During fall quarter of my sophomore year at Tech my older friend Wayne Price enlisted me to be his assistant coach for his coed Mighty Mite basketball team at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church. We coached the 8 – 12 year old Knicks. The other coaches were mostly made up of other older Tech friends, including Fred O Pitts and Steve Norman.
That 1978-79 Knicks team included Robin Brady, Elizabeth Flack, Patricia Starnes, and Stephanie Dukes, who I later taught in high school Sunday School and at youth camp…along with their younger brothers and sisters. Robin now serves in Waumbaland at North Point, in the class next to Ceil and Will. This past July I ran into Stephanie’s father in Buckhead. Almost thirty years later he still calls me “Coach” and remembers the time I protested an extra-early Saturday morning makeup game by coaching in a housecoat and bedroom slippers, holding a teddy bear. Young Knick Scott O. Seydel always had a big smile.
The next season I was given my own team, and for the next several years I coached the Celtics. Not knowing much about basketball, my Tech buddy Sharon Langley assisted me for two seasons before moving on to her own team. David Hurt coached every year, and our pal Don Head ran the league from his recreation assistant position. More of our Tech friends joined the coaching ranks, including roommates Wayne Smith and Mike Kirkland, as well as Steve Givens and Charles Vaughn. Throughout the Tech year our conversations were often devoted to Mighty Mite memories, statistics, and strategies.
Early standouts included Kelly Curran, Spencer and Val Goetz, Wynne Jarboe, Richard Lea, Marnie Mullen, Lee Starnes, Robin Ramsey, Mary Elizabeth Teem, and Tracy and JaDon Taylor. Most of the girls grew up to sing in the youth choir musicals. Kelly was crowned UGA’s homecoming queen and returned to become a youth leader herself, where we shared many fun misadventures. She later sang at North Point and Buckhead Church. In 1999 my children got to know Patricia and Lee’s father “Mr. Danny” when he painted our house.
Wynne, Kelly, Robin, and Tracy were tall enough to dominate the boys inside. Val, Marnie, and Mary Elizabeth were complete, full-court players. Little JaDon’s amazing dribbling acumen allowed her to weave through the defense for easy lay-ups. Unfortunately, shooting wasn’t her forte, and she often missed. Though she didn’t play at Lovett, she was later asked to play at Rhodes College (later renamed the University of Memphis).
After these girls grew out of the program, the league was then dominated by young guns Lang Whitaker, Chad Eaton, and John Flack. Lang’s family had “adopted” me, but for some reason I was never able to get him on my team. Instead I wound up with Chad or John. They were the leading scorers on offense and always guarded each other on defense. It was great to get to know the kids and their parents – we would stay close for most of the next decade as the kids grew through their high-school years. It’s hard to imagine that most of these kids now are parents with children themselves.
Several seasons my Celtics would be crowned Season Champions, but every year I would lose in the Tournament. One Celtic player went on to make the Parade All-America High-School Soccer team at Westminster. Tiny red-head Roberta Lea didn’t want to join in the on-court action, so at first her playing time was made up of standing next to me, just barely on the court. We devised a play where all the boys would screen out the other team so she could shoot, and it was heart-warming to see the young boys try to make the play work in the game.
One constant through the years was referee David Downing, the Minister of Recreation at the church. His experience and love for the children allowed him to call games fairly in good humor, never allowing things to get out of hand. He served as a coach on the floor, instructing the kids on what they did wrong and what the correct thing to do was. His son Danny now serves in the same position at Johnson Ferry Baptist.
Sharon and I started a tradition of team-building extracurricular activities, which included roller-skating at JellyBeans and trips down to Georgia Tech and the Varsity. SPdL always had a bid season-ending basketball banquet, complete with an inspirational speaker, like diminutive Charlie Criss of the Hawks. The SPdL jackets and duffels given as awards were badges of honor, worn until threadbare.
Don eventually bequeathed me a key to the old SPdL gym, and it was a great place to hang out in my early twenties single days. It was torn down in the late 1980’s, at the same time Ceil and I were renovating our Morningside kitchen. Our contractor friend Bill Collier stopped by one day with a brilliant idea: he salvaged enough hardwood from the gym floor to put in our kitchen. When it was first installed you could still see the lines from the court!