It might seem unusual to find coaches on the same college volleyball team who are gay men and married, but that describes our situation and we couldn’t be happier or more honored as we run the program together.
We’re Coleman Lee and Garrett Case and we coach the women’s team at Central Methodist University in Missouri, a Division I NAIA school. After serving at separate colleges, we were given the opportunity to be with the program together last season at Central Methodist.
This will be the first season we will lead the team together as husbands.
After a season as an assistant coach and then recruiting coordinator and interim head coach, Coleman was named head coach prior to the season. Garrett joined the Central Methodist team last season as an assistant when Coleman was recruiting coordinator. That year, the school reached the NAIA National Tournament for the first time while also breaking into the Top 25 poll.
We’ve done all this openly gay men and now husbands, meeting with nothing but support from the administration, students and faculty. We’re happy to share our stories.
I grew up in Raymondville, Missouri, a town of 475 people and lived on a dirt road where my parents owned and operated a small business.
Throughout my childhood my brother and I played pretty much every sport imaginable, but volleyball was not offered for boys in our area. In high school, I focused my attention on basketball while also serving as the manager of the volleyball team.
Once high school was over, the only thing on my mind was going to a university in a city much bigger than mine where I could meet other people “like me.” I spent two years at the University of Missouri, Columbia, before transferring to Drury University in Springfield.
After transferring to Drury there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to coach and teach, but mainly I wanted to be a part of giving kids of all backgrounds a positive experience in life.
My dad was one of the hardest workers I have ever known and my mom is still my biggest fan coming to games in my adulthood where I both coach and play. We were raised in a religious household and God has always been the foundation for everything that I do.
I lost my father in 2007, marking by far the most difficult time of my life. There were times that I didn’t want to face the day, but instead of letting the tragedy question my faith, I dug deeper into my belief knowing that God still had a purpose for me even if it had to be without the man who taught me everything about life.
There isn’t one day that goes by when I don’t thank God for the blessings that he has given me in my career along with the greatest blessing of all, which was bringing Garrett into my life.
After my first year as a middle school math teacher and the high school varsity coach at Fulton High, I was offered the assistant coaching job at Westminster College, a Division III school in Fulton, Missouri.
During my time at Fulton I met Garrett at an adult open gym in Springfield. I had given up on the chance of being married after several long-term relationships that didn’t work out and I struggled to meet anyone who shared my interests and goals.
Meeting Garrett was an eye-opening experience. At the time he was on staff at Missouri State and we had so much in common. We dated throughout my time at Westminster, but at the time neither of us had told many people that we were gay and I had no intentions of revealing anything that would cause problems in the relationships I had with my students.
My coming out story went as smoothly as one could hope. My mother had several questions, my brother vowed to be my lifetime bodyguard if anyone bothered me and my sister in law swore that she knew since the day she had met me. I was lucky enough to have one of the coming out stories that everyone hopes for.
In 2015, I started a volleyball club in the mid-Missouri area. Along with Garrett, I created a coaching staff dedicated to ensuring athletes in our area the opportunity to play at the next level. In 2017, Garrett was offered a job at Seward Community College. We made a very tough decision to move to Liberal, Kansas, in order to pursue Garrett’s coaching career.
We were married May 27, 2017, and in early July while we were in the process of moving, I was offered the assistant coaching position at Central Methodist. At this time, we were both open with our relationship and working for head coaches whom we absolutely adored.
The only problem is we were living eight hours apart. After my first season at CMU, I expanded my club to the Kansas City area. I knew that I would not be able to spend the time in the office and focused on my CMU team that I believe they deserved, so the administration at CMU allowed me to assume a part-time position as the recruiting coordinator while Garrett was able to join our staff as the full-time assistant.
After the most successful season in the history of the Central Methodist Volleyball program in 2018, our head coach accepted a position at another school and I was named interim head coach.
In early July, following the arrival of vice president of student life and athletics Natasha Wilson, the interim title was removed, officially announcing Garrett and myself as being in charge of our own program.
I have always treated my students and players like family and that is still a hashtag I use for my club girls. I wanted to work for a university that valued inclusion as much as I did and I found that along with the sense of family at Central Methodist.
Even after Garrett and I married, I never planned on us working within the same program. We had many conversations about the reality of two married men both coaching volleyball at the collegiate level.
Not only did Central Methodist give us the opportunity to work within the same program, but not once in my time at Central Methodist have I been treated differently than other colleagues. I am grateful for the opportunity not only to work alongside my husband, but to work for a university that celebrates unity and not uniformity.
I would like to thank Vice President Wilson, Dr. Joe Parisi, and Dr. Roger Drake for this opportunity and for establishing an environment at CMU where all students, faculty, and staff are celebrated for their differences. We are very blessed to work for a university that promotes unity and not uniformity.
I grew up in Sparta, a town in Southwest Missouri with a population of 1,000. I lived down a gravel road outside of city limits with my mom, dad and two sisters.
Growing up I was very focused on my academics, my faith and almost all the extracurricular activities school offered.
I didn’t play sports in high school but I was president of the drama club, speech and debate team, National Honor Society and managed the girl’s volleyball team since there wasn’t boy’s volleyball offered.
I was very active in church and attended youth group every Wednesday. I graduated from high school as valedictorian of class of 40. I was offered a volleyball scholarship for a NAIA school in St. Louis, but my mother’s health wasn’t good, so I chose to stay close to home and go to Missouri State.
Coleman and I first met at an open gym in Springfield on Aug. 1, 2014. My friend Jake Barreau, who was the assistant coach at Missouri State University, asked me to go with him.
To be honest, I don’t remember seeing Coleman at the open, but I did get a Facebook friend request and message from him afterwards. He said it was fun playing with me and he hoped to see me around at other open gym nights. I ignored the message.
At the time I wasn’t fully OK with myself being gay. I was raised in a household that made me think I couldn’t be gay and be born again Christian (I now feel very confident in both my sexuality as well as my relationship with God).
When Coleman messaged me, it was easy to just brush it off. A few months later, he messaged again asking about volleyball at MSU and how the team was doing. It sparked up a conversation that lasted weeks, with nonstop texting.
On Dec. 6, 2014, we found a free weekend to hang out for the first time, and I now consider it our first date. Coleman was the first guy I had ever been on a date with and we had a lot of fun.
On Dec. 14, 2014, I asked him to officially be my boyfriend (because I’m a romantic like that). It was less than a month, but I knew that God had brought him into my life for a reason. For the first time in my life it felt like things finally made sense just being with him. All the confusion I felt growing up and the questioning of what was right or wrong just answered itself.
Coleman was the answer. I knew that God made me the way I am, no mistakes, no flaws. I knew for a fact that I was gay and I was finally being true to myself, my friends and my family.
Having the courage to come out to people was the toughest part. I sat down with Jake one day and just cried uncontrollably telling him about Coleman and that I was gay.
Telling him made me feel so much more confident, and from then on I haven’t felt the need to come out to anyone else. I don’t hide my relationship with Coleman, but also don’t feel a need to announce it to everyone I meet. I post about him on my social media, so I think it’s pretty clear we are together.
On March 30, 2016, I asked Coleman to marry me. I do consider myself very lucky to have found my soulmate so early in my life. Not many people get to say that their first relationship is also their only relationship.
It still seems crazy to me that we could actually work at the same program together; it’s something I never thought possible. To say we are blessed would be a huge understatement! The staff at CMU has been so supportive of us and our vision for the program.
We work so well together that it does blow my mind at times. I don’t know how many people would be able to spend 24/7 with their spouse at home and work, but I truly love it. I cannot thank God enough for the situation he has put us in. We are so lucky to be able to do what we love with the person we love.
The main thing that we would like to say to anyone who reads this message is that God is love.
Both of us struggled with the idea of being gay while also being religious and after meeting each other and starting this journey it was clear that God had a plan for us all along. Instead of excluding us from his wonderful promise, He did everything possible to bring us together to share in His word.
We should all live our lives in the same manner, celebrating differences and rejoicing uniqueness.
We were lucky enough to find a community and a university that supports us in our success and embraces who we choose to love.
Our hope for anyone struggling with their sexuality is that they find a support system where they can flourish as an individual.
While we were both lucky to have families that were understanding and supportive, there are still people in the world who encourage uniqueness and diversity. Those are the people that we should surround ourselves with on a daily basis.
We hope that our story opens people’s eyes to the fact that there is no need to hide who you are. Instead, your journey and goal should be finding people, organizations or churches that base their judgment off of what you do and not who you love.
Coleman Lee, 33, is head women’s volleyball coach at Central Methodist University and also runs the H2 Columbia Volleyball Club. He can be reached via email email@example.com and on Instagram (@colemanj32)
Garrett Case, 24, is assistant women’s volleyball coach at Central Methodist University and has also coached club volleyball for six years. He can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org and on Instagram (gcase1470)
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (email@example.com).