GILBERT — There are few things more memorable to Gilbert residents than the feeling of walking into the Gilbert football stadium before the Mingo County schools consolidation.
Those Gilbert Friday night lights were the highlight of everyone’s week because if there was anything you could guarantee on a Friday night, the entire town would be packed into those bleachers ready to cheer on the Gilbert Lions.
Darrell “Grunt” Taylor remembers this feeling fondly. Taylor played Quarterback for the Gilbert Lions during the seasons of 1983, 1984 and 1985, an era of football that most consider themselves lucky to witness.
“I played sports for most of my life. Back in those days, you had a few chores to do but after those were finished the only thing left was to play sports,” Taylor said. “I was the youngest of four boys in the family and I guess you could say I really started playing when I was part of my first time and that was the Horsepen Hornets.”
Taylor continued playing sports and eventually landed a quarterback position during his sophomore year of high school, the first sophomore to make the team.
“My brother was a great athlete at Gilbert and everyone knew him so I guess you could say I followed in his footsteps,” Taylor said. “I was known as his little brother even in the newspapers.”
Even though he was always associated with his older brother, Taylor says his time spent playing for Gilbert is a special time that he still holds dear.
“Gilbert was a football town and even though the school was small, there was nothing that felt small on a Friday night,” Taylor said. “Our team rode the line of confidence and arrogance. Most of us had played together since we were kids, learned each others movements and could almost read each others minds. We worked out together, played together and had class together and it had been that way for years.”
During the years Taylor played for Gilbert, the teamwork was evident in their record.
During Taylor’s sophomore year the Gilbert Lions went 10-1 in 1983 followed by a season of 11-1 and then 10-2. The Gilbert Lions were undefeated in the regular season during the first two years and were a playoff team the following year.
Taylor says that he loves the idea of the Gilbert alumni games but has never participated in them himself.
“My body won’t let me,” said Taylor as he laughed. “Besides, we whooped Matewan every year we played them.”
The Gilbert-Matewan rivalry is certainly one that most Gilbert residents are familiar with.
“People got really excited when it was time to play Matewan,” Taylor said. The whole park would be packed. People would even be standing on the hill. Everyone came out. I wish my kids could experience those sort of moments. The crowd at Mingo Central is huge but it isn’t quite the same.”
Even though the football program started later than most in the year early 70s, it did not stop the Gilbert Lions from making their first playoff game in the mid 70s.
“I think that was probably the start of this Gilbert pride that you saw. That pride is what made the atmosphere so special on Friday nights. Gilbert High School was the center of our community and everyone was proud to be a Gilbert Lion,” he said.
Taylor now works at Southern Community and Technical College as the Director of Enrollment and Student Engagement and previously worked at Concord University where he noticed that Gilbert pride did not just stop at the town limits.
“I asked every student that would come in where they were from and it never failed, Gilbert students always said Gilbert while many small town students would just say a small town,” Taylor said. “But our Gilbert kids always made sure you knew that they were from here. I’ve never seen a school with such a sense of pride like that of Gilbert High School.”
According to Taylor, even though he supports Mingo Central High School completely, he will always be a Gilbert Lion.
“I will always bleed purple,” Taylor said. “I just hope that over time, we are able to continue that type of confidence in our communities. I hope that we always continue to carry ourselves like a Gilbert Lions, on the line of confidence and arrogance.”