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Longtime local starter Richard 'Doc' Hale is dead at age 80

Jun. 30, 2012 @ 11:30 PM

HUNTINGTON -- A familiar face will be missing Sept. 1 when cross country runners step to the line for the start of the GEICO Classic at Cabell Midland High School.

Runners, coaches and spectators won't see or hear Richard "Doc" Hale fire his pistol to start the various races. Hale, 80, died Thursday in Knoxville, Tenn. The longtime starter for track and cross country meets on local, regional and national levels was scheduled to carry out his familiar assignment at the AAU Area 5 qualifier at Tom Black Track at the University of Tennessee.

Chris Parsons, track and cross country coach at Cabell Midland, worked closely with Hale. They were together for the final time last weekend for the Hershey West Virginia state meet at Cabell Midland's Chris Parsons Track.

"It was a big shock," Parsons said when he got the news. "The kids all knew him. One thing they respected most about him was he was genuine. The age group didn't matter. From elementary on up. He was in it for the kids. He would do anything possible for them."

Parsons, along with other meet directors, said it won't be easy asking or seeing someone else serve as meet starter.

"It'll never be the same without him," Parsons said. "He's a fixture in track."

Hale, a retired Ashland Oil Division manager, began his career as a starter in 1965 in Picayune, Miss.

Pat Riley, former Barboursville Middle School coach who now travels to time road races, also crossed paths with Hale many times during cross county and track seasons.

"The track and field family has lost a legend," Riley said Friday in an interview from Buckhannon, W.Va., where he timed the Line of Duty 5K. "I'm floored. It's devastating, horrible."

Riley said Hale's presence at the Hershey meet was special. "He was the last person (there) to be at the first one (Hershey meet)," Riley said.

Over his career, Hale worked meets that are conducted by four different associations -- the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the NCAA, USA Track and Field and the National Federation. He attended officiating clinics each winter.

Another official who will miss Hale is Rhonda Sizemore of Ashland. She got to know him while her children competed at Fairview High School where she works the meets.

"I can't imagine the year starting without him," Sizemore said. "There's a lot of sad people out there. He had great respect from the people in his profession. He was top of the line in everything and a good teacher, too."

Fairview will have its cross country invitational on Sept. 8.

"We did all we could to get him to do our meets," Sizemore said. "His reach goes way out there. He was a fine, fine man."

See Hale's obituary on Page 2C.