It will be interesting to see next school year how many players it takes to fill soon-to-be GPS graduate Kelby Crownover's athletic shoes.
Crownover's mother, Susan, is the Bruisers' softball coach. And a bat-and-ball game was the first organized sport played by Kelby -- a proud alum of the Ringgold Cubs recreation baseball team when she was 5 years old.
Basketball was the next sport she tried. Her mother also was the high school varsity basketball coach during Kelby's career at GPS until resigning after last season and passing the duty to Jennifer Williams.
Kelby began attending GPS in sixth grade, and it wasn't until then that she gave volleyball a try. And not unlike in the other two sports, she quickly became a key contributor for her middle school team and later a multiyear starter at libero in high school.
"I had known her before she came to GPS because she was a gym rat hanging around with her mom," said GPS high school volleyball coach Paul Brock, whose wife, Nancy, was Kelby's coach in middle school. "She's athletic. We worked with her and she learned how to pass pretty quickly.
"She continued to be a leader on the floor for us throughout her career. She continued to get faster and smarter with the game. She was a captain when she was a junior on our team."
Volleyball and basketball have come and gone for Kelby. Only softball remains. But for how long?
"Hopefully I'll be playing in the state tournament," Kelby said. "Definitely any game can be my last game. It could be really hard. I'm just going to play ball, focus in on what I'm supposed to do and try to help my team win."
The Bruisers' quest to get to the state tournament begins Wednesday in Memphis when they play a doubleheader as part of a best-of-three series at Briarcrest. The first game is set to begin at 2:30 EDT.
Kelby's father, David, is an assistant baseball coach at Ringgold High School, and her brother, Matthew, is a sophomore left-handed pitcher at Clemson.
Matthew was a standout baseball player throughout his time at Ringgold, where mother Susan had been a multisport standout. He played basketball intermittently throughout high school and played football up through middle school.
"She's the better athlete, that's for sure," Matthew said of his sister. "I got lucky I can throw a baseball."
Matthew is a potential future MLB draft pick who is 6-4 this season at Clemson with a 2.43 earned run average. He leads the Tigers in starts with 12.
Kelby is batting close to .400 for the Bruisers and hit her first career home run this season. She leads the team in sacrifice bunts.
"She was never a superstar in any sport," Susan said, "but she's made a difference on every team."
Susan said and Matthew confirmed that when he would attend Kelby's games, such as summer softball games, he and his father would sit far down one of the sidelines so they could watch the game and allow the focus to be away from Matthew and all on Kelby. Kelby has been equally encouraging of Matthew and his pursuits.
"She really is so supportive," Matthew said. "Me and her have been really tight. I'm not saying she's been overshadowed by me, but she's always had a great outlook about things. I really appreciate what she's meant to me."
Matthew said Kelby is one of the few girls he knows that has played three sports in high school. But she won't be pursuing an athletic career at the next level. Instead she's choosing to attend Georgia College in Milledgeville and concentrate on her major: early childhood education.
"I've never seen anybody as good with little kids as she is," Kelby's mom said. "She doesn't scare them. She talks to them very easily. It's where she needs to be, with the young ones."
Kelby said her father told her he thought she would be a good coach, and the world needs good coaches. She's not ruling out getting into coaching one day.
But for now, all she wants to do is play in the infield dirt a little longer -- maybe a couple of more weeks -- before starting a new chapter.
"It's not that I don't want to play something," Kelby said. "I just want to be my own person. I'm not going there to be Kelby the athlete. I'm not going there to be Kelby the coaches' kid. I want to go to college and get my life together so I can learn to go out and be a professional career woman."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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 email@example.com.