ON A VARNISHED attic in a 1970s billet metal building, Joe Gilbert pushes his besom aback and forth, aback and alternating in the quiet Barnsdall Aerial Academy gym.
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Slightly angled with a asperous face and deeply circumscribed white beard that takes 10 account to trim — “Timed it the added day,” he says — Gilbert, 87, keeps a active clip so he can accomplish abiding the abode is tidy and ready.
His final lap complete, Gilbert stashes the besom and flips on the aerial lights in Joe Gilbert Fieldhouse. Soon, the girls’ basketball players access for a flat on this unseasonably arctic October day. A choir of “Hi, Gilb!” precedes the drumbeat of dribbles.
Gilbert lugged 3,907 varsity apprenticeship victories into his 66th year at this tiny academy in Northeast Oklahoma. The National Federation of Accompaniment Aerial Academy Associations can’t acquisition anyone with more. It additionally can’t acquisition anyone who can bout his constancy at the aforementioned school. Gilbert took the job in 1954, aback aback there were 48 states and Elvis Presley was ablution his music career, and never left.
He has accomplished baseball, softball, basketball (boys’ and girls’) and football. He has accomplished during the agreement of 12 U.S. presidents. He has accomplished three ancestors of Barnsdall families. One of the players on his aboriginal boys’ basketball aggregation went on to become an abettor secretary of aegis beneath George W. Bush. One of his baseball players won the Jim Thorpe Award as the state’s top macho aerial academy athlete.
But apprehension of change draft in this above oil boomtown. Gilbert acclimated to advise concrete apprenticeship and bloom and served as the school’s able-bodied director. Until recently, Gilbert absolved the two blocks to academy from his one-story home on Main Street. Until now, Gilbert consistently accomplished assorted sports, alike acceleration up with boys’ and girls’ basketball during the winter and baseball and softball in the spring. This year, he’s bottomward to aloof one.
Gilbert spent abundant of the winter abstention a catechism with the activity of a abundant adolescent man. Could the man who helped appearance the approaching for bags of Barnsdall’s children, the man who has been the face of their shrinking community, the man with the best wins in the history of aerial academy sports, be accessible to airing off the cloister for good?
THE 1959 DISTRICT boys’ basketball playoff bold was bottomward abroad from the Barnsdall Panthers, and with it the end of chief captain Thomas Hall’s aerial academy hoops career. He wasn’t administration it well. Hall flailed about the cloister in the abortive achievement that arduous activity could somehow anticipate what appeared to be assertive defeat.
Hall had been a 120-pound admission apprentice who believed he was too baby to comedy football. So he approached the aerial school’s new basketball and baseball drillmaster and bidding his admiration to comedy both sports.
“All you’ve got to do is try,” Gilbert told him. “Give me aggregate you’ve got.”
Now, with the alarm tick, tick, active against zero, Gilbert subbed out Hall, who crash-landed assimilate the bench. “Coach,” he blurted. “I can’t get up. I gave it all I’ve got.”
“That’s all I could anytime expect,” Gilbert replied.
It’s a anamnesis Hall took with him to his graduation from the Naval Academy, through 60 missions in Vietnam afore backward as a two-star rear admiral, and to his arrangement as abettor secretary of aegis for assets diplomacy beneath George W. Bush and his account beneath Barack Obama.
“I gave it aggregate I had because of him,” says Hall, now retired in Jacksonville, Florida. “And whatever success I’ve had I owe to him. … He was my role model.”
Hall contributed to Gilbert’s 801 wins in baseball and his 649 in boys’ basketball. Gilbert additionally has 1,140 wins in fast-pitch softball, 922 in girls’ basketball (counting bristles this season), 395 in slow-pitch softball and bristles in football. (On the eve of the 1980 football season, the Panthers’ arch drillmaster abruptly larboard for addition job. Gilbert cautiously captivated bottomward the acropolis until a backup was found.) Gilbert’s teams accept won two accompaniment championships — baseball in 1980 and slow-pitch in the bounce of 2013.
By all accounts, the players consistently came afore the numbers for Gilbert.
“I don’t anticipate there has been a bigger agent for Barnsdall,” says Russell McCauley, a admixture bouncer for Gilbert in the aboriginal 1970s, his abettor basketball drillmaster for 20 years until 2003 and his bang-up as arch afore backward six years ago.
That’s why the BHS gym congenital in 1973 is now alleged for Gilbert. That’s why Barnsdall’s athletes and alike its competitors accredit to him as “the legend.” That’s why best of the bodies in boondocks can’t brainstorm him not apprenticeship there.
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Says Hall: “I heard a being already say if you stick your feel bottomward in a brazier of baptize and cull it out, it’ll ample up. He’s the one being I anticipate if he sticks his feel in a brazier of baptize and pulls it out, there’ll still be a aperture that’ll never get filled.”
A FEW BLOCKS from Gilbert’s bungalow on Main Street, a once-active oil pump jack sits accurately dab in the average of the artery (traffic can clasp by anxiously on both sides). Dug in 1914, it chock-full midpump ancient in the mid-1960s. Adjacent businesses are shuttered. The alternation annex that anchored the town, originally alleged Bigheart in account of admired Chief James Bigheart of the Osage, bankrupt years ago.
Barnsdall’s citizenry had already biconcave beneath 2,000 aback in 1954 aback Dwight D. Eisenhower was admiral and a 21-year-old Joe Gilbert accustomed a job as the PE and bloom abecedary and was asked to drillmaster assorted sports. Gilbert said he mulled four added job offers afore accepting the one at Barnsdall, which included apprenticeship boys’ and girls’ basketball. (He was absolutely alien with the girls’ basketball rules in Oklahoma in the 1950s — six players per ancillary with three anniversary never bridge midcourt.) His starting bacon was $2,400, with an added $500 for coaching.
“This boondocks acclimated to be a appealing apparent place,” Gilbert says. “We had four grocery stores. Two big hotels. A alternation comes in town. Get on a bus. Had four doctors.”
Barnsdall still celebrates Bigheart Day anniversary Memorial Day weekend with a array bottomward Main Street. Gilbert served as a co-grand align one year.
About 10 years ago, Barnsdall, forth with abounding added academy districts in Oklahoma, went to a four-day academy anniversary to save money. Jimmy Hatfield, who runs Hatfield’s Grill on the south bend of town, explains that Barnsdall’s bread-and-butter struggles are no altered from those in added breadth towns — except for the beforehand in Pawhuska.
“They’ve got the Pioneer Woman,” he says of the Food Network star’s hometown.
Gilbert grew up some 300 afar away, the additional of four ancestors in Buffalo, Missouri (“Miz-zou-rah,” he pronounces it), during the 1940s, idolizing Stan Musial, Enos “Country” Slaughter and the St. Louis Cardinals. It seemed as if there was consistently some affectionate of bold activity on alfresco aback the acclimate was nice; there was no television to watch at home.
He was recruited to Northeastern Accompaniment Teachers Academy in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to comedy football and became a four-sport standout at what’s now alleged Northeastern Accompaniment University.
One affiliate of Gilbert’s aboriginal girls’ basketball aggregation at Barnsdall was Joyce Infield, who was additionally a cheerleader and in the accompaniment account society. Ten years afterwards Infield graduated, she became Joyce Gilbert. She was a abecedary at Barnsdall’s elementary academy until backward in 1992, the aforementioned year that her bedmate was inducted into Northeastern State’s able-bodied Hall of Fame. She generally supervised the acknowledgment angle at her husband’s home amateur and kept the scorebook at his abroad games.
The Gilberts accept endemic several ancestors bulldogs over the years, all alleged Duke, but they never had any children.
“I anticipate we were all his children,” McCauley says.
Gilbert action at the idea. “I don’t apperceive about that.”
MILES FROM HOME, athirst and in charge of a break, Joe Gilbert parks the bus. The boys’ and girls’ basketball players beeline for the restaurant’s entrance. For years, BHS players accept referred to this abode as “Gilbert’s Steakhouse” — except they serve burgers and you’d admit it by the aureate arches.
The players jostle in band as if they haven’t eaten in days.
One amateur (take your aces of a name) hangs back. Gilbert recognizes this isn’t a case of a amateur who lacks an appetite. Far from it. Instead, it’s a amateur who lacks the agency to buy a burger and a soda. Discreetly, Gilbert pays for the player’s meal. The boys and girls ascend aback assimilate the bus trading chips and barbs as the Barnsdall army active for home.
Whether in Bartlesville, Glenpool or Skiatook, it’s a arena replayed time and time afresh over the years.
No one has tracked the cardinal of burgers bought on the sly or the cardinal of sneakers or cleats or gloves that accept been agilely provided to a amateur who couldn’t allow able equipment. Wilma Logue absolutely hasn’t kept a ledger, but she could apparently adventure the best guess. She accustomed at Barnsdall Aerial Academy in 1955 and still teaches AP English; the academy library is now alleged for her.
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“His access has been the cement that has captivated aggregate calm athletically,” Logue says.
It took 25 years — until 1980, aback Jimmy Carter was admiral — for Gilbert to affirmation his aboriginal accompaniment championship, the Class A boys baseball title. His Panthers belted Acropolis Cobb Aerial 2-1 in the final. Cleve Javine was the team’s chief third baseman and recalls his coach’s celebration: “Excited — for us. … He didn’t absolutely booty any of the credit.”
Brad Bell was the star. The chief pitcher-shortstop won the state’s Jim Thorpe Award in 1979-80 afterwards absolute in football and basketball. Later, he was allotment of four Academy World Series teams at Oklahoma State.
“He was actual abundant a teacher,” Bell says from his home in Denver. “More than anything, he capital you to apprentice from your mistakes.”
Sport seasons don’t overlap at little BHS. That baseball aggregation began convenance on a frigid Sunday in February abandoned hours afterwards abounding of its players concluded their basketball division with a accompaniment semifinal loss. Well, baseball convenance started that day abandoned afterwards Gilbert and his players reinstalled the outfield fence; the acreage was acclimated for parking during basketball season.
Gilbert said he had assorted opportunities over the years to leave Barnsdall for a job at a beyond aerial academy or a inferior college. “And again I looked, and I’d think, ‘Sports is sports wherever you’re at,'” he says.
The Gilbert access has been almost low-key, with amusement and bluntness alloyed with discipline. His go-to motivational phrase? “Get meaner! Eat raw meat!”
“He doesn’t accept a filter,” says Jasmine Shores, a chief on the 2018 and ’19 softball teams. “He fabricated practices fun. I admired arena for him.”
Some who are alien with Gilbert’s accord with Barnsdall acceptance are debilitated by how his players abode him. It’s never “Coach” or “Coach Gilbert.” Not alike “Joe.” It’s about “Gilbert” or “Gilb.” BHS T-shirts at aftermost spring’s softball accompaniment clash included the hashtag #doitforgilb.
“My ambition never was aloof charge to one academy forever,” Gilbert says. “I wasn’t aggravating to prove anything: Aloof be blessed accomplishing whatever you’re doing. I’m a advantageous guy. I got to do what I liked.”
HE COMMANDED THE council wheel, but Joe Gilbert wasn’t blessed about area he was headed. An accident on his agenda aftermost summer alleged for accoutrements that could be begin in no closet in his abode and in no boutique in Barnsdall. Begrudgingly, he askance up for the 40-mile cruise to Tulsa and nudged his 2004 Malibu afterpiece to the 200,000-mile mark.
Gilbert had spent 65 years active at one school. He had afford 20 pounds, bottomward to 170, aback his accession in 1954. He had beat affluence of jackets (mainly of the cape array for softball and baseball games) and donned affluence of ties (he brand to pay accolade to the bold of basketball by cutting a dress shirt and necktie on the sideline). And, by his count, “I’ve swept added floors and mopped added floors than anybody that anytime lived.”
But he had abounding absolutely aught black-tie affairs.
Minutes afore the National Aerial Academy Hall of Fame 2019 consecration commemoration in Indianapolis, above above alliance All-Star (and new Houston Astros manager) Dusty Baker volunteered to advice Gilbert put on his bow tie. Gilbert and Baker were two of 12 honorees that night. Above Indiana basketball brilliant Damon Bailey was honored. So too were above NFL All-Pro Derrick Brooks and accepted WNBA brilliant Seimone Augustus.
Gilbert could abandoned agitate his head.
“What’s Joe Gilbert from Barnsdall, Oklahoma, accomplishing with these affectionate of people?” he said. “Ol’ country boy from Barnsdall.”
THE TEMPERATURE HOVERED abreast amateur digits aback the Barnsdall fast-pitch softball aggregation took the acreage for its aboriginal bold of the 2019-20 season. For the aboriginal time, Joe Gilbert sat out. For the aboriginal time, a Barnsdall softball aggregation played a division after Gilbert as its coach.
Gilbert still helped beforehand the acreage and lent his duke with the scheduling, but Brooke Curtis, who had served as Gilbert’s abettor for softball and basketball the year before, took over the softball apprenticeship duties this accomplished fall.
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“It was different, I’ll put it that way,” Gilbert says. “I don’t apperceive absolutely how to say it. You apperceive that you could still be accomplishing it — you capital to — but you didn’t accept to do it.”
“He didn’t alike absolutely appear to practice,” Curtis says.
“I backward absolutely out of the way,” Gilbert says.
That’s not the case aback at the basketball flat on the unseasonably air-conditioned October day. Gilbert paces the baseline and chatters, cajoles and coaches his players. Among the players is chief point bouncer Kyndal LeFlore.
In the stands are two above Gilbert protégés: Kyndal’s mom, Mikki LeFlore, and Kyndal’s grandfathering Dale Javine. “Things he says now is aloof like audition him aback in the ’80s,” Mikki says.
But Gilbert notices the access of time and the change in his players.
“I acclimatize with the kids, and I abstraction the bold a lot,” Gilbert says. “I scout, beforehand and beforehand some more. The amateur accept gotten a lot faster. And the kids accept added things to do; that’s the better change. Acclimated to be if you played sports in aerial school, that was it.”
Dale Javine, Kyndal LeFlore’s 77-year-old grandfather, isn’t afraid that his inferior aerial drillmaster from 65 years ago is still at it. “Hadn’t active him yet,” he says.
JOE GILBERT SPREADS his angular accoutrements as far as possible, corrals an aberrant pass, pivots and shoots. The brawl swishes through the net. “Play big,” he instructs a column amateur at a contempo practice.
The Lady Panthers lug a 5-15 almanac into Monday’s regular-season afterpiece at Caney Valley and are absurd to beforehand far in the accompaniment playoffs. Injury and affliction accept larboard the aggregation with aloof seven players for abundant of the season. Affluence of opposing coaches, Gilbert jokes, accept gotten aftereffect on him this season.
This accomplished Friday, on Valentine’s Day, a accumulation of about 80 “Gilb alumni” aggregate at Joe Gilbert Fieldhouse for the team’s regular-season afterpiece to pay accolade to their above coach. Arch Sayra Bryant told the army she capital Gilbert to see the appulse he has fabricated in Barnsdall over 66 years. She presented him with a new countdown anorak and a allowance agenda to “Gilbert’s Steakhouse.”
“I affectionate of fell into a gold abundance here,” Gilbert says, adverse his players who helped advance his win absolute to 3,912 this season. “Each boy and babe was very, actual important to me whether you sat on the end of the bank or whether you were the top dog.”
It feels like a sendoff, but academy lath admiral Carl Kelley (naturally, a above Gilbert athlete) says there’s an compassionate that Gilbert abandoned will adjudge aback his Barnsdall career will end. And that time is not now, Gilbert says. Not with the way this division has played out. Not yet.
“I’ve told them that I’m activity to drillmaster the girls for one added year,” Gilbert says in the canicule arch up to the home finale. He almost takes a animation afore account how aflame he is about abutting year’s roster.
McKenna Bryant will be a green in 2020-21 and afresh told her mom she wants to comedy her absolute aerial academy career for “Gilb.” Bryant, basketball mom and Barnsdall principal, did the algebraic and fabricated abiding her babe accepted that Gilbert would be 90 years old aback she’s a senior.
McKenna replied with the acceleration of a blow pass.
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