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Jose GarciaMultimedia Journalist/Historian firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet the Brittains of Tempe Prep: 2 coaches, 11 childrenOct 26, 2012
With a big family to look after, Tommy Brittian doesn’t get too much down time.
This week has been a bit more challenging for coach Brittain. His Tempe Prep football team will play last year's Division V state runner-up and top-rank Phoenix Northwest Christian in Friday’s tilt between playoff bound teams. During the week Tempe Prep plays Northwest Christian, Brittain is slightly engaged in family conversation on Sunday, and by Friday morning he is on the verge of vomiting, said Melissa, Brittain’s wife.
But Brittain won’t allow himself to get too distracted. That’s because Melissa and Brittain have 11 kids of their own they also have to worry about.
The Brittains have done a great job of parenting so far, considering the obstacles they’ve faced raising such a large family. Brittain and Melissa are two of Tempe Prep’s leaders at the charter school with rigorous scholastic demands.
Besides running one of the more consistently successful programs in the state, Brittain also teaches the Great Books of theatre, religion, philosophy and literature. But Brittain is trying to catch his wife in he state title department.
Melissa has won multiple state track titles and a basketball title as Tempe Prep’s coach. But what really defines this determined dynamic duo is their love for each other, 11 kids and their faith.
12 kids? No way, buddy
There are always two sides to a story, and the Brittains certainly told two different tales about how they first met.
But Melissa likes her husband’s version the best: Melissa’s rosy cheeks and genial personality lured Brittain in when he saw Melissa at a Northern Arizona University cafeteria when they were students. But the real story, Melissa said, is that Brittain first spotted his wife at a gym as Melissa showed off her strength while lifting weights.
What they do agree on is that their was an instant connection during their first date, when Brittain took Mellissa to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, where Brittain, the FCA president at the time, gave a presentation. On that first date, Brittain also told Melissa that he wanted to have 12 kids.
Melissa wasn’t too smitten with that idea at first, however.
“I laughed and said, ‘Sure, buddy,” Melissa, 45, said. “I saw (Brittain) again the following day. So I was either crazy, or I wasn’t opposed to what he said. What 19 year old would think of having 12 kids? But we had a great foundation. What I liked the most is that he had given so much thought in what he wanted in his life. He put a lot of weight into it. Family was important.”
Brittain grew up in Flagstaff and Phoenix along with three sibling and his parents.
“My desire to have a big family must have come from my own experiences growing up,” Brittain said. “Brothers and sisters are one of life's greatest joys, and I hoped my children would have many siblings. My parents, Gary and Denise, also were a contributing cause for wanting a big family.”
But what the Brittains didn’t expect were the difficult moments some of their children faced as they started having kids.
(The Brittains: (back row, left to right) Isaiah, Mary Grace, Madeleine, Gianna, Maria. (middle row) Zachariah, Rocky, Joshua, Jordan, Liberty, Anthony. (front) Tommy and Melissa.)
Joshua, one of the Brittains’ 22-year-old twins, was born with cerebral palsy. Madeleine, the youngest of the Brittains’ 11 kids, was born premature and almost died.
Melissa also suffered a miscarriage in 1999.
“Those were overwhelming moments, but they did bring us closer as a family unit,” Melissa said.
Joshua is currently attending a Roman Catholic liberal arts college, Thomas Aquinas, in California along with one of his four brothers, Rocky, and twin sister, Jordan.
The eldest Brittain sibling, Liberty, graduated from Thomas Aquinas, the school her father also attended, this year. Joshua wound up playing football for his father at Tempe Prep, where Joshua was a captain and helped lead his team to a state semifinal appearance in 2007 as an offensive lineman along with Rocky.
Joshua is aiming to become a coach just like his father.
“They (parents) are people of great faith and devout Catholics,” Joshua said. “We’ve had our share of financial crisis, not knowing when the next check might come. But with God as our cornerstone, we knew the Lord would provide and take care of the rest.
“We’ve been blessed also with tremendous role models and leaders in my parents. My mom is the warrior of the family. People may wonder how we do it, but with so many siblings, it’s easy because you have so many brothers and sisters you can rely on and always have a shoulder to lean on.”
Three of Joshua’s younger siblings, Anthony, 17, Zachariah, 16, Isaiah, 14, are currently playing for their father’s Tempe Prep program.
Rocky was an All-State player at Tempe Prep. The Brittain boys picked up and continue to learn valuable lessons from their father.
“Tommy is very authentic,” Melissa said. “He always speaks the truth. As a great speaker, he possesses a great gift. Whether he’s talking to kids or speaking at church. The words just roll off his tongue.
“His other gift is that he has a tremendous ability to show that he cares about his kids even when he’s angry. He has the gift for motivating.”
Brittain is one of Tempe Prep’s founding teachers and is in his 15th year at the school.
He started Tempe Prep’s football program 13 years ago to help keep his players stay focused in the classroom, he said. Brittain helped Tempe Prep become the first charter school to join the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
But he won’t take all of the credit for what he’s built at Tempe Prep and at home.
“She (Melissa) gets all of the credit,” Brittain said. “My wife has always been supportive in all of my endeavors. She is sympathetic to my weaknesses. She has a kind spirit, rolls with the punches and is the heart of our home.”
Melissa can also match wits with the state’s better basketball and track coaches in Arizona.
She can also point out a football team’s tendencies while watching game film, Brittain said. But the No. 1 team in Melissa and her husband’s life is their family.
The Brittains live in a Tempe home with five bedrooms and three bathrooms. When all of the children lived at home, there was usually about two or three kids sleeping in each room.
Friends of the Brittains know when they arrive at events because the Brittains own a 15-seat passenger van. Oh, and you can’t forget about another family member, Thunder, the Brittains’ black Labrador.
“Our life is great,” Melissa said. “There are times when I look back and wish I could stop and savor some of the moments because life is so crazy sometimes. The only thing I wish is to make time stand still, because life travels a million miles an hour for us.
“They (kids) have shaped who we are. Every one of our trials and successes added to the sense our family, and I wouldn’t change it. Life is more challenging, clearly. But that’s what makes our lives so rich and blessed.”
11-man team: the Brittain children
Liberty, 23. “She’s very strong willed and independent. She graduated (from Thomas Aquinas) in the spring and will be our junior varsity basketball coach at Tempe Prep this season.”
Jordan, 22. “She’s very sweet and affable. She loves life, cooking and children. She’s an intense and serious student.”
Joshua, 22. “He loves people. Everyone who knows Josh loves Josh. He coached for Tempe Prep two years ago and called plays without using a clipboard. He is consumed by football from August to December.”
Rocky, 20. “He is very intense and confident. He pushed the envelope, but he’s also a great young man. He loves reading and has fallen in love with the academic life.”
Anthony, 17. “He keep a low profile and loves food. He’s also a good athlete. He’s come out of his shell now that he’s the oldest boy in the house.”
Zachariah,16. “He is the loudest and doesn’t lacks any self confidence. He’s a wild man. He’s the strongest of the boys for his age. He’s the little Tommy of the bunch.”
Isaiah, 14. “A sweet baby boy. A lot of people love Isaiah. He has a great sense of humor and huge circle of friends. He’s really blossoming as a football player.”
Mary Grace, 12. “She is very beautiful and sweet. She’s a bit more mellow. She interacts with her brothers the most and can go toe-to-toe with them.”
Maria, 10. “She’s a spunky little girl. She likes to be in charge. She will be a president some day. I had a teacher tell me, ‘Who needs a substitute teacher when you have Maria in the class.”
Gianna, 9. “A spirited and sweet girl. She isn’t a morning person, though. She likes to have some quiet time and be with her mother.”
Madeleine, 7. “She runs the show. She lights up a room. She has the ability to recall everything. She is sweet and very loving. She faced so much adversity when she was an infant, but she is doing great.”
—Tommy and Melissa Brittain