Special photos / Union Grove athletes and brothers Justin (left) and Nathan Connelly gave the family a memorable week. Justin was named prom king on Saturday, Nathan impressed at the Region 4-AAAAA tennis tournament on Monday and Justin won the region golf tournament in sudden death.
This is all as it should be for Jay Connelly. He did, after all, play golf in the morning and tennis in the afternoon on the first date with his wife. So now Connelly has a high school senior winning prom king and region golf championships and a freshman playing No. 1 singles for the region runner-up boys tennis team.
Consider the Connellys’ itinerary this past week.
Prom for Justin on Saturday. The Union Grove senior golf standout was named prom king.
Region 4-AAAAA tennis tournament for Nathan on Monday. The freshman put a serious scare into his opponent and helped the Wolverines finish runner-up to Starr’s Mill.
Then Region 4-AAAAA golf tournament for Justin on Tuesday. He won it on the second playoff hole.
“You wouldn’t even believe the week we had,” Jay Connelly said.
~ ~ ~
When a torch is lit, the flames can grow one of two ways. They can burst forth immediately. Or they can climb gradually.
Justin Connelly climbed.
By 2, he was running around putting greens with his dad. By 5, he was competing in his first golf tournament. Last year, he was named the Georgia PGA Player of the Year. He’s finished runner-up in the Georgia High School Association state tournament the past two years. He signed a scholarship to play golf at Mercer over more than a dozen offers.
“Whenever I saw him play and compete in big events, I would look up to him and think I want to be there one day,” Nathan Connelly said.
Nathan Connelly burst forth.
He didn’t take up tennis until 10 while caddying a tournament for Justin. The summer heat was brutal. After walking 18 holes the first round, Nathan knew he couldn’t go any more. He found a tennis camp at the tournament country club’s tennis courts and ditched the greens. Now he’s already ranked No. 23 in Georgia in his class and No. 108 in the Southeast. He’s even ranked No. 70 among boys tennis players two years older.
In his singles match in the region championship, Nathan’s opponent was a senior who’s accepted an invitation to walk on the University of Georgia men’s tennis team. Nathan lost in three sets.
“I can’t even imagine where his mental game would be if he had started playing tennis at 5,” Justin Connelly said.
~ ~ ~
Can the Connelly family conceive of a world without sports?
Both Justin and Nathan grew up playing baseball at a high level. Justin played on the varsity basketball team this past season. Jay Connelly played tennis recreationally, golf semi-competitively and ping pong on the University of Georgia club team.
Yes, the ping pong matches at home are fierce.
“People walk out of our basement with welts,” Justin said.
And Nathan does most of the damage.
“I’ve stopped playing him,” Justin said. “He just embarasses you.”
But it’s not that easy. Walking away from competition rarely is for a Connelly.
“We’re competitors,” Nathan said.
Sure, they are competitors, but in this way — before Nathan left for Monday’s region tournament, Justin told him not to return without a trophy or risk sleeping outside.
When Nathan joins Justin on the golf course, his smack talk reaches levels that forces Justin to prove his worth on the tennis courts.
“We do everything together,” Justin said. “We’ve been like that from day one. Just pushing each other, talking and the brother-brother smack talk.”
“We go back and forth with each other goofing around,” Nathan said.
Don’t let it fool you, though.
“They love each other more than you could know,” Jay said.
~ ~ ~
The contrast in their high school athletic career arc couldn’t be more clear.
There goes Justin, with a second region title, now preparing one final time to win a state championship that’s eluded him the past two seasons.
Here comes Nathan, another impressive high school match notched on his belt, leading Union Grove as it hosts Harris County in the Class AAAAA first round on Monday.
There goes Justin — homecoming king, prom king, Division I athlete, biggest Wolverines advocate in McDonough and leader of student section cheers.
Here comes Nathan — freshman, reserved, with a talent just starting to reach the spotlight.
Nathan knows what he follows.
“It feels good,” said Nathan about having the example of his older brother. “It puts a little pressure on me at the same time to live up to what he did.”
Justin knows what he’s leaving behind.
“I told him the mistakes that I made — I made sure that he didn’t make those same mistakes,” Justin said. “After I signed with Mercer, I played basketball which may have not been the best decision. I told him tennis is obviously your sport. You need to pick it and go after it.”
“We always support each other through it all,” Nathan said.
Said Justin: “I’m proud of him.”