Two local coaches bring a unique perspective both to their student athletes at West Pine Middle School in West End and to their home care patients across the region. Dale Fitzgerald and Bill Robins, both of whom work with FirstHealth Home Care physical therapy, spend the largest part of their day on the road, traveling across Richmond, Scotland, Moore and surrounding counties to provide physical therapy to patients in their homes. In addition, for months every year, they spend a big chunk of their afternoons and evenings serving as coaches to dozens of middle schoolers.
Dale is head coach of the West Pine Wildcats football team. Bill is head coach of the Wildcats wrestling team. Though the people they work with as clinicians and as volunteers might be different in many ways, they find that work is not dissimilar.
“In both physical therapy and coaching, it’s about teaching and goal-setting,” says Dale Fitzgerald, 48, of Seven Lakes. “It’s a privilege to work with my patients, to help them set goals and teach them how to reach them. It’s the same with my players. I encourage them all to step out of their comfort zone, and to respond to the work that will help them improve.”
Over three decades—just about as long as he’s been a physical therapy assistant—Dale has been a familiar face on many ball fields where he’s lived. He started in the early 1990s, coaching youth baseball and basketball teams. For the last six years, he’s helped with West Pine Middle, where he is now the football coach.
“Kids this age are not sure at first what they can do, or what to expect from being on this team,” he says. “I enjoy seeing them gain confidence, to be okay with trying and failing. It’s the only way you can grow.”
FirstHealth physical therapist Bill Robins, 59, of West End, has a similar passion, coaching wrestlers. Goal-setting and motivation are key concepts he shares with both his athletes and with his patients, he says.
“For my patients and for these boys, it’s all about movement and exercise,” he says. And he finds that sometimes, aspects of his work with one group impact the other.
“My patients connect with the idea of my coaching these wrestlers, and I sometimes find myself sharing their pearls of wisdom with the middle schoolers,” Bill says. “At other times, the same things I tell the boys will motivate my patients when they need it most.”
Despite a full work schedule, the men happily carve out time for their volunteer coaching duties. And the time commitment is significant. Both work with their teams for three or more hours a day, five days a week for up to six months of the year. For Dale, football practices begin in the heat of July and run through early November. For Bill, the season runs hard from November, through the holidays, until the conference tournament in January. And each coach puts in extra time off-season preparing equipment and planning.
Both say their love of coaching is rooted in the same thing: family. Dale got involved in football and baseball when his son, Cody, was part of local teams. Bill coached his son, Adam, during the off season, and enjoyed watching him wrestle for West Pine Middle, Pinecrest High School and Uwharrie Charter Academy. Just last year, the father-son team joined forces to coach the middle school team.
“Coincidentally, the last year Adam wrestled at West Pine, in 2014, was the last year the team won the championship,” he says. “They still had the plaque and trophy for the boys to see, and we used that as motivation, too.”
It worked. During the tournament in February 2019, the young team “led the tournament from wire to wire,” and came home with their own top trophy as Lee/Moore Conference Champions.
“With all the time I spend with the boys, it might seem that I’m sacrificing something,” Bill says. “But I get so much back from their vigor and enthusiasm.”
Dale has a similar perspective.
“I’ve had tremendous rewards working as a coach,” he says. “My players might never play on another team after middle school, so I want the time I have with them to be positive, to have them understand that someone sincerely cares for them.”
It’s all about service, both say. As in their professional life, helping others is a privilege.
“It’s wonderful to know that, for my players or for my patients, having real engagement is what matters,” Dale says. “I’m proud to have a role in helping people to make progress in things that matter to them.”