For more than six decades, Joe Gilbert has poured his heart and soul into molding solid character in Barnsdall High School student-athletes.
He hasn’t set out to make the world better in one great noble stroke — but in countless little acts of leadership, encouragement, guidance, firmness, understanding, kindness, frankness, persuasion and example.
It is of such virtues nurtured through a lifetime of bottomless devotion that greatness blossoms.
On June 30, Gilbert will harvest perhaps the most significant external reward of his storied career — induction into the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
He will be one of three coaches from throughout the nation — the other two hailing from Texas and Mississippi.
A total of 12 individuals will be inducted at the 37th NFHS Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Indianapolis, Ind.
Gilbert — still coaching three varsity sports (fastpitch, girls basketball and slowpitch) at Barnsdall — is no stranger to Hall of Fame inductions.
Some of organizations in which he has been enshrined include the Oklahoma Coaches Association HOF, the Oklahoma High School Softball Coaches Association HOF, the Oklahoma Baseball Coaches Association HOF, and several others.
“All of them mean a lot,” Gilbert said about all his honors. “But, this (the NFHS HOF) is probably the biggest.”
The upcoming recognition represents to Gilbert more than just his accomplishments.
“It just means the people that played for me,” Gilbert explained. “I’ve been lucky in that respect. To me, it means a lot to the city of Barnsdall. … It doesn’t matter if my name is on there, I just want to make sure they put Barnsdall on it.”
Gilbert — who hails from Missouri — landed in Barnsdall in 1954 as a fresh college graduate from Northeastern State (Tahlequah).
Gilbert applied for an opening in Barnsdall and got the job. Some 60-plus years later, his commitment to the school and the community has been unshakable.
For decades he coached four varsity sports (fastpitch, girls basketball, boys basketball and baseball) every year — plus working closely with the jayvee teams.
He was one of the pioneers of high school softball in Oklahoma, coached girls’ basketball through the transition to today’s five-on-five game and carved out plenty of winning success.
His 1980 baseball team won the state championship, as did his 2012 slowpitch softball squad.
From 1989 through 1991, Barnsdall baseball finished as the state runner-up team. His fastpitch teams also have competed numerous times for state titles, and his basketball teams have qualified multiple times for state.
His teams in all sports have accumulated more than 3,900 wins.
But, those are only numbers.
The heart and flesh and soul of athletics are the kids — wonderful, impressionable, exasperating, and hungry for attention and guidance.
That’s what Gilbert has focused on — as well as the challenge of creating competitive teams by assembling the various pieces of talent and athleticism into their most effective roles for the good of the whole.
“You have got to have patience,” Gilbert said about the advice he would give young coaches starting out. “You’re only as good as you can develop the kids that play for you is what it amounts to. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
But, the quest to continue to do it and try to do it well has been a lifetime mission of Gilbert.
And, by doing it, he has pointed the direction of success in life to his players, if they chose to follow it.
Gilbert’s labor of love for his players and his teams and his school and his community has prompted him to great works of devotion.
Often when a reporter or someone calls him on an off night from games, he is alone at the gym or the softball field, or one of the other sports venues, and doing maintenance, cleaning or preparation work.
On June 30, Gilbert will receive a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.
He admitted he might be a little intimidated by some of what he called the “bigwigs” of the broader sports world.
“They’ll probably scare me to death,” he added.
But, Gilbert’s cumulative impact on the lives of literally thousands of young people make him a giant, indeed, in the spirit of what the world of sports and coaching is supposed to be all about.