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Antigonish basketball coach hangs up whistle after 39 seasons

After 39 seasons and more than 900 victories, Gail MacDougall has retired as coach of the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School Division 1 girls' basketball program. File
After 39 seasons and more than 900 victories, Gail MacDougall has retired as coach of the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School Division 1 girls' basketball program. File - Corey LeBlanc

Sports success is often measured with statistics.

Gail MacDougall meets that criteria – more than 900 victories, countless tournament wins and three provincial championships.

But when it comes to her influence on the development of basketball in Antigonish – and across the province – it cannot be measured by any number, even in the era of analytics.

The Antigonish native, who recently wrapped up her 39th season as head coach of the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals Division 1 girls’ basketball program, has decided to retire.

I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

In my almost 17 years as a reporter at the Casket, one of the highlights for me – maybe the greatest one – was working with our former sports editor and, most importantly, developing a friendship that is dear to me.

As that bond developed (Gail welcomed me from day one), it was cemented by our mutual love for basketball.

Although my knowledge paled, in comparison, we enjoyed several conversations about the game – her teams and many others. Monday mornings in the office are not the same without her dissecting the performance of her Royals in the most recent weekend tournament, including an in-depth analysis of her coaching moves – often about what she did and what she should have done.

There have also been several memorable games I have watched and covered at the Regional gym, featuring stellar performances from the likes of Jennifer Chisholm, Tory Anderson and Sheryl Chisholm. (Sadly, the era highlighted by players, such as Wendy Langley, Jennifer Grant and ‘Buttons’ Ashe, came before my time here.)

Hard work and preparation were key ingredients – common threads – with each of her teams.

And, of course, there was the opportunity to watch Gail patrol the sideline – pushing the right buttons, a second-to-none tactician. Not to mention the ability to ‘work’ the referees, her appeals often displaying that signature sense of humour, which I also happily experienced during numerous office exchanges.

Her indelible mark is about more than X’s and O’s, jump-shot form or breaking the press; it is the life lessons that players continue to carry. Just have a conversation with one of them, you will learn about how she has and continues to touch their lives – athletically, professionally and personally.

Gail has taught them – and me, for that matter – about the importance of family, friendship, hard work, leadership, loyalty and trust, just to name a few of those ‘what’s important in life’ things.

That’s what makes her a winner and a champion.

That’s why she is legendary – not only as a coach, but also a person.

To borrow the words of another star – the incomparable Tina Turner – you are ‘simply the best.’

We, and the game, thank you. 

 

 

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