‘He was a hero’ – Hall of Fame track and field coach dies

William Henry Wilson PHOTO PROVIDED BY WILSON FAMILY

William Henry Wilson, the Hall of Fame track and field coach who led the Vero Beach High School team to win two back-to-back state championships, died late Sunday, his family members said.

William Henry Wilson (left) with his son Billy Wilson. PHOTO PROVIDED BY WILSON FAMILY

He was 81 years old, his son Billy Wilson said. Billy Wilson coached alongside his father at Vero Beach High School when the track and field team won the state championships in 1989 and 1990.

The younger Wilson said his father taught him to be humble, kind and to treat people the right way.

“He was a hero for a lot of people, but he definitely was my hero,” said Billy Wilson, 57, Vero Beach. “He set a great example for me.”

The elder Wilson coached a countless number of athletes in Indian River County for several decades. William Wilson lead the track and field teams at Vero Beach High School to win 19 consecutive district championships, seven regional championships and back-to-back state championships, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association.

William Henry Wilson
PHOTO PROVIDED BY WILSON FAMILY

William Wilson was also the offensive back field coach for the school’s 1981 state championship-winning football team.

“He would never take credit for what his teams did,” Billy Wilson said. “He would say that he was just a bus driver to get the kids (to the competitions.)”

The Wilson family said their last goodbyes to the family patriarch while he was in hospice. Billy Wilson said his father had various illnesses since 2014, and that his death was not COVID-19 related.

“I told him the Lord finally has his bus driver,” Billy Wilson said. “He has helped so many young lives.”

Guidance for young athletes

William Wilson and his family moved from Tallahassee to Gifford in 1966, family members said. William Wilson was a head football coach and assistant basketball coach at Gifford High School at a time when campuses were still segregated.

When schools integrated in 1969, Wilson started coaching football and track and field at Vero Beach High School, Billy Wilson said. The school would later rename the track in William Wilson’s namesake.

William Wilson also taught physical education and driver’s education at the campus.

Under William Wilson’s leadership, 44 student-athletes received athletic scholarships to various colleges, according to Florida High School Athletic Association.

William Henry Wilson, left, and Billy Wilson
PHOTO PROVIDED BY WILSON FAMILY

“I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of my dad. That says everything about his character,” Billy Wilson said. “He was a father figure to so many people, young and old. He has done so much for the community and will be greatly missed by many people.”

In 1986, Billy Wilson started coaching alongside his father in track and field, and also coached basketball at Vero Beach High School.

Like his father, Billy Wilson also was an instructor and taught physical education and driver’s education for eight years.

Billy Wilson became an assistant principal at Sebastian River High School in 1994. The elder Wilson retired from teaching in 1997, but continued coaching young athletes.

The son and father also coached together for a youth basketball team that won the Amateur Athletic Union State Basketball Championships in 2000 and 2002 in Orlando, Billy Wilson said. Wilson’s grandson’s, William Wilson IV, 29, and Wesley Wilson, 27, played on the winning team.

William Wilson started coaching football and track and field at Sebastian River High School in 2005, and continued for seven years, his son said. The younger Wilson retired as assistant principal on July 31 after a 26-year career at the high school.

Family of athletes

William Wilson also coached his children and grandchildren to become stellar athletes.

The hall-of-famer coached his daughter, Yolanda Lucas Wilson, 52, Vero Beach, in track and field when she attended Vero Beach High School, Billy Wilson said. Billy Wilson said his dad coached him in football when he played as a receiver on the team.

William Wilson IV (left) and Billy Wilson
PHOTO PROVIDED BY WILSON FAMILY

William Wilson also coached his two grandsons, William IV and Wesley, and his granddaughter, Brandi Lucas, 25, while they all attended Sebastian River High School. William IV played football, basketball and track; Wesley played football and basketball; and Lucas performed weightlifting, Billy Wilson said.

 

Other notable accomplishments

William Wilson was a 14-time conference track and field coach of the year, according to Florida High School Athletic Association. He also received the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Outstanding Assistant Coach Award in 1993.

William Wilson earned the FACA Lifetime Membership Award, and was inducted into the FACA Hall of Fame in 1995. He also was inducted into the Florida A&M University Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, and the USA-Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994, according to FHSAA.

William Wilson received the Ida S. Baker Distinguished Black Educator Award in 1991. He also earned the Book of Golden Deeds from Vero Beach Exchange Club in 1992.

William Wilson served on the board of directors for the Indian River County Recreation Department, according to FHSAA.

The Hall-of-Famer coach graduated from Florida A&M University in 1961. William Wilson obtained his Master’s degree in physical education from the institution in 1967.

William Wilson played on the school’s undefeated national championship football team in 1961, according to FHSAA. Wilson leaves behind his wife, Kathryn, in her 70’s, two children and three grandchildren.

“His legacy will forever be alive. God broke the mold when he made him,” Billy Wilson said. “You won’t find a better mentor, friend, coach, dad or husband.”

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