The late Gary Coker might have been the first one to share stories with me about Porter Gilbert’s greatness as a Geraldine basketball player in the 1950s.
Any discussion of the best players in Bulldog history includes Mr. Gilbert, 81, who passed away March 24. He and his wife of 59 years, Deanna, lived in Huntsville. His brother is Richard Gilbert of Gilbert and Baugh Ford, and his sister is Kathy Harris Brown.
The DeKalb County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Mr. Gilbert in the class of 1999. He starred in basketball and baseball for the Bulldogs. He was basketball team captain in 1956 and 1957, and he was selected to the All-Tri State basketball team in 1957. He won most valuable player honors in the 1957 Alabama State All-Star Game.
Vince Dooley, who gained legendary status as Georgia’s head football coach, was a member of the Auburn coaching staff in 1957. After watching Mr. Gilbert score 35 points against Scottsboro in the finals of the old District 8 Tournament, Dooley told him he thought he wasn’t big enough to play at Auburn at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds.
Mr. Gilbert had several SEC scholarship offers, and he decided Georgia might be his best choice. Geraldine’s Fred Edmondson, Hobson Armstrong and Billy Smothers had all signed with UGA before him.
A couple of weeks after the District 8 Tournament, W.P. Gilbert — Porter’s father — and Geraldine coach Tom Richey drove him to Auburn to meet with Tigers’ coach Joel Eaves.
Coach Eaves had a different opinion of Mr. Gilbert’s basketball ability, and he convinced him to accept a scholarship. It proved to be a life-changing decision for him and the Tigers program.
Mr. Gilbert’s outstanding career on the Plains led to his selection as a member of the Auburn Centennial Team. A three-year letterman, he averaged 10.3 points while shooting 59.7% from the field for his career. He was Auburn’s all-time leader in field-goal percentage when he graduated.
Mr. Gilbert was one of Eaves’ Seven Dwarfs that won the 1960 SEC championship, the first in program history. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting a then-school record 57.4% from the field in 1959-60.
The Tigers won a school-record 30 straight games from Jan. 22, 1958, to Feb. 21, 1959, and Mr. Gilbert hit the game-winning basket six times during that historic streak.
He averaged 11.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game as a senior in 1960-61 while shooting 58% from the field. His teammates voted him captain as a senior.
Mr. Gilbert pitched three consecutive no-hitters for the Geraldine baseball team. He also lettered in baseball for Auburn, helping the Tigers win the 1959 SEC championship. That season, he batted .340 and posted a 2.95 ERA on the mound, striking out 54 in 58 innings.
Maybe the Geraldine basketball program can honor Porter Gilbert’s memory during a game in the 2020-21 season.
Shannon J. Allen is sports editor for The Reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.