The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Sports

February 19, 2014

Conley welcomes coaching challenge

Brent Conley once impressed local residents with his abundant athletic skills.

Now he’s trying to pass on some of his knowledge to the young players he coaches.

Conley, who was slated to guide the Fayetteville Middle School boys squad in its county tournament opener last night against Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School, is in his second year as head coach of the Pirate boys after serving for four years as assistant to Phil Samples with the FMS girls program.

Conley, who said being a coach wasn’t in the plans when he was younger, had known Samples since he (Conley) was a junior at Fayetteville High School in the early 1990s. “I always had an interest in basketball,” he said. “I couldn’t play basketball any more, so I figured the next best thing was to teach it.

“So I jumped at the opportunity.”

At Fayetteville High, where he played his junior and senior seasons (1992-93 and 1993-94) under coaches Walt Beene and Larry Spangler, Conley was a scoring machine. He averaged about 23 points a game during his junior campaign and followed that by leading the state with a 31.6 ppg average as a senior. He was a first-team Class A all-state selection in both seasons, as well as being a standout football player for the Pirates.

His post-secondary career included a stint with Fayetteville native and legendary coach Fletcher Arritt Jr. at Fork Union Military Academy. That was followed by stops at Virginia Military Institute, where he was Southern Conference freshman of the year ahead of Marshall’s Jason Williams, among others, and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College, where he earned NAIA All-America honors.

Conley later reconnected with his football past and began playing semi-pro football for the Omaha-based Nebraska Bears. An injury in a Bears game in 2003 altered his life drastically. While trying to make a tackle during a playoff game, Conley suffered contusions of cervical vertebrae Nos. 3, 4 and 5, paralyzing him for a time and forcing him into arduous rehabilitation that included re-learning simple tasks such as brushing his teeth.

“When it first happened, it bothered me,” he said recently. “(Later on) I realized my contact sports life was over.”

“I’m pretty well used to it, I’m resigned to it,” Conley added. “But I’m happy with it.”

To describe the lingering effects of his football injury, Conley likened it to experiencing the ‘needle feeling’ one gets when a foot or hand falls asleep.

He’s learned to deal with it and he says, other than that, there’s not a tremendous amount of pain. Of course, his range of movement is limited somewhat, and he says that bothers him in situations where he’d like to demonstrate a proper way to accomplish a certain basketball move to a player but can’t.

Even today, Conley exhibits signs of his injury while walking on the FMS sidelines and elsewhere.

“You just slow down; you have to re-evaluate your life and how you’re supposed to live it,” said Conley, who will turn 38 in July.

He works for ACE Whitewater and lives in Oak Hill with his wife, Bobbi. He is the grandfather of two-year-old Ayden Campbell and is the father of three children, Maria, 21, Sierra, 10, and Brent Jr., 5.

He says he misses the camaraderie, the teammates, the fun times athletics can offer. “I miss it all.”

“I had some great coaches in my life. Coach Arritt was one of the best to ever coach,” Conley continued. “I just want to pass (what he knows) on to the youth who are here.” Sometimes, he admits, it’s a “slow process.”

“I can’t complain about anything,” Conley said. “I was completely paralyzed (for three weeks).”

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