Life in the bleachers

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Peggy Fortson’s balance of basketball, family and more

  • Peggy Fortson
    Peggy Fortson
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If you’ve happened to attend a basketball game in Habersham County over the last decade-plus, chances are you’ve run into Peggy Fortson, who’s spent more time on the hardwood than most NBA veterans. Whether attending her grandchildren’s recreation games at the Ruby Fulbright Aquatic Center in Clarkesville, her daughter’s games coaching the Piedmont College Lady Lions in Demorest, or her eldest grandchildren donning the orange and blue for the Habersham Central High School and Habersham County middle school Lady Raiders, Fortson has been a mainstay in the bleachers, but that barely scratches the surface of her life on the sideline.

Fortson is also married to a 46-year basketball coach – John Carrick, her husband of nine years. 

“We’ve only been married for nine years, but we’ve been together for 15,” Fortson said.

Carrick, who currently serves as the head coach of the Lakeview Academy Varsity Girls Basketball team in Gainesville, previously coached the Georgia College Lady Bobcats, including during the time he and Fortson began dating.

“When we were dating, I was back and forth every weekend, especially during basketball season,” Fortson said. “I was part of his life when he reached his 400th career-win and his 800th win this season. I’ve been to a lot of games.”

Being married to a college basketball coach was enough to keep Fortson on the move, but having her daughter, Jamie Purdy, enter the collegiate basketball coaching ranks as the Piedmont College Womens’ Basketball coach only made things busier.

“Once Jamie became the coach, then that doubled the teams I supported,” Fortson said.

Then came grandchildren – six in total.

“As grandchildren came along, it’s now ended up with the Lakeview team, Piedmont College, Habersham Central varsity and junior varsity, Habersham middle school, a travel team and recreation ball,” Fortson said. “I have over 130 games on my calendar right now, and that’s not even counting playoff games.”

Fortson said some weeks, she attends as many as 15 games.

“I’m usually able to make it to a majority of them, unless they’re out of town,” she said.

Having grown up playing both softball and basketball, Fortson was always involved with sports and that’s continued today.

“I’m addicted to pickleball,” Fortson said. “That’s my way of being able to be competitive.”

Fortson said pickleball allows her to flip the table on her husband.

“I laugh and tell people, because I’m sitting and watching everybody else compete, it’s actually very stressful being in the stands,” she said. “John will say that when he comes to watch me play pickleball, ‘I get so stressed watching you play,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, now you know how I feel!’”

Having coached both Jamie and fellow daughter, Kelly Banks, on their recreation teams growing up, Fortson is no stranger to the duties of coaching, but as time has gone on, she’s altered the way she’s viewed games.

“My view as a spectator and fan has matured along with me,” Fortson said. “I used to be very vocal in yelling and supporting and wanting people to play hard. Now, as I’ve matured and evolved, I tend to look at things differently than I used to.”

Fortson said she pays more attention to opposing coaches and their style of coaching.

“It takes being a brilliant coach and having the strategies and techniques of being able to coach – to me, it’s equally important how you treat your players, how you respect the player and value the individuality of each player and what they bring to the team.”

Whether it’s the recreation level or on the college court, Fortson said she looks for the personality of each coach.

“I like seeing how they take the whole team and whether or not they create a team atmosphere,” she said, adding she also tries to encourage the grandchildren who might be role players. “It’s not just the win or the loss, it’s a lot more that goes into the game. My heart overflows with joy just to be able to be present and physically be able to be a part of everybody’s programs.”

Fortson said her parents always came to watch Jamie and Kelly’s games, so she wanted to do the same for her grandchildren.

“I moved to Habersham County when the first grandchild was born, because I wanted to be instrumental in their life,” she said. “It just makes my heart overflow with joy to be a part and to be able to help out.”

Helping out is exactly what Fortson does, alongside her son-in-laws, Ben Purdy.

“With Jamie’s four children – Jalyn, Jayci, Jerzy and Jansyn – and her coaching college, she’ll tell you she wouldn’t be able to do it without me,” Fortson said. “Ben and I have to divide and conquer with their children. It’s year-round sports – soccer, softball, basketball – constantly something.”

That goes for Kelly’s kids, too, as both Addison and Kelsey play at the middle and high school level, respectively.

But Fortson is more than just a chauffeur.

“I’m the comforter now,” she said. “I used to say, ‘Play hard, get your head in the game.’ Now, I want to bless their hearts. I’m giving the soft, warm and fuzzy, loving words as a supporter.”

As if she wasn’t busy enough, Fortson spends the rest of her time spreading more comfort. She oversees her mother’s care in an assisted living facility and drives her to her doctor’s appointments, along with running her own business and volunteering for different groups at The Torch.

“The good thing is I can work in-between ballgames and at night, if I have to, so I can go to the games,” Fortson said. “And of course, I play pickleball as often as I can. I stay very busy.”

Being a full-time mother, wife and grandmother will do that.