While never a pro talent, Keith Gilbertson still has to rank among the best athletes ever produced at Snohomish High School.
Among the few four-year letter winners in SHS history, Gilby earned his first “S” as a ninth-grade tennis player in the spring of 1942, advancing to the district singles final, which would remain the high point of his tennis career.
He lettered three times in football, starting at center and linebacker as a sophomore and junior and at fullback and linebacker as a senior. The Panthers won County A League championships all three years – their first football titles since the 1929 season – and in Gilby’s senior year they added their first Northwest A League title in addition to the county crown. That 1944 team, the first unbeaten/untied team in school history, went unscored upon in league play, outscoring opponents 200-0 en route to setting a school record for wins (9) and matching the record for shutouts in a season (8).
Gilby served as team captain in 1944 and was voted Most Inspirational as both a junior and senior, becoming the first Panther to twice earn that distinction. Teammates marveled at his football mind and declared him a veritable coach on the field.
“He always knew what play to call”
“Keith knew his own assignments and everyone else’s too, which was the key to our offense,” tackle Bob Schick of Wasilla, Alaska, said in a fall 2009 telephone interview. “We all understood the game, and as things happened, if a lineman identified a weak point on the other team, he’d pass that information back to Keith in the huddle, and he always knew what play to call. I think we outsmarted most of our opponents. It was very seldom that we had a play sent in to us.”
Asked in 2009 to recall any favorite football memories of his own from high school, Gilbertson recounted his thoughts from the season-opening kickoff of his first varsity game: “I can remember running down the field and saying to myself, ‘I’m gonna make this first tackle,’ and I did.”
The Panthers allowed points in just three games during Gilby’s junior and senior seasons, blanking 14 of 17 opponents. Sixty-five years after the fact, Merv Boyes of Monroe still had crisp memories of playing Snohomish. “I remember getting hit by Keith Gilbertson. Nobody hit harder or played harder than Keith Gilbertson,” he said.
Gilbertson also lettered twice in basketball and played a starting role in 1944-45 on a Senior Seven-led team that went 24-6 and finished sixth at the state tournament – Snohomish’s highest state finish to that point.
While earning his fourth tennis letter in the spring of his senior year, Gilby doubled up to earn his 10th school letter as a weight thrower on the track team.
He later played freshman football at Washington State but a head injury during spring ball as a sophomore ended his playing career and turned his attention to coaching.
More photos of Keith Gilbertson in high school.
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