The Return of Coach Courtney

Jersey Bilyeu, Writer

On Feb 2, 2022, head girls’ basketball coach, Andy Courtney, was admitted to St. Luke’s ER after experiencing an aortic dissection—a tear on the inner layer of the aorta, the body’s main artery. Courtney said he was in and out of induced commas for several days as the doctors tried to help him.

Courtney believes what led to the event was mainly stress from the amount of things he was trying to manage.

“Trying to balance a demanding teaching job, with home life with a wife and 2 children while being the head coach of the girls’ basketball program. It can all be very chaotic,” said Courtney. “And unfortunately, I did a poor job of finding that balance in also taking care of my health.”

The Kennedy Girls’ Basketball team was surprised to hear the news of Courtney’s emergency. Senior Addy Alber explained they didn’t find out the full story for several days. They were originally told Courtney had been airlifted to the hospital and were given little other information. 

“It was a lot of shock, there were a lot of emotions that went around because we didn’t really know what was going on,” Alber said. “We got an explanation about it a few days later and that’s when we all settled into what was happening.”

Hearing the story, the girls’ basketball team chose to honor him on the court using red, a color nationally used to symbolize heart disease and other heart-related issues.

It was more than basketball, we were playing for each other and we were playing for him because we know that’s what he’d want.”

— Senior Addy Alber

“Everything we did, it was always ‘do it for AC,’” said Alber. “We all had red ribbon tied around our shoelaces and then we had AC written on the back of our shoes. It was more than basketball, we were playing for each other and we were playing for him because we know that’s what he’d want. We always had a big cutout of his head with us at the end of the bench every game, he was always with us in spirit.”

Girls’ Basketball ties red ribbons on their shoes. (Addy Alber)

While in the hospital, Courtney felt love from everyone, including his wife who drove to Iowa City every day to check in on him.

“[She] would read notes, letters, cards, emails, text messages and meal trains,” Courtney said. “They had been sent from family members, friends, colleagues, coaches and players. It was extremely humbling.”

Courtney said he was grateful for the support given to him during these events.

“I am fortunate to have a great support group and great coaching staff,” Courtney said. “All of them stepped up and helped out more to make sure things were taken care of. I am sure it was quite a distraction for all of our players and coaches. This was a very traumatic situation obviously for myself, but also my wife and family. I am extremely grateful for all of the support, words of encouragement and love from so many people.”

Cougar Nation shows their support for Courtney with a red themed game. (Addy Alber )

Going into the 2022-23 basketball season, Courtney has made his temporary coach, Madi Meier, a co-head coach. “This will allow me to give up some responsibility and for Madi to take a more active role in all of the day-to-day operations and behind the scene activities throughout the season.” Courtney said.

He wants to allow both of them to help the team succeed.

“I think it’s going to be pretty impactful, you know he missed basketball as much as we did, so I feel like it’s going to be him finding his way again,” Alber said about the 2022-23 season. “He’s just gone right back into coaching, back to being his good self.”