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Coach for all seasons: Lewis leads Patriot volleyball, hoops to the top

No matter the sport, Tishay Lewis carves out success for her athletes. Lewis, Sandy Creek High’s volleyball and girls basketball coach, strives for the victories that don’t count on the scoreboard.

Lewis grew up in Savannah one of six kids of a single mother. When she found a love of basketball on the courts across from her home, she unlocked a drive within herself to be great. She slept with the ball, and she slept in her rec league team’s jersey.

“I knew that I was gonna play basketball,” Lewis remembered. “I was one of those kids that every day, all day I’m at the park.”

She was cut from her middle school team in the 7th grade and again the next year. She didn’t get down, it unlocked a drive inside that she shares with her players.

“I made up my mind right around the age of 11 that I would never let anyone tell me what I can’t do,” she said. “In life, you’re gonna fight. We’re not going to sit down and fold.”

Basketball literally took her around the world. After a standout collegiate career ended at Armstrong Atlantic, Lewis played professionally in Amsterdam.

“It was an opportunity for my feet to touch grounds that they never would have touched,” said Lewis. “Where I came from, just to be overseas was something that was amazing to me. It was an opportunity you can’t turn down because you never know if you’ll be able to do that again.”

Her high school coach, Ronald Booker, played a huge role in her life. When she didn’t want to practice, he would pick her up. When money was tight, he bought her basketball shoes. Booker’s love helped set her career path. When knee injuries cut short the pro career, she wanted to make an impact on kids, and she wanted to stay involved with sports.

“I was determined to be like him. Even when he fussed at me, I respected him and I loved him.”

After college, Lewis planned to be a youth counselor to help at-risk youth, and she was a juvenile correction officer when she first got back stateside. It wasn’t the right fit because she wanted to find a different role in a child’s journey.

“I want to reach kids before they get here. I have to put basketball and my level of counseling together,” she said. “Through basketball I was given so many opportunities that I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten, and so I knew when I couldn’t play I wanted to be able to help others to see how this sport can give you more in life than just a couple wins, couple losses. There’s more about it than that.”

Basketball was the first love, but volleyball brought Lewis the first championship. When Sandy Creek offered her the basketball job it was on the condition she coach both sports.

Volleyball was an all-new experience. She had never seen the sport played before. The first order of business was buying “Volleyball for Dummies” and reading it cover to cover, over and over.

The players had experience, and they welcomed Lewis in with open arms. They shared the basics of the sport, and they grew together that first year.

“In order to be a good teacher, you’ve gotta be a good learner first,” said Lewis. “We can learn from her and she can learn from us. It became a partnership.”

Flash forward to this season. The Patriots were the favorite, and they relished the opportunity. They didn’t lose a set all playoffs as they rolled to the fourth championship in team history. The win was all the more remarkable as it was a mostly African-American team led by an African-American coach.

“You don’t see a lot of girls who look like us playing volleyball and you don’t see a lot of coaches who look like me coaching volleyball,” said Lewis. “It showed those younger girls that look up to them that you can do this. It’s just a beautiful feeling.”

The championship was thrilling, but Lewis really relishes the bond she shares with her players. Her passion is for helping her players grow and find their own calling.

“I’m nothing without them. I’ve accepted that, and everything I do is to see the smiles on their faces. When I see them smile, when I see them excited, that just brings me so much joy,” said Lewis. “I just want better young ladies going out into society.”


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Posted 11/21/2023