Bernie Capps, longtime athletic trainer at Rocky Mount High, dies


Bernie Capps poses on Thursday, June 2, 2011, in the trainer's room at Rocky Mount High School. The longtime RMHS athletic trainer passed away this past Sunday.


Sports Writer

Monday, February 11, 2019

Clarence Bernard “Bernie” Capps Jr., the longtime Rocky Mount High athletic trainer who graduated from the same school in 1963 and watched some of the Gryphons’ and Blackbirds’ best athletes, from Danny Talbott to Phil Ford to Buck Williams to Brian Goodwin, died on Sunday at the age of 73. 

Capps held his position as trainer at Rocky Mount High for 42 years, retiring at the age of 66, in 2011, though he spent time after that helping out in various ways at Rocky Mount Academy. In his time care-taking for RMHS athletics, he played a role in 11 state championships and worked with coaches from Walt Wiggins to Michael Gainey, all despite never having played a sport himself at RMHS. 

“Bernie was Bernie,” Wiggins, the former RMHS football coach, told the Telegram in 2011. “He always had kids to work with him. The kids loved him to death. He made a special effort to make kids feel comfortable around him.”

Gainey, who came to Rocky Mount in 1989, worked with Capps for more than two decades. When the two first met, as Gainey, now the athletic director and boys’ basketball coach for the Gryphons, was settling into a new town, Capps was happy to introduce himself. 

“He was the type of person that never met a stranger. He was warm and welcome to each and everyone he ever knew,” Gainey said on Monday.  “When I first got here in 1989, he was one of the first people I met. He opened his home and arms up.” 

A loyal subscriber to the Telegram’s print edition — a reader who was never afraid to call up the newspapers’ offices with suggestions or story ideas —  the walls of Capps’ yellow one-floor home on Peachtree Street were lined with a few decades worth of Telegram clippings and pictures related to the local high school sporting scene. 

During one interaction with Capps this past November, one of the foremost things on his mind was whether or not the 2018 Gryphons’ football team had a deep run in them for the upcoming 3-A playoffs. 

“We were hoping he would hang out a little more with us when we got to the new high school,” said Gainey, who joked that his wife, Pam, the girls’ basketball coach at RMHS, could remember Bernie from her time as a student at Goldsboro High as the guy on RMHS’s sidelines. “But with health and all that, he still stayed in contact.”

In his final months, Capps would sometimes call the Telegram and request a copy of that day’s paper — a favor we were always happy to complete, especially because, as he would remind us, he was without Internet, and the Telegram was a way for him to keep up with his favorite teams.

He made an effort, even in declining health, to stay in the loop, particularly regarding his beloved Gryphons.

Over 42 years, the players and coaches all changed, but Capps, with an endearing passion and love for the many players who filtered through the high school, remained.

“I think he knew everybody in the country,” said Gainey. “No matter where you went or who you talked to, if Rocky Mount athletics came up, they’d ask, ‘How’s that little small guy, Mr. Capps?’”

Arrangements regarding a funeral are not yet available.