Nicole Hudson first enrolled at Harnett Central in the middle of her freshman year. Being the new kid in school and trying to “navigate,” and find her way, she turned to athletics.
She had played basketball most of her life, and had been an eighth-grade high jumper at Martin Middle School in Raleigh.
“I told coach Bell I was a high jumper,” Hudson said. Bell gave her a tour of the facilities, making their way to the jump pits.
The pits were in such disrepair — cracking, with grass growing in them — that she turned to him, and said, “I can’t jump in this. I need a real pit.”
Bell told Hudson that the Trojans’ school high-jump record was 4-feet-7-inches and if she could beat that, he would raise the money to install a new pit.
That year, while training at her first meet, she jumped 4-feet-8-inches. “I was like ‘OK.” And he was like, ‘We’re on it.’” Next year, Harnett Central had a brand new jumping pit.
Said Hudson, “He set a goal and set a standard. That stayed with me for life.”
She estimated the cost of a new pit to be between $6,000 to $7,000. “He told me, ‘This is the mark. If you do this, we’ll do this,’” she said. “For him to invest that type of money in equipment for an athlete who’s a freshman ... it showed commitment to the program and for me as an athlete to be the best I can be.”
Hudson, who now coaches track for the Tar Heels of UNC Chapel Hill, said Bell never “sugar coated” his advice. She said coaches around the state — high school and collegiate — recognize the work of Sam Bell.
She tries to mimic his coaching style by having a positive outlook, injecting humor and never taking herself too seriously. She admired his attention to detail, and his commitment to his athletes.
“Sometimes when we came back from track meets parents were running late. He would never leave,” Hudson said. “That’s what you do. You wait. You don’t leave a child. I wait.”
She loves her occupation, teaching young athletes maturity and responsibility, and called the relationship between coach and athlete, “humbling,” saying, “They will run through fire for you.”
“When I got the job at UNC, (Bell) called and was so excited for me,” she said. “When one of our athletes won a national championship, he was the first person I called.”
No matter how much she accomplished, these days, Hudson keeps Bell close, saying “The best thing a successful person can do, is keep in touch with the people who were there before they were successful.” She said she still surrounds herself with people like her high school coach.
“I am unapologetically thankful for the interaction he had in my life,” Hudson said. “Part of being a great educator and coach is, you get to live forever through the lives of the people you touch. ... This man changed my life.”