Since Dallas Gray introduced Danny Reuscher to the game of golf back in junior high, the two recent VCHS grads have become fixtures on the links at Vandalia Country Club.
‘We both like to play together and watch each other, and see if there are any glitches in our swings,’ Gray said. ‘We play all the time.’
The duo’s friendship and mutual love for the game helped the VCHS golf program put together an unprecedented four-year run of success.
So it’s only fitting that the top two scorers from last year’s 25-5 team have decided to continue their careers together at Blackburn College.
‘It’d almost seem weird playing without him, because we’ve played together so long,’ Reuscher said.
And in choosing to continue their careers at Blackburn, Gray and Reuscher have made a little history in the process.
In 25 years of coaching the Vandals, recently retired coach Jerry Evans cannot recall two of his players from the same class going on to play college golf.
‘Especially for the same team,’ Evans said. ‘That’s kind of neat, I think.’
Evans is optimistic both golfers will excel at the next level – and for good reason.
Gray is coming off a stellar senior season in which he was meet medalist seven times, finishing with a team-best 38 nine-hole average.
Other season highlights include an 18th-place finish at state, a third-place finish at the Pana Sectional and a fourth-place finish at the South Central Conference Tournament.
Always a heavy hitter off the tee, Gray can credit an improved short game for his senior-year success.
And, if Gray’s recent play is any indication, he may be even better in college.
Gray has won all three Central Illinois Junior Golf Tour Tournaments he’s competed in this summer, finishing 2-under-par at a tournament victory at Moweaqua prior to firing a 77 in a first-place finish at Eagle Creek in Shelbyville.
His most recent victory came this week, as he fired an even-par 71 at Scovill Golf Club in Decatur.
‘So far I’m doing pretty good,’ said Gray in a monumental understatement.
‘I’d say, all around, my game’s improved. My scores have been lower and more consistent this summer.’
Evans echoed his former players’ assessment.
‘His games is just continuing to get better, no doubt,’ Evans said. ‘I think Dallas is gonna do well (at Blackburn). They’ve got a nice program up there, and it seems like he’s gonna fit in really well.’
Gray had plenty of options on the table after graduation – and they weren’t limited to golf.
He also had to decide between baseball and golf, a tough choice considering he was coming off a senior year in which he was an all-SCC East first-team selection.
But, ultimately, he opted for his favorite sport.
‘Baseball’s right up there,’ said Gray, ‘but golf’s just ahead.
‘I had a chance to go to Lake Land to play baseball, but I felt I’d do better going into golf, so I went that route.’
Reuscher also enjoyed a fine senior season, as the all-SCC pick was meet medalist two times and finished second on the Vandals with a nine-hole average of 40.
But his final high school season ended on a bitter note, as he missed qualifying for sectionals for the second year in a row by just one stroke with an 83.
‘That was really tough,’ Reuscher said. ‘It seems like in the years before, 83 would have been in the top few scores. I can’t say I played bad. It was just bad luck, I guess.’
Making matters worse was the fact that his collegiate golf future was pretty much in limbo at the time. Fortunately, second-year Blackburn coach Tom Buckley focused on Reuscher’s entire body of work and decided to bring him aboard.
‘For me, it was definitely up in the air,’ said Reuscher of his college golfing prospects. ‘I’m glad I got this opportunity.’
When Gray decided to attend Blackburn as well, it was just icing on the cake.
‘I’m sure he had other options,’ Reuscher said. ‘Fortunately, he decided to go to Blackburn, so it worked out really well for both of us.’
Like Gray, Evans likes Ruescher’s upside.
‘I think Danny could do well, too,’ Evans said. ‘He’s always had the potential. He’s got the basics down. He’s got a good swing and short game.’
Evans thinks Reuscher’s best golf is probably ahead of him.
‘A lot of times, kids don’t reach their full potential until after they graduate high school,’ Evans said. ‘I think if Danny keeps practicing and playing, he’ll do real well.’
The duo will be difficult to replace, as they led the Vandals to a 96-17 record over their four-year careers.
‘It was definitely a blast,’ said Reuscher of the success the team experienced. ‘I think we were a true team and all got along.’
Fortunately, Gray and Reuscher will be joining another solid program at Blackburn.
The Division III Battlin’ Beavers have finished no lower than third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference the past five seasons.
In the interim, Gray and Reuscher will continue play in the CIJGA, competing in a tournament at Effingham on Friday.