If the odds get big enough, of course, even a Davy Crockett can lose his coontail—or a Lon Varnell his optimism. "A losing season digs pretty deep," he admits, and there is pain in his voice. "Sometimes the bucket might get too heavy. Sometime you might have to set it down."
More than ever Varnell has to build his hardwood giants from the hardwood up. It leaves him with barely enough time to present the South with Peter, Paul and Mary, Liberace, Broadway road shows, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, NBA exhibitions, Kate Smith, Bob Hope and the Beatles. Sometimes it even makes him a bit nostalgic for his days promoting the Harlem Globetrotters. Now there was a team for which he didn't have to improvise brown-paper glasses to keep guards from looking at the ball while dribbling.
"Goose Tatum claimed he was only ever stopped once," Varnell remembers, "and that was at a small town in Arkansas where the gym consisted of two Quonset huts, a basket in each, joined by a narrow hallway. Tatum hauled down this one rebound and headed for the hall. There, standing in the corridor, was a mountain of a man at least 6'6" and 250 pounds. 'Best defense I ever faced,' Tatum said."
Sewanee does come up with nifty scorers, like 6'6" Rhodes scholar Tommy Ward, class of '67, but somehow there always seem to be a lot more like Mad Dog. "Mad Dog would do things like knock down the coach and then run over him," teammates recall. "Or fall down three times on one trip downcourt, knock the wind out of one defender and break another's toe."
Varnell does get some indirect help. More than once he has asked a walk-on at first meeting, "Son, I believe your face looks familiar. Did I coach your brother?" "No, sir," the boy will say. "That was my daddy." Sewanee is that sort of place to which men send their sons and grandsons. It is Southern as a catfish fry and as Episcopal as its favorite cheer:
Leave 'em in the lurch.
Down with the heathen
And up with the Church.
The University of the South was founded to correct the state of affairs deplored by co-founder Bishop James Otey in 1858: "The youth in the Southwest for the most part seek the advantages of education by a resort to the Northern colleges. This they do confessedly...at the hazard of such changes in the constitution from difference of climate as to render their return dangerous, and at the risk of weakening those domestic ties connected with the parental domicile, which are seldom severed but at the expense of virtue."
Or, in phrases of today: "Sewanee cherishes gentility as well as learning"—Vice Chancellor and President Dr. Edward McCrady.
"Sewanee has, on the whole, succeeded in cherishing the past without idolatry and in facing the future without dizziness"—Dr. Charles Harrison, chairman of the English department.
" 'You can't make a good pickle just by squirting vinegar on a cucumber; it has to soak for a while' "—Robert Lancaster, dean of the college.