Liberty County girls’ varsity basketball coach Carolyn Kelly has announced her retirement from coaching. She made it official as she honored her players during a banquet held Thursday at Ole Times Country Buffet.
“I’ve been able to stay at the same school for 23 years,” Kelly said. “Very few coaches can coach at the same school … and I’ve been in the county (school system) for 27 years.”
Kelly said she promised her eldest daughter that once she graduated, she would retire so they can spend time together.
“She actually graduated this year, but I decided to come back for this season,” Kelly acknowledged. “But I want to spend time with her. She is in the Navy now and will be traveling a lot, so I just want to be able to go when she comes. It’s been fun. I had an opportunity to coach in a place where I didn’t have any pressure. Wins or losses, it was always about the kids first and doing something productive and learning.
It’s been a good ride for me, and I hope that I’ve touched the lives of some students along the way. It’s been a great opportunity to coach great athletes and be able to send them off to other places, and I think I’m going to be satisfied with what I’ve done in basketball.”
Kelly said she will always support the Liberty basketball program. She said she still remembers certain players fondly.
“When I had Metra (Walthour) and Nisha (LaQuananisha Adams) … on that ride … and when I had Nichole Jernigan (now Tazewell) … anytime you have a kid going to a higher level to play … at any level … it gives you joy to see how far they’ve gotten.”
Adams and Walthour both played at Georgia Tech four years. Walthour is currently on the Lady Yellow Jackets coaching staff after briefly playing professionally in Europe. Tazewell played for Kelly, and then at Valdosta State. She returned to Liberty County and assisted Kelly for a few years before becoming the head coach of the girls’ basketball program at Lewis Frasier Middle School.
“I am hoping that she will consider applying. … I think that would be good,” Kelly said of Tazewell.
Kelly said she is thankful to former LCHS Principal Dr. Paula Scott for giving her the opportunity to coach. She added that Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker also provided a lot of encouragement.
But Kelly said the evening was meant to celebrate her players, and she focused on them exclusively.
“I am so excited to be here tonight,” she said to the parents, players and those in attendance. “I’ve had some kids that have been with me for four years who have not had the opportunity to fellowship with us in a group setting. I need to thank all of our parents and all of our guests for joining us here tonight.”
Kelly said she knew this year was a tough season with several younger players and a tough schedule.
“It was a long ride,” she said and thanked the parents for bringing the kids to practices and picking them up every night.
“I want you to know how much I appreciate that. I also appreciate the tireless effort the girls put in day in and day out practicing for our games,” she said.
Kelly recognized her two senior players, Tia Fleming and Dominique Wouldard, with special gifts. The seniors and the rest of the players and team managers received commemorative T-shirts.
This year, the Lady Panthers finished 7-16 overall and 5-7 in Region 3-AAAA.