Chip Fuller is a busy man.
“Fuller Incorporated” is the phrase one Maryville teacher once coined to describe the many different endeavors on the 37-year-old’s plate.
Now, as the new athletic director and assistant principal at Heritage High School, Fuller wears yet another hat. On any given day, Fuller might be found working at school, as a disc jockey or spending time with his family as a father and husband.
Being busy is a trait Chip Fuller says he developed early in life. After his father, former Everett High School quarterback Rodney Fuller, died in a truck wreck when Chip was 2, his grandparents, Herb and Helen Fuller, raised him.
Fuller said his grandparents were busy people who had a meat-packing and trucking business in Maryville, processing cows for local farmers. Fuller had responsibilities from an early age.
“I’ve worked on my days off from school, weekends and afternoon for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Early on, even when I was in elementary school, I would go downstairs and stamp on different packages of meat what they were.”
Starting in the summer of his eighth grade year until his grandfather died in 2000, Fuller worked in the office of the trucking company. He handled everything from financial bank statements to paying bills to doing tax reports. “I had that responsibility from my eighth grade year until 2000,” Fuller said.
His passion for music and being a disc jockey started when he created his own DJ business in high school. It’s an operation that he still runs today. “This is my 21st year in business, and I have four or five people working with me. It was a dream. I enjoy doing it,” he said.
Fuller began in his junior year of high school when he built a booth and started picking up school dances to hone his DJ skills. He then did a few weddings and some class reunions.
“The next thing I knew, it’s over 100 jobs a year now. Someone said ‘Do you hate being busy all the time?’ I said, ‘Do you hate being busy Saturday morning when you’re playing golf. To them, golf is relaxing. To me, DJ’ing is relaxing, I just happen to get paid.”
Fuller has lived in Maryville his entire life. He graduated Maryville High School in 1989. Three years later he received a degree from the University of Tennessee with a geography and math focus, finishing his education requirements to teach in 1992. He got a masters degree from UT in 1995 in curricular and instruction education and got an education specialist in administration in 1998 from Lincoln Memorial University.
Fuller and his wife, Lori, celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary this past June. Their children are 10-year-old Jeremiah, 9-year-old Sarah, 5-year-old Micah and, as of publication, baby Noah was due to be born within two weeks.
Fuller’s journey from student to educator to athletic director started at a young age.
“Since eighth grade, I wanted to be a math teacher, mainly because of Wanda Lamon Odom, a teacher at Maryville Middle School. That was the real reason I wanted to go into education,” he said. “Her philosophy was ‘Give it your all or don’t do it.’ I just had a great year in algebra when I was with her in eighth grade, and I said, ‘This is something I want to do.’ “
In his freshmen year, Fuller had Rufus Pannell, a geography teacher. “I thought I might be interested in math or geography. I did lots of work for him as a teacher’s assistant,” he said. “Every year solidified my assurance that I needed to go into education.”
Ironically, Fuller said he had a lot of people trying to talk him out of going into education.
“A lot of those people were teachers. My senior year I got aggravated by the fact that there were so many people who wanted to talk me out of being a teacher. It didn’t make sense to me,” he said. “I never wavered about going into education.”
Fuller said education is a great profession because you are able to have an influence and an impact on people and on future societies.
Fuller said school had a huge impact on his development from kindergarten to 12th grade. His elementary school years weren’t his best academically, and, as he approached junior high, he heard dire warnings things would only get worse in seventh and eighth grades.
“I got to seventh grade and found a whole new world opening up. I thought, ‘If this is the rest of school, this is awesome.’ It was like a completely new environment in school at Maryville Junior High,” he said. “Everything I did at high school was for the future goal of one day being a teacher. Three years later, it happened. I was back at Maryville High School teaching.”
Fuller was also influenced by others in his life, including, he says, his grandfather, teachers, and athletic director and a youth pastor.
“My grandfather, Herb Fuller, had a huge impact because of the discipline and the involvement but also because he was busy, which I think is like me.”
Spiritually, Rev. Steve Hodges, who was his youth pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church when Fuller was a teen, influenced him as well, he said.
“He did studies on spiritual warfare. Kids today are in a war spiritually with all the stuff going on in society, finding their way, figuring how to grow up and mature. Spiritually he had a huge impact on helping me getting a foundation that has carried me even to today,” Fuller said.
In sports, the late Jim Campbell, former athletic director at Maryville High School, was another person Fuller said had an impact on his life. Fuller helped Campbell run the concession stand at school when he was a freshman. As a teacher he would go to Campbell’s office during a planning period and just listen as Campbell talked about situations at the school or simply philosophy relating to the job.
“As far as current my position, he had a huge impact on things I try to do and the way people should be treated and still maintain some order and discipline and not being taken advantage of,” he said.
In looking back at his own experience, Fuller said a lot of times students aren’t given time to think completely about their future.
“Lots of times we don’t give students time to reflect on setting goals. We tell kids in kindergarten through sixth grade they can do whatever they want. Then somewhere around seventh, eighth or ninth grade years, we ask kids what they want,” he said. “We try to funnel them toward something we think they’re suited for.”
Fuller said the result of this attitude in today’s words is adults who go from job to job because they’re not doing what they truly enjoy.
Working with students in his new job as assistant principal at Heritage High School, Fuller said, took him back to when he was a student.
“I’ve thought about that a lot while working with freshmen and knowing problems they deal with,” he said.
Fuller said that as a student he ran cross-country, worked with the football team, played soccer and played baseball one year.
“I made good grades. I didn’t really put myself in a certain group. Although I had never run for a class office before, my senior year I was elected a class officer,” he said. “I thought I fit in with and meshed with all the different groups.”
Fuller said that the last two or three years he felt a subconscious nudge that there was something else God wanted him to do. He considered a position in central office at Maryville years ago and was a finalist for a position with the TSSAA in the spring.
“I felt there was something else I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t know what it was,” he said.
In August the Blount County School Board made a policy change that dictated the athletic directors at both county high schools would also serve as assistant principals. This created a vacancy at both William Blount and Heritage high schools.
Fuller said he went to speak with Heritage principal Patricia Mandigo about the Maryville Orthopedic Football Jamboree and asked what her plan was for the jamboree without an athletic director. Fuller had been directly involved in some capacity with the jamboree for 16 years with Maryville as the caretaker of jamboree. “I went in and talked to Ms. Mandigo and asked what could I do to help,” he said. “Before I left, she asked me if I might be interested in the job. Ten days later, I was offered and accepted the job.”
“I told Mr. (Alvin) Hord (Blount County director of schools) that I really see this as a place I can retire from. There’s something about this place that has brought a renewing of peace at last in my whole nature and self,” he said. “I’m probably as excited as I’ve been since my first job 16 years ago.”
Leaving an established position as assistant athletic director at Maryville High School wasn’t easy. “I’ve been a big fan of loyalty. That was the hardest part of leaving. I knew there was something else out there, but there was the loyalty I had for the job and responsibility I had that I wanted to make sure they weren’t neglected.”
At Heritage, Fuller said he hopes to help change perceptions people have about the school.
“I think Heritage has had a perception that is not in total truth. I hope to change people’s perception of Heritage High School in a positive way. Our entire staff has that as a goal,” he said. “We have a staff of teachers who share a common goal of helping students to have confidence and pride in what they’re doing athletically, academically and in extra curricular activities.”
Fuller said he knows he’s in the right place in his career.
“Lots of people go through life wondering where they should go and don’t have a good confirmation,” he said. “I have no doubt this is where I’m supposed to be right now. It’s awesome when you can get into that zone where you think you’re where God wants you to be. There is a contentment and peace you can’t explain.”