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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Sep. 1, 2017 4 years ago

Orangewood football coach Bill Gierke ready for another season -- Observer Preps

The Rams’ head coach has been on the sidelines for 42 years making an impact on the lives of his players.
by: Tim Freed Former Managing Editor

He’s headed into his 42nd year as a coach, but Bill Gierke is still going strong — and he’s ready for some football.

The head football coach of Orangewood Christian School is gearing up for his fifth year at the private school gridiron, hoping to lead the Rams to glory one win at a time.

It looks to be a promising year for the team, which is dressing 38 players and finally has a decent amount of depth to cushion the blow of injuries, Gierke said.

“This could be our best team at Orangewood,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of kids on the team, and I’ve never had more than 25. If we can keep them healthy, I think we have a chance to have a really good year.”

It’s business as usual for the coach who has seen so much throughout his four decades on the sideline. The coach’s love for football goes back to when Gierke was on the field himself, playing as a guard at Winter Park High School, where he helped his team capture a district championship.

He went on to Valencia College to play baseball before getting his degree in physical education at the University of Central Florida — back when the school didn’t even have a football team.

Gierke’s heart always has been on the gridiron — and he wanted to coach.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Gierke said.

He got his start coaching football at Apopka High School as an assistant coach. From there, he went to Evans High School, where he spent about 20 years on staff and made the jump from assistant coach to head coach.

In 1991, a team’s dream came true when Gierke helped lead the Trojans to a state championship.

Gierke later went to Dr. Phillips High School for three years and then spent 11 years at Edgewater High School.

He was then forced out of public schools to retire, but the coach couldn’t walk away from the game just yet. He transitioned to private schools and has been with Orangewood Christian ever since.

It wasn’t the pursuit of more accolades that kept the coach from hanging up his whistle and clipboard. Rather, it was the relationships he’s made along the way — and the privilege of developing young men on and off the field, Gierke said.

He still sees the players he’s coached face-to-face every day, running into them at restaurants, gas stations and football games. There are too many to count, and he won’t even try naming them off for fear of missing a single name, each tied to a unique story and close relationship.

About 15 have gone on to play in the NFL, Gierke said, but it’s been an honor to coach every player who has suited up for him.

“I’ve always put the players and their families first,” Gierke said. “I’ve never worried about me and anything I’ve accomplished. At the end of the day that’s all that’s really ever mattered to me.”

It hasn’t always been an easy road throughout Gierke’s long career. After winning the state championship, Gierke helped lead Evans to three consecutive state championship games from 2002 through 2004, though they fell short all three times.

But Gierke said he was honored to just make a state-championship appearance, adding that many great coaches never make it to the big dance. Today, he chooses to stay positive.

“I feel really blessed that I was able to get there,” Gierke said.

Much has changed in 42 years. The game itself is no longer run-based, Gierke said. Teams are using the passing game and taking risks more than ever before, trying to pull off elaborate plays coaches wouldn’t dare do just 10 years ago.

Strategies on the field may change, but the love Gierke has for his players and the game of football has remained the same, he said.

He knows he has more years behind him than ahead of him on the field, but he’s taking it one year at a time.

“Very few people can say they’ve done what they’ve wanted to do their whole life,” Gierke said. “I’ve got no regrets.”

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Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. 


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