fat kid who had no real direction or guidance had made it through fairly unscathed and a much better person than when he entered that little building down the hill from the Reformed Presbyterian Church. I could sense how was proud of me. I was equally proud to have pleased him.
That was almost a quarter of a century ago. The school has grown by leaps and bounds since that time with a large campus at the foot of Lookout Mountain with grades K-12 now.
I’ve only visited the campus twice in that time, and only on official business. I always wondered if Mr. Stanton was there. I run into others that have attended Chattanooga Christian from time to time, including the other day. The first questions are either, “Is Mr. Stanton still there?” or “How’s Mr. Stanton doing?” I know I should really pay him a visit before he retires completely.
I hope this doesn’t sound like a eulogy, because he’s far from dead – it’s a celebration. He’s just stepping down as the varsity head coach and letting the school’s new principal take over. He’s weathered the storm of the little school with 32 students to the 6-A/AA powerhouse it has become in sports. He’s also had a positive effect on those he’s coached and tutored in over 32 years of being affiliated with the school.
While the school named the soccer field after David Stanton, they should really take it one step further. They should name the school after him. The Stanton Christian School would be a more appropriate name. Without David Stanton, there would be no Chattanooga Christian School.
– Dave Weinthal
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