BENTON – It’s the end of an era for the Benton volleyball program. Longtime coach and program starter Brandy Chumley has decided to take a step back after 17 years as the Lady Panthers head coach. Chumley will relinquish her varsity reins and now will head the Benton seventh grade program.
“I’m stepping down from high school,” Chumley said. “I’m going to go help out in middle school. It’s seventh grade and I’ll still help out with athletics. I’ll be doing volleyball, basketball and track.
“Just a little less. I’ve been coaching for 20 years and I’m really looking forward to doing just a little less. I have no summer responsibilities, so I’m really looking forward to that.
“That job opened up and I was thinking, ‘You know what, that sounds good.’ I didn’t know if I would get another opportunity like that. I would’ve loved to stay with my seniors because they’re going to have a really good year next year, but when that opportunity came open, I didn’t know if it would open itself up again any time soon.”
Chumley has been there since the beginning of the volleyball program.
“Tosha Rook and I started it in 2002,” Chumley said. “Neither one of us had an assistant. We completely started from scratch. It (volleyball) was growing and it’s grown so much over the 18 years. It’s changed a lot and it’s really grown.”
Rook expanded on the changing times.
“When we first started, we had to beg kids to play,” Rook said. “Kids did not want to play. Now, unfortunately, we have to cut because we have so many. It’s still new to a lot of kids, so they enjoy it, they want to pick up something different. It’s not all about softball now. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year.”
Chumley and Rook took the Lady Panthers to unprecedented heights, including playing in their first title game in 2007, just five years after the program began, and winning Benton’s first state title in 2009. Overall, Chumley led the Lady Panthers to a 284-116 record in her time as the head coach.
After not keeping an official record the first year in 2002, the Lady Panthers finished 6-10 in ‘03 and were even at 9-9 in the third year.
“Our first year of keeping a record we were 6-10 and we were ecstatic to win at all,” Chumley said. “You’ve got kids who have never played before, never seen a game before, to competing. We slowly worked our way up.”
It didn’t take long for the Lady Panthers to show their mettle as they went 15-3 in 2005, 20-1 in 2006 and 23-6 in their state runner-up season before going 35-4 two years later and winning the state championship over Marion in 2009.
Chumley, who has two Coach of the Year honors each in both volleyball and bowling (also the Benton bowling head coach), credited the Lady Panthers success by scheduling the best teams in the state during nonconference play.
“We’ve become more competitive,” she said. “We played 7A schools when we had 7A. Those were a lot of the losses that we had. I was more concerned with getting good competition than our win-loss record. Once we started getting competitive, we started getting good games.”
Not a shabby volleyball coaching career for a basketball player.
“I played basketball at Henderson,” Chumley said. “I had to learn the game (volleyball). I knew a little bit about it. We played in PE and in college for fun, but as far as coaching, Tosha and I both played basketball at Henderson. We dug in, learned the rules and learned how to play. We had a lot of contacts and talked to a lot of people.”
Chumley was so successful as the volleyball coach that Benton wouldn’t let her leave that post.
“When I got hired at Benton, I was the assistant basketball coach and assistant softball coach,” Chumley explained. “Whenever I applied for the volleyball position, it was really just about trying to get head-coaching experience, so that way when the basketball job did open up, I would have some of that head-coaching experience. Luckily enough, I was able to get the job. We’ve done well. We’ve worked hard and I feel like we’ve got a really good program.
“I love volleyball. It’s so much fun. And the kids love it. That’s one of the reasons why its one of the biggest growing sports. It’s really gotten bigger here.”
And with that growth, attested by 160 campers at the current Lady Panther Volleyball Camp, Chumley sees talent even at the seventh-grade level.
“Even in seventh grade, you have kids coming in with skills,” she said. “I feel like we’ll have a good program in seventh grade, too.
“We’ll work really exclusively together, Maddy Rhodes and I. I feel like we’ll have a good relationship working with the kids in all three sports.”
“She’s just going to make the program even better here coming down to the middle school,” Rook said.
And though she won’t get to head a loaded Lady Panther varsity squad next year, Chumley is happy with the legacy she’s left.
“It’s been quite a run,” she said. “I’ve got two championship rings, one in each sport. Two Coach of the Years in each sport. Whoever’s going to get this job, it’s a great job. I feel like we’ve done the best that we can and whoever they hire is going to be sitting pretty. This group is really, really good and I feel like they’ve got a chance to do extremely well this year. I’m kind of sad I’m not going to be with them, but again, you never know when this opportunity is going to come again. Twenty years is a long time. Change is good, a little less and we’re going to rock it in the seventh grade.”