‘The heartbeat of SRHS’ – Family, friends remember Billy Wilson


SEBASTIAN — Billy Wilson’s impact on the community over the years was evident Saturday as family, friends, coaches, school board members and deputies gathered to pay final respects.

“He was a man of integrity. He was the pulse, the heartbeat of Sebastian River High School,” the school’s principal Christopher Cummings said. “He was my mentor. He took me under his wing and taught me about the power of developing trustworthy relationships and leadership skills.”

Wilson, a former assistant principal at Sebastian River High School and sports coach, died unexpectedly from health-related issues Oct. 13 at his home in Winter Beach. He was 57 years old.

Wilson’s death also came less than a month after the passing of his father, William Henry Wilson, a Hall-of-Fame former track and field coach for Vero Beach High School and sports coach at Sebastian River High School.

Wilson’s funeral was held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sebastian River High School’s performing arts center. More than 100 people were in attendance.

A batch of white flowers laid atop of Wilson’s blue casket near roses and a sash that read ‘VBHS class of 1981.’ Mourners wore masks as they sat for the service.

Photos of the Wilson family flashed across a screen as the service began. Singer Luther Vandross’ hit-song “Dance with my father” – a song about the bond between a father and son – played in the background.

Attendees also saw a wedding video that showed Wilson and his wife of 28 years, Teneshia, “jumping the broom,” a common ceremonial practice for new marriages. Teneshia died in 2016 at age 51 from health-related issues, family members said.

There was also live music. James Broxton and the Essence of Sound band performed gospel songs such as “Jesus is Love” and “Going Up Yonder.”

Dr. Peggy Jones, school board member and former principal at Sebastian River High School, said Wilson “left an imprint on our hearts that will stay with us forever.”

“I love you and will miss you each and every day,” said Jones, her voice filled with emotion. “Mr. Sebastian River High School, also known as Mr. Billy Wilson, always remember and never forget, you can’t hide that shark pride.”

The Sebastian River High School band paid tribute to Wilson by performing a musical selection in front of the campus.


The elder Wilson died from health-related issues Sept. 20 at 81 years old.

The father-and-son duo coached track together at Vero Beach High School when the teams won back-to-back state championships in 1989 and 1990. The Wilson’s also coached a youth basketball team together that won the Amateur Athletic Union State Basketball Championships in 2000 and 2002 in Orlando.

Wilson’s sons, William Wilson IV, 29, and Wesley Wilson, 27, both of Jacksonville, played on the winning team. Billy Wilson and William Henry Wilson coached a countless number of athletes in Indian River County for several decades, including Cummings.

“I knew Billy and his dad from when I was a kid,” said Cummings, who previously served as assistant principal at Oslo Middle School. “They coached me in track and football when I attended Vero Beach High School.”

The mentorship Wilson provided Cummings continued overtime. Cummings said Wilson helped him with the learning curve when Cummings became principal this year at Sebastian River High School.

Shawn O’Keefe, principal at Vero Beach High School, said he had known Wilson for 25 years. The two worked together as assistant principals at Sebastian River High School from 2002 to 2008, O’Keefe said.

“He was one of my best friends, one of my heroes,” O’Keefe said. “I loved Billy Wilson. God bless the Wilson family.”

Milo Thornton, Maj. at the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, said he attended Sebastian River High School. One of the first people Thornton met was “Coach Wilson.”

“Wilson was the first guy that mentored me. He always inspired me to be better and do better,” Thornton said. “He taught me to not give up and to be responsible.

‘A Sports Man’

Wilson, who went by the nickname ‘Lil Shack,’ was born June 19, 1963, in Tallahassee, family members said. His family moved to Gifford in 1966.

Wilson graduated from Vero Beach High School in 1981. Wilson’s father coached him in football while he attended the school.

Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Florida A&M University. He also earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

While at FAMU, Wilson earned numerous awards, including the Most Valuable Player Award in the 1985 Florida Classic football game. Wilson started coaching track and field with his father in 1986 at Vero Beach High School, where he also taught physical education and driver’s education.

Wilson became assistant principal at Sebastian River High School in 1994. Wilson retired July 31 after a 26-year career at the campus.

Other community involvement

Wilson is a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., family members said. He also was a member of other organizations including Florida Athletic Coaches Association, NAACP and the Fort Pierce Chapter of the Florida A&M Alumni Association.

Wilson has received numerous awards and recognition throughout the years. One of those include the “Making a Difference in the Treasure Coast Community” award in 2007 from Treasure Coast Links.

Gone, but not forgotten

Wilson was preceded in death by his wife Teneshia and father William Henry Wilson.

Wilson leaves behind his sons William IV and Wesley Wilson, his mother Kathryn Wilson, sister Yolanda Lucas, niece Brandi Lucas, and several other relatives and friends.

“He impacted so many people,” Cummings said. “If you spent a day with him, you were going to leave with a memory.”

Photos by Kaila Jones

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