A career that would see her become one of the most productive girls basketball players to ever take the court in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia almost ended before it really ever began.
As a freshman at Coeburn High School in the fall of 1989, Christy Gray Dalton decided that cheerleading was her calling and opted for a skirt and pom-poms instead of jumpshots and putbacks.
“I did decide in ninth grade I wanted to cheer instead of play ball, but that didn’t last very long,” Dalton recalled. “I started playing basketball in seventh grade in a rec league. I can remember I had no idea what a layup was and I had no idea about the game. It seemed like the new thing to do with the boys, so I tried it. I then played on the JV team in eighth grade and liked it, but I wanted to try cheerleading because I loved gymnastics. Coeburn High School would not allow you to do both, so I chose to try out for cheerleading at the end of my eighth-grade year.
“I made it and tried it for a while, but I missed basketball. Cheerleading was the one and only thing my mom [Joyce] allowed me to quit, so I could play basketball. I remember it was late in the season and I really only practiced and played very little that year.”
From humble beginnings, Dalton became a heroine.
By the time all was said and done, Dalton scored more than 1,000 career points and hauled down more than 1,000 career rebounds at the Lonesome Pine District school. She averaged 23.9 points and 17.2 rebounds per game as a senior for the Blue Knights.
“Christy was very quick and just a tremendous athlete,” said Robin Dotson, who coached against her while leading the program at rival J.J. Kelly. “She was very hard to guard as she was quick, jumped well and had a nice jumpshot.”
She could get some serious hang time on that jumper.
“The thing that stood out to me was her jumping ability,” said former teammate Brandi Collins Bostic. “She could elevate so high off the floor when she shot, making it hard for opponents to guard her. That was on the offensive side. Defensive side, because she could jump so high, she was a big-time rebounder too.”
Dalton was a three-time VHSL Group A state champion in the triple jump, finishing first in that event in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
“She improved her distance every year on the jump,” said Jeff Adkins, her basketball coach at Coeburn. “Christy would just fly in the air.”
However, her feet remained firmly planted on the ground when not competing.
“Christy was a joy to be around,” Adkins said. “Everyone loved her. She always had time for everyone. One of the hardest workers I have had. She always wanted to improve. … She scored 998 points in her junior and senior years combined. Christy was a diamond in the rough and came out shining. Gosh, not many like her around.”
Like her high school basketball career, the beginning of Dalton’s college hoops career was also delayed.
She originally signed to compete in track and field at East Tennessee State University.
“I chose ETSU because it was close to home and I felt like, for the first time in my life, I would let my hometown, coaches, fans and community down if I didn’t go Division I. I was very unsure of it and once I was there I knew I had made the wrong decision,” Dalton said. “I was 17 years old and all those people who told me not to be a big fish in a little pond were nowhere to be found and I was homesick and miserable.”
She had kept in contact with Michele Gill, who was the women’s basketball coach at Clinch Valley College (now known as the University of Virginia’s College at Wise) and decided to return to Wise County and revive her basketball career.
How did that work out?
She finished with 2,172 career points while playing for the Highland Cavaliers and also hauled down more than 1,000 rebounds. In one game against Alice Lloyd during her junior season she went for 41 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
“She was one of the most selfless players that I have ever had the opportunity to have played with,” said Samantha Lester, a college teammate of Dalton’s. “She literally could jump out of the gym. There wasn’t a rebound she didn’t get. …. She was a highlight reel anytime she put on her basketball shoes and taped up her ankles.”
Just like at Coeburn, Dalton also got to play with her older sister, Angela, at CVC.
Angela Gray was a very good player in her own right and she averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.2 steals during her senior season at Coeburn.
“Of course playing with my sister would be the best memory of all,” Dalton said. “She was definitely my mother hen and protector. I have to say without her I would not have had the accomplishments I had. … Most people don’t know I really never even got a chance to take up for myself in most situations because she was so protective over me. To this day she remains my best friend and still becomes fighting mad if I encounter any problems. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to play with her and most of all that she has always been my biggest fan and supporter.”
Christy is the ultimate fan and supporter these days of her daughter Madi Dalton, who is one of the top players for the basketball team at Carroll County High School and was a first-team All-Region 4D selection during the 2017-18 season.
Christy Gray Dalton cheers from the stands these days, just like she did at Coeburn.
“By the way, Coeburn High School changed its rule about cheering and my senior year, I was a football and boys basketball cheerleader,” Dalton said. “I had a great time doing it. … I also played volleyball and tennis. When I was younger I was involved in Little League baseball – my dad [Rickey] coached my sister and I – and gymnastics. I was always the girl who loved to try new things and never felt like I had anyone to impress or prove anything to anyone.
“Now that I am older I know this came from my dad. He always made me feel like I could accomplish anything and the sky was the limit. His love was unconditional and his belief in me gave me – unknown at the time to me – the courage to try new things without fear of failure and to feel like nothing was unreachable.”
Christy Gray Dalton certainly soared to new heights at both the high school and college level.
Now, for a look at high school basketball moments that occurred this week in history:
Jan. 14, 1955
Billy Smith scored 38 points to highlight Holston Valley’s 83-45 stomping of Sullivan. … Doc Stovall’s 22-point showing helped Honaker eke out a 54-53 win over Haysi. … Ben Valley poured in 36 points in Lebanon’s 74-46 triumph over Saltville. Elwood Morrison added 19 points in the victory.
Jan. 18, 1966
Doug Branson’s 31 points paced high-scoring Saltville in a 119-47 hammering of Holston. … Behind 22 points from Gary Bailey, John Battle took a 61-47 victory over Chilhowie. … The duo of Wayne Browder (19 points) and Larry Salyer (16 points) starred in Blountville’s 55-51 win over Holston Valley. Ronnie Wallace pumped in 32 points for Holston Valley.
Jan. 14, 1977
Tennessee High trounced Virginia High, 85-49, as Todd Klutz led the way with 18 points. … The trio of Larry Boggs (19 points), Bill Gilliam (18 points) and Joey Cantrell (10 points, 17 rebounds) led the way as Pound overpowered Ervinton for a 64-58 win. … Mike Allen scored 16 points and hit clutch free throws in Powell Valley’s 60-58 victory over J.J. Kelly. Eddie Shankle also scored 16 points for the Vikings.
Jan. 15, 1988
Kevin Morris scored 27 points in leading Gate City to a 65-44 victory over John Battle. … Lorenzo Johnson scored 24 points as Virginia High earned a 58-51 overtime win over Abingdon. … Matt Quillen drained a 3-pointer with one second remaining in overtime, giving Rye Cove an 86-85 triumph over Pennington.