Tina Smosny-McGriff, 41, is the head girls basketball coach at Berkmar. The first-year head coach and Brookwood graduate has spent time as an assistant basketball coach at Meadowcreek and Grayson before taking her first varsity head coaching job this season.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." Smosny-McGriff talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel about being married to a UGA-hating, Cowboys fan, teaching Spanish and her special five-mile radius.
BB: You graduated Brookwood in 1989, so you've been around the county for a while.
TSM: It seems like forever ago, we just had our 20th reunion. It was great.
BB: How many people are still around from back then?
TSM: A ton. Facebook has helped. I think every single person I graduated with was at our reunion. We had a really, really tight class. We had probably 400-some graduate. I am friends with probably 300 on Facebook. I run into people all the time I graduated with. It's great.
BB: It seems like a good number of Gwinnett people return to Gwinnett after high school and college.
TSM: That's what I was telling the girls (on my team). I lived at the end of Lester Road in the neighborhood right there (pointing). I went to GAC until ninth grade until I transferred to Brookwood and now my husband and I live in Lilburn, so for 30 years I have lived in this five-mile radius. I am back to where I moved (from Ohio) when I was 7. I haven't left a five-mile radius. It's kind of weird.
BB: Where you an education major at Georgia?
TSM: I knew I wanted to be a teacher, it was kind of a toss-up between P.E. Maybe, looking back on it, maybe that should have been the road that I went, but I loved Spanish so I teach Spanish. I had a very colorful, crazy Spanish teacher.
BB: Did you get to travel? Mexico? Spain?
TSM: No, actually I did not. I always had something going on. I was either on the softball team or I didn't want to miss my tennis match, but looking back on it, I think, 'How crazy is that.' because my parents always said, 'Go where you want to go.' I never took the opportunity to do those travel things. I so regret it, I never travelled. I've been to Mexico a few times, but I never went to Spain on any of the class trips, I never spent like a time living with a family. Nope, never did it. But I've always taught at schools where there are a lot of Spanish-speaking students.
BB: They probably helped teach you Spanish.
TSM: Absolutely. Now, I teach Spanish I, so it's the basics. If you don't use it, you lose it and that's kind of where I am lately. I feel like I am losing more and more each year.
BB: How high does it go here?
TSM: It goes to AP. We have AP (Spanish). We have native-speaking classes here because we have so many (native speakers).
BB: So they aren't in Spanish I?
TSM: No, we have special classes for them. We have native-Spanish speakers.
BB: That would be like me going to France and taking English I.
TSM: It was like that for a long time. When the community started to change a lot and I was still at Meadowcreek, a lot of the native-Spanish speakers were in regular classes. The kids were intimidated to say anything, but now the curriculum has changed.
BB: Did you play a lot of sports at Brookwood?
TSM: I actually only played basketball until 10th grade at Brookwood. I started playing basketball at GAC and I absolutely loved GAC but my family and I went to Cannon United Methodist Church, right there by Brookwood and I was so involved in my church and all my friends went to Brookwood. At that time GAC didn't have a football team and they didn't have a homecoming dance, even though they had other things, and I felt like I was kind of missing out. So in the middle of ninth grade I transferred and played basketball. I was just an average player and I don't think I ever really reached a little bit higher potential that I had. So after 10th grade I just played rec league at Lilburn (park) down the street and loved every minute of it. I was always a sports girl. I played tennis, I played softball, those kind of things.
BB: But not varsity-level high school squads?
TSM: No, no. Which is kind of odd because people ask all the time, 'Where did you play college basketball?' Well, I didn't.BB: How long have you been coaching?
TSM: This is my 13th year in Gwinnett. I started at Meadowcreek. I was the ninth grade coach for about a half a season and then was the varsity assistant half of that year ... I did JV a couple of years and varsity assistant, back and forth. Then, I kind of heard through the grapevine that the head coaching position may become available (at Berkmar), so that's when I transferred over here as the JV coach. The first time I interviewed, I didn't get the job, but I was the assistant here for three years. Then I interviewed for the job again and I did not get it again and that's when I went to Grayson. ... The job became available again and this year I got it. I never quit teaching here. I still taught Spanish here. But for the last three years I was still driving to Grayson.
BB: Is that weird, coaching at different schools? Especially in the same region?
TSM: It is so hard. Especially with kids that you did coach. I was the assistant coach here and then I am the assistant coach there. Coaching against the girls that I spent the last three years with and that are in my classes. It is very weird. It is very weird.
BB: Well, you must like it here at Berkmar to keep trying to get this job?
TSM: I love Berkmar. I loved Meadowcreek. These are great schools. The international cultures here are great.
BB: Do you have any kids?
TSM: I have and about-to-be 18-year-old stepdaughter. She's a senior this year. She goes to Hiram High School. I tried to get her to play basketball. I put her in some camps because she is about 5-foot-9 . That didn't work out so she went the cheerleading route. Me and my husband go to watch her cheer. She loves it. She is the captain of the cheerleading squad this year. It's very different then basketball. She is a very girly girl.
BB: How'd you meet her dad, your husband?
TSM: I don't know if you want write this, I met him at a sports bar watching football. We are huge, huge sports people. He's a Cowboys fan and I am so not. We were yelling at the game and just started talking and it went from there.BB: Are you a Falcons fan?
TSM: I am a huge Falcons fan. I hate the Cowboys. I can't even pretend to like (Cowboys quarterback) Tony Romo (laughing).
BB: Well, at least they don't play that often.
TSM: No, but we talk about buying a new house here in the next couple of years and he wants the whole basement to be Cowboys everything. He doesn't want anything UGA...
BB: ... He's not a Georgia fan either?
TSM: No. He's not a Georgia fan either. He's from Jersey, so he likes Rutgers and ...
BB: ... He doesn't care about college sports.
TSM: (laughing) He doesn't care about college sports and he and my dad have butted heads a couple of times. My dad threatened not to let him in the house because he cheered for South Carolina during a game. He doesn't like any of the teams that I like. ... When the Cowboys played the other night I tried to support him, but if the Falcons or UGA is on he's not having any part of supporting the teams that I like.
BB: In his defense, as a transplant you tend to gravitate away from the local teams because you are surrounded by the fans everywhere.
TSM: That's exactly what he does. He's a loud guy. He's a happy guy. He's the voice of wherever it is that we are watching the game, yelling in opposition of whoever ... (laughing) It's annoying, but I love him.