PORTLAND – On Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, Tate Gale runs into people as a guard and linebacker for the Portland High football team.
Then he shifts gears and shows his artistic side as a talented jazz pianist.
Two weeks ago, Gale performed with the Portland jazz band at the Maine Mall. There was Gale, a strapping 6-foot, 210-pound athlete, playing piano and moving to the beat.
Gale acknowledges the incongruity.
“It’s an interesting contrast,” said Gale.
“Piano is all touch and expression. Football is about going hard all the time. People ask me, “Are you a football captain playing jazz?” Socially, they’re totally opposite,” he said.
And being a lineman, there’s an even greater chance of injuring his fingers.
“I broke my pinky finger and I’ve had other recurring stuff over the last few seasons,” said Gale.
“I’ve been looking for some good gloves to wear for the past couple of years. I feel I have some this season. People ask me, “How can you play football and not screw up your hands?”
Doing something out of the ordinary is nothing new for Gale, who is a senior.
At 14, he spent four weeks during the summer prior to his freshman year teaching English in Uganda to 90 kids his age, in a program through the U.S. Agency for International Development. A college classmate of Gale’s parents from Colby asked them if their son would be interested. After some thought, they gave it their blessing. Tall for his age, neither the staff nor the students knew his age until he told them at the end.
“The first week I was a mess trying to teach. I was either talking too quickly or too softly. But I learned how to present a lesson,” said Gale.
“The school had an awesome group of teachers who were really helpful. They had lesson plans set up for me every day. The kids were very well behaved. They were completely blown away by the fact that I was white and with the way I talked.”
Gale has been playing piano longer than he has been playing football.
“I started taking lessons when I was 6 with my sister, Sarah, who is a year younger,” he said. “We had a hand-me-down piano from my grandmother.”
Soon after, Gale started playing Little Ladd Football in Portland.
“Tate would sometimes take his piano lessons wearing his football uniform,” said his father, Jon. “We’ve always encouraged our children to have a balance between the arts, sports and their social life. It’s been a lot of work balancing everything.”
Gale has flourished in both pursuits. He and five other musicians formed the jazz band at school his freshman year. They play at school functions, state competitions and outside events like the Maine Mall. Gale has been the All District pianist for the last two years. Besides the jazz band, he plays in a trio which has its first gig at a local company on Dec. 1.
“We play a lot of standards, going as far back as Cole Porter,” said Gale. “We play some John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Brad Mehldau, who is one of the more modern jazz guys.”
In football, Gale has been a key in Portland’s resurgence this season. He’s a tri-captain with Nick Volger and Kyle Reichert. The fifth-ranked Bulldogs (6-3) play No. Cheverus (9-0) Saturday at 12:30 in the Western Maine Class A semifinals.
“Tate has been a real big plus for this team,” said Coach Jim Hartman. “He’s a competitor, he’s strong and he’s smart. We have certain offensive sets and he’s in all of them.”
In last Saturday’s quarterfinals against Windham, the Bulldogs moved Gale to fullback from guard for a big portion of the game. With Gale blocking, it allowed the Bulldogs to have more of a power running game. Gale had been a running back until he was moved to guard at the tail end of last season. He was slated to be at fullback at the start of the season, but was moved to guard because of an injury to Cody McCormack, who is now healthy.
“I never thought I would have so much fun playing guard,” said Gale.
Gale has also been outstanding on defense.
“He’s our quarterback on defense,” said Volger. “He calls all our blitzes and knows what’s going on better than anyone.”
Gale uses jazz to relax. Even though he said he’s having his most enjoyable year playing football, it’s still nice to get away from the regimentation of school and football.
“It’s just a nice release to play the piano,” he said.
Gale, who ranks seventh in his class, has applied early decision to the University of Pennsylvania.
“I have my fingers crossed on that one,” he said.
Music will still be important in college, but not as a major. Gale has also applied to the University of Michigan which has a strong music program.
“I wouldn’t mind watching some big-time college football,” he said.
The playoff win and other wins have given Portland confidence heading into Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs said they are a much different team than the one which lost to Cheverus, 42-0, nearly two months ago.
“Being an underdog is a good spot for us,” said Gale. “That’s the position we love to be in. It’s going to be a good game. We can’t make mistakes.”
At the Maine Mall performance, a few of his teammates watched their captain perform.
“Tate is amazing on the keyboard,” said Volger, who plays guitar. “There was a big group watching the jazz band. Tate is tapping his feet and moving around. You wouldn’t think a big guy would be playing music.”
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: