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A higher calling

The young coach keeps the text message as a reminder. 

It was sent to him by a basketball player from his former high school, where the coach was departing from to take a job at another Alabama high school. 

The text message, in part, reads, “I just wanted to let you know having you coach me this past season has truly inspired me. Before you I had quit going to church and praising God. I was lost but your enthusiasm for the abilities that God gave us helped lead me back to the path. I’ve been going every day that it is open and I have you to thank. I’m happy that God sent you to to help me see my errors not only in basketball but in life. It has truly been an honor to play for you and I will miss you yelling at us at practice.”

“I keep this message with me to remind me that, yes, I love winning and want to win championships more than anyone, but reaching kids, helping to make them better people, is a higher calling, one I never want to lose sight for,” the coach says.

The coach played at a small school in Walker County, and in one of his seasons, helped his team post a 30-5 record and finish as the state runner-up, the best season in school history. His coach demanded excellence and held his players to a high standard.

“I want to have that same impact on my players that I come in contact with, and help mold them to be successful young men and women, to let them know that anything is possible with God, hard work, dedication and belief,” he says.

After his playing days ended, he coached at his alma mater for two years, one of which included a run to the state Elite Eight and a 29-5 record. He was then the head junior varsity and assistant varsity coach at another Walker County school for three years. In his time there, he also helped with the middle school boys’ and girls’ teams. 

“I got into coaching first and foremost because I love the game of basketball, and what it can do for a player both spiritually, academically and athletically,” he says.

He is now the head coach of the varsity girls at a school in Jefferson County, and an assistant for the varsity boys’ team. He says he has been a part of some good teams and some not-so-good teams in his young career, but the one thing that remains his top priority is helping his players become good men and women, which can translate into them becoming good fathers and mothers, employees and citizens. 

“Sports can help play a critical role into a young person’s life,” he says. “I tell my players continually that they have to believe in themselves and work relentlessly for their goals and to never give up.”

He translates his point into real-life scenarios. He uses job loss as an example. Are you going to not look for another job and have a pity party while your spouse and children depend on you? Or are you going to fight with everything inside of you to find a way to provide for your family? When circumstances pop up, and they will pop up, don’t give up. That’s the time to dig deep and fight with all that’s inside of you to make a way. He stresses to believe in God and believe in yourself because God has placed greatness in everyone. He tells his players that it’s up to them to tap into that belief. 

“I want my players to remember not just how many games we won but that I taught them how to be a good man and woman,” he says. “I want them to come back and have a good career and family. I believe that most kids are afraid to strive for greatness because they are scared that they will fail. I feel that the only way a person can truly fail is not putting every ounce of their being into something.”

Gary Lloyd is the author of five books: "Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History," "Deep Green," "Heart of the Plate," "Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South," and "Ray of Hope." He has been a reporter and editor at newspapers and magazines in Mississippi and Alabama. He grew up in Trussville, Alabama, and graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School in 2006. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Alabama in 2009. He lives in Moody, Alabama, with his wife, Jessica, and their two dogs, Abby and Sonny.

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