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Veteran AAU girls coach still reaping rewards

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Gregory will retire at the end of the season

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 5:49 am

Like lots of dads from a generation or two back, Art Gregory always considered himself a coach of young men. After all, football was his first love until he met Chenitta.

And like a lot of those "boys-only" coaches, the situation changed as he and Chenitta produced two girls first, Carnitta and Antoinette. One day, Gregory was picking up Carnitta at Blackhawk Middle School when he stuck his nose into the gym.

Carnitta was sitting on the floor. There was a curtain going down the middle of the floor with the boys on the other side. Each side had all the varsity and reserve teams, usually with the reserve players sitting and waiting.

"It was one of those things where I could sit around and complain about how bad things are and be part of the problem, or I could get involved and try to do something," Gregory said.

So he became a "girls" coach and started the Lady Legit AAU basketball team in 1992 as a way to give some girls more chances to play. Though Gregory had coached some YMCA basketball, it was mostly to keep the boys on his PAL football team around and active during the offseason.

In one of Lady Legit's first games, the team played the defending state champions and future Purdue star Katie Douglas and lost something like 79-19.

Gregory, and all of his girls, learned quickly, and Lady Legit broke through with their first state title in 1994. Now they've won more than 10, though Gregory can't say for sure how many. He's probably the most successful coach in Fort Wayne you've never heard of.

What he cares about are the dozens of girls he has seen earn college scholarships.

"Through his involvement in Lady Legit, he has given numerous young ladies at many schools the opportunity to participate and improve their skills to the point where many have received college scholarships to continue their education while playing basketball," Bishop Dwenger coach Dave Scudder said. "Many of these ladies would not have had this opportunity without Art's help."

Some of those players include Candy Crawford, Liza Clemons, Amy Waugh, Vamenia Reese, Lacia Gorman, Kia Jones and a few boys, too. Gregory always promoted academics, even hosting SAT classes to help his players prepare.

"As good of a coach as he is, he is an even better person," said Waugh, now the head coach at Xavier University. "He gets to know everyone and relates well and understands what makes each kid tick.

"He is an incredible man and one that I am happy is still in my life. He pushed me at a young age to be the player I was and has continued to support me as I moved into the coaching ranks. I could never say a bad word about Coach G and respect everything he's done for me and the youth of Fort Wayne."

Former Snider coach Ryan Gould, who resigned last year to become the tennis coach at Trine University, said he never used Gregory's first name during seven years sitting on the same bench. It was always Coach Gregory.

"Coach Gregory expects the best from all of the girls he coaches and he provides a great example through his work ethic," Gould said. "He is famous for telling the girls 'not every day is going to be a great day' and not to allow that to be an excuse for giving a poor effort. Coach Gregory has provided the example of being someone who refuses to be outworked or underprepared."

Now Gregory, 61, is not perfect, as anyone who has sat beside him at a game knows. He's not a yeller, but he moves around the bench as if he's actually on the floor, sometimes even boxing out his fellow assistants.

"I'm the one who wills the team to win," he says with a smile.

Yeah, but it's with arms swinging, legs kicking and sometimes a few stomps. He's even broken a finger slamming his hand down on a bench. Because he's an assistant coach, he's not allowed to get up from the bench, but the Panthers make sure there are open seats on either side of him.

At various times during his career, when he was with Lady Legit, Gregory even unknowingly wandered down to the opposing team's bench, sat back down on other coaches and even broken the nose of one poor assistant with an arm swing.

"It's just me trying to adjust to everything they are doing," Gregory said. "The funny thing is they can all do my mannerisms on the bench."

He may be the most-imitated coach around, too.

The really funny thing is that Gregory is the coach who handles most of the scouting reports. He believes better preparation means you don't have to do much coaching during the game. He spends both ways of his 35-mile commute to work in Paulding, Ohio, thinking, preparing and analyzing basketball.

So why can't he sit still? No one knows. They just know to stay out of the way.

Soon that will change because Gregory is retiring at the end of the season. He gave up control of Lady Legit a few years ago to Juan Gorman and has been an assistant with Snider's girls for the past seven years.

"Retiring" is kind of a misnomer because he's always been a volunteer coach. Still, Chenitta expects their budget to improve next year.

By the time Lady Legit was going full strength, there were four teams involved, and not every kid could afford everything. Somehow the money was provided, countless meals were paid for and kids were picked up and dropped off before and after practices. He drove on the road trips, kids were taken on college visits and some needed highlight videos were made.

"From my wife, basketball's been the other woman," Gregory said. "Some guys do golf, some guys go bowling, some guys go to the bar, but I do basketball. It's what takes me away from home. With her, it's been a sore spot over the years because of the time commitment and the financial commitment."

Asked how much money he's received from being a basketball coach, Gregory quickly says, "Zero."

And it's been worth every penny.