Everyone who has seen Jerry Gilbert play basketball seems to agree on one thing — he has one of the purest jump shots known to man.
“Jerry Gilbert’s shot in ’73 was just as good as Kobe’s (Bryant) is today,” said Eclister James, Elyria High’s point guard the year Gilbert led the Pioneers to the state tournament. “He took us that far with his shooting ability. He was the go-to guy when we really needed a big shot.”
Gilbert led the Pioneers with 18.7 points per game during his junior season, which ended when a controversial call allowed eventual state champion Cincinnati Elder to eliminate Elyria in the state semifinals. Gilbert was also the Pioneers’ ace pitcher on the baseball team.
Gilbert will be enshrined in the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame’s 37th class Saturday at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Center along with Peggy Fortune Yetman, Jack Marsh, Suzanne Camp, Brad House and the Elyria Catholic state champion cross country teams of 1977 and ’78. He joins his sister, Anne Gilbert, who was enshrined in 1995, and his brother, Jamie Gilbert, who was enshrined with the Elyria High 1978 basketball team.
“I was happy for my sister because she’s done so much in high school and college, and my brother was actually the best athlete in the family,” Jerry said. “I had kind of forgot about (the Hall of Fame) … I hadn’t thought about it in years. So it was really exciting when I got the phone call.”
While many Hall of Fame inductees use the occasion to remember their greatest moments in the sport they had a passion for during their younger years, Gilbert is still seeing some of his finest basketball moments come to life every year. In fact, the induction ceremony this weekend will serve as a pit stop as Gilbert flies in from his Sacramento, Calif., home for the banquet, before heading to Coral Springs, Fla., for the Masters Basketball National Championships — an annual event in which the finest 40-and-over athletes do battle.
“When I was 40 years old I was the MVP of the national tournament in Florida,” said Gilbert, who now plays for the Golden Legends in the 50-and-over bracket. “We won the national championship in 1999, we finished third in Australia in the world championships in 2002 and third again in the world championships in Canada in 2006.
“I got an e-mail that said they might move the national tournament to Cleveland next year.”
Gilbert was named to the All-tournament team last year after the Golden Legends lost in the national championship game to a team from Baltimore. Gilbert does battle annually with former NBA stars such as Greg Kite (Boston Celtics), George Rautins (Buffalo Braves), Kevin Restani (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Fred Roberts (Cavs). Other former NBA players competing in other age divisions include Wali Jones, Tim Hardaway, Glen Rice, Rony Seikaly, Leroy Ellis, Jim Barnett and Bob Ferry, the father of Cavs general manager Danny Ferry.
“I tried to play in a 50-and-over tournament in softball,” Gilbert said of the other sport he excelled in during his high school years. “But I hadn’t played in so many years that I had to give it up. I couldn’t do both of them.”
Gilbert grew up 20 yards from Ely Stadium and fell in love with baseball while watching the Elyria American Legion team play there when he was just 6 years old.
“Coach (Bob) Reed, who coached the Legion team in Elyria, he meant a lot to me when I was younger,” Gilbert said. “He would give the neighborhood kids some old equipment to play baseball with. I remember him sitting me down on the bench and saying to me, ‘One day, young man, you’re going to play for me,’ and I actually did years later.”
Gilbert then found a new love in basketball during his junior high years. Growing up in a family dominated by boys — his younger brothers Gene, Jamie and Jeff are all within eight years of him — he made great strides in the sport because they were all so competitive.
“Yeah, I’d say he was quite a competitor,” Jamie said. “I remember when I was about to go to college and we were out playing on the basketball court and we got into a fight. I was scared to go home.
“Everything he did, he was good at.”
But Jerry Gilbert is best remembered by local fans for his play during the 1973 season at Elyria High. While Admiral King and star Tommy Harris were soaking up all the local press, Gilbert and the Pioneers were learning how to play, and win, as a team.
“Me and him worked very well together,” James said. “I knew if I could get him the ball and he could get it off, 75 percent of the time it was a bucket.”
“It was incredible because nobody really expected us to go that far,” Gilbert said. “It was an amazing run. We were one call from going to the state finals. I remember it like it was yesterday. (Elder) threw the ball in to Steve Grote and he just ran over (Elyria’s) Gary Stevenson … and they called a blocking foul on Stevenson. It was unbelievable.
“We should have won that game, we should have won the whole thing.”
Gilbert was named to the All-tournament team in Columbus, went on to play a season at Ashland University, then played for the military in Kentucky and in Europe over the next four years. He moved to Sacramento in 1979 and has worked for the customer service department of Rite-Aid the past 18 years.
Gilbert has a pair of daughters — Shariese, 33, and Shalicia, 30 — who still live in the Cleveland area, and a 19-year-old son, Corey, who is playing baseball for a junior college in Sacramento. He’s married to Anita.
Gilbert took time out to coach Corey’s baseball teams and several traveling teams over the past couple of decades.
“That shows you the type of athlete he is,” James said. “He’s very dedicated to the sport. He loves the sport. Teaching the game to young kids, he’s a great role model.”
That’s exactly what he was to his younger siblings.
“I never told him but he was kind of my idol,” Jamie said. “He was a big inspiration for the family.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELYRIA SPORTS HALL OF FAME
WHAT: Induction banquet for 37th class
WHEN: Saturday, social gathering at 5 p.m.; dinner at 6:30
WHERE: Spitzer Center, LCCC
TICKETS: $30 (Call 284-8257)