Gilbert, former Maryville football star and coach, dies

Billy Jack “Buddy” Gilbert, star athlete at Maryville High and Maryville College in the 1940s and a long-time coach, died Aug. 15 at his home in Alcoa.

Gilbert, 76, played football, baseball and basketball at Maryville High in 1947-49 on teams that compiled a 24-6 record, including 9-1 in 1948 when its beat Oak Ridge, Everett, Alcoa, Elizabethton after losing to Bristol 13-7.

His senior yearbook pictured only three players, Gilbert, Don Hill and Jack Powers, on the baseball team. “They were so good we only needed three players,” his coach, the late Jim Renfro, often joked.

Gilbert, a 1956 graduate of Maryville College, played tailback, fullback and blocking back during his high school years and at Maryville College under legendary coach Lombe Honaker. His Maryville College years were interrupted by service in the Army during the Korean War. He played on an undefeated team at Fort Devins, Mass.

Gilbert coached at Maryville High and Memphis Catholic High in 1955-59 on the staffs of close friend Ollie Keller, who later coached at Iowa State, Memphis State and Northeast Louisiana. Gilbert also was an assistant coach at Maryville College in 1978-79.

“Buddy was an outstanding coach,” said Keller. “He could motivate players on and off the field. He had a strong work ethic, knew the game of football and was wonderful to work with.”

One day during practice, one of Gilbert’s fellow coaches had single-wing guards pulling to lead the ball carrier through the hole and had them running under a sawed off broom stick to stay low.

“That may keep ‘em low this afternoon, but you’re not going to have a broom stick on the field Friday night,” Gilbert told his colleague.

Gilbert worked for the Aluminum Company of America out of its Pittsburgh office as a field service inspector in 1961-70, managed the rental program at Costner-Eagleton Motors in Alcoa in 1971-74, was a quality control engineer for U.S. Nuclear Inc., in Oak Ridge, in 1974-76. He retired from teaching and coach at Loudon High School in 1994.

Among his closest friends were Jackie Myers, starting center on their senior football team; the late Clarence Shepard, star tailback at Maryville High and All-America at Maryville College, the late Jack Powers, starting tackle at Maryville High; Robert Sherlin, who helped Buddy coach Little League baseball; and Bob Gilbert, Buddy’s one-time roommate.

“Buddy had a great heart and would do anything for you,” Myers said. “We mowed many a law together when we were kids. We were classmates starting in the fifth grade.”

“Gilly and I traveled a lot of roads together, spent many hours talking football and shared many great times. But the worst was the night we used an electric blower to clean off the leaves from our patio behind our apartment house,” Gilbert said. “We went to dinner, came back two hours later and found two fire trucks in the yard and the old ladies who lived in the building watching a huge oak tree burning, having caught fire from the fanned coals in our patio firepit.”

In recent years, Gilbert and his wife Peggy traveled extensively in Europe and the Caribbean.

An avid reader of history and the Bible, Gilbert after retiring began studying religious philosophy. He and Peggy were members of Middlesettlements United Methodist Church.

A memorial service was held Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. at the church.

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