Memories of Hoot live on a year later

It’s simply amazing how fast time goes.

When you’re a youngster, you hear your elders talk about how each passing year goes a little faster than the previous.

I am honestly starting to buy into that more and more as I quickly approach my 34th birthday.

Almost unbelievably, today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of long-time Times Leader Sports Writer Rich Gibson.

Gibson battled mantle cell lymphoma for less than a year before his passing.

A friend to all who knew him, Gibson put up a good fight. He received treatments at Wheeling Hospital and eventually spent almost two months at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State University in Columbus.

At that time, doctors basically told Gibson that they’d done all they could. The cancer cells were still growing and his body simply couldn’t handle any more treatments.

As he had done throughout the entire battle, Gibson took it like a trooper. He told me often that he wasn’t afraid of dying because he knew where he was heading and he’d accomplished basically everyone’s dream bucket list of events.

Still, it made the process no easier on his co-workers and friends.

However, knowing that Hoot was no longer suffering offered many of us a lot of comfort.

Still, the phone call that I received from T-L Managing Editor Bubba Kapral at approximately 2 a.m. that morning was one of the toughest I’ve ever taken and I know it was one of the toughest Kapral ever made.

Kapral was the contact that Wheeling Hospital reached to inform them that Hoot had died.

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that moment. I know I didn’t get back to sleep the rest of the night. I don’t think I’ve ever been to work as early as I went that morning because it was better than just tossing and turning.

Thus, from that point on, life at The Times Leader was different.

Over the course of the last year, the sports and events haven’t stopped. Though we’ve covered plenty of games, written plenty of stories and columns, the memories of Gibson never stop.

Just last weekend, Kim North, Rick Thorp and I were in the office telling stories that Hoot had shared with us over the years.

I have simply lost track of how many times I found myself saying things like, “Like Hoot always said” or “You know, Hoot once told me …”

And judging by the response of the Ohio Valley in the last year in recognition of Hoot, it tells me that this man touched so many people, kind of like he did me and the others at the paper.

While it was very disappointing to many of us that Hoot’s family elected not to have any formal visitation or services shortly after his passing, the outpouring of support in a myriad of ways was almost overwhelming.

There was a moment of silence in honor of Gibson at the Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic, John S. Marshall and John Budinscak, who work with the Belmont Mountaineer Athletic Club, organized a mass at St. Mary’s Church in Martins Ferry last August and this past spring the OVAC re-named its baseball Coach of the Year Award after Gibson.

Unfortunately, later in August, Gibson was inducted to the OVAC Hall of Fame posthumously. Times Leader Publisher Lori Figurski accepted the award, which is currently displayed in our newsroom, with an elegant speech that night at WesBanco Arena.

While Hoot didn’t get deliver his speech and receive his award, he was aware of it. He had received his letter of induction prior to being sent to Columbus for treatment and continually had talked about the honor.

During the early portion of football season, several schools held a moment of silence in honor of Hoot. You have to remember, though probably not arriving until the band was playing the National Anthem, he’d been visiting these stadiums for some 30 years.

This spring T-L Lifestyles Editor Shaunna Dunder-Hershberger – a cancer survivor herself – organized a team for the ‘Light the Night Walk’ in April at Wheeling Jesuit.

The donations she received just from people in the community wanting to do something to honor Hoot was beyond impressive. For the sake of not wanting to leave someone out, I won’t even try to name them all, but your donation and thoughts were greatly appreciated.

The team was comprised basically of people at The Times Leader, but long-time St. C. baseball coach Richard “Lefty” Hall came to the event and stayed the majority of the evening.

Last month, Gwynne Messenger organized a Relay for Life team in honor of Hoot, naming it “Batting a Thousand” because of Gibson’s passion for the game of baseball.

These are things that people have chosen to do on their own just because Hoot meant a lot to them.

All of the above are just incredible and it shows how much of a positive Gibson was in the Ohio Valley and how much he meant to so many people.

Hoot was a Hall of Fame Sports Writer and more importantly, he’s a member of the Hall of Fame of people and friends.

Time and the years will continue to pass, but believe you me, the memories of our friend, “The Hooter,” will last eternal.