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‘Helping out’ turns into 36-year career for D-B’s Bingham

Tanner Cook • Apr 12, 2020 at 3:45 PM

KINGSPORT — Longtime Dobyns-Bennett track and field and cross country coach Bob Bingham’s original aspirations were along the lines of being a head football coach or coordinator.

Bingham more or less stumbled into the other job — and never really wanted to leave.

“I first got involved with the track program in the 1983-84 track season,” Bingham said. “I was at Colonial Heights for a little while and coached track there, but once I got a job at Robinson Middle, I wanted to get involved with football.

“Coach (Tom) Coughenour asked me if I wanted to help out with the track team. I originally said that I wanted to coach either the 400 or 800. He ended up putting me on the hurdles and jumps. That was a learning experience.”

A 1973 D-B grad, Bingham played football for the Indians and grew up with legendary gridiron coach Graham Clark.

“In high school, my claim to fame was that I scored a touchdown against the 1972 Tennessee High team that were national champions,” Bingham said. “We played in a driving rainstorm that night. It was muddy and Tennessee High fumbled the ball one time. After a big pileup, the ball squirted out and I fell on it in the end zone. It was more luck than anything.”

Bingham went on to run track and play football at Emory & Henry while earning his degree.

“I think I still hold a few records up at Emory when I played football,” he said. “I think I hold the records for most passes dropped in one game and the most passes dropped in one season.”

Bingham, after serving as Coughenour’s assistant for many years, assumed his duties as the head track and field coach in the 2003-04 season. Coughenour was battling brain cancer and his condition was starting to deteriorate.

“We always used to joke that I had beaten out Tom for the longest tenured assistant coach in D-B track history,” he said.

Bingham took over the cross country head gig in the 2008 season shortly before Coughenour passed away. Bingham said some people thought that it was hard for Coughenour to walk away, but it wasn’t.

“It was actually one of the easier decisions he had ever made is what he told me,” Bingham said. “I remember we ran a meet down at Domtar Park — don’t ask me how we did that because that’s another story — and he set his car up really close to the start/finish line.

“That was the last meet he ever came to because he passed away when we were down at the state meet that fall. I had originally thought that doing cross country was going to be a one- or two-year job, but I’m still here and I don’t want to leave.”

HIS FAVORITE CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM

D-B’s proud track and field tradition stretches back to the school’s early days, and Bingham has only added to the program’s mystique.

Of all the championships of which he’s been a part, the 2019 girls cross country team state title holds a special place.

“I think it’s probably my favorite because each individual girl had their own little story and we could go on and on about that,” Bingham said. “Four of the scoring five were seniors and they were all so close and had been close to the state title before. They were nervous going into the thing, of course, but they were nervous in the way that they just wanted to get it over with. They came in knowing they had a shot and they took care of business.”

HIS FAVORITE CHAMPIONSHIP MOMENT

A plethora of outstanding sprinters have walked the halls at D-B, but few have had the star-studded résumé of Teddy Gaines.

And he certainly made an impression on Bingham at the state outdoor championships in the spring of 1996.

“Teddy had gotten disqualified at the sectional meet because he flinched in his blocks at the start of the 400 and caused a false start,” he noted. “We still put him on the 4x400 relay and at the state meet he was our anchor leg. There was a guy from Hunters Lane that had done well in the 400 just over an hour before.

“He was saying before he got the baton, ‘It’s over.’ Well, Teddy got the baton and came back from almost 20 meters down and we won. His split was something like 46.8 or 46.9. (Brian) Barrett and I were so excited that we almost didn’t get his split. Of course, Teddy went on to be a two-time state champ in the 400, but he'll tell you that is his finest high school track moment.”

Bingham said he also has two close second- place moments: Sasha Neglia bouncing back last fall to win her third individual cross country state title after being disqualified for cutting the course in 2018 and Bryce Barrett and Chris McElroy each winning state titles in a photo finish.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

Bingham, like others in athletics, is in limbo during these uncertain times while awaiting a decision on whether spring sports in Tennessee will go on or seniors will lose their last go-round.

“I feel so bad for our seniors because a lot of them have been working really hard since August. Specifically, Samuel Cleek was going to do some great things in the high jump and in the decathlon,” Bingham said. “Sam is probably the best-kept secret in Northeast Tennessee and people really don’t realize how incredibly athletic he is. He jumped 6-9½ in the high jump during the indoor season and was poised to go probably 6-10.”

TOM’S INFLUENCE

Bingham — even in these odd times — continues to draw inspiration from Coughenour.

“Even though I had no experience doing hurdles whatsoever, Tom gave me that assurance that I could do it and he had confidence in me,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do when I build relationships with the kids. I try to give them assurance that I believe that they can do it.”

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