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Greater Tulsa Reporter


Gil Cloud Continues Amazing Sports Career

By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large

FACING CHALLENGES: Successful Tulsa Public Schools Athletic Director Gil Cloud is working diligently to answer the current funding shortfalls in Tulsa Public Schools. The photo was taken in the TPS Hall of Fame room.


TERRELL LESTER for GTR Newspapers


Gil Cloud just doesn’t know when to stop. Or, even how to stop. He is in perpetual motion.
Here, there, everywhere. Always moving forward.

High school athletics directors know all too well the demands that accompany the job.
Games to play. Coaches to hire. Superintendents to placate.

Then there’s Gil Cloud.

He is director of athletics for Tulsa Public Schools. He has nine high schools, nine athletics programs, to supervise. Nine times the coaches to hire. Nine times the games to play.

Then there are the 11 junior highs within his purview.

He should be retired. He’s 72 years old.

And he did try his hand at retirement. Once.

It didn’t take.

To Cloud, retirement is a dirty word.

Especially when one has the well-being of teenagers to consider. When one has the state’s second-largest school district to represent and promote.

It is not the workday that motivates Cloud. Not the job.

It is the lives of young people, the student-athletes, that drive Cloud.

What can he do to make their futures brighter? To make their high school memories luminous?

Cloud searches for answers to those questions daily.

Cloud is in his 49th year in education. In all but seven of those years he has carried the label of athletics director.

The 1964 graduate of Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School, and a football letterman, took a turn on the coaching carousel before entering the administrative field.

He was head football coach at McAlester High School and Coffeyville (Kansas) High School. He coached baseball at Cameron Junior College, was on the football staff at Kansas State University.

But in 1975, he checked in his coaching gear. He was hired as the first full-time athletics director at a suburban school just beginning to flourish on the eastern edge of Tulsa: Union.

Before his departure in 1991, Cloud had propelled Union into the upper echelon of high schools. With Grade-A facilities, namely an 11,000-seat football stadium unrivaled at the time, Union was positioned to become a formidable opponent.

Cloud’s reputation as a visionary grew in tandem with the maturation of Union.

He was an untiring, unyielding man of action.

“We wanted to be the best,” he said. “And I think we set a pretty good foundation.”

When he arrived at Union, the high school’s enrollment was 525, he recalled. He inherited a coaching staff of 11 to oversee 10 varsity sports.

Mingo Road was a two-lane, blacktopped road, flanked by pastureland and farm ponds.
When he departed, Union’s enrollment had expanded to 2,500 and his office managed 58 coaches in 21 extracurricular activities.

Mingo Road had evolved into a four-lane thoroughfare, flanked by untold acres of mercantile triumph.

He moved on to similar roles as athletics director at Guthrie High School, Arkansas Tech University, Northeastern State University and Upper Iowa University.

He was contemplating retirement in 2011, serving as president of a consulting firm providing services to college, universities and secondary schools.

Tulsa Public Schools contacted him. The athletics director had been dismissed. The department was plagued by scandal.

As lead consultant in the search for a new AD, Cloud submitted a report to TPS, indicating that he was unable to single out one name from the list of applicants.
Considering his own background, and comparing that with the people he had interviewed, Cloud concluded that he was the best candidate for the job.

TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard agreed.

Cloud assumed control of the athletics office in the spring of 2012. He was 66.
He was tasked with stabilizing a department.

He was energetic, forward-thinking.

He moved quickly to breathe new life into the office, the school district.
He had to don a variety of hats. He had to be a salesman. A public relations professional. A fund-raiser. A businessman. A human resources authority.

It was a challenge Cloud was prepared to tackle.

“In my first year at Union as athletics director, the three most important things I did was hire officials, schedule games and hire coaches,” he said. “Those were the three most important things.

“Today, it’s raise money, raise money, and raise more money.

“If I don’t do that, I can’t even think about those other things. You can’t hire an official, you can’t pay for the kind of transportation that we need to have to go to games. You can’t provide the kinds of meals, the kinds of uniforms that we all want.”

Cloud compared his role as AD to that of a CEO.

“Are we in business? Yes,” he said. “Do we produce a product? Yes. It’s entertainment.
“But the other product that we’re producing are live human beings.

“We want these kids to be better when they leave our program.

“And how can we make them better? If we both have the same level of kid, and I have more money to spend on my kid than you do, I’ve got a better chance to win. I can hire a better coach. I can travel better. I can eat better. I can buy better equipment.

“And people want to be a part of something that looks really positive.

“Image is everything,” he said.

As Cloud talked about perception, he was viewing the TPS Athletics Hall of Fame room that he created.

One year into his tenure with TPS, Cloud launched the hall of fame to recognize athletes and coaches who have contributed to the success of a school district that traces its beginnings to pre-statehood.

TPS has been able to shine a lasting light on the careers of TPS alums such as Kenny Monday, Wayman Tisdale, Spencer Tillman, Tony Casillas, Bill Allen, Dave Rader.

For all his work through all the years, this might just be Cloud’s finest legacy.

At a time when education funding is suffering, and his own department has seen its operating budget cut by $500,000 in two years, Cloud has managed to survive. Even thrive.

TPS schools captured five team state championships during the 2017-18 school year. Memorial won in boys basketball. Washington turned in winning performances in football, girls basketball, girls soccer and boys swimming.

Three other TPS programs finished runners-up in state championship competition.
But not all is golden.

In the last two school years, Cloud has eliminated 50 programs from the nine high school athletics departments. He has eliminated 70 coaching positions.

Only two schools now field swim teams. Pools have been razed at some schools.

Baseball now is played at five schools, softball and wrestling at six. Golf and tennis are on the interscholastic menu at three schools each.

The nine high schools each field interscholastic teams in these sports: football, volleyball, basketball (boys and girls), soccer (boys, girls), track (boys, girls), cross country (boys, girls) and spirit squads.

It is a sobering realization for Cloud and for TPS.

It forces an athletics administrator to step up and explore all fund-raising opportunities.

Fortunately for TPS, for its 3,200 high school athletes, Cloud is a time-tested, enterprising fund-raiser.

He has compiled a year-round roster of some 12 or so events that generate money for his department’s operating expenses.

There’s a golf tournament in the summer. The Grady Skillern All-City Football Preview has been around for 76 seasons. The basketball Tournament of Champions is a 53-year-old Oklahoma tradition.

The most recent addition to Cloud’s list of revenue sources is the hall of fame banquet during the winter.

“If the only thing that we accomplish through the hall of fame was that we created a better image for this school system, for this athletics program, then it’s well worth whatever it was,” Cloud said.

“Making the additional funds above that obviously is important to us. But to be able to be an integral part of the educational process when people always want to look at athletics (and say), ‘why do we have to have athletics and why are we spending all that money on athletics?’

“Well, let me tell you why. We’re building people that can go out there and be productive citizens. A lot of times, the only thing that keeps some of these people in school is to be able to play athletics,” he said.

“I’ve never, ever apologized for an athletics program, because I know I’m keeping kids in school that (otherwise) would be on the streets today.”

Since his arrival, Cloud has seen TPS dedicate and open new fieldhouses at Washington, Memorial and Edison high schools. A fieldhouse at McLain is scheduled to open in January. A new football stadium at Rogers is due in 2019. A new track recently opened at East Central. A fieldhouse is on the drawing board for East Central.

The source for the construction boom was a pair of bond issues passed in 2010 and 2015 during the tenure of then-Superintendent Ballard.

TPS recognized, according to Cloud, the level of commitment needed to compete in the ongoing athletics “arms race” with the flourishing Tulsa County suburbs of Union, Jenks, Bixby, Owasso and Broken Arrow.

“You have to provide the opportunities for your kids that are comparable to what they see (elsewhere),” Cloud said.

“If you want to give your kids every opportunity to be successful, then you’re looking for ways to improve your program every year. Status quo doesn’t get it.

“It takes money,” he said.

From selling signs on a gymnasium wall to creating game-day media guides to applying for grants, Cloud knows how to make a dollar. And how to stretch a dollar.

“We’ve had to tighten our belts,” he said.

Updated 08-13-2018

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