Ex-Vol Streater eulogized

Just as it was when he played quarterback at Tennessee back in the late 1970s, former Vol signal-caller Jimmy Streater once again played to a packed house

This time, it was at the Liberty Baptist Church on Hospital Street in his hometown of Sylva, N.C., a church packed to the rafters not only of his family and friends, but also full to the brim with the requisite virtues of faith and forgiveness. Everyone there had their own special memories of the small town youth who carried Sylva's torch to the University of Tennessee, yet always retained the love and adulation of those who knew him best.

Streater, who died last Friday, Feb. 20, in Asheville, and had made a name for himself as a wonderfully talented multi-sport prep star at Sylva Webster High School in the mid-1970s, was eulogized by his brother Eric and the Rev. Anthony Sweat in the 45-minute service which paid tribute to his life and legacy.

Former Vol signal-callers Condredge Holloway and Heath Shuler, as well as teammates Kelsey Finch and Steve Davis, long-time friend Bert Bertelkamp and UT administrators Gus Manning, Bud Ford, Roger Frazier, and Tom Mattingly, along with T-Club secretary Judy Constantine, were in the audience.

In one of the most poignant moments of the day, Holloway, who blazed the trail for the Jimmy Streaters of the world and many, many others, placed an Orange and White Lettermen's T-Club pin on the lapel of Jimmy's suit, noting that it was one of the most emotional things he had ever done.

In an equally touching moment, Eric Streater, Jimmy's youngest brother, told the gathering that his brother, known affectionately as ''Jim-Bob,'' ''Bird,'' ''The Sylva Streak'' or ''Uncle Sunshine,'' depending on who you talked to and when, ''was the winner, once again, of our Most Valuable Player Award, and was being carried off the field of life.

''He touched our hearts in a way we will never forget,'' Eric said. ''I can imagine that the angels in heaven are arguing over who gets him on their side. For him, there's no more dialysis, no more depression. He's back in his prime, heading toward the goal with the ball under his arm.''

In a service marked with singing and testimony, including some tremendously moving piano artistry by his mother, Shirley, there were perceptive tributes to him, most notably by the Rev. Sweat, from the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in nearby Waynesville, who couched Jimmy's life in the essence of Psalm 23.

He titled his eulogy, ''Walk, Jimmy, Walk,'' and it was received passionately by the audience, nearly equally divided between white and black, family and friends, Sylva natives and friends from elsewhere. He talked about Jimmy walking through the valley of the shadow, fearing no evil.

''Our loss is heaven's gain,'' Rev. Sweat said. ''Jimmy fought the battle and won the victory. He's been through the valley and seen what we've never seen. No one is exempt from the valleys of life, none of us. We may think so, but sometimes it takes the mail a little while to be delivered. Jimmy knew he was saved and had been bought with a price.

''Jimmy knew who he was and knew whose he was. Jimmy had one leg and was still walking. He had all his problems and was still walking.

''As a minister, I'm embarrassed that I am whining and complaining about lying and backstabbing. That's no valley. Those things happen. You go on through it. Jimmy Streater was 'valley walking.' He kept moving. Walk, Jimmy, Walk. I thank God Jimmy Streater never gave up.''

Jimmy Streater was 46 when he left this earth, having literally been through the valley and to the mountaintops.

While players come and players go, it is not hard to imagine that No. 6 on an Orange and White jersey will always somehow belong to Jimmy Streater. The memories are rich and full and the cup overflows.

It was on the road from Waynesville to Sylva that an establishment called Smacker's Grill said it best: ''Good Bye to the Sylva Streak Jimmy Streater.'' Maybe not really good-bye, but a heartfelt ''see you soon.''

Godspeed, Jimmy Streater.

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