Chris Cozort – Class of 1988
Health and Physical Education Teacher, Coach, Draughn High School
High school athletics are such an important part of our culture, and the lessons learned on the field or court can last a lifetime. Being a coach is both a calling and a responsibility, and Chris Cozort definitely meets the challenges.
Chris has worked as a Health and Physical Education teacher and coach for almost 30 years, the last 14 at Draughn High School, where he currently serves as head coach for softball and assistant coach for football, women’s basketball, and women’s tennis. Chris started the baseball program when Draughn first opened its doors in the fall of 2008 and was head baseball coach until 2016 and head women’s tennis coach from 2008 until 2022. “Since I am nearing retirement, I felt it was time to turn over some of these sports to younger coaches who can continue the legacy, but I am still constantly busy coaching all year long.”
Chris began his coaching career at Heritage Middle School, where he taught for two years before moving to East Burke High. “I worked as assistant baseball coach with Doug Rhoney at East Burke for two years before becoming head coach and also helped Brian Jillings coach soccer for 8 years.”
The rewards of the job are certainly worth the effort. “I really enjoy the interaction with students / athletes and with the faculty and other coaches, and I appreciate the interaction with the members of the community. Teaching and coaching at Draughn is very different from coaching at East Burke when it was a much larger school. The rivalry between the local schools reminds me of my junior high days when our closest opponent was in the neighboring town. At the larger schools, we had to travel quite a distance, but now we have more local schools to compete against. The great success of the 2022 football team has made our community extra proud and has helped bring back that hometown spirit.
“I am grateful that I was able to start the baseball program at Draughn. When the school first opened in 2008, it was a bad time economically, and financial support was hard to come by. All our baseball team had to work with was two chain-link dugouts without a top. But the players, coaches, parents, and community members came together and worked hard to raise money for the program. We now have two covered dugouts, a heated dressing room, a storage room, and more – all built with community donations. The small-town atmosphere really makes a difference.
“Another difference between the athletic programs at a large 4A school and a smaller 1A or 2A school centers around the number of athletes, coaches, and sports. At a larger school with more students, athletes can specialize in one sport, but at a smaller school, in order to maintain all of the teams, students usually participate in multiple sports. Coaches also must coach three or more sports during various times of the year. Even though the number of people is smaller, the jobs that need to be done remain the same. Multi-sport athletes work hard, and the coaches work hard to give the students a great experience and help them win and move to the next level of success.”
Chris had many fine mentors during his student athlete days. “I am very proud to have been coached by three Hall of Fame athletes. Ron Hastings, who was my baseball coach and who also hired me, was a Hall of Fame baseball player at East Carolina University. Ron Swink, assistant coach in American Legion baseball, was a well-deserved member of the American Legion Hall of Fame and the Burke County Hall of Fame. My baseball coach at Limestone College was Gaylord Perry, who was a Major League Hall of Famer. I am proud to have been a member of his first baseball team at Limestone, and I was honored to serve as a pall bearer at his funeral in December of 2022.
“While a student at East Burke, I played both baseball and football. I had several coaches who inspired me, including Rick Ogle, Albert Huffman, Wayne Fletcher, and Jerry Murray. Whether it was in the classroom or on the playing field, I gravitated toward these men and appreciated the lessons they taught me.”
Many of us find that life sends us unexpected twists and turns, and Chris has certainly been no exception. “I didn’t start out to be a teacher or a coach. I enrolled in Limestone College in Gaffney, SC, as a business major. My dad had success in sales at Valdese Manufacturing, and I thought that business would also be a good fit for me. But as a member of the baseball team, I encountered an injury during my sophomore year. I began to consider physical therapy as a possible career, so I took a number of biology courses. It was Coach Perry who encouraged me to consider teaching and coaching, and that is why my degree is in Physical Education with a concentration in Biology.
Physical education teachers must be versatile, and high schools fortunately have a variety of physical activities that help young people achieve fitness. Chris tells how one of his family members thought it was amusing and couldn’t believe it when she found out that he often instructed a dance class. He explains that Blenda Rhoney, who at the time was chair of the East Burke PE department and who also has a great sense of humor, assigned him to teach the class. “She did it as a joke. I knew nothing about dance, so it looked like I had to learn ‘on the job.’ Even the students thought it was funny. Fortunately, there were girls in the class who were good dancers, including several cheerleaders, and we all learned together. It was during the 90s, and at the time there was a show on MTV called ‘The Grind’ that featured people doing a variety of popular dances to recorded music. We learned a lot from that show, and Dance became a course that I really enjoyed, so I guess it wasn’t a joke anymore.” Maybe we should get some feedback from Coach Rhoney!
“After I retire, I plan to stay involved in athletics, especially with Athletes Lab Performance Center in Maiden, NC, which was started by brothers Grant and Aaron Rembert. This organization has state-of-the-art facilities and helps promote sports and fitness for all ages. It is a showcase for baseball and softball, features flag football for every age group, has personal trainers and physical therapists, and provides activities such as strength training and yoga. I look forward to continuing to help people achieve their athletic goals.”
Chris emphasizes how important family support is to coaches. “I was fortunate to have a supportive family as I was growing up. My parents, my sister, my aunts and uncles, and all my extended family members were always encouraging and supporting me. But it is the support of my own family that has made it especially worthwhile. Few people not involved in the coaching world realize how much time is involved with practices and games, what sacrifices spouses must make, and how precious time with our children becomes. I am thankful for all of them. In the end, it is not only the person I see in the mirror but also the people who raised me and who currently support me who have made me a better coach.”
Published January 2023