By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It is not often said that Hoke White won't be at the Tennessee Tech football game, but this time...well, it has to be said.
One of Tennessee Tech's most loyal fans, Hoke White passed away Thursday night. His funeral will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at Jefferson Avenue Church of Christ in Cookeville.
The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. on Friday at the Cookeville Chapel of Hooper-Huddleston & Horner Funeral Home, and from 9:30 a.m. until time of services on Saturday at the church.
Such a stalwart fan, such an optimistic man, Hoke was 88. As the legend goes, his blood ran purple and gold. We couldn't even force ourselves to use the standard black and white for the graphic that appears with his photo for this story – it HAD to be purple and gold.
He knew every Golden Eagle football coach for the past 50 years, and would walk to the stadium and stroll into their office to spend a few minutes talking football. Every coach at Tech, in Hoke's opinion, was a Coach of the Year.
And every player who donned the purple and gold was an All-American. I've never seen a more loyal fan...EVER.
By the time I arrived in Cookeville in 1982 and began driving the media to Golden Eagle football games, Hoke already had logged a few decades of following his favorite team. He was a welcome part of the media crew, riding thousands and thousands of miles with our radio announcers, sportswriters, photographers, videographers, and bloggers. He had a reserved seat on the media van for at least the next 25 years that I was at the wheel.
It's been only the past few years that Hoke hasn't traveled with us, and he has been missed.
It didn't matter Tech's record, whether 0-10 or 10-0, Hoke was always the first to arrive for departure from Eblen Center, settling into his seat in the second row of the van, and enthusiastic about Tech's chances that day.
We always passed around a sheet of paper for everyone on board to write down their predictions (no betting of course, just friendly banter afterwards). There were times that nine out of 10 riders selected the home team, yet Hoke – against all odds – ALWAYS took Tech. ALWAYS.
He was a quiet man, never trying to steer the conversation or change anyone's opinion. But he always chipped in when asked. And sometimes, when the conversation was at a lull, his soft voice would break the silence with a question for someone in the group, something that didn't match anything anyone had been talking about.
On a drive to VMI in the middle of Virginia, rolling north on I-81, after about six hours of kidding and proclaiming statements, predictions, and other comments, the van got quiet. About 10 minutes later, Hoke's voice poked through:
"Have you ever been to Gettysburg?" he asked Michelle in the front seat.
What? Really? Where on earth did that question come from, other than the fact that you travel I-81 to reach Gettysburg. We all shared a laugh at the time. And today, on nearly every van ride to Charleston or Richmond or Murray or beyond, invariably someone will break the silence with the question, "Ever been to Gettysburg?" And we laugh again.
"It's digital," Tony said.
And Hoke replied, "but where do you put the film."
To this day, we're not certain whether he was pulling Tony's leg. So, once in a while, on the sidelines, we'll ask Tony, "Where do you put the film."
Weather? What weather. Like the Post Office, he was there rain or shine, sleet or snow. One game at Southeast Missouri, he stood in the top row of the stadium in the cold sleet. He was the ONLY Tech fan in the stadium, and he refused to come into the press box.
Years later, at a game at Western Carolina -- perhaps the coldest game in Tech history -- he finally relented and watched the game from the press box. But he didn't like it.
And there's the time we actually lost Hoke at Eastern Illinois. Literally, he was gone. Vanished. We would come down from the press box, and he'd be standing at the van waiting for us. This time, we rode down the elevator and walked to the van, and no Hoke.
We thought he might have wandered to the Tech dressing room to visit with the coaches, so we drove the half-mile around the stadium and into the lot next to the dressing room. No Hoke. It was night, and we were a little worried.
Back to the press box side, and back into the stadium in search. No Hoke. After an exhaustive search, we decided to head back the 10 miles to the hotel and regroup.
There he was at the hotel, having grabbed a ride back with a player's parents. Oh, well. Someday soon a new invention called a cell phone would fix that problem. Meanwhile, Hoke was just fine.
All of that kidding is just our way of remembering Hoke White. He gave us years and years of joy and laughter as a travel partner.
Many of the ones who used to fill that van are no longer on the trip. Hoke joins Larry Box and Gene Davidson as former media van riders no longer with us. We also miss folks like Frank Layne, Eldon Burgess, and Donnie Cox.
It's practically a whole new crew, but believe me, they've heard all the Hoke White stories....over and over!
Hoke won't be at the Tech game Saturday against Austin Peay. But the memory of Hoke will be there. And next year. And the year after that.....
Goodbye old friend. Rest in Peace. We know you'll be picking the Golden Eagles every week.