This is an article I wrote about "That One Person" that is featured in the Summer Issue of Optimist International Magazine. http://www.optimist.org/magazine/Summer2016/TheOptimist-Summer2016.pdf
Ed Wilson was a baseball legend. He coached Little League Baseball for over twenty five years. His team, Hanover Center, won over fifteen league championships, ten county championships, and at one time enjoyed a winning streak of fifty games which set a world record for the most consecutive victories by a baseball team at any level. He also guided two All-Star teams to North Carolina State titles.
He was my coach for three years of my youth and a few years later as a young man I was an assistant coach on his staff. Coach’s teams set records that will never be approached and yet that pales in comparison to why this man was so loved by so many of his ‘boys.’ He impacted lives and none more so than mine.
A perplexed rival coach once said to him. “I don’t understand why your teams are better than mine. I have players just as good as yours and I know as much about coaching baseball as you do.”
Coach’s response summed up a lot about his philosophy as a coach. “That’s because you are coaching baseball and I am coaching boys.”
The morning after receiving the news that Coach passed away at the age of ninety eight, I found myself outside the gate to the Little League field. My thoughts drifted to a time when I stood in the same exact spot when he would alter the course of my life forever.
It was an early spring day forty years previous. I was nineteen. That morning I noticed in the local newspaper the Little League tryouts information. Each team was listed with the boys that were to report to the team that selected them. I filed away in my mind the four p.m. time that the boys were to report to Coach and went about my day.
Sometime after four I stood outside the gate to the baseball diamond. I had no plan. I had told no one I was going but I was there none the less.
Coach was businesslike as ever as he conducted practice. Still, he walked over a couple of times to inquire about how I was doing. I was not in school or employed and far worse I had no positive direction in my life. I had gotten myself into trouble the year before and he knew about this because he came to visit me when he heard the news.
It was nearing six p.m. and tryouts were about to conclude. He walked over one last time.
“You need any help, Coach?” I asked sheepishly.
Coach had a gruff, no nonsense demeanor. He looked at me and said, “You want to help me? Be at the school tomorrow at four.” He turned abruptly and walked away.
I was at the school the next day before four o’clock as I knew he would be. He already had a full coaching staff. I have come to realize that he did not need my help as much as he knew that I might be in need of his.
In time, I would look back to that one moment as being the crossroad of my life. I discovered a love for the kids and for coaching. I began to realize the chance he had taken on me and I did not want to disappoint him.
I spent the next four spring and summers coaching with him before taking my own path. I taught basketball to the same age boys for the next twenty years. The lessons I learned from my mentor were with me always. They remain so because Coach taught all of us a lot more than baseball. He taught us life.
His son, Bob, asked me to speak at Coach’s funeral. It was one of the greatest honors of my life. I shared that day as I have many times that for some of us there is that one person who God places in our life that makes all the difference. Ed Wilson was that man for me. I shudder to think where I might be if not for a chance a ball coach took on a lost young man on a late spring afternoon.
Winter Park Optimist was formed in 1954 at Hugh MacRae Park, located in Wilmington, North Carolina. Coach and his brother Glenn ‘Doc’ Wilson, who also was a successful Little League baseball coach, were instrumental in the early days and for years to come in the shaping and guiding of Winter Park Optimist Little League. There are two press boxes that were named in their honor many years ago. On April 6, 2013 there was a day held in their honor on the very field they coached on long ago.
Winter Park Optimist is still going strong to this day over sixty years later. The baseball fields are still located in Hugh MacRae Park but there are now four baseball fields, which is twice the number when I was with Coach. They also have three fields nearby at John T Hoggard High School for girls fast pitch softball.
Written by Billy Beasley. Author of The River Hideaway. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBillyBeasley/