Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
Courtesy of AHSAA
Matt Kennedy, who led Westbrook Christian to the Class 2A state baseball title last month, was recently selected as the Class 2A Making a Difference award recipient by the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association.
Established in 2011, the annual award recognizes individuals who go beyond their normal duties as a coach, teacher or administrator to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. One recipient from each of the AHSAA’s seven classifications was chosen from nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations or individuals.
Kennedy (pictured above at right holding trophy) spent 19 of his 29 years in coaching at Westbrook, from 1999 to 2001 and from 2006 to 2021. His Warrior squads made the state playoffs every one of those years with the exception of the COVID-shortened 2020 season 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,” said Kennedy in a recent interview with The Messenger newspaper in Gadsden. “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.”
For the last 29 years, Kennedy’s mission field has been working with students at Westbrook Christian School in Rainbow City. He has used his love for baseball to teach them important lessons about life, knowing full well that many of those children had already seen plenty of trials and tribulations in their short lives. Kennedy worked diligently to provide a family atmosphere, says his nominator, “and has always tried to instill in them that God has a plan.”
Kennedy retired from his position as Westbrook baseball coach, athletic director and assistant principal earlier this month to take on a new challenge as the principal of Etowah County Refocus Center in the Etowah County School System.
“I’ve had a very fulfilling career [at Westbrook] and have been very blessed,” he said. “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. It’s been very rewarding at Westbrook and me and [wife] Nanette and our two boys were never without. I just think it’s time for a new chapter and a new mission in my life.”
According to Westbrook principal Cindy Greer, the school for at-risk students is going to be in good hands.
“Coach Kennedy loves kids, and he will continue to make a difference in kids’ lives because that is just who he is,” she said. “As he told me, his mission field is just changing.”
Along with Kennedy, the 2021 Making a Difference recipients were Loachapoka High School softball, basketball, track and football coach Anthony Edwards in Class 1A; Oakman football coach Ryan Hall in 3A; Anniston football and girls’ basketball coach Eddie Bullock in Class 4A; Guntersville volunteer track coach Chris Bashaw in Class 5A; Mountain Brook soccer coach Joe Webb in Class 6A; and Mary Montgomery High School retiring volleyball coach Nancy Shoquist in Class 7A.The honorees will be recognized at the 2021 AHSAA Summer Conference Championship Coaches’ Awards Banquet on July 23 in Montgomery.
“The recipients in this 2021 Making a Difference class are excellent examples of men and women who take their positions as role models for their students, faculty and community very seriously and have shown extraordinary determination in the challenges each has faced,” said AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese. “Each has had a major positive impact in their communities and schools across the state and are excellent choices for what this award stands for. It is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive. Qualities considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity, determination and service, all of which have enabled these individuals to have a life-changing impact on the community or school which they serve. This is one way we can honor our teachers, coaches and administrators for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis.”