ATHENS — Leaning against the stage in Athens Bible's gymnasium, April Davis proudly watched as Abbie Melvin directed the Lady Trojans' volleyball team through drills.
For the Athens Bible coach, taking a stroll down memory lane was inevitable.
"It's hard to believe Abbie has already graduated from college," Davis said. "I can remember when we went to Pelham (for the state tournament) in 1998 and Abbie was still pretty young. She was crying after it was over, and I didn't think I was going to be able to get her off the bench, so we slipped the clipboard in her hands.
"Abbie and I, we've had a lot of good times together. Time sure does fly by."
Yes, it does. But that doesn't mean all things change.
Some traditions remain alive and well.
Like at Athens Bible.
The scene Monday afternoon wasn't new. Melvin's involvement with Athens Bible volleyball dates back to elementary school, when she served as a ball girl for Davis.
But as time flew by, Melvin grew up. She starred for four seasons as a middle-hitter for Athens Bible's volleyball program, helping the Lady Trojans finish as the Class 1A state runner-up as a senior in 2007 before continuing her playing career at Faulkner University.
Now Melvin's volleyball career has come full circle. The former Athens Bible star is back at her alma mater as a coach, and Davis has shuffled responsibilities, handing her niece the keys to the program.
"Abbie is pretty much coaching the team," Davis said. "I've taken a step back and have sort of let her take charge, and she's done an outstanding job."
Hard to disagree.
Responsibilities have changed, but the results are the same. With Melvin coaching on the sideline and Davis sitting beside her on the bench, Athens Bible has played its way back to familiar territory:
The program's sixth state tournament appearance in the past seven years.
Athens Bible opens the Class 1A state tournament against Sacred Heart on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
"Getting back to (the state tournament), it speaks volumes for these girls," said Melvin, who graduated from Faulkner this past spring. "They have improved 10 fold. I cannot stress enough just how much they have improved since the start of the season. I know for me, it's been fun to be a part of their progress."
Athens Bible volleyball is important to Melvin. When she talks about the program, the pride with her words is sincere.
There's a reason why. Women from Melvin's family have been actively involved with the program since it was established.
Davis was the ball girl from Athens Bible's first volleyball team in the early 1980s, and she played for the Lady Trojans while in high school.
Melvin followed in her aunt's footsteps in 1998 when she took over as the team's ball girl. Her sister, Makayla, and cousin, Mallory Bauer, carried on that tradition before playing in high school — both were members of Athens Bible's 2009 state championship.
Now, for the first time since 2004, there isn't a family member on Athens Bible's roster, but Melvin is back as a coach, and another youngster is keeping the family's tradition alive: Davis' daughter, Mackenzie, 10, is helping as the team's ball girl.
"It's sort of a tradition we have," Melvin said. "I know for me, this gym is a special place. I basically grew up in here. Our family is always here. It's pretty much our home away from home."
Davis said having Melvin back has been sentimental. Her presence also helped make an already strong program better.
"There's no question about that," Davis said. "With her playing four years of college volleyball, the experience she brings is valuable. I'd say she knows more about the game than I do. Just the new drills that she's brought, and having a different voice to explain things, having her back has been good for everyone here, including me.
"Abbie is going to be a very good volleyball coach. I know that much for sure."
All matches at Birmingham Crossplex
Wednesday’s quarterfinal matches:
Lawrence County vs. Spanish Fort, 9 a.m.
Brewer vs. Rehobeth, 11 a.m.
Hartselle vs. Saraland, 11 a.m.
Danville vs. Cottage Hill Christian, 11 a.m.
Hatton vs. Mobile Christian, 1:30 p.m.
Athens Bible vs. Sacred Heart, 11 a.m.
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