Dec 03, 2015

For Farney, Character Matters More Than Wins

Reporting Texas

Rhonda Farney talks with guard Kendrick Clark after a time out at Georgetown High School on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 against Killeen High School. Jenah Ovalles-Forey/Reporting Texas

Rhonda Farney talks with guard Kendrick Clark at Georgetown High School game. Jenah Ovalles-Forey/Reporting Texas

Rhonda Farney found herself the sole coach for girls’ basketball and track at Goldthwaite High School at the ripe age of 19, fresh out of Howard Payne University.

Success came early and often for Farney, who coached seventh grade to varsity for 10 years. Her teams won 10 district championships and had four regional tournament appearances during her time at Goldthwaite.

After a two-year stop at Ozona High School, she moved to Georgetown High School, where Farney is in her 27th year as head coach. She has a state championship, 25 playoff appearances and more than 1,000 wins in her career, making her one of five Texas high school coaches to reach that mark.

Farney recalled a colleague once asking her how she stays motivated.

“It has never ever seemed in my whole life, ever, like I was coming to work,” Farney said. “I look forward to the opportunity that I have to be around all my colleagues and to hopefully do basketball, but the bigger thing is just to have the opportunity to teach life lessons.”

Farney, who at nearly 60 still has dark brown hair, takes pride in turning out well-rounded athletes who are empathetic.

Sometimes she teaches through the examples of former athletes. Krystal Forthan, who moved to Georgetown from Oregon as a junior, said she remembers being told she would never graduate and would never make an ACT or SAT score high enough to get into college., Forthan worked with coaches to improve her academics and gained admittance into Louisiana State University.

Jill Warren, who played under Farney from 1979 to 1985, said Farney taught her some  important lessons.

“My senior year, my best friend and I had to go apologize to a substitute teacher because the class we were in became somewhat disrespectful and unruly,” Warren said. “And [Farney said] that even though we weren’t being disruptive, by laughing or just keeping quiet, we were going along with the crowd.”

Warren learned that Farney expected more from her players than good play on the court.

Farney’s passions for coaching and teaching have resonated with players. About 45 former players have pursued careers in coaching, teaching or both.

She is involved in the community of Georgetown. She worships at the First Baptist Church and has built a strong relationship with older residents in Georgetown’s Sun City community. A bus brings 60 to 100 Sun City residents to each home game.

Farney asks seniors to evaluate her program at the end of the season. “One of the things that they always comment on is just how much Sun City support has meant to them,” she said.

Farney is more excited about her players’ success than her own. She thinks of her players as family.

“I start the year, and I have somewhere around, like, 50 girls,” from freshman to varsity level, “that I consider to be like daughters,” she said.

In February 2014, Farney was a win short of 1,000, and the Lady Eagles were in the playoffs. If they lost, the season was over; if they won, they advanced to the regional quarterfinal.

The game looked troubling at times. The Lady Eagles blew a 10-point lead in the third quarter. But they outscored Lumberton High School 20-6 in the fourth to win, 47-26.

When the team won, Farney said, she saw a tremendous weight lifted off the girls’ shoulders. She realized that no matter how hard she tried to make it about them, they wanted to please her.

Caitlyn Buttram, who played for Farney at Georgetown High School from 2011 to 2014, said the team knew the stakes well.

“Of course it was in the back of our minds,” Buttram said. “We had a big surprise planned for her at the end of the game if we won.”

Minutes before the game was over, fans pulled out a white banner, with blue and gold lettering, that read ‘Coach Rhonda Farney 1,000 Wins’. T-shirts were handed out.

Warren said Farney’s success came as no surprise. “She works harder and is more intense than any other coach I have known,” Warren said.

She remembers a time that Farney had the team practice the same drill for an hour until they got it just right.

Farney starts stressing basic skills to players as soon as they get on campus. She pushes them to be better than they were the year before. The program at Georgetown continues to have success with appearances in the regional or state tournament in six of the last eight years.

At games, you can find Farney squatting on the sideline, yelling and banging closed fists on the hardwood floor as her team is in a full court press.

Asked about retirement, she said:

“I never think about retirement, and I don’t know what I would do. … If my health stays good and my husband’s health stays good, then I see myself doing this for the foreseeable future.”