Thursday, January 14, 2016

Saying Good-Bye to "That One Person."

This week I was granted one of the greatest honors of my life. I was asked to say a few words about "That One Person," my Coach, Ed Wilson. I was also asked to say the closing prayer at graveside & to read Psalm 23 to those that attended this great man's funeral.

The irony of reading Psalm 23 is that it was the second consecutive Monday that I spoke Psalm 23 in regards to Coach.  The first time was the previous Monday when I visited him at the care facility he lived in. He was not having a good day & that makes me all the more grateful today that I did have one last really good visit with him before Christmas. He told me that day he sure was glad I had come to visit him. Despite his declining health he was always polite & the staff at Trinity loved him.

This last visit he tried to tell me he couldn't talk. He was confused & I told him it was okay. He didn't have to try to talk. I began to pray silently over him. Now, I am not as bold in my faith as say my wife is, who will pray over someone in the grocery store out loud & not care who is around.

You can choose to believe this next part or not. Truthfully until some events occurred later I was not so sure myself. But as I was praying silently I heard very clearly in my spirit, "Pray out Loud."

I chose to ignore it. Again clearly.  "Pray out Loud." I think I shook my head at what I was hearing. Again it comes-  "Pray out Loud."

I began to pray out loud over Coach. Thanking God for all this man had meant to me. At some point I began praying Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Before I heard those words to pray out loud, Coach was not just shivering, his entire body was shaking. I can't tell you the exact moment this happened but after reciting Psalm 23 to the best of my memory I noticed he was no longer trembling.

So one week later, here I was this time saying it out loud for the people who attended Coach's celebration. Truth is stranger than fiction and God's truth more real than anything you will find in this world. 
I hope those that know me well know that I try to be as honest a man as I can be. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable when I don't hide the many wrong turns that I took in my life. Yesterday when I spoke about Coach during the service I told the people that attended that I don't want to even think where I might be if not for that one moment-that crossroad- when I asked Coach for help & then coached baseball under him for the next four years before moving on to coach the same age boys in basketball.

Coach diverted me from continuing down a bad path-not right away mind you, but he gave me something good in a time when I had nothing positive. I was not in school. I was not employed. God chose to use an old baseball coach as my angel of mercy.

I have told my new wife, Julie many times that without Coach I would never have had the honor of being her husband. I would not have a pension-that while not big, allows me time to write and not work a full time job. Surely, I would not have coached the same age boys in the sport of basketball for twenty years. 

Ironically, on the evening that I received the news of his passing I had enjoyed lunch that day with Jeff Neher and Kevin Keen who played basketball for me over thirty years ago. I told Kevin after I received the news about Coach that I would have never been his coach without Ed Wilson. He replied quickly, "I know. I have heard you say many times the impact he had on you."

Yesterday was sad in some ways but there was laughter mixed with our tears. I laughed today as I recalled we were carrying the casket to the grave site and we were talking quietly & chuckling. From behind us we heard, "You boys hashaminute!" from one of his former players. That got us more tickled because that was something Coach said when he really wanted your attention.

Charlie Rivenbark told a story about a rival coach. One day the man asked Coach why he was better-won more than he did. The man added, "I have just as good a talent. I know just as much baseball as you do."

I love Coach's response.

"That's because you are coaching baseball. I am coaching boys."

Charlie's brother, Bill also played and coached for Mr. Wilson. He shared this story yesterday. He was ten years old. It was a tie game in the last inning. Bill had been pitching great the entire game and a big hitter, Jeff came up to bat that he had already struck out twice. He was feeling good and Mr.Wilson called for a curve ball. Bill had a good one but this one hung and was hit out of the ball park. Game over. The next part brings tears to my eyes because not only can I envision it, but it spoke to the heart of Coach.

These are Bill's words.

I crumbled on the mound. Before Jeff reached second base Mr Wilson came to the mound and put his arms around me and told me that it was his fault. He said we had fooled him all night and should not have thrown the curve. 

I never knew that in 1967-1969 that as a young boy that not only would I be Coach's boy then but would remain so for the next fifty years. He wrote job reference letters. He visited me when I got into trouble for selling marijuana. A lot of it.

I am not given to hyperbole when I say "without Coach...". That day at the fence, when it all changed, that without him there are so many good things that would have never occurred. It was 1-2 years later after I left that lifestyle that I heard the news of two of my former "business" associates. They were arrested on a ship with tons of marijuana. In all likelihood, I would have been on that ship. The state would have put me away for many years. I doubt my life would have ever recovered. I am not sure I would even be here.

My last words when I spoke at his funeral were as true as anything I could ever speak.

Jesus Christ saved me but only after Ed Wilson rescued me off of the scrap heap of this life.

I am glad my last words to him were- "I love you, Coach."

I picture baseballs flying around Heaven, Coach. Doc probably had a mitt & ball waiting on you.


  1. Billy, thanks for sharing your story! You are most fortunate to have been surrounded by the Wilson brothers, and other great folks like Lynn Wilson Knape and Sharon Helton, who are also buddies of mine. Yours is an awesome tribute, giving glory to God, who sends us friends, wise mentors, a loving spouse and young folks to coach! Thank you for being smart enough to realize your blessings and for proclaiming these words. What a tribute!