In her 14-year career, Byrd has led Middlesettlements Elementary’s boys basketball team to five titles. Heath has led Montvale Elementary’s girls basketball team to two titles in the past nine years. In December, the twin sisters also led their respective teams to elementary basketball titles. It is the first time that the pair has won titles in the same year.
“We have a similar philosophy and think about the game in the same way,” Byrd said. “We talk about basketball all the time. We also coach together at (Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County) Parks & Recreation. All of those things make it even more special that we were able to win it all in the same year.” However, the sisters’ paths to their titles were very different. The Middlesettlements Elementary’s boys basketball team went undefeated.
“They made it look easier than other groups and won by wide margins, nothing less than 15 points,” Byrd told The Daily Times.” A lot of spectators told us that they looked like older players. They know the game, read the floor well and play in an extremely smooth way.” The team, which was comprised of six fifth-graders and six fourth-graders, had a great chemistry.”
“Many of them play together all year in other leagues, so they know each other, know how to read each other,” Byrd said. “They also worked extremely hard in the 1 1/2 months leading up to our season, learning schemes and working on fundamentals. They pushed themselves to be the best they can be.” Montvale Elementary’s girls basketball team lost one game in the preseason and went undefeated in the regular season. “We lost the championship last year by one point,” Heath said. “They knew they wanted this and worked hard to get it.”
Fifth-grader Bekah Gardner, who has been a starting point guard for the past four seasons, challenged the team almost immediately after the loss, she said. “It was hanging over them all off-season, and they came back with a different drive, different hunger. They worked hard in those 1 1/2 months of practice and worked together.”
The team, which was comprised of five fifth-graders, two fourth-graders and four third-graders, had a “great group of leaders, on and off the court,” Heath said. “We had girls with six years of experience to two girls who had never played. They helped coach each other and showed each other where they needed to be. Each team is special, and this group was special due to their goal setting and work ethic.”
Both sisters said they were blessed to coach their respective athletes and consider coaching to be another form of teaching. Byrd teaches fourth grade, and Heath teaches first grade. “I’ve enjoyed every season of coaching,” Byrd said. “I’ve always enjoyed seeing those little light bulb moments when a kid figures something out. Elementary-schoolers have them every game, every pass, every rebound, every shot. It’s extremely rewarding to be an elementary coach.” Heath agreed with her sister. “You’re taking every player wherever they’re at and growing them as fast as you can. It’s very similar to teaching, because they don’t understand basketball vocabulary yet. You have to break it down, explain it to them on their level and modify activities and drills for this age group. You might even have to adapt activities and drills for individual players based upon their skills. You have to challenge them and make them the best basketball players they can be at that moment.”