Carolyn Jackson said she played very little when she was on Riverside's basketball team. Little did she know then that spending time on a high school basketball team's bench would become what she's noted for.
Now after 40 years, a 965-285 record, numerous district and region titles and a state championship, Jackson has decided to retire as girls' basketball coach at Brainerd, where the gymnasium is named for her and longtime boys' coach Robert High.
"I've been coaching for so long, I felt it was about time to step down," Jackson said. "I don't have anything left to prove. I've done just about all I set out to do."
Jackson retired as a teacher five years ago and said she first had thoughts about coaching retirement a couple of seasons later but took things year by year. Now that she has a new grandson to spend time with, she felt now is the right time.
"She always went about things in a quiet manner," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "She's a great role model. She always put the kids first. She's going to definitely be a loss for Brainerd and a loss for our organization, losing a coach like that. Forty years is a long time. She's dedicated her life to young people. A lot of kids have gone on to be successful because of her."
Jackson said she had thoughts of becoming a coach when she was a senior in high school. She graduated from Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., and it was there she got her first opportunity while working at local youth center.
"They were 7- and 8-year-olds," Jackson said. "It was just like two days a week, so it wasn't that bad."
Jackson returned to Chattanooga and ended up being hired to coach physical education at Brainerd, succeeding Clara Robinson Pride, who took maternity leave. That was the 1973-74 school year.
Jackson said she was approached by some girls at the time who wanted to resurrect Brainerd's girls' basketball program, which was six-on-six at the time. She agreed.
"I had just turned 21 when I started teaching," Jackson said, "so I wasn't much older than they were."
Jackson learned on the move, and felt she had to quickly, considering the respect she had for the counterparts she routinely opposed.
"I've seen her grow and mature," said Catherine Neely, current volleyball and former girls' basketball coach at East Ridge, who's known Jackson since her career began. "She's taken Brainerd to another level than what they were. I've always been real proud of her.
"Sometimes I had thoughts about whether I wanted to play against her -- she had such great, well-trained athletes. We were competitors, but I treasure her friendship. That's what sports are all about."
Jackson coached numerous players who got college scholarships and one Olympic gold medalist in Venus Lacy, who was a member of the Lady Panthers' 1984 Class AAA state-championship team.
Darrell Dallas was Jackson's assistant for 17 seasons.
"Actually it was a wonderful experience," Dallas said. "She not only had a great concern for her girls as players but as students also. She knew what she was doing. When things went wrong, she wasn't going to sugar-coat things. She impacted a lot of young ladies. A lot of them would still go back in support of her.
"She gave me the opportunity to coach. You see some assistants just sit there and take stats. She and I connected before decisions were made. That type of thing helped me a lot when it came to coaching the junior varsity teams. If I ever did pick up a clipboard, she'd take it away from me. She'd do stats before I would. I really appreciate that and love her for that."
Jackson also coached volleyball in the early stages of her career and said she plans to continue officiating that sport for the TSSAA. She's also not ruling out a return to her familiar domain.
"I won't say I'll never coach again," Jackson said. "I'll continue to take it year by year, too, and day by day. Maybe not as a head coach but as an assistant. For now, I'll leave the X's and O's for someone else. Basketball has been good to me. Brainerd High School has been good to me."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.