High School Sports

Coach puts Mustangs first

EAST MANATEE

- Bob Campbell needs help. He didn't sign on to be a coach at Lakewood Ranch High with the idea he'd be coaching 98 kids by himself.

He was supposed to be an assistant. After all, he already has a team he coaches back home in Michigan.

But this spring, Campbell is "Coach Bob" to anyone and everyone on the Mustangs track team.

Following Ernest Jones' dismissal and arrest for sexual misconduct, Campbell, a seven-year assistant at LRHS, is the man in charge. He took over the program late last season when Jones left, but Campbell had no idea he'd come back in the same situation.

"They advertised that coaching job for a full year and didn't get any response," Campbell said. "Here I am."

Not that Campbell's complaining. Track and teaching runs in his family, and he loves working with kids.

And at Lakewood Ranch, Campbell has the deepest and best crop of talent in Manatee County. But it's still a lot of work.

"I do it for the love of the sport and the kids - not as a job," said Campbell, who coaches small-school track at Frankfort High in Michigan and has been coaching the sport for 30 years in all. "I put in 20 hours a week in paperwork just to keep it going."

So much work that Campbell enlisted one of the Mustangs' parents, Michelle Randall, to help out. She took classes to get her coaching certification.

"I couldn't do this without her," Campbell said. "She helps a lot."

They must be doing something right, because the Mustangs won another county championship in the boys and girls divisions earlier this month.

Campbell said when he agreed to be an assistant at Lakewood Ranch it came with the caveat he could go north for the start of the track season, thus missing the Florida state finals. Last year was the first time he wasn't able to do so as he had to stay to coach.

"I had to stay until May 6 or 7 and I wasn't able to do the coaching I wanted to do up north," said Campbell, who now coaches grandchildren at the high school level.

In previous seasons, Campbell primarily worked with the high jumpers, distance runners and hurdlers in past seasons. Now he's also helping the sprinters and distance jumpers.

"It's too much. I tell the kids that," he said. "I apologized the other night that we can't do them justice as coaches. We have too many kids and we should be spending more time with the kids in specific events and we just can't. There's just too much. I had a kid tell me he didn't feel he was doing a good job. I told him it's not your fault. It's my fault because we haven't had enough time to spend with them. But we have some really great kids."

James Fulmer, a sophomore hurdler, said he does plenty.

"He's always there for us," Fulmer said. "He's kind of a family friend and he's always comforted me and told me I'm doing a good job. He always has the little tips where you know it's wrong but you don't know how to fix it."

Junior sprinter Desiree Williams said Campbell is "just like Coach Jones" in the way he teaches track.

"He's great," she said. "He keeps telling us to keep going and doing it - not to quit."

And despite his obstacles, he plans to do the same at Lakewood Ranch.

"I'm still young," Campbell said. "I'm still running."

More coverage

 For a breakdown of area track teams, 5D

 For weightlifting capsules of local teams, 6D

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