A former student at Providence and graduate of Wesleyan, Alex Bufton is now the swimming coach and teaches Spanish at Greater Atlanta Christian. The daughter of former Providence and Wesleyan boys basketball coach, Bill Bufton, Alex just started her second year as an educator after getting her degree from Baylor University in Texas.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...", Bufton talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including the rivalry between GAC and Wesleyan, coaching like she was coached and studying abroad.
CT: So, where did you grow up?
AB: I grew up in Atlanta. Here.
CT: Always the same place?
AB: Yeah, in Alpharetta. I went to Providence and Wesleyan.
CT: So you've made the Gwinnett private school trifecta?
AB: I've got it down.
CT: How long were you at Providence?
AB: Just until fourth grade. I graduated from Wesleyan.
CT: You're now the coach at GAC. How did that come about?
AB: Well, I interviewed last year for a teaching job and assistant swim coach. They hired me and then Beth (McGee) decided she was leaving in April and Tim (Vick, AD) asked me to coach.
CT: That's nice that you had kind of a transition period. You know the kids.
AB: Right. And I teach a lot of them.
CT: Especially at GAC, or any of the private schools, you get to see all the kids. They're all on the same campus.
AB: You get to be with them. And also be with them after school and on the weekend (laughing).
CT: You've seen it from both sides now. How serious is the rivalry between GAC and Wesleyan when it comes to sports?
AB: When we were both (Class) AA, I loved it. It was my favorite football game, my favorite basketball game. But now that we don't play them, I think the class that just graduated, they're the last class that really knew that rivalry. But still when I wear green, they ask me why I'm wearing a Wesleyan shirt (laughing). But I also went to Baylor, so I tell them it's a Baylor shirt.
CT: So you didn't have to expunge green from your wardrobe?
AB: No. They don't get the rivalry as much as the seniors last year did, but they still have it.
CT: Being the big two private schools in the county, even if you're not playing in each other's region, there's still some rivalry.
AB: Of course. Isn't it fun? (smiling)
CT: Is it weird being on the other side or have you been gone long enough?
AB: It was really weird at first. I love Wesleyan. I wouldn't be who I am without having gone there. But I love teaching here. It's really different, but the kids are the same. Everywhere. Kids are kids.
I think the thing I like most about both is the teachers and coaches really care about you. It's why I was the student that I was. I mean, I didn't even like school, but people made me want to learn there. People wanted to make me get better at swimming. That's the main similarity and what makes me love both of them.
CT: Did you look at public schools? Interview for those jobs before you ended up with this one?
AB: I did. I interviewed at some other schools and I interviewed in Texas because that's where my family lives. Well, where they did live. They moved actually. But that's where they lived when I was looking for a job. I looked in Houston and Dallas, but every time I would go on another interview, or have another phone interview or send my resume out somewhere else, I'd get an email or a phone call from Scott (Harsh, senior high principal), saying, 'Hey, you haven't signed a contract yet. We're still putting things together.'
So I knew this was where the Lord wanted me to be. Even though I tried to fight it for a little while (laughing). Because I thought it might be weird, but it's been good.CT: Did you also focus on the Texas area because that's where your family was?
AB: Yeah. I'd never lived away from my family. This is the first time. Ever. Because I went to college with all my siblings.
CT: Everyone went to Baylor? Did your family have ties to the school?
AB: Not really. My oldest brother went there and we all just kind of felt like that's where the Lord wanted us to be. Even though we thought about swimming or playing football somewhere else.
CT: So did you choose Baylor because that was the school you wanted even having opportunities to be an athlete at a different school?
AB: Yeah. They don't have a swim team. I worked for the basketball team throughout college because I love basketball.
CT: Do you still have friends in the Gwinnett area after having gone to high school here?
AB: I have four of my best friends from high school still live here so we hang out. And this is a great community (at GAC) so I hang out with people from here a lot. It's been fun.
CT: What sports did you play in high school?
AB: I swam most of the time. I swam (club) at Dynamo. I played softball my senior year.
CT: How many of the coaches you had are still there?
AB: My swim coach, Colin Creel, just left last year to go somewhere else. He's now at Cornerstone Christian. He's the headmaster though.
CT: So you won't have to coach against him.
AB: Right. Actually, my middle school coach at Wesleyan is still there. We coach against each other so it's kind of fun.
CT: Do you have any favorite moments from your high school sports career?
AB: Senior year state. We just did really well. I think we were third overall and first in AA. We'd been swimming together for four years, most of us, and we swam so well. I just remember it being so great. We loved Colin and that was the best memory.
CT: As a former Wesleyan athlete, how high are the expectations there because so many of the sports do so well year after year? Is there pressure to live up to that?
AB: Yes, but they're also great about being super encouraging. Not like, 'you have to live up to this standard because someone else did it first,' but, 'because I know you're good enough to do that.' Which is something I really hope to give to my athletes. You don't have to win state -- obviously it's the ultimate goal -- but I am going to push you to do the best you can.
I feel like, yes, there is pressure, but it's good pressure. They don't lower the expectations because you're lazy or you just don't feel like it. Which, at the time, I probably didn't appreciate as much as I do now.
But I would never miss a practice and it's because I wanted to get better, because somebody, Colin, believed in me.
My biggest problem was fear of failure or getting to do something and then never getting to do it again.
Colin always said pressure makes diamonds. So it was good.
CT: Was coaching and teaching always the goal?
AB: No (chuckling). I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started with, 'I don't want to do it just because that's what my dad did.' I love my dad, he's my favorite person in the world. But I didn't want to do it just because I felt like I should or because it was what he did.
Then when I was in college, I didn't have a major and I changed my major too many times. I felt like the Lord kept saying, 'No, you're going to teach.' But teach what? I didn't even like school (laughing).
But I had a couple professors in college that I thought, 'If they can get me to want to come to class, get me to want to learn, then I can do that for someone else who's just like me.' I felt like that was what the Lord was calling me to do. But God kept saying, 'Spanish, Spanish, Spanish.' I thought, 'I barely speak Spanish. I'm not even that good at it.' I never really studied and it was kind of easy for me (in high school). But then when I got to college, it was hard and I studied a lot. Now I love it. It's awesome. But it was definitely not, 'Oh, I'll do that because it's easy.'CT: Do you get kids at both ends of the spectrum? Kids that are taking it just because they have to take a language and they think Spanish might be the easiest one? Then the others that really want to learn it?
AB: Yes. This year I teach Spanish 2, which is required, and Spanish 3 honors. So I have literally both ends of the spectrum. That's the highest honors level we have. We have 3, 4 and 5, but we don't have an AP program yet but they're the first class that will take the AP exam. So I have kids that are awesome at Spanish, really great, and then I have kids who, well, aren't. But I speak to them only in Spanish so eventually they'll get it. This is the second week of school and last year I kind of watched them go through that, so I just keep telling them they will get it.
I use a lot of technology and that helps. I use Power-Points and videos and we do a lot of music, which is really cool.
CT: Are you looking forward to the swimming season?
AB: I'm really excited. I feel like it's already started, just getting the schedule and stuff like that. But Oct. 17 is the first day of practice.
CT: How many of your swimmers work with a club team?
AB: This year, I think we have like three. Not very many. In years past, it's been more. We graduated a lot of seniors last year and had some kids go to different schools.
CT: How did you start swimming?
AB: I started when I was 5 and I won the county in the 6-and-unders. I didn't get this at the time, but now I do all the time -- my summer league coaches talked my parents in to taking me to Dynamo. I told my mom I thought it was weird because no one in the family even swims. Why did she take me to Dynamo? But now I say it to kids' parents all the time because I coach in the summer, too.
I swam with Dynamo until I was 12, but then I quit to play basketball because I wanted to be part of the family. My brothers swam with me and we all quit to play basketball. He wanted to play football and I ran cross country. My mom made us do something every season.
I was OK at basketball. I probably could have made the team, but I wouldn't have played at Wesleyan. So my parents and Colin tried to talk us back into swimming. My brother didn't, but I did. Which obviously was a good thing.
CT: What kind of music do you listen to most often?
AB: A lot of country, but I listen to everything. Literally everything. But probably country and Christian music mostly.
CT: Are there any TV shows you try not to miss?
AB: (Laughing) I don't know if I should say.
CT: Is it "Jersey Shore"?
AB: No. My students try to get me to watch it every week.
I watch "The Bachelor." And I love "Criminal Minds."
CT: Do you have any favorite vacation spots?
AB: Spain. I'm obsessed with Spain. I've been a few times. I studied there and then I went this summer. But I like to go anywhere that there's a beach.
CT: Any particular part of Spain?
AB: I like it all, but I was in Barcelona this summer.
CT: Where did you study?
AB: Denia, but that's a little beach down on the east coast of Spain.