By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
J.J. Knox has been overseeing track and field competitions around Alamance County for so long that for some long-time observers it’s difficult to imagine a meet without him.
For Knox, it’s just what he does.
“It’s wonderful,” Knox said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a joy. We’re helping get new people who need to learn how to do this.”
Knox is a retired teacher and coach from Eastern Alamance, where his name is synonymous with track and field and cross country. The track at the high school is named in his honor.
And Knox, 68, handles duties with the starter’s pistol and anything else that needs to be done at many of the meets.
He conducted the Alamance County championships last week. And it wasn’t just shooting off the gun. He was on the portable microphone announcing the order of events to keep the meet moving, helping with the scoring, and even handing out medals.
Knox became an Eastern Alamance teacher in 1977 and two years later started the school’s cross country program. He soon became the track and field coach as well.
Organizing the meets and handling many of the pre-meet, in-meet, and post-meet logistics eventually came with it.
Longtime Cummings track and field coach Donnie Davis said Knox is a fixture at the meets. There’s a confidence that comes with Knox’s presence.
“I remember coming out here when we were running on a dirt track and he was here,” Davis said. “Back in the day, he would do all the field events and then come over and start the track events.”
Steve Marquis, whose son Jacob Marquis is a Williams middle distance runner, spent about 30 years as a coach in Chapel Hill schools. He said it’s just expected to see Knox scurrying around the track infield keeping things going during a meet.
“It would be interesting to know how many meets he has run,” Steve Marquis said.
After Thursday’s county meet in Mebane, Knox was slated the next two days to work at a college meet at High Point. Then there’s a meet Monday at Pittsboro and the following day a middle school event at Eastern Alamance.
“I officiate meets all the time,” he said.
Knox, who was an Eastern coach until 2001, moved to Statesville after retiring as a teacher in 2007, but he makes regular trips to Alamance County and around the state to help conduct cross country and track and field meets. Those even included the so-called Polar Bear meets that are conducted during the winter.
Knox received one of two Commissioner’s Choice Awards from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for the 2019-20 academic year for extraordinary service to the state’s athletics programs. The recognition was tied to his commitment to Eastern and the NCHSAA.
He has been the meet director for NCHSAA track and field and cross country regionals. He remains a staple as an official and timer for state-level meets in cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
Eastern’s J.J. Knox Invitational is held in his honor each spring.
Knox was in an instructional mode for the Alamance County championships. He said that’s important early in the season as many athletes are new to the sport or adjusting to the rhythm of another season.
“Be patient with them,” he said. “We got it done.”
When sprinters lined up for the boys’ 100 meters, Knox noticed an empty lane for one of the heats – something he didn’t expect based on the entry sheet. A Burlington Christian Academy runner had scratched from the race, but Myles Darroch of Southern Alamance was in what was then supposed to be a vacant Lane 2. Darroch was slated for Lane 5, and thus moved to that position.
“I’m glad I caught you,” Knox said. “You wouldn’t have gotten any credit for running.”
Knox went over rules and procedures throughout the meet.
“Nobody runs a track meet like J.J.,” Davis said. “He’s the best ever. Going to miss him whenever he gives it up.”
No telling when that might come.
“They told me I had to come back until I was dead,” Knox said.