Around Greater Atlanta Christian, cross country and track coach Brad Kinser is famous for his ability to tell a tale.
“Funniest guy I know,” said Cliff Shelton, who has been at GAC since before Kinser arrived in 1989. “He can tell stories from now until the cows come home.”
Kinser is infamous for his practical jokes. His partner in crime, for 28 of his 30 years at the Norcross private school, has been soccer coach Thom Jacquet.
“You’ve got to watch out if you see the two of them together,” Shelton said. “When the school first got email, they would email people in the guise of (president) David Fincher, like about their contract details or whatever, not realizing their own name would appear at the top. They just signed it from Fincher. One time they got caught doing that and the email somehow went to David Fincher.
“They were always pulling pranks. I don’t think they do it as much as they used to.”
One longstanding tradition that had to be suspended was their routine at the annual Christmas dinner.
“Brad used to sing a song and then give out gifts — tongue-in-cheek gifts — with Jacquet as his elf,” Shelton said. “Seeing him in a Santa suit, playing his guitar, I think it was “Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” with Jacquet in pointy ears, I wish we had it on video.”
Jacquet said he doesn’t how Kinser managed without him for the first two years.
“His classroom used to be in the back of a building and he could see me teaching in my trailer,” Jacquet said. “He would send me messages and I’d see him peeking out the window, waiting for my reaction.”
All three of them went to Harding University in Arkansas, though Jacquet was a few years behind and friends with Kinser’s younger brother.
What stands out to Jacquet most about his best friend is what stood out to him the first time they met.
“Not kidding, I walked on the campus and Brad introduced himself and we’ve been friends since,” Jacquet said. “I’ve seen it 1,000 times, when he meets people and his ability to engage. He’s interested in what they have to say. It’s an artful skill. You’re friends in seconds. He just finds a way to connect with people.”
It extends to his students and athletes.
“I’m always seeing the kids come back and say hi to him,” Jacquet said. “And he has unquestioned integrity. His decisions are always based on what’s best for his athletes and his program.
“He’s done incredible things, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to him.”
This is Kinser’s 30th season at GAC, coaching cross country and track. The Spartans have won seven state titles during his tenure. His teams also have been runner-up nine times.
“Winning championships is nice when they come, but those don’t always come so if that’s all you’re working for, I think you can quickly become dissatisfied and frustrated,” Kinser said. “But if you see growth and build the relationships, that’s really the enjoyable part of coaching.
“I love what I do. I love coming here every day. One of these days maybe, when it’s not quite as fun, I’ll hang up the stopwatch, but I enjoy it still. The coaching part is seeing the journey of kids work hard for something that is important. We try to bring out the best in them, but it’s also the fun and the relationships, the ups and downs.”
Kinser grew up in Illinois, the son of a coach and teacher, knowing he wanted the same path.
“Always, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
As an undergrad at Harding, Kinser ran track with Tomy Sitton, who went to GAC. Sitton spoke highly of his alma mater, but it wasn’t until six years later when Kinser was lured to the school.
“I wasn’t looking to come this way at all,” he said. “I taught for six years in Kansas and I went back to Harding to get my master’s and work with the track team.
“I was actually just walking through the Students Center at Harding, and saw the president, Dr. Fincher, at a teacher fair. He was looking for a track coach and history teacher.”
When he arrived at GAC, there was no track. They ran around the parking lot.
“We had three hurdles and one pair of blocks,” Kinser said. “But they had already won a state championship in track so right from the start, that didn’t seem to be an issue. They made do with what they had.
“My first track team at GAC, I had three girls and four boys. I didn’t have enough athletes to run a relay. I can remember going to track meets and thinking, ‘Man, I don’t know if we’ll ever be like some of these programs.’ But it’s been satisfying to see the growth.”
Kinser, too, made the most of what was available.
Sitton was coaching at Brookwood, building a dynasty with eight state titles and among a number of legendary county coaches that Kinser could lean on for council.
“Tomy was a great mentor for me,” Kinser said. “Now he’s at East Jackson so we go to each other’s meets and are still great friends.
“I learned from Joe Carter and Jerry Arnold at Brookwood. Karl Bostick had the great program at Parkview. Then Andrew Hudson came in at Collins Hill. Gwinnett County has been a great place to coach because the level of coaching and athletes.”
If he hadn’t been at GAC, and in Gwinnett County, Kinser doesn’t know if he’d still love coming to work every day.
“It doesn’t seem like 30 years,” he said. “When I think of that number, it’s like ‘Wow.’ But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t know if I could have taught 30 years at very many places. GAC is a special place and I’m surrounded by great friends here, fellow coaches, teachers, administrators. But also working here in this county, it’s been a great ride.
“We’ve been lucky in that Gwinnett County treats us (private schools) the way they do. It’s been nice to be included and feel like we’re a part of that.”
Kinser’s first state championship came in the sport he didn’t have a background in upon arriving at GAC. The boys cross country team brought home the title in 1997. Last fall, they all got together on the 20th anniversary.
“It was a special group of boys,” Kinser said. “It was really fun. We went to Olive Garden and retold all the old stories.”
Shelton’s son ran cross country for Kinser so he has added insight into the coach.
“They’re still really good friends today,” Shelton said. “He’s poured into my kids. That speak volumes and how important he is to this place. He does that with all the kids.
“He’s a true GAC man. He supports the school. He’s always at sporting events. He’s a great coach.”
Maybe not the best bus driver, though.
“The med kits used to be in a big metal box and Brad set it outside the bus and backed over it,” Shelton said with a laugh. “Smashed flat as a pancake.”
Jacquet was gleeful at the memory.
“It was like a grenade,” he chortled. “There was ointment and powder everywhere. All over the kids who were standing there.”
Even that episode wasn’t enough to make Kinser mad.
Jacquet can only think of one time when Kinser has really gotten angry and that was when, at the end of the 1993 season banquet, two runners were horsing around.
“One of them flipped mashed potatoes into the other guy’s ear,” Jacquet said. “Brad turned as red as you can imagine. In the whole time I’ve known him, it’s the only time I saw him angry.”
A punctured ear drum didn’t do it. Once more at a banquet, Jacquet could see Kinser was suffering.
“I could tell he was about to pass out and a dad gets up and talks for 20 minutes,” Jacquet said. “His ear actually starts to bleed.
“We lived right next door to each other and I thought I better go check on him. I knock and he’s opening the door to go to the hospital. He ended up with tubes in the ears and he’s sitting there with 16 5-year-olds all waiting for the same (procedure).”
Before Jacquet went on the record, he checked with Kinser to see if any stories were out of bounds. Kinser said, “Nah.”
“The thing about Brad is, the person you talk to, that’s the person he is,” Jacquet said. “He just has a way with people.”
Jokes and old tales aside, Kinser sincerely loves what he does — the coaching and teaching history. His wife Kim also teaches at GAC’s junior high and both their kids, Kyle and Kelly, graduated from the school.
“It kind of quickly became home,” Kinser said. “I’ve always loved coming to this place. It’s a great place to teach and coach. And as a Christian, it’s a place where I can have an influence on kids that maybe I couldn’t have in some other places. The fact that GAC has always tried to be a place that is a little bit different and tries to encourage people in their spiritual walk, I really appreciate that.”
He was at open house last week and saw two of his former athletes.
“Now I teach their kids,” Kinser said with a bit of a chuckle. “That makes me feel pretty old. But it’s also kind of neat.
“The other unique thing I’ve had here, that I’ve really enjoyed, is I’m also over the junior high programs. Most schools don’t have that opportunity. I get to coach some of these kids for seven years and really develop a relationship with them and their families. That’s a plus because we’re kind of one GAC.”