Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Westbrook Christian’s 11-1 Game 3 victory over G.W. Long in the Class 2A state championship series on May 18 turned out to be Matt Kennedy’s last with the Warriors.
Earlier this week, Kennedy (pictured above) resigned his positions as the school’s baseball coach, athletic director and assistant principal, ending an 18-year combined stint at 100 Westminster Drive in Rainbow City.
“I really think it’s a matter of timing more than anything else,” he said. “I first planned on stepping down after (his youngest son) Garrett graduated in 2018, but the doors didn’t open for me and God had me stay. COVID rolled around [in 2020] and we lost most the season, and I told my [assistant] coaches that I’d like to make one more run [in 2021] and see if we could get to Montgomery. So, it just worked out that I got to close it out with this outstanding group of seniors.”
Kennedy recently accepted the position as principal at the Etowah County Refocus Center located at 106 Burke Avenue in Attalla.
“I think it’s time for a new chapter and a new mission in my life,” he said. “I don’t want to be a head coach anywhere else. I’ve already had that opportunity. It’s been very rewarding at Westbrook and me and [wife] Nanette and our two boys were never without.”
Kennedy noted that he frequently spoke with WCS Principal Cindy Greer over the past few years about his imminent departure.
“I wasn’t that I wasn’t happy here. I was an administrator, the athletic director and the baseball coach, so I got to do the things I liked to do for a pretty long period of time. I’ve had a very fulfilling career [at Westbrook] and have been very blessed. I’m absolutely not leaving on bad terms. Mrs. Greer and John Croyle gave me the opportunity to be a head coach, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Kennedy spent 19 of his 29 years in coa-ching at Westbrook, from 1999 to 2001 and from 2006 to 2021. His Warrior squads made the playoff every one of those years with the exception of the COVID-shortened 2020 and won 16 area championships, including the last 14 in a row.
Kennedy saw 20 of his players sign college scholarships.
“All the success on the field is great, but it’s the relationship you’ve built with these kids that really defines who you are,” he said. “I wanted to win, but it was never about what my record would be when I was finished, because to be honest, nobody cares.
“I tell my players all the time to be great husbands and great fathers one day, but most of all, be a man of integrity who loves the Lord. Some guys get that before they leave [Westbrook] and sometimes they get it 10 years down the road. But we were all put on this earth to follow God’s plan.”
Kennedy spent seven years as the junior high baseball and football coach at Rainbow Middle between his Westbrook career. He continued to teach at RMS until 2010. Prior to 1999, he taught and coached at Hokes Bluff elementary and middle schools for seven years.
Kennedy cited longtime Hokes Bluff baseball coaches Mike Estes and Mike Robertson and longtime Etowah coach Larry Foster as important influences.
“They all taught me not to be all concerned about the game itself but be concerned about the kids. I saw how they handled a player who were having a bad day because he got a bad grade or his girlfriend broke up with him. We have to remember how old these kids are. All three guys showed me that you can’t coach every kid the same way. It made a big difference in how I tried to coach.”
Kennedy was thankful for the opportunity to coach Garrett and his oldest son Tanner, who graduated Westbrook in 2016.
“There’s no replacing that,” said Kennedy. “I missed out on coaching them when they were younger, but we had some great men who were able to do that. When Tanner and Garrett got to high school, I got to see them every day and see their growth, and it was great to see that maturation.”
After graduating from Shades Valley High School in 1986, Kennedy earned a baseball scholarship to Gadsden State, where he played catcher for two years under coach Bill Lockridge. Kennedy attended Livingston University (now West Alabama) and Alabama for a semester each before eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Jacksonville State in 1992.
“I tell my coaching staff all the time that we won’t get anything out of these kids if we don’t put anything into them. Once they know you care about them, you can ask more from them and even chew their tails when they need it.”