By GREGORY GAY AND CHRIS FITZ GERALD
Lew Kibling never led the Watertown High School boys basketball team to a sectional title nor achieved another sectional crown for Lowville once he helped the school secure its first in 1964.
But Kibling’s 35-year teaching and coaching career soared beyond mere victories. Kibling’s tenure, coaching mostly basketball and baseball for Lowville Academy and Watertown, inspired dozens upon dozens of coaching careers, including NCAA champion lacrosse coach Jim Berkman, longtime college basketball coaches Bob Williams Jr. and Phil Gaffney, and Kibling’s own daughter, Sue Gallagher, who helped launch the successful girls lacrosse program at Carthage High School as the team’s first coach.
Kibling, 87, died Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy that continues on fields and courts across the north country and beyond.
“He was an outstanding coach,” said Paul Adams, who coached junior varsity basketball with Kibling from 1972-89 and then succeeded the coach as varsity leader. “He always zeroed in on fundamentals, his players were all fundamentally sound, good ball-handling skills, good shooting techniques. He thought those were the most important thing of all.”
Kibling’s high school coaching career began in 1956 and ran until his retirement in 1989, including 12 years at Lowville and 20 more for WHS. He commanded respect, taught and coached with a firm hand, an attention-grabbing voice, a teddy-bear heart and a seemingly inborn skill for recognizing the best in individual young athletes.
“I was lucky, and most coaches are lucky, to have great kids to work with and that’s what I had,” Kibling said in 2013 just before he was inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame. He became just the second Frontier League coach to enter the state basketball Hall, after former Belleville coach Tom Murphy.
Kibling, who compiled 332 victories in his 33 years as a head coach for Lowville and Watertown and added 64 more as a junior varsity coach, also was inducted into the Section 3 Hall of Fame in 1997 and the North Country Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Kibling was also honored by his old team in 2017 when the Cyclones celebrated “Lew Kibling Recognition Night” during a game against the rival Immaculate Heart Central Cavaliers. Kibling spoke at the event, recalling the players he coached and joking about the referees, who were targets of his wrath during games. A number of former players attended the event, sharing stories about the impact Kibling made in their lives.
“As a person, he was loyal, he was dedicated to the school and to his sport and to his athletes,” Adams said. “I can honestly say nobody worked any harder at coaching and getting his kids ready to play than he did, he was really dedicated to the sport and it meant a lot for him to be successful. And he wanted his kids to be successful and move on to be able to play at the next level.”
Those touched by Kibling mentioned the effect the coach had in their lives in online condolences:
■ “I can’t think of any other coach in the area that has done more good than Coach Kibling, his legacy will go on,” Johnny Doe said.
■ “Coach Kibling was a tremendous role model and educator for so many athletes and students,” Jeff St.Croix said.
Adams said he was inspired by Kibling as well at the coaching level.
“As a young coach there’s no substitute for experience and knowledge and I was all ears,” he said. “I listened to everything he said and took the things that were important and tried to incorporate those into my philosophy of coaching. I give him a lot of credit for the success that I had, too.”
Kibling, who also coached at Whitney Point for a year, first drew attention among high school sports fans in 1964 when he coached the Lowville boys basketball team to its first Section 3 championship as the Red Raiders won the Class A title. Lowville did not win another sectional title until 2019 when it took the Class B crown, defeating fellow Frontier League squad General Brown in the Carrier Dome.
Kibling did not repeat the same kind of championship success with Watertown, never reaching another sectional final. The Cyclones at the time played in a league with large Syracuse-area schools such as Corcoran, Nottingham and Henninger. But the coach continued to leave an impression. Chad Kolb and Eric Schofield, co-captains on Kibling’s final Cyclones team in 1989, presented their coach with the game ball when he was honored by WHS in 2017.
“Watertown played in the Central Cities League and we coached in that league for like seven or eight years and then we came up here to the Frontier League,” Adams said. “But over those years we did a lot of scouting in Syracuse and a lot of bus trips to Syracuse and we spent a lot of time together.”
Kibling also coached cross country for several and years, guiding young athletes as well for the Cyclones baseball team, highlighted by Peter Salmon in the mid-1980s, one of the best high school pitchers to come out of the north country.
“In all my years of coaching, Peter was the best I’ve seen,” Kibling said in 2008. “He not only had a fastball clocked at around 86 or 87 miles per hour, he had a nice off-speed pitch that was basically unhittable when he got it over.”
He then added: “And besides all of that, he was just a tremendous kid.”
After he retired from high school coaching and from teaching at Case Junior High in 1989, Kibling, who lived in Mannsville with his wife Ann, coached the Jefferson Community College baseball team during the early 1990s. He continued to golf for years, recording a hole-in-one in 2015 at the Highland Meadows Golf Course.
Kibling’s daughters, Sue and Sandy, each began girls lacrosse programs with Sandy launching the Skaneateles team. The family legacy continued into this past school season as Kibling’s granddaughter, Katie Kibling, scored a career-high 41 points for Bishop Ludden in the team’s Section 3 Class A girls basketball semifinal over the Frontier League’s Indian River on Feb. 28.
“He lived a good life and had a lot of successes and he’s got a great family,” Adams said. “That’s the way that we all wish we could go, is have many of those things.”
Funeral arrangements are with Reed & Benoit Funeral Home in Watertown with a complete obituary and dates and times for funeral services to come. Condolences may be made at www.reedbenoit.com.