By Rob Kiser
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Scott Chalk had a dream growing up in Piqua — and that dream became a reality recently at the Kentucky Sweet 16 state tournament in Rupp Arena.
Chalk coached Lexington Paul Laurence Dunbar to the school’s first state championship in basketball, adding to an impressive coaching resume, that includes over 25 years of varsity coaching in the state of Kentucky and well over 300 wins.
“I always knew I wanted to be a basketball coach someday,” Chalk said. “Even back when I first started playing basketball.”
Chalk is honest about his limitations as a player.
“At my size, I knew I was never going to be a great player,” Chalk said with a laugh. “We had some great athletes on our team. Andy Warner, Kent Wise, Rodd Zeller, Randy Gabriel. I wasn’t that good of a player, but I knew I wanted to be a coach and that is what I set out to do.”
He continued on that quest during his college years at Asbury College in Kentucky.
One of his biggest breaks was making connections with Steve Smith, the legendary coach of Oak Hill Academy for more than 30 years.
“I was able to make some connections — meeting Steve Smith was really big for me,” Chalk said. “After college, I was an assistant coach at Oak Hill for three years and I got to meet so many college coaches.”
He took his first head coaching assignment at Williamstown High School. He coached there for two years before moving on to Frankfort High School.
“It is a small school in Kentucky,” Chalk said about Williamstown. “They (Frankfort) had success in the past but had been down for a few years. That is kind of a pattern with all the schools I coached at. We turned it around and ended up winning two straight district titles.”
After nine years at Frankfort High School, Chalk moved on to Franklin County High School, where he spent nine more years.
“Franklin County is the county school where Frankfort is located,” Chalk said. “So, it was a little bit of a controversial move. It is kind of like going from Kentucky to Louisville. They were a program that had been successful, but had been down for a few years.
“My first year there, we went 2-24 and people were asking me if I was crazy (for taking that job). But, we turned it around and ended up winning five straight district titles.”
Then, the opportunity came for him to take the job at Lexington Paul Laurence Dunbar.
“It is one of the bigger schools in the state,” he said. “There are a lot of talented athletes there. I know it was a place where it would tough to win a district title (because of the competition), but if we did, we would have a good chance to win state.”
Chalk took that job four years ago, knowing he was nearing retirement.
“I will be able to retire in a few years, so I knew I probably needed to do it in five or six years,” he said about winning the state title. “When I took the job, I told the kids that — my goal was to win a state title in four years.”
The program continued to progress — and Dunbar was highly touted coming into this season.
“We basically had everyone back from last year’s team,” Chalk said. “We had struggled at the start of the season last year. We had some off-court issues that had a lot to do with that. But, at the end of the season we were really coming on.”
And Chalk made sure his team was prepared for the opportunity this year.
“I made sure we played the toughest competition possible in the summer,” Chalk said. “And we played one of the toughest schedules in the state this year. We finished 33-6 this year, which was a school record for wins. Some of those losses were to out of state teams. We played a really tough schedule, but I think that made the difference for us in the tournament.”
Expectations were high entering the tournament.
“It varied back and forth,” Chalk said. “But, we were ranked anywhere from first to sixth all season in Kentucky.”
The Kentucky state tournament has been special to Chalk for a long time.
There are no divisions in Kentucky, one of the few states left where there is one state champion.
Dunbar is the executive director of the Kentucky Coaches Association.
“I would be there at the state tournament to pass out awards,” he said. “Everybody plays everybody in Kentucky. Indiana used to do that too. Now, we are one of the few left. You have 20,000 people there for the state tournament. It is pretty special.”
Included in the path to the district title was a win over Henry Clay — who had split with Dunbar during the season.
“We had the toughest path imaginable,” Chalk said.
Almost every team they played in the district tournament was highly ranked.
“Then, our first game in the state tournament, we had to play the second ranked team,” he said.
Which made cutting down the nets that much sweeter.
“It was special because it was Rupp Arena,” Chalk said. “But, it was also special because of how tough our path was to get there and all the great teams we had to beat to win it.”
And there were people from Piqua in attendance.
“Kent Wise and his dad Gordon Wise have been coming to the state tournament for more than 20 years,” Chalk said. “Kent is a former coach in Indiana. He even came to some of the regional games every year.”
So, how does Chalk top this moment.
“I don’t know that you can top it,” he said with a laugh. “We have the MVP from the state tournament coming back and we have a big guy in the middle coming back — so maybe we can make it two in a row next year.”
Looking back, Chalk thinks not being a great player was his biggest asset as a coach.
“I think you become good at things you love,” Chalk said. “And I always loved basketball. I think I had the advantage over someone who is a great player, then becomes an assistant for a few years before becoming a head coach. They have only learned one way to do things.
“I was always a student of the game. I was around so many college coaches. I have seen virtually every way there is to do things.”
And Chalk returns to Piqua for the class reunion each year.
“We all get together,” Chalk said. “I talk to the guys like Kent Wise and Rodd Zeller.”
And this year, he can tell them what it is like to live his dream.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.