Coach G’s Legacy
First Place article in In-Depth Reporting at 2016-2017 state Journalism Competition.
November 2, 2016
Filed under News
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
The day of Greenbrier West’s last home game of the 2016 football season was very touching to our community for many reasons.
For dozens of Seniors in football, cheerleading, band, and JROTC, the game was the last time they would take the field (or the track) as Cavaliers. These students lined up on the track before the game to be recognized for their efforts, and walked, in uniform, with their escorts as their names were called.
In addition to this, the football team walked out of the locker room hand-in-hand, and placed flowers on our beloved Coach Gilkeson’s golf cart as “Go Rest High on the Mountain” played over the speakers. The boys dedicated their last game to their late coach, and took the field in his name.
Russ “Coach G.” Gilkeson passed away suddenly at his temporary home on October 16, 2016. Two days prior, half the school and most of the city of Rainelle attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Russ and his wife, Rebecca’s, new home. Theirs was the first to be completely rebuilt after the flooding earlier in the year made their old house unsuitable for living in. One of the many organizations that moved into the area after the flood, Appalachian Service Project (ASP), was responsible for the Gilkeson’s home. State and local politicians and their representatives came to give speeches, congratulating the Gilkeson’s on their new home. One of ASP’s representatives gave a prayer of blessing upon the home and Russ and Rebecca’s marriage. Tears of joy were shed, and Coach G and his wife gave their endless thanks as they were handed the keys to the house.
News spread quickly of his passing. Nearly everyone on the western end of Greenbrier County has had some sort of interaction with Coach G before his passing, and every person had something positive to say about him. Even those who did not personally know him admitted that they knew someone who has been blessed by something Coach had said or did.
On Monday, a Facebook page called “We Remember Coach G” was created by Russ’ family, where current students, parents, teachers, alumni, friends, and family shared their fondest memories of him and explained his impact on their lives. One alumna shared the story of how Coach G helped her cope with her father’s death when she was fourteen. Another shared how he literally saved her life in junior high by giving her the Heimlich maneuver when she was choking. Many of his current and former athletes have expressed how he made them better at what they do by teaching them about sportsmanship and perseverance.
Aside from teaching and coaching several sports at Rupert Junior High, Rainelle Junior High, and Greenbrier West High School, Russ Gilkeson also served in the United States Navy. He worked as a teacher and coach in our local schools for over forty years.
His services were held on the Thursday and Friday after he passed. Hundreds of people, including at least a fourth of the Greenbrier West student body, attended the services. Several senior football players served as pallbearers, supporting their coach even as he was laid to rest.
As the funeral procession made its way across Route 60, most of the remaining staff and students who did not attend the services stood beside the road to wave a final farewell to their coach, teacher, mentor, and friend.
After the last home game, both football teams and spectators gathered in the middle of the field for a heartwarming memorial service for Coach G. Chad Smailes, a Greenbrier West math teacher and local pastor, led the service, sharing all of Russ’ achievements and his impact on the lives of his friends, family, and students. A prayer was given over those who were and are still grieving his passing. The stadium lights were turned off, and candles were lit. For anyone watching, even those who did not know Coach G, there was an undeniable feeling of peace and reverence settling over the field.
The Cavtalk staff sends their condolences to all of you who feel Coach G’s absence deeply. You are in our thoughts and prayers.