Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Churchill County boys basketball head coach and teacher, Chelle Dalager. They talked about how she started coaching, living in Alaska, coaching a boys' team as a female, coaching college versus high school, the most recent group she coached and her hobbies, among other topics.
Foot in the door
Dalager grew up in Montana and Washington and moved to Alaska for her last two years of college before landing in the Oasis of Nevada, Fallon. She's been coaching basically her entire adult life.
"I started doing youth basketball programs when I was a junior in college, so I was playing for Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska and I was coaching a city league team, it was a combination of fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls, it was a co-ed group", Dalager said. "So I would coach them while I was still playing, they had us work with the city people and probably pretty much ever since then I’ve been coaching in one form or another. When I first got to Fallon, I was coaching some softball, I coached a little bit of track along the way, mostly basketball though has been doing something somewhere at some level all the way through. I started at junior high in Fallon also coaching seventh and eighth grade. I had seventh-grade girls for a long time and then I assisted the JV girls' team when I first got to Fallon also."
Dalager said it was a long story why she moved to Fallon, but she actually left to coach at the college level in Colorado for a few years before moving back to Nevada. She's been in Fallon ever since. Upon Dalager's return, she coached girls’ basketball for almost 15 years before switching to coach boys.
"I think opportunity was what really helped that along," she said. "I thought I was done coaching all together. All the fundraising you do, and all the paperwork and all the times you’re away from your home and your family, it’s just a lot and so being in charge of a girls’ program for that long, I just thought I was done, so I took some time off, I took a year off actually, one year and I totally missed it. I just realized it probably is where I belong and I just missed it a lot and at that time, you know I have kids at home that I was still coaching a little bit doing youth stuff with city league, travel teams, rezball, you name it, we were doing it, all of that. I just wasn’t really with the school.
"And then one of my guys that I worked tournament basketball with said that he had the JV job and he needed some help, so basically that’s how I got in the boys’ program, I just worked with him for, I think, three years, and the next year he had left, so I took over the JV boys job, and then shortly after that our boys varsity job was opening, so I just applied for the varsity boys job."
Breaking glass ceilings
Nearly three years later, Dalager's teams have won back-to-back-state titles, and she is the first female head coach of a boys team to win a state championship in Nevada. She is one of two females to actively coach boys basketball in Nevada, the other being Galena's Karen Friel.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Dalager said. “They coined it as 'breaking glass ceilings,' and I feel privileged, honestly. I applied for the job, and I really didn’t think I was going to get it and in fact one of the guys that was trying to get the job, he applied also, encouraged me to apply. I did and just for them to have faith in me and just for me to know that there was going to be some naysayers out there, and that’s fine. The game is the same, I coach kids and I treat people the same, and just because I’m a female is no different, right?
"Coaching a men's team or a boys' team is no different than coaching a girls’ team. You love your kids the same, your practices and expectations are the same. I will say that girls don’t get over stuff. Boys are a little quicker to get over stuff, so that really is the only difference, and we’ve seen some really athletic girls come through Fallon. I would really just say that it’s a privilege, an honor, I love being able to put Fallon in a spot where they have a female coach and it’s the first time in the state of Nevada, I think that’s awesome, I’m pretty privileged.”
“I would tell anybody not to hesitate because the truth is I almost didn’t apply for the job because I thought there was no way I could get it, and without the encouragement of people, I probably would not have applied. I would encourage anybody to do exactly what they want to do, and if the answer is 'no' the first time, you apply again and you go for a different job somewhere else. Somewhere someone is going to be in need of a coach, there is no doubt in my mind. So you just keep working at it and you get to a place where there is the same opportunity.”
The start of something special
It’s no secret there was something special about Dalager's team the last couple of seasons as she guided the Greenwave to its first boys basketball state title in 48 years in 2019 before following up in 2020. The team's star player was Elijah Jackson, who hit title-winning 3-pointers at the buzzer in overtime to win both championships. Jackson will play for Southern Oregon next season.
"For me, it’s not even about the last shots in the state championship game," Dalager said. "It’s what he brought in practice and what he expected of himself and his teammates. I think that Elijah without a doubt is an amazing athlete, but I will say that one amazing athlete doesn’t help win a state championship. In our first season that we won, I had a bench, 10 kids on our team and I believe at any one point I could have put any one of those 10 kids on the floor and they would have been successful, and just the fact that they were selfless all together and they played so well all together, that in itself was pretty amazing and then last year we lost five seniors and so we have Elijah back, Thomas Steele, Nicky (Springfield), who played as a junior, he played JV for us, he came in and made a big difference. Brock Richardson finished the year with a broken arm his junior year, and he came in and he was healthy for us his senior year all year.
"So we had four senior leaders that were amazing, and then a couple other guys that had gotten the opportunity. Avery Strasdin and Shaw Lee were a couple of the kids that we had brought up when they were sophomores because we didn’t have the numbers. It’s just that same group of kids that have played together forever and they trust each other, and they trust the system. I think the coaching staff that we have is amazing and I give credit to our managers, to our score keepers, to our bookkeeper, I mean you name it, everybody that has been a part of our program has been really helped us be successful.”
Wine Wednesday topics with Chelle Dalager
- Working from home and staying busy during quarantine - 0:00
- Foot in the door coaching - 2:25
- Moving to Fallon - 3:50
- Living in Alaska – 4:23
- Coaching high school vs. college - 5:30
- Coaching a boys’ team as a female - 7:24 & 15:27
- Coaching the team that won back-to-back state titles and Elijah Jackson - 9:00
- Advice to women wanting to coach a boys team - 17:12
- Most memorable moments as a coach – 20:24
- How coaching has changed from when Chelle started to today – 23:08
- Chelle’s favorite thing about Northern Nevada/hobbies 24:44