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Amy Donaldson: Coach chooses to focus on family after wife's battle with cancer

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 4:40 p.m. MDT

Coach Steve Galley of Riverton High shouts instructions during their 5A boys basketball first round game against Viewmont High at the Maverick Center in West Valley City Tuesday, February 28, 2012.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News Archives

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RIVERTON — Steve Galley never felt like he let his love of high school sports rule his life.

He never felt like he was out of balance or out of control.

“I’ve never been a win at all costs guy,” said Galley, who resigned as the head coach of the Riverton High boys program last week, after nearly 24 years on the sideline of prep games, including 15 at Riverton. “I’m a fierce competitor. But I felt like I kept things in perspective.”

It wasn’t until his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer that the father of four realized he wanted to reconsider his childhood dream of spending his life coaching high school basketball players.

“I always thought I’d be a lifer. … Over the past two and a half years, I’ve gone through a lot of changes,” said Galley, who will continue to run the school’s driver’s education department. “And I think those changes are for the better. … It’s amazing how, when you go through something challenging like that, it really brings clarity, even more so, about what is most important.”

Stephanie Galley was diagnosed with breast cancer on Sept. 13, 2011.

“It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget,” Galley said of learning his wife had cancer. “She’d come from a mammogram, which she started getting even before she was 40. She was proactive in getting them early, and I’m so thankful. I was over doing a workout, and she was picking me up. That’s when she told me.”

They sat in the parking lot of the gym talking and crying.

“Before we left the parking lot, we said this was not going to define who we are,” he said. “We knew it was going to change us. We knew we were going to fight. And we knew we were going to be positive and go to battle.”

The Galleys expected to lean on each other. What they didn’t expect was the way the massive outpouring of love and support from family, friends and even strangers would uplift, sustain and bless them.

One morning Davis head coach and athletic director Jay Welk showed up at the Galleys’ home with an assistant coach and two of the Darts’ team captains.

“They drove down from Kaysville on a Saturday morning and knocked on our door,” he said. “They’d done a fundraiser. … They gave the money they raised to us. We have pretty good insurance, but when something like this happens, there are costs. It was an incredible blessing.” Galley rattles off the many moving moments brought to his family by other coaches and school communities.

“Keith West and Highland High had an entire recognition night for Stephanie when we played them,” Galley said. “And Dan Del Porto at Judge put together a collection for us. Those are just the kind of things I’ll never forget.”

It’s the friendships he’s made through coaching that he will miss most.

“I love the coaching profession,” he said. “I respect it. I revere it. The most influential people in my life besides my parents were my coaches. … When I hear the world ‘coach,’ it is a special title.”

But the time it takes to be a head coach was massive — and often unknown to those he worked with every day.

“Being a head coach actually takes you away from my pure love, which is teaching and working with a player.”

He said only those who’ve dedicated their lives to coaching can understand the guilt they struggle with as they try to give their best to their players and their families.

“I don’t think I’m alone in feeling some guilt,” he said. “There have been times, as balanced as you try to be, that my family has taken a back seat. They’ve never complained.”

But Galley said he’s been bothered that even on vacations or during holidays, he finds himself thinking about his coaching duties.

“It never leaves you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation or if it’s moratorium, Christmas Day. I was absolutely terrible at trying to set that aside and totally focus on my family, friends and other things. I almost felt like if I wasn’t constantly engaged with something about my team that would mean I didn’t care.”

The only boys basketball coach that Riverton has had admits that if Stephanie hadn’t had cancer, he’d still be coaching.

“I have not lost any love of coaching,” he said, admitting that the season right after her diagnosis was one of his most rewarding. “There are certainly things about the profession that are irritating and annoying. But I love teaching the game, love being around the players and other coaches."

As he steps away, he remembers something his high school coach told him.

“He said, ‘You might remember some of the scores, you might remember some of the numbers. But if you do then you didn’t do it the right way. What you should remember are the people.”

That’s because most coaches don’t spend most of their lives in a gym because they want better stats or more accolades. High school coaches work long hours for little or nothing so they can help young people discover the best in themselves.

They watch immature hotshots evolve into caring, selfless leaders through dedication and hard work. They watch children who just want to play games or earn praise find joy in grueling effort that no one else ever sees.

And they watch teens learning to work together, learning to value differences and learning to rely on others through the lessons offered on a basketball court.

For these coaches, it isn’t about the scores at all. And luckily someone pointed that to Galley long before he ever ran his own program.

“It’s kind of a silly game, this taking a ball and trying to put it in a metal ring,” he said. “But it’s not even about that. It’s about the people.”

And right now, he needs to shift the bulk of his time and attention to those who've sacrificed for the players he's coached.

“To me, it’s all about time now,” he said. “I just have a completely different view of what time is and how I want to spend it, and the people I really need to spend it with.”

Twitter: adonsports

EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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