RINGGOLD, Va. — In May, community members, friends and family gathered at Dan River Middle School to celebrate the dedication of the school’s football field in honor and memory of Coach David Bullins. Earlier this month, Bullins departed from this life and left behind a powerful legacy of caring for others and making a positive difference in the lives of all who knew him, especially those who have played football under his leadership.
At the most recent Pittsylvania County School Board meeting, the board reflected on the dedication that took place this year.
“I’d like to take a quick second to thank everybody who participated and approved the football field dedication at Dan River Middle School in honor and memory of David Bullins, who coached there for years…We dedicated the field to him and to his family, and he was in attendance. So, thank you for that, and we will certainly miss Coach Bullins,” Pittsylvania County School Board Member George Henderson said.
Ringgold Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Neal knew Bullins in a variety of capacities, after first meeting him when going to work at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1974, where Bullins was his floor boss. After Bullins moved to Pittsylvania County, he and Neal became neighbors and good friends for many years.
“Every day of my life I’d see him…we’d mow grass together and carry on,” Neal said. “He’s going to be missed; he was a great guy. He’s got good family; his family’s been pretty much school-oriented—teaching…So it all sort of runs in the family.”
Bullins’s coaching career spanned half a century and impacted countless lives who lived near, worked with and played for him, whether in Bassett, Danville or Pittsylvania County. Bullins coached at Stanley Town Recreational Center while living in Bassett, then began coaching the Blue Chips in the Danville League while working in Goodyear’s quality control department. Eventually, Bullins moved out to Pittsylvania County, where he coached county youth league teams at Dan River Middle School for the past 35 years. He worked primarily with the “A” teams before they moved up to the DRHS Junior Varsity team.
“He was a coach, but he was a mentor,” Neal said. “He taught kids fundamentals; he taught kids sportsmanship and about being young men…That’s one reason people thought so much of him. He cared about people.”
Bullins’s son-in-law, Allen Springs, loved his “dad” dearly and greatly admired his quality of always prioritizing others’ wellbeing above all else.
“One thing that comes to my mind when I think about dad is that I never heard him say a cross word about anybody,” Springs said. “He loved people. He wanted to help people in any way he could, and he wanted to help the youth of Pittsylvania County; that’s why he did what he did for so long. I think part of it was because he might not have had those opportunities when he was growing up in Bassett because he didn't come from a very affluent family. But when he came down here, he wanted to give those kids an opportunity to do things that helped them become better.”
Throughout his career coaching Dan River teams for the county youth league, Bullins had an impressive record of 509 wins (an 80% win/loss rate) and 20 championships, most while coaching A teams. He was inducted into the Pittsylvania County Sports Hall of Fame along with his wife, Connie, in 2014. But to Coach Bullins, it was never about the wins, titles or records, as he had a far different goal in mind, according to his son-in-law.
“I was talking to one of his assistant coaches, and he told me that the first time he went out and started working with dad, the first thing dad told him was, ‘the number one responsibility out here is to take care of kids,’” Springs said. “It wasn’t winning; it wasn’t padding his record. The number one thing for him was taking care of the kids, and the winning was just a byproduct.”
Bullins’ dedication to the kids was especially apparent to those who knew him best, like Neal and Springs. When sitting on his back sun porch, it was a regular occurrence for Neal to see Bullins load up his truck with footballs, gear and water coolers before heading out to practice each day, then unload the same at the end of the day. Springs, too, marveled at his father-in-law’s tireless efforts to make an impact in the community.
“I lived on the other side of dad down there for years…and I’d watch him put water jugs and equipment and everything in the back of that truck, and I thought, ‘Man, how does he keep doing this?’ He did it for the kids,” Springs said.
While working at Goodyear, Bullins went the extra mile to ensure that he was able to give the best of himself to coaching. Each football season, Bullins would change his work schedule so that he could work third shift every night and coach football every afternoon.
“I don’t know very many people that would make that dedication,” Springs said.
Bullins’s contributions and commitment to the Pittsylvania County Youth Football League extended far beyond coaching at practices and games.
“If you look down on the football field, you’ll notice the field looks really nice, and the reason it looks really nice is because dad found a way…He found a way, and he found money, to put sod down on the entire field,” Springs said. “He would go out there two, three, four times a day during the hot season and move sprinklers all over the field. He’d pull the water hose. At that time, he was over 70 years old, and he’s going out and pulling hoses and moving sprinklers, watering that field. Essentially, what he was doing—he dedicated his life to the youth of Pittsylvania County.”
Springs, his wife and his daughter have taught in Pittsylvania County schools for years, as the family shares a passion for making an impact in the lives of local children.
“Every now and then, we’d come over to dad's house and he would ask us, ‘Well, how's so-and-so doing? How’s so-and-so doing in his grades? Is he behaving himself in school? Is he doing what he's supposed to do?’ And during the season, if he got a report that one of his players wasn’t doing well, he talked to the parents and tried to straighten him up,” Springs said. “But he just loved the kids and wanted to make a positive impact in their lives. And he spent years doing that.”
“He was a Christian man, he was a family man and he was a very caring person,” Neal said. “Health permitting, if he was living today, he’d be coaching this fall.”