When looking at Central High School, Coffee County Middle School, or Westwood Middle, it’s not obvious what connects the three institutes besides the fact they’re all schools. Basketball fans may know the answer though – they’re all are linked by one family name: Vinson.
Matt Vinson is currently the assistant coach for the CHS Lady Raiders, while his daughter, Bella, is one of the team’s leading players. Over at Coffee Middle, you can find Matt’s brother, David Vinson, working as an assistant on the girls’ team and head coach of the sixth grade team. Sixth grader Olivia Vinson, David’s niece and Matt’s younger daughter, is an emerging talent who just wrapped up her first regular season on the CMS varsity team.
At Westwood, there isn’t a player or coach on the sideline with the family name; the connection is the gym itself. The Rockets and Lady Rockets play at the Joel Vinson Gymnasium, named for Matt and David’s father, the Lady Rockets coach for several decades.
“I never really thought of it as a family tradition, but I guess it is, in a way,” David said. “These girls (Bella and Olivia) are moving up, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were coaches one day too.”
The story of basketball in the Vinson family began when Joel was a child growing up in Nashville. He fell in love with the game in elementary school, playing as a forward through his years at DuPont High School until his graduation in 1957. Joel continued his athletic career in college at Middle Tennessee State, but for golf instead of basketball. Golf skills also continued through the generations, with Matt’s oldest daughter Sophie currently playing for Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville.
Despite spending his college years on the fairway, a future in basketball was still on Joel’s mind.
“Basketball never did leave me,” Joel said. “I always wanted to be a coach.”
After graduating from MTSU in 1962, Joel took his first coaching job at Westwood Junior High School that December. Joel coached the Westwood girls’ team from 1962 to 1979, before taking a six-year retirement.
By 1985, Joel was back on the Westwood court and remained a fixture until his second retirement in 2004. Between his two coaching stints, Joel spent 36 years coaching Westwood girls’ basketball across five decades. His overall record with the Lady Rockets was 350-148.
“Just enjoyment of coaching the girls there (Westwood) and the effort that they always give, I just fell in love with coaching girls basketball,” Joel explained.
During the earlier years of Joel’s coaching days, his sons Matt and David inherited their father’s love of the game. While both are coaches today, the brothers took different paths to get there. Matt played basketball all through high school. Through college, his goal, like Joel’s, was to get into coaching after graduating. David played from elementary school through junior high, and then got out of the sport for a few years through high school.
Matt became involved with the CHS girls’ team, as well as AAU, in his first year after his high school graduation. After graduating from college, he began working as an assistant on the boys’ team at CHS. Matt ended up putting his coaching career on hold to focus on his family. Ironically, it was family that inspired him to get back into coaching. Matt began coaching the girls at CMS, then followed Bella to CHS to work with the high school team.
“When my second daughter was born, I kind of got away from it and did the family thing,” Matt said. “I kind of got back involved with it helping coach them (his daughters) as they came through.”
After a few years away from basketball, David first got into coaching during his father’s time at Westwood, coaching Joel’s AAU team. From here, David went on to work as the Lady Rockets’ assistant coach under Joel for almost two decades, coaching elementary and AAU basketball as well. Similar to Matt, David got out of coaching for a few years, but returned when an opportunity emerged at CMS to help coach Olivia.
“That was part of what got me the itch to get back into coaching was watching those two play (Olivia and Bella),” David said. “Coaching Olivia and her group’s really been a pleasure.”
With their father and uncle coaching them on respective sidelines, Bella and Olivia have inherited their family’s passion for basketball. The support of their family has helped the girls to develop talent for the game and emerging leaders in their own right.
“They just help me and push me harder and get me focused on what I need to focus on,” Oliva said. “It helps me out and makes me enjoy it even more.”
Despite the family’s hoops background playing a large role in helping coach the girls, Matt has always believed firmly in never pushing Bella and Olivia into the sport if they did not want to.
“Bella and Olivia put the pressure on me instead of me putting it on them,” Matt explained. “They’re the ones who want to go to the gym.”
Contrary to any added pressure, the family’s history with basketball in the community has been a sense of pride for Bella, something she hopes will continue in the family for years to come.
“I just think it’s crazy how we all carried on from each other from one generation to the next,” Bella said. “My dad played, my grandpa coached and then now we’re playing and hopefully I can make my kids play one day and keep it going.”
Despite Bella and Olivia’s enthusiasm, Matt would walk away from coaching with no hesitation if he thought his presence on the court was hurting their progress. At the same time, getting to be a teacher of the game for his kids is something he treasures.
“They respond to it well. I would step down any time out of it just if I thought they were suffering from me coaching in the background,” Matt said. “To be on the floor and be able to share those experiences with them, it’s priceless.”
While Matt and David are currently coaching the family’s youngest generation, serving as a mentor to area basketball players extends far beyond just coaching Bella and Oliva. Joel, Matt and David are all proud that they’ve been able to impact players from all over the community through the years.
“That’s coaching. You’re teaching them lifelong lessons of hard work,” Matt said. “That’s going to carry on after basketball’s over with throughout their life.”