When my friend and former high school football coach Keith Gilbertson Sr. died in February of 2011, I contacted the minister doing the funeral and gave him a copy of the classic Grantland Rice poem “Alumnus Football,” suggesting that he reflect on the verses and think of Gilby as the “wise old coach Experience” while preparing his homily.
Can’t say whether the reverend took my advice. He made no mention of Rice or the poem during the service, although he and others spoke in glowing terms of the great and modest man who coached at Snohomish High School for 61 years, including the last 30 as an unpaid volunteer.
“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”
— from “Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice
Since Gilby’s death, I’ve written and/or edited some two dozen articles about him in conjunction with a fund-raising effort to permanently endow an annual SHS memorial scholarship in his name. Sadly, the campaign has yet to generate the groundswell of grass-roots support that we expected among from the thousands of students, athletes and teaching/coaching colleagues that Gilby touched over the years.
Next to Grantland Rice, I feel a bit like Edward Everett speaking for hours at Gettysburg before being upstaged by Lincoln’s brief and appropriate remarks deemed closer to the central idea of the occasion.
I’ve written that Coach Gilbertson lived what he always taught: Whatever you do, give it your best shot. But I don’t think I’ve conveyed the spiritual side of the wise old coach and mentor as well as Rice did nearly 100 years ago on Nov. 2, 1914, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.