Legendary coach Rider remembered at groundbreaking for $3.75 million fieldhouse

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

About 75 people gathered under cloudy skies showing admiration and appreciation for a legendary high school coach Thursday as they broke ground for the future Dave Rider Center for Athletic Performance.

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 Elizabethton High School Principal Jon Minton noted it was the campus’ 50th anniversary. “So, what a fitting time for us to be breaking ground on a facility that’s going to be first class, it’s going to be state-of-the-art and one-of-a-kind, really, in the East Tennessee region, maybe from here to central Tennessee,” he said.

 The facility is named for legendary EHS football coach Dave Rider, who died Dec. 20, 2020, at 82. Rider came to Elizabethton High School in 1976 after coaching at J.I. Burton High School in Norton, Va., and Tazewell (Va.) High School. Under his leadership at Elizabethton, the Cyclones had a record of 173-79.

 Among those attending the groundbreaking were Rider’s wife, Deanna, who said, “I would just like to thank everybody that had a big hand in this. I know that if Dave was here, he would be just as proud as he could ever be to have this beautiful building that’s gonna be built here and for the benefit that it’s going to make to the school that he loved with all of his heart.” She was accompanied by their son, Scott Rider, who is also a longtime high school coach.

 One of Rider’s grandchildren is EHS football coach Shawn Witten, who said coaches always try to provide the best in leadership, accountability, and discipline for student-athletes. Witten said the long-awaited athletic training facility is an example of an investment in youth that is “going to pay dividends later on.”

 “Our grandfather, the only negative that ever, ever came out of his mouth every year was, ‘We’ve never had a field house. ‘We’ve never had a fieldhouse. We’ve never had a fieldhouse. We need a field house.’ And so, you know, to give back to our student-athletes, they’re the ones that are going to receive the most benefit from this,” Witten said.

 Minton said he had a chance to meet Rider when first arriving as principal at the school and “everything that you hear about Coach Rider and his impact on athletics and our school community and Elizabethton is 100 percent positive.”

 “Our hope is that as this facility comes out of the ground for our students and our athletes in our community, that it’s gonna allow his name to live on in Elizabethton longer than anyone that’s standing here,” Minton told the crowd, which included Elizabethton City Council members, Board of Education members, and others involved in the project.

 Elizabethton Director of Schools Richard VanHuss said, “In many ways, this building is somewhat of a campus completion dating back 50 years ago.” He thanked City Council members who “stepped up a year ago and helped us with a substantial capital allotment for the school system of $1,000,000 to help make this project a reality.”

 “Of course, we couldn’t do without the school board and their support, because ultimately they set the budget for the school system, so if they weren’t 100 percent behind this project, it doesn’t happen,” VanHuss said.

 “When I think about someone who came to EHS and made more of an impact and changed the culture of our program, the athlete department, and the school community, there’s only one name: that name is coach Dave Rider.” VanHuss played for Rider in the 1986-1988 seasons and eventually coached under him for three years. “Personally, I wanted to become a teacher and coach because of coach Rider,” he said.

 VanHuss gave a round of thanks to various people who have already played a part in the project, including Witten, outgoing Athletic Director Forrest Holt, newly named Athletic Director Ryan Presnell, Thomas Weems Architect, and Burleson Construction Co. VanHuss also thanked Citizens Bank Tri-Cities Foundation Ltd. and the LaPorte family, saying, “The investments they’ve made in our community is second to none.” The foundation recently gave a $400,000 gift toward the fieldhouse’s construction.

 Elizabethton Board of Education Chairman Eddie Pless recalled the year Rider, who he saw as a “second dad,” came to the high school. “I didn’t know as a 16-year-old boy getting ready to start his senior year when coach Rider arrived in the summer of ’76 what an impact he would have,” Pless said. “I was just a nervous, anxious kid wanting to know what my coach was going to be like. One year playing for him changed my life; getting to coach with him changed my life.”

 VanHuss and Holt both spoke of the “culture” created by previous leaders who came before, including Rider and his family. “When we mention culture, coach Witten likes to say the saying for the football team is, ‘Best is the standard,’” Holt said. “Well, this facility embodies that: ‘Best is the standard.’

 “The reason that all you guys are here today is because the culture is so great,” Holt said, calling the crowd “culture carriers.”

 The city Board of Education approved the $3.75 million training facility at its Dec. 19, 2023, meeting. An open-air canopy will connect the fieldhouse and include a 30-yard-by-30-yard section of artificial turf, an auxiliary gymnasium with a basketball court that can also be used for volleyball and other activities, and a new weight room that is larger than the one currently used underneath the visiting bleachers at Treadway Gymnasium.