COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Dr. Robert Thomas Swindell, first head coach in Tennessee Tech softball history and former Chairman of the TTU Department of Chemistry, passed away at the age of 76 on Friday evening, after battling cancer.
Swindell helped take the softball program to new heights as it was elevated from a club team to intercollegiate status beginning in 1986 under then-Director of Athletics, Dr. David Larimore. Swindell led the Golden Eagles in their first two years as an NCAA DI program, winning an impressive 49 games during that time period.
The program made the jump to intercollegiate status as Tennessee Tech was determined to stay in compliance with Title IX. The university worked to have a relatively equal number of women's sports as men's sports, and since the club softball team was already established, the move made sense.
Referred to back then as "Doc," Swindell, native of Little Rock, Ark., served as Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Tech from 1987-1992. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 1992-2007, where he was awarded the University Department of Excellence Award.
As a coach, Swindell helped usher in a new era of taking the program from slow pitch to fast pitch.
"Doc was the type who put his heart and soul into the players," said Glenn Binkley, who served as an assistant coach for three years under Swindell when the program was a club sport. "He had been a successful softball coach for many years in Cookeville before forming the club team at Tech. Of course, his forte was slow pitch, and we learned the hard way that college softball was fast pitch. We were a little overwhelmed at times, but the girls on the club took it as a challenge and under Doc's tutelage, we made some good strides."
Swindell coached 2000 Tennessee Tech Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Melanie Marshall, who led the 1986 team with seven home runs and 41 RBI.
Swindell laid a foundation that has since gone on to be one of the most successful athletic programs in school history. In 24 years of existence, the Tech softball team has claimed seven Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles, six tournament championships, and has reached the NCAA Tournament six different times.
To this day Swindell's presence is felt at Tech Softball Field, as his name hangs high above the centerfield fence as a member of the Softball Wall of Honor.
Born on Feb. 22, 1938 in Greenfield, Tenn., Swindell attended Messick High School in Memphis. He would go on to complete his undergraduate work at Memphis State University, before earning his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Swindell's Post-Doctoral work was done at Iowa State University.
He is married to Joanne; father to Melinda Swindell Davenport; grandfather to Allyson George and Mariah Pitts (Eric); and great-grandfather to Riley Jo Young. He is also survived by his father-in-law, Reverend Daniel Swim (Marsha); sisters-in-law, Connie Corney and Karolyn LeBlanc; brothers-in-law, Brian Keddy and Danny Swim; nieces; nephews; and a host of cousins and friends. He will be especially missed by his chocolate lab, Dahli.
Funeral service will be at 1 p.m., Thursday, April 17, 2014 at Christian Life Center, 12923 West Markham, Little Rock, AR 72211, Phone: (501) 224-1663. The family will receive friends from 5–7 p.m., Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at Roller-Chenal Funeral Home Chapel, 13801 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, AR 72211, Phone: (501)224-8300. Interment will be at Highland Cemetery, Greenfield, TN at 12 p.m., Friday, April 18, 2014.
Memorials may be made to Keetowah United First Band of Cherokees, "Reinstituting Cultural Values for Native Americans," (write check to Summer Youth Camp Fund) Box 746, Tahlequah, OK 74465 or to Tennessee Technological University, Swindell/Jackson Fund for Sciences and Mathematics, 1 William L. Jones Drive, Cookeville, TN 38505, Phone: (931) 372-3101.