Coaching Lady Bulldogs with Pride

By Randy Whetstone Jr.

At 4409 Preston Hwy. you’ll find a pack of Lady Bulldogs on the basketball court who have snarled at the competition with a ferocious presence ever since Champ Ligon Jr. started as head coach of the program. Since his arrival in the 2013-14 season, Male has earned a 119-26 record and one state tournament appearance. But aside from the on-court successes, he has been most pleased to see his team members grow as young ladies off the court. When I recently spoke with Ligon, he shared with me what he cherishes the most as Male’s head coach.

What has been your greatest joy in coaching the Lady Bulldogs?

Although you’re always striving to win, the greatest joy is in the daily grind and the relationships you form with your players, managers and coaches. Hopefully, you teach your players some life lessons along the way, but the main joy comes from working hard with a group of players to help them achieve both their team and individual goals and in the process forming lifelong friendships.

What have you learned as a coach by coaching at Male? And which coaches at the collegiate or professional level have inspired you?

I’ve learned that I know nothing about the female mind and how it works (laughing). All joking aside, as a coach, you’re learning everyday because everyday and every season you’re presented with new challenges, new personalities and new obstacles to overcome as you try to build a team and win that elusive championship. My main coaching inspiration has come from two coaches: Adolf Rupp, whom I knew as a child and was a bigger than life figure to me, inspired me to want to be a basketball coach. The second one, my first little league baseball coach, taught me how destructive a bad coach can be and has hopefully made me a better coach by understanding how not to treat young men and women.

Champ Ligon Jr. | Photo courtesy of Thomas Hood

What is most exciting about seeing freshman grow into their senior season?

It’s just exciting to see the girls grow up! They usually join the team as middle school girls and by the time they reach their senior season they are young women ready to go out and take on the world. It’s also very gratifying to see all the hard work and dedication pay off and to see their dreams of playing college basketball realized.

How would describe your team off the court?

I’ve got a great group of young ladies on and off the court. They are very well behaved, but at the same time they are a very fun-loving and playful group. As a coach, I am very fortunate to have a team that is very tight-knit. They are all friends off the court, which helps with team chemistry on the court.

How do you challenge your team off the basketball court?

We expect our young ladies to set an example on and off the court. We have high expectations for them in the classroom, in how they behave and in how they treat others.

Describe the senior leadership of Ciaja Harbison and Emilia Sexton.

Ciaja and Emilia have been the backbone of our program since I got here. They have always been leaders by example, but as they have gotten older they have become more vocal, too. They bring a level of maturity, dedication and willingness to work to the program that keeps the whole program on course during good and bad times. They have led the Male girls’ basketball team to heights not seen since the mid-90s.

What do you want this program’s reputation to be as the year’s progress?

When people think of the best teams in the state of Kentucky, I want Male to be one of the schools they name. But beyond that, when people think of our team, I want them to respect our young ladies for the way they carry themselves on and off the court. I want them to think of us in terms of how hard we play and compete but also for our sportsmanship. VT