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Married couple coaches against each other in middle school game
Otwell's Kyle Stephens and Liberty's Julie Stephens meet after facing off against each other in a seventh-grade girls basketball game Nov. 14 at Liberty Middle. (Photo by Jay Rooney Photography)

In May, Kyle Stephens and Julie Stephens stood side by side to exchange marriage vows. In November, they stood on opposite sidelines, coaching their respective Forsyth County middle school girls basketball teams against the other.

“It was overwhelming at first — I’m not going to lie — but it was a good experience,” Kyle Stephens said of the Nov. 14 matchup. “I don’t really ever remember hearing about a wife and a husband facing off in anything. …

“It was a really unique experience for us.”

In the season-opening game for both coaches, Kyle Stephens helped lead Otwell to a 47-25 road victory over Julie Stephens and Liberty.

“We were both pretty happy that it was our first game,” Julie Stephens said during a Nov. 16 interview. “Now, we can focus on the rest of the games that we have.”

Both teams were aware of the significance of the meeting. However, Kyle Stephens made the clearly correct choice not to gloat during or after the win.

“My girls asked, ‘Are you going to talk smack to your wife?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘No, that’s probably not the best thing to do.’”

Kyle Stephens graduated from North Forsyth, where he didn't play basketball but did compete for the Raiders football team. Julie Richards, as she was known at the time, scored 1,000 points for the Forsyth Central basketball program and earned first-team all-county honors after averaging 17.7 points and 9.7 rebounds her senior season.

The pair attended the University of North Georgia and spent four years together before tying the knot May 28. The Otwell-Liberty basketball game allowed both families to meet up again, with one of Kyle Stephens' cousins even making a "House Divided" poster.

“It was good to see them in the crowd, because we haven’t gotten to see them a lot since we had gotten married,” Julie Stephens said. “It was awesome to have our family in the stands.”

This marks the third school year Julie Stephens will be teaching health and physical education in addition to coaching Liberty's seventh-grade team since graduating from UNG in spring 2020.

Kyle Stephens spent time during college as a community coach for football, working a few years at Forsyth Central before helping out last fall at Liberty. After earning his degree from UNG this past spring, Kyle Stephens signed on to be a social studies teacher and assistant football coach at Otwell.

During the interview, they also asked if he would be able to coach the school's seventh-grade girls basketball team.

That proved to be the beginning of a cutoff between work discussions and home discussions for the couple.

"We do try to leave the sports at school and try to catch up on general conversation at home," Kyle Stephens said.

While Kyle Stephens admitted that it could be helpful to use the other for scouting information, he believes keeping the work-home split is in everyone's best interest. Now that the teams have met, he felt comfortable discussing his program in front of his wife.

“My group is kind of split,” he said. “My starting five have all played travel ball together before, and I have a bunch of girls who are coming into this for the first time. …

“We both want to win at the end of the day, but for me, it’s about building relationships with these girls. We’re like a family, and we want to go out there and have fun no matter what.”

Julie Stephens, who made it a point to mention how proud she was of her team's performance against Otwell, is leading a less experienced group.

“Most of them have never played,” she said. “I have one or two who have played travel ball. For the most part, I have very new girls who have never played basketball before.

“It’s all about teaching them the fundamentals of how to play basketball and have fun while doing it. My main goal is for us to continue to get better every single day.”

By its nature, coaching a single grade level leads to 100% turnover every season, meaning next year the scales could tip in Julie Stephens' direction or end up even further in Kyle Stephens' favor.

Regardless, neither coach has any plans to abandon their role moving forward.

As Julie Stephens said with a laugh, “It very well could become an annual thing.”