Little did Claborn M. Campbell realize that something as simple as coaching track and field could have such a resounding impact on others’ lives.
The veteran Cold Springs High School track coach did just that over the course of 31 years — leaving a lasting and positive impression on all who crossed his path along the way. His impact did not go unnoticed. Campbell is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame at the annual banquet March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA established the Hall of Fame in 1991.
A native of Cullman, he graduated from Cold Springs High School in 1971 and Southern Benedictine College (formerly St. Bernard College) in 1977. Born to be a teacher and coach, he began his teaching and coaching career at Winston County High School in 1978, compiling a 30-22 record in varsity basketball.
In 1979, he returned to his alma mater Cold Springs as varsity basketball coach. Over the next four years, he won several county championships. Next, he went to West Point High School for seven years, coaching boys’ and girls’ junior varsity basketball. He won county championships with each team. Although quite successful as a basketball coach, Campbell’s real calling was in track and field, where his girls won 12 county championships.
In 1990, he returned home to Cold Springs, accepting the job of varsity track and cross country coach, a position he continued until recently. His success has been extraordinary. In track, his boys won two state championships, five sectional titles and 10 county championships. His girls won three sectional and 12 county championships. In cross country, the girls won one state, five sectional and 12 county championships. The boys won two state, nine sectional and 14 county championships. He also served as athletic director. He retired in 2016.
His Coach of the Year awards include the National Federation of High School Association (NFHS) in girls’ cross country in 2007 and boys’ cross country in 2016. He was U.S. Track and Field Coach of the Year in boys’ cross country in 2014.
Keith Wilemon, retired track and field coach at Falkville High School, had this to say about Campbell: “I can honestly say that Coach Campbell is the most outstanding coach and rival that I have faced in my 31-year coaching career. His coaching talents go beyond track and field and cross country. He has always stressed doing what is right and exhibiting great sportsmanship, regardless of the outcome of a race or game. His core values of faith, family, academics and athletics are what makes him so successful.
“I know that he had a tremendous influence on myself as well as many other coaches and athletes in North Alabama. I have had the privilege to work with Coach Campbell for many years as section track directors, and he has always done an outstanding job. His teams have always shown class and great sportsmanship.”
Like most outstanding coaches, Campbell’s career produced not only successful seasons but also successful and productive citizens. Dr. Palee Myrex wrote a letter supporting the Hall of Fame nomination. She said: “I’ve known Clay Campbell my entire life, but it was not until I entered the 7th grade that he became my coach. Showing up for my first cross country practice as a timid, unconfident, overweight adolescent, I had no idea how much the man in the wide-brimmed hat would alter the course of my life and become one of my most influential mentors, even to this day.
“Throughout the course of the next six years, coach Campbell coached me to 14 Alabama high school state championships in track and cross country and campaigned for me to college coaches, allowing me to get a scholarship [at] the University of Alabama. I am a first-generation college student and that athletic scholarship opened doors for me that would have never been possible. My college career catapulted me into medical school, and now, as a physician. I cannot help but to think he indirectly helps every single one of my patients…for that I am eternally grateful.”
She credits her high school coach for teaching her how to set goals and work to accomplish them.
“You see, I learned how to be a champion, not by the workouts coach Campbell told me to do, but by watching him live the principles that he taught of dedication, integrity, hard work and refusing to give up,” she said. “Prior to Coach Campbell, there was no cross country program at Cold Springs, and the track program was struggling just to field an entire team. Through his determination and commitment to high school athletics, he turned Cold Springs into a household name for track and cross country, especially the realm of long-distance running. During my short six years, I saw our team go from running loops around the parking lot to being able to train on one of the state’s top cross country courses, which he designed and built himself because he wanted what was best for his athletes. The course is such a phenomenal race venue that while I was an athlete there, we hosted the largest cross country meet held on a high school campus in the entire state.
“Not only did he invest himself in coaching state championship teams and athletes, but he also went above and beyond, putting in the extra hours and humbling himself to do unnoticed things such as mow the cross country course, stock the concession stand, time all of the home cross country and track meets as well as fundraise money to resurface our track.”
Coach Campbell, who also served as athletic director at Cold Springs, was inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He has been a music director for 30 years at his church and has served as a deacon and youth director.