• The Cruze Connection

  • 16 January 2012 by 11 Comments

Already crowded when the U.S. entered WWII in 1942, Knoxville High School was bursting at the seams a few years after the War concluded in August of 1945. This fact, coupled with the projected post war business expansion, led the city fathers and educators to project city growth into areas away from the core of the city around Knox High. The anticipated “sprawl” further made clear the critical need for school expansion.

Consequently, with the close of the 1951 school year, Knox High ceased to function as a high school. In the following September East, West, South and Fulton, the school that absorbed the technical and trades studies of Stair Tech which was also closed, enrolled high school students in the four quadrants of the city. As Knox High grads are quick to say, “these new schools did not replace the irreplaceable KHS, they simply were an extension of it.” Any argument to the contrary is met with fierce and warranted opposition.

There were many connections between Old Knox High and the newly spawned schools. But, primarily because of proximity, there were more remaining links with Fulton and East than with the other two expansion schools. East seemed to have a stronger tether to the mother ship than the others. The school colors were similar…both sharing the deep royal blue. Additionally, many of the tenured teachers at KHS took similar positions at EHS and more of the KHS athletes later participated at East than at the other schools.

East had one athlete that seems to forever connect the two schools and who during his high school career, excelled in sports at both institutions. That athlete is Kyle “Buddy” Cruze. Cruze was a starter at end on the last KHS Trojan football team to play, Central High School in the annual “City-County Game.”

On this Thanksgiving Day in 1950 the Trojans drubbed the Bobcats 40-7 before 12,500 fans, highly charged with the knowledge that never again would the Trojans and Bobcats line up against each other on the gridiron. This grudge match was traditionally played at Shields Watkins Stadium on the Tennessee campus, but the final game in KHS history was moved to a smaller venue, Evans Collins Stadium because of construction at the U.T. site. Fittingly, in this game Cruze scored the last touchdown scored by a Trojan player.

He was a standout on the State Championship basketball team in 1951 scoring the last 2 points scored by a Trojan in the final game against Selmer. Parenthetical to his highly successful KHS career in football and basketball, Cruze was an outstanding hurdler on the track team coached by the legendary Sam Jones.

As an EHS Mountaineer he elevated his game, or games as it were, to even more lofty levels. Picking up where he left off at KHS, Cruze scored the first touchdown scored by an East High Mountaineer on a pass completion against Rule High in September of 1951 and also the first 2 points scored by the basketball team, a field goal against Powell in the Mountaineer’s initial round-ball game late in 1951.

Rounding out his illustrious career, Buddy was one of only 6 athletes prior to 1952 to have been All State in two sports, football and basketball. He was further honored as the Captain of both these All State teams, the only Tennessean ever to be so honored in both sports. Another of the six so honored was Bob Fry, an East Knoxville product who graduated from KHS in its last year and like Cruze, made All State in both basketball and football and went on to play football at Tennessee.

Coach Buford Bible’s first East High team finished fourth in the State basketball tourney in 1952, but Cruze was named the event’s premier player setting 12 out of 16 Tennessee State records in the process. Surprisingly in the day of the three-point field goal and “run and gun” offenses, two of these records still stand to this day.

There is an interesting bit of lore surrounding this tournament that seems to reveal the idiosyncratic style of legendary EHS Coach Bible, arguably a man well ahead of his time as a basketball teacher and tactician. Cruze set a tournament scoring record of 47 points in the 68-59 quarter final victory over Oliver Springs. As Cruze tells it in his animated fashion, he arrived at the turnstile the following evening to enter the arena for the semi finals against the vaunted Jackson team. Much to his chagrin, he was summarily denied admission because, in his haste to not be late, the unpardonable sin to Mr. Bible, Cruze had forgotten his player pass.

Unmoved by Cruze’s predicament and unwilling to give him the dollar required for admission, Bible walked away, leaving him to fend for himself. Seeming still able to feel the nervousness he felt that evening some 60 years ago, Buddy says that he finally found Jean Reasonover, football coach Jim Reasonover’s wife, who loaned him the necessary “8 bits” to buy a ticket. When Buddy found his way to the dressing area, Mr. Bible (funny how he was always known as Mr. Bible…not Coach Bible) simply said, “hey Cruze…we are dressing in the first door on the left.” Until the day he died, Mr. Bible never said another word to him about the incident.

Cruze’s exploits as both a Trojan and a Mountaineer may frame him as an athlete but they fall woefully short in defining him as a man. Buddy went on to Tennessee where he was named to the All-SEC and All American football teams in his senior year, 1956.  He later became a very successful businessman and remains a devoted husband to his still charming wife Charlotte, nurturing father to 4, and doting grandfather to 14, six of whom are married. Further, he has been mentor and role model to hundreds in Knoxville, the city he loves and that reveres him.

The effects of a recent heart attack have taken a physical toll on Buddy, but it has only invigorated his; indomitable spirit, winsome personality, infectious smile, and patented laugh. He also is more firmly immersed in the Christian faith he committed his life to as a young boy. Over a meal and warm conversation in his home I recently asked him what the catalyst to his confession of faith in Christ was. His exact words were, “I came to realize that there is a God…and it’s not me.” As has been the way of his life, this realization prompted the conversion that cemented both his worldview and his life calling.

Kyle “Buddy” Cruze, the KHS-EHS Connection…it has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Thanks Buddy for the standard you set and have continued to uphold.

11 Responses to The Cruze Connection
    • Bob Dukes
    • What a delightful summary of this historical transition of secondary education in Knoxville. Though I live in Atlanta now, I will always be tethered emotionally to my Knoxville roots. Your article stirred up some fond memories. (My mother had the honor of being Miss Knoxville High, and I played for Mr. Bible’s brother Marshall, at South High.)

      I wasn’t aware of all the details from the career of Buddy Cruze. Of course I remember him and his legendary days at UT, but never realized the connection with Old Knox High and East High. Thanks for the update.

      I was especially grateful to hear of Buddy’s personal life. I became a Christian after leaving Knoxville to attend college in NYC, and this decision has reformed and re-framed my entire life. Thanks, Ross, for the well-written article. If you happen to see Buddy, tell him I’ll be praying for his health.

      • Ross Greene
      • Thanks Bob…I am aware that you too were a legendary athlete (High School Decathlon Champ in Tennessee) scholar (Columbia grad and Rhodes Scholar finalist) and Christian leader (President of Worldwide Discipleship Discipleship Assoc.) so your praise of Buddy is one of peer to peer. He has few, but you are one of them…even though you went to South Hi.

    • phil
    • J. Ross: Excellent article on Buddy Cruze. Met him at a church function and remember him as a very unassumming person. However, he demonstrated that night a real stand for the Lord Jesus.

      Thank you for your love of people and relatiomships. God bless you and your family. Jehu

    • Steve Lockett
    • Great story, Ross. You have done a great service with your website. Keep up the good work.
      Buddy is truly an icon of our generation and a role model for the ages.

      • wilbur curtis
      • I have always considered an honor to have known Buddy from grade school through HS. His standards were always high and he met them with honor.
        As I look back, I wonder if anyone can ever remember him not smilling?

      • Ross Greene
      • Steve…We shared many YOUNG LIFE experiences and are, therefore, aware of the life impact that Karl Nelson, George Blood etc. and the YL organization had on many of us including Buddy, who was very close to Karl Nelson. I share your view that Buddy is an icon and a great one. I am blessed that KNOXVILLE HERITAGE has provided a venue to share the legacy of these outstanding lives and the richness of our history with each other and a increasingly broad audience. Thanks for your support and thoughts. Blessings!

    • Herbert S Doane Knoxville East High Class of 1952
    • Ross, I appreciate your story about Kyle “Buddy” L Cruze and I always thought Buddy was one of my nicest and friendliest classmates at both the old Knoxville High as well as at East Highschool. Buddy deserves all the accolades he has been given over all these years and I was greatly concerned to hear about his heart attack and happy you said he is recovering well from it. I am also happy to see Wilbur making a comment above and agree with him whole-heartedly! I hope to help contribute a small salute to Buddy in the future for an act of kindness he offered another friend also involving sports activities, as the story is worth telling… Buddy, you are simply the Greatest!!!

    • Herbert S Doane Knoxville East High Class of 1952
    • Herb’s Buddy Cruze Story and I Know There are Hundreds More Out There…

      Hello, I am a newly found friend of Ross Greene and his wonderful new website http://www.knoxvilleheritage.com and Ross has requested my story concerning Kyle “Buddy” L Cruze as his story, “The Cruze Connection” was displayed in the last newsletter update. While I would have preferred this to have been a collaborative effort between myself, Herrell Akers and Jay Searcy who were both members of my class of 1952 at Oak Ridge High School, (I lived in Oak Ridge from 1944-1950 and went through the 10th grade there), I will provide here my single version within the limits of my knowledge, and Buddy, I hope you like it!

      After retirement in March of 2002, I wanted to find out what happened to all my classmates at my school of record – Knoxville East High School, Class of 1952, as I had never ever been invited to even one Class Reunion. First, I joined the online reunion network cites of Classmate.com and the reunion.com and trust me, those two cites are dead and my progress was also dead. Then thru a literary source in Oak Ridge, I was provided Jay Searcy’s name, and to make a long story short, Jay invited me to join my old old class at Oak Ridge which had the planning for their own reunion in process and reunion scheduled for Year 2010. Then Jay invited me to help find their missing classmates and I did with relish – so much so in fact that even Jay said that I was intense! (short story).

      But through this effort I learned to search for classmates and used this skill to find my Knoxville East High Classmates with the same processes, and I found Barbara Hall Beeler and she gave me some vital information. Eventually, I contacted Buddy and he was excited about getting a class reunion started and he said that he would help in anyway possible. While I knew Buddy and others also from the Old Knoxville High (closed after the school year of 1950-1951), and I knew all my classmates who were living would perhaps like at least one last get together or reunion before we are all called home.

      The Oak Ridge High Reunion was (without embellishment) just totally mind-blowing wonderful and I enjoyed the three days of activity immensely. On the last day, I got a chance at the wind up Outdoor Barbracue to talk to Herrell Akers who had been the catcher on my Church fast pitch softball team, and we had a really good discussion with several more there from the same team. When the barbracue was shutting down, Herrell asked me if I knew Buddy Cruze, and I said yes I did know him. And, Herrell asked if I would request Buddy to sign his “Game Ball” from the 1952 Oak Ridge Wildcats versus the 1952 Knoxville East High Mountaineers, and I told him I would ask Buddy when we got back home from our trip. Herrell has always been a very healthy athelete in our growing up years, but in his latter years, he has suffered from some debilitating disease and I believe he has to use a walker to get around now, so his request was even more to me than a compassionate request from a friend, and I was ever so hopeful that Buddy would do what Herrell requested.

      When we got home, I called Buddy and first spoke to Buddy’s wife and told her about the request asked by a friend from Oak Ridge and afterwards, she said that she thought Buddy would agree, and then I talked to Buddy and he did agree. Somewhere within this span of communications, I had to tell Buddy that I am “The World’s Worst Sports Fan” (or FAN of any sort for that matter) and that not only did I not attend the Oak Ridge/East High Game, but no game thru most of my high school or college years (except maybe one or two at UT when friends forced me to go) but when Buddy agreed, this really meant more to me that all the accolades of his All-American highschool and college All-American, and this made him one of MY Heroes. I then called Herrell Akers and he and Buddy were to meet and Buddy was to sign the “Game Ball”, but it seems then Jay Searcy got involved and there was a ceremony scheduled as a part of a Luncheon Group Buddy normally attends with Johnny Majors and others in Knoxville. My understanding is that not only did Buddy Cruze sign Herrell Akers Game Ball, but Johnny Majors (another All-American) did too, so Herrell is undoubtedly in seventh heaven.

      So Kyle “Buddy” L Cruze, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness and fulfilling the request from another friend, and this makes our friendship even stronger. I will look forward to a time next year when we might have a modern day Class Reunion of our class at Knoxville East High and I am still working toward that objective. I hope you are fully recovering from your heart attack and that you enjoy each day as it comes with the knowledge that you have a world of friends and that friendship is ever increasing every day!

      God Bless you and may the good Lord Keep you safe!

    • Tom Burnette-EHS 1953
    • I have known Buddy since grammar school, he being one year ahead of me. We
      also attended the same church. I played basketball with Buddy for two years (the last year at Knox High, and the first year at East). At Knox High, he was a key player on the varsity and I was a B-teamer. At East, we played on the varsity together. In basketball he started inside and I usually started on the side at forward. In the half court offense I would normally set up on the left side facing the basket.

      We alternated four guards, all good players buy not necessarily good shooters (hope they don’t read this) so opponents would drop a guard to double Buddy. They would then get the ball to me and I would get it to Buddy (I was a pretty good passer) and he scored, got fouled, or both. The only problem was I also liked to shoot, so from the middle of November to the middle of March if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times – Buford hollering “Burnette get the ball to Cruze”… and when he took me out, “Burnette why didn’t you get the ball to Cruze?”

      In retrospect you who don’t know Buddy well, will think this is an exaggeration – It is not. Physically he was an outstanding athlete but he was much more. He was the guy who always rose to the occasion. He had that sixth sense. He was the tough in the saying “when the tough get going.” I will close by summing it up with this statement. In my lifetime I have not known or seen another Buddy Cruze.

    • Rich Hooper EHS 1957
    • Ross
      Just read the Buddy Cruze piece. Lot of research and good reporting. It was nice to be around during his era and enjoy his exploits. Probably Knoxville’s best athlete and it certainly didn’t hurt that he was one of its more respectable personalities.

      The project you have created is more than anyone could have expected; maybe even yourself. You’ve provided a lot of enjoyment for your readers. Great Job – keep up the good work
      Rich

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