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Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Susan and David Crownover, who found competition, friendship and eventually marriage after meeting in a P.E. class at UTC, sit in the dugout at Ringgold High School's Bill Womack field on Wednesday. Susan is the head coach for softball at GPS and David is an assistant coach for baseball at Ringgold, but after 31 years at their respective schools, both are retiring at the end of the spring sports season.

It is a relationship and a life rooted deeply in dirt. And as far as David and Susan Crownover are concerned, they wouldn't want it any other way.

Soon after they met — in a P.E. class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga — the two began to recognize their similar interests. Both were multisport athletes whose hobbies included collecting grass stains and ballpark dust on their clothes, and both believed their future would be more of the same as high school coaches.

So it only stood to reason that their courtship would begin, and grow, as they walked the short fairways and sandy greens of the par-3 course near the old Eastgate Mall every Tuesday and Thursday. And those UTC golf classes more than 30 years ago — where not even romance was enough to override their competitive nature — led to lunch at a Subway sandwich shop on Brainerd Road and ultimately marriage, a family and the realization of those coaching careers they had planned all along.

"We just sort of connected right away," said David, who played baseball, basketball and football at Kirkman High School and admitted he never took it easy on Susan, who was much less experienced on the golf course during the couple's early twosome days. "We had so much in common as far as what we liked to do. We became best buddies pretty quick.

"Besides our faith, sports has just always been something that's brought us together. We don't hunt or fish or travel much, but we were always going to a ballgame somewhere, and that's what we've enjoyed doing with our lives."

The Crownovers recently announced that after a combined 70-plus years of coaching Chattanooga-area prep athletes, they will retire at the end of the current spring sports season.

Although they have a son and daughter — Matthew, who played baseball at Ringgold and later Clemson University before being drafted by the Washington Nationals, and Kelby, who played softball at GPS — both David and Susan are quick to admit, like so many other dedicated high school coaches, that they've spent far more time with other people's kids than their own.

When Susan and Kelby were helping GPS play in the TSSAA softball state tournament in 2014, David drove the 240-plus miles round trip each day from Ringgold baseball practice to Murfreesboro to watch and cheer them on.

"We joke about, 'Would anybody else want to be married to either of us?', because nobody else would probably understand how crazy our schedules get," Susan said. "Even on our honeymoon, we wound up going to New York to see a Yankees game and Baltimore to watch the Orioles play in their last season in old Memorial Stadium."

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David and Susan Crownover

EXPECTING EXCELLENCE

David, who began his career at Lookout Valley, has spent the past 31 years at Ringgold — the northwest Georgia high school is Susan's alma mater — coaching football, basketball, golf and baseball at the varsity as well as middle school levels.

During that time he has been on the baseball staff for two GHSA state runner-up teams, four semifinal teams and eight region champions. And the Tigers swept a playoff series Friday in the first round of the Class AAA bracket, extending David's tenure for at least another two games.

"I took many, many butt chewings from Coach Dave through the years," said Adam Weldon, who not only played baseball for Ringgold High School from 2009-12 but also played multiple sports under Crownover in middle school. "He expected you to be at your best, whether that was every day at practice or for games. Even now, every day when I go into work that's how I approach things — to be the best I can — because he taught us to always try for excellence.

"You knew he had done his homework to put you in the best place to succeed in every situation. He became like family to me. At some point I even started referring to him as Uncle Dave. He's just an outstanding man as far as what he's done for me and all the guys who played for him. Other than my dad, he's the man I look up to the most."

Susan, who has worked at GPS for 31 years, is one of the Chattanooga area's most successful high school coaches, regardless of sport. In her 29th season as the Bruisers' softball coach, she has guided the program to 23 appearances in the state tournament, winning eight championships and finishing second 12 times, including each of the past six seasons. She has more than 670 career wins and has never had a losing season.

She also coached the GPS basketball team for nine seasons, winning two state titles and compiling a 171-69 overall record that included five seasons with 20 or more wins. Equally impressive are the 38 former players who have continued their careers at the collegiate level.

"The first thing that pops in my mind whenever I think of Coach Crownover is tough love," said former all-state athlete Kamri Chester Busby, who played both softball and basketball for Crownover, helped the Bruisers win back-to-back softball titles in 2007-08 and went on to play at the University of Memphis.

"She wouldn't hesitate to call you out whenever you were doing something wrong, but I knew she always had my back, too," Busby added. "On our road trips, she was the one driving the bus and having to put up with the drama of all us girls or hearing us singing all the way to games.

"My daughter is a sixth grader now and is in Coach Crownover's P.E. class, so she's getting to understand what that tough love is like as well, which I'm really grateful for. It's been fun to watch our relationship transition from coach and player to friends. She always pushed me to do my best because I respect the heck out of her."

 

GAME PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

Recent health scares for both David and Susan, and the birth of their first grandchild, helped the couple decide the timing was right for them to step away from coaching — but not from the ballfield all together.

David spent eight days in ICU with COVID-19 last year. Susan, who battled a kidney disease for more than 20 years before the mother of one of her former players donated a kidney to her in 2014, did not coach during the 2021 season as she underwent treatment for stage 3 endometrial cancer.

That former player whose mother donated her kidney — Madison Boyd — wound up marrying the Crownovers' son Matthew, and the couple now have a son.

"We kept our grandson a couple days a week last summer, and that sort of sealed it for us that the timing was right to make this our last year coaching," David said. "We missed a lot of both our own kids' games because we were both somewhere else coaching our teams, but now we can make time to just be around our family a lot more.

"We've talked about it, and we both hope we gave more to the kids who played for us, but we probably got more enjoyment out of being around them instead. I hope we taught each of them how to handle winning and losing the right way, how to treat other people and that those lessons carry over into daily life.

"I've got kids now that I coached their dads when they came through, and the dads usually say how tough I was but that they wouldn't want their kid playing for anybody else. The most valuable thing we all have in our lives are our kids, so when they say something like that, it means a lot."

And once the final out is recorded on this spring's Ringgold baseball and GPS softball seasons, what do the Crownovers have planned for their retirement?

"We'll be at a ballpark somewhere," Susan said with a laugh. "Whether it's at a local game or traveling to watch college and pro teams we like, we'll just go watch ball somewhere together."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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