Alex Meadows isn’t new to Portland West Middle School.
He isn’t new the Panther basketball program either.
However, Meadows is stepping into a new role.
Meadows is succeeding Bill Runyon as the Portland West Middle head boys basketball coach.
“It’s been a wonderful fit,” the 29-year-old Meadows said. “I had always at some point wanted to come back home. For some teachers, they want to go back and teach at home. Sometimes, it’s hard to find that. I was thinking I might have to go (teach) somewhere else and then go back. Cam MacLean was the (Portland West Middle) principal at the time. He was my assistant principal when I was in school (at Portland High). I went in for an interview with him, and the rest is history.
“How the cards played is how they should have. I felt at home here. I made a lot of great friends. I have learned a lot, and it was really good learning from Coach Runyon. It was pretty much a great mentorship. There’s a big difference from going out and playing and actually having some strategy on the bench. I learned a whole lot there. I was fortunate.”
Runyon has been the program’s only coach at Portland West since the school opened in the fall of 2008.
The Panthers have won the AA Area 12 Boys Basketball Tournament in consecutive seasons.
“We’ve had a lot of success in this program,” Meadows — who has served as Runyon’s assistant coach and as the school’s athletic director — said. “Coach Runyon has done a great job. I’m thankful for him. He’s really taught me a whole lot.
“I want to keep that success going. I want to send that success on up to the high school.”
Meadows was a 2009 graduate of Portland High, and he played basketball for the Panthers. However, it was misfortune that birthed his interest in coaching.
Meadows was sidelined as a senior after tearing the anterior-cruciate ligament in one of his knees.
“I kind of started to like coaching from that moment,” Meadows said. “I couldn’t do anything but coach. That’s where it started.”
After graduating from Lipscomb University — including serving as a student assistant for one season for the Scott Sanderson-led men’s basketball program — Meadows was hired as a social-studies teacher at Portland West. In addition to his basketball coaching and athletic-director duties, he also served as an assistant coach for the school’s track and field program.
“Any transition will always be different, no matter what transition it is,” Meadows said. “We have a great community here with great parents and a great staff and great administration.”
Tim Coker will serve as the program’s assistant coach.
“We’ll be a really young team,” Meadows said. “For the most part this year, my varsity will be the JV (junior varsity from) last year. All of our eighth-graders left obviously. We have a good sixth-grade group and a good seventh-grade group. That helps out too. They’re already familiar with my coaching style.
“It will be a year of learning. I’m not expecting to be flawless or be perfect, but I’m ready to work and learn.”
Meadows’ focus will be on the players’ development.
“I’m a teacher first, both in the game and in the classroom,” Meadows said. “We are a middle-school team. I want to get you ready for high school . That’s my job. Wins and losses are important, but my goal is simple. I want to give these kids a chance to get better. If they can leave my program and be ready for Coach (Darryl) Travis at the high school, then I’ve done my job.”
Meadows will no longer serve as the school’s athletic director as he focuses his attention on basketball.
However, for now, with restrictions in place due to the coronavirus, Meadows hasn’t been able to work with his team.
“I am very excited,” Meadows said. “I cannot wait. I’m also excited too, because I’m one of those guys who has a lot of ideas. That’s how I live in the classroom too. If it works, we’ll keep it and make it work. If it doesn’t, we’ll do something different.”
Under normal circumstances, the Panthers would be preparing to attend summer basketball camps in early June.
“I’d have already had tryouts,” Meadows said. “We’d have already had parent meetings, and we’d be in spring practice. It would be fun. Like every other sport, we’re just playing it by ear. Right now, it’s just, let’s just make some plans for different circumstances.
“Everybody is the same way. We all want sports back. It shows. The NFL draft and the (Michael) Jordan documentary (“The Last Dance”) are breaking records … people want sports right now. It’s just one week at a time and play it by hear. I’ve made plans somewhat this summer for different alternative ideas. Starting in a few days, I’ll start calling the kids. If we can only have a certain number of kids, we may have split practices (eventually).”
In addition to missing basketball, Meadows has also missed the interaction with his students over the past two months.
“If you knock on every door at this school or went down to (Portland) East or to (J.W.) Wisemen (Elementary School), I think you’d be getting some really incredible stories of teachers missing the students,” Meadows said. You can’t really explain that. What I miss more than anything else is the conversations we have. I was big on developing a community in my classroom, and I miss that. I miss these kids, and I miss my (basketball) boys too. It’s a lot of fun. It’s the laughs and camaraderie that I miss the most.”