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Conway steps down as Eagles golf coach

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Gerry Conway never played for a high school golf team, yet he elevated Oak Hill into a small school powerhouse over his 19-year coaching career.

Now Conway has stepped away from the program he guided to new heights, including a berth in the 2015 IHSAA state finals and four sectional championships. He also sent six individual golfers to the state finals.

“I’m very proud of the tradition we’ve established,” Conway said Friday afternoon. “There have been some really good teams that come through and individuals that reached the state and played college golf. It’s been the quality of the kids that pulled me to it and kept me with it because I love working with them.”

Conway has retired from the Air Force reserves and has grandchildren in different parts of the country. He wants to travel and see them, but he also intends to remain a fixture with Oak Hill athletic programs.

This past spring, Conway also spent time coaching Golden Eagles pole vaulters Gavin Holz and Caiden Lake, and both achieved record-setting standards. Holz would become the first Eagles vaulter to clear 15 feet and qualified for the IHSAA state finals.

“That’s still a passion of mine,” said Conway, who is competing in the pole vault this weekend at a masters track and field meet in Ames, Iowa. “I’ll continue to help (track coach) Paige (Brunner) with that going forward.

“In the last year, my passions have been directed in other areas and I’ve got grandkids that are coming of age and it would be good for grandpa to be around a little more,” he added. 

A 1976 graduate of Oak Hill, Conway performed for the Eagles’ track and field team and was introduced to golf by friends while he was in high school. His passion for golf was sparked after joining the Air Force and after returning home he started competing in the Grant County Amateur and other tournaments.

Conway has been involved in multiple Oak Hill athletic programs for many years and was an assistant for boys’ basketball coach Flava Sirk and football coach Bud Ozmun. It was Ozmun who Conway succeeded as golf coach in 2001 and he stared having success almost immediately.

The Eagles finished with a 12-1 dual meet record in Conway’s first season with runner-up finishes in the sectional, conference and county meets. The next year he sent his first golfer, Adam Combs, to the state finals, and in 2004 Chris Hall finished seventh overall and gained all-state honors. Andrew Rhodes (2004), Tyler Keith (2007-10), B.J. White (2013) and Cody White (2014) also reached state as individuals.

Oak Hill flirted with qualifying a team for the state several times and had one particuarly bitter near-miss in 2012 at Lafayette. But the Eagles finally succeeded and advanced in 2015 with Cody White, Michael Law, Brayton Swan, Adam McDivitt and Braden Renbarger.

“We were over at the Lafayette Regional and we lost out on the fifth man score by one shot,” Conway said. “And we had another time or two we lost on a fifth man score. Golf’s a crazy game, but there definitely have been some good players come through who made the program a success and a joy for me to coach, too.

“The 2015 state team, that was not an easy thing for a small school,” Conway said. “I remember when we got down there, out of the 13-14 teams that were there we were the smallest school by a third. That was quite an accomplishment for those guys.”

Oak Hill had won only three conference meets before Conway took over but currently are on a streak of 10 Central Indiana Conference titles in 12 years. The 2007 team was Oak Hill’s first sectional champion, and the Eagles have since won three more from 2013 to ‘15.”

“Gerry had an unbelievable relationship with kids, first and foremost, and he had a real good base knowledge of the game,” Oak Hill athletic director Ryan Fagan said. “High school golf requires patience where some kids are really good and don’t need as much attention and others are out playing for the first time.

“He was able to attract kids to golf and retained them year to year and he just did an unbelievable job for us,” Fagan added. “Gerry’s done it for nearly 20 years and he had some other aspirations of what he wanted to do and accomplish and he decided the time was right.”

Fagan said the coaching vacancy will remain posted through mid-August and he hopes to name Conway’s replacement soon after.