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THURSDAY, JUNE 21, 2007
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Tommy Kyle is taking a job that helps build college athletic programs grow spiritually. He is leaving Decatur Heritage Christian Academy where he has served in several coaching positions for the past 11 years. His wife Heather has been the school's cheerleader sponsor.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tommy Kyle is taking a job that helps build college athletic programs grow spiritually. He is leaving Decatur Heritage Christian Academy where he has served in several coaching positions for the past 11 years. His wife Heather has been the school's cheerleader sponsor.

Leaving the nest
Tommy, Heather Kyle say
goodbye to Decatur Heritage

By Brooke Milam
bmilam@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2460

It was 1996 when Tommy Kyle interviewed for the head boys basketball job at Decatur Heritage Christian Academy, then a 1-year-old school with no athletic programs.

A young, single, aspiring coach just out of college at the time, Kyle said he had no idea what kind of impact the opportunity would have on his life.

"They offered me the job, and I said 'No.' " Kyle said.

But after reconsidering the offer to be the school's first head basketball coach, Kyle made a decision that would change the path of his life.

"I decided to take the job, but I still came thinking, I'd stay a couple of years and move on," he said. "Eleven years later, this is where God had us."

But now Kyle is saying goodbye to the program he helped build. He is taking a position with a ministry in helping collegiate athletes grow spiritually. Kyle said the task is best described as being a "character coach."

Decatur Heritage will honor Kyle and his family for their years of dedication to the school with a "New Beginnings" celebration in the school's gym Thursday night at 6:30.

"I've been offered other jobs over the years, but it never seemed right to leave until now," Kyle said. "God called us to Decatur Heritage, and that's where we were going to stay until he called us to leave."

Kyle will be the first to say he's not the same man that walked into the concrete-floor gym at Decatur Heritage more than a decade ago.

He's seen the facility grow from bare accommodations to what he said is "one of the nicest facilities we play basketball in all year."

Also in his years at Decatur Heritage, the 34-year-old Kyle married his wife, the former Heather Davis, a 1993 Austin High graduate, and the couple now has three children: Jackson, 6, Brayden, who will be 4 in July, and Kennedy Mae, 17 months.

"I don't think we'd be able to take the step of faith we're taking without Decatur Heritage and how we've grown in our time here," Kyle said.

"We couldn't do this ministry without the experiences and relationships we've built here. What these people have poured into us is going to impact others. This is bittersweet for us. This is home. I've watched my kids growing up in this gymnasium."

Kyle was at the forefront as Decatur Heritage became a member of the Alabama High School Athletic Association in 2000 and made three trips to the state's basketball final four in 2000, '01 and '03, winning five area titles. Kyle also served as the school's athletic director during that time and has had stints coaching softball, baseball, soccer and golf for the Eagles, while his wife sponsored the Decatur Heritage cheerleading squad.

After accomplishing so much in the realm of high school athletics, a new challenge awaits Kyle and his family.

Kyle said the University of South Carolina is the only team in the Southeastern Conference with a full-time chaplain/character coach specifically for its basketball team on staff. There are only 28 such positions in Division I athletics, including Auburn football's Chette Williams, who Kyle speaks highly of.

Kyle's goal: To grow that number, placing similar individuals at other programs in the SEC.

"That's our ultimate vision — to begin a ministry that will allow us to take God to as many college campus' as possible and share with their athletes," Kyle said.

"My hope and goal is that one day it will be the norm in college basketball for basketball coaches to bring in a staff that includes a character coach."

Kyle said his is a task that is uncharted territory, as the concept of active character building has only come about recently, but that he feels is a necessity in collegiate sports.

Kyle has seen the effects of such work through various trips taken with SCORE International over the past four years.

SCORE founder and former basketball coach at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Ron Bishop, contacted Kyle, who is a Hartselle native, during Kyle's senior year at Bethel Bible School about going on a mission trip to Costa Rica.

The connection influenced Kyle, who wound up playing basketball collegiately at Tennessee Temple from 1991-96. As his relationship with Bishop grew, Kyle began organizing and leading trips of his own through SCORE.

In the summer of 2004, he took the first of what would be many trips to the Dominican Republic, leading a group of Division I basketball players.

The trips, which included a unique blend of basketball competition with local teams as well as ministry, continued and Bishop recently named Tommy and Heather Kyle SCORE's National College Basketball Directors. This year, Kyle has taken a trip to Argentina, and has trips to the Dominican planned for July and August.

The results have been obvious: "Now there are not many coaching staffs in the SEC that I don't know and that don't ask about what we're doing," Kyle said.

"Over the past couple of years we've been watching things happen on these trips and it planted the seed for what we are trying to do now."

The new ministry will not require the Kyle family to leave Decatur in the immediate future, but will likely involve relocation next year.

Kyle said he is confident that Decatur Heritage athletics are on solid ground and feels comfortable leaving the school in good hands.

John Knight, who has assisted Kyle for four years, has been named his successor as head boys basketball coach. Former Eagles' player Leonard Morris will serve as Knight's assistant, and Eagles baseball coach Steve Atchley will take over as athletic director.

Kyle said it will be hard to walk out of the school's gym for the last time as its head coach.

But as he takes the next step in his life, the memories he carries with him will be about more than wins and loses.

"To think that you were able to start a basketball program that God has allowed to succeed, with a beautiful wife that couldn't be more of a help mate and three beautiful children ... Life is good and God has been good," Kyle said.

"We've done more than I ever dreamed we could do and the future of Decatur Heritage is very bright."

Coach Kyle at a glance

  • Decatur Heritageís first basketball coach, held the position for 10 seasons, earning more than 200 wins.

  • Supported the schoolís move to the Alabama High School Athletic Association in 2000.

  • Guided the Eagles to three state basketball final four appearances, in 2000, 2001 and 2003, and five area championships.

  • Served as Decatur Heritageís athletic director for 11 years, and in addition to basketball, has held softball, baseball, soccer and golf coaching positions at the school.

  • Recently named SCORE Internationalís National College Basketball Director, organizing and leading mission trips for Division I athletes, and is pursuing a ministry to further the effects of spirituality for collegiate players.

    - Brooke Milam

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