Fulton’s father figure and guiding light passes away

By Steve Williams

Bob Black was a longtime teacher, coach and administrator at Fulton High School. And on top of that, he became a father figure to the students and a guiding light for many years.

After being on the football staff for 56 years, he had visibly slowed down health-wise and did not return to coach in 2021 and 2022.

Last Monday, Aug. 14, Black, a 1960 Fulton graduate, died at the age of 80.

“My dad, our hero, ‘Coach Bob Black,’ entered into the Gates of Heaven this afternoon,” Kelley Black Seymour wrote in a post on Facebook. “Many know he had suffered with Alzheimer’s the past few years. He recently had a rapid decline in his condition. Today he has been made brand new in his Heavenly Home. We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

Black’s graveside service was scheduled Sunday afternoon at Greenwood Cemetery in Knoxville.

In addition to covering Fulton games for The Knoxville Journal in the 1970s and 80s, I got to know Bob even more when I got into officiating and umpiring as he was director of Junior Pro basketball and a baseball umpire in the TSSAA and SEC.

As a TSSAA football official, my crew worked some of the Fulton games when Bob was on the sideline as an assistant coach. There were times too when he and others disagreed with some of our calls and let us hear about it. But when the game was over, Bob left it all on the field and our relationship was never altered.

I saw another side of Coach Black too when Bobby Lippert, our TSSAA baseball signing officer, passed away and Bob spoke at his funeral. His message that day was so beautiful and touching.

Five years ago, in August of 2018, as a sports reporter for The Knoxville Focus, I interviewed Bob in Fulton’s football facility after he had been honored as the East Tennessee Careacter Star Assistant Football Coach of the Year for 2017.

The interview was 28 minutes long and I’m glad I saved it in my tape recorder. The first 10 minutes included Bob’s reaction to the Careacter Star award.

Black believed it was important to strive to have good character in sports and life. “You have to have good character to work with others,” he said.

Black also believed high school is an important time in a person’s life to build character. And he said coaches have to set an example.

One question I asked in the interview was how he tried to instill good character in student-athletes.

“We try to teach them as a staff here at Fulton to work with each other and the big thing is we want them to rely on somebody with a higher power than what we are and we do that,” answered Black. “We pray after every practice. We pray before and after every game. We have a sermon before a game.

“Steve Diggs with Emerald Youth is our chaplain and Coach Jay Humphrey on our staff also does some of the sermons and does a great job. So we do a lot of things to instill in them Christian character because that’s what life is all about.

“I think it is so important that we talk to our kids about that, how they behave, how they treat other people and how they carry themselves through life.”

Black was thankful for the ET Careacter Star award.

“It means everything,” he said in the interview. “If people can look up to you and see that you’re doing things right, it makes you feel good and it makes you want to be even better.”

Diggs saw Black’s influence up close after starting at the Emerald Youth Foundation and volunteering in the community in 1988. He said it’s been a real honor to know Bob Black and to just watch him, observe him and learn from him.

Diggs added that Black was probably the best he knew for being a role model or mentor or teacher of the younger generation.

Diggs recalled one story he heard about a former Fulton female student who is now an adult. “The young lady let Coach Black know he saved her life because he connected with her, got her engaged in Young Life and got her some support. She said he was the difference in her life.”

(More on Bob Black’s life from the final 19 minutes of the 2018 interview will be in the Focus’ Aug. 28 issue.)