Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ripley's Tiny Knee Stadium — UPDATED

Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

More than a year ago, I ran a photo of Tiny Knee Stadium in Ripley, Tennessee, and pondered why it had such an unusual name. A few readers chimed in, but I don't think they really had a definitive answer.

Well, I have the complete explanation now, since I recently received an email from Willard Rooks Helander of Libertyville, Illinois, who just happens to be the grandson of a rather remarkable fellow named Irvin Knee.

Here's what he tell us:

Coach Irvin Knee was a standout athlete at Wabash High School in his hometown of Wabash, Indiana, and then at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he excelled at football, track, and field events. He was called "Tiny" because he was a formidable figure, whose many Drake Relays records were unbroken during his life. He played against the University of Chicago football team wearing a leather helmet and slept under the stadium in the space where the creation of the atomic bomb later occurred.

Tiny Knee also coached college football in middle Tennessee and also played professional football for Clarence Saunders' Tigers. He moved to Ripley, Tennessee, to build the athletic program and teach science courses. At Ripley he recruited laborers to build a football field and cinder track described by Tennessee sportswriters as the finest track in West Tennessee.

Coach Knee developed standout track, field, and basketball programs, as well as coordinated building two public swimming pools for youth, Tiny Town kiddie park, and the Tiny Knee Shack where teens could "hang out" in the 1940s right through the '60s. He was a familiar sight in his green Willys jeep. Nearly every child in Ripley had a ride in Coach Knee's jeep and he was affectionately called Chief White Cloud by the Native American community in the area. When he died in 1968, a memorial service was held at Tiny Knee Field and the stands were filled with the many men and women who paid tribute to the man who taught them lessons on succeeding, not just in athletics and sportsmanship, but in life both on and off the field.

Tiny Knee was my grandfather.

— Willard Rooks Helander (Brownsville, Tennessee, native and Libertyville, Illinois, resident)

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