Familiar faces in the Panther Pit for alumni basketball game

Former players gathered for an alumni basketball game at FHS Panther Pit organized by Coach Doug Plemmons.


Dan Finnerty – Sports Writer

Back in early March, Franklin High School (FHS) varsity basketball coach Doug Plemmons

Former player and current MMS principal Mark Sutton (black t-shirt) displays his basketball moves.

shared that he wanted to bring back some former players and have an alumni basketball game. One reason for doing so was fundraising in support of the boys’ basketball program, but the main reason was getting former players together with an added benefit of them giving back in the process. Plemmons, who became FHS’ winningest basketball coach back in 2018, stated at the meeting, “We haven’t had one of these get-togethers since the first time I coached here [16 years ago] and I think it’s time we do another one.”

On March 18, the event was held in the Panther Pit, where all of the participating former players once experienced the highs and lows of winning and losing basketball games. Players represented FHS graduating classes from 1994 to 2022.

“The main purpose of this event and fundraiser was to bring former FHS basketball players from the past, and the not-so-distant past, together to reminisce and enjoy each other’s company, playing a game they love in a gym that holds so many wonderful memories for them,” said Plemmons.

After all expenses were paid, the remaining proceeds went directly to the current FHS basketball program to benefit future Panthers.

Macon County Middle School teacher/FHS coach Cindy Christie helped coordinate the event and was also working throughout the game, assisting with various tasks to ensure the event was as successful and entertaining as possible. The two squads competing were each comprised of players of all ages. One team sported red jerseys and was coached by Skip Sanders, who was a FHS All-Conference athlete in three sports. The other team, sporting black jerseys, was coached by FHS multi-sport legend Shawn Bryson, who played collegiately at the University of Tennessee, where he won a national championship. Bryson also went on to play football professionally with the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.

Sanders currently coaches boys’ community league basketball in Franklin and is an assistant varsity football coach at FHS. Bryson recently led his Asheville High School football team to its first North Carolina Division II state championship.

The athleticism and skill demonstrated by the alumni players brought cheers from the crowd. While the game was competitive throughout, players showed respect for each other and clearly were enjoying the opportunity to play with different generations of Panther players.

In all, approximately 28 former players participated and they ranged in age from the class of 1994 (Joe Allen and Gabe Jonas) to players who graduated in 2022 (Trey Penland, Kellen Stiles, and Griffin Green). Green is one of the Panthers’ past players who scored more than 1,000 (1,081) points in his high school career.

The game was well attended. Some former players also joined in on the fun, even though they could not actually participate in the game. Alton Sutton (class of 1966) and Mickey Stockton (class of 1967) were both in attendance. Sutton’s son, Mark (class of 1996), and current Macon County Middle School Principal, played in the game for Team Black.

Others who participated included the Gibbs brothers, Daniel, Hunter, and Chase. Their father Todd, a former football coach and current auxiliary director at Macon County Schools, was also on hand watching the game along with FHS Principal Mickey Noe.

Zach DeLaCruz (class of 2018), who once hit five three-point baskets against Swain County in January 2017, also played in the game. He shared about the night in 2018 when he hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to defeat the Pisgah Bears.

Twins Chase and Chad Simons (class of 2004) also suited up and participated in the alumni celebration.

County Commissioner Gary Shields, principal at FHS for 21 years, was in the stands at the

Current county commissioner and former FHS principal Gary Shields was always a fixture at the high school games while he was principal. Shields met with the players before the alumni game.

alumni game and he met with players ahead of the game to encourage them. “Many were my former students. I tried to attend most of the games when I was principal and I have attended sports events since retiring whenever I can.”

While the Red squad “won” the game, the contest primarily brought former players and visibly appreciative Franklin citizens together. Regardless of monies raised, Coach Plemmons put on an enjoyable and entertaining event.