Richard King has been one of the most familiar faces around the Parkview boys and girls cross country and track and field programs for nearly the past 25 years. Having joined the Panthers’ coaching staff as a community coach when his daughter Joy joined the team, the now 70-year-old remained on the staff even after his daughter graduated in 1997. And while he has retired from his regular job as a pastor at Mountain Park First Baptist Church, he remains as a vital part of the Panthers program as a member of the staff of current head Mike Demarest. King recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander to talk about his experiences, including why and for how long he expects to keep coaching
DF: I know your daughter used to run here, but when was that exactly?
RK: She finished (high) school in 1997. She ran here four years, and then went over to Shorter University and ran there.
DF: Is that when you started helping out with the coaching staff?
RK: Yes sir. Steve Richardson was the head coach back then. That was back in 1993, and I think I’m on my sixth head coach now. (Laughs) I just started hanging out. That was the deal. And then Karl Bostick, who was the athletic director in ’94 came to me and said, ‘Look, they’ve got this new program (called) community coach or lay coach. We’ll pay for you to (do it), and that’ll make you a little more official.’
DF: Had you been involved in running before that?
RK: Way back in high school, I ran the 880 (yards). (Laughs) That’s how far back that goes. My real running career stared in about 1982. I got up from my Thanksgiving meal and said, ‘You’re too heavy. You need to run.’ And I’ve (run) a few marathons (since then).
DF: Was the Peachtree Road Race the first big race you ran?
RK: Yeah, it probably was.
DF: So how did Joy get involved in running?
RK: I was running, so she started running with me. It was her eighth-grade year, I think.
DF: So while you’d run yourself, was it when you first started out helping with the high school team that you really started understanding and getting into the mechanical and tactical aspects of distance running and cross country?
RK: That, and I just started to do a lot of reading. I read a lot about it. I’m reading running books (even) right now.
DF: So Joy goes off to college and you didn’t have any kids that ran. What made you decide to stay with the program as a community coach?
RK: It was just the love of the sport, the love of the kids, I love Parkview. That’s it. It really is. It’s just a whole lot of fun. Now my professional ministry was that I was student pastor over at Mountain Park First Baptist Church. So I can’t get away from students.
DF: Those first few years that Joy was away at Shorter, I’m sure you wanted to go see her run. How tough was it juggling that with continuing to work with the high school team?
RK: It was (tough), but the nice thing was that some of her races were on Friday evenings instead of Saturdays. So we could go up and see her.
DF: Made for a lot of driving, though.
RK: It sure did. Yeah.
DF: So you look back at all the years you’ve been here, can your reflect on all the things that have changed her since then? For instance, we’re talking here inside the weight room at the old field house. How involved in weight training were the runners back then?
RK: They weren’t. There was (no weight training) whatsoever. You didn’t think about that. You didn’t talk about nutrition. You didn’t do any of that. Basically, you just went out there and ran miles.
DF: So did learning all that stuff make coaching more complicated now? Or is it easier since the athletes are probably better conditioned?
RK: Well, the athletes being better (conditioned is one thing), but there are so many resources that can tell you what you need to be doing and what you can pick and choose from. And that’s something (more pressing) for head coaches. I just love the sport, so I’m going to try and continue to where I can get better with them.
DF: Considering how long you’ve been around Parkview, you’re kind of in the same situation as (longtime Parkview baseball assistant coach Roy) “Chief” Massey. I guess you’re kind of the cross county and track and field programs’ version of the Chief. And as much respect as he commands from the baseball, I would think you command the same from the runners.
RK: I think so. I mean, Coach Demarest brings it up a lot, telling the kids how (long) I’ve been around here. (Laughs) I don’t know if it makes a whole lot of difference, to be perfectly honest with you.
DF: We talked about this building and all the head coaches you’ve worked with. What has changed the most about the program and the school in the 25 or so years you’ve been here?
RK: Well, the school has gotten way more diverse than it used to be, and that is the coolest thing right now. I wish you could see the faces of the girls that I work with here. I mean, they’re from all over the place. It’s just fun. It really is, having that kind of diversity and what they bring to the program.
DF: Do you coach just with the girls, or the guys as well?
RK: Well, the guys, too, but primarily with the girls.
DF: I guess having raised a daughter, you have plenty of experience that makes you able to relate to them.
RK: I think I’ve got a pretty good knack of what it takes to work with the girls. To me, it’s an entire different dynamic (from working with boys). The way I look at it is, with the boys, you go tell them what to do, and they’re going to go do it. The girls, I’ve got to have a reason.
DF: And I’ve got to ask you this. I’ve still got a few years to get to 70, but at my age now, that number doesn’t seem quite as old as it once did. With that in mind, how much longer to you want to or expect to keep coaching?
RK: Well, I (keep asking) Coach Demarest, ‘What does the (incoming) class look like?’ You know, maybe it’s a good time to bow out. But we’ve got way too many good freshmen, so I guess I’m in it for at least another three years. (Laughs)
DF: In all seriousness though, does it seem like this is something you’ll want to do as long as you’re physically able?
RK: No doubt. Absolutely no doubt.
DF: You also work with the track program, right?
RK: Yes. I work with the distance (runners) and coach high jump, at times.
DF: Was Joy a high jumper when she was here, too, or was coaching it something you just kind of picked up over the years?
RK: She was there, as well, but it’s all picking it up. That’s exactly right. I mean, it literally is a learning process even every day out here now, just so I’ve got a handle on it.
DF: Oh, and since you mentioned it before, are you still working with the church, or are you retired?
RK: I retired back in November (of last year).
DF: So maybe this might be more fun now since you have more time to devote to it?
RK: It is. It really is. It is my job (now). I kind of look at it that way.
DF: Well, does a pastor or spiritual leader ever really retire?
RK: No. (Laughs)
DF: Do you see yourself, God willing, still doing this maybe 10 years from now? Well, you’ll be 80 then, but you’re still very active.
RK: You use the right words. If God’s willing, I’ll probably be (still coaching). I just don’t see how I can walk away from it. That would be very difficult right now.