Kentucky Airman guides volleyball team to gold
By Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, 123d Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 12, 2011
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Air Force men's volleyball team earned another gold medal finish at this year's Armed Forces Volleyball Championship at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., with a Kentucky Airman leading the way.
Tech. Sgt. Dale Grupe, a 123d Force Support Squadron Airman, coached the men's team and a two-man beach volleyball team that took home a silver medal at the military's first beach competition.
Sergeant Grupe, who teaches and is a winning coach at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, has been involved in Air Force volleyball since 1989. As an active duty officer, he played competitively for the Air Force for five years.
After that, he coached until 1998 when he left active duty as a captain.
He enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard in 2003, joined the Air Na¬tional Guard a year later, and returned to the sport he loved when members of the reserve component were invited to participate.
After two weeks of training his team at Warner-Robins Air Force Base, Ga., the Airmen headed south and won five games to one to repeat as indoor champions.
It was the men's third armed forces title in the past four years with Sergeant Grupe at the helm.
As a head coach for the Air Force, Grupe has now earned five gold and two silver medals. As a player, he's earned three gold and one silver medal. As an assistant coach, he's earned another silver medal and two gold medals coaching the Air Force women's team. This year, the sergeant said, was particularly challenging.
"We started off with our smallest number of athletes at camp in the past 30 years due to deployments and other conflicts," said Dale Grupe. "The small numbers coupled with the requirement of not just putting together an indoor team, but also outdoor beach teams, added to our challenges."
Three players from the indoor team and the coach had double duty preparing for the beach competition.
The indoor men's team started with a difficult loss to the Navy's team before run¬ning the table to win the tournament. The Navy and Army teams fought to the wire in subsequent games, with the sergeant's players rallying with a 15-12 victory over the Army in the fifth set of the last match to clinch the championship.
"That initial loss to the Navy was tough because we lost big leads in two of the sets and doing that can shake the confidence of a team," said Sergeant Grupe. "It was great to see how this team rebounded from that early setback to win many close sets and matches down the stretch."
The new requirement of fielding a beach team added additional challenges, but Air Force competitors stepped up to the competition and finished that tournament in second place.
Coaching has not gotten in the way of other military duties for the Kentucky Airman. Sergeant Grupe himself had to rally past the operational readiness exercise to take on temporary duty the next month as head coach and then to return to pass the readiness inspection.
"It was a busy spring but a good one," he said, thanking his commanders, supervisors and fellow Airmen for their support.