Hard work and persistence pays off

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 23, 1998

Anna Monica / L’Observateur / November 23, 1998

Rick Gaille is in a familiar place, seven years worth of familiar, in fact.

It’s the high school football playoffs. That’s how many years Rick has beenhead coach at the 3-A St. James High School, and that is how many timeshis team has made the playoffs. His name is now synonymous with”success in coaching” on the gridiron, but his path there wasn’t easy.

In earlier years, Rick was easily identified with golf.

“I liked football best, but as a player I was better at golf,” he said. Aformer Jefferson resident with an excellent recall of years and events, Rick went to East Jefferson High School and in golf was city high school champ in 1967, and his golf team was state runner-up. He was the firstathlete to attend LSUNO on a golf scholarship in the first year of its athletic program in 1968. At LSUNO (now UNO) in 1971 and 1972, his teamwon two national championships and he was a three time All American – 1971,1972 and 1973.

Graduation in 1973 took Rick to Chalmette High School as student teacher and freshman football and basketball coach and trainer. It was whilethere, he said, that “one day I saw the ‘vision of loveliness’ pass by and I made a U-turn to find out who she was.”She was Elaine Helscher of Chalmette, there to teach physics for only one semester. She’s been Rick’s wife for 19 years, even though it took a monthfor Rick to ask her out.

Prior to meeting Rick, Elaine had finished the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1975, earning degrees in chemistry education and English. Shecompleted her master’s degree at UNO in 1979. Rick also got his master’sat UNO.

In 1979, the Arab oil crisis was an incentive for the Metairie Gailles to leave Chalmette and accept positions at nearby Rummel High School.

Rummel needed Elaine as a chemistry teacher, and even though they normally didn’t hire married couples, the school certainly also needed Rick for a football coach.

Rick became the kicking game coordinator at Tulane University in 1980, coaching under Vince Gibson and Wally English. He left there in 1985 andwas out of coaching a few years, working as a financial planner and pondering with options.

Fate then called again, and Rick had a chance to coach with best friend, Mike Villemarette, at Bonnabel High School from 1989 to 1991. Elaineremained at Rummel for 11 years.

The Gailles, LaPlace residents now for 13 years, then had the chance for Rick to apply for the head coaching job at St. James High School. Rick andElaine had no idea where St. James was and took a ride to find it. Rick wasone of 13 applicants, and when the school brought in the top two, he was not one of them. In fact, this seven-year winner who turned around anentire program almost immediately tried to get a head coaching job 12 times before finally succeeding. The Gailles agree that Rick’s path wasmore difficult because of his reputation as a golfer, when as recently as 1990 he had won the New Orleans City Championship in golf.

St. James was the 12th school where Rick had applied. And after all thoserejections, and with the top two candidates turning down the job, Rick was in as head coach, pleased to be at a school with an excellent compensation plan. He credits Lutcher head football coach Tim Detillierfor leading the way.

As Rick was establishing himself as a head coach, Elaine began teaching at East St. John. Two years later she decided on a career change for herself.With a successful entrance exam and prior degrees behind her, she entered physical therapy school at LSU Medical Center and was graduated in 1994.

She also received the John F. Burke award for outstanding clinical andacademic achievement.

Dedication, determination, hard work and clear goals didn’t’ make it any easier for this couple for the next two years. While Rick was immersed incoaching and Elaine was deep into grueling studies at LSUMC, there came tragedy. Elaine lost a young family member suddenly and tragically, thenonly 10 days later faced surgery herself for breast cancer. Instead oftaking advice to “sit out a year,” she took radiation treatments in the morning and did not miss one day of class.

Today she is free of the disease, and after graduation she was hired by LSUMC as a clinical faculty member. She is also contracted out toUniversity Hospital as a staff physical therapist.

An avid and accomplished tennis player, Elaine enjoys the courts at Belle Terre Country Club while Rick, even though he doesn’t have the passion he once had for competition, tries to find time to keep his golf game in a respectable condition after being on “hold” August through December. Theysimply enjoy getting “out there,” they said.

Meanwhile, where have the Gailles gone with the St. James team? Elaineattends every game, pre-game and post-game activity possible with Rick, and in seven years, they have been to the state championship game twice, the semifinals once and quarterfinals three times.

And this season is no different. St. James won the district championshipfor the sixth consecutive year (St. James did not win during Gaille’s firstyear even with a 9-1 record). The Wildcats have, however, won 10 or moregames every year and have been to the quarterfinals or better every year.

At 9-1 this year, the went undefeated in district, and in seven years the team has lost only two district games.

The key to Rick’s success is no secret. He really likes the game of footballand enjoys every aspect of it, especially being around young people.

“It’s fun to feed off their enthusiasm, emotion and silliness,” he said. “Asadults we take things too seriously. I enjoy doing something well. If youare going to do something, do it as well as possible and appreciate the results.”As for the other half of this “coaching team,” Elaine feels rewarded knowing that in her work as a physical therapist she is able to help people regain that prior level of physical fitness they had before their affliction.

“They really depend on you to achieve the goals they want to achieve. It issatisfying to help people get where they want to be. It is a rewardingcareer,” she said.

The Gailles have different careers, but the objectives are outstandingly similar – helping others achieve. The rewards do come. For this couplethey come after hard work, pain and persistence. With an abiding faiththey display in a higher power and each other, it seems they must.

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