Angela Watson is trading in her coach’s whistle for an official’s striped shirt.
Watson, 43, assistant senior girls basketball and head junior girls basketball and track coach at Lonoke, will give up her coaching duties this fall after a 19-year career.
“I know I’m going to miss it, but it’s time,” she said. “I’ve been playing and coaching basketball since I was very young.”
Former Lonoke athletic director and head girls basketball coach Nathan Morris, who hired Watson in 2012, said he knew this day was coming.
“Waiting on clothes to wash or dry, we’d sit around and talk about how we knew we wouldn’t coach forever,” said Morris, who left Lonoke last summer to take the superintendent’s job at Two Rivers and recently because superintendent at Cross County. “We knew there was going to be another something down the road.”
Watson described herself as a homebody who enjoys reading and family. She graduated in 1992 from what was then Kensett High School (now Riverview), where she starred in basketball, slow-pitch softball and track. She said she had opportunities to play basketball for some bigger schools but chose the University of Central Arkansas, where her name remains among the leaders in a number of career statistics.
Her 1992-96, 111-game All-America career with the Sugar Bears still includes the following marks:
— first in field goal percentage (.672, 757 of 1,127)
— second in rebound average (10.6)
— second in career offensive rebounds (545)
— second in offensive rebound average (4.9)
— second in blocked shots (143)
— second in blocked shots average (1.3)
— fourth in career field goals (757)
— fourth in career rebounds (1,177)
— sixth in career scoring (1,904)
— sixth in career free throws made (390)
— sixth in career steals (199)
— seventh in scoring average (17.2)
— seventh in free throws attempted (559)
— eighth in career defensive rebounds (632)
— eighth in steals average (1.8)
— ninth in defensive rebound average (5.7)
Morris chuckled as he recalled bringing his players back to reality about once a year by reminding them, “There’s only one All-American in this gym, and it isn’t you.”
“Angela Watson is an All-American not only in her playing career; she’s an All-American person,” he said. “She does not like the spotlight; never has, never will. I like to be a little louder, and she was quiet behind the scenes.”
After her playing career ended, Watson stayed at UCA to earn her master’s degree in kinesiology, working with legendary Sugar Bear coach Ron Marvel as a graduate assistant. After that, she took a job at the then-new Carl Stuart Middle School in Conway, where she spent four years coaching eighth grade girls in volleyball, basketball and track.
From there she spent six years as assistant high school basketball coach at Searcy, where she was also assistant fast-pitch softball coach and also spent a couple of years as head coach of the junior high girls basketball and track teams.
“I liked it all,” she said. “I liked working with the young ones, the junior high, seventh through ninth grades. They are so enthusiastic, and I liked the high school level because it is so competitive.”
From Searcy she went to Gordon, where she spent three years coaching seventh through 12th grade girls basketball and track and earned a second master’s degree, in sports administration, from Henderson State.
From there she took a year off before returning to coaching girls basketball and track at Marvell-Elaine before landing at Lonoke in 2012.
Over the years, she’s taught K-12th grade physical education and health as well as career orientation.
“I hired her, and I couldn’t have imagined a better person to work with,” Morris said. “We just worked well together from Day 1. She lived her education career, her coaching philosophy and her personal life by the same rules — play hard and act right. She took to that, and from Day 1, she was exactly what we needed.
“For a junior high head coach and assistant coach at a (Class) 4A school, It’s not everyday you get to hire somebody with head coaching experience, somebody who’s made those decisions — filled out practice plans, asked permission to get out of class, made transportation requests, just the whole gamut of running a program. It didn’t take but about a year before she knew what I was thinking and I knew what she was thinking. Our discipline and coaching thoughts ran together. It made for a good situation.”
But Watson isn’t completely leaving athletics. Since college, she said she had done some officiating here and there. For the last couple of years, she has officiated some pee wee games, but she will go full-time starting this fall.
“I first got into it because I wanted to be a better coach,” she said. “I wanted to understand what officials are looking for, another aspect of the game. I’m already a certified referee (with the Arkansas Officials Association). I plan on adding volleyball next year.
“Now I can still stay around the game, and I get to pick my hours and my days. I want to work no more than two nights a week.”
She said working as an official accomplished what she originally wanted — it helped her coaching.
“Coach Morris was always working the refs,” she said, chuckling. “The other thing is it’s going to force me to be active. Nobody wants you to ref if you can’t get up and down the floor.”
Morris said Watson would “do great at whatever she does” — teaching or officiating.
“Basketball has given a lot to her, and officiating is a way for her to give back,” he said. “She’s doing it because she loves the game and she wants to be a part of it. She’s also a great teacher, and with her going to the classroom full-time, she’s going to do great in that realm, also.
“She’ll be as good a teacher as she was a coach. The kids are going to get the best of her, that’s for sure.”