Mark Gainous, GC Basketball Coach, Father, Friend

Mark+Gainous%2C+GC+Basketball+Coach%2C+Father%2C+Friend

Raleigh Hutchison and Joel White

We met Mark Gainous in his domain, the Georgia College Centennial Center, where he is preparing for his seventh season as head coach of the men’s basketball team. Swapping handshakes with elbow bumps we introduced ourselves and walked outside. Due to the social-distancing guidelines of COVID-19, the three of us, Gainous, Hutchison, and White, walked across the empty courtyard to a spot in the grass where we opened fold out chairs and arranged into a triangle under a massive white tent. The shade of the tent provided a slight coolness from the supposedly fall weather of Middle Georgia (low-eighties degrees instead of summer’s high-nineties). It was early afternoon and masked students filed in and out of the dorm building surrounding us. There was the steady beat of a rhythmic tennis volley behind us.

The three of us chatted for a few moments before White pressed record on his iPhone and Hutchison opened her notes to the interview questions. Gainous recounted his childhood, telling how he was an active kid, playing football and baseball primarily and keeping basketball on the back burner. But as he grew up in Cairo, Georgia, basketball became more interesting to him and eventually earned him a scholarship to Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was a very average player. I’ll be the first one to tell you that,” he chuckles, “but we went down to a little tournament and I had the best I ever played in a three day span.” At that tournament Gainous was put in touch with the head coach of Grand View University where he signed and played for a year but felt too far from his Georgia roots. After freshman year he made the decision to move back to Georgia and play for Georgia Southwestern. Gainous loved that his parents and grandparents could make the hour and a half trip to see his games.

Basketball meant everything to Gainous during college. By the time graduation rolled around the women’s basketball coach invited Gainous to be his graduate assistant the following year. The invitation eased Gainous’ nerves around finding a career after college and he accepted. After one year with Georgia Southwestern and three years at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia, Gainous found himself as the assistant coach for Georgia College men’s basketball in July of 2003.

Gainous chose to stay in Milledgeville. He fell in love with the campus. He admired the head coach, Terry Seller, and stayed as assistant coach for 11 years before moving up to head coach. “It’s unbelievable the changes in Milledgeville, all the new restaurants and stuff that’s new,” Gainous said concerning the evolution he’s seen Milledgeville and Georgia College go through.

Gainous remembers what the team was like when he first showed up in 2003 like it was yesterday. “When I got here in ‘03, we just weren’t very good; we only won seven games… Fast

forward two years we won the league again, and we went to the in-state Sweet 16.” The casual way he mentioned the team had won the league just two years after he arrived as the assistant coach shows just how experienced he is, as coaches who know their team can be great expect nothing but greatness from them, even if they have a worse-than-usual season. In fact, most of the seasons he’s been with the team have ended in a trip to a tournament or at least getting close to winning the league. Other than a few injury-plagued years, Gainous was proud to talk about the “wonderful” players he’s worked with over the years.

One of the players who has been able to get the full experience of being with the coach is senior guard Jordan Thomas, who chuckled as he explained that the coach “can be bipolar sometimes.” Thomas said he and his teammates “like to joke about how quickly he can turn his seriousness on and off” as he described how the coach acted before, during, and after games. With everything basketball related in an extremely volatile state, Thomas said he feels bad for the coach, as he explains the coach “doesn’t even have enough say-so to tell us he got the gym free so we can practice.” However, despite the uncertainty of when the season will start, how many games will be played, etc. Thomas explained that coach Gainous was always preparing for anything that might happen, and he knew that when the time to play finally came, he’d make sure everyone was ready.

After mentioning the league title win in 2005-6, as well as the other times the team made it to the in-state tournament or other championship spots, Gainous moved onto his transition from assistant coach to head coach. “My first year as a head coach was just a major adjustment going from being the assistant to the head coach. It’s like going from making recommendations to making every decision.” Although the team struggled his first year as head coach as everyone adjusted to his style of play, he commended the players for sticking with him through the transition, as he had to go from being more of a friend to being more objective about the decisions he made for the team. Despite the amount of heavy-lifting it takes to coach a team, Gainous says he loves his job, since he gets to test out new plays and play styles.

“We struggled our first year. We lost a lot of close games. Then the next year we went 18-11, got back in the Peach Belt tournament, had the player of the year in the conference; Terrell Harris who was an All-American, and then we had the freshman of the year in the conference as well.” Gainous remembers many of his players from previous seasons, especially when he’s got two of the best athletes in the conference on his team. Although his face was hidden by the mask, it was clear he was smiling in a fond remembrance of those players, and he talked about his current players a lot as well. With the start of the season up in the air, he knows the first game could be announced any day, and he’s happy with his team’s ability to stay in shape and work out despite having extremely limited practice time with them to start out. Gainous says he’s excited with the team he’s put together, and confident in their ability to go far this season. His only complaint is

how much talent is being wasted every day they’re not playing, as he thinks he has the best team since the school’s Sweet 16 run, but no games to prove it.

“I never thought I’d marry someone from Pennsylvania!” Gainous said, talking about his wife of eleven years, Natasha – “Tasha” as Coach Gainous calls her. They met through basketball. She was the graduate assistant for women’s basketball while he was men’s assistant coach. Within three years of meeting, they got married and had their first little boy, Abe. One day shy of four years later they had a girl, Annie Grove. Now Tasha coaches girls basketball at John Milledge Academy, and together they raise two very athletic kids.

“My son’s a cancer survivor,” Gainous threw in after telling us about the children’s joint socially distanced birthday party last spring. “Eight years ago. He was two when he got diagnosed with leukemia. It’s been part of our journey.” Gainous says with a deep breath remembering the three years they spent back and forth between Milledgeville and Egleston Hospital in Atlanta. “In fact our first nurse, that I remember, was a Georgia College graduate!” Gainous said. Definitely a good omen.

Coach Gainous kept his job the whole time they dealt with Abe’s treatment. “You always put your kids first,” he said with a tone that hinted he would repeat those stressful years again for his son. Just last month, to celebrate September as Childhood Cancer Awareness month Abe took the field with his football team as captain, making his parents incredibly proud.

Current Assistant Coach Ryan Acquino stood by Gainous the whole time. He said, “when Abe was sick I was starting out my coaching career with Coach and there were a few practices and workouts that I had to be able to step in for him when needed. I’ve known Coach since before he had any kids. I was a student athlete playing for him and you could see going through what they went through brought them closer as a family and put his priorities in order as a husband and dad over a coach.”

Coach Gainous exuded positivity. From the way he spoke, his detailed stories, and gratitude for the season, though it is uncertain. He said he’s learned lessons from his children about being giving and generous. Being a parent is a funny thing. When you’re open minded you realize how much your kids are really there to teach you. Coach Acquino admires Gainous’ positivity and said it brings a light to the centennial center and adds energy to the team.

“We had a rule that there would be no negativity in the hospital room,” Gainous said, “no crying. I think that was a huge thing for us.” Instead of leaving Abe’s room sterile, they brought puzzles and games and encouraged positive conversations to keep the spirits high. The doctors told them to treat him as though he was not sick. Following their guidelines, Mr. and Mrs. Gainous took

him to football games, to the Atlanta Zoo, and to play hide-and-seek outside during treatment breaks.

“I have to give my wife a lot of credit, she’s tough,” he said with an appreciative shake of the head, “She’s strong. We got through it, and here we are.”

“It changes everything. It makes you think how blessed you are” Gainous said, “a lot of times you take stuff for granted, you know? Our health and everything. Also it makes you think about your team. All of our guys on our team are someone’s kid. You want to treat those guys with respect. You want to lead them and try to be a good mentor for the players.” The journey of seeing his son heal put things into perspective for Mr. and Mrs. Gainous. He says he and his wife will come across problems and not overreact because they see the big picture. Their lives changed forever after witnessing their son’s recovery. It’s part their journey, a great life lesson they’re able to pass down to their teams and community.

In preparation for this coming season, Gainous has accepted the lack of certainty and gotten training. He and the team will meet at 7 a.m. to run, social distanced, then slip their masks on to talk as a group. Usually in October they would be recruiting at high schools, working out individually, and as a team often. When not working with the team, Gainous teaches Principles of Coaching twice a week which he thoroughly enjoys. The head coach is also in charge of scheduling, which Gainous admits takes up a lot of time.

At this point, they don’t know when they will start playing, or how many games they will play. Gainous is staying positive about the season and confident in his team, knowing they will play well when they get the chance to.

Mark Gainous ignites GC’s Centennial Center with his positive spirit and confident demeanor creating an encouraging atmosphere for the players. The dedication and love Gainous pours into the team flows into the Georgia College community. After our hour long encounter with Coach Gainous both Hutchison and White felt inspired to pass his truth on.