CODY CARROLL played on the last two Ponce de Leon boys playoff teams in 2005 and 2007, and is entering his third year as head coach of the Freeport Middle School girls basketball team. (Photo by Blake McCormick)By BLAKE MCCORMICK
It’s just a middle school practice scrimmage in May, but three Ponce de Leon Pirates are coaching with the same spirited diligence that would suffice for a varsity contest in December.
There’s Tim Alford, the local high school coaching icon whose name is on two state championship banners and numerous other notable season emblems. He’s flanked by Laurie Tinsley, who starred on Alford’s 2000 state championship team before becoming a mainstay as a varsity assistant coach and middle school head coach at her alma mater. And, Cody Carroll, who played on the Pirates’ last two boys playoff teams in 2005 and 2007.
Each has similar coaching demeanor, blending firm correction with care-taking benevolence, while using their sometimes indistinguishable vocal accents to promote the importance of basic fundamentals to their players.
However, excluding age and gender, there is one glaring difference with one of these western Holmes County natives; Cody Carroll is not coaching the Lady Pirates, he’s coaching the Freeport Middle School Lady Bulldogs.
Carroll is entering his third year at FMS, but his passion for basketball was cultivated at Ponce de Leon, where the hardwood enthusiast not only grew up playing boys basketball but also following Alford’s highly respected girls program.
“I think a lot of Coach Alford, and Coach Tinsley,” said Carroll, following the practice scrimmage, which, for what it’s worth, resulted in a PDL victory. “When I was in school they made back-to-back trips to state. Even if I hadn’t gone to school there, it’s easy to see the success they’ve had.”
After graduating from the Holmes County school in 2007, Carroll continued to follow the girls teams at PDL, largely because his sister, Kaitlyn, was the starting point guard on the school’s 2012 state championship team. Carroll admits the blueprint he is using at FMS has been significantly influenced by Alford and Tinsley, who work just as hard year round with the middle school teams as they do their well respected high school varsity program.
“They work really, really hard for their girls. His girls would run through a wall for him because he will run through walls for them. I’ve really tried to make sure I model that system of care with mine.”
Carroll acknowledges he wants to promote the interest of girls basketball in the community, and, again, points to the inspiration he has gleaned from how his alma mater manages the sport.
“They play basketball all the time. They play it now, they’ll play it next month, they’ll play it when school starts back, they’ll play it in the season and when it’s over, they’ll play it some more.”
Hence why Carroll is trying to further emphasize and improve the school’s off-season summer program, which he suggests is critical for the players.
“It’s important to learn the fundamentals and get familiar with my lingo. What it means when I say get down low or seal out. It’s just important to get out here and learn.”
Carroll’s youth and enthusiasm has made him a popular teacher at the school, and his passion for the game of basketball is already inspiring his students and players. Moreover, his year-round commitment to his girls program should pay off dividends for the high school girls program in the future.
“We are trying to develop a basketball culture that will lend itself to more success over time. We have a good foundation started. We’re just trying to develop more interest not only here (at FMS) but in the community of Freeport.”