The Apollo E-gals won the 3rd Region Tournament on March 30 and every morning since then, AHS coach Natalie Payne’s two daughters have asked every day when they wake up if it’s finally the day they’re headed to Rupp Arena.
“Now they know it’s today and they have been wanting to pack their suitcases since Monday at 10 p.m.,” Payne said. “They stay up late during the season because I’m up watching film and they want to be right beside me … It’s the memories we’re creating. They can’t wait to pack. They’ve their own suitcases and they’re ready to get their clothes. They’ve asked if they have a pool. They’re just all in. They’re so excited.”
Payne’s daughters are a part of her massive support system that helps keep things on track when she’s on the sideline for the E-gals.
After Apollo’s win over Meade County in the region final, Payne took a picture with the people that have been with her through everything – her parents.
When going through her phone recently, Payne came across the picture and couldn’t help but have a reaction.
“It just kind of got emotional,” she said. “Thinking back on how long it had been and how my parents have been so supportive and been there through the entire journey. It’s not about me, it’s not about my parents. “It’s about the girls and how they’ve worked to get there but thinking back to how long it’s been, they’ve seen and watched the program grow, just like coach (Willis) McClure has. It’s emotional because just seeing how far these girls have come and how hard it was to get there even when I played.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it doesn’t happen too often. You have to have some luck along the way too … It’s a feeling you don’t want to end either because you’re so excited about what’s to come and what these girls can accomplish at Rupp too.”
Payne isn’t coach in her household as her husband, Bradley Payne, is an assistant for the Daviess County Panthers.
He said he’s not exactly sure how his wife gets everything done on a daily basis.
“To be honest, I don’t know how she/we all do it during season,” he said. “A normal day consists of getting up and getting the kids ready for school, like anyone else; but that’s where the ‘normalcy’ ends. She takes her guidance counselor position very seriously and usually has the day slated for things to do. After school, it’s practice, Jan (Powers) will take our gals to her at the gym. We’ll both get home around 6 p.m. and put together a decent supper for all the kids. She will help with homework, bathe the gals, clean up around the house, get the gals to bed. Then do any guidance counselor work that needs done and start planning practice the next day and/or watch film. At that point, we’ll finally get to talk, usually about basketball,and she’ll shower and head to bed.
“There truly isn’t enough time to be great at all of the things she’s responsible for, but somehow, she is. One of her greatest strengths is her work ethic. It always has been. She stays so focused on the important things, and we laugh sometimes about how we could rent the house out from October-March and never meet the renters because we’re either always gone or confined to the bedroom doing work.”
Bradley said he knows his wife has made sacrifices but given everything she does, he knows she always thinking about the bigger picture.
“To be a coach, a great coach, sacrifices must be made,” he said. “But she has mastered being a great mother, wife, daughter, sister, all while pouring her heart and soul into molding young ladies’ life.”
Natalie said her parents are a big reason she gets to do what she loves and they’ve never shied away when things get difficult.
She said it truly takes a village to be a coach.
“There’s no way I could do it if it wasn’t for my parents helping me out,” she said. “When I practice and the girls don’t want to be at practice and they want to be at normal kids stuff and go out and play. Do the things that other kids do after school. Obviously, I want them to have that opportunity, then it’s my parents. They keep them because Bradley obviously coaches and he’s tied up with his practices and his games.
“This year was harder than most because I’m used to my parents being at every single game and I know that sounds crazy with me being a 41-year-old, they just don’t miss. They don’t miss since I was 9 years old at the YMCA. They’re there. This year, they couldn’t go to all the away games because of Covid. They weren’t going to take that chance.”
Even when times were tough, Payne said her parents were there.
Her father was diagnosed with cancer several years ago but has been in remission since 2014 and even after trips to Vanderbilt every couple of weeks, her parents would be right back at her games that night.
With Covid, she said this year has been very difficult.
“A lot of the away games, it felt empty,” she said. “I’m used to looking up and seeing them and then my girls couldn’t be there because I can’t take just them.”
When Payne and the E-gals take the court at Rupp Arena Thursday, it’ll be Payne’s first trip to the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in 24 years. While she won’t be playing on the court this time, her support system in the stands will still be there cheering her on.