If you are looking for a story with a happy ending, you might want to skip this short biography and go on to another section of the newspaper. The fact that Don Queen has been elected to the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame speaks highly of his exploits as an athlete. Despite his accomplishments, however, Don was not blessed with a great deal of good luck to complement the positive aspects of his sports career and life in general. Fate was not kind to Don Queen.
Don was a tough-as-nails center/guard and linebacker for West Fannin High School from 1958-1962. He was a native of the community of Epworth where he and his two sisters grew up on a 100+ acre spread. His father worked for the Tennessee Copper Company and supplemented the family income by periodically selling timber and hay harvested from the property. Don enjoyed a normal, happy childhood typical of a boy growing up in the rural South in the 1950s. He was a strong young man who enjoyed physical activities and most anything that involved being outdoors. He was popular with the other kids at Epworth Elementary School and then at West Fannin High.
Don played organized football beginning in his 6th grade year at Epworth Elementary. He always played in the line and was always in the middle of the action. At West Fannin, he made the varsity squad as a sophomore and was a starter as a junior and as a senior. He earned three varsity letters.
The 1960 West Fannin football squad was one of the best teams in school history. That team finished with a 6-3-1 record. The 1960 team was very experienced, led by 14 senior players, each one a seasoned veteran. Don started for that team and was one of the defensive standouts. He was singled out by the Copper City Advance and Lineman of the Week for his play in a hard-fought 13-7 victory over Gilmer County.
As he began his senior season of 1961, Don had grown to around 6’ 1” in height and tipped the scales at 185 pounds. He had good size for a linebacker from that era. He was quick, physical and delivered a considerable wallop when he made contact with the opposition. He was well respected by his teammates and was elected as a co-captain of the 1961 team, along with quarterback Mike Hartness.
The 1961 team finished with a record of 3-5-2, but was one of the finest defensive football teams in West Fannin history. The team gave up a total of 86 points in the 10 games played, an average of slightly more than one touchdown per game. The only two teams who scored more than one touchdown against the 1961 team were Murphy NC, who put 22 points on the scoreboard and Rossville, who managed to score 19 points. North Whitfield, Ringgold, East Rome, Murray County, Dalton and Copper Basin each scored one touchdown in their games with West Fannin and Stephens County was not able to score at all.
Don Queen certainly played a key role in the success of the 1961 defensive effort. He was named as the Copper City Advance Lineman of the Week four times, for his performances in the Stephens County, East Rome, Dalton and Copper Basin games. It should be noted that the newspaper only named a Lineman and Back of the week five times during the 1961 season. Don was rewarded for his fine play on a state-level when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named him to the Class AA Honorable Mention team at the end of the season.
Fannin County has produced many hard-nosed football players but none more rugged that Don Queen. His play was epitomized in the 1961 game against perennial power Rossville when Rossville running back Doug Flury broke though the Yellow Jacket line only to come face-to-face with Don Queen. Flury lowered his head, probably thinking that he would run over Don and proceed on to the end zone. The sound of the helmet to helmet, shoulder pad to shoulder pad collision could be clearly heard throughout the stadium as Flury’s ‘forward motion’ came to an abrupt halt when he encountered Don Queen.
Don was also a very popular student at West Fannin. He was elected as a senior class officer and was honored by his classmates as the Most Popular senior boy student. Life was pretty rosy for Don until the night of April 6, 1962 rolled around.
The University of Chattanooga had sent Don and inquiry about his football-related plans for college. On April 6, Don travelled down to Chattanooga with two classmates, Mike Hartness and Sam Ballew. Chattanooga was evaluating Hartness as a basketball prospect and Sam was along for the ride. Don had a couple of interviews and completed several questionnaires. On the return trip, the three West Fannin boys were injured severely in an automobile collision just east of Cleveland, Tennessee. Don was the most seriously injured, suffering multiple broken bones in the face and jaw and several broken ribs. His sister Martha recalls that Don’s face was “demolished’ requiring several plastic surgery procedures to return his appearance to a degree of normalcy.
The injuries suffered in the automobile accident ended any hopes that Don may have entertained about playing college football. He graduated from West Fannin, worked in Atlanta for a couple of years and returned to Fannin County where he secured employment with the Tennessee Copper Company. He also married his high school sweetheart, Jo Ann Galloway.
In September of 1966, as the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia, Don Queen began his military service in the US Army. During the next one and one half years he rose to the rank of Specialist Fourth Class with the 50th Infantry, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), B Company stationed in the Binh Dinh Province in Vietnam. On April 2, 1968, Don Queen was killed in action when the armored vehicle in which he was travelling hit a land mine. Don’s body was buried in the Lebanon Baptist Cemetary on the day that would have been Don’s 24th birthday, April 16, 1968.