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PROFILE 2010: Marengo Academy coaches

There aren’t a lot of people clamoring for coaches to be fired at Marengo Academy. That doesn’t mean that Longhorn fans are not passionate. To the contrary. In a lot of ways, they may be more passionate than just about any other high school fan base out there.

That seems a bold statement until it is considered how involved the Marengo Academy fan base is with the institution itself. At Marengo Academy, some of the biggest fans are also the coaches.

The school has baseball, football, softball, and boys and girls basketball all at the varsity and junior varsity levels as well as a golf team and a volleyball squad. And of those, only head football coach Robby James and head baseball coach and athletic director Jonathan Lindsey are actually employed by the school. The rest of the school’s athletic teams are guided by parents and other volunteers.

“Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have many of the athletic programs we have today,” James says of the value of the time contributions make by the academy’s volunteer coaching staff. “They mean a great deal to us to be able to put a program together.”

They specialize in a number of vocations, none of which are related to coaching. Charlie Willie and Rusty Vick help out with baseball. They also work at Rock-Tenn. As do head softball coach Todd Mathis and basketball assistant Mike Henderson. Head girls and assistant boys basketball coach and assistant softball coach Danny Stenz works at Georgia Pacific. Assistant baseball coach Seth Allgood is a student at UWA. Larry Huckabee coaches volleyball and helps with softball and works at Century Linc. Travis Wilkinson coaches junior varsity baseball and works at Burkes Mechanical. Terry Vice gets his paycheck from Black Warrior Electric and gives his free time to helping Wilkinson with the JV baseball program. Then there’s Jesse Morgan, a 2009 graduate of MA who helps out the junior varsity diamond dwellers while studying at Alabama Southern. And as exhausting as that list is, it remains far from exhaustive as there are yet so many others both past and present who have made or are making Marengo Academy athletics their second job.

“They know when they start, there’s not a lot of pay involved,” James says. “They do it because they love those kids. And they’re committed. They are out to win.”

And win they have done. Eddie Edwards teamed with Stenz to help lead the varsity boys basketball team to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Stenz and Henderson took the girls varsity basketball team to the state tournament just a few weeks after Stenz and Dana Tucker took the junior high team to its second straight state championship.

Then there is the job Mathis and his cohorts have done with the softball program. The varsity team has been consistently ranked for the last few years and ended its most recent run in the finals of the state tournament. Even more impressive is the fact that Mathis, a factory worker by day and coach by night, has had four of his players sign collegiate softball scholarships in the last two years.

But to Mathis, it is just something he does. He has coached the program’s core for the better part of the last decade and following them to the high school level was just the next logical step.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal,” Mathis says.

“I think that is just the biggest thing,” James explains. “They just enjoy seeing the kids do well.”

While MA’s volunteer coaches love what they are able to do in helping to advance the school’s athletic programs, their contributions do not come without sacrifice. Their investment in the young Longhorn athletes often comes at the cost of time spent with family. And in that way, the success of Marengo Academy athletics is as much to the credit of the spouses of the volunteer coaches as it is to the charitable instructors themselves.

“It’s difficult. And they are as understanding as anyone can be,” Mathis says of the patience shown by the wives of the MA coaches.

That patience is something those spouses have had to exercise at varying levels since the days that their respective sons and daughters have played youth league sports.

“One way we’ve been so fortunate is that a lot of these guys have had daughters or sons playing little league and have been through that coaching trail themselves,” James says.

And while it seems to outsiders like the opportunity to coach one’s own child for a few more years would be rewarding in and of itself, Mathis and his colleagues maintain that such a dynamic can often complicate the job of a coach.

“Sometimes, it’s tougher,” Mathis says. “It’s not very rewarding in that aspect. A lot of times, it’s harder. I’ve had to coach teams where I didn’t have (a child) on it and I’ve had to coach teams where I did and it’s a lot easier to coach when I didn’t have one (on the squad).”

For a handful of volunteer coaches, like junior varsity and varsity assistant softball coach Rusty Vick, such a dynamic exists and presents challenges that both coach and player will manage for the foreseeable future.

“I have a daughter (on the team). She’s in the ninth grade,” Vick says of MA freshman Ally, who will be playing for her dad this season.

The same challenges will exist this year for Wilkinson as he coaches a handful of junior high players, including his 14-year-old son Brant Lewis. There is the difficulty of being a father and a coach coupled with the struggles that accompany balancing a work schedule and a baseball season.

“It’s a little bit tough, but I love it,” Wilkinson says. “I’m doing it because I love the game of baseball. I love trying to show the kids the right way to play the game.”

Then there is Charlie Willie, a Marengo Academy alum who has coached his nephews in years past and continues to help out with the baseball team because he loves doing it.

One of the great beauties of Marengo Academy’s situation is that it allows input and assistance from a wide variety of individuals and aptitudes. Assistant junior high baseball coach Terry Vice says he is a prime example of that fact.

“Everybody in the world who knows me knows I can’t play baseball,” the fitness conscious Vice says jokingly. “I’m just the conditioning coach.”

But that is kind of how Marengo Academy works. It is a collection of people from different towns and different jobs with different abilities and talents who always seem to come together over one unifying orange and white banner and somehow find a way to be successful even when the odds are against. And in the venue of athletics, the institution’s ability to always land on its feet can largely be attributed to the willingness of dozens of men and women to give more to the school than a tuition check.