By Lynn Hotaling and Carey Phillips
When considering the history of athletics in Jackson County, two names immediately spring to mind: Love and Streater.
That would be Tommy Love, the high school Scholastic Magazine All-American who helped break the color barrier in Jackson County, and Jimmy and Steve Streater, the brother duo who played on state championship football and baseball teams while at Sylva-Webster.
All three are charter members of the Jackson County Athletic Hall of Fame, which was established in 1993.
Boyce Deitz, of Sylva, grew up with Love and played football with him at S-W. A decade later, as one of Babe Howell’s assistants at S-W, he coached both Streaters.
Deitz remembers Love being subjected to racial epithets during his first season.
“We played some games where the other teams taunted him, but Tommy never responded,” Deitz said. “He just said ‘give me the ball,’ and then he’d make them pay.
“I remember one game in Marion, when the other team caught Tommy for a loss with a shoulder pad hit that would be illegal now. Tommy got up and didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was mad. He got the ball on the next play and ran for a touchdown, even after being almost knocked down twice. I really believe that if we’d been playing the Green Bay Packers that day, he still would have scored.”
According to Deitz, Love weighed about 185 pounds, which was big at the time, but could “absolutely fly” and score almost at will. “He made some of the most fabulous runs – he could find the sideline and tiptoe down it, go wide to get around a defender and then find the sideline again.”
In summing up, Deitz said he could talk about Love all day. “Tommy could do things that most people around here had never seen – anyone who ever saw Tommy Love play will never forget it.”
Deitz said it’s hard to compare Tommy Love with the Streaters, because they came after integration and therefore were able to compete in sports from the time they were little kids. That said, he described the young Streaters as “phenomenal.” “They were so far above the rest of the kids when they were little, it was like they were on another level. There were kids playing on each team – and then there were the Streater boys.”
And that remained true when they got to high school, Deitz said. “Jim was so fast – so quick – that it didn’t matter if a play worked or not – he’d find a way to make it work. When Jim Streater started scrambling, he didn’t know where he was going, and neither did his teammates. (The late) Coach (Babe) Howell used to say that if he had 10 players who could stay out of Jim’s way, Jim would run through the other team’s 11. Once the ball was in his hands, Jim would make something happen.”
Deitz remembers one kickoff in Canton where Pisgah was afraid to kick it deep, for fear Streater would run it back for a touchdown, so they “squibbed” it (kicked on the ground to make the ball harder to handle). Streater picked it up on about the 25-yard line and ran it back for a touchdown anyway.
“Having both Streaters on the field made Sylva-Webster practically unstoppable,” Deitz said. “Jim would be scrambling and then start looking for Stevie because he knew he would get open. “I’ll guarantee we never had two other boys who could play together like that. It was beautiful to watch.”
A star running back on the outstanding Sylva-Webster football teams that won state championships in 1965 and 1966, Love helped break the color barrier in Jackson County when he entered S-W in 1964, the year before total integration. He also played quarterback for the Golden Eagles. Love had more than 1,800 career rushing yards with 32 touchdowns and more than 1,700 career passing yards. He was one of the first African-American players in the Shrine Bowl and ran for 147 yards while being named co-most valuable player in the 1966 contest.
Popular on and off the field, Love was honored as Jackson County’s Teenager of the Year in 1967.
Love received a scholarship to Michigan State and was the star of the freshman team in the days before freshmen were eligible for varsity. He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and led the Spartans in rushing that year, scoring five touchdowns. Knee injuries sidelined him for most of his junior and senior seasons, and he was granted an extra year of eligibility; however, he died of a heart attack in 1971 at age 22 shortly after playing a pick-up basketball game on the MSU campus.
The Tommy Love Award at Michigan State still honors the Spartans’ Most Improved Player.
In 2013, Love was named to the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s list of the top 100 male athletes in the Association’s 100-year history.
A 1976 graduate of S-W, Streater was a Parade football All-American and was chosen all-conference in football, basketball and track.
Streater played quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and defensive back for the Golden Eagles. As a senior, he rushed for 798 yards and passed for 1,011 yards. He set a school record with 311 rushing yards against Cherokee in 1974 and finished the year with 1,126 yards on the ground. He played in the Shrine Bowl Football Game, featuring outstanding players from North and South Carolina, following his senior season.
The late Babe Howell, who coached Streater on those state championship football and baseball teams, also termed Streater a phenomenal athlete. “It didn’t much matter what the sport was. If (Jimmy) was on the field or on the court or running track, he was the best or certainly among the best.”
Streater was part of a “golden era” for high school athletics in Jackson County. The Golden Eagles were dominant in football, basketball and baseball during his high schools days. Much of the reason for the success was due to the Streater brothers, Jimmy and Steve, who was one year younger. The Streaters were the “first family” of athletics in Jackson County, with Jimmy and Steve followed onto the high school scene by brother Eric, who graduated from S-W in 1982, and sister Faith, who graduated from Smoky Mountain in 1989.
Jimmy entered Sylva-Webster as a freshman in August 1972. Despite his athletic gifts, he was on the junior varsity football and basketball teams as a freshman due to the many outstanding athletes in school at the time. As a sophomore, he was a key part of state championship teams in football and baseball. The baseball team was state runner-up the next year. The only two football games Streater lost in high school were to the eventual state champions.
Streater was a pitcher and shortstop in baseball and hit over .500 as a junior. He led the basketball team to a district title in 1975. In track, he was a three-time regional champion in the triple jump and long jump.
Like Love, Streater was popular with his classmates and teachers. He was elected class president during his junior year at S-W and was chosen Mr. Golden Eagle by the faculty as a senior.
Tennessee won a major recruiting battle for Streater’s services, and he was the Volunteers’ starting quarterback for three seasons. He threw for 3,433 yards and 17 TDs in his college career. He had 1,418 yards as a junior and nine TDs as a senior. He was named All-Southeastern Conference as a senior in 1979. Streater finished his UT career as the school’s career leader in total offense and passing yards. While playing for the Vols, he was given the nickname “The Sylva Streak.”
He played in the Canadian Football League, mainly for Toronto, but his career was cut short in part due to his being diagnosed as a diabetic.
Jimmy Streater died in 2004 at the age of 46.
Steve Streater was named the National Baseball Player of the Year after pitching the Golden Eagles to the state championship in 1977. He pitched all but one inning that season and went 23-1 with 12 shutouts. In the state finals, he pitched a one-hitter and a two-hitter on consecutive days. He also batted over .500.
He set state and national records for wins that year as S-W captured the state 3-A title. The season and career win totals as well as the shutout total still stand as state records, and Streater still ranks in the national top 10 for season shutouts (12), season strikeouts (299) and career no-hitters (8). His career strikeout total was 558. As a freshman in the 1973-74 school year, he was a pitcher/infielder on S-W’s 2-A state championship baseball team. Just as he did in 1977, he was the winning pitcher on consecutive days in the 1974 state baseball title series.
The younger Streater also starred in football, basketball and track for the Golden Eagles.
As in baseball, Streater played on the varsity level all four years in football. He set punting records for the Golden Eagles and also was a wide receiver, quarterback and defensive back. As a junior, he caught 21 passes for 563 yards, and he was the punter on the 1973 state championship football team.
He earned a football scholarship to North Carolina and became a defensive standout for the Tar Heels alongside his close friend, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. As a senior in 1980, he became the first football player in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be named all-conference at more than one position (defensive back and punter). The 1980 Tar Heels went 11-1, were ACC and Bluebonnet Bowl champions and were ranked in the national top 10. Streater also played in the Liberty Bowl and Gator Bowl.
Streater was not selected in the National Football League Draft but signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins. On his way back from Washington, shortly after leaving the Raleigh-Durham Airport, Streater was injured in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed the rest of his life. Although alcohol was not involved in the accident, he became a nationally known speaker on drug and alcohol abuse.
He died in 2009 at age 50.
Like Tommy Love, Steve Streater in 2013 was named to the NCHSAA’s list of the top 100 male athletes.
Editor’s Note: With the exception of the comments from Boyce Deitz, all the information in this report is taken from articles that have previously appeared in The Sylva Herald: March 4, 1971, Tommy Love’s death; June 29, 1993, Love and Streaters to be inducted into Jackson Athletic Hall of Fame; Feb. 26, 2004, Jimmy Streater’s death; June 19, 2009, Steve Streater’s death; and Sept. 5, 2013, Love and Steve Streater named to NCHSAA top 100 list.