“Coach Russell has to be the coolest old person alive."
This phrase was frequently heard at Robertsville Middle School and Oak Ridge High School during Winston Russell’s final years of teaching and coaching at these schools.
Located about 25 miles west of Knoxville, Oak Ridge was established in 1942 as a secret production site for the Manhattan Project and the home for many scientists and technicians that developed the atomic bomb. From the beginning residents of Oak Ridge demanded that schools for their children be the best in the state, both academically and athletically.
Winston Russell was an outstanding trackman at Oak Ridge High School in the late 1950s. He led his Oak Ridge team to three state championships during the four years he was on the team, and just missed a fourth championship by two points when a teammate dropped the baton on a relay. It was not unusual for him to participate in as many as seven events in every meet, including hurdles, jumps, sprints, and relays.
Russell began his college career at Tennessee Tech in 1959 but transferred to the University of Tennessee in 1960 when offered an athletic scholarship. He had to sit out his first year at Tennessee in compliance with SEC transfer rules, but then participated in track and field events for the next three years after that. He was thus a member of Coach Chuck Rohe’s first two teams at Tennessee. This is what Coach Rohe has to say about him.
“Winston was one of the few holdovers when I got there in 1962. He was very mature and responsible. He set a great example for our new freshmen. Winston stuck with it and was our Captain in 1963 and 1964. He set a great, great example and we won the SEC championship our second year with him."
Russell graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1964, and went on to graduate school there. He had an assistantship and taught physical education classes with Dr. Ben Plotnicki, a prominent educator, member of the Knoxville Track Club, and official “starter” for Tennessee’s home track and field meets. Winston received his master’s degree at the university in 1965 and stayed on as a physical education instructor. A year later, he received an offer to coach and teach in Oak Ridge.
Thus, a 50 year (and counting) legacy was begun. Coach Russell’s tenure at Robertsville Middle School included head football coach from 1966-1988, assistant basketball coach from 1966-1973, and head track and field coach from 1966-1989. In addition he served as an assistant football coach at Oak Ridge High School from 1989-2002 and an assistant track and field coach from 1989-2011. After a seven-year retirement from football, he returned in 2009 and was still on the Oak Ridge High School coaching staff in 2015.
Winston Russell has coached many championship teams and many individual champions during his many years of coaching. When asked once, he said that he enjoyed the physical education classes he taught for more than 40 years nearly as much as he did the athletic teams. Here from a newspaper article is what one of his former student-athletes had to say about him:
“At the end of my seventh grade year, Coach Russell encouraged me to go out for football and track and I have no doubt that his encouragement and help to me over the next two years honestly saved my life. He got me involved with football and track, which brought me in contact with a whole new peer group. In addition, he taught me that you have to work hard to obtain your goals, not only in athletics, but in everything you do. I continued to play sports throughout high school and played football through college. I played for many different coaches throughout this time, but none of them could motivate me like Coach Russell did. Everyone who played for him wanted to win, not just for the team, but for Coach Russell.”
Winston Russell was inducted into the Oak Ridge Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Oak Ridge. Both are very active in supporting Oak Ridge Athletic programs.