In his 30 years coaching varsity softball at Wisconsin Dells High School, Dale Gray has accomplished just about all there is to accomplish, including win a state championship, which his team did under his guidance in 1995.
Now, as Gray is preparing for his 31st season in charge of the Chiefs, another honor has rolled in, as Gray was recently announced as a member of the Wisconsin Faspitch Softball Coaches Association 2019 Hall of Fame Class. Gray, and four other former or current coaches will be recognized at the Association’s awards banquet, which will be held Saturday, Feb. 23 at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
Portage High School softball coach Connie Wampler, who was a junior outfielder for the Wisconsin Dells softball team that won the 1995 Division 2 state championship with a 3-2 victory over New Richmond, said Gray is very deserving of the Hall of Fame honor.
“Dale treats everybody fairly, and I think he’s always had the best interests of the actual athletes in mind,” Wampler said. “I always felt like we were learning good life lessons as we were playing. We learned to be good teammates, we learned how to listen, and I think that he did a really good job of keeping people together as a team.”
Gray has compiled a record of 347-290 while in charge of the Chiefs. His Wisconsin Dells teams have won five conference championships and eight regional championships. Gray has also led Wisconsin Dells to state tournament appearances in 1995 and again in 1997.
The highlight of Gray’s time in Wisconsin Dells was the state championship in 1995. And as good as that team was, things didn’t start out well that spring. Wisconsin Dells started the season at 3-5 before going on to win 16 of its final 17 games.
According to Wampler, the Chiefs’ slow start was the result of a number of players who had to get comfortable with new positions, noting that Gray has never shied away from moving players around if it would help the team.
“We were fairly inexperienced team at a lot of positions. I had never played outfield until my junior year, and two other girls that were in the outfield at the same time were also kids that were not in their normal positions,” Wampler said. “We had some infielders in the same boat, so I think it took us a few games to get used to our positions.”
In the semifinals of the state tournament, Wisconsin Dells was a heavy underdog against a Kimberly team that came in with a 21-1 record. The Chiefs went on to beat the Papermakers 6-0 before beating New Richmond in the championship game.
Wampler, who said she plans on attending the upcoming Hall of Famer ceremony to see her former coach honored, still communicates with Gray on a regular basis, and even coaches against him when Portage and Wisconsin Dells meet in non-conference play each spring. Wampler said Gray continues to stay busy with the softball program in Wisconsin Dells, from doing field work to working with his son and grandson with youth softball programs.
“He basically puts his heart and soul into that program still. He’s spending quite a bit of time trying to make things best for the program,” Wampler said. He’s invested quite a bit of his life into the softball program.”
Joining Gray in the 2019 Hall of Fame class are Jerry Cognetta, former head coach at Elmwood High School; Ken Franke, who has been an assistant coach at Kewaskum, Mayville and Dodgeland High Schools; Jim Kivisto, head coach at Hurley; and Sandy Waltzer, former head coach at Antigo High School.