Bob Light, one of the most successful coaches in Appalachian State University athletics history, died on Monday. He was 88.
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.
Outside of Appalachian, he founded the Western North Carolina Junior Tennis League in 1965, helped found the North Carolina Association of Tennis Professionals and won two state championships in doubles competition — in the men’s open division in 1965 and in the 70-and-over division in 1997. He was inducted to the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997.
“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.
Funeral arrangements, which are being handled by Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service in Boone, are incomplete at this time. Condolences can be sent to the family at hamptonfuneralnc.com.