From Classroom to Track: Celebrating the Trailblazing Legacy of Doris Puffer

From Classroom to Track

Celebrating the Trailblazing Legacy of Doris Puffer

Kathy Clayton

The Ashland Beacon

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                Most of us are lucky enough to have a favorite teacher who made a lasting positive impression on us growing up. A few former students will honor one such dedicated teacher and coach Sunday, April 21, with a reception at Raceland-Worthington High School auditorium.

                Mrs. Doris Wilson Puffer, who taught biology and coached track and golf, will return to the school for the first time in decades to meet with her former students and track teams to reminisce about how she gathered a group of determined young women and started the school’s girls track team.

                “She is a wonderful lady, and I have fond memories of her,” said Kim Collins Connor, who was among the first runners on Mrs. Puffer’s track team in 1977-79. “We didn’t even have a track, we trained in parking lots and around town. After we had such success under her leadership, they put in a track.”


                Those successes included winning the regional track meet in 1977, ’78 and ’79, after starting the team in the spring of 1973.

                “I was hired in Sept. 1972, and they asked me to coach a girls' track team,” Mrs. Puffer recalled. “Track started in the spring of 1973. We practiced in the parking lot after school. The hurdlers jumped over trash cans, and we marked distances with a tape measure.”

                Connor said the idea to honor Coach Puffer came about when she heard that current RWHS history teacher and track coach Randy Helton was putting together a history of the school’s track teams. “I was talking with classmate Renata Huffman Boggs about how great she was, and how it would be nice to honor her.”

They got permission from the school to use the auditorium and set up the event. “It will be like a traditional pep rally, with the current cheerleaders leading us in the fight song, then she’ll lead us out to the reception and sit next to the ram. We have no idea how many people will be there, but we hope to have 50. We’ll serve refreshments.”

                “We think we had the first state champion from Raceland in girls track in 1979, Jill Stephens Lynch, who won in discus,” Connor continued, “then we had another, hurdler Bambi Fisher, in 1980 or ’81.”

                “I was overwhelmed. I never in the world expected anything like this to ever happen,” Coach Puffer said of being honored by her former students and teams. “It took me totally by surprise.”

                She remembered beginning the Raceland girls' track team virtually from scratch. “Liz Trabandt (legendary coach at Russell High School) was gracious enough to tell me what events we needed to cover,” she recalled. “We used Boyd County, Russell and Greenup County facilities. We had no discus or uniforms or any equipment.”

                “We won several class A regional meets, two or three years in a row, and sent several to state – Jill Stephens won discus and Bambi Fisher won hurdles. Rain, snow, sleet or hail did not keep them down,” Puffer continued.

                “They were a dedicated bunch of girls from the very beginning, whether they won or not, because they were having fun and supporting each other. If one fell down, they all ran to help. They were my girls, my children, one big happy family.”

                Connor noted that she became more appreciative of Coach Puffer after becoming a parent herself with kids who played sports. “My kids played tennis, and I saw some coaches who were harsh or not always fair. Kids should have a coach like Coach Puffer – she’s a classy lady. I loved her as my coach, but other kids loved her as a teacher. She was competitive and pushed us to get results, but she was also fun. She made a safe and comfortable space for us.”

                Puffer is now a vibrant, active 92-year-old who travels and remains active. She moved to her family’s farm near Lancaster in Garrard County to care for the farm and cows in 2002, and was a substitute teacher from 2003 until she turned 90.

                “My goals when I turned 90 were to substitute at least one time, walk five miles, and play at least one game of golf,” she said. “These days, I try to walk at least two miles a day. One of my daughters mentioned that she was doing a virtual walk across the state of Tennessee. I wanted to do it, but I wanted to walk across the state of Kentucky. So, I got a map and marked the farthest points across and North to South, and kept track of the miles.”

                Doris is the mother of three children, Valya Mobley, Patty Lane and Paul Wilson. “My children have been very supportive of me,” she said. “I’m very much involved in my church, with the praise team and sing an occasional solo.”

                She has also traveled extensively with her daughters, visiting the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Barbados, as well as hiking the Appalachian Trail. She has tracked Abraham Lincoln’s history through Illinois and Kentucky and the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati. She hikes numerous trails around her home and across eastern Kentucky. She has also hiked the highest points in all but four U.S. states.

                All former students and athletes are welcome to attend the reception at RWHS auditorium from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, April 21. “It’s all about honoring this great lady,” Connor declared. “She has left a lasting legacy for many of us.”

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