Starr fam­ily a liv­ing trib­ute to Alabama quar­ter­backs

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS - BY PAUL PAYNE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa has be­come a house­hold name since burst­ing onto the na­tional stage with his com­ing-out party last Jan­uary, lead­ing the Crim­son Tide to a thrilling over­time win to se­cure the na­tional cham­pi­onship against Ge­or­gia.

Tago­v­ailoa has en­hanced his re­sume this sea­son in lead­ing Alabama (13-0) to a wire-to-wire No. 1 rank­ing, earn­ing the sopho­more lefty an in­vi­ta­tion to the Heis­man Tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tion tonight in New York.

While Tago­v­ailoa hopes to be­come the first Alabama quar­ter­back to win the Heis­man, Scott Starr is pretty sure there weren’t any chil­dren named Tua in his home­town of Cleve­land, Ten­nessee, dur­ing his child­hood. But if were up to Starr’s fa­ther, that wouldn’t be the case if the quar­ter­back were born to­day rather than in the early 1970s.

Starr, a lieu­tenant colonel in the United States Army, moved with his fam­ily to Prattville, Alabama, this year and since then has come to un­der­stand the unique legacy he and his two broth­ers carry.

He is one of three sons of Ge­orge and Joyce Starr of Cleve­land, and all three boys were named for for­mer Alabama quar­ter­backs due to their fa­ther’s love for the Crim­son Tide.

Starr’s full name is Scott Hunter Starr, a salute to the Tide sig­nal-caller who con­cluded his Alabama ca­reer in 1970 and played eight years in the NFL, pri­mar­ily with the Green Bay Pack­ers and At­lanta Fal­cons.

His older brother was named Ge­orge Bartlett Starr and al­ways has been called Bart in honor of the Mont­gomery na­tive who played at Alabama be­fore com­pil­ing a Hall of Fame ca­reer with the Pack­ers.

And the youngest Starr son was given the name Joe Wil­lie, a trib­ute to Joe Na­math, who like­wise went from Tide star­dom to Su­per Bowl glory and the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame.

“I think I got the best name of all three of us, be­cause I haven’t had to an­swer to a lot of peo­ple ex­plain­ing my name,” said Scott Starr, 45, who over­sees the Army ROTC com­mis­sion­ing pro­gram at Marion Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute. “I think my mom is very spe­cial be­cause she em­braced hav­ing three boys with unique names and ev­ery­thing that came along with it.”

Af­ter spend­ing the past three years in Eng­land, Scott Starr didn’t fully grasp the mag­ni­tude of his fa­ther’s pas­sion un­til ar­riv­ing in Prattville.

“Since be­ing here, ob­vi­ously you tell some­body you and your two broth­ers are named af­ter Alabama quar­ter­backs and it’s au­to­matic cred­i­bil­ity,” Scott Starr said. “It’s al­ways been neat. Peo­ple al­ways ask if I’m re­lated to Bart Starr with my last name, so there’s your au­to­matic con­ver­sa­tion starter. I tell them, ‘Not the Bart Starr you’re think­ing, but he’s my brother.’”

Car­ry­ing the name of a foot­ball icon has brought about some un­sought recognition for Bart Starr, but it also has cre­ated some con­fu­sion over the years.

Bart, now 46, is a minister of mu­sic at First Bap­tist Fish­erville out­side of Mem­phis, and he re­calls a ven­dor hang­ing up on him, as­sum­ing it was a prank call when or­der­ing some mu­sic ma­te­ri­als.

“It wasn’t an is­sue when I was a kid, but when I got older peo­ple would ask, ‘Your name is re­ally Bart Starr?’ They wouldn’t re­ally be­lieve that we were named af­ter Alabama quar­ter­backs. I al­ways said I had a foot­ball fa­natic fa­ther and a gra­cious mother,” Bart Starr said.

Joe Wil­lie, 43, is the gen­eral man­ager of Chatata Val­ley Golf Course in Cleve­land. He comes by his name le­git­i­mately in that his pa­ter­nal grand­mother was named Wil­lie, and he’s mostly known as sim­ply Joe by those who haven’t known him since child­hood.

“I never thought it was a curse — it was just some­thing unique,” Joe said. “A lot of peo­ple as­sumed it was short for Joseph Wil­liam or some­thing like that, but I would al­ways say, ‘No, it’s just Joe Wil­lie.’ It’s a con­ver­sa­tion starter for sure.

“Young peo­ple to­day don’t have a clue who Na­math was, so they just think it’s a silly name. It’s a pretty neat story, but as a kid it wasn’t al­ways great to be named af­ter Na­math with some of his crazy wardrobe choices and the panty­hose ads.

“Ev­ery­body that fol­lows foot­ball knows Joe Wil­lie and Bart Starr, but only the true Alabama fans re­mem­ber who Scott Hunter was.”

Ge­orge Starr is now 75 and has been a long­time sports fix­ture in Cleve­land. He re­tired last year af­ter serv­ing as the sports in­for­ma­tion di­rec­tor at Lee Univer­sity for over two decades, but he con­tin­ues in his 31st year of serv­ing as the Flames’ ra­dio play-by-play an­nouncer.

He pre­vi­ously had a 30-year news­pa­per ca­reer, the bulk of it spent as sports ed­i­tor of the Cleve­land Daily Ban­ner and a stint with the Chattanooga News-Free Press. Ge­orge Starr has been in­ducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the Lee Univer­sity Ath­letic Hall of Fame and the Bradley County-Cleve­land Sports Hall of Fame.

His pas­sion for Alabama foot­ball stemmed from a friend­ship cul­ti­vated while play­ing sum­mer base­ball in 1961.

“The con­nec­tion was Steve Sloan,” Ge­orge Starr said. “Steve was from Cleve­land, and I got to know him when we were base­ball team­mates. I al­ways had tremen­dous re­spect for him. He was the best you’d ever want to be around and a tremen­dous ath­lete.”

Sloan left Cleve­land for Tuscaloosa to be­come a Crim­son Tide quar­ter­back from 1963 to 1965, and he even­tu­ally be­came the ath­letic di­rec­tor at Alabama as well as the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee at Chattanooga fol­low­ing a foot­ball coach­ing ca­reer that in­cluded stops at Van­der­bilt, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Duke.

“I started fol­low­ing Steve when he went to Alabama when I came to Cleve­land as sports ed­i­tor, and I fol­lowed him from Alabama through­out his coach­ing ca­reer,” Ge­orge Starr said. “I ac­tu­ally wanted to name Scott af­ter Steve, but we al­ready had three Steves on the other side of the fam­ily. If we had a daugh­ter, though, she surely would have been named Sloan.”

There was one in­stance, though, when Joyce Starr stood her ground and re­fused to re­lent to her hus­band’s nam­ing rights.

“I wanted to name our youngest af­ter Ken Stabler and call him ‘Snake,’ but Joyce wouldn’t have any­thing to do with that be­cause of his ques­tion­able rep­u­ta­tion,” Ge­orge Starr said. “I guess I got away with Joe Wil­lie, though. We also had a lit­tle dachs­hund and I named him ‘Bear’ af­ter Coach Bryant.”

While the Starr boys were given names from Crim­son Tide her­itage, grow­ing up in Ten­nessee cre­ated some di­vided loy­al­ties.

“When we were young, we were Alabama fans. That’s just the way we were raised,” said Joe Wil­lie. “But I be­came a Ten­nessee fan pretty early. It was a lot eas­ier be­ing a Ten­nessee fan back then. Dad didn’t give me any push­back. Most peo­ple who know my name think I’m an Alabama fan.”

Bart has man­aged the un­think­able in cheer­ing for both Alabama and Ten­nessee, while Scott has re­mained true to his roots de­spite his mil­i­tary ca­reer car­ry­ing him across the world. He still con­sid­ers him­self an Alabama fan and refuses to ever pull for Auburn.

Liv­ing in Alabama also has im­pacted Scott’s 11-year-old daugh­ter Sky­lar, the youngest of four chil­dren for him and his wife, Jen­nifer.

“Once we got here, she au­to­mat­i­cally be­came an Alabama fan be­cause that’s Papaw’s team. We had to go buy her Alabama shirts, pom­pons and the whole deal,” Scott said.

There is only one boy among Ge­orge’s eight grand­chil­dren, Scott’s 14-year-old Owen, who played or­ga­nized foot­ball for the first time this fall as a mem­ber of Prattville’s fresh­man team.

Ge­orge is play­fully dis­ap­pointed that he wasn’t con­sulted when it came to choos­ing a name.

“He could have been named Jay Barker Starr, but they didn’t bother to ask me,” Ge­orge said. “I know one thing’s for sure. If he was born to­day, there’s no doubt they would have to go with Tua as the name of choice.”

Con­tact Paul Payne at [email protected]­freep­ress.com.

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