Kelly Wren walked into Gary Davison’s office in 2008 looking for a new job. Wren was a teacher and softball coach at St. Francis High School in Alpharetta at the time. Davison was principal at South Forsyth High School. Wren had a broad-field social studies provisional teaching certificate, but she also had a pre-law degree and had been an all-American softball and volleyball player at LaGrange College.
Davison hired her on the spot to teach and take over the volleyball program. He initially thought she might be able to help with the softball team, too; maybe head coach Ronnie Davis would need a pitching coach. Wren politely pointed out both sports compete in the fall. Besides, turned out Davis had a full staff already.
But who knew -- two of the school's most successful head coaches could've worked together. Instead, Davis and Wren have both developed their programs into one of the best in the state in their respective sports.
They lead their teams into
the state playoffs again this week – Wren’s volleyball team plays at Norcross
tonight in the first round, Davis’ softball team hosts Mountain View in the
first round tomorrow – after each reaching the 300-win milestone for their
coaching careers during the regular season.
Davis got his in right before the state playoffs in the softball team’s regular season finale and hopes the War Eagles can add to it with another playoff run after two straight seasons reaching the GHSA Softball Championships in Columbus. Wren got hers Aug. 12 and kept going, up to 311 and counting as South volleyball makes its sixth straight state playoff appearance.
Both are, to some degree, self-made coaches. Sure, both pointed to significant mentors in their upbringing. Davis played high school baseball at Shamrock under John DeVore, one of the state’s great coaches, then served as assistant coach under two others in John B. Sawyer at South Gwinnett and Mike Strickland at South Forsyth. Wren played high school softball, basketball and volleyball for the same coach, Dan McGettigan, at Pinson Valley High School in Alabama, then was guided soon after her arrival at South by Bob Westbrook, the founder of the A5 Volleyball Club.
But Davis had never coached softball before taking over South’s program.
“I had probably seen two games,” Davis said.
He quickly adopted some advice he got from Strickland.
“He said, ‘Do something that always is going to apply to every kid, regardless of talent level,’” Davis said. “That’s when I came up with the nuts and bolts of this program: your attitude, your effort and your hustle.”
Wren had never played or coached on a volleyball team the likes of which she now coaches, neither at small-town Pinson Valley High or at LaGrange, a Division III program. But she’d seen one every time her Pinson Valley volleyball team traveled to play Hoover High School, a state powerhouse in the suburbs of Birmingham.
“I thought, ‘I want to build something like Hoover,’” Wren said.
Neither took long to establish success. Davis’ first team finished fourth in the state. Wren led South to the state playoffs in her second season. Both programs haven’t missed the state playoffs since 2012.
And neither see themselves leaving anytime soon. Both bring up the support of the school’s administration and community.
“I love it here,” Wren said. “This is my home.”
And both emphasized the connection they’ve made to all the players they say are responsible for their milestones.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach a lot of great people,” Davis said. “Not just great players, great people.”