Melvin Maxwell, the tireless track coach who led a generation of South-Doyle High School students, died on October 5, 2009. He was 65.
"He was not only an institution at our school, he was just a great guy to be around," said Robby Howard, a longtime colleague and friend. "It was never about him. It was always about the kids, the school and the community."
A family friend, Doug Snapp, found Maxwell's body around 9:30 p.m. in about 5 feet of water in Stock Creek near Maxwell's home on Kinnamon Road in South Knox County after his wife reported him missing, Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Ashley Haynes said. He apparently drowned when his riding lawn mower flipped into the water, she said.
Maxwell was born and raised on a farm in Cairo, Ga., where he practiced running laps across fresh-plowed fields in his work boots and learned to run a mile in 4 minutes. He attended the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship and started work immediately after graduation in August 1967 as track and cross country coach at what was then Doyle High School.
In 1967 Melvin Maxwell took the position of track and cross country coach at Doyle High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. Melvin had just completed his Master’s Degree at UT in the same year.
It didn't take long for Maxwell to build the Doyle cross country program into TSSAA state champions in the fall of 1970. Coach Maxwell's team won the 1970 Tennessee state cross country championship with 47 points; beating second place Memphis Frayser's 111 points.
Melvin's wife Joyce recalls that his distance runners ran before and after school, and on Saturday and Sunday, with Melvin chasing them over country roads in his green VW Bug (car). Joyce asks: “I wonder where he got those ideas?” Needless to say, the team ran together during the summer months as well.
In 1974 Maxwell was awarded KIL (Knoxville Interscholastic League) Coach of the Year honors after his Doyle H.S. team easily ran away with the KIL City-County Championship.
Many more honors and championships followed before Melvin retired from Doyle in 1996 after 29 years of teaching, coaching and anything else the school or community needed. He bought shoes, running attire, and meals to keep his team running. Melvin was chief engineer in getting the Doyle track facility organized. He also was instrumental in the construction of the Doyle gym and the football stadium. Maxwell was always a willing official at hundreds of local meets.
Attesting to his contribution to the Doyle community, Melvin's Memorial Service was attended by 2000 friends and former students, with a line to the service stretching out into the church parking lot. All in attendance agreed, Melvin was a great role model and coach to decades of students, and had a huge impact on the community.
Former students recall the coach's training regimen -- runs of five miles at a time, three times a day, with Maxwell following in his Volkswagen. He led the school's team, the Pioneers, to the state cross country championship in 1970.
"He taught me that you've got to treat all the kids the same," said Steve Prince, who worked as Maxwell's assistant in the 1980s. "The longer I coach, the more what he told me becomes true."
Maxwell often worked until midnight, then went home to his yard or garden.
"He was the hardest-working man I've ever known," said Kenny Morris, a friend and former student. "I don't know when he slept. At one time, he was the head custodian and the track coach and maintained all the lawns. If you needed anything, he was there to help you. And if you wanted to work, he was going to be there working harder than you."
The school named its field house where Maxwell spent so much time in his honor in 1983. He retired in 1996 and went to work for Massey Electric Co.
"He was hired to wear a coat and tie, but they couldn't keep him in the office," Morris said. "He'd be out helping the crews in the ditch."
The family will receive friends 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Mount Olive Baptist Church, with the funeral to follow. Burial will be 11 a.m. Friday in Sherwood Memorial Gardens.