Cascade Middle girls basketball coach Brenda Ayers has decided to retire from coaching after 21 years. She will remain as a teacher.
Brenda has become a very close friend to my family and me over the years and, I'm sure, to many of you as well. She's noted for her huge bright smile and hugs.
Her love for sports is only second to the love she has for her family and friendships she has developed across the midstate during her coaching career.
After coaching both softball and basketball in youth leagues for a number of years, Brenda's first coaching job was girls basketball at Liberty 21 years ago. One year later she transferred to Cascade and helped start the Lady Champion varsity softball team. She played an instrumental part in developing that program and then, 10 years ago, took over Lady Champion middle school basketball.
Over the years, Brenda has been much more than a coach to her players and their families. She's been a teacher, leader, role model and, most importantly, a true friend. She cared about her players both on and off the court and continues to make the effort to stay in touch when possible.
One former player even followed in her footsteps.
Heather Walling had an outstanding career for the Lady Champions and furthered her education and basketball career at Freed-Hardeman University. She now serves as an assistant coach for the Lady Lions.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Heather and she mentioned that Brenda was like a second mom to her. She remembers that whenever she had a problem in high school, Brenda was always there for her. She still has a great relationship with her former coach.
Recently Brenda and I had the pleasure to talk about her coaching career and many of the great memories she has collected through the years.
She remembers starting the Lady Champion softball team 1985 and all the support and help she got from people like former T-G sports editor Bo Melson, former Cascade coach Barry Bennett, William Reed and the late Buster Keele, to name a few. She remembers the umpires taking time to help line the field before games and offer advice and words of encouragement in those early years of the program.
Coaching basketball at Cascade was initially a difficult adjustment. Girls played half-court, three-on-three on each end of the court, during Ayers' playing years. She recalls having to learn the game in a different way and really had to teach herself.
She remembers some big wins she experienced with the Lady Champion basketball team and said that she became really close to this year's team because it was her last year coaching.
Ayers mentioned the late nights calling in her games to all the different sports writers like myself over the years, how they would help lift her up after a tough loss or join in her jubilation after a big win.
I had the opportunity to cover Brenda's last game, in this year's World Tournament at Chapel Hill a few weeks ago.
The Lady Champions played host Forrest Middle School, coached by former Liberty and Shelbyville basketball standout Sherry Batten Jones. Forrest defeated the Lady Champions to remain undefeated on the season.
As the two teams walked through the traditional handshake after the game, I noticed both Brenda and Sherry wiping tears from their eyes after they spoke for a moment. When I asked Brenda what was said after the game, she said that Sherry told her that she was sorry. Brenda told Sherry that if she had to lose her last game to anybody, she was glad it was her.
Just another example of the respect and friendship others have for Brenda.
So now that she has retired from the coaching world, what will Brenda do with all her spare time?
She will continue to go to sporting activities, but looks forward to sitting on the other side of the sidelines. She'll watch her 10-year-old granddaughter, Haylie Spence, an up-and-coming outstanding athlete play, and watch the games of her daughters -- both coaches themselves at Shelbyville Central.
Her oldest, Robin Ayers, is an assistant softball coach and youngest, Mallory Ayers, an assistant soccer coach.
The love of the game and players, hard work and a few smiles and hugs along the way. That's a recipe almost as good as the great-tasting homemade chicken salad Brenda's been known to make.
Brenda Ayers. What an example for future coaches to follow.