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Atkins heads to Dixie State

Sheldon Longley

 Bahamian national record holder in the men’s 100m Derrick Atkins is the new head coach of women’s track and field at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. FILE

Derrick Atkins is making the trek to the top level of university athletics, and in so doing, becomes just the third Bahamian head coach of an athletics program in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I.

The Bahamian national record holder in the men’s 100 meters (m) takes over as the man in charge of the women’s athletics program at Dixie State University in the quaint and quiet town of St. George, Utah, which is really known more for historic sites and its scenic backdrop rather than sports or anything athletic.

In fact, the Dixie State Trailblazers are competing in the NCAA Division I for the first time, and Atkins is hopeful of turning the program around.

He comes in with an extensive athletic program and a wealth of experience in athletics at all levels.

Atkins joins Rolando “Lonnie” Greene, of the University of Kentucky, and his successor at Purdue University Norbert Elliott as the only other Bahamian coaches of major university programs, as Dixie State becomes a full member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in NCAA Division I athletics.

After a couple years as an assistant track coach at Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, North Carolina, Atkins moves to Utah to take up this new head coaching position and is immediately tasked with the responsibility of transitioning the women’s program into a contender and one to reckon with on the division one level.

Dixie State University Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Jason Boothe made the announcement on Thursday.

“I am thrilled to welcome Derrick and his family to Dixie State to lead our women’s track and field program,” he said on the school’s website. “Derrick brings a wealth of knowledge and world-class experience with him to help our young team grow and compete at the highest level. He will undoubtedly provide an elite level of coaching that our team will need to take the next step. He will strive to instill determination, ambition, sacrifice and hard work in each student-athlete as he develops them into not only great student-athletes, but leaders beyond their college years as well. He has competed and won at the highest levels of track and field and I have no doubt that he will also be very successful here during this exciting time at Dixie State.”

Atkins, who started in athletics in the throws, matured into a sprinter in his latter years in high school and into college. He shone for the Dickinson State University Blue Hawks in Dickinson, North Dakota, excelling in the short sprints, indoors and outdoors. Atkins ended his collegiate career as a seven-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national champion, winning titles in the 55, 100 and 200 meters (m) in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He is a 15-time All-American in the sprints and relays and led Dickinson State to consecutive NAIA outdoor national championships in 2004 and 2005, and to a runner-up finish in 2003.

In 2013, Atkins was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, and three years later, he was inducted into the Dickinson State Athletic Hall of Fame. He still owns several indoor and outdoor conference sprint records.

“I am really excited about the opportunity to be the head coach at Dixie State,” said Atkins on the school’s website. “Being able to bring my previous experience of being a professional athlete, and my previous experience at two great championship institutions, to help Dixie become that school and to put Dixie on the map in terms of track and field, is an honor.”

At WCU, Atkins played a part in leading the men’s team to indoor and outdoor conference titles in 2019, the women’s indoor team to a runner-up finish that same year and the men’s indoor team to a runner-up finish this past year.

In 2019, he helped coach 40 all-conference performers, including 15 conference individual champions and three NCAA qualifiers.

Prior to his arrival at WCU, Atkins served for three seasons as an assistant coach at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, where he helped the men’s team win two Atlantic Sun Conference indoor and outdoor titles, and helped the women’s team win its first indoor and outdoor conference crowns.

Atkins is a nationally certified coach, holding a USTFCCCA (US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association) Sprints/Hurdles/Jumps and Relays Specialist certification.

Professionally, Atkins advanced to the 100m semifinals at two Olympics (2008 in Beijing, China, and 2012 in London, England) and competed at three world championships, the highlight of which came in 2007 when he ran to the silver medal in the men’s 100m in Osaka, Japan, clocking a new national record of 9.91 seconds.

Atkins is the only Bahamian to ever legally run under 10 seconds in the men’s 100m and holds the top four times by a Bahamian sprinter, and 18 of the top 19. He is the second cousin of former world record holder Asafa Powell, of Jamaica.

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