Next week, my friend Bob Gulley will be closing an illustrious career as the head track coach at Chester Middle School. He has also built Thomas Dale cross country into a regional power and has led the Knight’s indoor program for years. He is passionate about the sport we both love and has never shortchanged a single athlete under his watch.
Unfortunately, Bob’s decision to retire has not been totally of his own doing, but has been a result of Chesterfield’s decision to reassign the students from his beloved Chester Middle to Davis and Carver middle schools. Bob is an Eagle, not a Raven or Cougar.
Bob and I first met many years ago as young competitors who probably both wanted to win a little too much. I remember that we were both intense enough to “play on” in spite of accumulating snow at one early season meet in the very early 1980s. Our closeness stems not only from our competition, but through our coaching certification classes and endorsement as officials. Over the last 30 years, we really wanted to beat each other, but we didn’t dwell on it. I think Bob could tell you exactly what his record has been against Matoaca. I, personally, have almost no clue, but a late charge probably got us close to .500. Bob’s view of track and field is more “team” and mine is more “individual.”
Bob is an expert motivator who has always done a great job getting his kids to peak at the right time. Again, I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I think it was about five years in a row that we beat Chester in the regular season, only to come up short to the Eagles in the postseason. He has always taken great pride in his athletes’ performances in the championship meets.
Because he is such a competitor, many have failed to get to know the true coach Gulley. Many don’t form a great first impression and therefore don’t bother to get to know him. I know Bob as a fine teacher and scholar. When I meet high school students and adults who went to Chester, I always ask them if they had Mr. Gulley for a teacher. Those who had been so lucky talk about a passion in the classroom that matches his passion on the track. Living in the Chester community, I often bump into former Chester athletes, many of whom are now in their 30s and 40s with children of their own. They speak of Bob with both love and admiration.
Not always infallible, Bob was once caught misinterpreting a participation rule in track. He had come off the high school indoor season where rules are slightly different and he unfortunately ran one of his kids in too many events. Very humbly, he took his medicine and insisted upon applying the penalty completely, which resulted in a lost championship for his team. Always proud in victory, but gracious in defeat, I will never forget the congratulatory hug I received from Bob upon Matoaca winning its first county championship.
On a very personal note, I’d like to thank Bob for helping make my daughter’s college experience so special. In true form, Bob had travelled 100 miles to the west to attend one of his former student’s graduation from Sweet Briar College. Upon his return to Richmond, he immediately called to recommend Sweet Briar to Sarah. Sarah would have never considered the school that allowed her to flourish.
Mr. Gulley, I know you will never be able to turn your back on track and field any more than I have been able to do. It will be different, but your love and respect for the sport along with your desire to help youngsters find their way will make your life meaningful for years to come. Bless you, sir.