TOP PHOTO: Sports memorabilia hangs from the walls of Johnny Letner’s office that’s located between the Sky Way Bridge and the La Follette Church of God on Old Jacksboro Pike. Letner was a coach for the La Follette Little League All-Stars state title team in 1965.

Meet the Caryville All-Stars, the Blue Jays. Back row: Coach Justin Notaro, Coach Chase Childress and Coach Tim Malicote. Middle row: Landon Notaro, Bryson Baird, Braydon Gosnell, Jack Sexton, Koalton Cupp and Luke Childress. Front row: Caden Pyle, Jerian Patterson, Riley Gunter, Tanner Hollifield, Tucker Malicote and Caden Heatherly

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – The Caryville All-Stars, the Blue Jays, are in position to win the Dixie Youth Baseball League’s State Championship. For one old coach, Caryville’s run is stirring a lot of memories from when the La Follette Little League All-Stars claimed the state title in 1965. “I’d love to see them go all the way,” said Johnny Letner on Saturday as he was anxious to see how the Jays did in their third game in the tournament.

Caryville, playing at Harriman, won its first two games, Thursday and Friday, before stumbling on Saturday. The Blue Jays play Fairview Sunday at 1pm.

Letner was only 24 years old when he coached the Lions Club team, one of 10 LL teams in La Follette, to a 19 & 1 record. Junior Honeycutt led his Peoples Bank team to the same record with both teams sharing the regular season title. Honeycutt was tabbed to coach the All-Stars, and Letner was, too. Together, they selected a very talented group of young men for the All-Star team, and La Follette won the state crown.

(Front row left to right)  Quinn Smith, Jeff Bullock, Lonnie “Hot Rod” Wilson, Darryl Woods, Scott Gibson and Dennis Powers.  (Back row left to right)  Lonnie Dupuy, Clyde Seiber, James Carson, Gary Lovett, Danny McCullah, Keaton Jordan, Mark Russell and Leland Miller.  Coach Junior Honeycutt stands on the left side while Coach Johnny Letner is on the right of the 1965 State Champs. This team won the Tennessee Little League State Championship.

“I saw Hot Rod a few days ago, he’s gettin’ old, too,” said Letner with a laugh. Lonnie “Hot Rod” Wilson was one of Letner’s star players on the ’65 team.

“We carried birth certificates with us to all the games, because age was often questioned with our team being that good. I took care of the paperwork,” said Letner. He goes on to say how well he and Junior got along, and even though it was a lot of fun, it was also a lot of work.

Now 81, Johnny Letner still has a love for the game he did when he first began coaching in 1960.

Letner recalls that all of the games were played on the road; Clinton, Knoxville, Johnson City and elsewhere. The all-star season went into August. “We were gone so long, school was about to start,” said Letner.

“Junior was a really good coach. He had one philosophy; swing at the first pitch. He was older than me by a few years,” said Letner. Letner was only 19 when he was drafted to coach and tells the story of how legendary La Follette High Basketball Coach John R.W. Brown called him back into his insurance office telling him he needed someone to coach the Lions Club team. Letner ended up coaching for the Lions Club for years and years.

Honeycutt’s coaching legacy lives on through his son Chris. Chris starred in football at Campbell High and later Cumberlands. He’s been a coaching staple for the Cougars going on 10 years.

In those days, LL games were played at Liberty Park behind the former West La Follette School. LL games were played at the new Linden Park in the late ’60s and early ’70s before returning to Liberty.

“I kinda wish La Follette had a team playing in the tournament. But I’m really pulling for Caryville, because they’re our neighbors,” said Letner. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 07/17/2022-6AM)