By Mike Blackerby
Bearden High School has enjoyed a resurgence in track and field in recent years.
New head coach Ashley Powell hopes to take the programs to even another level.
The 27-year-old Powell was recently named coach of both the Bearden track and field and cross country teams.
Powell, who steps in following the resignation of Patty Thewes, has served as an assistant coach with both programs since 2013.
“To see where the program was in 2013 to where it is now and how it has grown in a positive direction (is exciting),” said Powell.
“We’re graduating some really good athletes, but we’ve got a lot of younger kids coming up.”
Powell, who attended high school at Pope John Paul II in Hendersonville and ran collegiately at East Tennessee State University, said the tradition of Bearden track and field and cross country is something she can build on.
Under legendary coach Bob LeSueur, Bearden was a track and field power in the 1970s, producing outstanding athletes such as future Tennessee All-American Mike Barlow and UT women’s basketball coach Holly Warlick.
Bearden’s boys track and field team won the 1975 state championship.
“Being from Nashville I wasn’t really sure of all the history when I got here,” said Powell. “There is a lot of history at Bearden and they’ve had a lot of success in cross country and track.”
Powell, who has competed in “50-plus” triathlons, said East Tennessee is the place to be in both sports.
“We’re surrounded by great coaches here. Everyone wants to get better. I definitely think track is growing and running as a sport is growing.”
Etheridge steps down at Oak Ridge
After a long and successful run, Allen Etheridge has officially retired as track and field coach at Oak Ridge.
The 52-year-old Etheridge was an all-state selection in both track and field and cross country at Oak Ridge (1981-84).
He began his coaching career at ORHS in 1996 under legendary coach Jim McNamee.
Etheridge took over as cross country coach in 2004 and track and field coach in 2015. He stepped down as cross country coach a couple of years ago.
“You have to know when the story is over,” said Etheridge, who coached Oak Ridge’s cross country teams to six state championships.
“I still love the day-to-day interaction with kids, but it’s all the other stuff that doesn’t involve kids that I don’t want to deal with any more.”
Etheridge said he’ll remember the relationships with his athletes more than the state championships.
“I’m still in contact with people I coached from 10, 12 and 15 years ago,” he said.
“I’ll get a text from a kid I coached 20 years ago, but he’s not a kid any more. He’s working for the FBI and he has got two kids.”
One of his fondest memories was from 2007 when Oak Ridge’s cross country teams swept both Class AAA titles.
The Oak Ridge boys won a third-consecutive state championship that year, finished 18th at the Nike team nationals and were ranked No. 22 in the nation.
“The main ones I think of are all of the emotional high points like that,” said Etheridge.
“The athletes, the parents and the coaches I worked with – that’s why you do this.”