Austin volleyball coach Tina Lawrence (copy)

Tina Lawrence is retiring after 30 years as Austin volleyball's head coach. [DAVID ELWELL/DECATUR DAILY]

When Tina Lawrence’s husband gave her a Mickey Mouse lunchbox for Christmas, it was a symbol of big change coming for their family.

Lawrence has retired after 30 years as Austin High's volleyball coach. She plans to continue teaching.

Instead of devoting the school’s fall break to the volleyball program, Tina and Jim can travel. The first destination is Disney World to see Mickey Mouse.

“That’s going to be really different,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been to Disney World before, but never in the fall.”

Lawrence, 53, was in her first year at Austin when she was asked to take over the volleyball program. She agreed even though she knew little about the sport. She thought it would help her get the three years she needed for tenure. Then she aimed for 10 years to be invested in the state retirement system.

Then the years started stacking up, along with the many victories (close to 800). Her sons Reid and Connor grew up around the program. Connor, the youngest, is now a junior at Troy University.

In 30 years, Lawrence has seen many rule changes in volleyball. She’s been through at least four principals at Austin, and she has worked at two Austin campuses.

Trying to decide the right time to step away from the court was not easy, but Lawrence is positive that the right time has arrived and the program is in a good place. She told her team Tuesday.

Austin principal Melissa Scott said it is an amazing accomplishment for a person to devote 30 years to one sport.

“When I met with the team after she broke the news to them, I told them we’re going to hire a new head coach, but there’s no way we can replace Tina Lawrence,” Scott said. “I’m so glad she going to continue teaching. She’s a valuable part of the Austin family, and we can’t do without her.”

Austin assistant coach Payton Mansell has been named interim coach. Mansell played volleyball at Austin and in college at Millsaps College. She is an example what Lawrence says she will miss most from coaching. That’s the relationships she has developed with players.

Austin’s other two assistant coaches, Brittany Smith and Mollie Linley, also played at Austin. Several other former players have served as assistant coaches for Lawrence through the years.

“Some of the greatest memories are the players that become family and the life-long friendships among my coaching staff,” Lawrence said. “I am thankful that they were with me in some real high and low times in my life.”

One of Lawrence’s other duties at Austin is ticket sales at athletic events. She was there Wednesday night for the home basketball games with Buckhorn.

“Somehow the word had gotten out that I was retiring,” Lawrence said. “I had a lot of parents and former players giving me hugs and telling how much an impact I have made in their lives. That was cool to hear. I’m so thankful for the opportunity I have had over the last 30 years.”

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