They Called Him ‘Papa’


Sam Bell coached Latoya Wright at Harnett Central High School, bringing her to the Junior Olympics. Wright worked as an assistant for the Trojans’ track program, and says she would do anything for her former coach.

“Coach Bell is more than a track coach to me,” Wright said. “It’s not unwarranted to do something for somebody who you know would do anything for you.”

She said Bell helped her at Central and checked on her while she was in college at North Carolina A&T.

The Trojans’ 2009 state-champion shot-putter referred to Bell as a “father figure,” saying some of her teammates called him “Papa.”

Bell mixed camaraderie with leadership, Wright said. He would help out his athletes, giving them rides to practice and meets, but he would not tolerate unexcused absences from practice.

“There was no not going to practice and then going to meets,” Wright said, “He was willing to lose conference meets to (set a precedent) of responsibility.”

A natural athlete, after Wright won the conference, Bell made her work even harder at a nonconference invitational. Her success came with coach Bell “breaking” her, then making her better. “He taught me that just because you think you’re good, it doesn’t mean you’re the best,” she said.

Said Wright, “Coach Bell is a great guy. I know if all of us had listened to him, we would all be better off.”


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