Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Turnaround Artist' Puts His Touch on Ware

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Turnaround Artist' Puts His Touch on Ware

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY PURDOM, Times-Union correspondent

WAYCROSS -- When the turnaround came, it was remarkably quick.

Mired in back-to-back 2-8 seasons with no guarantee of better times to come, the Ware County Gators went searching in 2000 for a winning coach.

They found him in Dan Ragle.

The Oklahoma native was a good enough fullback at Missouri Valley State University from 1975-78 to become a member of the school's sports hall of fame. As a coach, he's become known as a "turnaround artist" after successful stints in Georgia at Baker High of Columbus and later Americus High.

And then there's Ware County.

"Everybody we talked to said he was the way to go," Ware County High athletic director Rusty Ganas said. "We were impressed with the job he did at Baker. That was a tough situation: an inner-city school without a winning tradition. He won there and it just kept getting better at Americus."

The meeting

Current players and former players still refer to it as "the meeting."

It was a session Ragle called in the Ware High cafeteria upon his arrival at Gatorland.

"He invited the students to come out and play football. He told them it would be fun, and it worked," Ganas said. "We needed that. The enthusiasm was way down and he brought it up almost immediately."

The meeting helped convince prospective players like Fred Gibson to set aside his kettle drum in the Ware County High band and go back out for football.

From an 0-6 last-place finish in Region 1-AAAAA in 1999, Ware improved to 4-2 (7-2-1 overall) in 2000, good enough for a second-place region finish in Ragle's first year at the helm. That first team included Gibson, now a starting receiver for the University of Georgia, fellow Bulldog signee Gerald Anderson and Florida State tight end Donnie Carter.

The coaching change culminated in a region championship for the Gators in 2003. For the third year in a row, Ware will enter the season as a top-10 team in the Georgia Associated Press poll.

A 'shot in the arm'

"Coach Ragle really relates to the players well. They love him. We were looking for a shot in the arm and we got it," Ganas said.

With the Gators a familiar face in postseason play, some believe the Gators have reached the prep elite in Georgia.

"I think we're there," said Ware High offensive coordinator William Davis. "The teams that are successful year-in and year-out have a program in place, and we have that under Coach Ragle. The first thing he did was start a ninth grade team and a strong junior varsity program.

"Ware had never had a ninth-grade team before and the JV program was pretty rusty. Coach Ragle got them up and running, and now they work as feeder programs for the varsity."

Excitement is building in Swamp Country for Ware to win a state title this year, after five Gators were selected on the All-State team following the 2003 season. …

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