Billy Thomas didn’t know Terry Walters had retired from coaching when he called him earlier this summer.
Thomas, the school board president at Columbus Christian Academy in Steens, called Walters to see if he would be interested in bringing his Hatley High School girls basketball team to a basketball camp in Steens. When Thomas discovered Walters no longer was coaching at Hatley High, the wheels started turning.
Thomas, who was a longtime boys basketball coach at Columbus Christian Academy, was familiar with Walters’ background at Hatley and Hamilton high schools. He also knew Walters coached his wife, Rachel (McBeth) Thomas, at Hamilton High in the early 1990s. The more Thomas thought about it, he realized Walters had the traits that would be ideal in the school’s new girls basketball coach.
“It was a great fit,” Thomas said. “He has been coaching girls basketball for 30 years and has been very successful at it. We were looking for somebody who had maturity and experience to come in and help with our girls basketball team and not use it as a stepping stone and teach our girls about basketball.”
Columbus Christian Academy, which changed its name from Immanuel Christian School earlier this year, made the hiring of Walters official Tuesday night when it introduced him to parents and players.
“One of the first things out of mouth (Tuesday) was he said he expected the girls to have God first in their life and then family, academics, and basketball,” Thomas said. “He told them he expects them to do 100 percent in all of that, not a little bit here and a little more here. As I was sitting there as a parent who is several years away having a daughter from playing basketball, I like to know a coach has his priorities in line.”
Walters played basketball and football at Hatley High. He graduated from the school in 1977 and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Mississippi State and a degree in educational leadership from Alabama.
Walters said he realized early on that he wanted to get into teaching and coaching. Initially, he said he wanted to coach football, but he said he took a job as a basketball coach at Baldwyn High because it was the right fit at that time in his life. He said he then started to study basketball and focused on helping players have as much fun with the game as he did when he played.
“I want to get as much out of the kids as possible,” Walters said. “I am doing it for the kids. I know the enjoyment I had in high school playing and going to the state tournament in high school as a coach and as a player. I know those joys aren’t things you can buy. They are things you have to work for. … I want to teach the players the basic skills and to get them believing in themselves and to see how those skills we learn in practice can help make them successful.”
Walters, who also was a longtime elementary school and high school administrator, spent four years as an assistant coach at Baldwyn. He coached the Hamilton High boys basketball team for five years and the Hamilton High girls basketball team for 14 years. He led the Hamilton High girls to four Monroe County championships, seven division championships, nine invitational championships, one North State championship, and one state runner-up finish. He spent the past eight years as girls basketball coach at Hatley High.
Thomas has known Walters for years, so it didn’t take long for him to realize Walters would be an ideal coach to bring in to replace Jenny Hutcherson, who stepped down at the end of the season but will remain at the school as a teacher.
“Over years of coaching, teaching, or writing, you learn you have to stay with fundamental values, and when you do that success comes,” Thomas said. “It may not come overnight, but it will come if you put the work in.”
Thomas said Walters will coach Columbus Christian Academy’s junior high and varsity girls basketball teams. He said Walters is interested in helping grow the sport at the Columbus Christian Academy, which plays in Class A in MAIS, the smallest classification in that organization.
Walters, who was working part time at Hatley High as girls basketball coach and a driver’s education teacher, said the challenge of building a program at Columbus Christian will be different than from the one he faced in the public schools, but he said hard work has been the foundation of his philosophy for years and he isn’t going to change it.
“The number of kids (between public and private) will be a difference, but it is instilling in the kids to want to play the game of basketball,” Walters said. “I know it is not going to happen overnight. If they start believing, it could happen sooner rather than later.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.