Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Grambling greats: Wilbert Ellis

GSU's Ellis now a Hall of Famer
September 20, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – Former longtime Grambling State baseball coach Wilbert Ellis will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“This is about the highest achievement in my profession,” said Ellis, known on campus these days as The Dean. “Just hearing I was under consideration, with all the great coaches that went before me, I was thrilled.”

Ellis, who retired in 2003 after serving more than 43 seasons as an assistant and then head coach at GSU, will be part of a nine-member induction class. Ceremonies will be held Jan. 5 in Orlando, Fla.

“It brought back great memories,” said Ellis, who compiled a 745-463-1 record at Grambling. “It also let’s me know that all the hard work at Grambling paid off.”

Ellis initially served 17 seasons as an assistant to R.W.E. “Prez” Jones, Grambling’s first baseball coach and its second school president. Jones retired with more than 800 wins, many of them with Ellis beside him on the bench.

“ ‘Prez’ gave me a great opportunity, hiring me as a young coach right out of school,” Ellis said. “I tell you what, when he offered me the job, I never even asked how much I would make. I was working with some of the greatest men in the world – ‘Prez’ and (former football coach and athletics director) Eddie Robinson.”

Named head baseball coach in 1977, Ellis led Grambling to a 32-19 record the following year on the strength of a pitching staff that finished second in the nation with a 2.33 earned-run average.

“ ‘Prez’ taught me well,” Ellis said. “As far as I was concerned, I was ready to go. It was a thrill from there on.”

Over the following 25 years, Ellis’ teams won three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and five SWAC West divisional titles, while advancing to a trio of NCAA tournaments.

Several of those squads produced big-league stars with Ellis on the bench, either as an assistant or skipper.

Tommie Agee went on to help the New York Mets to the 1969 championship. He also appeared in the 1966-67 All Star games, and was named 1966 American League Rookie of the Year, while with the Chicago White Sox.

Ralph Garr, a Monroe native, would lead the National League in hitting in 1974, compiling a.353 average on his way to All-Star honors. Garr would bat .300 or better five times during his career.

Lenny Webster, drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1985, hit .254 over 12 seasons and appeared in the 1997 AL Championship Series with Baltimore. Gerald Williams, selected by the New York Yankees in the 1987 amateur draft, averaged .255 over 14 seasons. He appeared in a pair of NL Championship Series (1998-99) with Atlanta and in the 1999 World Series against his former team, the Yankees.

Matt Alexander won a title with Pittsburgh in 1979. Courtney Duncan played two seasons after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1996 amateur draft.

“I feel grateful for the opportunity to touch these players lives – all of them, whether they played pro ball or not,” Ellis said. “All those players who wore the Black and Gold made this possible. Without them, Wilbert Ellis wouldn’t an honor like this.”

Ellis served in a series of administrative roles over the years, beginning as assistant athletic director in August 1989. He was later promoted to associate athletic director and also served as the university’s interim athletic director from September 1996 to January 1997.

One of Ellis’ proudest moments at Grambling came late in his career, when he oversaw the opening a new baseball stadium. That precipitated the first night game ever played on campus, as Grambling swept the Texas College Steers on Feb. 13, 2003.

He also played host to the New York Yankees in exhibition games on campus in 1979, 1989 and 1996.

A native of Ruston, Ellis holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Grambling, earned in 1959, and a master’s degree from Kansas State University.

Ellis retired as the 40th all-time winningest baseball coach in Division I history. He has since worked as NCAA coordinator for regional and super regional tournaments, served on the NCAA Rules Committee for baseball and been named to head fundraising for the proposed Eddie Robinson Museum project.

g g g

Going way back
April 13, 2006

The efforts to establish an Eddie Robinson Museum took an old-school turn for the better with the selection of Wilbert Ellis to head up fundraising.

Ellis will politely tell you that he and Coach Rob "go way back." In fact, Mrs. Robinson taught the future Grambling coach and administrator as a school boy. He then attended Grambling and eventually took a job as an assistant under former baseball skipper (and school president) R.W.E. Jones, who he followed as head coach in 1977.

Ellis, then, is one of the final remaining links to that great period in Grambling's storied history, something the Eddie Robinson Museum Board has lacked as it has struggled to duly honor Grambling's former gridiron legend.

Ellis underscored that in the simplest of ways on Thursday, when he brought along an old photo to the museum board meeting. Featured in it were Ellis, Jones (beloved far and wide as "Prez"), Robinson and former basketball coach Fred Hobdy.

"That picture brings back so many memories," Ellis said. "My motivations go back to those days. We hope to rally the school, the community, the business world and everybody around the nation to help us establish a place to experience what Coach Rob achieved."

Ellis can certainly help them get there.

g g g

In the fast lane
May 30, 2006

Former Grambling baseball coach and administrator Wilbert Ellis is on a plane right now, headed to Norman, Okla., as the tournament director for the NCAA baseball regional.

That honor has come Ellis' way so many times, he says he's unsure now if this is his 14th or 15th in the row. But it remains an important tip of the hat to one of Grambling's last remaining treasures from the glory years.

"It's a lot of work, but it's enjoyable," said Ellis, who will oversee an event that features teams from Oklahoma, Houston, Wichita State and Texas Christian. "You get to see some great baseball, and if things go well you move on to the super-regionals and then to Omaha."

Wilbert retired after working as a baseball coach at GSU for more than 40 years, first as an assistant to former school president R.W.E. Jones and then as his successor. He led the Tigers to three SWAC titles, five Western Division titles and three trips to the NCAA tournament, even while working as an associate, assistant and interim athletics director over the years.

Once Ellis gets back, he'll jump into the resurgent Eddie Robinson Museum project, where he heads up fundraising. Ellis hasn't slowed down a bit.

And the accollades haven't either.

g g g

Going national
Grambling's Wilbert Ellis inducted into prestigious baseball coaches' hall
January 6, 2007

By Nick Deriso
They only gave Wilbert Ellis eight minutes to make his acceptance speech.

Grambling State's former baseball coach said he could have talked for hours on everyone who touched him over a 43-season career honored Friday with induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"I'm humbled with this, that they would think of me for whatever I have contributed to the game as well as to those who played for me," Ellis said.

Ellis was part of a nine-member ABCA class honored during ceremonies at the WorldCenter Mariott in Orlando, Fla. Fewer than 150 coaches have been inducted in the association's hall over the past 40 seasons. LSU's Skip Bertman (1993) and UNO's Ron Maestri (1991) are the only other members to work the bulk of their careers at Louisiana universities.

"Receiving this honor, I feel like I made a contribution at the university, and touched the lives of some guys who wore the Black and Gold," Ellis said. "It's hard to believe it happened."

The Ruston native served as head baseball coach at Grambling from 1977-2003 after working the previous 17 seasons as an assistant to Ralph Waldo Emerson "Prez" Jones — GSU's second school president and first skipper.

Along the way, Ellis compiled a record of 737-463-1 at Grambling, retiring as the 40th winningest baseball coach in Division I history. He earned five Southwestern Athletic Conference divisional titles and three overall championships. A variety of administrative roles followed over the years, including associate and assistant athletics director as well as interim AD.

"It was Grambling and I loved that university," Ellis said. "Grambling just had such a great impact on my life."

A signature moment for Ellis came late in his coaching career when he oversaw the opening of a new baseball stadium — which then precipitated the first night game ever on campus. He also played host to the New York Yankees in exhibition games on campus in 1979, 1989 and 1996.

Ellis still shakes his head in wonder at all of that, looking more than a little like the youngster who grew up dirt poor, attending the now-closed all-black Lincoln High. Back then, Ellis used rocks and a stick to play the game.

Later, under the tutelage of the late Jimmy Duncan at Lincoln, there grew in Ellis the first flowerings of what would become a lifelong dream.

"I remember a lot about it today," Ellis said. "I had this dream ever since I was 9 years old, that I wanted to be in charge of a group, that I wanted to coach."

Exhibition games against Jones' teams led to their long association. "Prez" signed him to play college ball and then hired Ellis in 1959, the same year he graduated from Grambling.

"I was so excited, I never even asked what they would pay me," Ellis said. "It was just a great honor."

He stands now as one of the last vibrant links to a period of dramatic growth for the Grambling legend, as Jones, former football coach Eddie Robinson, basketball coach Fred Hobdy and sports information director Collie J. Nicholson established the tiny school's national reputation.

Jones, Hobdy and Nicholson have all passed, while Robinson has been ailing for several years.

"They made a difference and a great impact on my life," Ellis said. "I just wanted to be like those guys. They motivated me in the profession."

Jones retired with more than 800 wins, many of them with Ellis alongside him. Grambling squads produced a series of big-leaguers with Ellis on the bench, either as an assistant or skipper — including Matt Alexander; Tommie Agee; Courtney Duncan; Ralph Garr, a Monroe native; Lenny Webster; and Gerald Williams, among others.

Several former players, as well as family members and co-workers, attended the ABCA event on Friday. Missing, however, were two key figures in Ellis' life.

His mother recently suffered a stroke, prompting Ellis to miss his first Bayou Classic in the history of that event. Ellis' wife is also scheduled for surgery today, and could not attend.

"I dedicated this honor to them all," Ellis said, stopping to fight back some emotion. His father died some 18 years ago.

Ellis has kept busy as a "retiree," working for the last eight postseasons as director of NCAA-sanctioned baseball tournaments, including several Super Regionals. He has also served since last year as the chief local fundraiser for the proposed Eddie Robinson Museum project.

Ellis has spoken with great passion on the importance of honoring Robinson, who still holds the record for Division I college football victories.

"Eddie Robinson was so humble in what he would do; he never talked about his own accomplishments," Ellis said, then widened his focus to include Jones and the other Grambling mentors he'd worked with.

"Once they touched a youngster's life, they were concerned about him more off the field than on," he said. "They were preparing them to represent our community. All of that rubbed off on me. Outside of my mom and dad, they had the most impact on my life."

No comments: