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Grace Bible champs have local roots

When Dan George visited the small community of Wheelersburg, in southern Ohio, in 1978 to recruit Gary Bailey to play college basketball for Jordan College in Cedar Springs, Michigan, he had no idea they would be coaching together 27 years later, let alone be coaches for a championship basketball team. But that’s exactly what happened last week, when the Grace Bible Tigers men’s basketball team won the NCCAA DII championship for the third time.

Bailey remained in Cedar Springs after graduating from Jordan College, and he and George remained friends through the years, hunting and fishing together. When Bailey was named head men’s basketball coach at the struggling program at Grace Bible College in 2005, he turned to his old college coach (George) and former Grace All-American Kyle Bohl to help him in the new venture. Last Saturday night, in Springfield, Missouri, the three coaches won the NCCAA DII National Championship for the second year in a row and the third time in five years. “It was a tough week but we played well,” said Bailey.

All three coaches have roots in Cedar Springs. Bailey and George are long-time residents of the area and Bohl is the Director of Student Services and Athletic Director at Creative Technologies Academy. George is also school leader there, while Bailey, a longtime former employee at CTA, now works full time in the Grace Bible College athletics department.

“Kyle and I were asked by a national sports reporter at the National Tournament to what we would credit the turnaround in Grace’s program,” said George. “I told him, first and foremost, it is Gary’s leadership.  It begins with the character of the kids we recruit and their families.  It continues with a number of things Gary emphasizes that seemingly have nothing to do with basketball, from the way the team dresses and acts in public to the rules for taking care of sweaty practice jerseys.”

An important part of Bailey’s leadership seems to be surrounding himself with good people.  “He doesn’t forget where he came from,” says George. “He credits the lessons taught by his parents and his previous coaches and he frequently seeks advice from Kyle and me. He will have the final say on everything but he doesn’t let ego get in the way of a good decision. He doesn’t care who gets the credit.”

“We complete each other well,” added Bohl. “We all have different roles, but it’s a lot of fun.” Bailey said that working with his friends is one of the keys of their success. “It’s nice working with really good friends. It makes it easier. When you are working with acquaintances you can’t always be totally honest with each other; as friends, we’ve been able to do that,” noted Bailey. Bailey has been named Midwest Region Coach of the Year for three consecutive years and was the National Coach of the Year in 2009.  In 2006, the first year for the three at Grace, Bailey’s son, Kirby, was a senior starter on the Tiger team that won the National Championship on a buzzer beater tip-in by Cedar Springs grad Jimmy Booth.
With only 190 students, almost every school on the schedule is larger than Grace, but Bailey is not afraid to play anybody, believing tougher competition makes his team better. Last season, the Tigers put a scare into NCAA DI The Citadel, losing a close one in Charleston, South Carolina.  They then grabbed local headlines when they thumped NCAA DII Ferris State University on the Bulldog’s home court en route to 19 straight wins and a second National Championship. This season, Grace knocked off local perennial basketball powerhouses Cornerstone University and Calvin College.  The Tigers finished this season with 15 straight victories and they have now won 41 straight contests against NCCAA DII schools.

“I told Gary this all still seems a bit surreal,” said George. “Who would have thought this would happen to a couple of small town guys?”

Bailey is thankful for area fans for coming out to the games. “Grace gets a lot of support from Cedar Springs, and I appreciate them showing their support,” he said.

Bailey also noted that Grace will have a parade on March 25 with a big bash afterward at the college, and everyone is invited. He said they had a few details to iron out, which had not yet been finalized at press time.

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