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Welch to have his ‘Way’


A standout wide receiver with a U.S. Army regimental football team in the 1950s after gridiron success at Jellico High School, Lendon Welch later took his teaching and coaching talents to “a little school up on the hill.”

That “little school” was the combined Farragut K-8 schools and FHS of the 1950s, a far cry from the high school of about 2,400 busting at the seams in recent years.

Welch and his family had often driven through Farragut en route from his native Campbell County to Fort Benning, Ga., where he was stationed in the U.S. Army. “We could remember the community and saw a little school up on the hill,” the former championship coach said two weeks prior to being formally honored in name during the Admirals’ Sept. 15 game tomorrow versus McMinn County at Bill Clabo Field.

“I wanted to live in a rural setting. I was raised on a farm in Campbell County with a big family, and I didn’t want to live in a city,” Welch said about first being attracted to Farragut.

Welch, revitalizing FHS track and field as head coach while leading the Admiral boys to 16 county championships (1964-81) despite not having a campus track, will be honored for 35 years of service to the school Friday as school, alumni and county officials have named the drive from Kingston Pike to FHS “Lendon Welch Way.”

Welch also was Clabo’s only assistant football coach when first arriving at FHS in 1959, “when we only had two hundred-and-fifty kids in high school,” while also coaching baseball and basketball. Along with world history, health and physical education, Welch taught mostly American History and world geography at FHS until retiring in 1994.

Welch said being successful at FHS isn’t too difficult because Farragut “is a great community. I just feel very humbled, I was just a teacher, you know, and did my job like everybody else and enjoyed the kids and liked what I did.

“I don’t feel like I was owed any type honor like that,” added Welch, who remains a fixture at FHS football home games as pressbox coordinator. “But people have chosen to do that, and I really appreciate it. I owe my gratitude to a lot of people who supported me.”

A graduate of Jellico High School in 1952, the 6-foot-2, 165-pound Welch was a wide receiver and defensive tackle on the JHS football team and a center on the basketball squad.

Welch was the fourth of nine children, and the first boy, born to a family whose father was a coal miner. “We were real poor, they didn’t have any money to send me to college,” The future Admiral coach was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Welch and his wife of almost 54 years, Charlotte, were married in October 1952.

“I was down in Fort Benning, Georgia, and I went out for football on a regimental football team,” said Welch, who rose to the rank of corporal in two years of service. “We had a lot of people on our team who had already been in the pros.”

Displaying enough talent as a wide receiver among “four or five” of his army teammates to catch the interest of West Georgia University, Welch’s scholarship dreams were dashed after suffering a knee injury — his first injury as an athlete — “and I didn’t get to play any more football.”

Although having no track and field program at Jellico High, “I ran track in the military ... a middle distance runner [880-yards],” Welch said. “I was pretty good — times back then weren’t nearly as good as they are now, but I ran about a Two-O-Five.”

After serving his country, Welch attended Cumberland Junior College, Williamsburg, Ky., “on the G-I Bill” then attended The University of Tennessee and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and world geography in March 1959. He would later earn a Master’s degree in educational supervision and curriculum development in August 1974.

Looking for a job locally, Welch had a choice and picked Farragut over Karns. “I liked the place and I like the people that I talked to. I didn’t even go to Karns …,” he said.

As for FHS track and field. “We started track in the spring of ‘64, so I became track coach,” Welch said. “We had a budget of, like, three hundred dollars, and the first year I had like fifty kids. We didn’t have girls track then. Mostly the first few years it was just football players, but I had some distance runners.”

But for several years, FHS had no track surface. “We would go to Webb School ... The Webb people were real good to us about letting us come,” Welch said. “We went to Bearden High School some, they had a track.” “

Then there was the story of David Keck.

“David Keck was one of my first pretty good hurdlers, and that was the first year we had track. And we didn’t have anything to practice on, so what we did is we stacked up concrete blocks on top of each other and stretched a string across ‘em, and he practiced on that,” Welch said. “Every time I see him we talk about that.

“We used the football field to practice our handoffs for relays,” the former coach added. “The last year I coached we had an asphalt track.

“We built up a pretty good program. I remember some years I would have a hundred-and-twenty kids, boys, come out for track.”

Welch said that every year at the team’s first meeting he told his team “‘you can forget about losing, we’re not going to lose. Whatever it takes to win, that’s what we’re going to do.’ I wouldn’t let ‘em miss practice, and I wouldn’t let ‘em talk back. I would jump all over ‘em for not practicing hard or for not doing the technique like I wanted it done.

“I would fuss at ‘em, but I would never let ‘em leave mad at me.”

 

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