The early stages of the current basketball season have brought yet another career milestone – and a national honor – for veteran White River coach Chris Gibson.
First came victory No. 600 for the coach now in his 25th season of leading the Hornet girls’ hoop program, following eight years at the helm of the Franklin Pierce Cardinals.
That was capped, just a few days later, by the news that Gibson was tabbed for the 2021 John Wooden Legacy Award.
ABOUT THE WOODEN AWARD
Gibson admitted to being “humbled and honored” with the national recognition – and a bit surprised.
He is part of the inaugural class of inductees, joining an elite field consisting of 78 coaches from throughout the United States.
The award came when the National High School Basketball Coaches Association teamed with the family of coaching legend John Wooden and the Paycom Wooden Legacy. The intent, eventually, is to annually honor one boys’ coach and one girls’ coach from each state and the District of Columbia.
During this inaugural year, there were honorees from 41 states.
In a letter to the first-year recipients, family representative Greg Wooden extolled the virtues his late grandfather held dear, things like character (“you have been a model of doing the right things in the right way”) and service (“you have been about something bigger than yourself”). The note from Wooden also spoke to longevity and success on the basketball court.
Those qualities exemplified the career of John Wooden, who guided UCLA to 10 national championships during a 12-year stretch, the most successful run during a 20-year career. His “Pyramid of Success” was aimed at being a success in life as well as in the basketball arena.
In developing plans for the national award, the National High School Basketball Coaches Association turned to individual state associations to make the selections. In Washington, there are individual associations both for those who coach the boys’ and girls’ games.
When it came time to pick an honoree from the world of girls’ basketball in the Evergreen State, there was huge support for Gibson. That’s the word from Dan Taylor, president of the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches’ Association.
Taylor said he passed the decision to the WSGBCA board of directors who generated a field of possibilities. In the end, he said, the choice was clear.
For his part, Gibson said the recognition “speaks to the amazing young ladies who have come through this program.” And the years of success, he quickly added, wouldn’t have been possible without the support of parents, school administrators and the White River community at large.
The national award adds to a list of accolades dotting the Gibson resume. Aside from numerous Coach of the Year honors, he was a 2017 inductee into the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches’ Association.
A formal presentation to Gibson will occur during halftime of a Hornet game on a date still being decided.
ABOUT THOSE 600 WINS (AND COUNTING)
With this year’s Hornet team off to a 4-0 start, following games of last week, Gibson hurdled the magical 600 plateau and is sitting at 602 career victories.
That places him in exclusive company when it comes to the all-time ranks of girls’ coaches in Washington.
The WSGBCA keeps an active list, which shows Gibson is No. 4 in the association’s recorded history and is the winningest coach still on the job.
The list is headed by Curt DeHaan, who compiled a 772-149 mark during 38 years at Lynden Christian, Al Smeenk (711-199 during 37 years at Sunnyside Christian) and Al Aldridge (710-134 during 32 years at Prairie High School). All have retired.
Gibson has been hired twice in his coaching career, both times by Jim Meyerhoff. He was first brought on board at Franklin Pierce and later joined the Hornets after Meyerhoff had taken the athletic director’s job at White River.
During his eight seasons at Franklin Pierce, Gibson sported a winning record, though it was nothing like the success story he built in Buckley. During his years with the Cardinals, Gibson’s squads went 104-87, winning 54 percent of their games.
Those numbers pale in comparison to the hoops machine Gibson has developed at White River, first in the old downtown gym and later in the “new school” that opened its doors in 2003 in rural Buckley.
Heading into this week, Gibson’s Hornet teams have won 498 contests while dropping 139, a success rate that tops 78 percent.
A witness to many of those games is Megan Turner, who first played for Gibson and later returned as an assistant on his staff. Now a teacher in the K-8 Carbonado district, she has shared the bench since the 2008-09 season and has high praise for her coach-turned-boss.
“The real reason for his success is that he makes connections with kids and builds relationships,” Turner said.
“He truly cares about all three levels,” she added, referring to the varsity, junior varsity and C team rosters. Turner said the constant approach is that “we’re not too good for anyone, there’s a place for everyone.”
That’s in addition to the nuts-and-bolts understanding that comes with a long career in the game, she said. “He’s experienced and smart,” Turner said, “and understands that each team is different, each year is different.”