After a quarter of a century coaching girls’ track, softball, ninth-grade basketball and volleyball, Lillie Readie Kelly has decided to step away from coaching at Bradwell Institute.
Kelly, who will finish her coaching duties this season, said the decision didn’t come easy and several tears were shed. She ultimately decided to make more time for her husband, Esaw, and their family.
“I need to spend some time with my husband. He’s been very patient through this, (because) you know I’m always gone,” she said. “I think that he deserves some time and (my family) deserves some time from me. And when a 6-year-old tells you, ‘Granny, it’s time,’ then you know it’s time. It’s been good, I’ve loved every minute of it, and I’ll always cherish Bradwell and always love Bradwell.”
Kelly will continue her role as an educator at Bradwell but said it is time for some “young blood” to step in.
“I’m getting older, and I figured someone needs to come in while I’m here,” she said. “That way I’m available to help them, and if they have any questions about how it got started, how to deal with it or if they’ve never coached before, what it takes to motivate kids, what it takes to motivate a team.”
Kelly has plenty of experience to share with new coaches. She’s been a vital part of Bradwell sports for longer than any other coach at the school. “I’ve been here for 18 years, and she has been a fixture in the athletic department,” BI athletic director and football coach Jim Walsh Jr. said. “She’s done a great job with our volleyball and our girls’ track programs.
“We hate to see her leave, but at the same time, we understand that life does move on. She is going to be missed because she has contributed a lot to those female sports programs.”
Before arriving to Bradwell in 1987, Kelly attended Alabama A&M. The university did not have a women’s athletic program before she got there.
“I started a petition to have women’s athletics come back into existence at the university, and that came about while I was there,” she said.
Kelly played volleyball and after graduating moved to Charleston, where she lived briefly. Then she moved to Hinesville with her husband and began her career at BI.
She has coached the girls’ track team since 1987 and established the volleyball program in 1996. It has gone to the state playoffs every year.
“That has been one of the great aspects about volleyball. We’ve gone to state every year, and it’s meant a lot to me,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to come back to school next August and not be active because that has always been a part of me.
“I started out, as they say it, ‘hardnosed,’ and some of the athletes say that I was strict back in my young days, but I’m getting older,” she said. “I enjoyed working with all the coaches that have come through here. In track I started off with coach (David) Paulk and Emmitt Watkins and with coach (DeAndre) Davis and now with coach Brian (Williams).”
She said Williams will be taking over as the girls’ track coach next season, but she’s uncertain who will become the volleyball coach.
Walsh said the volleyball program will continue at BI.
“We have some possibilities that we’ll explore now. If we need to, we will post a job, but we know we have a couple of options in county, people who are very familiar in coaching girls’ volleyball,” he said. “If for some reason they don’t work out, then we will advertise for the position and get somebody in who has volleyball experience.”
Kelly mentioned a number of players she coached who went on to play in college, from Erin McGraw, who went to college on a soccer scholarship, to DeLisha Milton-Jones, who currently plays basketball for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. Jones won a state high-jump title before going to Florida on a basketball scholarship.
Kelly also recalled Paris Campbell and Tia Leiataua, who both earned volleyball scholarships. Kelly recently saw two of her multisport stars, Camille Jackson and Quintunya Chapman, head off to the next level to compete in track.
“During all of those years, it was just good to be here and see all these kids go off and make something of themselves and then come back and say, ‘Coach Kelly, I appreciate what you did,’” she said. “It has always been about the students and making sure that they have the grades and get to the next level. Once they get to the next level, then I’m always here if they need some support, but it’s up to them to succeed.”
Her work hasn’t gone unappreciated.
“Coach Kelly taught me a range of things from going after my dreams to working hard for any and everything,” said Chapman, who is at UGA on a track scholarship. “She was a positive influence and welcomed everybody with open arms. I definitely miss her more than a lot.”
Kelly said she does everything she can to help student-athletes work hard to get to the next level.
“I’ve had some coaches that have taken some athletes just on my word,” she said. “They’ve never seen them run or play volleyball or anything, but just my word was good enough for them to give these students scholarships. That just comes to show that I have gained the respect from a lot of coaches and people around this region.”
Kelly became involved in BI basketball when coach Willie Graham was the boys’ coach. Later, she assisted with the girls’ team under Faye Baker.
“Working with coach Baker in basketball has been good and an inspiration …and for me, to be able to assist and help her, that has been something,” Kelly said. “She gave me the opportunity to coach ninth-grade basketball, and that was a great experience.”
Baker said she met Kelly when she started working with her as an assistant coach for the softball team.
“That is really where our relationship formed,” Baker said. “Coach Kelly has been here ever since I’ve been here, and she’s always been helpful to me.”
Baker said Kelly has done a lot of behind-the-scenes work for BI sports as well.
“She has handled a lot of our paperwork, put in work orders when something is broken, getting in the gym and setting up for us on game day — all the little things that people don’t really see, and all of that is very important and takes a lot off of me,” Baker said.
“She evens goes as far as making sure we keep the dressing room clean because it’s kind of hard for me to get in there. There is just a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t realize. I really appreciate her for that, and we are going to miss her.”
Kelly has been the Tigers’ football announcer for the past seven seasons. She kept all the track records for the region and maintains the scorebook for the basketball teams.
As she looks forward, she said she plans to spend more quality time with her husband of 39 years, but sports still will be at the forefront.
“We can go back to golfing together, bowling together. Now I have time enough to get back into those things,” Kelly said. “I have no regrets about anything that I’ve done during my tenure here. I have enjoyed every minute of it.”