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story.lead_photo.caption STAFF PHOTO BEN GOFF • @NWABenGoff Becky Lunney, wife of Bentonville Coach Barry Lunney, talks with son-in-law F.J. Imbo, left, and team manager Brian Salazar while watching the game against Rogers on Oct. 24 in Bentonville.

GRAVETTE -- Janet Harrelson can't imagine being anything other than a football coach's wife.

She knew she would become one long before she married Gravette coach Bill Harrelson, which took place 33 years ago today.

"I've been with him ever since seventh grade," she said. "And he's always wanted to be a coach. I knew it was going to happen, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

So where will the Harrelsons celebrate their wedding anniversary?

No other place than a football stadium, with Janet in the stands and Bill on the sideline as Gravette travels to Shiloh Christian for a 4A-1 Conference game. She wouldn't have it any other way.

There's no other place she would rather be on a fall Friday night. That same feeling applies for Becky Lunney, who has been married to Bentonville coach Barry Lunney for 42 years, and for Melissa Conaway, the wife of Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway for 11 years (or seasons).

"It's been a lot of fun," Becky said. "I didn't realize at the time that, when I married him, I married football, too. In a sense, you do. It's a big part of your life, and it has been a great, great experience."

The Need To Learn

All three ladies had something in common during their younger years. They really didn't know much about football -- or even cared much about the sport -- until after their husbands became a big part of their lives.

Becky Lunney had a brother who played football in high school and later on at Arkansas Tech, but she really didn't have any knowledge or interest in the sport until Barry -- then the quarterback at Fort Smith Northside -- asked her on a date after a game during their senior year. So she waited outside the locker room for him after the game before they went out for pizza.

"It was just sort of love at first sight," she said. "I think we fell in love on that first date. He was so good looking, and I was interested -- not about football, but him.

"I really didn't become interested in football until he became a head coach because that takes everything to a whole new level. I think it also does for the wife because the whole burden of the team appears on the head coach. It's not really, but it appears to be to the public."

Melissa Conaway may have had it even worse than the other two. She could actually be seen at football games, where she served as a cheerleader and a mascot at times during her high school days.

However, she admits she had no idea what was taking place at the time.

"You would have think I would have known a lot about football," she said. "However, I didn't even know what first-and-10 meant.

"So when we did those cheers like 'first-and-10, do it again,' I thought to myself 'I don't even know what I am cheering.' It wasn't until I met Jeff and started dating that I started learning the game. Now that I have learned the game, football has become a sport I love."

The learning process still continues today for these wives. Janet Harrelson said she knows the basics of the game, but she admits there is still a lot of details about football she still doesn't understand.

Melissa Conaway said she knows much more about the game now than she did then, but there's always room for her to learn more. She won't hesitate to ask Jeff questions during the weekend when they are watching college games together.

"There are still some things I learn as I go," she said. "We watch games all day Saturday, so I'm constantly asking why something happened and why is that a rule. I don't know the rules by heart, but I know a majority of them. I understand what is happening on the field, so I don't cheer at a really awkward moment."

Families And Routines

The football coach's wife receives much more than a husband when she says "I do" to him. She also inherits an adopted family -- players, the families of the other coaches on the staff and the fans, there are ways to get attached to them all.

"I have a lot of kids that are my aides each hour," said Janet Harrelson, who serves as the Gravette High School registrar. "That includes football players. I don't do anything special for them, but I do get close to them. I'll provide them with snacks or something like that sometimes."

Becky Lunney said something she looks forward to about Friday nights is getting with the families of the other coaches for a little food and fun before each home game. It was something that was started while the Lunneys were still at Fort Smith Southside, and she continued it when Barry became Bentonville's football coach in 2005.

Things go a little differently for the Conaways. Because one daughter has a food allergy, Melissa makes sure they are fed before they head to Champions Stadium whenever a home game is taking place and attend the traditional tailgate.

"We go home, get ready and get things packed," she said. "My oldest has to have her cheerleading outfit on, then we will attend the tailgate party with the cheerleader families and player families. We're at the games from start to finish, and we're cheering the team and praying for the best."

The routines change a little once they arrive at a stadium, particularly at home games. Janet Harrelson prefers to sit alone at games and said she "prays a lot" before and during the game, hoping Gravette can win.

Melissa Conaway can be found sitting with the other coaches' wives during Shiloh's home games, and that's where she wants to be. Becky Lunney's traditional spot at Tiger Stadium is about five or six rows from the field, and she is usually surrounded by any number of her grandchildren now.

"I like to be close where I can see what is going on better, and even hear it from time to time," Becky Lunney said. "Some like to sit much higher, but I like to sit there.

"I also have to save all those spots for my kids and grandkids because we have so many. We didn't have any grandkids when we first came up here, and that's something that makes it fun now."

Sports on 10/31/2014

Print Headline: Coaches' Wives Love Their Lives

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