JONESBORO — A fun family rivalry will play out one more time today at Sage Meadows Country Club in the Class 4A girls’ state golf tournament.
Brookland senior Isabel Viala and her Lady Bearcat teammates are shooting for their third consecutive state championship. Their competition includes the team coached by her father Chris, the Valley View Lady Blazers.
Father and daughter have enjoyed competing and comparing team scores for four years, most recently in the 4A-3 conference tournament last week at RidgePointe Country Club. Brookland and Valley View finished first and second, respectively, to earn the right to play today.
“It’s been really fun,” Isabel said after the conference tournament. “It’s a weird mixture because you’re happy for your team, but you know his team lost, so it’s a balance of just being happy for each other. It’s really fun. He knows all about it, so it’s like he’s my own coach.”
While he had his own teams to coach – Valley View, the three-time defending boys’ 4A state champion, earned the 4A-3 team title in that division – Chris Viala got to watch his daughter play a few holes, too.
“She got off to a tough start early, but she kind of righted the ship midway,” he said. “She wasn’t real pleased with her score, but she’s a grinder, she’s a fighter, and she fought it out. It was a hard course and I was proud of her, just like always.”
The Vialas, who live at Sage Meadows, wound up donning different school colors after Chris made a job change years ago.
“I used to teach and coach at Ridgefield Christian and she went with me. I got into the public school sector at Paragould and it just wasn’t going to work logistically for her to go with me, so we sent her to the district we live in, which is Brookland,” he said. “Then the next year I got the Valley View job and we couldn’t bring ourselves to move her two years in a row, as young as she was and fitting in and starting to make friends, all that kind of stuff. It just worked out where she went her way and I went mine as far as schools go.”
Both have enjoyed plenty of success, too. Isabel earned all-state honors as she shot 79 in last year’s state tournament at Sage Meadows.
She’s always aware when her dad is watching her play.
“He’s the reason I’m playing. He taught me how to play,” Isabel said. “He coaches me still. He helps me and corrects me.”
Chris said he tries to check in on his daughter a few times whenever they’re on the same course.
“I coach my team and she plays for them, and that’s how we handle it, but I try to, at some point, do the best I can to see her occasionally,” Chris said. “My wife is good about texting updates and that kind of stuff. We handle it pretty well. They won the girls (conference) and we won the boys, so we all kind of win something.”
Brookland coach Randy Oxford said he and his son Ryan, a senior on the Bearcat boys’ team, have played a lot of golf with the Vialas.
“It’s a unique relationship because he and I are friends. We’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve known Izzy since she was born and been around her, and they’ve always been great sports,” Oxford said. “Coach Viala has always been good to help my son. They’re a great family. He’s so supportive of her while still coaching against her. It’s just kind of a fun rivalry.”
Chris Viala’s Valley View teams have won four state boys’ championships in the last five seasons. The Blazers will be one of the favorites again in next week’s tournament at Fayetteville Country Club.
As he points out, with Valley View moving back to Class 5A next year, the Blazers and Bearcats aren’t going to be in the same conference a year from now.
“To go out with her senior year competing against them, it’s been a lot of fun. Coach Oxford has done a heck of a job over there with the girls. They’ve been very successful, I don’t know that they’ve lost in a few years,” Chris said. “It’s been fun to watch and it’s been real special. I’m a little sad that it’s coming to an end, but it’s been real special.”