Apr. 20—Reed Dungan was nine years old the first time he met Tony Ingle at a Kennesaw State basketball camp. The Kennesaw State coach at that time, Ingle pulled Dungan aside and told him, “When dreams are big enough, obstacles are always small enough to overcome.”
A decade later, Dungan was a backup freshman point guard on Ingle’s 2015 NAIA national championship team at Dalton State on his way to becoming the school’s all-time scoring leader three years later.
Now an assistant coach at the same Hiram High School where he once starred as a player, Dungan says, “I find myself saying the same things he always said, running the same plays. I think about him every day.”
A lot of people in Dalton have thought of Ingle almost every hour of every day since the 68-year-old Whitfield County native and Dalton Junior College alum tragically became one of the 567,000 Americans who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19 when he passed away on January 18th of this year.
“He was so much more than a basketball coach,” said Georgia state senator Chuck Payne as he addressed a crowd of 150 or more who had gathered outside Mashburn Arena and the Dalton Convention Center on Monday morning to honor Ingle. “He was an amazing husband, an amazing father, an amazing man of faith. His example was his gift.”
Not many have led a more amazing life doing what they always wanted to do than Ingle, who once dove headfirst into the stands for a loose ball as a player, only to hear a fan scream, “You’re going to kill yourself if you keep doing that.”
But passion was his great strength. Passion and hard work and the six C’s he always taught his players — Consistent work habit; Composure, Communication, Compete, Compliment, Concentration.
“I don’t think of what he was as a coach,” said current Roadrunners coach Alex Ireland, who was a student assistant for Ingle during his days at Kennesaw then served as a full-time assistant under him at Dalton State. “I think of what he was as a man, because he was a great, great man.”
One example of his coaching greatness: Late in a regional playoff game during Dungan’s career, the Roadrunners were losing by five points with three minutes to go.
“The other team’s defense wouldn’t let me get the ball,” Dungan recalled. “Our other big scorer couldn’t get the ball, either. We were in trouble. Coach called a timeout and drew up something on the grease board. I was standing there thinking, ‘This man’s crazy.’ But next thing you know, we win by 10.”
Derek Waugh, the former Furman basketball star, was the athletic director who hired Ingle to revive the program at the close of the 2012 season.
“The first time we met, he told me, ‘I can win a national championship the first year we’re eligible,'” remembered Waugh. “My first thought was, ‘Even if he can’t do that, he can probably have us at .500, which would be great.’ Instead, he did exactly what he said he would. We won it the first year we were eligible.”
Waugh told a story about how Ingle brought so much talent to Dalton in such a short period of time.
“We’ve got a big-time recruit on campus one day and Tony sends me a picture of the kid without his shirt off, and writes, ‘This kid is ripped,'” said Waugh. “Then, a few minutes later he sends a picture of himself with his shirt off, his big belly showing and a big grin on his face. I knew then we had something special in this coach. He just knew how to connect with people, how to make them want to be a part of his program.”
Said Doug Hawley, “He was everybody’s friend.”
It didn’t start out that way for the man who became a bishop of the Dalton ward of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and was once both an assistant and interim head coach at Brigham Young.
It all created a signature style of explosive offense and crafty defense. Or as Waugh noted, “Tony knew how to keep other teams off-balance.”
It eventually won him a NCAA Division II national title at Kennesaw State and the aforementioned NAIA natty at Dalton State. It should soon earn him a spot in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Then there was that incredible sense of humor, such as when he told the world after the NAIA title, “I’m so happy I could hug an IRS agent right now.”
Back home, Waugh recalled how the whole town got into the celebration, complete with police escorts. “We might be NAIA,” Waugh said. “But it felt like we were Division I.”
Longtime Dalton State equipment manager Charlie McConkey said Ingle could be tough and sweet at the same time.
“I was in practice one day and I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” said McConkey. “He told me to drop down and give him two pushups — one for him and one for the team. But he’d always tell me, ‘I love you more than you love me.'”
Dalton mayor David Pennington and Dalton State president Margaret Venable made sure everyone will always know how much Ingle, his wife Jeanne and their family were appreciated. The road outside Mashburn Arena will now be known as Tony Ingle Parkway. The school and some of Ingle’s closest Dalton friends are endowing the Tony Ingle Memorial Basketball Scholarship.
Said Venable, “This will serve as a permanent reminder of how much Tony loved his community and his alma mater.”
As many of his former players and coaches reminisced about Ingle on Monday, they all repeated one of his favorite motivational sayings.
“He would always ask us ‘Is two better than one?'” said Dungan.
“The answer is ‘Only when they work as one.'”
Especially if the one leading them was the one and only Tony Ingle.
Or as Venable noted, “What a legacy. We should all be so lucky.”
Contact Mark Wiedmer at [email protected]