|Shown above are the Lamesa (Texas) High School girls volleyball team and
co-coaches Tippy (left and holding “900” sign) and Patty (right) Browning
upon winning the program’s 900th match.
By John Gillis
In what might be the only such instance in the nation, since 1968 the sidelines of the Lamesa (Texas) High School girls volleyball games have been patrolled by twin sisters and “co-coaches” Patty and Tippy Browning.
The fraternal twins (born July 31, 1945, Patty is older by five minutes) have guided the Golden Tornadoes’ fortunes since the Viet Nam conflict was still waging during the waning days of President Johnson’s tenure in the White House. When they started, volleyball was a spring sport in Texas (now a fall sport).
While many changes have occurred during the intervening 45 years, one constant remains – Patty and Tippy still lead the LHS girls volleyball team to great levels of success.
Although the NFHS’ online National High School Sports Record Book has no such category as “Most Girls Volleyball Career Coaching Victories by a Set of Twins,” it is highly unlikely that many such coaching configurations exist in America. And if so, it is highly likely that the Browning twins would hold the national record in that category.
Entering the 2013 season, Patty and Tippy have coached Lamesa to a 913-460 win-loss record, which ranks 15th among active coaches and 23rd in the history of high school girls volleyball. There are no active Texas high school girls volleyball coaches with more victories than the Browning twins, and only Billy Evans, who retired from Jewett (Texas) Leon High School in 2000, has compiled more victories (1,079) in the Lone Star State.
Located in West Texas roughly midway between Lubbock and Midland, Lamesa is known for its cattle ranching and cotton farming. With a population of 9,357, Lamesa is the county seat of Dawson County. However, what it is perhaps best known for is the high school’s consistently successful girls volleyball program.
Due to its isolated geography and the decline in Lamesa’s population, the Brownings has experienced some unusual challenges as coaches.
“During our career, we have logged more than 176,000 miles on school buses traveling to and from games,” Tippy said. “In West Texas, there are a lot of miles between schools. In the earlier years of our careers when we were in the AAAA enrollment classification, we were in a district where we were traveling two to three hours one way to games.
“The population of Lamesa has declined over the years due to the poor farming economy. Most West Texas communities have experienced a similar population decline. When we started, we were a AAAA school, then dropped to AAA, and then two years ago dropped to AA. We are seeing some increase in enrollment and wouldn’t be surprised if we move back up to AAA.”
While growing up, the Brownings attended Vega (Texas) High School. Although they did play volleyball there, the sport in which they excelled was basketball.
“Basketball was the main sport for girls at Vega,” Patty said. “We did have a very short volleyball season. We participated in volleyball, but it did not get the same emphasis as basketball.
“We played when basketball was the half-court game with three forwards on one end of the court and three guards on the other end. I played forward and guard and Tippy played forward. We are both 5-foot-5.
“Our 1962-63 Longhorns were the first team to win a district championship at Vega High School, and we were both chosen All-District basketball players.”
Growing up in the 1960s before the implementation of Title IX and its resulting enhanced participation opportunities for girls provided challenges for the Brownings and other girls of that generation.
|Shown above are Patty (left) and Tippy (right) Browning playing for
Vega (Texas) High School in 1963.
“In general, women’s sports opportunities in the 1960s were very limited,” Tippy said. “There were not many sports available for women and the opportunity to advance and play on the college level was practically non-existent. Even when we first started coaching, there were very few opportunities for women to play at the collegiate level. In our lifetime in sports, we have seen this change dramatically from little or no opportunity to today when women have much the same opportunity as the men. Title IX gave a big boost to the opportunities for women in both high school and collegiate sports.”
Transitioning to coaching volleyball after playing basketball so extensively was a relatively painless process for the Brownings.
“Making the move from basketball to volleyball was not hard in the respect that they are both team sports and the philosophy is to play as a team ‑ not as individuals,” Patty said. “So, pursuing team values ‑ which is our primary focus ‑ was the same. They are both similar to coach in that you always promote team and hard work.
“However, the individual skills and the nature of the two games are quite different. This was where the real learning had to take place. We were fortunate to have high school coaches in the area who were willing to share their philosophies and their techniques for teaching skills.”
Although their unique arrangement as “co-coaches” has the potential to create challenges not otherwise experienced by an “individual coach,” the Brownings work together very well.
“We have no defined roles,” Patty said. “We just both coach the game. Most of the time, Tippy is up on the sideline during play correcting and encouraging, while I normally take charge of those responsibilities in team huddles during time-outs and between sets. We almost always know what each other is thinking.
“Both of us have the freedom to correct anything we see that needs to be corrected. Many times, we confer with each other because what one might see the other will miss. That’s the great thing about having two sets of eyes on the game. We have a great coaching staff and they are always encouraged to help with coaching during a match.”
Among the career highlights to which Patty and Tippy point are the opportunities to take teams to the state tournament, winning the 1976 state tournament and accumulating the milestone career 900 victories. As far as the here and now, the 2013 edition of the Golden Tornadoes is one denoted by its relative youth.
“This year’s team is inexperienced on the varsity level. It has been a year of trying to get the right combinations and to build confidence,” Patty said. “We are starting a freshman setter, a sophomore setter and freshman middle hitter, so there has been a lot of learning and adjusting. The older kids have really had to step up and make plays. We have struggled during the year as far as posting wins not only because of the lack of experience, but because of a lack of height in a ‘tall girls game.’ But, we are still in the playoff hunt and that is our goal right now. We are very proud of this team because they always play hard to the end of every match no matter the outcome and they still believe in themselves and are working hard to extend the season.”
With 45 years on the sidelines, the obvious question for the Browning twins is how much longer they plan to coach.
“That is a question that we really cannot answer,” Tippy said. “We still really enjoy coaching and competing. But, obviously there will come a time when the energy is just not there and that will be the deciding factor. If having a love for the game and the athletes and just coaching such great kids were the deciding factors, we would go on forever.”
|Shown above are Patty (left) and Tippy (right)
Browning in 2008.
John Gillis is the associate director of development of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org