Walter Overton played high school football at the right time — the late 1960s — and seized the moment.
After a stellar athletic career at old Pearl High, during which he was named all-Nashville and all-state, Overton became the first African-American player to receive a football scholarship to Vanderbilt.
“When I started playing at Pearl, the old NIL [Nashville Interscholastic League] had just integrated and allowed the [predominantly] black schools in,” Overton said. “That enabled me and others to showcase our talents on a bigger stage that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”
Overton’s Pearl team edged Maplewood 6-0 in the 1969 Clinic Bowl at Vanderbilt, the first time mostly black schools were invited to the game. The undefeated season was the culmination of a great senior year for Overton, as Overton lettered in four sports. In track, his 9.8-second 100-yard dash time broke the Banner Relays record.
He got his dream of a football scholarship to Vanderbilt after his senior season.
“When I was growing up, I lived in the Centennial Park area, and I remember listening to the roar of the Vanderbilt crowd at games from my kitchen window,” he said. “I always wanted to play for them. The opportunity presented itself, and I got my wish.”
Overton was one of eight people inducted into the Metro Nashville Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame following a luncheon Tuesday at LP Field Stadium Club.
Overton was named second-team All-SEC his sophomore year and in 1974, he was a key player for coach Steve Sloan’s team that reached the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. He was a history and sociology major.
“I remember reading a recent story about all the success that [former Tennessee quarterback] Condredge Holloway had,” James Armstrong, who coached Overton in high school and made the presentation for the hall of fame, said. “I thought to myself that if Walter had been allowed to play quarterback in college, he would have received the same notoriety.
“Walter is one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever been associated with.”
Overton is currently a Nashville-area TSSAA official, a job he loves.
“It gives me a chance to continue to be around sports and athletes and keeps me young,” he said.
• Ten years after Overton, a star at old North High (Class of ‘79) named Brian Ransom had a stellar football career, which he continued at Tennessee State. He was another inductee Tuesday.
“I was the last quarterback to play for coach [John] Merritt [at TSU],” Ransom, who played basketball and track at North, said. “I graduated in May of 1983, and he passed away just after. I came in just after Joe ‘747’ Adams was the quarterback, and I knew I’d have to prove myself in a hurry. I was going to be a split end, then my positions coach Sam Smith saw me throw the ball, and he thought I would be better suited at quarterback.
“My junior and senior seasons, we didn’t lose but one game.”
Ransom was a Black College All-American and later signed with the Dallas Cowboys and also played for the Houston Oilers and CFL Montreal Alouettes.
• Carolyn Aldridge, Glencliff (1992): One of Glencliff’s greatest basketball players, she led the Colts to the AAA state championship game in 1990 when she was named most valuable and was also a standout in track and field. She later went to TSU and led the Tigers in most offensive stats and scored a school record 51 points vs. Wake Forest.
• Brenda Moon Davis, Goodlettsville (1965): In 1964 and 1965, Moon was named to both the Banner and Tennessean All-Nashville team in basketball and in 1965 was the NIL player of the year. She later played for the American Red Heads (1965-69), who barnstormed the U.S., playing about 200 games a year, using men’s rules.
• Shelton Quarles, Whites Creek (1990): Named all-state in football, later went to Vanderbilt where he was named SEC all-freshmen in 1990 and all-SEC in 1992. Later played for CFL B.C. Lions, then NFL’s Miami Dolphins, then Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he won a Super Bowl championship in 2002. Favorite saying: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
• Jonathan Quinn, McGavock (1993): While playing quarterback in football, Quinn was named All-Nashville as well as all Metro in basketball. Played football at MTSU where he broke or tied 11 school records and was named all-conference in 1997. Drafted in 1998, he played for Jacksonville, Kansas City and Chicago in the NFL.
• Bob Dudley Smith, West (1948): Led old West High to the state basketball championship in 1946 and 1948 when he was the tournament’s leading scorer. Later became a star player at Vanderbilt where he helped key the Commodores’ lone SEC tournament championship in 1951. In February, Smith was named to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He later became an accomplished senior tennis player.
The ceremony brightened the week for Smith, who suffered a mishap Sunday at his home, injuring his left shoulder, which may require an MRI and possibly months of rehab.
• Doug Hall, Hume-Fogg (1943): Gained fame as a long-time track and cross-country coach at both Bellevue, then Hillwood when the schools consolidated. The 25th annual Doug Hall Relays, which will be run Saturday at MBA, were named in his honor. He was honored posthumously after passing away in 1986. His daughter Jean Anne Hall Tye accepted the award.
Vanderbilt play-by-play man Joe Fisher made the presentations.