A game plan for serving

Kentucky Christian University women’s basketball coach Dr. Lisa Conn instructs Kamryn Rose during the Lady Knights’ game with Milligan on Jan. 15.

Kentucky Christian coach Dr. Lisa Conn says “God thing” put her on the Lady Knights’ bench

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

GRAYSON, Ky. — Following a local legend probably isn’t the most favored way of restarting a career, but Dr. Lisa Conn believes that heavenly guidance directed her to her calling as women’s basketball coach at Kentucky Christian University.

She holds no doubt that God was active in a search that led her from being a high school math teacher to an education professor and eventually lead the sport she loves at KCU. And that conviction has led her to see that her work much more than devising half-court sets or teaching man-to-man defense. 

It’s a ministry.

“Absolutely,” she says. “There is no other way that I can describe how I got to be in this position. It was absolutely a God thing. It was divine intervention to be placed where I am.”

Dr. Lisa Conn talks with her Kentucky Christian team during a timeout in the Knights’ game with Milligan on Jan. 15 in Grayson.

Many sports fans throughout Kentucky and surrounding states have some knowledge of the program which dominated the National Christian College Athletic Association for years. It was a tradition built by Ron Arnett and we are talking multiple national championships and perennial trips to the Final Four.

But the school of about 500 students, located just off I-64 at Grayson, has also joined the NAIA in recent years. And it’s where Conn got back on the bench after a three-year break. 

She’s loving where God has placed her.

The wheels started turning after Conn had been teaching high school math for 16 years at Rowan County High School. 

She was living in her hometown of Morehead and working on her doctorate from the University of Louisville. But she “was wondering what else was out there.

Dr. Lisa Conn sings with the Kentucky Christian women’s basketball team during team devotions before the game with Milligan on Jan. 15.

Kentucky Christian needed someone with a math background for its education department and the wheels turned a bit faster. “I applied and within a month, I got the job,” she smiles. “It was one of those things like something is moving me in another direction from teaching in a public school.”

That was in 2009 and she was able to continue working in her other passion, coaching girls’ basketball at Morehead’s Lakeside Christian Academy, where her daughters, Taylor and Faith, were attending school. 

“We had built that program from nothing and were super-successful there,” Conn remembers. During her seven-year run at Lakeside, Conn’s teams won five Kentucky Christian Athletic Association state championships and continued building a hoops resume that had begun 20 years before at Rowan County.

“My senior year, we were expected to go to the state tournament, but West Carter (coached by the legendary “Hop” Brown) knocked us off. I was a teammate of Julie Magrane, who played at Morehead State. It was my job to get the ball to her,” Conn laughs.

Ironically, Dr. Conn’s youngest daughter, Faith, who graduated from Kentucky Christian in 2018, is in her first year as head coach at West Carter and recently led the Comets to the Elite Eight of the All-A Classic at Eastern Kentucky University. Faith had served as one of her mom’s assistant coaches at KCU last year. 

And it was athletic and educational opportunities that led Dr. Conn and her husband to enroll their daughters in public school, at Rowan County before Taylor’s junior year. Conn also gave up coaching just to watch her daughters play.

But a year later, she was back on the bench, this time as an assistant coach at Rowan County, where she stayed until Faith graduated in 2014.

She had planned on just being a fan, but the competitive fires still burned for three years. 

“When Faith became a senior, Ron Arnett retired,” Dr. Conn says. “I put my name in for the job and I had made it known before that if the job became available, I would be interested in talking with them about it. They hired me for my daughter’s senior year.”

The coaching is in addition to her duties as a professor in the university’s education department.

That roundabout journey to the KCU program leaves little doubt in Conn’s mind that she is where God wants her and every day she sees her work as a vital ministry. Currently the Lady Knights stand at 12-12 and 10-9 in their first year competing in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Union College, Milligan, Montreat and Reinhardt.

Kentucky Christian coach Lisa Conn and her husband, Mike, watch the Anderson County at Spencer County game on Jan. 30. Dr. Conn says her husband is her “right hand man” and says they see her job as a coach as a team ministry.

“Yes, I am passionate about winning,” Conn says. “I am passionate about coaching. I am passionate about getting the plays and doing all that stuff, but my real passion is bringing people to Christ and hopefully, they see that through everything I do and the decisions that I make and how I treat people.”

And about the pressure of following a KCU legend like Ron Arnett? Dr. Lisa Conn can only smile. “Ron Arnett had never lost a regional game,” she says. “There was so much pressure there, not just on the court but he was such an incredible, ethical man who had made a path of expectations for these women, an expectation of Christ-following. All of that weighed in on me because they were huge steps to follow.”

In her own way, Dr. Lisa Conn seeks the same. 

“I pray that God gives me the people to recruit that He wants me to have here for whatever reason,” she says. “If they are not a Christian, then it is my place to share my faith and bring as many people to Christ as I can. If they are a strong Christian, it is to bring them in and strengthen them and provide them opportunities to strengthen their witness to other people. God puts people in our paths and I pray the people that God puts here or that He sends to me are the people He wants me to recruit for that purpose.”

It’s coaching. And it’s ministry. 

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