MUSING WITH CECIL BUFFINGTON
Remembering Johnny Pruitt . . .
It doesn't seem like 54 years since I was a ninth-grade classmate of Johnny Pruitt.
While going over some old photo's to put together a DVD-Video for a Jefferson High reunion, I came upon an old photo of myself and Johnny. You talk about bringing back some memories . . . now this opened the floodgates.
I guess Johnny and I spent about as much time together during our fifth thru eighth grade years as any kids could and not live in the same house. We dug caves on the McGinnis creek/branch, swung from trees on the banks and even built a Davy Crockett fort in the woods on the back of the Ray Williamson property. It was Johnny that taught me to shoot a jump shot that would eventually help me make the Jefferson High School basketball team. I must have played thousands of games of "first to 20 points wins " basketball games against Johnny. I don't think I ever beat him. He was about three inches taller than me and had incredibly long arms and big hands. I have always believed that if he had stayed in school at Jefferson he would have been the best basketball player to ever come out of the school up to that time.
After making the team as a freshman, he dropped out of school and went to work for John Godfrey at his Jefferson service station. He had grown to about 6'4" and could dunk the ball with either hand. Coach Fred Herren spent a great deal of time trying to get him to return to school and continue his promising basketball career. Johnny had bought a car and had committments that he felt necessitated him having a job. For this reason, he never returned to school. He attended many of the high school basketball games and we remained close friends.
Johnny was one of our "Porterville Pack" that included his brother Jimmy, Scottie Brooks, Mack Snelling, James and Joel Stringer, Neal Massey, Buster Covington, Doug Shumake, Harold Ward, Tom Williamson and Monroe Bennett.
We had built a football/softball field behind the Williamson property where kids from all over Jefferson would play in our Sunday evening games. We even built goal posts on both ends of the field. It was a close-knit group of friends that even had a wrestling pitt with saw-dust and ropes over on the Brooks property. It was always Johnny and I against whomever. Many times we would manage to whip the older boys. We made a good team.
In June of 1962, Johnny Pruitt went swimming over at the city pool. He made a dive off the high board and after exiting the water he was so dizzy he collapsed beside the pool. He was taken up to Dr. Adams office and thought to have an inner ear infection. Johnny spent the next two days in bed as he got more sick by the moment.
I visited with Johnny for awhile on the day before he was taken to the Commerce Hospital in very serious condition. We talked about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, his favorite team, and various other insignificant trivia that seemed to always pop up when we were together. As I walked out the door of his house, I remember saying, "get yourself well and we'll go over to the gym and shoot a few baskets." He smiled as he told me he would like to do that.
The next day Johnny Pruitt died. He was 17 years old. Tests would show that Johnny had meningitis and that had led directly to his untimely demise. Johnny was buried over at Academy Baptish Church where we had attended services for most of our childhood.
He doesn't have much family left, so I guess I am the only person that ever brings him to mind. I still remember him very well.
I have always believed that if classmate Michael Rankin, who moved to Marion County in 1957 and became an all-state player at 6'5" ( Miss Irene Rankin was his aunt ), Dan Cagle, whose dad was our high school Superintendent before moving to North Carolina after his freshman year and Johnny had teamed with Gary Brooks and myself in the senior class of 1964, we could have won Jefferson a state basketball championship.
Such is the case when you enjoy history. Memories pop up at times that are deeply ingrained in your mind. Johnny Pruitt popped up just a few days past and those memories were of a fun-time and, at the end, a not so much fun-time. That not so much fun-time, unfortunately, is also the price we sometimes have to pay to enjoy all the good memories.