Josh Tompkins pulled out his cell phone back in the winter and began crafting a heartfelt text message.
The recipient was Paul Bishop and Tompkins wanted to let the man who had been his baseball coach at Pound High School from 1996-99 know what a positive influence he had been on him and how those impactful life lessons he instilled many years ago still resonated.
Tompkins has saved the reply.
Thanks T...the old ball coach really appreciates your kind words. I became a teacher/coach to try and give back because of the influence my coaches had on me...your words and obviously your actions as a loving husband and father only justify that at least I did that for someone...your job now is to pay it forward and do the same...which I am sure you already do.
It was a classy reply from a class act.
Bishop died on Feb. 21 at his home in North Carolina at the age of 56 and his death was especially devastating for those who called him Coach during his tenure leading the Wildcats on the diamond from 1992-2003.
Bishop graduated from Drewry Mason High School in Henry County, Virginia, and was a member of Radford University’s first NCAA Division I baseball team in 1985. As a pitcher he had one of the four wins the Highlanders claimed that season.
He was an assistant coach at Chatham High School when the Cavaliers won the VHSL Group A state championship in 1987.
Bishop took over as Pound’s head coach in the spring of 1992, becoming the program’s third head coach in three years and the Wildcats were a middling club in the ultra-competitive Lonesome Pine District at the time.
It didn’t take long for his pupils to realize this guy meant business.
“We lost a game at Coeburn about midway through the year [in ‘92],” said Jeremy “J.W.” Salyers, a sophomore on that squad. “It was a close game, but we could not hit that day. We got back to the fieldhouse and Coach B beat the daylights out of a stool with a fungo bat. I don’t think we said a word for a week around him. That was the only time I saw him get unnerved. He was always calm and collected and his stool-beating episode showed us that he was invested in what we were ultimately trying to accomplish. Complete energy and enthusiasm from day one.”
In the first season under Bishop’s watch, Pound went 15-7, won the LPD regular-season title, earned a regional tournament bid for the first time since 1972, finished as Region D runner-up and reached the VHSL Group A state tournament. Anthony Hollyfield was the ace, the Wildcats were tough and a new standard was set.
“Coach B made being a baseball player at Pound High School a big deal,” said Greg Mullins, a 1996 graduate. “We had nice uniforms, jackets, t-shirts. There were years we would have 50 kids trying out for JV and varsity baseball at Pound. Those were outstanding numbers at that time and still would be today at a school of that size. However, if you made the team, you knew you were going to work hard and we would always have a chance at success because of that.”
Pound made the state tournament in 1994 as well, losing to Glenvar in a hard-fought quarterfinal game in Salem.
The 1996 squad posted a 1-0 victory over eventual VHSL Group AA state champion Virginia High as Brett Maggard pitched a gem.
“He made his players better as the season progressed,” said Eddie Boles, an assistant coach on Bishop’s staff for many years. “He would run certain drills every practice – baserunning, bunt coverages, bunting, pitchers fielding their position, going over signs. He knew these were the little plays that could win or lose you a ballgame. He was really big on drills and repetition.”
He was also big on conditioning and he practiced what he preached.
Bishop was a regular on the distance-running scene in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. He won a 10K in Tazewell, Virginia, in 2003 not long after stepping down as Pound’s coach.
Maggard said the Pound players used to joke among themselves they ran baseball and played track.
“There were days that we would not even touch a glove, bat or ball at practice,” Mullins said. “You were going to be in great shape if you played baseball at Pound under Coach B. We always ran the hill behind the football bleachers, almost a daily occurrence. However, there was one day I remember in particular.
“We had left the bus or the locker room a mess and Coach B wasn’t pleased. He took us down to the hill in front of Pound High School where the stop sign is and we ran until he got tired as he liked to say. That was a long practice, but we didn’t leave anymore messes.”
Being on time was another must for Bishop as a trio of players found out in the spring of 2002.
“We were leaving to play Gate City at Hunter Wright Stadium in Kingsport, when three of our best young players – all starters – were still down in the clubhouse,” said Joe Mitchell, a senior pitcher that season. “You always hear stories of coaches threatening to leave players behind if they’re not on time, right? Well, this actually happened. When he noticed they weren’t there, he told the bus driver to go on. The guys did eventually see the bus driving away and managed to run up and catch it, but Coach Bishop did not play them that night against one of the best teams in the district. That’s how serious he was.”
Yet, Bishop wasn’t some unrelenting taskmaster.
He was demanding, but fair.
His players respected him for that.
“If you can imagine someone both strongly committed to doing things the right way and yet also willing to embrace the humor of a situation, that was him,” Mitchell said. “I can still see him laughing to this day.”
Bishop did indeed enjoy having some fun.
“Coach B required us to always wear a cup at practice,” said Zack Moore, a 1999 graduate. “He would always come around during stretches with his fungo to check if we had it on by using that fungo bat of his. He made us all make sure we never took a day off from wearing the cup.”
He had a way with words too.
“Mama got Tide!” he’d yell when a player didn’t get their uniform duty when they should’ve slid into a base or dove for a groundball or flyball.
“Let’s get the juices jingling,” he’d always say before his players did that aforementioned rigorous conditioning.
“Swing hard in case you hit it,” was another phrase his ex-players recall.
“Coach Bishop had an uncanny gift for giving people nicknames,” Tompkins said. “He would give each of his players a nickname at the beginning of each year and would put that name on our lockers. Many of those nicknames have stuck with his old players many, many years later.”
Bishop knew how to motivate a player whether it was with a kick in the butt, a pat on the back or a glare.
“The most memorable story I have of Coach B was a sunny afternoon at the old Clintwood High School in 1994,” Salyers said. “I was on the mound that day and I struggled in the first inning badly. I had walked three or four hitters to start the game and couldn’t find the strike zone.
“The skinny, 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10 Coach Bishop called time and slowly walked out and stood at the base of the mound. I stayed on top of the mound looking down at him. He stared a hole in me and didn’t say a word. It seemed like he stayed there for 10 minutes staring at me. After a while he simply said, ‘Enough said?’ I went on to finish the game and we won pretty easily.”
Bishop was respected by those he competed against as Pound was no pushover.
“Two things stood out about him and his teams,” said David Wyrick, who has been a head baseball coach at St. Paul, J.J. Kelly and Union. “They were always very fundamentally sound and if you beat Coach B or he beat you, he was always the same very humble guy after the game.”
Bishop was a popular history teacher at Pound who was an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and NASCAR.
Many of his former players chose teaching and coaching and refer to him as the primary reason.
“The Pound community found a gem when they hired Coach B,” Boles said. “He knew the game of baseball inside and out, plus he was an even better person.”
Bishop taught and coached at Southern Alamance High School in North Carolina after departing Southwest Virginia.
Pound consolidated with J.J. Kelly to form Wise County Central in the fall of 2011, but Bishop certainly left a lasting legacy at his old stomping grounds.
“With all due respect to every other coach I ever played for, or have been around, he was the best,” said Andrew Shortt, a 2000 Pound graduate. “Things like that are sometimes too easy to say in times like this with his untimely passing, but that has always been something I’ve said and I believed to be true.
“He was a great coach, man and leader in our community for many years and we were very lucky to have him. In one of the great ironies of my life I was actually standing in the old Pound High School parking lot when I learned of his death. He meant so much to me, my friends and our community.”
Now, for a look at high school baseball moments which occurred this week in history:
May 16, 1950
Grady Clark and Bob Jordan each had two hits in Virginia High’s 9-5 victory over Chilhowie. … A 10-run sixth inning highlighted Tennessee High’s 13-5 triumph over Blountville. David Lindamood, Jimmy Weddle and Allen Frith each had two hits in the win. … Saltville topped Tazewell, 7-4, as Arlen “Flip” Taylor had two hits and two RBIs.
May 17, 1960
Bill Greene struck out 15 of the 21 batters he faced in pitching a perfect game as Tennessee High took an 8-0 win over Bluff City. Whitey Pullen, Stanley Kitzmiller and Dean Thomas each had two hits for the Vikings. … John Battle suffered its first loss of the season, a 6-2 setback to Patrick Henry. … A two-run homer by Dallas Church in the sixth inning was the key blow in Marion’s 7-4 victory over Virginia High.
May 13, 1974
Mike Jenkins pitched a two-hit shutout and Steve Marsee had three hits in Pennington’s 9-0 pounding of Rye Cove. … Council pitcher Kenny Bostic racked up a combined 20 strikeouts on the day as the Cobras split a doubleheader with Honaker. Bostic had 11 Ks in the opener, a 9-2 win, while striking out nine in the second game, a 2-1 loss. … Danny Mumpower went 3-for-3 in John Battle’s 7-4 victory over Gate City in the Southwest District tournament.
May 12, 1982
Brian Stanley spun a one-hit shutout and Greg Coleman drove in three runs as Haysi stomped St. Paul, 14-0, in the finals of the Black Diamond District tournament. … Barry Miller’s home run was among the many highlights of Honaker’s 16-3 shellacking of Saltville. … Tommy Baldridge and George Taylor had two-run singles during a six-run sixth inning as Rich Valley rolled to an 11-4 triumph over Chilhowie.
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