‘Community coaches have value’ | Coaches Reflect on their Careers, Best Memories, and Teachable Moments

‘Community coaches have value’ | Coaches Reflect on their Careers, Best Memories, and Teachable Moments

For National Coaches Day, Hall Pass sat down with four Knox County coaches, all of whom are highly respected. For this piece, they dug through a lifetime of memories and shared advice for their students.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.

Gwen Jackson, Girls Basketball Coach at Austin-East High School

How long have you been coaching, and what initially drew you to be a coach? 

I have been coaching since 2005. I tore my ACL and was pregnant with my daughter when I was released from the Phoenix Mercury. I wanted to do something different while I was rehabbing my knee and coaching was it. I started out coaching at my old high school in Eufaula, Alabama where my career began, and coached my baby cousin Terran Condrey. She went on to play at Baylor, and she played and won a National Championship there playing alongside Brittney Griner. Then I coached in the CIAA at Saint Paul’s College for three years as an assistant coach and one year as a head coach. Then I coached at Austin-East High School from 2012 to 2018. I took a small break and then had the opportunity to come back and coach last school year, and I am still here to date. Coaching is my passion, my calling. I love it to the fullest and thank God for the platform.

What is the best memory you have as a coach? 

My best memories as a coach are coaching my daughter and my son. Tennessee Knockout Elite is my and my husband’s AAU team and watching my daughter Janiya and my son Jaiden follow my legacy is such an honor and a blessing. Watching them be coached by their father is even bigger. They are truly something special.

What life lessons do you try to teach your student-athletes? 

I try to teach them about being a good person, a good student, and then a good athlete. Grades and character are highly important as an athlete. Athletes represent a brand, a name, an organization, or a school. Playing for a team is bigger than you. Then I focus on competing, giving it our all, and being accountable is important.

Eddie Courtney, Football Coach at Farragut High School

How long have you been coaching, and what initially drew you to be a coach? 

I’ve been coaching for over 45 years, and I’ve been here at Farragut for most of those years. It’s been a good place to work, teach, coach, and have kids come through here. It’s been a very positive thing for me all these years. That’s why I’ve stayed here. I’ve had some opportunities to go to other places this is where I was comfortable to coach the way I felt like I needed to coach. The community wants successful things going on around them, and they support you. It’s been a very positive thing for us.

What’s your favorite thing about Farragut?

We just try to be the best we can here. In this community, they want people to do well, they support you, and try to give you all the resources they can. I guess now I’ve been through five or six principals all these years, and they’ve all been people who’ve kept up this reputation and tradition we built here. We’ve had some really good principals here. I’ve seen a lot of kids come through here who wanted to go college, get a degree, be successful, and be a good athlete.

What life lessons do you try to teach your student-athletes? 

I teach all my kids a little bit about being an adult, decision-making, and being a strong person. You live with integrity. You stand on your own two feet, do the best you can to work hard for things. Things are not going to be given to you. When you have setbacks, you have to revert back to your training or the culture of your program because those are things that carry you through. If those are not solid things, then you’ll stay scattered and not know the direction you’re trying to go. Just be real, take advice, and be coachable. Communicate with your coaches and your teachers, and give them respect because they’re trying to help you. I also tell them to find a passion they really enjoy doing. The sooner you find out what it is you really want to do, the sooner you can apply yourself to be successful in doing it.

Carol Mitchell, Softball Coach at Gibbs High School

How long have you been coaching, and what initially drew you to be a coach? 

This is my 31st year of coaching. I initially had no intentions of being an educator or a coach. That was not something that was on my radar. I was a math major and I didn’t know what I was going to do with a math degree. I took some education classes and ended up getting certified to teach. It just so happened that I went to school here and there was a math position available. My old softball coach, who was still here coaching at the time, was like, “Come on, let’s go.” I helped him my very first year, and then the second year, he went to coach baseball, and I took over the softball job. It’s been interesting. It seems like it’s gone by really fast. 

What is the best memory you have as a coach? 

It’s really hard to narrow it down. The obvious choices would be the state championship teams. In a few of those state championships, we were kind of expected to win. 2017 was our most recent state championship and that one was special. We’d always been a AA school, but for four years we were bumped into AAA. I think I used it as motivation to be better because people knew we were good at AA, but they didn’t think that we would do very well in AAA. When we ended up winning the state, that kind of solidified that we could play at pretty much any level. That was a really proud moment.

What life lessons do you try to teach your student-athletes? 

It doesn’t really matter how talented you are, if you work hard to achieve something, you can achieve that goal. I’ve had situations where a kid is a sophomore and doesn’t get to start until their senior year, but they keep working and finally, they make it to starter. Or maybe they never make it to be a starter, but they are one of the leaders on the team because of their work ethic. You can outwork people at work and be a great employee. You can work hard and be a valuable person on a team, at your job, or in life.

Don Madgett, Track & Field and Cross-Country Coach at South-Doyle High School

How long have you been coaching, and what initially drew you to be a coach? 

This is my 27th year as head coach in both cross country and track. I think probably my high school experience led me to this life. Cross country has a lifestyle that goes with it. The team culture and being able to maintain that as a coach was something that was appealing to me.

When I started teaching, I knew from reading the paper that there had been some good runners here at South-Doyle. One of them, Anthony Norris, is the principal of South-Doyle Middle. He was an all-state runner-up, but he had run for Coach Prince, who was still here when I got here. He was a mentor of mine for a bit, but what I found was that this place had a rich history in this building. There have only been three coaches ever at South-Doyle since 1968. Melvin Maxwell was the first, and he coached for about 29 years. Then Prince was the coach for a bit, and then I have been the coach for the past 27 years.  

I’ve always held the ideal of the long-term teacher coach. Community coaches have value. Some coaches change schools. Some only stay in the profession for a little while, but I think the ideal for me has always been to stay in one place. Once I found my place, I would want to stay forever if I could. As for why I’ve stayed here, as one of our assistant principals said, “At this school, running was sacred.” It was the highest compliment I’ve been paid in my coaching career.

What is the best memory you have as a coach? 

Successes are always nice. In my first year, we qualified for state, and we had the region meet down along the river in Sequoyah Hills. There was a little dock going out into the river and the team ran and jumped off it for their celebration afterward. That was the fall of 1997, my first year as head coach.

What life lessons do you try to teach your student-athletes? 

Cross country is the sport where you can find that you can do things personally you never thought you could do, and that’s something that you can take into other realms in the larger life and bigger world.

This sport is one where you can come to high school without all the skill sets you might need in other sports, but if you’re willing to work at it, be patient, and put some time in, you can be successful in high school and have a great career.

Career-Themed Academies Revealed For First Cohort Of The 865 Academies

Career-Themed Academies Revealed For First Cohort Of The 865 Academies

Photo Credit: John Valentine

The first cohort of The 865 Academies revealed their new career-themed Academies at a celebration hosted by Central High School on Thursday.

The 865 Academies initiative launched in the fall of 2022, and is designed to transform the high school experience in Knox County. The goal is for every KCS graduate to be prepared for enrolling in postsecondary studies; enlisting in service to their country; or finding employment in a high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand profession, with an entrepreneurial mindset.

By establishing career-themed academies, the initiative will create small learning communities within larger schools, allowing students to participate in career exploration activities and take a deep dive into areas of interest while also building strong connections with teachers and other students.

“We’ve got to prepare students, and school systems are uniquely positioned to do that,” said Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk. “Our job is to have students prepared for when they graduate.”

The celebration was attended by community leaders and industry partners, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who said 865Ready graduates will ultimately benefit Knox County and East Tennessee. 

“This is just wonderful to see a really intentional, strategic effort to in some ways customize the student experience,” Jacobs said. “They get the tools and the skills that they need to excel in areas that they’re either naturally drawn to or things that they love.”

Gordon Heins, the president and chairman of the A.G. Heins Company, said industry partnerships positively impact both organizations and students. By working together, KCS students are provided valuable opportunities for work-based learning and career exploration.

“As an employer, we want students to come to us looking for good-paying jobs, and that they’re prepared, and they have the tools,” he said.

Central High School is in the first cohort of The 865 Academies, and Principal Dr. Andrew Brown said student performance in Algebra I has improved, while discipline referrals are down.”

Brown credited Freshman Seminar, a new class that focuses on helping 9th-graders identify interests, aptitudes and professional skills, adding that “we are already beginning to see great results out of that work.

CHS senior Justus Hayes was involved in the early stages of launching the Academies initiative, and is also an entrepreneur. He started his own business, Blended Clothing, and during the ceremony presented shirts to several local leaders. 

“Entrepreneurship is a very important thing to me. I love creating, and bringing new apparel and things to our generation,” Hayes said. “It has been my honor to help build and show my support for something that will impact our current and future generations.”

Student Ambassadors from each school presented their new Academies alongside their principals. Below are the Academies for the first cohort.


Carter High School and South-Doyle High School will be joining The 865 Academies as the second cohort in the fall.

For more information on The 865 Academies, visit knoxschools.org/academies.

Austin-East Junior Receives MLK Commission Youth Award

Austin-East Junior Receives MLK Commission Youth Award

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission has honored Austin-East junior Tylan Baker with the 2023 Knoxville Youth Award.

The group recognizes individuals annually, and this is the first year the Youth Award has been presented to a member of the Knoxville community.

“I think it’s an honor,” assistant principal Rukiya Foster said. “It’s the first youth to ever get the award, so that’s very special. He has set the precedent and the path for youth to come.”

The MLK Commission chose to honor Baker and others based on “their commitment to continuing the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to their website

“I think it’s one of the many awards he’ll be getting,” Jeff Black, another Austin-East assistant principal, said of Baker. “I think he’s driven, and he’s a great leader.”

Baker works with a number of local organizations to volunteer around his community.

“I honestly believe that I earned the award just for the service I’ve done in the community,” he said. “It was really a surprise. I didn’t know I was getting it. I just know it’s big.”

The 17-year-old is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council, Youth Leadership Knoxville, the Urban League’s National Achievers Honor Society, National Honor Society, 100 Black Men, Young Life, Project GRAD, and the Austin-East Roadrunners football team. All of these groups allow Baker to give back in different ways.

“It’s just wanting to see the best for everybody, wanting a better community,” Baker said. “As we look to the future, the people that’s coming behind me might want to do the same thing I’m doing. I want to set a good example for them.”

AE’s head football coach, Antonio Mays, also gives credit to Baker’s parents for his success. “I know the supportive structure that they have put in place for him,” Mays said.

The Austin-East administration thinks highly of the junior, describing him with words like mentor, intelligent, powerful, empathetic, responsible, focused, gentle giant, conscientious, well-rounded, Roadrunner. 

“I think it’s a manifestation of the legacy that those have laid before him, and he just picked up the torch to continue the tradition of excellence and high achievement,” said Kamau Kenyatta, an assistant principal. Visit the MLK Commission website to see the other award recipients.


A-E Educator Receives National Teaching Award

A-E Educator Receives National Teaching Award

Melody Hawkins, an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High, was honored on Tuesday as the National University Teacher of the Year. (Photo credit / Justin Johnson)

A Knox County educator was in the spotlight after earning a national award, a $50,000 prize and an appearance on a daytime talk show!

On Tuesday, Melody Hawkins, an assistant administrator at Austin-East Magnet High, was recognized as National University’s Teacher of the Year. Hawkins previously served as a teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, before joining A-E as an administrator last fall.

The announcement was made on “The Drew Barrymore Show”, and Hawkins was able to celebrate with her students after watching the episode in a classroom at A-E.

In the televised interview, Hawkins talked about her passion for teaching, the lasting impact of a former student, and the influence of educators in her own life – including her mother, who was also a teacher.

During the celebration at Austin-East, Hawkins showed students the replica $50,000 check that she received, and highlighted a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree which is part of the award.

Lazaire Nance, a 9th-grader at A-E who was previously one of Hawkins’ science students at Vine Middle, said she wants to pursue a career as a doctor and a biochemist, adding that Hawkins has played a big role in her life: “She really inspired me to be who I want to be and let me know I could do it.”

Students also talked about Hawkins’ encouragement to pursue academic achievements in fields like science, where women of color are often underrepresented.

Hawkins said Tuesday that she was happy to see students have been listening to that message: “I encourage them to be themselves unapologetically, without question, without shame,” she said. “Be who you are, show up as who you are and everything else will take care of itself.”


Delaney Legacy Continues To Grow

Delaney Legacy Continues To Grow

Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said educators played an important role in the lives of Beauford and Joseph Delaney. The Beck Center is planning a museum to highlight the legacy of the Delaney brothers, who achieved wide acclaim as artists.

Beauford Delaney grew up in Knoxville and went on to achieve international acclaim as one of the great modernist painters of the 20th Century.

In many ways, his achievements were more widely recognized outside of Knoxville than they were locally. But a group of local activists and advocates is helping to make sure his legacy – and that of Joseph Delaney, his younger brother and fellow artist – are acknowledged and celebrated in his hometown.

Beauford Delaney was born in a house on Vine Street in 1901, one of 10 children born to Samuel and Delia Delaney. Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, said he went on to attend “Knoxville Colored High School”, a successor to Austin High, and was encouraged in his artistic efforts by principal Charles Cansler.

Kesler said Delia Delaney was among the first to recognize her sons’ potential, adding that during church services, Beauford and Joseph would draw on Sunday School cards.

But Kesler also emphasized the importance of educators such as Cansler. “You can never underestimate the power of our teachers and of our educators,” she said. “We applaud them because they see things in the students that no one else can see … And I think it made the difference in the life of both Beauford and Joseph, of these educators who took a sincere interest in them.”

Beauford Delaney’s talent was later recognized by Knoxville painter Lloyd Branson, who served as a mentor and helped him attend art school in Boston. Delaney went on to live in New York and later in Paris, where he died in 1979.

David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, said Delaney has a huge international reputation with a strong market for his work. “Black artists in general, their market has really risen dramatically in the last decade or so,” Butler said. “And we’re kind of rewriting our history, understanding it in a much more complete way. It’s a much more diverse story than we used to think, and a much more diverse cast of characters. Black artists like Beauford were overlooked and ignored in many cases just because of who they were.”

In 2020, KMA hosted a major exhibition of Delaney’s work called “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door”, which focused on the artist’s relationship with Baldwin, the writer well-known for his books and essays about race in America.

Delaney’s work has also been in the spotlight nationally. In October, New York Times critic Roberta Smith reviewed an exhibition at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, in New York, and wrote in her review that Delaney’s work “is one of the signal achievements of 20th-century American art.”

And beyond the works themselves, local leaders have been working to ensure that the Delaney family’s legacy is remembered.

The Beck Center – which documents African-American history in Knoxville – in August held a groundbreaking for a new museum at 1935 Dandridge Avenue. The site is located next door to the Beck Center and includes a residence that was purchased by Samuel Emery Delaney – the older brother of Beauford and Joseph – and served as the family’s home after Beauford and Joseph had left Knoxville. The Beck Center purchased the property in 2015, and is planning to restore it.

Kesler, the Beck Center’s president, said that even after Beauford Delaney moved to Paris, he carried Knoxville in his heart.

“I think today he’s going to be a model for a lot of our students to say that we can embrace great talent,” she added. “And bringing his name here to Knoxville and showcasing him here, my hope is to inspire other young artists and creators and students that no matter what the odds, what the challenges, that your gift can be celebrated and encouraged.”