When a high school coach wins 1,000 games during his career, he has established himself as an icon in his sport.
That's why Morgan Gilbert is truly special, because he has won more than 1,000 games in two sports - basketball and baseball - during his outstanding 47-year career at three Arkansas high schools.
Last week the 70-year-old marvel notched his 1,000th victory in baseball as
defeated Piggott (Ark.) 11-8. He is the No. 1 baseball winner in Arkansas history.
His basketball victory total stands at 1,074. His 1992 Tuckerman team was Class A state runner-up with a 37-4 record. That same year his baseball team won the state title with a 31-4 record.
"That was a dream year," Gilbert said about the 1991-92 school year. "We won the state baseball title 2-1 over Delight, the home of (singer) Glen Campbell."
Gilbert readily conceded that he never had set out to accomplish such amazing records.
"I never wanted to do anything but coach," he said simply. "To win 1,000 in both sports is just astonishing - unbelievable."
During his career, Gilbert has sent 27 players into college baseball and 15 into college basketball. Even more impressive: 24 of his former players went into coaching.
Gilbert grew up in Tuckerman, which today has a population around 2,500. At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, he starred in baseball and was a substitute in basketball, graduating in 1960. He credits principal Austin Hanner with encouraging him to go into coaching, which he did after graduating from what is now the University of Central Arkansas in 1965.
He coached three years at Tyronza (Ark.), then five at Bay (Ark.) before coming "home" to Tuckerman in 1974.
"I was lucky that the two sports I wanted to coach was all that they (his three schools) had," he happily pointed out. "It's been good (his return to Tuckerman). I had a lot of friends here and it just worked out real well."
Today his Tuckerman baseball teams play on a state-of-the-art field named in his honor.
A longtime bachelor, he admits that his players have been his life.
"I still get a big bang when guys (former players) come back," he said proudly.
When he notched his 1,000th basketball victory, he was honored at a special ceremony and received a ball autographed by his current players. The milestone baseball victory brought him two autographed bats. One was from his current players and the other from the 57 former players who showed up on very short notice.
One of the 57 returnees was Charles Williams, the pitcher of record when Gilbert won his very first baseball game at Tyronza 47 years ago. Gilbert noted, "After all the speeches, I told the guys that I had the biggest thrill seeing all those guys come back than from any wins."
Of his more than 370 baseball defeats, he'll never forget the 2-1 loss to Hazen during the first round of the 1980 Class 2A playoffs. It lasted 21 innings and still is the longest state tourney game in Arkansas history. He only used two pitchers.
Over the years Gilbert has helped establish the Arkansas All-Star Baseball Game and coached the West during the inaugural contest (in 1991). He also served for 10 years as vice president of the Arkansas Baseball Coaches Association.
Gilbert is in good health and longtime Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports writer Tim Cooper acknowledges, "There's nothing about him that says he's going to slow down soon. He's been one of my favorite coaches - a great guy to be around. He's a throwback."
Gilbert revealed his longtime coaching philosophy when he noted, "There are two things I want them to know (by graduation): that I treated them fairly and gave them a chance to win."
As far as the R word (retirement) is concerned, he affirmed, "Coaching has been my life, my hobby and job. I think I'd be lost. After retirement, there's just one big event left."
So, look for him to again be at the Tuckerman helm next year and in the foreseeable future. After all, he starts five juniors and four sophomores in baseball and the entire basketball squad also will return.
That's enough incentive for anyone.