The RHS graduate is the second Refugio athlete and the 132nd to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The other is Jack Sportsman, the “Mouth of the Bobcats,” who became a hall of famer in 1984 for his performance on the gridiron in 1950, 51, and 52.
When Gipson took the stage, he looked across the audience and spotted his long time friends, Jack and Louise Sportsman.
“You may not know me very well, but to my immediate left way in the corner are Jack and Louse Sportsman who have known me since I was 10,” Gipson said.
The new inductees were taken onto the football field and acknowledged after the first quarter of the evening game.
“Willie is a great guy,” Jack Sportsman said. “He was hired on the spot as a trainer at A&I without even a contract. They put him on a plane and sent him to Europe with the team. Without a contract, he had no money. The coach said, we’ve got to get that man some money. We sort of lost track, but he’s done very well.”
Gipson, a principal at Henderickson High School in Pflugerville, was a student trainer for the Javelinas from 1968 to 1972 and later as head trainer at the university.
He got his start as a trainer at RHS under Coach Bill Lucky. The former Bobcat’s athletic career was cut short during a basketball game in Sinton during his sophomore year. Another player went under him, knocking Gipson into the wall and snapping his ankle in three places. The coaches brought him home to Refugio and Dr. R.H. Heard set the breaks.
“Because of my injury, I was one of those athletes that didn’t have a career, but I was fortunate to grow up in a great community with great coaches, Coach Bill Lucky, Coach Watson and Coach Alvin Ringo,” Gipson said.
Lucky, the athletic director whose 1968 team was state co-champions, took Gipson under his wing and made him a student trainer. His hard work in high school paid off. Gipson says Lucky helped secure a scholarship as a student trainer for the Javalinas. He earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at A&I while serving as the student trainer.
After graduation from college, Gipson was head trainer at King High School in Kingsville from 1973-76. During the summer of 1976, he was an assistant trainer for the Seattle Seahawks before taking over the head athletic training position at Texas A&I from 1976-79. Gipson has two national championship rings and has been recognized with a 15-year service award by the University Interscholastic League and earned a 10-year service award from the University of Texas Track and Field Association and the AAU Track and Field Team.
The trainer went into the private sector as a training supervisor for the Western Company of North America but says his real love has always been in education so he worked his way back into that arena. He’s been a principal for the past 15 years in Plugherville.
He and his wife Jan have three daughters, Christiane Noah, Rhonda Upah and Heather Hover; and two sons, Michael Ransdell and Joe Gipson.
Refugio will always be home, Gipson says. Fond memories surround his growing up years under the watchful eye of his grandmother, Elula Gipson, who reared Willie Joe and his siblings.
“She was a cornerstone, the foundation in raising a bunch of boys,” Gipson says.”Ronny, Dee Dee and myself have all kept a relationship with the kids we went to school with.”
His brothers and cousin Harold “Hitter” Gipson were all stalwart Bobcat players.
Gipson says he has carried memories of Refugio with him throughout his life’s journey.
“Refugio was a great community when I was growing up,” he said. “It was the real world. If you needed a ride, someone would give you a ride and they’d feed you when you needed to be fed. Everyone knew each other. It was a great place to grow up.”
Reflecting back, Gipson, who has been in education for the past 20 years, says he received a quality education in Refugio.
“They made us do the work,” he said. “People praised your success and helped you succeed.”
When he was traveling with the Javalina team in Hawaii, Gipson, who has always been an early riser, went to breakfast in the hotel in Oahu at 6 a.m. He heard his former high school English teacher Emily Crump call out, “Willie Joe Gipson!”
“Immediately, I turned into the little boy from Refugio,” he said. “Yes, m’am, Mrs. Crump, I said. We talked for a while and her husband told her, ‘leave him alone, he’s not a little boy, he’s a grown man.’ Just this evening, I heard a vocabulary word I learned in Mrs. Crump’s class. You carry Refugio with you wherever you go.”