Overcoming adversitySt. Aloysius coach Gene Rogillio led Lady Flashes to playoffs

Published 11:30 pm Saturday, June 9, 2012

When the St. Aloysius Lady Flashes were mired in a nine-game losing streak, veteran coach Gene Rogillio had faith that things would turn around.

He was right. St. Al came through with a clutch home win against West Lincoln and won by enough runs to earn a playoff berth via run differential tie-breaker. The Lady Flashes won a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2009 and then took their second-round series with Stringer to three games.

St. Al won seven of its last nine games to finish 9-11. All the while, Rogillio had to juggle his team and his wife, Judy’s, complications from a stroke. That alone is enough to make Rogillio The Vicksburg Post’s Coach of the Year.

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It’s the third time Rogillio has won the award. He also received it in 2001 and 2002.

Rogillio’s star third baseman, Mallory McGuffee, said her coach never let his wife’s illness affect his coaching.

“He hasn’t showed that side to us,” McGuffee said. “As for us, he brought the team together. Teamwork made it happen. We wanted to do well in the playoffs and we stepped up for him.”

Adversity is nothing new to Rogillio. He survived a bout with colon cancer in 1991. In 1997 he lost his first wife of 37 years, Jean, to breast cancer after a three-year battle. It’s those memories that fuel his quest to help any way he can to fight cancer. For the past two seasons, St. Aloysius has been one of the first schools in Mississippi to play “pink jersey” games to raise funds for cancer awareness.

“I think every school should play one,” Rogillio said. “Cancer has hit me hard. I’ve had it and I’ve lost my first wife, Jean, to it. It (cancer) is very difficult. I’m just trying to do the best I can to fight it. That’s why we promote these pink games. We’ve raised between $800 to $900 and we’ve given it to St. Jude’s Cancer Research and Jackson’s St. Dominic’s outreach program. You can take every one of the kids on my team and all of them have someone in their family has had cancer. “

Teaching and coaching are Rogillio’s second career. For 30 years, he worked for Bell Telephone as a construction engineer in the Natchez area. Still, he felt drawn to athletics and, in 1963, he took up an offer to scout for Natchez Cathedral. He scouted football and basketball games for Cathedral until 1979, when he and his family moved to Vicksburg.

In 1991, he retired from Bell Telephone and began his second career, at St. Al as a junior high football and assistant baseball coach. He was named slow-pitch softball coach the next year and he guided the program into fast-pitch beginning in 1999.

His 2004 St. Al team ranks as his best. They made it to the South State 1A finals.

This season’s team won its first four games, but quickly fell into a nine-game losing streak. Scheduling conflicts with players and a tough schedule were to blame.

“We had a lot of conflict with this season,” Rogillio said. “Girls were gone for various things and we just never seemed to have the whole team together. We were playing so many folks out of position and then in a couple of tournaments, we were going up against 4A and 6A teams. Once we got all the scheduling conflicts out of the way we started back winning.”

St. Al’s season came down to its last divisional home game against West Lincoln.

“Not only did we have to beat West Lincoln, we had to do so by two runs,” he said. “We won by four. To just make the playoffs was a big accomplishment. For the last three years our division has been the toughest in the state. Bogue Chitto won the state championship the two previous years, and now Cathedral made it to the finals this year.”

As he turns 75, Rogillio knows the end of his second career is near.

“I’ve always operated on a year-to-year contract,” Rogillio said. “I really like this bunch of 10th-graders. I’ve had them since they were in the seventh grade, players like Grace Franco, Madison Heggins, Perry Gillis, Mary Catherine McCaa and of course, Mallory, who’s a junior. I’d like to carry these kids out the door.”