After 36 years of coaching boys basketball in Palm Beach County, Willie Gibson decided to hang up his whistle for good this season.
The longtime coach and educator has stepped away from the sidelines after three seasons with Forest Hill, 28 with Santaluces and five with Village Academy.
“I still love coaching and I still love the kids,” said Gibson, a Palm Beach County native who played at the old Seacrest High School in Delray Beach. “But it’s time to move on. I’ve got two grand-boys that are gym rats and play a lot of travel ball. I want to get the opportunity to watch them and work with them. I want to sit back and watch them grow.”
During his high school coaching career, Gibson amassed 596 wins, won multiple district championships and his teams played in two state semifinals.
He also shaped the careers of a handful of the area’s top high school coaches, among them Wellington’s Matt Colin, Atlantic’s Brad Flaig, Cardinal Newman’s Tavarus Harris and Santaluces’ Reggie Dixon.
Colin and Harris, who played for Gibson when he coached at Santaluces, recently led their teams to the Class 8A and Class 4A state championship games, respectively.
“Coach Gibson was much more than a coach to me,” said Colin, whose Wolverines won their first state title last month. “He was also a great mentor who has always been there for me. He was the first person I contacted after we won the regional championship, and we shared a special moment talking about the experience of going to a state championship.”
Gibson was an avid basketball player as a youth and went on to play at Palm Beach Community College (now Palm Beach State College). He turned to coaching shortly after his playing days ended, spending three seasons as an assistant at his alma mater before taking the head coaching job at Forest Hill.
Gibson moved to Santaluces three years later and spent nearly three decades with the Chiefs before moving to Village Academy.
“I love the game, and I love teaching the game,” said Gibson, who has taught P.E. for 42 years. “When I decided to go into coaching, it was great being able to share what my coach taught me and then watch so many of my players that are now coaching.”
Gibson has many fond memories of the years he spent on the sidelines, among them a key victory against Pompano Beach-Ely in 2009 that earned Santaluces a state tournament berth.
But he most cherishes the time he spent with his players, both on the court and off.
“This has been my life,” said Gibson, who will be honored at halftime of the 1st All-Palm Beach All-Star Basketball GameApril 11 at Palm Beach Lakes. “Now I can watch and see all these kids come back, and give back to the community.”