GHS girls’ basketball coach Rhonda Farney teaches life lessons on and off the court
Some teachers never stop teaching. Rhonda Farney hasn’t taught in a classroom setting for several years. As head coach and women’s athletic coordinator for Georgetown High School, her classroom is the gym, but that’s not where her team’s lessons end.
According to Rhonda, “a good coach is a good teacher.” That atttitude says a lot about Rhonda, whose list of accolades is long and whose team, the Georgetown High School Lady Eagles, won the UIL 4A State Championship last spring.
This year brings different challenges, of course, but as Rhonda notes, every year is different. “The dynamic on the team will be different, but I think we have the potential to have a very good year.” Obviously, the team can’t ignore last season. They can’t pretend it didn’t happen. “We have to validate and look back and appreciate what we did last year,” Rhonda says, “but to be challenged this year, we have to look toward the future.”
Rhonda doesn’t measure great years by the number of wins, or championships won, in a season. “We don’t set out to win. We set out to try to achieve excellence in whatever we do, and winning just kind of takes care of itself.” Winning State was a great experience, but Rhonda wants her team to know that they will, during their lives, do many things much more important than playing a basketball game.
“Basketball is really not all that I am, and it’s not even the most important part of who I am,” Rhonda says. “Do I love what I do? And do I love coaching? Absolutely! I can’t imagine doing anything else, but there’s a lot more to it than just those things that happen in the gym. The older I get, the more I realize it’s so much more about developing the whole person, not just the athlete.”
Rhonda’s lessons with her team begin before the season and continue through the year. Each school year, the Lady Eagles choose a theme that permeates everything they do. This year it’s “No Pressure, No Diamond.” And if these girls are diamonds in the rough, Rhonda and her staff are there to help them shine—on and beyond the basketball court. “I want our girls, when all is said and done, to grow as people and to have a lot of opportunities.”
Rhonda loves to travel, but when she was a young woman from a small Texas town, she never thought she’d travel to all the places she read about in her beloved books. She never thought she’d see sites like the Eiffel Tower, but she has; and now she encourages the girls to think about traveling. Since 1998 the varsity students and their parents have raised funds to compete in out-of-state basketball tournaments during Christmas break, but they also strive to make each trip an educational experience. They’ve been to Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and other places in between. Rhonda remarks, “There’s nothing quite like taking them to the memorials or the Holocaust Museum in D.C. or to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.”
For many years, the team has also taken a six-week etiquette course. “I keep hearing feedback from our former players about our etiquette piece,” Rhonda says. “They told me how much more confident they were when they went to college, just knowing which forks to use, what to talk about at the dinner table.” Last year Rhonda also had someone come in and talk to the girls about skincare and the importance of first impressions. “The year before, we did the high ropes course through [Georgetown Parks and Rec],” she says.
Some of the girls’ practice time is used for these programs. “I’m a big believer,” Rhonda says, “that just one more hour of practice is not going to make us or break us. Yes, we have to practice, but there are some things that enhance the practice, and I think this is that type of thing. So we’ll have the girls come in sometimes early. We always have practice on Saturdays, and we do some of this then. We just work it into their schedules. It’s not really going to be something extra; it’s time they would have been spending with a basketball in their hands.”
This year Rhonda is bringing in several women of varying backgrounds and accomplishments to speak to the girls. “We’ve been moving toward this for a few years,” Rhonda says, “but it’s nothing to the extent that I planned for this year.”
A banker will speak to the girls about the importance of establishing a credit score and how to protect themselves from identity theft. Two young women who own and operate an all-green hair salon will talk about entrepreneurship. “I have a photographer who moved here from Scandinavia twenty years ago. We’re going to choose one of the girls randomly, and she’s going to photograph that girl,” Rhonda says. “And while she’s doing that, she’s going to talk to the girls about photography and her business and about what it was like coming to another country when she didn’t even speak the language and how she managed to do that.”
Most of the speakers are local because, Rhonda adds, “we live in such a phenomenal community. We have all of these resources, and we should use them.” A successful insurance agent from Georgetown will talk about different types of insurance. She’ll also provide the girls with scenarios, such as getting in a wreck with an uninsured driver, and explain what they need to know in that situation. A breast cancer survivor and her female oncologist are going to speak about their experience. A local legislator will talk to the girls about how she makes tough decisions. “I’ve got a female judge who’s going to talk not only about family law, but also [about] being a mother,” Rhonda says. “I have somebody coming to talk about self-defense. So you can kind of see that what we’re doing is about a whole lot more than basketball.”
The speakers will address not only the girls but also their mothers, grandmothers, and sisters. Rhonda thought it was important to invite them because she hopes the girls and their families will go home and initiate a dialogue about the things they’ve heard. “It will provide them with more experiences,” Rhonda says, “and I’m convinced that . . . when these kids have more experiences, they’re more confident. When they’re more confident, they’re better students, better athletes, and better people.”