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Keeping foot in door leads Parker to FHS track feats
State titles, fund-raising efforts prompt school officials to name track in Parker’s honor


It didn’t seem to matter that Bill Parker had no previous experience in track and field — either as an athlete or coach — before coming to Farragut High School.

An apparent quick study who spearheaded a fund-raising effort that helped revolutionize FHS track and field by the late 1980s, coach Parker led the Lady Ads to four straight Class AAA state track and field titles (1991-94) during 17 years (1979-96).

That’s in addition to five Class AAA state cross country titles (girls in 1983, ’84, ’87 and ’90 and boys in ’92) and eight state runner-up finishes in 20 years as cross country head coach (1976-96).

And just think, Parker’s original motivation for track and field had to do with keeping his foot in the door at FHS during the 1975-76 school year. That foot stayed firmly in the door as a coach, teacher and administrator for 27 years.

“This was an interim position, it was a one-year job — I taught mathematics, and I had decided when I came here that anything they asked me to do I would do it to hang on for more than one year,” said Parker, who was honored for his 27 years — focusing on his coaching and fund-raising prowess — during a second-term FHS teachers and administrators meeting Tuesday, Jan. 4 in the school’s commons.

“Of course, Mr. (James) Bellamy (former FHS principal) took a big chance, ’cause I was kind of wet behind the ears, didn’t run track or anything.”

By chance, the cross country head coach and assistant boys track positions came open — and Parker pounced. “They needed someone to help Lendon Welch, who was the head track coach, and I learned quite a bit from Lendon,” Parker said. “As time went on, I watched other folks. I was an assistant for three years then became (girls) head track coach.” In 1996, Parker retired as coach and became an FHS assistant principal until 2002.

Fueled by what he said was a “great desire not to lose,” Parker’s success was recognized with a silver plate inscribed “Bill Parker Track 2005” by school officials at the meeting. The FHS track will officially be named “Bill Parker Track” upon Parker’s retirement from the Knox County Schools System. “I don’t know when that will be,” Parker said about his third school year as student information systems team leader (student records) job in the Knox County “central office.”

In addition to his coaching, teaching and administrative skills, “He’s just a real good people person,” FHS athletic director Mike Carroll said. “When you meet him and talk to him, you just like him as a person. I think that’s his greatest asset.”

PROCESS FOR NEW FHS TRACK

Deflecting credit to many others, Parker was nevertheless a key player in helping FHS raise more than $100,000 to put in a synthetic rubber track surface at FHS in November 1986.

“We started that in April, nineteen-eighty-six,” Parker said. “We kind of came up with the idea, the boys’ coach (Jeff Bain) and myself, I was the girls’ coach.”

Wanting to replace the FHS asphalt service — commonly considered an inferior track surface — “We came right in and we wanted to put a (new) track in,” Parker said. “We started with some ideas and tried to raise some funds. We had a lot of community support and school support and town of Farragut support … they said they would match our funds if we could raise forty-thousand (dollars) within two months. And we ended up raising over forty thousand in two months. In fact, I think in the final project we ended up with about a hundred-and-fifteen-, hundred-and-twenty-thousand dollars that we raised.

“… A lot of businesses, alumni and especially the kids were involved …,” Parker said. “We did things like a twenty-four hour run to kick it off … the students on our team got pledges for laps run within the twenty-four hours. We just had a continuous relay, they’d run for thirty minutes at a time … they ran all night.”

The students also raised money with a flea market and a road race — both within one day. “It was a huge day of fund-raising,” Parker said.

“… We started, probably, with the idea in March and started fund-raising in April. We were finished by October, the track was installed in November. It was ready by the spring of ’87 season.”

The funds also bought other track-related items such as “starting blocks, jump starters, hurdles,” Parker said. “Had a turn-key operation.”

Previously, “we ran some meets here, but it was hard to get folks to come and run on asphalt, it’s kind of like running down the middle of Kingston Pike,” Parker said. “I think we just had six lanes at the time.

As for the new synthetic rubber surface, “it was the best around,” Parker said. “UT was probably the only surface that was better probably in the southeast area here in the state.”

Thanks to the new surface’s drawing power, the Parkwest-Pepsi Challenge sprang to life and was one of the first annual track events at FHS. “We happened to bring in about thirty, thirty-five teams to that meet,” Parker said. “We also had the KIL, and we hosted the region here several times.”

PROGRAM UPGRADE

“It improved the program, it improved the fact that folks were proud of where they were and what they were practicing on,” Parker said. “And it eliminated a lot of injuries that you would have ordinarily trying to run on an asphalt surface. In many ways it improved what the athletes were able to do, performances, and the pride that was held among the students.

“I think our numbers of students that actually came and competed in track, both boys and girls, increased after that point-in-time because they wanted to be part of something that was big,” Parker said. “Shortly after that, we had some very good success with the girls’ track team.”

As for credit, “really, it’s the Farragut staff, the Farragut students, the Farragut community,” Parker said. “I was real lucky when I started here that I had a lot of good influences, and kind of was turned loose to do a lot of things. Not a lot of thumb pressure to stay within a certain range.”

Looking back, “there’s no regrets at all,” Parker said about his coaching and teaching career at FHS. “It’s always been fun.”

Parker said he’s not lost touch with the FHS program.

“I still stay in touch with the kids and some of the coaches,” Parker said, “and help from time-to-time, especially officiating some of the track meets.”

Parker and wife, Jane, have two children. Rebecca, a 1999 FHS graduate, is a 2004 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University who lives and works in Nashville. Willie is a 2002 FHS graduate where, as a senior, he finished third in the state in the discus. A junior shot put/hammer thrower on the MTSU track and field team, Willie is red-shirting this season.

 

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