This is an opinion piece.

Bill Jennings is a lifelong friend of mine. We grew up riding school bus No. 193 to Crossville, where Bill became one of the greatest three-sport athletes in CHS history.

If we were choosing teams to play a game today, I’d want to be on Bill’s team, because he’s a hardnosed competitor who hates to lose.

A former head football coach at Sardis and Collinsville, Bill has spent much of his teaching and coaching career in Tennessee. Bill and his ex-wife, Reagan, have two children — Jesse and Cole.

Reagan was an outstanding athlete as well, so it’s no surprise to me that Jesse is one of the elite girls basketball players in the Volunteer State.

A guard for Class A Richland High School in Lynnville, Jesse averaged 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game as a senior, when the Lady Raiders missed about a dozen games due to COVID-19 related issues.

Jesse led Class A in scoring and was a semifinalist for Miss Basketball. She’s been selected to play in the Tennessee All-Star Game.

Jesse was voted to the all-district team four times, and she was chosen the district tournament most valuable player three times. She made the all-regional tournament squad four times.

Named to the Class A All-State team as a junior and senior, Jesse finished her fantastic career with 2,345 points, 836 rebounds, 300-plus assists and 300-plus steals while leading Richland to more than 100 wins.

Two weeks ago, Jesse committed to play for the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The Charger women finished 8-8 in a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.

She received 15 scholarship offers, including some NCAA Division I offers, before deciding UAH was the best fit for her.

“We visited UAH Tuesday [March 16],” Bill said. “We were really impressed with everything and the coaches. They told us they’re only going to sign two, and they wanted Jesse to be one of them. When we left there, she was really impressed.

“We’re just excited. She’s happy, and I’m happy.

“I couldn’t be more proud of her. We’re hoping she can step in and play right away at UAH. She just plays so hard. She just plays 100 miles an hour.”

Jesse also excels in the classroom, where her 3.8 grade-point average matches the average GPA of incoming freshmen at UAH.

Jesse wrapped up her Lady Raiders’ career in the regional tournament. She scored 31 points in a quarterfinal victory and followed by netting 33 in a semifinal loss to Jo Byrns.

“After the game, the Jo Byrns’ coach asked if I was Jesse’s father,” Bill said. “When I told her I was, she said, ‘Your daughter is one of the best basketball players I’ve ever seen.’”

It was January or February 2020 when Bill’s mother, Kay Jennings, called me to brag on her granddaughter and her basketball prowess. Sadly, Kay passed away Aug. 21, 2020, and didn’t get to see Jesse’s final ride with the Lady Raiders. I know Kay would be thrilled that Jesse is going to play her college basketball in Huntsville.

I’m happy for Jesse too, and I hope she dominates in college like she did in high school.            

Shannon J. Allen is publisher for The Reporter. He can be reached at shannon.allen@sandmountainreporter.com.

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