Conn’s come home
ASKEWVILLE – It was a Homecoming of sorts – and a successful one.
Jay Conn and his daughter, Tori, returned to their history this past weekend when the two participated in the North Carolina Christian Athletic Conference state playoffs at Bethel Christian Academy.
Jay Conn, now an assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach at Gramercy Christian School, and his daughter, a top reserve for the Lady Warriors, spent many years of their life at Ahoskie Christian School before relocating to Morehead City two years ago.
For more than 30 years Jay Conn has been coaching, starting as a recreation league instructor and working his way up until he was Athletic Director and Head Boys and Girls basketball coach at Ahoskie Christian. He coached the girls for nine years and the boys for four as well as spending two seasons coaching softball.
As he reflected on that time during the tournament, he said there were dual favorite memories.
“First, I’d have to say winning 10 Christian Testimony Awards was a highlight for me,” he said. “Then, in 2003, when we were able to take six girls and finish third and also win the Christian Testimony Award. That was the first time that had ever been done.”
For her part, Tori Conn said the best part of playing at ACS was simple.
“I loved being able to play for my dad,” she said. “He’s a great coach.”
Conn played three years of varsity basketball at Ahoskie Christian and four years of volleyball before moving.
When relocating, the Conn family moved to Morehead City. There they have been united with a longtime friend in Gramercy Christian Athletic Director Fred Anthony. Both have been thankful for that opportunity.
“Fred has been a good friend and supporter for me over the years,” Jay Conn said. “He has always been there for me and I appreciate the opportunity he gave me to continue coaching when we moved.”
Anthony said he had long wanted Conn on his staff and was glad to finally have him as part of the team of coaches.
“We met eight or nine years ago and just clicked right away,” Anthony said. “I always told him that if he became ready for a move, we would like to get him involved in the program. When they made the move, we were glad to have him be part of the program here.”
Anthony said Tori Conn had also learned the team-first philosophy Gramercy believes in.
“Tori came from a girls program that was at a totally different level,” Anthony said. “She knew it would be a learning process and she came at it with a great attitude.
“She has scrimmaged against some of the best players around,” he added. “She’s improved and next year she’s going to get the opportunity to play as a senior. Tori has really embraced the team-first attitude. She’s bought into our philosophy.”
The program is the key part of Gramercy, according to both Conns.
“We have had the total support from the administration, families and players,” Jay Conn reported. “The jayvee doesn’t always win like the varsity, but people have been so uplifting. In spite of all the winning that has gone on here, people have great attitudes.”
And winning is something that is synonymous with the girl’s program at Gramercy Christian, which is located in Newport. The Lady Warriors have won an unprecedented eight consecutive North Carolina Christian Athletic Conference state volleyball championship and five straight state titles in basketball.
“I like being here,” Tori Conn said. “I know my role right now and that is to make the first team what they are. I learned not to play all the time, but to work hard and be part of the team. It’s been great.”
Tori Conn said the Lady Warriors had accepted her quickly and, despite the success they had, were ready if not eager to help her learn.
“People think it’s easy for us, but that’s simply not true,” she said. “It’s not like that at all. I have learned that we have to work for what we have. Sometimes people see the success on the floor, but not all the work that goes into it.”
This past weekend, the Lady Warriors did play well on the floor, adding another state title to their trophy case despite having seven players with sickness, including Tori. Both Jay and Tori said winning that title during her junior year at Bethel was rewarding, especially when it came at school so close to Ahoskie.
“It does my heart good when Tori had the opportunity to play well in front of people she grew up with,” Jay Conn said. “She has learned to play well when she gets playing time and it was nice, especially here where she grew up.”
And Conn did play well, especially during Thursday night’s opening round contest where they squared off with Liberty Christian. During that matchup, Conn had six points, seven assists and five rebounds along with a team tournament high nine steals.
Tori Conn said the playing time was nice, but not her first thought. She said it was important to her and her teammates to let their play speak for itself.
“It’s nice to be part of this team,” she said. “We don’t talk. We play basketball. It’s nice to be able to come out and show people what you can do.”
And showing what they can do was enough to propel both Conn’s to their second straight NCCAC state title.
Jay Conn is married to his wife of 22 years, Dawn, who is the mother of their two daughters, Tori and Jessi.