For love of the game: Gary Chanley a Palm Beach County baseball lifer

Growing up in south Miami, Gary Chanley spent a lot of his free time at University of Miami baseball games as coach Ron Fraser built the Hurricanes from a derelict program into a national championship team.

“I watched that. I was right there,” Chanley said. “I worked summers for him, giving out hot dogs and potato chips, getting t-shirts. I was always at the ballfield.”

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Chanley became a ballplayer in his own right, playing for Miami Palmetto, going to Eastern Kentucky, where he walked on to the team before earning a scholarship (“My dad said you have one semester. Get yourself a scholarship or you can come home and go to Miami-Dade.”).

Chanley came back home after college and coached at his alma mater before moving to Delray Beach in 1980. In 1991, after his son started playing Little League baseball, he got to know the coaching staff at Atlantic, and the junior varsity coach decided to bring him on as an assistant.

That started a 27-year coaching career in Palm Beach County that’s lasted to this day. It will come to an end when Chanley’s Santaluces Chiefs end their season; he plans to retire. The Santaluces assistant coach hasn’t been a head coach in this county, but he’s made his mark all the same.

“It’s been a heckuva ride,” Chanley said before No. 3 Santaluces beat No. 6 Spanish River on Wednesday. “I’ve had some great memories, have lasting friendships – I still get Christmas cards from kids I coached years ago, even my Little League team.”

Chanley’s first local varsity gig came under Atlantic coach Dave Smith, who won 332 games and seven district titles with the Eagles.

“Atlantic was the big dog back then,” Chanley said.

Despite being the big dog, Chanley and the Eagles never made it to the state championships. They did get close, though.

“My Atlantic team from 1998 was probably, on paper, the most talented (team I coached),” he said. “We had three or four Division I kids. We had the player of the year that year. And we got beat by a bad call in the regional (semifinals) and got denied a chance to play for a state championship.

“That game haunts me.”

The Eagles never got past the regional semis, and when Smith announced his retirement in 2005, Chanley moved on, too.

“I was Dave’ assistant, pitching coach, hitting coach, everything, for 14 years,” Chanley said. “He retired, and I needed a place to stay, to work, and (Santaluces coach Nick Franco) was gracious enough – he had an opening and I came with him. He was in his second year here, and I’ve been with him ever since. He’s a tremendous guy.”

Since then, Chanley has helped Franco coach the Chiefs. Santaluces is not known for its baseball program. Franco and Chanley have made it out of districts only three times — 2005, 2013 and 2016.

Chanley said not many students come out for the team at Santaluces. Only 26 students tried out for baseball — varsity and junior varsity — before this season, he said. They didn’t cut anyone from the varsity team. But still, there are perks that Chanley sees.

“This is a blue-collar school,” he said. “This is a real, grunt-it-out, gritty-type kid that goes to this school, and those are my kind of kids.”

While at Santaluces, Chanley also coached the Boynton Beach American Legion Post 164 team, earning Coach of the Year honors in 2007 and winning a state championship in 2010.

“Frist time a Palm Beach County team won the state championship (since), I think, 1988,” Chanley said. “The Boynton Legion team was our high school team, incorporated with some Park Vista kids. But I did it, mostly, to be able to work with our kids and develop our program.”

After 27 years as a high school coach in Palm Beach County, plus a decade of summers as an American Legion coach, Chanley decided enough is enough.

“It’s time. I’ve got other hobbies now,” he said. “I’ve got grandchildren, finally. My granddaughter’s seven and she’s playing flag football. My grandson’s three, and I think he’s going to be a monster. He looks like (Patriots tight end Rob) Gronkowski already.”

There may be one more ride left for him, though. Santaluces is 18-2 this year and the Chiefs are threatening No. 2 Park Vista for the district title. Santaluces lost to the Cobras in their first matchup this season, and they played again Friday.

Chanley said this year’s Santaluces squad is as good as any team he’s ever coached. Maybe his last team will be the one that takes him to states.

“It would be the most – other than my marriage and my two kids – it would be the most special thing that I’ve done,” he said. And if we get to there, I’d be satisfied. I’ve felt like my efforts have been worth the effort.”

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