Gale Given Dual Roles

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AD Named RCHS Boys Basketball Coach

The Rockbridge County High School boys basketball team is getting an experienced coach to lead the program. New RC athletic director Mike Gale was officially named the school’s head boys basketball coach at the Rockbridge County School Board Meeting on Tuesday of last week. Gale, 42, replaces Darrell Plogger, who was the Wildcats’ head coach for the last 10 years before stepping down to focus on his job for the Rockbridge Area Recreation Organization Plogger, 55, also wanted to be able to watch his son Aaron, a senior guard, from the stands. On July 1, Gale replaced Rick Lollis at RC’s athletic director, taking on the new role for in the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, Virginia High School League sports are scheduled to resume in mid-December, with the first official practice for basketball on Dec. 7, followed by a shortened season, with 14 regular-season games.

Gale is a 1996 Fort Defiance High School graduate who played basketball, baseball and golf at Fort before taking his talents to Eastern Mennonite University, where he played first base for the baseball team and graduated in 2001. He earned a master’s degree from Liberty University in sports management administration in 2015.

Gale has over 19 years of coaching experience at the high school level, the last 14 at Stuarts Draft High School in Augusta County, where he was the all-time winningest basketball coach with 182 wins, 14 postseason appearances and eight regional appearances. He also taught physical education, and coached golf for the past 12 years. Gale’s 2019-20 team reached the state tournament for the first time in school history, ending with a 136-99 loss to eventual Class 2 champion John Marshall in the quarterfinals, and Gale was named Shenandoah District coach of the year.

While at Stuarts Draft, Gale implemented the “Grinnell System,” also referred to as “The System,” a strategy that produced a fast-paced style of play, with frequent 3-pointers, mass substitutions every 90 seconds and high scores. Over the last nine years, Gale’s teams at Stuarts Draft averaged 86 points per game.

At RC, Gale said he and his assistant coaches plan to run “The System,” with the understanding that it’s going to be a different experience for the Wildcat players. “It is going to be something that is going to take time to adjust to the style of play,” Gale said. “However, I have watched some game film from last season and I believe we have a group of players that can have success in this system once they understand it and have time on the court with it. “

Praising Gale in a statement released after last Tuesday’s announcement, RC principal Mike Craft said, “To me, an essential characteristic for leadership is character, and Mike has a great reputation as a person with genuine integrity. This has been demonstrated through his exceptional leadership as both an educator and coach. We feel Coach Gale is the right fit for our basketball program here at RCHS, as he has a great amount of experience and brings with him an exciting brand of basketball.”

Rockbridge County’s public schools are not allowing team workouts until Oct. 5. “We will definitely have our action plan in place and take the necessary precautions once we begin workouts,” Gale said, noting that the VHSL released Phase 3 guidelines recently and that the Wildcats will incorporate those, along with the initial “Return to Athletics” health/action plan they put in place in July. “Basically, we are allowed to share balls and certain equipment now while keeping a safe distance,” he said. “Scrimmaging and contact drills are still not allowed.”

The new RC coach is bringing two former Stuarts Draft assistant coaches, Jeff Templeton and Jeff Blalock, who work outside the school system, to help out as his assistant coaches at RC. “I am excited about getting the ‘band’ back together,” Gale said. “They have been very loyal to me throughout the years, and I’m glad we get another opportunity to coach together.” Joining the staff as the junior varsity coach will be Rob Winfield, a first-year teacher at Maury River Middle School who played and coached basketball at Roanoke College.

Under Plogger last winter, RC went 9-14, struggling offensively for most of the season and ending the year with a loss at Western Albemarle in the Region 3C quarterfinals. Plogger’s most successful season was in 2011-2012, when the Wildcats won the district and regional championship before falling to state champion Brunswick 64-59 in overtime in the Group AA, Division 3 state semifinals. RC finished that season with a record of 25-3, led by all-time leading scorer Andrew Rowsey.

Plogger, who coached against Gale for the last decade, said he’s gotten to know Gale better since he’s been the athletic director and is confident Gale will do a good job as head coach. “I always respected him as a coach,” Plogger said. “I always thought he did a great job with his kids, got the most out of them.”

Likewise, Gale said he and Plogger have “always had a good relationship.”

There will be an adjustment period to playing basketball in “The System,” Plogger said, but he looks forward to seeing the Wildcat players learn it. “I’m anxious to see our players at that pace,” he said. “[Gale] has had a lot of success with it. There’s going to be a little period when they have to learn it from scratch.”

Reflecting on his first two months as RC’s athletic director, Gale said the RC staff “has been very welcoming to me. It has been good meeting the staff and becoming a part of the Wildcat community.”

In taking on the dual roles of being RC’s athletic director and head boys basketball coach, Gale said, “It is definitely going to be challenging at times, but I wouldn’t have been willing to try it if I didn’t think it was going to be manageable. The main reason is that I believe I will have great support from our administrative team and my [athletic department] assistant, Travis Rogers. They are willing to help and take care of what is needed at a home event when we are on the road for a basketball game. The key is to have good support, and I know I will be in good hands.”

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