Michelle Ellis has lived and breathed Lady Falcons soccer for 16 years, from the time her oldest daughter, Mazzie, played her first junior varsity game in 2005 to her seven-year tenure as head coach.
Ellis supported Mazzie from the sidelines at every game and personally coached her three other children, but with her youngest daughter, Emmie, graduating from Fort Campbell High School this year she decided it was time to move on.
“To be able to actually take on that role, it was in my wildest dreams that I’d ever have done it,” Ellis said. “But once I got there, I never thought about doing anything else. Retiring was hard, but we’ve been here for 26 years at Fort Campbell and it was just time to see another part of the world.”
Ellis was a substitute teacher before she became a coach, and said she’s considering working in the classroom again once she and her husband move to Arizona. Soccer started as a fun activity for her children at Taylor Youth Center, but it grew into a lasting legacy at FCHS.
“Soccer was the first sport my parents put us in when we were about 4,” said Mazzie Ellis, who attended FCHS from 2007-2011 and currently manages a coffee shop in Chattanooga. “It was just something we always did as a Family, and as soon as I was able to, I started playing. It was a good team sport and it kept you active.”
Mazzie and her sisters Brittney, Madison and Emmie all played on the team throughout high school, and even though their age differences meant they didn’t often share the field the experience brought them closer together.
“It’s been very bonding for all of us,” Emmie said. “For us to get to play together, I know that’s a great thing to do with your sisters when you’re on the same team and sharing the field. I always watched them when I was young, and I wanted to do that too.”
Ellis never intended to lead the program, but she decided to make the leap in 2012 when the team needed someone to step in.
“My senior year came about and we didn’t have a coach,” said Brittney, who attended FCHS from 2009-2013 and recently earned a master’s degree in early childhood education. “Nobody stepped up to do it, nobody wanted to do it, and there were girls out there practicing on their own because we didn’t have a coach.”
Because of her job with the school system, Ellis applied for the assistant coaching position and teamed up with one of the other mothers to keep the program running.
“I wasn’t nervous, and I think because we’d been around soccer for so long it was just part of our lives,” Ellis said. “So, when we took it on, me and the other mom just went full-force trying to make sure we knew everything and learned everything. It was just natural, and we were welcomed in by all the parents and all the kids.”
Ellis became the head coach two years later, and Brittney joined her as assistant coach from 2015-2019.
“Coaching with my mom, it was like being part of a big Family,” she said. “2015 was my younger sister’s senior year, and I just remember being out there helping ever since then. At first, I was volunteering because I wasn’t old enough but once I turned 21 I knew I was putting in the paperwork. It wasn’t really a question.”
Ellis’s coaching style was focused on getting to know her players individually to draw out their best performance. With Families constantly moving to and from Fort Campbell there were plenty of connections to make, but she always found the time.
“Having my mom as a coach was great, and I couldn’t imagine having anyone else,” Emmie said. “She knew my strengths and weaknesses, she knew how I played and it was like an unspoken thing.”
Madison, who attended FCHS from 2012-2016 and now works in the restaurant industry, said her mother created an atmosphere where the most important thing was to always enjoy the game.
“My favorite thing about it was definitely just being with a group of girls that were fun and enjoyed the sport,” she said. “I remember the laughs all of us had on the bus rides, and even if we lost it honestly felt like a win because it was a really cool team. It’s definitely an experience that I cherish, and I’m very grateful for it.”
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association, or KHSAA, awarded the team the season’s sportsmanship award in 2015 because of that culture.
However, the Lady Falcons also were a force to be reckoned with on the field, becoming KHSAA’s junior varsity district tournament champions in 2012. During Ellis’s final season as head coach, the varsity team finished with 11 wins and seven losses.
“The season of my junior year we did so well,” Emmie said. “I’m happy it ended like that, and I loved everyone I played with my junior year. We had a great bond and it was a good team.”
Ellis said watching the players grow throughout the year was the most exciting part of being a coach, and that 2020 would have likely been another strong season.
“My favorite moments were at the end of the season banquets, when you would have parents and kids come up to you,” she said. “They may have had the worst practice or the worst game the day before, but at the end of the season they’d come up and tell you what a difference you made.”
But when Ellis looks back on her time at FCHS, the time she spent with her Family is what stands out the most.
“For me, the most memorable moment was when I wasn’t even coaching,” she said. “Madison was in fifth grade, Brittney was in seventh and Mazzie was in 10th, and they were all three on the soccer field together. That’s a moment I’ll never get back, and it’s one I cherish.”