The future of the Dragons is now

Jeff Little wants his Blaze hoopsters to carry the banner to the next levels

For Jeff Little, sports is a passion, and in recent years, he has taken his drive and love for athletics to elementary school boys’ basketball.

Little, a graduate of Clinton High School, was a three-sport athlete for the Dragons. He played football, basketball and baseball at CHS and he is a Dragon for life.

He played for coaches such as Ron Brown, Don Lockard, Alvin Taylor and Jim Gaylor.

All of those men have influenced Little’s coaching style. He has been the Blaze’s only boys’ basketball coach in the team’s four-year history.

“I played for some great coaches,” Little said. “Ron Brown was my head football coach and Jim Gaylor was an assistant. I played basketball for Don Lockard and I played baseball for Alvin Taylor.”

Now, Little strives to help the Clinton High School boys’ basketball program at the ground level.

“I hope that my players go on to play middle school and high school,” said Little, who also works as a TSSAA basketball official. “I’m a Dragon and I always want to see the Dragons be good.”

During the early days of Clinton’s elementary school basketball program, Little had his son, Garrett, as his assistant coach.

Garrett is no longer coaching with the Blaze, but Little said that those days coaching with his son were special. Now, elementary school teacher Donnie Woods works alongside the elder Little.

“The first couple of years that my son coached with me were special,” Jeff Little said. “But Donnie is a great coach and a great guy.”

The senior Little has been a referee on Tennessee’s grand high school stage, working at the state championships and in title games three times.

Little, by his own admission, has a bit of a no-nonsense coaching style.

“I’m hard on the kids, and sometimes I get down on them,” he said. “I’m the first one to get on them, but I’m always the first one to love on them, too.”

Little, who is assistant chief of the Clinton Fire Department, has a love for sports and he uses that passion to help elementary basketball players improve their game and become better people.

The Blaze athletic program holds its athletes to high standards in their respective sports, as well as in sportsmanship, citizenship, competition and community service, and that makes the elementary school program a perfect fit for Little, who has an unabashed love of the game. But he also realizes that athletics must have their proper place.

“I love sports,” he said. “If there’s a game, I’m in it. I played in adult basketball leagues and in softball leagues until I couldn’t do it anymore. I watch sports, I even like to watch hockey.

“Being a ref and coaching gives me a chance to stay in the game, but sports is a catalyst. It helps me to help these kids. I want them to become good young men and I want them to understand that you have to treat people, your family and your parents, well.”

Little also wants his players to excel in the classroom.

“It’s all about grades, because you can’t play ball forever,” said Little, who is an avid Dallas Cowboys and University of Tennessee sports fan.

For the coach, family and community service also hold important places in his life.

Little and his wife, Abbe, are parents to Garrett and Logan. Logan, who lives in Texas, is a youth pastor.

He and his wife have recently had a baby, making the Littles grandparents for the first time.

As for community service, Little and Woods pitch in as well.

“Every year, Donnie and I get a coat for one or two students at each elementary school,” he said.