JOE BIDDLE: Sunday Notes: June 5, 2016

Donny Everett (Courtesy: Vanderbilt University)

Random ruminations wondering whatever happened to Drew Bennett. . . .

A TRAGIC WEEK: It has been a week of sorrow for area residents. There was the death of 32-year-old Marine pilot Captain Jeff Kuss for the Blue Angels when his jet went down in a ball of flames shortly after takeoff for a practice session out of Smyrna Airport, a former Air Force base. Investigators are still determining the cause of the accident that took the life of the father of two children.

Shortly after that we learned of the drowning death of a highly touted freshman Vanderbilt pitcher, Donny Everett of Clarksville. He was only 19 years old and had a bright future ahead of him. He was the 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year in Tennessee.

Everett drowned Thursday while trying to swim to an opposite shore on Normandy Lake in Coffee County while fishing with friends earlier in the day. His body was found Thursday night in 25 feet of water, an estimated 15 feet from shore.

Weather halted the opening round game against Xavier Friday night and it was postponed to Saturday at noon. Coach Tim Corbin and the Vanderbilt team boarded a bus Friday morning to go to Clarksville to visit Everett’s parents. He was an only child. It may be one of the hardest experiences Corbin has ever had to face. But knowing him, he handled it with compassion and class.

Former Commodore shortstop Dansby Swanson tweeted his condolences.

“My heart is completely broken,’’ said last year’s first pick in the Major League draft. “There are special prayers being said in the @VandyBaseball family. May you rest easy in Heaven, Donny.’’

Meanwhile, the Blue Angels flew to their home base in Pensacola Friday and a Navy plane flew to Smyrna to take Kuss’ body to Pensacola, where his family lived.

The Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds are as close a military family as you can find. They face potential danger every day they take off, whether it is to practice or be the main attraction of an air show. They are the best of the best at what they do. Before joining the Blue Angels, Kuss logged 1,400 flight hours and made 175 landings on aircraft carriers, one of the most difficult landing a pilot could make, especially in rough weather on the ocean.

I attended the 2004 Smyrna air show and our niece, a Lt. Commander in the Navy, got a friend of hers who was the Blue Angels’ front man to get us tickets in the reserved Blue Angels section in the stands. He came over, introduced himself and made sure we were taken care of. He gave me a Blue Angels recognition coin, a special coin that few civilians have.

The show from close up was even more breath-taking. I marveled at how close the F/A-18 jets were when they flew in formation. It takes a special pilot to make the demonstration teams. Kuss was in his first year of being with Blue Angels squads flying at air shows.

WKRN news anchor Samantha Fisher had taken a ride in a Blue Angels two-seater hours before Kuss met his fate. Her pilot was from Cobb County, Ga., same as Fisher. She was professional, yet composed, during her reporting. The team will stand down for some time as investigators determine the reason for the crash. They did the right thing by pulling out of this weekend’s show. In recent years, they had come to the Smyrna air show every two years. Rutherford County citizens had pretty much adopted the Blue Angels over the years. Within 24 hours of the crash, donations over $100,000 had been raised for the Kuss family.


ALI PASSES: Three-time world heavyweight champion and an Olympics golf medalist Muhammad Ali joined the list of those who passed this week.

Ali was 74 and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years. He had been in an Arizona hospital, where he had difficulty breathing due to the Parkinson’s.

I was fortunate to have a one-on-one interview with Ali when I was working for the Daytona Beach News-Journal in the ‘70s. Ali was training for a fight and used Memorial Stadium to spar outside in the Florida heat and humidity.

Ali came into a trailer and removed his gloves, leaving his hands taped. When he told me to start the interview, he began shadow boxing me, missing my face by an inch or so with combinations, while talking all the time.

You can’t imagine how uncomfortable I was, how difficult it was to remember the questions I wanted to ask in my mind. I was thinking if Ali made even a slight mistake, I would be planted six feet down.

Ali was an iconic figure in the ring. He would boast through poems what he was going to do to his opponent, build the fight into a feverish pitch, then go out and do exactly what he predicted.

He was 2-1 against Joe Frazier, an opponent he constantly degraded in public.

Ali was a master of self-promotion. “Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see,’’ he taunted.

He divided the country when he refused to be drafted during the Vietnam era. Not that Ali would have been drafted and shipped to Vietnam, but he declined all the same.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,’’ Ali said. He was suspended from fighting for 3½ years, but bounced back in the ring and continued his career.

Ali will make the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. It will be the 40th time for him to be on the cover. I last saw him in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. With shaking hands, Ali managed to light the Olympic flame. His place in history is secure.


Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is going to be inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame on June 18. Contact him at

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