We are in the trenches of glorious football season in Georgia. The sound of the band playing echoes for miles. Friday night energy is as electric as the much talked about lights that illuminate the fields. And Gwinnett always has some of the best of the best talent shining under those well-known lights at the start of the weekends in the fall.
We hear from the players. We hear from the coaches. But we don’t always get to hear from another important part of these teams. The coaches’ wives are very much a part of the family that forms between the members of these teams. These women may rarely step foot on the field, but their presence is evident.
I am so thankful that two wonderful women, Halie Conn and Courtnye Smith, shared some of the story of their family with me. They shared part of who they are and part of who their husbands are, through their eyes.
Halie Conn (Mickey Conn- Varsity Head Coach, Grayson Rams)
Halie’s energy is infectious and engaging. It is apparent that her focus is always how full her cup is from the bottom and not how far it is from the top. Halie is a caring and seemingly tireless teacher at Grayson Elementary School.
Courtnye Smith (Chad Smith- Varsity Assistant Coach, Central Gwinnett Black Knights)
Courtnye’s heart is as sweet as her accent. But I know that she is also tough. I can tell that her strength lies in quiet waiting for when she needs it. Courtnye owns “Salon C by Courtnye Smith” that is part of Sola Salons at The Avenues in Snellville.
On the losses of the team:
Losses can be hard, and I know it has to be tough at times not to take those disappointments home. But both women focus on the positive during those disheartening times. They both focus on their faith and something to celebrate instead. For both families, losses in the playoffs seem to hit the hardest. Halle says “We want to make sure that we teach our boys that happiness comes from Christ and not what happens on the field.” Courtnye explains that there was a particular loss that did send their family into a bit of a collective funk. But when they started to celebrate successes like the hard working players signing with colleges (Alabama being their family’s favorite) and other day-to-day wins, their spirits turned around.
I think this positive focus is an important attribute for coaches and their families. For everyone, really. While losses are more concrete for a coach, we all have losses, big and small. While we may not have a “L” next to our team in the weekend paper, we often tally our losses in our heads. The Conns and the Smiths find deeper wins. Wins that don’t change from Friday to Friday. And that keeps their hearts full no matter what the scoreboard says.
On memorable players:
Every year certain players stick in the memory of the coaches and their families. Each for different reasons. Sometimes it’s for ways the coaches can help the player, like walking them on the field on Senior Night because he doesn’t have someone who will show up for him. Sometimes it’s for ways the players help their family.
Halie recalls a particularly funny moment with a memorable player. Robert Nkemdiche was staying at the Conn house. That was an extra 290lbs and 6’5” of extra person. I’m sure Halie felt like Sisyphus trying to keep food in the house!!! i imagine it was a job that felt like it started over in the same place every day: with an empty pantry. Part of that job was granting Mickey’s specific request for Oreos to have as a sweet snack when he got home. However, when Halie and Mickey came home to find that Robert “was eating the Oreos like Cereal! He had taken 2 entire rows of the cookies in a bowl with milk.” all Halie could do was laugh. I can only imagine the cartoonesque scene of such a big adolescent scooping multiple cookies onto a spoon. Mickey was less amused to see his coveted treat disappear in such a quick and absolute manner. “Mickey started aggressively questioning Robert ‘What were you THINKING??’” recalls Halie. However, we all know what Robert was thinking, don’t we? The thought of consuming mass quantities of Oreos without even having to waste time with the dunk sounds pretty fantastic.
Courtnye tells about a current player that has won the heart of her family. Tony “Duke” Gray is a talented player with great potential. But what sets him apart is his heart. Courtney says he’s “a big teddy bear that my children and I love.” He works hard and wants to make his coaches proud. And I’m sure that there is no one prouder of “Duke” than his mom. Courtney says, “Duke’s mom is at not only all of the games, but at the practices as well, cheering on the whole Black Knight team.” I think it also says a lot about this young man that, after every game, he takes the time to go over and give Courtnye and Chad’s little 2 year old a big knuckle bump. Such a small gesture. But it speaks volumes about that young man, and I’m sure has a huge impact on the the little guy looking up at him.
The football teams have their cheerleaders. And the coaches have their wives who support and love them enthusiastically and fiercely. These two women are extraordinary. But I know they are indicative of other wonderful women who love and support the men who lead our young men on the football field. A coach’s wife has to be the flexible glue for the family. She is flexible so that for a large part of the year her family can include all of the other young men on the football team. She stretches so that her husband can focus on the team. She gives her husband to football because it is something that he loves. And, in turn, she gives herself.