As it has been almost two full years since I have traded the Ohio Valley for the Shenandoah Valley, not a day goes by that I do not think of my family, friends, and all of the people who have helped me get to where I am at today. The Ohio Valley is a very special place. Filled with some of the hardest working people in the world, from steel mill workers to volunteer fire fighters to coal miners, we will never settle for anything less than an honest attempt to put our stamp on doing what's right every time. Often we overlook the sacrifices that one makes every day, and without it, the light would not shine.
I sat back and tried to accept the truth that we all had lost a great friend, I began to reflect on my personal relationship and the memories of Hoot. As a former athlete and coach, I tried to think of the best way to honor such a great man that had influenced every student-athlete that ever laced up in any sport. Rich Gibson had spent his whole life trying to bring the light to us all, and he was one of the best to ever pick up a pen. Then it hit me. It's time for us to write about him.
Seth Staskey said it best, growing up, we always knew if Hoot Gibson was there, it was the biggest game of the night. You could read the article and picture the replay of the game, quarter by quarter, inning by inning, almost rarely forgetting the smallest detail captured through his trademark glasses. When he entered a room, he could capture it with humility and leave an impression of greatness. Always willing to offer a kind word of encouragement, Rich was loyal to every one of us, making sure that the spirit of the moment would not be forgotten. His mind was a steel trap. Often, when others forgot the past, there was Hoot to remind us. Whether it was an Ohio Valley Baseball League game in Barton to the NBA Finals, I guarantee that the passion of the article did not change one bit.
After my playing days were done, Hoot invited me to travel with him to some Pirates games, as we both have always been loyal to the Black and Gold. It was as if the wizard had pulled back the curtain, and I finally began to see who he was as a person. He loved the Beatles, heck, he loved music period. He had served our country, and logged more travel miles than you or I could ever imagine. We always talked about places that he wanted to visit, including a weekend trip to Alaska, just because he had the frequent flyer miles. He never bragged or tooted his own horn, you almost had to pry it open with a crow bar, but when he opened up, all you could do was listen. It was like a conversation with God himself. He never once hinted at the battle he was facing. He was selfless. After the last trip, he told me that sometimes he worried about not having taken the time to have a family himself, but smiled and said it was always about the kids anyways.
"Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Don't think about doing it. Go out and do it." Those were the last words that I ever heard from him and they echo even more today. On behalf of ALL of the student-athletes, coaches, teams, fans, and communities, I say thank you Hoot. You will be missed.
George W. Laase III