At Monroe High School, Diane (Hawkins) Gilbert excelled as a three-sport athlete. She helped the Cheesemakers win four Badger Conference championships in track and was a member of the varsity volleyball squad.
In basketball, she was a two-time all-conference guard for the Cheesemakers, helping lead the team to back-to-back Badger Conference championships. In 2000, the squad was runner-up at the state tournament under Hall of Fame coach Kevin Keen.
“My fondest memory of prep athletics was being a part of the Monroe community and the support they gave all of our athletic teams,” she said. “I also was blessed with coaches, who all were very different and taught me some very valuable life lessons in such very different ways. That also includes my youth coaches.”
After graduating high school in 2001 she played for UW-Stevens Point, winning the NCAA Division III national championship in 2002. She was the UWSP Women’s hoops 2005 Pointer Award recipient and a 2008 Hall of Fame Inductee. She was a UWSP Leadership and Chancellors Leadership Award recipient.
Participating in athletics provided some of the toughest and most rewarding experiences in my life. At times it wasn’t always the easiest years in my life, but it has taught me a lot of life lessons.Diane (Hawkins) Gilbert, 2001 Monroe High School graduate
“Participating in athletics provided some of the toughest and most rewarding experiences in my life,” Diane said. “At times it wasn’t always the easiest years in my life, but it has taught me a lot of life lessons. Athletics allowed me an opportunity to work so hard at something and at times I succeeded and at times I failed, and in both instances, I was able to grow as a person.”
Married in 2013 to husband Grayson, Gilbert is currently serving as the Associate Head Women’s Basketball Coach and Athletics Eligibility Coordinator at UWSP.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Wellness and a minor in coaching in 2006, Diane interned at GE Healthcare in Waukesha, and then received a phone call from a familiar Monroe business. It was Reid Stangel, then the Green County YMCA director. Soon after, Diane was back at home in Monroe working as the program coordinator.
“After a year in that position I realized I missed being in the athletics atmosphere and working in college athletics, so I took a graduate assistantship at Edgewood College in Madison,” she said.
She took on a coaching role with the Edgewood College Eagles’ women’s basketball team.
“I was the top assistant for their women’s basketball program while getting my Master’s degree,” she said.
Once she earned her Masters of Arts in Education in 2009, she seized the opportunity to go back to UWSP as a basketball coach and an instructor in the school’s Health, Exercise Science and Athletics department.
“I spent my first five years teaching and since then I was promoted to Associate Head Coach for our women’s basketball program and shifted my other responsibilities to administration where I have aided in developing our Pointers Leadership Academy for Athletics and serve as the Athletics NCAA Eligibility Coordinator,” Diane said.
For the past 10 seasons, Gilbert has coached under longtime head coach Shirley Egner, who has been the head of the program for 31 years and is the all-time winningest coach in the WIAC, winning more than two-thirds of all contests at the school.
She said the career path change has suited her well, and she’s found herself in a very comfortable and fulfilling position.
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“I have always wanted to be on a career path to help make a positive impact in the lives of others and right now coaching and working in collegiate athletics provides me with the platform to do so. In my opinion, there is no better way to make that impact than through athletics,” Diane said.
She said part of her transition to coaching started early on in college.
“I think I became more intrigued by the path when I began college basketball and didn’t see the floor during games much as a freshman. It gave me an opportunity to look at the game from a different lens and taught me a lot about humility,” Diane said.
She said she thought back to all of her mentors, coaches, athletic administrators and employers during her time in college and it made her want to give back when she was done playing, repeating the process for others.
I think I became more intrigued by the path when I began college basketball and didn’t see the floor during games much as a freshman. It gave me an opportunity to look at the game from a different lens and taught me a lot about humility.Diane (Hawkins) Gilbert, 2001 Monroe High School graduate
Over her coaching years, UWSP has had plenty of winning seasons, and she said that other coaching opportunities have presented themselves. She said any coach who says they haven’t thought about switching jobs is lying, and that she’s open to a change, too, but only in the perfect scenario.
“…It would have to be a really good fit for me and my family,” Diane said. She said her husband has a great job, and her children, Natalie (6) and Griffin (2), like Stevens Point as well, meaning the offer would have to be tremendous in order to uproot the house and move.
She said that the help and support she and her husband get from their parents and siblings is tremendous. Diane’s parents are Doug and Sherri Hawkins of Monroe.
“My sister (Danielle) gets asked all the time if she went to UWSP with all the sweatshirts and clothes she wears. She’s in southeast Wisconsin, too, and she helps me a little bit with recruiting as she knows a lot of athletes,” Diane said. “My other sister (Dana) lives in North Carolina and keeps up, and my brothers (Darren and Derrick) are both supportive of my team and women’s athletics, even if they won’t admit it.”
Recruiting has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has been challenging. We have to think outside the box,” Diane said.
“Three biggest things I have learned in life through athletics: One, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Focus on relationships. Two, life is about making choices and you have to be able to live with the choices you make. And three, be grateful. Each day is an opportunity,” Diane said.
She said that young athletes want to “play” sports, but “to achieve the most growth in your athletics experience, you have to want to “practice” sports.
“A lot of times, as coaches and athletes, we define our success off things we can’t always control — playing time, wins/losses, statistics, etc. The only thing you can control in athletics is what you put into the process. It’s about what you put in daily at practice, how hard you work in the off-season, and the compassion you develop for creating relationships with all of your teammates and coaches,” Diane said.
She said the desire to win, and to have playing time, should help drive players to work hard, but should also not define players as a person nor as their worth to the team.
A lot of times, as coaches and athletes, we define our success off things we can’t always control — playing time, wins/losses, statistics, etc. The only thing you can control in athletics is what you put into the process. It’s about what you put in daily at practice, how hard you work in the off-season, and the compassion you develop for creating relationships with all of your teammates and coaches.Diane (Hawkins) Gilbert, 2001 Monroe High School graduate
“Everyone’s role is different but no role is more important than the other. You can only play competitively for so long but the discipline, humility, and ability to work with others can help you in all phases of life if you develop the desire to work on it,” Diane said. “My advice is to fall in love with the process so it can help you grow.”
She still pays attention to sports and news in her hometown of Monroe. She said that many of her best memories are not the games played, but the townspeople and relationships she was able to build before graduating. She said working for the Parks and Recreation Department at “The Muni,” the public pool, brings along plenty of great memories as well.
“Brooke McBain (MHS 2012) started working here at UWSP and I joked with her that I remember kicking her out of the pool when she was a little kid,” Diane said. “Being both in athletics and working for the city really helped me create some lifelong relationships that helped mold me into the person I am today, and I am very grateful for that.”