By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
After four successful years as women’s head basketball coach at Gadsden State, John Butts is heading to Sand Mountain.
On May 26, the Albertville City Board of Education approved Butts to succeed Jay Shankles as the Aggies’ girls basketball coach. Butts will teach health at AHS.
A 1986 graduate of West End High School, Butts coached the Etowah High varsity girls for 10 years before taking the Gadsden State position. Butts also coached girls at Westbrook Christian and Ashville. He spent four seasons as junior varsity boys coach at Etowah under former varsity boys coach Neal Wes-ter.
“I missed it,” Butts said of returning to the high school ranks. “I missed the relationship part. At a two-year school, you get them for two years and they’re gone. At Etowah, being there for so long, I enjoyed knowing who my point guard was from third grade up, and I enjoyed knowing their parents from third grade up. I had great relationships at Gadsden State, but just so quickly [the players] were gone.”
Butts’ four-year run with the Lady Cardinals included an overall record of 78-31, a state runner-up finish in the 2013-14 Alabama Community College Conference Tournament, a berth in the ACCC Tournament semifinals both this past season and in 2012-13 and several players who went on to play for four-year schools. 2014 GSCC graduate Lacy Buchanon was named ACCC Player of the Year for the 2013-14 season.
Butts said there were only a couple of jobs that would interest him if they came open, and Albertville was one of them. Two months ago, Shankles shared with Butts that he might be leaving for another job opportunity. Shankles and Butts have been friends for 20 years, and Shankles encouraged him to apply for the AHS job.
“Then when it officially came open, he called me and said it’s open, and I said I think I’m going to apply for it,” Butts said. “I had several parents and people from up this way talk with me. I had really good connections, because we had run travel ball in Gadsden for years and had a lot of Albertville kids come play. A lot of the girls I’ll be coaching played in our travel ball (Gadsden Flash).
“I missed the relationships. When you’re at Gadsden, you do a lot of traveling. You’re gone all the time, and right now with some circumstances, I just don’t like to be gone all the time. When you’re the head coach at a junior college, you’re that campus’ coach and that’s about it. And I missed being the town’s coach. When this opportunity came up, I prayed about it and everything fell into place, and I knew it was the right thing to do.”
The Lady Aggies compete in Class 6A, Area 13. They were the area tournament runner-up in 2015 and advanced to the regional tournament for the first time since 1999.
Albertville’s area rivals – Southside, Fort Payne and Scottsboro – are familiar opponents to Butts.
“Fort Payne is always really, really good,” he said. “Southside is going to be really, really good. Their middle school program is really good right now. A lot of them play travel ball for us. Scottsboro is always going to have really good athletes.”
Butts is looking forward to competing in the Marshall County Tournament. His Etowah teams never got to participate in the Etowah County Tournament because the field is limited to the squads in the Etowah County School System and EHS is part of the Attalla City School System.
“I missed that experience of the county tournament and it being important and wanting to win it,” Butts said. “I can remember coming up at West End and that being the thing we wanted – to win county and go to state. I think that’s it important here that you go try and win the county.”
Butts is familiar with Albertville’s players, because the Lady Aggies competed in Gadsden State’s prep tournament last year. AHS was also a regular participant in Butts’ team camps at Gadsden State.
“Emily Epperson and Allison Wells played travel ball for us, along with several JV players,” he said. “I didn’t coach them in travel ball, but I do have a good connection with them and their parents. I knew we had some good kids. Not just good players, but they’re really good kids.
“I was fortunate enough at Gadsden State to coach good kids. The last three years we won 25 games, 28 games and 25 games, and we made academic All-American all three years, so it’s important. I had really good kids at Etowah. I’ve had good kids wherever I’ve been.”
Butts’ goals for the Lady Aggies are for them to play hard, share the ball, play together and be a great rebounding team.
“I’ve learned a lot coaching college basketball,” he said. “I learned more in four years than in the previous 20. You really learn the value of taking care of the basketball and rebounding. I hope our kids here play together and enjoy playing the game together and just play so hard that no matter if we’re playing half-court or full-court, that people in the community say those kids play so hard. That would be something I’d be very proud of.”
Gadsden State Athletic Director Mike Cancilla said that the search for Butts’ replacement would begin after the position was approved and posted, a process that would take a week or two.