BREMEN, Ala. – The Kudzu Hills Invitational is always a special morning at Cold Springs High School, but this year’s event will truly stand out among the rest. Before the races began Saturday morning, a special presentation was made for former Eagles Cross Country Coach Claborn Campbell. Campbell designed the Kudzu Hills course at Cold Springs, and it has become one of the biggest spots on the state cross country circuit. Now, his name will be forever associated with the race as a sign dedicating the course in his honor was unveiled Saturday morning.
Campbell graduated from Cold Springs in 1971 and returned to his alma mater as the track and cross-country coach in 1990. In his time as cross-country coach, the girls collected 12 county championships, three sectional titles and a state championship while the boys racked up 14 county championships, nine sectional crowns and two state titles. Campbell was inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and was a member of this year’s Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame class that was inducted in March.
The ceremony was a surprise for Campbell and after the presentation had concluded and he got the first race underway, Campbell reflected on the inception of the course and the unofficial beginning of Cold Springs’ dominance as a cross-country program.
“It’s just an honor. 16 years ago, we may have had 250 runners, and this is not the biggest group we’ve had this year, I think we’re going to get the sectional back next year, but at one time we had about 50 teams and 1,200-1,300 runners. This is super for a school our size and I’ll never forget the first race we had,” Campbell smiled. “Coach (William) Calvert, who was the principal here said, ‘We’ve got enough land to have a cross country race’ and the next Monday when I came to school, he said ‘Coach we’ve got it.’ I asked him what he meant, and he said we got the sectional. I said ‘We don’t even have a course’ so he told me I better get to marking one off. So, I went home and put on the old blue jeans and boots and started walking through that kudzu over there and I was walking through tying ribbons and took a bush hog and mowed it but it took several months to get it the right distance.”
Campbell has put his heart and soul into the program and the course but was still surprised by the honor and recognition he received Saturday, giving all the credit to his faith and thanking God for giving him what he considers a very blessed life.
“This has just been flabbergasting to me. God’s been good to me, that’s all I can tell you,” Campbell said. “I depend on him and I just feel like he’s blessed me in so many ways that I can’t express it. It’s just a super day.”
Current Eagles Cross Country Coach Casey Howell has been looking forward to Saturday morning for a while and feels honored to know Campbell as well as he does. One of the things he preaches to his runners is honoring the legacy of what came before them and no one embodies that more for the program than Coach Campbell.
“The first year I ever coached, the first person that reached out to me was Coach Campbell and that’s just the type of person he is. You can tell the heart he has for kids, the heart he had for teaching, coaching, the heart he has for God and this program is what it is because of the direction and the foundation he left,” Howell said. “I tell our guys all the time that we just want to honor the people for us and the people after us. We talk about Coach Campbell and all the runners that came before and the foundation and legacy they have laid and all we can try to do is leave it a little bit better than we found it. He’s a great man, great friend, great Christian, great father, great husband and I’m just so grateful that I get to call him my friend.”
Campbell was emotional, surrounded by friends and family when his name was unveiled over the course but when he turned to look at the Cold Springs teams behind him, he only had two words for them, ‘Go win’.
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