WINSTED – It doesn’t matter where Gerry Hicks is – at home, doing errands, out in the yard, in the easy chair. Doesn’t matter. Every day around 2 p.m. his thoughts inevitably drift to the Gilbert School Gym. No surprise, it is part of the withdrawal.
Hicks decided it was time to put the ball away and leave those winter weekend afternoons and precious Tuesday and Friday nights to others, retiring after last season following a 33-year coaching career that actually spanned 42 years. It takes a while to get used to.
“The afternoon rolls around and I think about being at the school,” Hicks says. “I think about Kurt Root (the new head coach and his former assistant). My head is still there.”
That’s the way it is for lifers, they move away from the game at least physically but the game never moves away from them. It’s in the blood.
Hicks spent those 33 years in the gym 22 years as Gilbert’s varsity girls basketball coach. The tenure was divided into two tours of duty, 1992-2003 and 2011-2023. Part of his life is wrapped up in that ancient gym and the program. So if his car wanders down that way you know why. It hasn’t and probably won’t but you’ll understand if it does.
Prior to the first stint Hicks was the junior varsity coach for Craig Schroeder then moved into the first seat on the bench when Schroeder retired. His first go-around ended when it was time to watch sons Dan and Greg play ball. When their time on the court was done the urge to return to the sidelines returned in full bloom.
“The idea to go back was there but (Gilbert) had a coach,” Hicks explained. “I talked to Athletic Director Mike Gamari about coaching Middle School and he said how about coaching varsity again the coach is leaving.”
So Hicks returned in 2011. It was an easy transition back, his position as a social studies teacher making him familiar with the school and players. He retired as a teacher in 2016 but continued to roll along soaking up those winter days and nights.
It has a been a fulfilling run but the idea of moving began to become prevalent last season.
“(Retiring) was in the back of my mind most of last year. Family needs change and I was needed more around home than in the gym,” Hicks said. “It was time to get someone younger (to coach). I’m 73 now and I didn’t want to leave and have my assistant (Root) not have a good group to work with.”
Gilbert has one of the Berkshire League’s all-time scoring machines in junior Emily Arel who has already broke the 1,000 point barrier and barring injury has a legitimate shot at the BL all-time scoring record held by Wamogo’s legendary Tracy Stolle (1,924 points).
For those wondering why Hicks wouldn’t stick around to see Arel through her final two years there is much about Hicks here. He didn’t need to leave with Arel, what he wanted was to leave Arel with Root.
“With (Arel) and some others there is a good opportunity for success.” Hicks said.
Hicks has also been cognizant of a numbers problem, an issue that is concerning to several BL schools. It was another factor that helped him make his decision that it was time.
“The number of participants has been down to 11 or 12,” Hicks said. “Some days at practice we had to wait around because there was around maybe seven girls there. Maybe moving on they can see if somebody can get more people. A lot of girls not coming to practice every day wears on you.”
Hicks also worried about the team not having a trainer any more. It always worried him that there would be an injury and nobody there to medically deal with it.
Still, when you leave so much of what is you in the gym and you hit the finish line, it is never easy.
“When I told the team I was leaving it was very emotional. It was hard to give it up,” Hicks said. “It’s been such a big part of my life. But, my wife is happy. She can see the difference in the way I am around the house.”
Hicks is still trying to process it all, the career, and adjustment to a new chapter where the basketball isn’t part of every day. There are moments that stick out when he sits down to ponder it all.
Basketball took him to China in 2015 where Gilbert toured cities and visited its sister school. For two weeks in April they toured a country most will never get to see and played a game. Hicks had only been out of the country once before.
“To come from a small mill town and get to do that was such a great experience,” Hicks said.
You could hear the pride in Hicks’ voice when he talked about a more recent time – the 2021 BL Tournament when his plucky squad knocked off both Northwestern Regional and Thomaston.
“The girls were so excited, it was a great thing for the program,” he noted.
He remembers with fondness when Ali Brochu hit a three-pointer at the buzzer against Capital Magnet in a 2012 state tournament game to send the contest into overtime. The Yellowjackets lost in overtime but it was a magic moment for a player that wasn’t a long-range shooter.
Hicks takes great satisfaction when his team knocked off powerful East Hampton during the 2016-2017 season after the JV team had been beaten convincingly.
There are also the players that left a lasting mark – Future Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer the brilliant Ellen Geraghty (1,806 points), a 1998 graduate, Jen Rea, Liz Wexler and Holly Zelenkowich.
The memories of a memorable career will continue to flow as Hicks moves on to life outside the gym. He will stay away from the court for a while and gradually resurface as time passes.
For now it is time to rest, relax and remember. Hicks will be away from the game but he will always have game. And he will be missed at the game. His absence will be noted this season and beyond.