Longtime Deerfield-Windsor basketball coach Gordy Gruhl waves amidst a standing ovation at ABAC on Saturday night after the Knights beat Sherwood, 55-31, for the Region 3-AAA title — marking Gruhl’s 1,000th career victory. (Shine Rankin/sgasports.net)
TIFTON — Like photos from a long, lost album, buried in the past and tucked away forever, the faces and places of Gordy Gruhl’s life flashed before him.
Gruhl was frozen.
Right there on the court, frozen in time and space as his life rushed by him in a surreal moment — the kind that defines a career, a voyage and a lifetime.
That’s what it felt like. That’s what it tasted like. That’s what it was like for Gruhl when he won his 1,000th basketball game Saturday night at ABAC, where his Deerfield-Windsor Knights beat Sherwood Christian, 53-31, to capture the GISA Region 3-AAA title.
“They say when you die your life flashes before you,’’ Gruhl said. “It was like that. It’s pretty emotional. There was about 30 seconds left in the game, and I looked up at the scoreboard, and I saw a bunch of faces from the past. They just popped up in front of me. It was strange. I saw different faces and different places. Everything just kind of slowed down for me right then. It was just a very strange feeling.’’
The road has been sweeter than sweet for Gruhl, who never could have dreamed of being a legendary coach in Georgia when he was growing up in Indiana.
There were only 11 high school coaches in Georgia with 1,000 wins until Gruhl joined the club Saturday.
It’s has been a long and winding road for Gruhl, who took that first step years ago in a fraternity house in Valdosta. That’s where the legend was born for the kid from the Hoosier State who never went back home to Indiana after falling in love with Georgia.
“I blew out my ACL when I was a senior in high school, and back then when you an had an ACL tear it was over,’’ Gruhl said. “So I couldn’t play any more basketball.’’
Instead the hard-throwing pitcher accepted a baseball scholarship to Valdosta State and pitched for the Blazers until a torn rotator cuff ended that dream.
Then his fraternity house — Delta Chi — came to Gruhl and asked him to coach the intramural teams.
“It’s all foggy now,’’ Gruhl said. “I was a sophomore in college. I don’t know if they voted on it or not, but they asked me if I would coach the teams and I did. I coached all the teams.’’
He even coached a sorority basketball team — the one his future wife played for. That’s how he met Meredith. They were married when Gruhl started grad school and both took jobs at Deerfield-Windsor in 1983. Meredith still coaches softball and tennis, and Gruhl has coached both the boys and girls basketball teams at DWS. He has won six state titles, including two with the Lady Knights, who went 25-0 and won it all in 1988 and again in 1993 when his daughter, Kelly Gruhl, was on the team.
He’s been coaching just the boys since 2002 when he won his second boys state title. He won his fourth with the Knights in 2010. He has been the school’s athletic director since the 1985-86 school year. Oddly enough, he almost didn’t take the job at DWS.
“I interviewed at Deerfield and Riverview, which is now where Sherwood is,’’ Gruhl said. “Riverview had a more successful basketball program and had a better team coming back, but I took the job at Deerfield because they offered my wife a job.’’
He is now the face of Deerfield — and has been for years.
Gruhl, whose first DWS team went 8-15, never would have dreamed he would get 1,000 wins. He laughs when he thinks about his decision to coach.
“My dreams of playing in the NBA or in big league baseball had died, and I had to do something,’’ he said. “I was a physical education major, but you never know if you can do something until you do it.’’
Worth Academy, a tiny GISA Class A school that no longer exists, gave him a chance and he took his first steps in coaching in 1975 — a mere 37 years ago.
“I thought I was interviewing for the boys varsity basketball coach’s job,’’ Gruhl said. “They told me I had the job, and I was the boys coach. That meant I coached every boys team in every sport, including the junior high. I coached all the teams. When I look back, it really helped me because I had to learn to do everything.’’
He has done it all with stops at Edmund Burke Academy (from 1979 through 1983) and then onto DWS, and he has seen players such as Buford coach Gene Durden, who has won three state titles) and Kevin Petroski, who coached at SGA and is now at Athens Academy, become high school basketball coaches.
It’s all still a bit overwhelming to Gruhl.
“The first part when you coach is slow,’’ he said. “When you get into coaching you don’t have any idea if you can do it or not, and you get so involved with winning. That’s what keeps you your job. But after I won my first championship in 1988, it validates you and I could take a deep breath. Now I can enjoy it. I became a better coach. You see that every team is just like your children, and it makes you realize the most important thing is developing and having an impact on the young people you coach. The winning and losing takes care of itself.’’
It has done that and more for Gruhl, who is an amazing 1,000-313 for his career.
“We really wanted to win it for him,’’ said Ramello Carter, who led DWS on Saturday with 18 points. “It means a lot to get him his 1,000th win. And what are the odds you would get it the same night you win the region title?”
It was DWS’ sixth region title in the past seven years, but the night, the moment and the last 30 years all belong to Gruhl, who was hugged by a number of fans and friends as chants from the crowd greeted him — “Gordy! Gordy!’’ — as Gruhl embraced the moment.
“Yeah, it was emotional,’’ he said.
And you could see it in his eyes — those wonderful, glowing eyes that had seen so much in that last 30 seconds of the game; those eyes that flashed and looked back — back to a lifetime of greatness ...