By Gabriel Stovall
Every now and then sports life deals us a blow that reminds us that, although sports is life, life is more than just sports.
Two poignant reminders of this fact penetrated me this past weekend. One, a picture of a man who considered his family more important than his hoop dreams. Another was a more somber reminder of the brevity of life, and the impact those in coaching have on kids that goes beyond teaching them how to hit, run, throw, dribble, shoot and score.
First, Woodland High said goodbye to successful girls basketball coach Ashley Maddox this past week.
Maddox didn’t leave the Lady Wolfpack program because he was lured away by something more lucrative or challenging.
Woodland athletic director Lance Carter isn’t searching for someone to continue the winning tradition Maddox extended and strengthened during his three years at the helm, simply because Maddox found greener pastures — unless Maddox’s two kids and wife count for such.
Family is the reason why he left, not for another head coaching job. He’s taking an assistant position at Whitewater High in Fayetteville — seven minutes away from his home. It may sound like a demotion on the hardwood, but Maddox knows better.
“When you have a seven year old and a two year old and a family, you have to come to a place where you start thinking about what’s best for them,” Maddox said. “I think that’s the reason why a lot of the coaches who are really successful for a long period of time have older kids.”
Maddox called this an undeniable “family move.” And I can’t help but to believe him. Coaches — even on the high school level sometimes — will say things in the name of “coach speak.” They’ll give the cookie cutter, political answers. But not Maddox, at least not in the several years I’ve had the opportunity to cover him.
He’s always struck me as the kind of person who’s going to think of those whom he cares about first, even when it calls for him to make hard, unpopular decisions.
He did it during the 2013-14 season in the Final Four when Woodland was getting thoroughly bested by eventual state champion Columbia.
With about four minutes left in the third quarter, and down by 20 points, Maddox called timeout and relieved most of his starters of their duty for the night.
I remember how he caught some flack from that decision from a few parents who felt he should’ve left those girls in longer to possibly try and mount a comeback. But I also remember what he told me in defense of that move.
“When you coach your team and are around them all the time, you just know when your team has another run in them,” Maddox said in the hallway leading to the team’s locker room after that game. “I didn’t see that in our girls tonight, and I wanted to take the opportunity to get some of our other girls some time.”
He wasn’t necessarily giving up as much as he was looking ahead.
Then, he was thinking about what was best for his young talented team he had returning.
But on this past Tuesday when he settled in his heart to leave, and on Friday morning when he told his squad, he was thinking about that three-person team he comes home to every night after a nearly one hour drive from work in Henry County.
He told his wife two years ago that around this time he would start putting feelers out for teaching/coaching jobs closer to home. And almost right on schedule, opportunities at Whitewater opened up.
Maddox, who’s had experience coaching boys at Lovejoy High in addition to his time with the Woodland girls, said it’s possible that he could find a spot on either the boys or girls team sidelines as an assistant.
But head coaching isn’t on his radar right now. Not while the program he poured into at Woodland is still fresh on his heart.
“There is no way I can leave this group and go somewhere else to be a head coach,” Maddox said.
But Maddox did say that his time at Woodland taught him valuable lessons about what it really takes to win at a high level. And it isn’t all tangible stats and X’s and O’s.
“I learned a lot about how important your staff is, and how important relationships are,” Maddox said. “When you’ve got a quality staff you can be successful. But the thing I never put a whole lot of thought into before coming to Woodland was the building of relationships. We were at our best when we truly cared about each other, and as a program, if there was a sign of slippage, it came when we started to lose that faith, belief and trust in each other.
“I know whenever I do decide to be a head again, the relationships part of it is going to be a major part that I pay attention to.”
Speaking of impactful relationships, the Morrow Middle and High School communities absorbed a big blow when they learned of the passing of Morrow Middle School athletic director and physical education teacher Alvin Duffey just 48 hours after celebrating a high-water mark in the high school’s athletic life with the signing of five student-athletes to college scholarships.
Morrow High cross country and girls hoops coach Anthony McKissic took the news of Duffey’s passing particularly hard, calling Duffey a “mentor” and “a great coach.”
McKissic shared strong personal sentiments about Duffey’s legacy, including a challenge to those in the coaching fraternity to remember why they do what they do in the first place.
“(Duffey) was a great coach, but he was an even better man,” McKissic said. “What I realized is no one in the aftermath of his death said anything about the games he won or lost. It was all about what he did for the kids and the people he came in contact with.”
McKissic drew from a biblical analogy on a Facebook post calling for his fellow coaching colleagues to remember the purpose of their profession.
“Just like the parable (Jesus told) of the talents. Three men were given a certain amount of money and were told to occupy until I return,” McKissic wrote. “When he came back, he wanted to know what you did with it. God said, ‘Teachers/Coaches, I have given you access to 1,800-plus of my finest possessions which are young people. You have the ability to feed into their lives on a daily basis. What have you done with what I have given you?'”
I’d say that’s a question all of us — regardless of our profession — could stand to carve out some quiet time to reflect on.
Any time death comes, especially when unexpected, it jolts you and causes you to think of the reality that no matter how healthy or fit you are, or how important your particular sphere of influence may be on earth, you won’t be here forever.
Both Maddox and McKissic, in different ways and in completely different contexts, provided timely reminders of the fact that the sports in life are never bigger than the lives in sports.
Maddox sacrificed the opportunity to continue coaching one of the area’s best young teams and one of the state’s top young guards (Vanessa Blagmon) because he didn’t want to risk losing his family while trying to win a state championship.
McKissic allowed the loss of a loved one to call him — and others — back into a place where coaching and teaching platforms aren’t so saturated by a desire for wins and titles that the influence had on the lives of young people after the final whistle blows on their high school athletic careers is lost.
May their reminders, life’s brevity and the potential power of our individual influence on young lives cause all to raise standards, both in and out of the game.
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com. If you’re on Twitter, follow him @GabrielStovall1, or follow our page @crescent_buzz.