Kelsey Bone’s Inspiration: A lineage of defying the odds

USA TODAY Sports

They always say, “It’s not how you start but how you finish” and the last few chapters in Kelsey Bone’s life have not just been a wonderful dream because of what she has accomplished, but in that she’s done it “her way”. Opening up the pages of history show how the results of today came from the pain of yesterday.

Bust.

Flop.

Overrated.

Those have been words consistently linked to the career of Kelsey Bone.

But, if you knew the 6-foot-4 Texas A&M center - and the narrative of her life in particular - then you would know those words ring hollow as the journey to success always has some bumps in the road.

"It has been a very interesting journey for me," said Bone in an interview with Swish Appeal not too long after leading the Aggies to the SEC title. "I've never been a person to conform; I've never been a person that does what people expect. So for me, my initial decision to go to South Carolina when everyone wanted me to go to Texas A&M or everybody thought I should go to Texas A&M - I wanted to do what I wanted to do; I wanted to do it my own way. And I was criticized for that."

That resistance to conformity has deep roots in Bone's family lineage, to stories of struggle and defying the odds that paved the way for the results of today. See she comes from some very strong bloodlines, and a lot of what you see today, is from the lineage of her grandparents.

- - -

"I've been [defying the odds] my whole life. I was born two weeks late, and my mother was in labor for like three days." - Kelsey Bone


Growing up in the Deep South during before the peak of the Civil Rights Movement was not just hard, but dangerous. Yet in Galveston, Texas a black man named Kermit Courville was determined to "defy the odds" and make a name for himself amongst all of his critics. That man, who would eventually become a legend in Galveston, was also Bone's grandfather.

Even in the midst of segregation, success was paramount with Courville; it was like he had the Midas touch when it came to achieving greatness.

As schools began to integrate in the late 1960's, he was exultant as it would give him an opportunity to do something he loved: coach football. But Courville's first wish was denied and he had to go down a different path to fulfill his destiny, his promise.

"When integration actually came about, and they started talking about integrating the two high schools (Central and Ball), the year before my dad was approached," said Kim Courville-Williams, Bone's mother. "He was approached about coming over and they were like, ‘They're not going to let any of you be head coaches in football, basketball and what you've been doing but they're willing to let you to be the head track coach.'

"And that was really a harsh blow because he loved football so much."

Not the one to let a detour hinder him, Courville took the rejection of not getting the opportunity to coach football -- just because he was black -- as a rallying cry to prove he could be great in the midst of naysayers.

And when track and field summoned his name Courville answered like the true champion he'd always been. Now if anyone knows anything about Texas, football is king but track and field is a prince -- it's a huge sport. As Courville continued to grow in the sport, so did his athletes. They didn't disappoint, becoming one of the most dominant teams in the state's storied history -- a true dynasty: 6 state championships, 12 regional championships and 39 All-Americans.

So, once again even though one hand was denied, another hand was received. The Galveston Track and Field team blossomed and it culminated on the fateful day of May 15, 1977.

It was the state championships and it's safe to say that his team would do well; they were an extension of him. Not only did Ball High excel, they went over and beyond the call of duty: his track and field team won five state championships in field events alone. That's unheard of in track, but if you knew Courville, he was always good at doing what others said couldn't be done -- the impossible.

"He had lost a lot of his friends and a lot of his friendships," said Courville-Williams. "And he took all of that and put into that track team. My dad won six state championships -- nothing in Galveston has ever won state in anything else, except for the state championships that my dad (won).

Courville was also a family man. He had five kids, and Kim was one of them. She was a daddy's girl in every sense of the word.

Growing up, Kim was very close to her father -- a true extension of him. So when it was time for her to decide to go to college, it was inevitable that she would attend the same university as him: Southern. Not necessarily.

"There were things that I know that my parents didn't agree (with)." said Courville-Williams. "My dad wanted me to go to Southern, and I didn't want to go, (so) I went to Texas Southern."

On the surface, it might look like she didn't mimic her father because she didn't attend his alma mater, but you fail to see just how akin she was to her dad.

Kim didn't go to Southern because it was the assumed path for her, the conventional thought of the day -- well she defied the odds and set her own path.

Like father, like daughter.

Bone_aa_behindback_medium
Photo by Brian Spurlock | USA Today.

In 1991, Kim had a daughter of her own, Kelsey. And the young Bone came into the world beating the probabilities stacked against her.

"I've been [defying the odds] my whole life," said Bone. "I was born two weeks late, and my mother was in labor for like three days."

As the younger Bone grew, she became very attached to her grandmother, Dorothy Courville. The young girl never, ever wanted to leave her grandmother's side, always choosing to be in Dorothy's presence every moment she had.

"My grandmother, she's my rock." said a passionate Bone in our interview. "I have memories of my grandmother to this day that I will never lose. I basically lived with my grandmother. My mother would be like, ‘Come on, let's go home.' And I would be like, ‘Not today.'"

However in 1996, Bone had no choice; she had to let go of her grandmother's everlasting arms as Dorothy died. And even though her "rock" was gone physically in her grandmother, her grandmother and grandfather -- who died in 1991 -- had left something behind. Their will, their resolve and their fight were left permanently embedded in the heart of Bone.

And those ingredients would be something that Bone would have to lean on as the chapters in her life unfolded.

While playing youth basketball, her very first coach had a suggestion -- more like an opinionated indictment -- for Kim, "You got to find something else for her to do; she will NEVER be a basketball player!" Bone recalls.

Got to love those coaches who know how to encourage a kid to believe and dream, huh?

Not the one to be deterred, Bone blossomed into a McDonald's All-American, WBCA All-American and the nation's number two player. She had become another great athlete in her family from the state of Texas.

So it was a foregone conclusion that she would be wearing the maroon and white and singing, "Aggie War Hymn" right? Wrong. You have to remember that Bone has that Courville blood in her -- she follows the beat of her own drum. So on April 1, 2009, Bone shocked the whole country and picked South Carolina.

What? Huh? Say that again?

That was the sentiment and reaction from everyone around Bone. People in her hometown of Houston -- an Aggie town -- were befuddled; it was almost like envisioning Macaulay Culkin on the cover of Home Alone, like seeing a ghost in your house -- just total shock.

But see that's in her DNA, going against the grain. It's almost like a rites of passage passed down in their family -- like a birthright.

Like mother, like daughter.

Bone_southcaro_medium
Photo by Dale Zanine | USA Today.

Her mother, Kim, is the same way: strong willed, resolute and independent. So even though Kelsey seemingly shocked the world with her decision, it's almost a replay of another choice that Kim made many years ago.

Kim came from an athletic family, so dominant in sports that her father had a stadium named after him -- Kermit Courville Stadium. Talk about a very powerful figure in sports, that's what he was to the whole city of Galveston.

With athletics being so prominent in the family, it was apparent that Kim would follow in the same endeavor, right? No, she wanted to forge her own path and not get into the family trade of athletics.

What? Huh? Say that again?

Years before Kelsey was even born, her mother got the same response from others who couldn't understand her decision. So fast forward to Bone's choice, it was almost destined that she would choose her own path -- all she was doing was following in the same steps that made her family special.

And even though she followed Kim's independent footsteps, mom was none too pleased with the selection. She was hurt, distraught and downtrodden because for the first time in their lives, Kelsey wanted to do something that her mom didn't approve of.

"I left out of that hotel (and) I'm just slinging snot from one side to another," said a reflective Courville-Williams. "I had to really come to grips with [her decision]. In that very moment, I was sitting outside on a park bench and I came to a realization, I was like, ‘This is the first time, she's ever done something that I didn't want her to do -- so she must be really growing up.'

"I had to step outside of myself and I did something that I've always done with my daughter, I never forgot who I was as a teenager -- and how I was. I am my father's child; I'm headstrong and strong willed. I started reliving all of that, and I had to let [the decision] go."

"At 17, there were some things that I never factored in. I figured I could hop on a plane and be home...quick. When you are far from home, if you are dealing with any problems, it's a (long) drive away from home. - Kelsey Bone


So even though Kim didn't want Bone to go to South Carolina, she supported her daughter and moved with Bone to Columbia. And Bone had a great year for a freshman, so much so that she garnered SEC Newcomer of the Year award. But something was missing.

Home.

Bone just wasn't happy; she had overplayed her hand and not accounted for the difficulty of being away from her comfort zone -- especially at 17 years old.

"At 17, there were some things that I never factored in," said Bone. "I figured I could hop on a plane and be home...quick. When you are far from home, if you are dealing with any problems, it's a (long) drive away from home.

"I was [in a situation] where I would have to take a plane ride or (drive) 14 hours in a car. So I didn't factor those types of things in my decision. So when I started to live it and that became my reality, it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be."

It really came to a head in January of 2010, after a game against LSU. Something happened that would change the direction of her career: forever.

"South Carolina went to play LSU at LSU," said Courville-Williams. "I didn't go; LSU was the farthest city away from South Carolina. But, my brother, my sister, my sister-in-law, my family and even her athletic trainer from high school came to the game.

"And when she got back, she came to my home, and she cried like a baby. Because when we were in South Carolina, all of the other games, they were in close proximity. What she hadn't experienced was (that) she hadn't been to a game where somebody in the family other than me was there. I think it just kind of blew her away."

Bone thus made a decision that wasn't popular, but a decision nonetheless that was right for her. She transferred back home and enrolled at Texas A&M. While there, she also took some online classes at a local community college. Bone was steadfast in not losing any credits hours and graduating in four years -- which she will in May.

The year that she sat out was hard because she never had to sit out before. While sitting out, the Aggies shocked the world by winning the National Championship or as they say "defy the odds."

There's just something about Bone being around odds beaters -- it's the Law of Attraction working at its best.

Irony decided that they would make an appearance in her life once again. Texas A&M decided they would leave the Big 12 to go to out of all places -- the SEC. I don't think you could create a movie script that would go like this. Not only was Bone back in the conference that she left 3 years ago, in the first round of the SEC tournament, they had to face her old school: South Carolina.

It was only fitting that en route to the SEC championship that she would have to go through the very school she transferred from. And even though the Aggies had lost their last three games of the regular season, Bone was not going to be deterred as she led them to their first SEC tournament title -- winning three games in a row.

"I just think of how proud my grandmother would be," said a passionate Bone. "There was no way I was leaving Georgia without a SEC Championship."

It's almost like her life is deja vu, but in actuality it's just Bone's life coming full circle -- better yet her destiny being fulfilled. She continues to carry out her family's legacy, and do what they have always done: "defy the odds."

Like grandparents, like granddaughter.

Courville-Williams summed it up with these words, "The road has been rough, but the journey has been amazing."

- - -

In championship games of the magnitude of Texas A&M's first SEC championship game, there always has to be that one special player that steps up in the biggest of moments. It's where superstars solidify their legacy and shine the brightest.

And no one shined in the second half like Bone.

She came out with a will to dominate. Not only did she dominate, she stopped every run that Kentucky went on.

And there was a reason "why," she played so assertively, dominating every time she touched the ball in the second half. It's the same reason that she's played so well for the latter part of the year.

Her grandmother.

That is Bone's "why."

"I just had an epiphany," said a reflective Bone after that game last week. "My grandmother died four days after I turned four - she was my everything. When things get tough for me, I think about her. And tonight, it would have been easy for us to kind of cave in. But I'm playing for something bigger, there are bigger things pushing (me).

"My grandmother is my why. That's a why that I'll never lose because I know she'll always be there for me."

As she answered the question about her grandmother in her moment of triumph, her mom was in the audience visibly wiping tears from her eyes.

Something got to her.

"When I see Kelsey play like I saw her play this past (SEC Tournament), that will is who my dad was," said a proud Courville-Williams.

Generations of that refusal to give in to the expectations of others.

In that funny way that family patterns repeat themselves, the same words used to describe Bone's late grandfather, are now synonymous with her:

Great.

Accomplished.

Champion.

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