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Coaches Corner: WRV’s Gates well-rounded and well-traveled

  • White River Valley coach Sandy Gates huddles up with her team before their regular season game with Oxbow in Bradford, Vt., on May 13, 2019. White River Valley won the state championship in Gates' first season as head coach. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Valley coach Sandy Gates gives Macy Carbino and her teammates high-fives between innings during their regular season game with Oxbow in Bradford, Vt., on May 13, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Whitcomb pitcher Sandy Gates hugs Sashalyn Kraus (5) after their 5-4 loss to Canaan in the Division IV state championship in Lyndonville, Vt., on June 16, 2005. Whitcomb defeated Rochester in the semifinal game, 4-0. (Valley News - Caleb Raynor) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, July 21, 2019

This is the fourth of eight installments of the Valley News’ weekly profiles of local high school coaches this summer. It’s a chance to better know some of the people guiding the area’s student-athletes. Today, we meet White River Valley softball boss Sandy Gates, who directed the first-year Wildcats to the Vermont Division III title last month.

Hornet Pride: A Bethel native and 2005 Whitcomb High graduate, Gates played soccer fullback, basketball forward and softball pitcher. The Hornets won state titles in the latter sport in 2003 and 2004 and reached the finals when Gates was a senior. She played third base as a sophomore before longtime coach Ray Colton surprised her by telling her she would need to learn how to pitch. “My first game, I walked 15 girls,” she said. “It was painful.”

Southern Talent: St. Lawrence University, in Canton, N.Y., and not far from the Canadian border, recruited Gates to play softball, but she sat out her freshman year to focus on academics. A Saints squash coach spotted her attempting her first-ever game in the sport and convinced her to walk on to the varsity roster, where she played in the ninth and 10th slots as a sophomore. “I realized that a huge part of me was missing by not being on a team,” Gates said. “But I wanted to be in a sport where I could excel, so I went back to softball.”

Small Fish, Bigger Pond: “I played left field and third base for two seasons, which was a lot more comfortable than pitching. Playing the outfield was a blast. You get a totally different perspective on the game. I only played in maybe 50 percent of our games, but that was actually a cool learning experience. The appreciation you have for a team when you have to work for a spot on it is totally different.”

Into Africa: Gates majored in global studies and minored in African studies, spending semesters abroad in Kenya and Thailand. In the former country, SLU students rode through Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania on a university-owned bus and also made trips in a safari vehicle. Gates studied the Swahili language before leaving for Africa and while she was there. “Its newness was enticing, and being there and speaking the language is something you can’t fully replicate in a classroom,” she said.

Going Away: “I loved growing up in Vermont, but I also always said I was going to get out of here. Going abroad gave me that appreciation for small towns with deep roots and connections that you often take for granted until you get to a much bigger place.”

New Job at New Hampton: An additional year at St. Lawrence earned Gates a master’s degree in education, her career path inspired by some of her former teachers and the chance to pass on a global outlook. She taught history at the New Hampton (N.H.) School for the next three years, living in the dorms and, at 22 years old, helping to oversee a student body that included 19- and 20-year old postgraduate students.

Bench Beginnings: Gates coached New Hampton’s JV B boys soccer team and its varsity softball team. The former squad included many international students with a relaxed outlook on the game, and the latter struggled during the new coach’s first season before winning Lakes Region titles the next two.

Indoor Angst: “I was super overwhelmed with living at my job and never really having time off. If I was going to have any sort of social life, I was going to have to leave. There was no plan, just to move back to Vermont (in 2013) and figure things out from there. I ended up working in Dartmouth’s student advising and research office. It was a desk job with lots of number-crunching, and I realized I do not sit well for that long.”

Life Skills: “One of the jobs I had during high school and college summers was painting houses with one of my teachers. I had my own painting business from 2015 until this spring, when I became pregnant and it obviously wasn’t a good idea to be on top of ladders. I’ve been hired to work at the White River Valley middle and elementary schools to help kids struggling with behavior and academics. I’ll do that after maternity leave.”

Family I: Gates is the daughter of Beth Umba, a massage therapist and yoga instructor. Her stepfather is former Whitcomb High athletic director Willy Walker, who was her softball assistant this spring. “I knew as soon as I got the job that I wanted him to work with me,” Gates said. “It was just how I was going to con him into it. He was a little apprehensive about coaching girls for the first time, but they really enjoyed each other.”

Family II: Gates and Josh Tracy were married last month. He works in his family’s plumbing and heating business and has a baseball-playing son, Austin, who won a state title with White River Valley the same day the softball team captured its crown. “Once both teams made it, I was just praying that one wouldn’t win when the other lost,” Gates said. She has two brothers, 33-year-old Bill Gates and 19-year-old Liam Walker. The former works in cyber security in Burlington, and the latter is apprenticing to become an electrician.

Cluck, Cluck, Baa: Tracy and Gates live on four acres in Bethel they’ve dubbed “Mosey Creek Farm” after their golden retriever, Mosey, and their property’s flowing water. Tracy owns working horses he guides in pulling competitions and Gates has sheep, which act as natural lawnmowers. Austin Tracy has a pair of steers he shows, and the scene is rounded out by chickens and, for the next few weeks, 12 puppies.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.