Ross Dunton dies at 81; selfless masters coach had T&F newsletter

Ross Dunton ran 800 meters at 2000 Eugene nationals.

Ross Dunton, who coached masters athletes via email and published a daily T&F newsletter for years, died Friday morning at home after a long battle with Parkinson’s, reports his son, Ross Dunton II. He was 81. “I know he loved running and had been a runner all his life,” the younger Ross wrote me. “His website www.coachr.org helped many athletes.” I once reported that Coach Ross had Alzheimer’s, but his son informs me: “I believe dad was told or thought he had Alzheimer’s but his new doctor just six weeks ago said he did not. Mild memory loss at best due to old age. 
Parkinson’s overtook him to the point he was bedridden since March but cussing me out because I moved him wrong just a few days ago.” Cantankerous he was, and he fought with his USATF association in Tennessee (after moving in 1998 to Sevierville from Southern California). But he was selfless in his masters career, putting on meets, doing World Masters Athletics seasonal rankings unpaid for two years (despite omissions) and posting dozens of articles on technique, training and injury rehab (even without permission of the authors). His funeral is Dec 21. (Details below.)

Ross Dunton II provided this old clip of his track star dad.

Ross Dunton II provided this old clip of his track star dad.


Coach Ross was born July 15, 1932, in Woodstock, Ohio, says his son, who moved to eastern Tennessee four months ago to care for his dad.

“He [had] been home since a week before I got here,” son Ross says. “He asked me to make sure the track and field community was notified.”

Ross Dunton II says visitation will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, with services at 11 at Rawlings Funeral Home, 212 Court Ave., Sevierville, Tennessee.

Coach Ross competed for the University of Cincinnati, and his son says he has a school newspaper clipping that “talks about him being the fastest runner.”

He was an engineer and salesman mainly in the aerospace field until he retired in 1998 to Sevierville from Placentia, California, says his son, who has been working as a part-time pilot for Skydive East Tennessee “as I wanted as much time as possible to be with dad.”

Called “Coach R” by his athletes, he was a Level 2 USATF-certified coach who took his first coaching classes from The Athletics Congress (a USATF precursor) in 1993. He was an active high school coach before focusing on masters.

I met him in the late 1990s, when he was operating the phototimer at a SoCal masters meet. I asked him to send me results via email, and he refused, saying: “Oh, I know all about the Internet,” suggesting that it was some porn-filled evil domain. He’d later embrace the Web.

Coach Ross is survived by his wife, Carol; brother, Daniel; sister-in-law Irene; children Debra Wiedmeyer and Ross II; grandchildren Christopher and Stephanie; and great-grandchildren Zachary, Braden, Logan, Mason, Buddy, Darrell and Richard.

Coach Ross once noted his bona fides while explaining his posting of copyrighted material:

If you will bear with me for a couple of minutes, I would like to give you some background information on my coaching education and my theories on coaching.

My formal coaching education started with free coaching clinics sponsored by the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) and the AAFLA (Amateur Athletic Foundation of LA). The AAFLA was founded with some of the profits from the ’84 LA Olympics.

It was through attendance at these clinics that I qualified for the Level I Coaching Certification, which I received from TAC in 1993.

One of the first things that I learned at an AAF/CIF clinic was the BB&S theory of coaching. It works and I still subscribe to it — when it comes to coaching information, Beg, Borrow and Steal anything and everything that you can. Another good theory from one of those clinics is KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. This also works.

The athlete makes the coach. The coach does not make the athlete. However, a coach who is not well educated in all phases of the sport is unfair to the athlete. I believe that the best athlete who has worked the hardest should win, not the athlete who happens to have the best educated coach.

There are hundreds if not thousands of coaches around this country and the world who would have liked to have attended the USATF Level II coaching school in St. Paul this past July but just did not have the money to do it.

That is why I wanted to share what I learned at the school with them and with the thousands of masters athletes who do not have access to a coach.

Several years ago, M65 runner J.A. Abels of the Omaha suburb of Papillion, praised Coach Ross in a note to me:

I do not believe I could have accomplished what I have in masters racing without Coach Dunton’s advice. He really knows track and field. He has great patience and understands the athlete as well as what is required to perform well in the track and field events. I think Coach Ross Dunton is a great coach! …

In the Fall of 2006, a fellow athlete told me about this coach in Tennessee he sometimes used, Coach Ross Dunton, who would coach and help athletes via email or phone. S I contacted Coach Dunton and asked to be placed on his email list to receive both the track and field news and the numerous coaching articles. I found his emails and articles fascinating and very useful. I was starved for this kind of hard -to-find, quality information. Up to this point I had only read Coach Dunton’s articles, I did not use him as a personal coach.

Unfortunately by May of 2007, two years after I started running, I had pulled and strained over 22 muscles and was about to quit track. I was so discouraged. As a last resort, I called Coach Dunton and asked him if he would coach me in person if I came down to Tennessee. He graciously said he would. I had qualified to run the 800 in the Senior Olympics in Louisville that July, but I had pulled a hamstring in late May, only six weeks before the Senior Olympics. Just prior to that pull, the fastest 800 times I had run was a couple of 2:40s. I just could not break 2:40!

In early June 2007, exactly four weeks before the Senior Olympics, I flew down to Tennessee from Nebraska. Coach Dunton met me at a local high school track where he videotaped and watched me run. … I’m sure Coach Clyde Hart of Baylor didn’t get on the track and demonstrate things to Michael Johnson or Jeremy Wariner. Certainly phone and email coaching is not the same as personal observation of an athlete at the track, but Coach Dunton is still able to make suggestions on improving my workouts.

You only get experience by living it; you can’t buy it. Coach Dunton has run it, coached it and lived it. To me that has great value. I really listen and value what Coach Dunton has to say to me.

I hope this isn’t too much information. I think a lot of Coach Dunton and I greatly appreciate how much he has helped me both with the physical as well as the mental part of running the 400 and the 800. In my opinion, Coach Dunton should get some kind of an award or recognition for his promotion of track and field. He really has a heart for promoting track and field and helping the track and field athlete.

In 2007, Canadian masters sprinter and blogger Jimson Lee learned that Coach Ross was planning to shut down his site due to illness and offered to help.

I wrote at the time:

Ross accepted Jimson’s generous invitation to host — for free — Ross’ training and technique site. Jimson writes: “I organized the front page to list ALL the articles, added a few more, then added the Search functionality to all the pages. I started adding ‘related posts’ at the bottom of each page, so the user can find similar pages.”

Coach Ross competed in several masters nationals, and his last races appear to have been in 2011 — at Berea nationals.

In 2010, Ross wrote me:

I still run and compete. My daily newsletter goes out to 347 T&F athletes and coaches. Each spring about 20 more find me and want the newsletter. As I sit here typing this, I look out the window in front of me and see nothing but green fields and the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I train five or six days each week. I have a treadmill on the bottom floor of our three-story home. I run on the road, I run on the local HS track and on the indoor track at the Pigeon Forge Community Center that also has a very well equipped weight room.

To become a U.S. federal agent, you have to pass this physical test: leg lift, sit-ups, push-ups, run a 300 and a mile and a half. Each year I get at least two requests on how to run the two timed races. This year one guy said that he had failed it three times and hoped that I could held him pass it this time. I am also a T&F “expert” on ALLEXPERTS so I get a lot of questions via that.

I spend at least two hours on the newsletters each day. It only takes me about 10 minutes to add another page to my web. When you go to my web: www.coachr880.com you will see articles that have been in previous newsletters. Before I launched the (site), I had to email that information to someone when they asked about a specific event. It is easier for both of us with the Web.

I am a USATF Level II certified coach in the jumps and sprints/hurdles. I attended a throws clinic. In about 1997, I had a column in National Masters News. That started floating info about me and coaching around. About 10 years ago, I had three or four back-and-forths with a female sprinter who wanted information. One day I received a nice thank-you card from her with a check for $100.00 in it. That was when I decided to do the newsletters.

For the first few years they were hard copy by regular mail. The lady went to Miami University (Ohio) before colored women could run track. She practiced with the men and was an alternate in 4X100 relay team in the ’64 Olympics. She has placed in the top three in a lot of masters championships.

We moved here in ’98 and I could not join the USATF Tennessee Association direct. I had to contact Indianapolis. It took me a couple of years to find out that I was not the right color. After a lot of complaining to Indianapolis, they stepped in and reorganized the association. At that meeting, I was elected the masters chair. In a couple of years, I also became the VP. I did not keep track of the amount, but I spent at least $5,000 buying the equipment to host T&F meets. I had an electronic timing system and I took the throws equipment (shot, discus, jav) with me to the meets. I held meets in Nashville and Memphis. 2008 was the last year that I did that. I donated the equipment to the local schools.

Coach Ross concluded: “There are no ads on my (site). I do not charge for anything that I do. I do what I do for the good of the sport.”

Our deepest condolences to his family. Coach Ross made a difference in many lives.

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December 14, 2013

10 Responses

  1. Jimson Lee - December 14, 2013

    CoachR was part of my inspiration to start my own site back in 2007. He will be missed.

  2. Ken Stone - December 14, 2013

    Ross also did research on masters track via a 2001 survey: http://www.masterstrack.com/photos/news2002/dunton.html

  3. Mike Walker - December 14, 2013

    I got to know Ross when he put on meets in Tennessee and the program has not been the same since his health forced him to step down. He was a great person and will be missed by everyone who knew him.

  4. Eleanor Gipson - December 14, 2013

    Ross was a great teacher, coach and supporter of the sport. If he liked you, you knew it and there was no limit to how he would try to help. His spot will be empty for a long time.

  5. Peter Taylor - December 14, 2013

    Agree completely with Eleanor. In truth, Ross was in many ways old-fashioned, even as he kept up with modern theories of track and field (T&F). He did things because he thought they would be beneficial to others, and he loved T&F without limit. If it cost him money, so be it.

    He even competed beyond the point at which he could do much of anything on the track. Why? He was in love.

  6. Bob Marchetti - December 14, 2013

    He was a very generous man. Shortly after I began master’s track, I emailed Coach R frequently with questions which he promptly and thoroughly answered. As Pete said, he loved track and loved helping others who also loved the sport.

  7. Courtland Gray - December 14, 2013

    My condolences to Ross’ family. I considered him a real friend. He gave me some good workouts 15 years ago when I was clueless about what a masters runner could and should do. He certainly expanded my understanding of what we could do. He really was a real track guy.I’ll miss him.

  8. Robert Husic - December 15, 2013

    I was a Fraternity Brother and Track team mate of Ross at the University of Cincinnati in the early 50′s.
    I used to perpetuate his Newsletters to over 100 members and ex-members of the Hawaii Masters Track Club. We miss the Newsletters and were sorry to hear of his death. Robert Husic

  9. Don Cheek - December 16, 2013

    I join in my condolences to the Dunton family–Ross and I go way back to the days of Corona Del Mar Track Club–he was a special track personality and Peter says it best about his passion about track & field—he was in love.

  10. Weia Reinboud - December 17, 2013

    Ross always was very helpful! I only knew him by mail.

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