Good Sports: Bruce Valleroy is a St. Vincent lifer
Good Sports is a column featured weekly in the Southeast Missourian and on semoball.com. It is primarily designed to showcase people who have impacted the sporting life of Southeast Missouri, so that readers may get to know them more fully. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Today: Bruce Valleroy, 56, athletic director and boys head basketball coach for the last 27 seasons, St. Vincent DePaul High School, Perryville. In 2005, Valleroy led his boys to the Class 2 state championship game, where the Indians finished as runners-up. Valleroy has spent his entire career at St. Vincent and is currently the longest tenured A.D. for combined boys and girls athletics in southeast Missouri.
You are careful not to call yourself the dean of high school athletic directors in this part of the world. Why?
Because Nancy Fisher at Valle Catholic has been doing it longer. But Nancy is the A.D. for womenís sports only there. So, Iím careful when I explain it.
It is accurate to describe you as a native, yes?
I was born here and except for my undergraduate work at Southeast Missouri State (Class of í87), Iíve always been in Perryville Ė and at St. Vincent.
Youíre a St. Vincent lifer?
You bet. And proud of it.
Have you always wanted to coach?
As a junior in high school, I realized Iíd better figure what to do with my life. I loved sports, loved being around athletics, although personally, I was not particularly skilled. I was 140 lbs. as a senior and played football and basketball. When I got to SEMO, my major was physical education. When the university gave me the degree, St. Vincent had an opening and Iíve been here ever since. 33 years now.
St. Vincent is a small school, but the Indians have had plenty of athletic success.
Well, letís talk about the size first. The school used to be bigger. When I finished here in í81, St. Vincent had around 200 students. Weíve got about 140 now.
Why the drop?
Finances are certainly part of it. Itís more expensive to send your child to a parochial school than a public one. Part of the reason, too, is you donít see big families much anymore. Iím the youngest of six children. This kind of family size is rare now. Fewer children being produced means weíve got less kids coming into the pipeline. At some point, itís about numbers. Weíre fortunate to have legacies at St. Vincentís. Iíve coached a couple of generations of the same family.
Letís stay with your family for a minute. Iím assuming you inherited your passion for sports from your parents.
Actually not. Except for my older brother Randy, there wasnít a lot of interest in sports at home. My dad, who died when I was eight, wasnít much of a fan and for the most part, my siblings werenít either. Mom passed in 2015. I have a brother in the priesthood, Fr. Ricky Valleroy, who served in Farmington for many years.
Let me get back on track. St. Vincentís is small, but youíve had athletic success just the same.
We had a golden age of Indian football from 1998 to 2004. In í98, we lost to North Platte in the Class 1 title game. The next year, we made the Final Four. In 2000, it was back to the finals and we lost that year to Santa Fe. We broke through in 2004 and beat East Buchanan to take the state title. Our boys basketball team reached the finals in í05. Our volleyball team has seen a lot of success in the last 15 years. Most recently, our girls soccer team has been on top Ė taking state in 2017 and 2018 and finishing second in 2019.
MSHSAA (Missouri High School Activities Association) says overall participation in traditional high school sports is falling statewide. How about at St. Vincent?
Weíre not seeing the trend here. With 140 students in grades 9-12, thereís an expectation that our students will be athletes and play two sports. In the sport I coach, boys basketball, we had 23 this past season. In football, 44 boys came out for the team. We had 22 for baseball, 20 for girls soccer, 15 for golf and more than 30 for track. Iíll admit weíve seen some slippage in the turnout for girls basketball, though.
Football is big in Perryville. I imagine the annual St. Vincent vs. Perryville game is well attended.
The stadium, home or away, is always packed for that game, which is in week five of the season. But Iíll tell you something. Between 1950 and 2016, the Indians and the Pirates never played each other on the gridiron.
But itís the Backyard Brawl! Why not?
Iím not sure but speculation has it that we are a small school and Perryville is bigger. Plus, our schedules just got out of alignment with each other. But in í16 this changed. That season, two St. Louis high schools took us off their slate of games. Lift for Life dropped us and Clayton High, if memory serves, dropped Perryville. We both had an opening in week five and we started the rivalry back up after 66 years. We just reupped for two more years Ė in í20 and í21.
Do you have St. Vincent athletes go on and play in college?
Not often. Iíd say 98 percent of our kids do not compete at the next level. There are exceptions. Derek Kutz, who graduated in 2001, went on to SEMO and set some kicking records. Waylon Richardet, a 2006 St. Vincent grad, was a defensive lineman at Missouri State. Tyler Unterreiner plays on defense right now for Central Methodist.
Last Saturday, at literally the last minute, St. Vincent hosted the Class 4 quarterfinal games featuring Notre Dame. Take us through how that happened.
At 3:30 Friday afternoon Ė and keep in mind, thatís less than 24 hours before the first Notre Dame team (the girls) was scheduled to tip Ė I get a call from Don Maurer at MSHSAA. Don was my basketball coach at St. Vincent back in the day and later went on to coach at Notre Dame. I was at Walmart and the phone rings. Don said, ďI need a favor.Ē I thought he was kidding. Jefferson College was all set up to host the quarters but backed out with no notice because they were closing the campus due to the coronavirus. I checked with the principal and superintendent here and called Don back with a ďyesĒ half an hour later.
Coronavirus anxiety has taken a massive toll on high school sports.
As St. Vincent's A.D., I've got to keep us in compliance with MSHSAA rules, which say a school must get in 14 days of practice before you play your first opponent. I've made sure our spring sports kept practicing right up until the moment the high school stopped holding classes. I'm happy to say we got 12 practices in, so whenever we do get back to normal, we'll only need two more sessions before we can play.
Youíre very bullish about this area.
Let me tell you a story. Three years ago, a tornado hit Perryville and killed a former St. Vincent student along I-55. Within a week, the other nine schools in our conference got together a relief caravan for Perry County people. They brought three bus loads of supplies here. You name it, they brought it: laundry detergent, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, hand soap, lots and lots of distilled water. Yes, we compete on the field and on the court but when it comes to life, weíre all brothers and sisters.
What does sports do for a young person?
Athletics teaches unity. Togetherness. Helps you to see you are part of something. Teaches camaraderie.
How would you describe your personal coaching style?
I think folks would say Iím pretty animated. I donít have many rules. I tell my players that they dictate their playing time. I try to treat my players all the same and I donít play favorites. Oh, and kids donít bring cell phones to practices. They know.
Say a word about your immediate family, please.
Iíve been married to my wife, Robyn, for 22 years. Sheís a fifth-grade teacher at Perryville Middle School and is not a sports person. Our son Drew is 16. Heís a sophomore at St. Vincent and is on the golf team.
How much longer will you teach and coach?
Not sure. I teach 7th grade P.E. now and I literally get to see kids grow up in our district. I like that. As far as coaching, Iíll continue as long as Iím healthy and as long as St. Vincentís wants me.