PRYOR, OK —
If you are a Pryor Tiger fan, the next time you see Superintendent Don Raleigh, Athletic Director Steve Jarboe or anyone else with a hand in hiring coaches for Tiger teams, you'd do well to shake those hands.
A little background:
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) classifies schools by average daily membership. According to the 2012-13 report provided by the OSSAA, Pryor falls into the 54th slot in the state, making it one of the smallest schools in Class 5A and one of the smallest schools in the "concrete district" placement of the OSSAA.
Pryor's average daily membership in 2012-13 hovered around 754 — exactly 500 less than the largest 5A school, Del City. Football district rival Claremore averages 450 more students in attendance than Pryor, Tahlequah 416, and 2012 state champion East Central 376.
The disparity isn't as wide as some of the 6A schools enjoy (Broken Arrow and Tulsa Union have average daily attendance numbers well over 4,000, while Booker T. Washington, the smallest 6A school, averages a paltry 1,287) but it does factor in to a school's ability to compete, not just on the field, but in attracting quality coaches.
Which is why the name Russ Gilmore should make your ears perk up.
Gilmore will take the reins of the Tiger boys basketball team after a long stint coaching in New Mexico. Gilmore took over at the helm of the Hobbs (N.M.) Eagles in 1998, relieving legendary coach Ralph Tasker. Tasker, who former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson credited as the inspiration for the famous "40 Minutes of Hell" defense, won 12 state titles in 52 years (including 11 and 49 with Hobbs), and upon his retirement at age 79 had compiled 1,122 wins as a head coach — good for third all-time.
Of any high school coach. Ever.
Yes, Gilmore had some big shoes to fill, and he filled them admirably, to the tune of five New Mexico state titles in 14 years at Hobbs. In 2001, Gilmore (who also spent 14 years at Amarillo [Texas] Tascosa) was named the national Coach of the Year by ESPN.
And now, after a brief one-year stop at Pecos (N.M.) High, Gilmore has set his sights on the small lake-country town of Pryor, Oklahoma.
Pryor administrators have spent the last few years carefully cultivating a successful athletic department and the seeds of their labors have begun to sprout.
Kim Barth brought four state titles worth of experience to the Pryor girls basketball program in 2011, and Jason Freeman, a 2012 hire, has firmly planted his roots as the Tiger head football coach.
They join long-time Pryor head baseball coach Gerald Osborne. Coach O celebrated his 300th win as the Tiger skipper last season and has led numerous teams to the state baseball tournament.
Along with Gilmore, the most recent addition to the Pryor head coaching staff is former Piedmont wrestling coach Roger White, who will fill the same position for the Tigers.
What's getting folks like Gilmore, Barth, Freeman and White to move to Mayes County and join the Tiger ranks?
A forward-thinking attitude and a commitment to improvement from both sides.
The Pryor athletic facilities are undergoing a massive facelift, ranging from the fitness center built in the junior high — thanks in large part to a federal Physical Education Program grant secured by Pryor director of health and wellness Laura Holloway — a football field parking lot renovation and added climbing walls and fitness equipment in elementary schools.
All that commitment and improvement has added up to the biggest hire in Mayes County sports in recent memory.
The jury is still out on whether Gilmore's teams can live up to the hype and high expectations that now surround the program, but one thing is for certain.
In their efforts to stack the deck in their favor, Pryor has just added an ace to an already full house.