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‘We Miss Him’: Hartford Pays Tribute to Coaching Legend Stretch Gillam

  • From left: Pat Gillam, of Wilder, Vt., hands a game ball to her daughter, Mary Gillam-Ruffing, of White River Junction, Vt., next to her son, Ryan Ruffing, of White River Junction, as Mike Hathorn with Hartford High School embraces Stephen Gillam, of Wilder, next to Joe Gillam, of Quechee, Vt., on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, during a moment to honor the late Hartford basketball coach Robert "Strech" Gillam before a game between Windsor High School and Hartford in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor High School's Adam Stapleton (42) gets a hand on an attempted layup from Hartford High School's Aiden Sturley (15) on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, during a game between Windsor and Hartford in White River Junction, Vt. Windsor won, 54-40. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor High School's Seth Balch (14) looks for a teammate to pass to while being guarded by Hartford High School's Pat Brady (22) on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, during a game between Windsor and Hartford in White River Junction, Vt. Windsor won, 54-40. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 03, 2018

White River Junction — Wednesday’s boys basketball game between Marble Valley League rivals Hartford and Windsor was, as Hurricanes head coach Steve Landon described it, sloppy on both ends of the floor.

Luckily, a basketball game was only part of the reason a near-capacity crowd packed the Hartford High gymnasium.

Longtime Upper Valley basketball coach Robert “Stretch” Gillam, who died last summer at the age of 82, was honored before a 54-40 Windsor victory. Gillam’s family, both immediate and extended, was in attendance.

His wife, Pat, his daughter, Mary and sons Steve and Joey gathered at center court during a break in pregame warmups to receive a game ball from the Hurricanes’ athletic staff. The gift, presented by former basketball captain Mike Hathorn, was “for all your family, your father and your husband has meant to us,” Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno said.

The school also raised close to $1,100 in Gillam’s name for a scholarship that will be presented annually at the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association’s North-South Senior Classic at Windsor High each March.

Dave Fredrickson, the VBCA’s executive director and a longtime coaching opponent of Gillam at Arlington and Mount Anthony, said close to $5,000 has been raised for the scholarship so far.

“The VBCA’s motto is, ‘Making basketball better in Vermont,’ something Stretch did for nearly 60 years,” Fredrickson said to the crowd before the game. “I knew when I brought my team to Hartford, and Stretch was coaching, we were going to face a team that was well-coached and well-prepared. …

“Wins and numbers don’t tell the whole story,” Fredrickson continued. “Here was a coach that was dedicated to his players, taught more than basketball skills. He taught life lessons and made better players and better people.”

“Coach was the dominant player on our team,” added Pat Gillam, who also spoke during the pregame ceremonies. “With him gone, it’ll never be the same.”

Steve Gillam, a Hartford graduate who recently celebrated his 20th year as an referee, was also part of the three-man officiating crew, and said the game was a special moment.

“It’s a great honor, a great tribute to my dad tonight. I’m happy to be a part of it,” Steve Gillam said. “He was here, at multiple schools, for a long, long time. He loved it. That’s what he loved to do. He did it until he couldn’t do it anymore.”

Gillam, who coached at Hartford, Kimball Union Academy, South Royalton, Hanover, Oxbow and Green Mountain in Chester, Vt., put together a lifetime 618-496 record as a head coach between 1959 and 2009. He also was an inductee into the VBCA hall of fame, the Vermont Principals Association hall of fame and the New England basketball hall of fame.

“That’s what we were here for,” Landon said. “That’s what games do: bring people together. Nobody did that better than Stretch.

“I first played against (Stretch). I played for Harry (Ladue, Windsor’s longtime basketball coach),” Landon added. “When I first met Stretch, he wasn’t on my Christmas card list. But I coached with his son Joey here, when I first moved here. I spent hours and hours in the car with him and got real close with him over the last 25 years. We miss him.”

Windsor’s Ben Meagher took over once play started, scoring a game-high 21 points in the Yellowjackets’ fourth win of the season. Windsor outscored its hosts in every quarter, taking control with a 15-9 second period to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

Hartford’s Alex Valley countered with a strong night offensively, scoring a team-high 18 points as the Canes dropped to 2-5.

“It was sloppy,” Landon said of the game. “We have to play better if we’re going to have success against good teams. That team, I’m not going to play a team this year that’s better coached or more experienced than (Windsor).”

Windsor inside man Adam Stapleton finished the game with 12 points, and point guard Seth Balch scored seven in the victory. Hunter Gaudette scored seven points and Hunter Perkins added six points, both on 3-pointers, for Hartford.

But for this night, the game became secondary honoring a man who meant so much to almost everybody in attendance.

“Whatever we can do isn’t enough,” Landon said.

Notes: Donations for the Robert “Stretch” Gillam Scholarship Fund can be sent to the following address: Vermont Basketball Coaches Association, c/o Dave Fredrickson, 317 Silver St., Bennington, Vt. 05201. … Moreno announced on Wednesday the establishment of the Apple Bucket Series, a series of varsity contests between Hartford and Lyndon Institute beginning with the current athletic year. The series winner will get a rotating trophy along with possession of an apple bucket during the course of the year. Hartford owns a 2-1 lead, with wins in boys and girls soccer against Wednesday night’s girls basketball defeat. The series continues with boys hoop at Lyndon on Jan. 13. … Windsor (4-1) hosts Newport on Saturday.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.