Gary Droze builds special bond with students

David Yon, October 23, 2019

For the first time since 1993, Gary Droze is not at the head of the Maclay School cross country or track and field programs. The reins have been passed to Angie Milford, who will no doubt build her own terrific legacy.

The Droze Story is, of course, still being written, just not at Maclay or at the high school age group. After all, Gary still directs interval training for GWTC, teaches at Maclay and coaches at Tallahassee Community College.

In 2018, when Coach Droze was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic (FHSAA) Hall of Fame, his teams had won 20 cross country and track & field team state championships and were runner-up 16 times.

Unbelievably, he has guided runners to a whopping 57 individual and relay state championships, 52 regional team titles and 79 district team titles.

Well before that body of work was complete, Droze received a phone call from his father, who made a long career in the Air Force. “Well, if you had stayed in the Air Force until now, you would have a very nice retirement package available. Do you have any regrets?”

Gary received a B.S. at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (1979-1983) before coming to Florida State where he picked up a masters degree in exercise physiology. He served as an acquisition officer from 1983 until 1988. He ran for the Air Force Academy and later, while stationed at Eglin Air Force base, coached at Choctawhatchee High School. He was the reason Gate to Gate exists. He left the air force as a captain in 1988.

In the Droze home, whether it is Gary or his wife Vicky, there is a special bond with the kids they teach, coach and mentor.

Vicky has taught special needs kids at Gretchen Everhart for most of her career and she has been an important part of the development of Gary’s kids. Droze (both of them) wanted to make everybody feel like part of a family.

One of the best examples I can recall is the time Gary decided to enlist some of his runners’ help a he proposed to Vicky. They came to practice one day, loaded with signs

and waited at the track. At the appointed time, Gary walked out to Vicky and, with his knee on the ground (literary license exercised here), popped the question as his delighted runners lifted their signs for Vicky to see: “Vicky, just say yes.”

A few months ago, when it seemed Gary Droze’s retirement from coaching high school runners was about to pass without sufficient ado, some of coach Droze’s former athletes took charge.

Maclay School was inducting the boys cross country teams from the year’s 1998 to 2002 into the school hall of fame for winning five straight state championships. Gary was the head coach all 5 years. The write up for this award read as follows: Since the inception of the Florida High School Athletic Association in 1947, only one school has won five consecutive state championships in Cross-Country – the Maclay Marauders. From 1998-2002, these teams set the bar for all other programs in the state, averaging a 65-point victory over the five-year span. Peaking in 2002, the Marauders beat the top programs from every classification, affixing themselves at the top of the heap in the state of Florida by winning the state championship by 107 points, the largest margin of victory ever.

That is a legacy.

The teams were to be honored at the 2019 Hall of Fame and Distinguished Alumnus Luncheon on Oct. 5 at 12:30. For Gary, no doubt seeing his kids entering the Maclay Hall of Fame was an emotional reward for time spent coaching. Gary was in fact inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018 after more than a quarter of a century of winning championships for Maclay School.

But for those kids and the many who followed them at Maclay, it was not enough. Led by Kara Newell Mathias, they took the extra step to make sure Gary knew exactly what he meant to them and ambushed the process by creating a special event on the school track – a relay race with stuffed fish taking the place of a baton.

They came from all over the country to be part of it. One by one they told him verbally and in writing just how much he had meant to them. Not just by improving their running skills, but also how to be better people able to navigate through the tough times in life.

As he wound up his thank you speech that day, Gary recounted the story of the call from his dad. As he described to his dad on that call what he felt going to “work”

each day – how much he loved it and the chance to impact kids from a unique place, his dad said, “It sounds to me you made the right decision.”

There were no regrets then and there are none now. It has been a lifetime of memories and opportunities. Regardless of where he coaches, I am confident good things will happen.