Knox’s Records Still Strong at Virginia High, ETSU | Sports

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By Tanner Cook

It was once said that the 400 meters is the purest race on the track – a lap around the oval to see who is fastest.

Bobby Knox, former Virginia High State Champion and East Tennessee State Record Holder, knows a thing or two about the one-lap race.

“I always played football and basketball growing up and didn’t think about the track,” he said. “Most of my family members were good athletes. I had an uncle and a cousin who played professional baseball. One thing they all had in common was that they were fast.

“I was doing an intramural track race one day for fun as part of a relay and one of the coaches from Virginia High came up to me and said I was pretty fast and I should try the track.”

Running mostly cinder tracks during his prep days, Knox still holds Southwest Virginia’s all-time best in the 440-yard dash by turning the hand-timed in 48.3 seconds in 1968, which converts to 48.24 for the 400.

After signing with ETSU, Knox has always been a force to be reckoned with in the Ohio Valley Conference. He still holds the school record in the 400m with a hand timing of 46.6 in 1971.

BEFORE HELMER

Almost a decade before legendary Bearcats coach Ron Helmer arrived in Bristol and established an athletics and cross-country dynasty, Knox was a game-changer.

Knox was a talented utility man who could do anything for then Bearcats coach Phil Marshall, who was also a football coach.

He was a district long jump champion and was by far the best in the area for the 100 and 220 yard dashes. He also dabbled in the high jump, triple jump and was a frequent part of the Bearcats mile relay team.

“I actually started in the 440, but I also raced the 880,” he said. “I long jumped somewhere around 21 feet and had the school record for a while.”

It was his last year when Marshall left for another job and Eddie Icenhour took over. That’s when Knox realized his event was 440.

“When I was running at Virginia High, our track was only 380 yards long and it was made of ash,” he said.

SPRING 1968

Luckily for Knox, the track was approaching a peak time in history across the state line and he was able to take full advantage of it.

The only blemish on Knox’s senior year record in the spring of 1968 was to a Dobyns-Bennett child named Darwin Bond.

At the former Kingsport Relays inside the J. Fred Johnson Stadium, Knox and Bond faced off in their key event for the only time and Bond walked away with the win.

“I was on (Bond’s) shoulder the whole ride,” Knox said. “It was the only time I raced against him. I almost had it.

The headline event leading up to the state meet was the VHSL Group IA Western Regional Championships held at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Not only was it the qualifying competition for athletes at the Williamsburg State Meet, but it had the added luxury of being the only all-weather track in the state.

And again, Knox took full advantage of the opportunity.

“It was the only synthetic track I raced on in my entire high school career,” he said.

Knox easily won the 440 with a new best time of 48.3 seconds. His run not only broke the previous facility’s record at Blacksburg, it was also faster than the Virginia Tech school’s record at the time.

Even though his scintillating time was the fastest ever recorded in state track history, it did not count as a state record because it was not run at the state meet.

ACROSS THE STATE

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A six-hour drive across the state didn’t seem to bother Knox too much on a glorious Saturday in May at College of William and Mary’s Cary Field.

Knox was taking on some of the best runners in the state at the Group IA State Meet. And yes, the track was in ashes.

“I didn’t start running that fast until later in the season,” Knox said. “The ashes were loose and you couldn’t get a grip at all. If they had held a state meet at Virginia Tech, I probably would have broken the state record because it was 48.8 at the time.

“A guy from (EC) Glass named Dick Morris had the best time in the heats the day before the final. I put out the first 220 really hard and just held on. weather.

Knox blistered the field from the inside lane, breaking the tape with a time of 49.3, becoming the first and only Southwest Virginia athlete to win an individual event in Virginia’s top ranking. .

“I didn’t know how I was until I reached the last corner and saw that I was level with the others,” he said. “At the time, we were considered a big school and we had 1,100 students.”

Knox added: “Recruiting was a little weird because Coach Marshall went to take the job from Grundy just before track season. I missed going to junior nationals my senior year because no one knew who to contact for high school athletics. (Dave) Walker called me home after running 48.3. Virginia Tech and Western Kentucky were also interested, but I liked being home.

ON THE ROAD IN JC

Knox couldn’t have picked a better time to make the ETSU track team.

The Buccaneer thinclads were in the early years of the “Irish Brigade” with names like Neil Cusack, PJ and Eddie Leddy, Patsy Durnin and Kevin Breen among others.

“Walker had just started running this distance program,” he said. “He had a guy named from Ireland and then he started having guys like Patsy, Neil and the Leddy boys.

“Running for Walker was great. He was disciplinary and we didn’t have a lot of money like a lot of other athletic schools. We actually sold Krispy Kreme donuts once to help raise money to go to an encounter.

Knox had an instant impact for the Bucs, breaking the school record in one of its first outdoor meetings in 1969 at the Southern Conference Relays in 50.3 seconds.

The previous best was 51.2 by David Johnson the previous year.

“We did a lot of doubles back in the day and ran against Georgia Tech every year,” he said. “Their trainer was Buddy Fowlkes, who raced and beat Ollan Cassell at the AAU Championships one year. All these guys knew each other. »

In all, Knox broke his own 440 outdoor school record seven times during his career, culminating in 1971 at the OVC Championships in Cookeville.

Knox was one of the top seeds heading into the competition, but Murray State’s Tommie Turner did him better.

In a spirited race under cloudy skies, Turner edged Knox at the line by two-tenths of a second with a new conference record of 46.4.

Knox broke his own school record one last time (46.6). It remained intact for almost 51 years.

“I was ranked in the top 40 in the world at the time, but there were probably 12 guys in the United States who were doing better times,” Knox said. “We went to a USATF meet in Utah once when I was at ETSU and I finished fourth.”

REFLECTION

Before Knox was Cassell of Appalachia, who then raced for the US Olympic team at the 1960 Tokyo Olympics.

After Cassell, there wasn’t much to say about the sprints until Knox arrived.

Knox’s record was threatened over the years, most notably by another Bearcat, Darrayl Wilson, in the late 1970s. Wilson would go on to become an NCAA All-American for Tennessee.

“I think Wilson ran like 48.6 back then, but I think he was injured for most of his senior year,” Knox said. “The quarter mile is a tough race, so I had to be a tough runner.”

His athletic ability was certainly passed down as his son Conner was a state tennis champion for Tennessee High. Conner won the Class AAA doubles title with Owen Rockett in 2010 and the Vikings would win the tag team title in 2011.

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