Over the lengthy, impressive portfolio he owns and the huge impact he’s had on the Nashville scene, Joe Casey has been an icon in both playing sports and enforcing the law.
Casey was one of nine people who were inducted into the Nashville Public Schools sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday at a luncheon at an LP Field banquet room.
Among his many achievements, Casey:
• Lettered in six sports – basketball, baseball, football, softball, track and golf – at old North High. Casey at the Bat (and on the mound) made All-City in baseball in both ’45 and ’46, his junior and senior years, and pitched five no-hitters.
• Played pro baseball for five years in the Boston Braves’ organization, including two with the old Nashville Vols of the Southern League. And he helped lead the Nashville Babe Ruth team to its first World Series.
• Joined the police force in 1951 at age 25, rising through the ranks and eventually serving as Metro Chief of Police, 1973-89. He was also a basketball referee.
• Was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame as an official in ’08 and to the Old Timers Baseball Association Hall of Fame in ’09.
Asked what his favorite sport was in high school, Casey said, “I liked them all, but I’d have to say baseball, mainly because I was pretty good at it. But what I remember most is my teammates, the chemistry we developed and how much fun we had.”
Casey, 83, has a rare distinction of hitting four holes in one among his golfing exploits.
Over the years, he’s aced No. 3 hole at McCabe, twice aced No. 11 at Shelby and also No. 6 at Harpeth Hills – “Had to be pretty lucky to do that,” he says.
Casey moonlighted when he could by officiating many basketball games in the Nashville area.
“I couldn’t do as many as I wanted because of my duties on the force,’’ he said.
There was some humor along the way.
“I was officiating a college game at Sewanee with Ralph Blakely, and (the late) Lon Varnell (who was a barnstorming basketball entrepreneur who helped bring the Harlem Globetrotters to Nashville) was the coach at Sewanee,” Casey said. “He knew my name and said, ‘Joe, that wasn’t the right call.’ Back in those days, you weren’t supposed to talk to the referees by their names and I gave him a technical. He had this white outfit and shoes, and it was so funny to see him jump up and down after he got the technical, those whites shoes flying all over the place.”
Other honorees included:
• Cecil Beaird, Cameron (’71): Co-captain of Cameron team that won back-to-back state basketball championships. He joined teammate David Vaughn and his coach Ronnie Lawson off that team (who were inducted in ’08). Made all-city, all-state, then attended Fisk on a football scholarship.
• Bill Brimm, Central High (’43): Played football, basketball and baseball for old Central High, then made his mark at old Madison High where he coached football, basketball, baseball and golf for 20 years. He won Coach of the Year award in every sport – football six times, basketball three, baseball four and golf once. He was named Nashville’s Most Outstanding Man in 1961 by the Nashville Banner.
• John Gordy, Litton (’53): Star football and baseball standout for Litton, later played tackle for Tennessee, then the Detroit Lions in the NFL. In 1968, he became president of the NFL Players Association, later negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement in sports history. Inducted posthumously.
• Ted Rhodes, Pearl: Recognized as the first African-American pro golfer, played in the 1948 U.S. Open. Was inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 1998 and in 2009, the PGA granted him posthumous membership. An inspiration to many in that sport, including Tiger Woods and Lee Elder. Inducted posthumously.
• Ronnie Sharer, West (’58): Named NIL (old Nashville Interscholastic League) most valuable player and all-state his junior and senior years. Attended Belmont on a basketball scholarship and was voted Most Valuable Player there his senior year and was inducted into the Belmont Hall of Fame in 1991.
• Leonard Staggs, Litton (’41): Named NIL Player of the Year his senior year (1940), later went to Mississippi State on scholarship, then to MTSU after fighting in World War II. Coached at Giles County High, then Lawrence County where his football teams won 125 games in 11 seasons. In basketball, his teams won 354 games and went to six state tournaments, including two final fours. Inducted posthumously.
• John Tisdale, Metro Coach: Although not having any formal coaching experience, the Tennessee State graduate coached Washington Junior High for 50 years (1935-85) during which the school was 656-33 (95%) and won 75 in a row in one stretch. He was selected Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity “Man of the Year.’’ Inducted posthumously.
• Jackie Turner, Hillsboro (’48): Named All-NIL her senior year after four dominating seasons for the Burros basketball team. After finishing at Vanderbilt, she taught at old Cumberland High before returning to coach her alma mater, Hillsboro. She was named NIL coach of the year several times, competing in the state tournament. Father Jim was the pitching coach for years with the New York Yankees. Inducted posthumously.