Athletes, staff will miss long-time team optometrist, Mike Huddleston

Athletes, staff will miss long-time team optometrist, Mike Huddleston

By Rob Schabert, Sports Information Director

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Tech Athletics lost an unselfish, caring, kind-hearted and beloved member of the family with the recent passing of Dr. Mike Huddleston, who served as team optometrist for every Golden Eagle student-athlete for the past 30 years.

A lifelong sports fan, Mike died on Monday, May 20, after a valiant battle against pancreatic cancer. He was 62.

For many of us, we also lost a very close friend. One with a tremendous, dry sense of humor. When he said something, it sometimes took moment to settle in…and then you couldn’t help but shake your head and grin at his wit.

A graduate of Tech, he received his Doctor of Optometry degree form Southern College of Optometry and set out upon his professional practice. In 1982, it led him back to his alma mater. He approached then-Director of Athletics Dave Coffey to offer his services to assist Golden Eagle student-athletes. Mike was looking for a way to give back to the University and support his alma mater. And, he found it.

Every student-athlete competing at Tech since 1983 began the year with a preseason physical exam that included a thorough eye exam from Dr. Huddleston. In the ensuing 30 years, he conducted approximately 9,000 eye exams and was on-call for any injuries or eye conditions as needed.

As the team optometrist, he also provided services for Tech’s coaches and athletics staff. He was instrumental in bringing on board his good friend, Dr. Clark Childress, as the team dentist.

An avid fan, he attended many of Tech’s games for those three decades, celebrating many conference championships with the student-athletes and coaches who had gotten to know him and appreciated his care.

“Mike assisted with our physical exams by providing eye exams to all of our student-athletes during the first several years I was there,” said former Athletic Trainer David Green. “He also provided eye exams on an as-needed basis and was on call for any injuries or eye conditions as needed.

“Mike provided a very valuable service to Athletics, and continued to do so for three decades,” Green said. “Every Tech student-athlete during that time owes him a debt of gratitude.”

Coffey recalled how Mike’s role as team optometrist began.

“Mike came to us and offered his services,” Coffey said. “He saw a need, and he said it was an opportunity to not only give back to his school, but to stay close to the athletic programs. It was a very unselfish offer, and it proved to be a tremendous benefit to our student-athletes. I think Mike also got a lot out of the relationships he built with our coaches and student-athletes.”

Mike participated in many activities, including running, coaching and bicycling. He rode the grueling Assault on Mt. Mitchell (straight up the side of a mountain, and we all thought he was insane). In 1990, he finished in 1,290th place with a time just over 11 hours. Imagine, riding uphill for 11 hours. It would be enough to make most men quit.

Instead, he returned the next year and finished in 10 hours, 30 minutes. He surpassed more than 300 other finishers by climbing to 960th place.

I wish we could sit and talk about those days again, or his many successes as a distance runner.

He was one of the driving forces behind establishing the Haunted Half Marathon, one of the most popular runs in Cookeville, and he ran in several other races including the Chicago Marathon and Music City Half Marathon.

Here is an excerpt from his obituary:

Dr. Huddleston was born March 28, 1951 in Livingston, TN to William Clifton and Martha Charlene Huddleston of Cookeville. He died on Monday morning, May 20, 2013 at his home.

He earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Degree from Tennessee Technological University and his Doctorate of Optometry from the Southern College of Optometry. Over his thirty year career, he took great joy in providing the highest quality eye care to his patients. The personal relationship he developed with his patients was the focal point of his practice, and his greatest satisfaction came from helping others. Throughout his professional career, he was a member of the AOA and TOA and served in various positions at the local and state level.

A lifelong sports fan, he participated in the Chicago Marathon, Music City Half Marathon, Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee, and served as a youth baseball and basketball coach. He was also an active alumnus of TTU. Seeking a way to give back to the University, in 1982 he approached the TTU Athletic Director to offer his services to assist Golden Eagle student-athletes. Spurred by this offer, TTU began instituting a program that eventually resulted in every TTU student-athlete beginning the year with a preseason physical exam that included a thorough eye exam from Dr. Huddleston. He served as the team optometrist for all TTU student-athletes for almost 30 years.

He retained meaningful ties to the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity of which he was a member while at TTU. He enjoyed being the Chapter Advisory Board Chairman of the Tennessee Delta Chapter of the Fraternity at TTU, offering guidance and counseling to the men of the chapter. He then became Province President of Eta South Province of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, providing oversight of five fraternity chapters and assistance to each Chapter Advisory Board, Alumni Club, and House Corporation that supported each chapter in the state.

As a native Cookevillian, it was important to him to be an actively engaged member of the community. He was a member and elder of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, an Executive Board Member of the Cookeville Putnam County Sports Council, the Co-Chair of the Cookeville Haunted Half Marathon, a graduate of the Cookeville Citizen's Police Academy, the Chair of the Professional Division for Fundraising of the Cookeville YMCA, President of the Noonday Lions Club, and the Cookeville Jaycees 1987 Young Man of the Year.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by his beloved wife of 38 years, Julia Hensley Huddleston(whom he married December 28, 1974 in Cookeville); two sons and daughters-in-law, Dr. W. Scott and Rebecca Huddleston of Johnson City, TN, D. Tyler and Becky Huddleston of Chicago, IL; a sister and brother-in-law, Bill and Susan Browning of Cookeville, TN; a nephew, Michael Browning of Cookeville, TN; a sister-in-law and brother-in-law Dr. Ronald and Saundra Killough, of Plano, TX; a nephew and niece-in-law, Christopher and Mandi Killough, of Plano, TX; and a niece, Ashley Killough, of Washington, D.C.

Memorial contributions may be made to Firsts Cumberland Presbyterian Church 565 E. 10th St., Noon Day Lions Club c/o Dr. Garrett Sheppard 45 N Dixie Ave., or Heart of The Cumberland PO Box 2474 all of Cookeville, TN 38501.