Girls basketball was a whole new ballgame for Keith Gilbertson, but it soon became a bliss.
If he were considering retirement as an SHS volunteer coach, that option was never more open to him than in the 1995-96 school year as Snohomish introduced new head coaches in both football and boys basketball.
In football, Gilby’s transition from Dick Armstrong’s staff to Mark Perry’s staff was a bit easier because he and Perry had worked together on Armstrong’s staff. But when Len Bone replaced Jim Adams as basketball coach, the 68-year-old Gilbertson wasn’t invited back, and it appeared his SHS hoops-coaching days were over.
At that point, longtime girls basketball coach Mark Albertine stepped up and asked Gilby if he’d like to help coach the girls.
“I knew he’d be itching because that was his outlet. Coaching was his life. But he was hesitant at first,” Albertine recalled. “I told him, ‘Look, just come to one practice and watch.’ And when he did, it took all of 30 seconds to convince him to coach.”
Albertine and Gilbertson also had previous affiliation as members of Armstrong’s football coaching staff.
“I think he just wanted to be sure that the commitment and the level of expectations (in girls basketball) were the same as for the boys,” Albertine said. “He wanted to be in a position to offer his expertise, and have them be receptive.”
To his delight, coaching girls became a tonic for Gilby, whose wife, Eileen, passed away in 1995. He quickly came to relish his involvement with the girls because of what he termed their consistent attentiveness and eagerness to learn and improve.
In Albertine’s last season as head coach in 1999-2000, the Panthers won the Wesco title and took third at state – their highest finish since finishing second in 1993. Over the past 11 seasons under head coach Ken Roberts, the girls won seven league titles and made as many trips to the state, highlighted by second-place finishes in 2005 and 2009.
Roberts, a 1986 SHS grad, had Gilbertson for a football and basketball coach during his own high school career. When Roberts returned to Snohomish and took over Albertine’s program, he said he heard voices advising him not to retain the old volunteer coach.
“I just said to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This is Coach Gilbertson.’ Of course I wanted him back,” Roberts said.
“His role in games was not as big as he got older. When we started coaching together, he told me he didn’t see things quite as well or as quickly as he used to – like whether the other team was pressing or had switched defenses from zone to man-to-man. The game just got so much faster. But he was still a big help on the bench, keeping track of timeouts and watching how players tire.
“Where he really made a difference for us was in the conditioning and practice part.”
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