‘The Big Fella’ From Toledo Calls it a Career
Family Tradition: Rally Wallace Retires From Coaching Basketball After 29 Years
By Jordan Nailon
The longest branch on the basketball-crazy Wallace family tree will have to pay to get into the gym the next time he tries to take in a game. That’s because Rally Wallace, a Toledo graduate, has decided to hang up the whistle after a 29-year coaching career.
A journey that began five decades ago in a barn down by the Cowlitz River eventually took Wallace away from the Cheese City. First he headed to bigger cities to pursue college hoops and then he went down under for a stint as a professional in Australia. For the past 29 years Wallace has been on the coaching carousel in Cowlitz County, the last 12 of which he spent as the head coach at R.A. Long High School.
Before he was a coach though Wallace was a standout on the hardwood for Toledo High School, where he graduated in 1980. Wallace was a three-year all-league player who averaged around 19 pounds and 13 rebounds his junior year. His sophomore year the Indians lost to Raymond in a loser-out/winner-to-state game but they found redemption the next year by finishing in the top four at state.
“We didn’t win the league title but we took fourth in state,” recalled Wallace.
During his senior year Toledo managed to make it back to state after winning the league championship over a tough White Pass team that featured a strapping young Tony Gillispie, who just this season wrapped his own career as the coach of the Morton-White Pass boys basketball team.
Beginning at the end of his freshman year, when he measured 5-foot-10, Wallace began to experience a growth spurt. As a sophomore he was 6-2, and by the time he graduated from college he was 6-7. Growing up as a guard, Wallace, who naturally earned the nickname ‘The Big Fella,’ wound up with a unique set of skills for a big man and was even recruited for a time to play shooting guard for the University of Portland.
“I could always shoot the basketball. I spent a lot of time out in the barn and spent hours and hours shooting the basketball,” said Wallace.
Coming out of high school Wallace had several small school scholarship offers to play basketball as well as a full ride offer to Portland State University but coming straight off the farm, he said he didn’t feel comfortable committing to living four years in the heart of the city. Instead Wallace went to Lower Columbia College in Longview where he wound up playing for first year coach Mike Polis, the father of current Red Devil coach Mickey Polis. After his year at LCC Wallace transferred to the University of Puget Sound, which at that time was a Division II school, and completed his three remaining years of collegiate eligibility.
With school ball behind him Wallace decided to make a big move and jumped on a plane for Australia where he played professionally in Melbourne.
“Australia was really awesome. It was a great experience,” said Wallace, who managed to win an outback championship while he was away. Once he even wound up facing off against Luc Longley, the Australian born center who would later win multiple championships with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, for a jump ball. Over the years Wallace has forgotten exactly who won the tipoff.
“I think he probably did. I don’t know. I may have cheated and beat him,” said Wallace. “I was pretty good at that. I’d go a little early and get the ball before it’s full potential. … I stole a lot of tips in my day.”
Once Wallace returned from his three year sojourn to Australia he began his coaching career almost immediately. His first gig was coaching the JV girls team at Kelso High in 1989. That spring he coached the JV baseball team and wound up with Jason Schmidt, who would later be a three-time Major League Baseball All-Star pitcher, on his squad.
“When you’ve been around for almost 30 years you’re going to bump into somebody,” chuckled Wallace, who is always quick with a laugh when remembering his various stops along the way.
After coaching at Kelso, Wallace spent a year as a volunteer assistant with the R.A. Long basketball program and coached girls basketball at Monticello Middle School. The next year he took over the reigns of the JV program at R.A Long, before moving on to an assistant gig at Lower Columbia College alongside legendary head coach Jimmy Roffler.
Eager to take over a program of his own Wallace took over the middle school boys basketball program at Monticello for three years, including a pair of back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1999-2000. Wallace then spent three years at Mark Morris as an assistant after hall of fame coach Bill Bakamus asked him to join his staff, before heading back to R.A. Long for one more season on the bench as an assistant. When Kyle Fowler resigned at the end of the season Wallace applied to take over the program. Twelve years later, and a life on the court now behind him, Wallace says there is not doubt what he will miss the most.
“The kids man. The kids are a kick in the pants,” said Wallace. “It’s just knowing your kids on a different level. Knowing them when there’s excitement and you’re winning a game. And when you’re down and your losing a game. Those emotions. And growing with the kids and being a part of that. That for me was the biggest thrill, was being a part of these kids’ lives and being a part of the adversity, and the excitement and the disappointment.”
Asked to name the best player who ever played for him as a head coach Wallace fudged and named three players: Tanner Bradley, Scott Pisapia and Colby Rothwell.
However, Wallace added a serious caveat.
“But there was a kid I coached in mIddle school (Monticello) named Adam Perry,” said Wallace of his one-time shooting guard who once dropped 47 points in an eighth-grade game. “I’ve been around a lot of good players.”
As per family tradition, the basketball bug bit Wallace early.
“My dad and my uncle played town team ball and I think that’s where I really got a taste for it,” remembered Wallace. “Living on the farm and they’re going up to the gym and practicing and playing games and stuff, and I started tagging along and it was like, ‘Wow, this is fun!’”
Soon Wallace was helping to organize games with his kin and peers in a pair of outfitted barns.
“The original barn was next to the Cowlitz River and it had an upstairs in it. It was a wood floor and had a regulation hoop in it, basically a regulation size half court,” said Wallace of the barn that belonged to his uncle Dale Wallace. “After that barn got so old and they ended up tearing it down we started playing in my dad’s barn. The hoop was right next to a cow pen where they were feeding hay and a lot of times the ball would bounce over the pen and get all mucky and we’d have to wipe it up to keep playing.”
That notion to keep playing even after the barn was torn down, and even after the ball landed in a fresh cow pie, has never left Wallace. Even after he came home from Australia and began his coaching career he kept playing competitively on pro-am and tournament circuits. Two big time local events that Wallace haunted in his prime were the Morton Timber Tourney and the Gold Ball Tournament in Longview.
“I was actually still in high school the first time I played in (Gold Ball). The Winlock town team picked me up,” noted Wallace.
The Gold Ball tournament is typically dominated by the teams comprised of veteran players who know how to play smart, and more than a little dirty. “I got knocked around quite a bit,” said Wallace, who collected multiple Gold Ball titles in his wily veteran years. He also collected numerous MVP awards and championships at the Timber Tourney during a decade long run in East Lewis County.
“I was playing a lot of basketball when I got back. I was pretty active and I was in my prime,” said Wallace.
Rally is far from the only Wallace to make a name for himself on the basketball court. In fact the Wallace basketball tradition is nearly a meme at this point. This year’s Toledo team included Rally’s nephews Reece and Westin Wallace, and his son Connor was a senior on the Lumberjacks this year. However, the roundball prowess dates all the way back to Rally’s father, Ralland, who took his talents from Toledo to Lower Columbia College around 1957. Rally’s uncle Dale continued the LCC pipeline, as did Rally’s sister Teresa, along with his brothers Aaron and Kurt, and his cousin D.J.
“I actually got to coach Kurt,” said Wallace . “It was cool. It was really neat working with him and helping him out whenever possible. He was a good player so he didn’t need too much help.”
The line of collegiate hoopers in the Wallace family tree didn’t stop there though, it’s just that the more recent renditions have forgone that traditional stop at LCC. Those hoopers include Artem Wallace, who was adopted from Russia and went on to play at the University of Washington, and Brad Wallace who is in his final collegiate year at Western Washington University.
“I’d say 90 percent of my family has played basketball. It just happens. You’re watching your cousin playing basketball and going to barn to play after you’re done working, and the older ones are driving you around in their cars,” said Wallace. “It’s just a basketball family really.”
Even though he’s called it quits on his coaching career Wallace still intends to live a sporting life, and he’ll be hard pressed to tamp down a notorious competitive streak.
“Kurt introduced me to fishing and I get a real big adrenaline rush when I’m out on the Columbia and I’ve got a salmon on. You’re reeling and you’re trying not to lose it…You can just feel it in your chest,” said Wallace. He added that he might play a little golf, maybe some tennis if his body holds up. He’d also like to travel and says he might even try hunting again for the first time since high school.
One thing Wallace is sure he will be doing is making the rounds to catch local basketball games. He says he’ll just head for the best game in the vicinity, unless familial connections dictate otherwise.
“You’re going to see me. That’s one of things I enjoy doing,” promised Wallace. “If you go to a gym you’re going to see me somewhere. I just love to go to games. I’ll have me a popcorn and a Pepsi.”