Editor's Note : The following is the first in a series highlighting the Top 10 local and area sports stories of 2009 as chosen by the staff of The Garden City Telegram. Today's story, No. 10, is about the resignation of South Gray girls basketball coach Tasha Trundle.
By BRETT MARSHALL
When South Gray girls basketball coach Tasha Trundle walked off the court last March after her Lady Rebels fell to St. John in the Class 1A state championship game, 46-35, she had one thing on her mind.
"If there's anything good about losing, it is that it makes you hungry to come back and I'm going to do everything I can to come back with these girls," Trundle said.
The loss snapped a 51-game win streak for the Lady Rebels over the course of two seasons. Included in the run was the 2008 Class 1A state championship in Trundle's first year as the South Gray coach.
So, when Trundle walked into the office of South Gray High School Superintendent Jay Zehr's office less than six weeks later to tender her resignation, Zehr and many others in the community were stunned.
Trundle's resignation is the No. 10 sports story of 2009.
"When she came in I tried to talk her out of it," Zehr said, who was in his first year as the school's superintendent. "I knew what she had accomplished and that she understood the game of basketball and how she could teach the girls."
Zehr's daughter, Baylei, was a junior then and the decision to come to South Gray was in part due to Trundle's success and coaching skills.
"From my standpoint, I asked her if there was more to it, if there was pressure," Zehr said. "She was getting a promotion at her regular job (assistant parts manager at Unruh-Foster John Deere Implement) and she said that it would be difficult to give the time necessary to coaching and still have time for being trained in her new position."
Zehr asked Trundle to take some extra time to reconsider her decision. Trundle, though, was adamant about the decision.
"I tried to persuade her the other way," Zehr said. "I thanked her as a parent. My daughter loved playing for her. (Trundle) was concerned how the girls would react."
Zehr said he wasn't surprised that the Lady Rebels were successful under Trundle's leadership.
"She was a tough coach and there were some girls who didn't come out because of that," he said. "She demanded a lot, but I know that they are better players and better persons because of her."
And who better to put into perspective the impact she had on the school's girls basketball program than her colleague at the school, long-time boys basketball coach and athletic director Mark Applegate, himself having coach three state championship teams with the Rebels.
"She was a good fit for the program," Applegate said. "The summer before we hired her, she was coaching the girls in the league and we knew she had the experience of playing in college and I think Angie (Thomas) was more comfortable in the assistant's role and we thought it would work out pretty good."
Applegate said the combination of a talented group of players at the school and Trundle's insistence of excellence combined to provide the two-year success.
"Her first year was the first time our girls had ever made the state and then they won it," Applegate said. "She's had a big impact on our program and school. Then they got second her next year and I think that's all been positive. Her discipline on the team was good and her knowledge of the game is outstanding. With the girls she had, I think she raised their level of play to take them to the next level."
Trundle has downplayed her role at South Gray, but the reality is that the South Gray girls had never gone to state in its previous 15 years since Copeland and Montezuma became a shared school.
"At the time I was asked to consider coaching the girls, it makes you feel good," Trundle said. "Billy (Thomas) was the one who came to me and asked me if I'd consider coaching the girls. It was a chance to be part of something special and I hoped that I would be able to get the girls to the next level and I think we accomplished that."
Thomas' wife, Angie, had been the head coach the previous year and guided the Lady Rebels to an 18-6 record. The previous coach, Brent Schreiber, had gone 46-40 in his four seasons.
When talking about her resignation, Trundle hesitates trying to explain.
"When someone tells me that I'm the worst thing that has happened to them and that I don't give them confidence, then there is a problem," Trundle said. "I'm very confident in my ability to coach, the record speaks for itself. That's what I'm good at, giving them confidence to succeed. My focus has always been to make them better players and individuals."
Trundle wasn't specific in explaining some people's disappointment in her, but she did say that she has always stood on her principles and they have served her well.
"My first day coaching here, my senior captain was late (for practice)," Trundle said. "I made them run 30 lines. They understand that to be good, you've got to have discipline. I'm not easy on the girls. I'm not their friend during practice, but nobody, nobody, loves their girls more than me."
Hearing that criticism was the most difficult part of her eventual decision to resign, Trundle said. In addition, she knew she would be assuming more responsibilities at Unruh-Foster and the two combined to help her make the choice.
"This was the hardest decision for me to ever make," Trundle said. "I'm not going to let people walk over me. That's part of who Coach T is. You don't have to like me, but I sure think the respect needs to be there as the coach. I don't think most people understand coaches. We're a little different, but we all want to do the same thing — we want to win, and we want to teach kids life lessons."
Trundle says she still has hopes of returning to the bench to coach once again.
"If the right school, with the right situation, came up and everything looked good for me, I'd enjoy getting back into coaching," Trundle said. "It's what I'm good at and I love working with the girls. You have to do what you know, and trust that it will work."