Bob Jenkins — 1933-2013

Longtime coach Bob Jenkins remembered as ‘greatest champion’ at memorial service

dworthington@heraldonline.comMay 2, 2013 

Bob Jenkins had an encyclopedia-like memory of the athletes he coached.

He could remember lane assignments and times down to the tenth of a second.

The knowledge was more than just for his stars. He was just as interested in those striving to run their “PR,” their personal record, when they ran track or cross country at Rock Hill, Northwestern or South Pointe high schools. Whether they ever scored a point for his teams was not Jenkins’ primary concern. He wanted everyone to do his best.

Thursday at West End Baptist Church, the stars and those who struggled for PRs honored Jenkins, who died Monday at 79.

Runners, co-workers, fishing buddies and family came to celebrate the passion that Jenkins put into everything he did.

Samuel Foster Sr. was the principal when Northwestern High School opened in 1971. Jenkins was a school counselor, cross country and track coach, as well as an assistant football coach.

“He just had a way” of motivating students, Foster said Thursday.

Foster said educators are measured not by their immediate successes but after 20 years or more.

“A teacher’s worth is determined through the students they taught,” he said.

The successes represented by those at West End Baptist showed Jenkins had affected people for life. “He was a giant in our community,” Foster said.

Rock Hill lawyer Leah Moody, a member of the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees, said Jenkins, “taught me how to set goals, to do anything I wanted.”

She talked about how Jenkins would get his teams together before a track meet and ask them to visualize their upcoming performance.

“He made you think you were invincible.”

Daughters Meg Jenkins Locke and Mary Mellette Jenkins Wood, said the passion people saw at school and on the track started at home.

“We knew we were loved,” Locke said. “His heart, big enough for all of you, started with us. He was our greatest champion, and he always thought we were wonderful.”

Fishing buddies Connie Grant and Niles Chumley talked of a side not seen by many.

Sometimes the three of them went fishing. Sometimes the group was six strong, and they usually traveled hours to fish the surf or sounds of the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts.

Jenkins, known for his talkative nature, would start the conversation when the car left the driveway and keep going until their arrival at their destination. No subject was off limits and “stubborn words” and disagreements were exchanged.

But when it came time to fish, Jenkins showed the same determination that he carried as a coach, a determination that led to national track coach and cross county coach of the year honors, as well as a position as coach for the U.S. national track team.

Grant and Chumley once saw a lapse in Jenkins’ determination.

They had gone to the Cape Fear Lighthouse, wanting to climb the 210 steps to the top of the recently reopened lighthouse. Jenkins started having trouble negotiating the stairs. Chumley asked him what he would have told his athletes in such a situation.

“Tell them to keep going,” Jenkins replied. And he did, ascending to the top of the lighthouse to experience the dramatic view.

Athletes such as Ronnie Covington and Ian Davidson, members of Jenkins’ first teams at Northwestern, recalled the confidence he had in them and the performances he pulled from them.

Covington recalled the first time he tried to run the hurdles. There wasn’t even a track at the school yet, just a stretch of dirt. Jenkins put out several hurdles and asked Covington to run them.

“I knocked myself out, I was out of wind,” Covington said. Jenkins asked him if he could do it again. This time, Covington broke one of the hurdles.

Jenkins’ faith in Covington never wavered, and at one point in Covington’s Northwestern career, he was ranked the among the top high school hurdlers in the country.

Covington also remembered the 1974 Florida Relays where he had run many heats in the hurdles and other distances. Jenkins decided to enter him as part of the mile-relay team, the last event of the day.

With a cheering crowd of 15,000, Covington recalled holding the baton and getting ready to race. Suddenly, like a fog horn, a voice cut through the crowd noise, “Run the front, Ronnie,” Jenkins said..

“I ran,” Covington remembered.

Davidson recalled Northwestern’s first cross country race, a point-to-point race in Union County, N.C. Davidson had joined the team because his best friend was on the team. He said of the 15 runners, he was maybe the 14th fastest. He was not in danger of being cut, however. As long as you tried, you made Bob Jenkins’ team.

Davidson showed up for the race with a pair of high-top Converse basketball shoes.

Jenkins looked at the shoes and asked, “You running in those?”

Davidson replied, “Yes, sir.”

The two then went to Jenkins’ station wagon, the back filled with all sorts of track and field stuff. Jenkins pulled out a pair of leather, size 9 Puma running shoes and gave them to Davidson.

The shoes were two sizes too big for Davidson, but he wore them – and finished second.

Over time, he grew into the shoes. At Clemson on a track scholarship, he even got them out of a closet for a half-mile race.

“It was my best race in college,” he said.

Jenkins’ interest in Davidson didn’t end when he graduated from high school or went to Clemson.

“He was your coach for life, whether you wanted it or not,” Davidson said.

Davidson recalled another moment, when Jenkins asked – and got – the best from his student.

At 48, Davidson was competing in a cross-country mountain bike race which Jenkins attended. Davidson had a national race coming up in a few weeks and told Jenkins he probably wouldn’t do well in this race as he was using it as training for the upcoming competition.

Jenkins responded.

“I don’t want to hear you’re not prepared to compete today,” he said.

Once again, Davidson had one of the best races in his life.

Standing before Jenkins’ family and friends Thursday, Davidson thanked Bob Jenkins for being his coach, for being his mentor, for being his friend, and for teaching, guiding and caring about him.

And, he thanked Jenkins for the shoes.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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