Jan. 31—When current Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood thinks back to his days at Dalton High School, one name sticks out to him.
"For everybody in high school, you have a coach or teacher that makes a lasting impression on you that directs you in the path of life," Chitwood said. "For me, I would have to say that's coach Bob Chapman."
Chapman, the Dalton High School basketball coach during some of the Catamounts' best seasons and a longtime teacher in the Dalton Public Schools system, died earlier this month at 77.
Chapman, who lived in Rocky Face and was an original member of Dalton's Rock Bridge Community Church, coached Dalton Catamount basketball during the 1970s, leading Dalton to the state tournament four times and reaching the state championship game in 1977, the only time that's happened in Dalton's program history.
Chapman grew up in Kentucky and played college basketball at Tennessee Tech before making his way to north Georgia.Chitwood was coached by Chapman as a freshman on the freshman team and then on the Dalton B-team as a sophomore, and Chitwood was on Chapman's first varsity team when the coach succeeded Donnie Jenkins as boys varsity head coach in 1972.
"I highly and fully respected him," Chitwood said. "He expected perfection, and he expected you to give 100%, and he would pull it out of you. He was fully committed and dedicated to his players as people and students."
Nicky Starling, a 1973 graduate of Dalton High and the pastor of Dalton's New Harvest Church, was also on Chapman's first Dalton High varsity team.
"He could really make you play above your level," said Starling, who attended Jefferson State College in Birmingham, Alabama, on a basketball and track scholarship. "At halftime, if we were trailing, he could get in the locker room. He would intimidate you, but then have you ready to play when we went back out. We were afraid to lose."
Described as a tough-but-fair disciplinarian, Chapman began a requirement for Dalton High basketball players to dress up on game days, with each player wearing a red blazer, white shirt, black tie, khaki pants and black shoes before each game, Starling said.
"He was very particular about that and started all that at Dalton High," Starling said.
Chapman's first state tournament team at Dalton reached the state's final 16 in Class 3A, the state's largest classification at the time. Starling's and Chitwood's senior season ended with a 74-50 loss to Clarke Central from Athens in a game played at Georgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
"Just to make it to Atlanta was a great joy to all of us," Chitwood said.
That was just the beginning for Chapman's time as Dalton's head coach. Another state tournament appearance in 1976 set the stage for the 1977, when Dalton went 22-4 and made an appearance in the state championship game for the first and only time in school history.
Dalton beat Waynesboro 66-55 in the first round of the Class 2A tournament, then downed Decatur 66-53 in the second to reach the state semis. Dalton edged Gainesville 67-63 to reach the state title game, but fell two points shy 48-46 to Atlanta's Joseph E. Brown High.
"He had a lot of good players that came through during that era, but he was able to develop those skills and get the most out of them," Chitwood said.
"He cared about his players and stood up for us," Starling said. "He was a one-of-a-kind coach."
Dalton reached the state tournament once more in Chapman's tenure, reaching the round of 16 in 1979. Dalton's run to the state finals in 1977 under Chapman was the only semifinal appearance for the program until Dennis Godfrey led the Catamounts to the Class 3A Final Four during the 1998 season. Dalton hasn't been past the quarterfinals since.
Chapman moved into other roles for Dalton Public Schools throughout his career as a teacher and coach.
"I would see him from time to time in the community, and I would always get a good hug from him and reminisce on the good times," Chitwood said.
A celebration of life was held for Chapman at Rock Bridge, and Starling said many former players were in attendance.
"He was a visionary and yet he was a coach," Starling said. "He was special. and I didn't realize just how special he was until I got older."