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Local sports icons Bell, Fulkerson recently passed

Bill Lane • Jan 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Kingsport is still reeling from the deaths of two sports icons, men who devoted their lives to the betterment of others.

Former East Tennessee State University football coach John Robert Bell died on Christmas Day, leaving countless friends and many pleasant memories.

Jack Fulkerson passed away on Dec. 12 in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Both Bell and Fulkerson were star athletes at Dobyns-Bennett and later at major colleges in the South.

Bell, who coached under Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech before returning to the Tri-Cities, served as ETSU’s coach for seven years. His most memorable season was 1969 when the Buccaneers waylaid lopsided favorite Louisiana Tech 34-14 in the Grantland Rice Bowl at Baton Rouge.

The Bucs (10-0-1) sacked quarterback Terry Bradshaw 14 times, a statistic he failed to mention in his autobiography. However, Bradshaw did compliment East Tennessee years later, saying: “That’s a hard-hitting bunch of country boys up there.’’

Bell was the man behind building the Mini-Dome, which he later regretted because the project had to be downsized for budgetary reasons..

“He was a tremendous man,’’ said Tom Pugh, who coached under Bell. “John was really concerned with people. He treated kids really well. When ETSU’s funds were low, three or four boys who didn’t have scholarships ate their meals at his home.

“He’d ask a walk-on to stay one year and if that kid showed any promise he got a scholarship before ETSU signed a recruit.’’

Fulkerson was a member of D-B’s 1945 state championship basketball team and also the mythical state champion football squad. He played for Southern Mississippi and signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Cecil Puckett, a teammate and longtime friend, described Fulkerson as “a real deserving person who was fun to be around.’’

Few students drove their own cars in those days. Fulkerson had an A-model and Puckett, the Indians’ quarterback in football and center in basketball, rode to school with him.

“Jack was a tackle on the football team. He weighed more than 200 pounds, which was big for a player back then,’’ Puckett said. “He played center on the basketball team and was a strong rebounder.’’

• • •

The son of Kingsport businessman Allyn Hood is a highly recruited college football prospect.

Daniel Hood, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound Knox Catholic lineman, has 20 Division I scholarship offers, with several Southeastern Conference schools among the suitors.

He helped lead 3A Knox Catholic (15-0) to its first state championship in December. In his three years on the varsity, the program’s win-loss record was 38-2.

Hood, listed recently on three all-state teams, has a 3.85 grade point average and scored 28 on his ACT. He saw action at tight end, defensive end and as an interior lineman.

The elder Hood was a finalist in the National Toughman Championship at Detroit in the early 1980s.

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