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Husband-wife Sherri and Chris Willingham celebrate the championship for the 10Under girls division of Madison’s youth basketball. Sherri was head coach of the winning Sparks while her husband, Chris, was head coach of the Storm and assistant coach for the Sparks. Photo Contributed

Husband-Wife Coaches Celebrate Youth Basketball Championship In Battle Of The Sexes

MADISON- The traditional commentary of the family that plays together stays together can be taken one step further as for the husband and wife duo of Chris and Sherri Willingham it can be said the family that coaches together stays together.

The dynamic duo of the youth basketball program in Madison just completed their season in the girls 10-under division. Chris coached the Storm while Sherri stood on the sidelines as head coach of the Sparks. Each supported one another as assistant coaches for each other. Their daughter, Christina, played for her mother on the Sparks. Of the 66 teams that made up youth basketball during the 2021-2022 season, only the Sparks completed the season undefeated.

In the post-season tournament, each of their teams made their way to the division championship game where husband faced wife in a winner-take-all battle of the sexes.

“The game was a very competitive contest and was a very close three-point game until the last two minutes,” said Chris. “It was the most competitive game for us.” The game ended as Sherri’s Sparks defeated Chris’ Storm 24-17 and Christina scored four points to help her team to victory. Sherri added, “A lot closer than I expected as we had defeated the Storm handily twice during the regular season. Both teams gave their all in the title game.”

“I used every trick I could,” said Chris. “I tried different lineups and defenses, but it just wasn’t enough.”

Chris and Sherrie will celebrate 20 years of marriage in June and have four children. There’s Chris, Jr., 18, Christian, 17, Crishawn, 14, and nine-year old Christina. The two met while attending UAH earning their degrees as chemical engineers. Chris currently works as a quality manager at 3M in Decatur while Sherrie is a process safety engineer for GE Appliances Haier Company, also based in Decatur. They moved to Madison from the East Limestone area in 2019.

Both have coached for numerous years as their children have grown and those sports included soccer and football. This was their second season coaching basketball in Madison and the second consecutive season Sherrie’s Sparks have gone undefeated, but this was the first year the husband-wife battle took place.

“I feel Chris is a better game coach and I seem to better as a practice coach because of my background in sports (basketball and volleyball) while playing at Leflore High in Mobile,” said Sherri. “I want to see these girls move to the next level. My goal is how can I keep them in sports, enjoy the game and build on their experiences. I want to teach these girls the fundamentals of the game.”

The youth basketball program indicated it needed more coaches or some of the girls would not get to play, so, in true heroic style, Chris decided to take the Storm as his own team and take to the court knowing he would have to face the Sparks and his mate. Chris and Sherrie tried practicing both teams at the same time, but were not able to spend enough quality time with each player in trying to teach each girl the mere basics of basketball. A decision was made to separate the teams into their own practice schedule.

Then, the season of games got underway.

“I kept trashing talking with Sherrie when we drove to games together, but none of that seemed to work,” said Chris. “In the first game we played against one another they beat us pretty good while the second game was much closer.”

As for Christina, she played for her mother and father. “She was a Spark all the way and never wavered,” added Sherri. “She even rubbed in the wins over her dad.”

When both teams advanced to the championship game of the tournament held at Dublin Memorial Park the gloves came off and the competitive spirit took over. Both squads knew the special circumstances surrounding the seeing their season-long assistant coach on the bench of their opponent in the matchup for the championship trophy. Each of the girls were challenged by their coaches to give their best in what was the game of the season for both squads.

The game lived up to its billing. The Sparks led by one point after three quarters and the outcome was still in question midway through the fourth quarter. The game’s high scorer, Makayla Mann, tallied seven of her 18 points in the final stanza to lead the Sparks to outscore the Storm 9-3 in the final period. Once the game came to a close and the celebration began both coaches proudly displayed their team colors with team T-shirts. Chris wore his “assistant coach” Sparks shirt underneath his “head coach” Storm short and when it was time to snap photos with the championship trophy he quickly took off his Storm shirt and posed with the Sparks team with his Sparks shirt.

“I had to help Sherri and Christiana celebrated the victory,” said Chris. “I knew no matter the outcome of the game either way I was a winner at the end.”

For the season, Sherri said, “We make sure the kids have fun and make friends, but we make sure they learn the fundamentals of the game and help take care of their emotions.” As for Chris and his ambition for his Storm team to win the championship, he said, “I did want to beat her (Sherri). The perfect season would be to beat her, but it didn’t happen and I’m just happy for her and her team.”

The love for the family is easily seen when Chris and Sherri are together, but the competitive side of their relationship is no more evident than the fact Sherri’s gold medal for her team winning the championship is hanging on a kitchen cabinet and Chris sees the display every time he walks through the kitchen.

“Every time I see the medal, I smile and say to myself, I’m the assistant coach of the year,” said Chris with a chuckle.

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