Thanks to Mr. G, Falcons 130-1


They call him Mr. G, which stands for Gillespie. That's Joe Gillespie, 60-year-old grandfather of nine who is a howling success as the Severna Park girls junior varsity basketball coach.

After athletic director Andy Borland asked Gillespie to coach in 1987, the Falcons' JV ticked off 66 straight victories. Since a loss to Old Mill on Jan. 9, 1991, a day that will live in infamy, the Falcons are 64-0, including 13-0 this season.

That's 130-1 in seven seasons.

To Severna Park's girls, Gillespie is more than a coach. He is, as senior Jen Conner said, "everybody's grandfather."

"He phoned me one summer to wish me happy birthday," said junior Alli Adams. "I didn't know he even knew when it was."

During a recent snowstorm, Conner recalls, Gillespie sat in his car in the parking lot for hours so he could inform anyone who hadn't gotten the word that practice was canceled.

Gillespie arrived at Severna Park via the same pipeline that brings the school most of its players in so many sports -- the Green Hornets recreation program.

He became active with the Green Hornets in 1967 when his son Jim, now 34, began playing baseball and basketball. His daughter Emily joined the girls program in 1974.

"She stayed a few years and I kept going," said Gillespie, who took early retirement in 1985 from the C&P; Telephone Co., where he was general manager of personnel in Washington.

The Green Hornets account for much of Severna Park's success. Only one girl on the varsity and JV squads -- sophomore Angela DeSalvo, a transfer from Florida -- didn't come through the system.

lTC "Another reason is that Kevin gives equal practice time to the JV," said Gillespie, referring to varsity coach Kevin McGrath. "And it just seems there are a lot of good female athletes in Severna Park."

Although the varsity is having a banner season (13-1), its success has not always matched the JV's.

"The really superior freshmen at other schools go right to the varsity," said Gillespie, who played basketball long ago at Tazewell (Va.) High. "So the competition at the varsity level is tougher than at the JV."

Said McGrath: "We leave the ninth-graders on the JV no matter how good they are. Otherwise, they'd probably sit on the varsity bench. Another thing, Joe is more seasoned than the other JV coaches, and that's an edge."

Some of the girls now on the varsity played in that 59-50 loss to Old Mill in January 1991 that broke the JV's losing streak at 66. Gillespie took it philosophically ("It had to happen sometime"), but the players were distraught.

"We felt guilty," said senior Megan Jones. "There were tears."

Said senior Jen Hatch: "We psyched ourselves out. The game had been built up all season as our toughest game -- Old Mill, archrival."

To this day, Gillespie puts part of the blame on himself. Didn't have the girls sufficiently prepared. No chance to scout Old Mill.

"The second time we played them, the defensive adjustments we made proved the difference," Gillespie said, noting that Severna Park won the rematch, 57-37, at Old Mill on Jan. 30. "The streak was of no concern to me. I want to have the girls well-prepared to treat each game separately and not as part of a streak."

The players revere Mr. G. Sophomore Lauryn McAlister has known Gillespie since she joined the Green Hornets at the age of 8. Under his guidance, she has developed into a confident player.

"He recognized what I needed and worked on it," McAlister said. "He improved my playing ability and raised my confidence. Even when he criticizes, he says it in such a way that you don't feel put down. He makes you feel you can change and correct."

Jones calls Gillespie "a friend concerned with us on and off the court, as a student, player and person." McAlister calls him, simply, "a great coach."

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