GREENBACK — A list of familiar names accompanies a championship sign that hangs on the fence behind home plate at Greenback’s Pappy Hammontree Field — not one that commemorates the Cherokees’ 2019 Class A state baseball title, but a 2008 District 8 Dixie Youth championship.
It is a symbol of how long the core of Greenback athletics during its prolific four-year run has been playing ball together.
That group of players wrote their final chapter Thursday by celebrating the collegiate baseball signings of Reese Plemons, Bryce Hanley, Cole Riddle and Tyler Cullen.
Plemons, The Daily Times’ Baseball Player of the Year, signed with Cleveland State Community College, Hanley with Carson-Newman, Riddle with Lincoln Memorial and Cullen with Columbia State Community College.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Hanley told The Daily Times. “It feels like we should go out there and start preparing for football again just like every other year. It’s definitely going to be crazy not playing with these guys, but hopefully we can make some more memories and more friends with the next teams we’re on.”
Plemons, Hanley, Riddle and Cullen have been a part of plenty of memories during their time at Greenback.
They joined a second-year baseball program in 2016 and went on to win 111 games over their four-year careers, including two district championships, three region titles and three trips to the Class A state baseball tournament.
The Cherokees’ state-title run in May added another state championship ring to the hands of Plemons, Hanley and Riddle, who claimed their first at the 2017 Class A BlueCross Bowl. That was the pinnacle achievement for a football program that amassed 51 wins over the past four years, including runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016.
Cullen helped Greenback win a District 2-A basketball championship in 2017-18.
“We haven’t really talked about it, but now that we’re out and things are settling down, we can hear everybody still talking about the Class of 2019 and I think it’s kind of sinking in for us,” Plemons said. “We take a lot of pride in that because nobody has ever done what we have (at Greenback).”
It was an unprecedented amount of success for a school that has roughly 200 students, but it isn’t a feat the Cherokees are in disbelief over. They knew exactly what they were capable of once their time came.
“Our goal has always been to win a state championship every year,” Riddle said. “It was something that was imaginable because I knew what we had together and what we were creating as a team.”
Former Greenback baseball coach Wes Caldwell stated that he “didn’t have the words to do justice for what they’ve meant” to the community, but he added that they are an inspiration, especially to the kids that will grow up and occupy the same fields they did.
Plemons, Hanley, Riddle and Cullen spent the moments after their signing celebration taking pictures with family and signing baseballs for kids that broke away from the town’s Independence Day parade.
“What we’ve accomplished means a lot to us personally because we grew up in this school and we looked up to our high schoolers,” Cullen said. “For us to be able to win and do it the right way, I hope we have the little kids look up to us.”
They do, and they will continue to.
Not too long ago, Plemons, Hanley, Riddle and Cullen were in their shoes — a group of friends playing the game they love.
In the years since, they have left a legacy that may never be surpassed at Greenback, and now they get a chance to leave a new one at the collegiate level.
“This class has been held to a different standard than a lot of the others,” Hanley said. “We knew that if we go out there and play ball, then we were going to get noticed. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what size the school is. If you can play, the coaches are going to find you.
“From Day 1, our mindset wasn’t just to be good in high school, but to be able to go and play college ball. Luckily enough, we’re going to get that opportunity.”