Robert George Light, known to many as "Coach Bob Light", age 88, of Horseshoe Drive, Boone, passed away Monday morning, May 11, 2015, at Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care in Lenoir.
Bob was born April 27, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri, a son of the late Walter Marion Light and Joy George Light. He was a Member of the First Presbyterian Church of Boone.
Light served a total of 29 years as a head coach at Appalachian State, first leading the Mountaineers’ men’s basketball program for 15 seasons (1957-72), followed by 14 seasons at the helm of the school’s men’s tennis program (1974-88). He remains the winningest coach in school history for both sports (211 wins in basketball, 255 in tennis).
“Unfortunately, in my short time here at Appalachian State, I never had the privilege of meeting Coach Light personally,” Appalachian State director of athletics Doug Gillin said. “However, I certainly know that Coach Light is an Appalachian legend and that he will be missed greatly by our campus and athletics communities. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and all of the student-athletes that he meant so much to.”
In addition to his 211 wins as men’s basketball coach, he also holds program records for seasons (15), games (389) and conference victories (94) at Appalachian State and his .542 winning percentage (211-178) ranks fourth in school history among coaches that served for at least three seasons, behind only Buzz Peterson (.665 - 1996-2000, 2009-10), Flucie Stewart (.641 - 1935-40, 1946-47) and Bobby Cremins (.588 - 1975-81).
The Mountaineers compiled 11 winning seasons in Light’s 15 seasons at the helm, including a 21-8 campaign in 1966-67 that saw Appalachian win the Carolinas Conference championship, its first conference title in 17 years. The Mountaineers routed Guilford, 91-67, in the 1967 Carolinas Conference championship game and beat Lynchburg, 100-84, in the opening round of the NAIA district playoffs. In all, Light guided Appalachian to four district playoff appearances.
A two-time Carolinas Conference and NAIA District Coach of the Year (1964 and 1967), Light mentored eight all-conference and five all-district performers (who earned the respective honors a total of 17 and six times). His teams also claimed seven North State/Carolinas Conference sportsmanship awards in 15 seasons.
“In my brief time here at Appalachian State, I had the great privilege to get to know Coach Light and his wife, Pat,” Appalachian State men’s basketball head coach Jim Fox said. “He was always very supportive of me and willing to help the program in any way. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
After stepping down as men’s basketball head coach in 1972, Light took over as Appalachian State’s men’s tennis coach in 1974 and led the Mountaineers to a gaudy 255-120 overall record in 14 seasons. In addition to his school-record 255 wins, he is also atop Appalachian’s men’s tennis lists for winning percentage (.680) and matches coached (375). He led the Mountaineers to Southern Conference championships in 1974 and ‘75 and was named the SoCon Coach of the Year in 1978 and 1981.
“I’ve known Coach Light and his family for over 30 years and am deeply saddened to hear about his passing,” Appalachian State men’s tennis head coach Bob Lake said. “Coach Light was always a great help to me in my career. He was a legend at Appalachian State and will be deeply missed by both the App State family and the tennis community as a whole.”
In recognition of his achievements in both sports, Light was inducted to the Appalachian State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991. The campus tennis courts on Rivers Street have bore his name since 2004 and an endowed scholarship — the Coach Bob Light Endowment for Basketball Scholarships — was established in his honor in 2013.
Other achievements include induction into Hall of Fame at Washington University in St. Louis in 1996. At that school he was a two-sport athlete. He was named Washington U's Athlete of the year in 1949-50. At time of graduation he ranked first in scoring with 739 points. Also the Bears top tennis player, he boasted a 54-2 singles record while helping the Bears win a school record 38 straight matches during his tenure. He was also Saint Louis Mens City Champion in 1949 and 1950.
His biggest tournament title might have been capturing the Florida State Open Doubles Title in 1950. Before there was the current ATP World Tour, this tournament was a circuit event for the top players in the country. He also had wins over notable players of that era including Buth Buchholz and Hal Surface, a former Davis Cup player and other national champions.
He was also inducted into the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997. His many achievements in North Carolina are numerous. As a player he captured the 1965 NC Men's State Doubles Title, and in 1972 won the NC State Senior Doubles Championship, as well as the North Carolina State 70 and over division in 1997.
In 1963 he formed the Boone Junior Tennis Team which led to the North Carolina Western Jr. Tennis League. The most famous player to come out of this league might be Tim Wilkison who was a quarter finalist at the US Open and captured several ATP World Tour events. Many of the players who started in the league from Boone went onto gain college scholarships in including Mike Owen, Earnet Alonso, Greg Robison and others.
In 1964 he helped form the Horn in the West tournament and in 1966, which was renamed the Mountaineer Open where he was either director or co-director for over 30 years with another NC Hall of Famer, Jim Jones. As a top spot on the Southern Junior swing, past notable players who enjoyed success in college and on the ATP World Tour who played this event were Keith Richardson, John Sadri, Pender Murphy, John Lucas, Andy Andrews, Matt McDonald and others.
As a mentor to young men who also attended Appalachian State University just a few who went on to achieve national prominence in tennis, include Ronnie Smarr, who finished his career at Rice University as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, J.W. Isenhour who coached NC State to several ACC titles, Jim Boykin who won titles at UNC Charlotte and National titles at Anderson College, and Randy Bernard, who was Georgia and SC teaching pro of the year.
Many of his players he coached at Appalachian State have had continued success on the tennis court after graduation including Keith Richardson, ATP ranking #70, Laneal Vaughn, numerous National Titles, and title holder of pro circuit events, John Geraghty NCAA All-America, Davis Babb, past North Carolina State Champion, Daniel Weant, former North Carolina State Champion, Bob Allsbrook, National Gold Ball winner and Bobby Light former Georgia State Champion.
He also served on various committees as President or chairman including the North Carolina Tennis Association, chairman of the NC ranking committee, President of the North Carolina Association of Tennis Professionals, Secretary of the Southern Conference Coaches Association, and NCAA Region Tennis Committee. And in 1975 wrote a script for BOB LIGHT on TENNIS and videos were directed by John Wray who directed the Ed Sullivan Show for 13 years. These videos were for educational purposes and can still be viewed at the Appalachian State library. He also co-authored a text book with Bill Steinbrecher that text parallels the TV tapes that were adapted by the Physical Education Department at App State.
Other accolades are inclusion into the International Who's Who of tennis in 1984, and in 1994 a book entitled Appalachian Faculty Emerti was dedicated in Bob Light's honor. Also in 1994 he received a meritorious service for Appalachian State basketball. After his stint as the winningest coach in App State history he went on to be the color man for local radio for the basketball network for several years, and help mentor a young Bobby Cremins, who he stayed in touch with until the final days of his passing.
Bob is survived by his wife, Pat Parker Light of the home; four sons, Bobby Light and companion Joyce of Atlanta, Georgia; Tommy Light, Wally Light and wife Shirly, and Willy Light, all of Boone; one grandson, Logan Light of Boone; and one brother, Walter Light, of Ocala, Florida.
In addition to his parents, he is preceded in death by a sister, Marilyn Reed.
NC Tennis Hall of Fame member Bob Light passes away