By Paula Walter
A large crowd gathered at the Johnson County Senior Center this past week as Monday, October 23rd was designated Coach Harold Arnold Day. Tables were covered with pictures, framed awards and newspaper articles that all gave tribute to the man simply know as Coach.
Coach was a football coach, in addition to being the health and physical education teacher at Johnson County High School. In his high school years, he played football, baseball and basketball for Johnson County. After graduation, Coach headed for Lees McRae College and East Tennessee State University where he played football. He was a veteran, and after he left the service, he headed right back to Johnson County where he started his career in 1952. He was a teacher, in addition to coaching football, baseball and basketball for many years. In the words of Jack Swift, Johnson County Historian, Coach Harold Arnold truly was a legend in his own time.
It was obvious from listening to several former students and football players that Coach was one of those special people that leave a lasting impression on you. Dick Grayson knew Coach from the time he was 13 years old. Grayson knew him as a teacher, a coach, and a mentor. “He was able to put his heart into it,” he said. Grayson’s recollection of Coach drew smiles and laughter from the large group that gathered to remember Coach. “He was a remarkable man and my mentor,” he said.
Bob Heck’s father was killed when Heck was young. According to Heck, Coach Arnold would pay him a $1 a week to sweep the gym. “He was always nice to me. He was always so sweet to me. He was a father figure. I learned about life from him,” Heck said. “I’m so proud he was in my life.”
Tom Reece played basketball for Coach. “We had respect for our teachers,” Reece shared. “We were in awe of Coach Arnold.” Reece described Coach as neat and organized. According to Reece, after Friday night football games, there were times the kids on the team who lived in Shady Valley stayed at the Arnold home for the night. In the morning, Mrs. Arnold would fix breakfast for all the players before Coach would drive them back over the mountain to Shady Valley. “He was very spiritual and most appreciative,” Reece said. “He was a sharp guy, him and Ralph Stout. I had the utmost respect for him.”
Sonny Stout knew Coach Arnold from the time he was a little boy. According to Stout, Coach was there to take his mother to the hospital to have a baby. “I think he stayed until my brother was born,” he said. According to Stout, Coach always left his key in the car. Kids would move his car and Coach would go in search of it. “He knew who was doing it and he never said a word,” Stout recalled, his face lit up with a grin as he remembered Coach. He told some of the antics of the kids in the community who would put an extra gallon of gas in Coach’s car, and then take it back out. “He was just a great man and we’re going to miss him around town,” Stout stated.
“Coach impacted my life in many different ways,” said Russell Love. “When I remember Coach Arnold, I reflect on his humility, kindness, his wisdom and his quiet demeanor.” Love was from Elizabethton and he came to Johnson County for a job interview. He recalls sitting down and talking to God. “I can’t even afford to feed my family,” he remembered saying. Later that day, Love received a phone call from Coach Arnold. “If you want to be work, be here in Mountain City tomorrow morning. We could afford to eat. That’s a call from Coach Arnold that I will always be thankful for.”
According to Love, Coach Arnold had an impact on many people. “Their lives have been influenced by Coach. He touched my life and so many in the county. He served his country, his community and he served his God.” Love spoke directly to Coach’s son and daughter, Steve Arnold and Donna Arnold, who were both at the tribute. “You don’t know what he means to me,” he said.
According to Swift, among his many honors was his induction into the Johnson County Hall of Fame, the result of many victories and honor for himself and his school and his teams. The Johnson county High School football field was renamed the Harold Arnold Field. “That distinction was well deserved, as many folk would attest,” said Swift.