Les Compton still remembers the sunny summer afternoon, nearly 30 years ago, when he toured the site of what would become Grace Baptist Academy. As he reached the construction site for the gym, which at the time was barely more than four walls with no roof, Compton couldn't help but wonder what lay ahead for the future of the fledgling program.
"I never could've dreamed just how many memories would be made there," Compton said, recalling that day in the mid-1980s.
Compton would go on to start the varsity boys' soccer program in 1986 and the girls' soccer program five years later, coaching those sports for several seasons before concentrating solely on girls' basketball, where he has been head coach since 1989. He also has taught Bible classes and served as the school's athletic director during that time, but this week he made the decision known that he is giving up two of his three jobs at Grace, no longer coaching basketball or teaching but remaining the AD.
"I believe you can do two of those jobs well, but it's hard to give your full attention to all three jobs," Compton said. "Something is going to suffer if you can't give your full attention, and I believe this will allow me to really focus on the good of the whole athletic program. I believe the school needs me to focus on one job: the development of the overall athletic program and facilities.
"Any success we had was a product of the talent we had, and to be honest, I'm just as proud of some of the teams who worked hard just to be .500 as I am the ones who have a gold plaque hanging on the wall. If the kids gave it everything they had, that's all you can ask."
During his 25 years as the Lady Golden Eagles' basketball coach, Compton's teams won nine district tournament championships and three region titles and reached sectionals five times. He guided the program to two Class A state tournament appearances -- a first-round loss in 1997 and a runner-up finish in 2001.
Since Tennessee began to classify schools, Grace is only the third area girls' basketball program to have reached a state-title game in the small-school class. Compton also has been part of the growth at Grace, which has doubled its K-12 enrollment from around 240 when the doors opened to more than 500 currently.
And just as he helped the athletic program surpass his early dreams from that summer day spent walking the grounds, he'll now try to guide it to reach new goals.
"It was a tough decision," Compton added. "A lot harder than maybe I expected to let something go that I've been a part of for so long. What I'm most proud of is seeing the girls who played for me now with their own families and how they've grown into young women. It's been my privilege to hopefully be an influence on their lives.
"One thing I've always tried to get across to the girls that played for me is 'Don't settle.' Whether that's with school, their career or a relationship, don't just settle when you can achieve great things. I would always ask if they had the four B's in the right priority: That's Bible, books, ball and boys."
Grace boys' basketball coach Jon Mattheiss, who has worked with Compton for 25 years, each assisting the other's program for many of those years, said that while the classroom and girls' program will miss Compton's leadership, the school's overall athletic program will be better for having his full attention now.
"I've actually known Les since we were in elementary school," said Mattheiss, who has guided the boys' program to five state tournaments. "He was always extremely supportive and showed a ton of patience early on in my career when we were getting whipped a lot.
"We went to a state tournament together in the early 1990s and were joking with each other about what it would be like to get to play in one of those. Now we've both been. It will be strange coming to practice and games and not having him on the sideline, but he's a highly intelligent guy with some great ideas for the direction the program can go, and now he'll get to concentrate on getting us there."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...