From hitching rides to football practice and working early mornings to feed the livestock, life right outside of Salters, S.C., wasn’t always easy.
But that didn’t meant Ivory Hugee stopped working or believing.
His time at Camp Burnt Gin – a camp for children with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses – strengthened his outlook as he saw children similar to his own brother smile and play despite the struggles.
Don’t stop working and don’t make excuses. But also keep believing.
This view helped the Westside girls post their best season in history, going 27-5 and reaching the Class AAA state semifinals.
Hugee’s leadership helped make him The Augusta Chronicle’s Georgia girls basketball coach of the year.
“I’m used to tough things and being able to work through things,” Hugee said. “Trying to build a team, I think that’s pretty easy. Life is a lot tougher than that. But it teaches you how to be disciplined. Staying in there, hanging in there. No matter the situation, you keep working.”
Building up the Lady Patriots program wasn’t easy, though.
There were knee injuries to starters in a past season and even an early internal issue for this team.
But Hugee never wavered from what he wanted to preach.
He spoke of good grades, strong morals, belief in God, respect for authority, and, perhaps most importantly, the need for patience.
It helped to have the staff and talent around him.
Players like Azia Gibson and Ritzy Griffin dominated the glass, while Christina Thomas provided unselfish play at point guard.
“I knew at some point they’d probably be good because they loved playing the game,” Hugee said. “They were serious about basketball and academics.”
Hugee was inspired to teach and coach by a Mr. Starks, who taught Hugee when he was growing up in South Carolina. Watching Starks teach history and coach while displaying calm, classy toughness encouraged Hugee.
Hugee wanted to follow. He wanted to make a difference and help people.
This year was just a continuation of that.
“I can teach you how to drop step, shoot a jump shot and defend, but in life, really, how is that going to help you?” Hugee said.
“If you have no morals, no character, no belief or a rotten attitude, OK you can shoot the basketball, but how is that going to help you be a better person in life?”