Hall of Fame Survivor: Kathy Swiley-Combest
OKALOOSA ISLAND — Sports, to Kathy Combest, have always been about family. With that in mind it should come as no surprise that Combest was surrounded by family and a family of friends Wednesday when she was inducted into the All Sports Association Hall of Fame at the Past Presidents’ Hall of Fame Luncheon. Long before coaching her first volleyball match or girls basketball game at Baker School or Crestview High School sports was a family affair for Combest.
As a girl growing up in Lumberton, Miss., the then Kathy Swilley developed into a star athlete competing against her older brothers and sisters. As a college basketball player at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss., she developed an extended family of friends that included a Crusader baseball player from Crestview, Dexter Day, who is now her boss at Crestview High. It was through sports that Kathy Swilley met Steve Combest. Steve was on a flag football team with one of her brothers and that’s what brought them together. It was Steve, who was the first coach in the family that encouraged Kathy to get into what has become the family business.
“Steve is my soul mate,” Kathy said. “He has never missed a beat. He’s my biggest fan and he’s my biggest critic. “He’s someone I can talk to all the time about anything about sports and we understand each other. I never thought I would have that in life. And it has been the perfect thing for me in marriage.”
Steve was one of the first people to see the coach in Kathy. “I got hired in 1984 to start coaching in this county and I’ve been here every since,” he said. “A year after that I told her, ‘You need to quit your job and go back to school and go into coaching.’ And you know the rest of the story. “She’s truly a competitor and always has been. That’s revealed in her teams over the years.” The rest of the story is what made Kathy a Hall of Famer. She has a 589-176 record as a volleyball coach and 338-106 record as a basketball coach. The winning percentage in volleyball is .769 and in basketball is .761. As former Baker football and athletic director Jeff Webb, who presented Kathy, said, “If you win 77 percent of your games you probably don’t have to worry about getting fired.”
It’s not surprising that Steve and Kathy’s two children were star athletes in their own right. Their son, Chase and daughter, Chelsea, were both three sport stars at Baker. Chase played football, basketball and baseball. Chelsea was an extension of Kathy playing volleyball and basketball. She also starred on the Baker softball team. “I’ve got the two best kids in the world,” Kathy said. “They were drug to everything. They were drug to games, practices, clinics. I want to thank them.” Steve and Kathy might only have two children of their own but all of the kids that they have coached have become their children. “If you don’t have the relationship with the kids where you love them like your own kids they will never give you everything,” Kathy said. “You just love them like they were your kids. Kathy Combest is a Hall of Famer in ways that numbers can’t measure and it’s in the life of every player she touched.