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Scholar Athlete of the Week: Willard’s father serves as second coach on the basketball court

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Cathedral School senior Sarah Beth Willard receives words of advice about her basketball skills — whether she likes it or not — from her father Jim, who attends all of her games.

NATCHEZ — If she wants some pointers, Cathedral High School forward Sarah Beth Willard can just ask her dad, Jim.

If she doesn’t want some pointers, he’s there to give advice anyway — despite any protests by Willard.

“I don’t take criticism very well,” Sarah Beth explained. “I listen to my coaches, but I don’t like outside perspectives and six other voices telling me what to do. (My dad) means well, but he doesn’t use the best tone.”

The father-daughter relationship between Jim and Sarah Beth can be rocky at times when it comes to basketball. There are times, however, when Sarah Beth is open to her father’s advice, Jim said.

“If she asks, she’ll take it then,” he said. “If it’s me coming to her at halftime or at the end of the game, I’m not allowed to speak to her.”

In his defense, Jim said he’s not like some parents, who shout instructions from the bench during games.

“I’m very quiet,” Jim said. “You have some parents that scream, and she can’t stand that.”

Usually, the focus of her father’s criticism comes down to how tough Sarah Beth is playing on defense.

“He’s always in the stands, and he’s always telling me what I did wrong or right,” Sarah Beth said. “He always focuses on my defensive game. He says I should block out more or be more aggressive. ‘Don’t be nice,’ he’ll tell me.”

Jim said a tough defensive game makes a big difference in whether his daughter has a good game.

“My main thing is about being aggressive on defense,” Jim said. “She’s a tall child, and when she is (aggressive), she does really well.”

Sarah Beth, though, said aggressive isn’t always her personality.

“He tries to teach me the rough-and-tough, go-get-them thing, but he’s not experiencing what I am on the court,” Sarah Beth said.

While Jim may get onto Sarah Beth about basketball every now and then, there’s one area where he’s pretty hands off: her grades. Sarah Beth currently has a 3.9 grade-point average and is in the top 10 of her class at Cathedral.

“We’re lucky that she’s not a child that I have to stay on (about grades),” Jim said. “She pretty much does it on her own, but she knows we expect a lot out of her.

“We’re blessed, we really are. We don’t have to fight her about her grades.”

Sarah Beth said she knows her good grades make her parents proud, especially since it will help her get scholarship money for college. It also helps to be self-motivated now rather than learning to in college.

“They’re still worried about my grades, but they trust me, because they want me to have responsibility to make good grades in college without them,” Sarah Beth said.

Making good grades despite having extra-curricular activities is not always convenient, Sarah Beth said.

“I guess you have to be hard on yourself with so many distractions,” Sarah Beth said. “I grew up playing AYA basketball, so I’ve been on a sports schedule my entire life. Sometimes you have to sacrifice going out with friends on the weekends.”

Some of the most difficult distractions to overcome are any and all forms of media, like TV and computer, especially when she’s filling out scholarship applications.

“The applications are online, so it’s tempting to go check Facebook while I’m doing it,” Sarah Beth said.

Sarah Beth is currently considering Texas Christian University, LSU, Alabama and Southern Methodist University for college. Her mother is Selah Willard.