Gordie Barnaby to coach WRV girls hoops after lengthy break

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-06-2023 4:02 PM

Gordie Barnaby watched the White River Valley girls basketball team play three or four times last winter and remembered thinking to himself that the Wildcats would be a fun group to coach.

Barnaby coached for six years at The Sharon Academy and nine years at Chelsea High, but he abruptly lost his job with the Red Devils when the school closed in 2018. After five years away from the bench, Barnaby was named to lead the White River Valley program last month as previous coach Tim Perreault stepped down in order to watch his daughter, Ella, play basketball and lacrosse at Bard College.

“The winters get long around here, so I figured it was time to get back in it,” Barnaby said. “I didn’t think the chance was going to come up, but it did.”

A native and current resident of Tunbridge, Barnaby attended Chelsea — a fierce rival of South Royalton, which merged with Whitcomb in 2018 to form White River Valley. Barnaby played basketball, baseball and soccer at Chelsea, then continued with basketball and baseball at Vermont Technical College.

His first coaching experience came on the diamond rather than the hardwood, when he coached a Babe Ruth League baseball team the year he graduated high school. But it wasn’t until he had kids of his own that he began coaching consistently. Barnaby’s son also went to Chelsea, while his daughter attended Sharon.

Barnaby went 53-74 during his tenure with the Phoenix, reaching the Vermont Division IV quarterfinals twice. With the Red Devils, who were coming off a state championship in 2009 when he took over, Barnaby compiled a 118-77 record and advanced to the semifinals once, winning at least one playoff game in seven of his nine seasons.

“Gordie’s got some good experience coaching in the area,” said Perreault, who will stay on as WRV’s athletic director and continue teaching driver’s education. “He’s well-known in the area. He knows a lot of people, (and) people know him. He brings a calm demeanor to the gym, and he can relate well to people because of that.”

Barnaby inherits a Wildcat team coming off seasons with 16 and 17 wins, respectively, including the program’s first-ever trip to Barre Auditorium in 2022. Two senior starters, Ella Perreault and Jillian Barry, are gone. But leading scorer Tanner Drury, WRV’s diminutive point guard who averaged around 16 points per game as a sophomore and junior, is back for one more year, and rising junior guard Ashlyn Rhoades is back as well.

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Tim Perreault, who lives in Chelsea, had become the Wildcats’ head coach after the merger, but with Ella heading off to college, he wanted to prioritize seeing as many of her games as possible. He and Barnaby have played with and against each other for many years in adult basketball, baseball and softball leagues, but it was Barnaby’s experience and history coaching a winning program that gave him the edge over the other three candidates Perreault interviewed.

“When we merged five years ago, the goal was to get our program up and get it competitive and get it to be a respectable program. We’ve done that,” Perreault said. “I’m going to look for (Barnaby) to continue with that. He’s going to have to get some of those younger kids off our JV team last year — there will be two or three who will probably step up to the varsity team. Just blending that new group of kids in there with the six or seven who we have coming back.”

Barnaby said he knew maybe three of his players just by name before accepting the new coaching position and hadn’t had any meaningful interactions with any of them apart from watching a few of their games last year. The Wildcats are playing once a week in a summer league in West Rutland, and Barnaby is also holding weekly open-gym sessions for the players to get more work in and get to know him.

WRV has penetrated the upper levels of a tough VPA Division III landscape but has yet to reach the mountaintop. With two-time defending state champion Windsor and last year’s runner-up Thetford both nearby, Barnaby and the Wildcats don’t have to look far to find a blueprint for sustained success.

“We’re hoping to develop a group that will keep coming, like the Windsors and the Thetfords, and have some quality basketball year after year,” Barnaby said. “You have to show them that you can win. Winning always makes people interested in playing. So if you can get a winning program started and keep the younger ones interested in coming, that helps things move along.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

CORRECTION: Gordie Barnaby coached girls basketball at Chelsea High for nine years, compiling a 118-77 record and reaching the VPA Division IV semifinals once. A previous version of this story misstated the years of Barnaby’s tenure and his accomplishments at Chelsea.