Wilson remembered for personal touch

March 26, 2019

While there is no denying Walter Wilson’s remarkable coaching ability, it was his playing skills, said former Friendswood athletic standout Kent Ballard, which are often nestled in obscurity.

“I remember after we had graduated, a lot of the players would go up to the school and play 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 every Wednesday,” Ballard said. “And there was coach Wilson, playing basketball with us, and he must have been in his 60’s at the time.

“He would be shooting that hook shot…and it would go in. He thoroughly enjoyed playing with us, and we did, too, in return. He was just a great man and a true player’s coach.”

Wilson, who guided Friendswood to three state tournament appearances in a four-year span as head basketball coach, died March 11 at age 78. A visitation will be from 5-7 p.m., April 5 at Friendswood Friends Church while a funeral service is set for noon, April 6, at the same church.

Under Wilson’s guidance, the Mustangs became regulars at the state tournament in a four-year span.

Friendswood won the 1969 Class A state championship with a 51-49 victory over Pineland West Sabine after defeating Clarendon, 70-51, in the semifinals.

The previous year, Friendswood fell in the Class B title game to Kennard, 64-49, after downing Darrouzett, 65-55, in the semis.

In 1971, Friendswood again advanced to the state finals, this time at the Class 2A level. Hughes Spring edged the Mustangs, 64-60, for that crown. In the semifinals, Friendswood eased past Luling, 51-38.

“All of those teams were good,” Ballard said. “But it would be hard to argue against the double-A team being the best. We were 26-0 going into that game.

“In my junior year we got beat in double-overtime in the regional finals or we would have gone to the state finals four years in a row.”

Ballard earned the privilege of playing on all four of those teams, but enjoyed Wilson’s tutelage as much as anything.

“He just made playing basketball fun,” Ballard said. “Practices were fun and games were fun, but he got his point across as to what he wanted to accomplish. Everyone had the utmost respect for him.

“As a coach, if he’s not the winningest coach of all time at Friendswood, he’s got to be close. He always had us prepared offensively and defensively. We were always very well-conditioned, too.”

Former Friendswood head football coach Steve Van Meter, who succeeded Wilson as the school’s athletic director, cherishes many memories with Wilson.

“I’ve known Walter since I was a freshman in high school,” Van Meter said. “I considered him a close friend as well a mentor.

“Walter and I spent many playoff trips in a suburban, going to watch softball, swimming, track meets…whatever was going on. He’d call me up and say ‘Van, are you going? Come and get me.’

“And wherever we were going, if there was a Picadilly’s or Luby’s in the area, we were there…and he was in hog heaven. He was just a great guy and a true legend of Friendswood ISD.”

Van Meter said he knew Wilson more as a school leader than a coach.

“Walter commanded respect, and just the way he carried himself was impressive,” he said. “He was a little before my time as a player, but having talked to Kent Ballard and that group, he was a stickler for details.

“You had to do everything well, whether it was setting the right picks or making the right pass.

“He was a technician when it came to that stuff. He wore a lot of hats from basketball coach to assistant principal to classroom teacher to assistant superintendent to superintendent, and he excelled at all of them.”

Van Meter said Wilson’s support of Friendswood schools spanned the entire district.

“Walter attended everything. He was at musicals, band concerts, anything that was happening involving the school. He was very visible in the district, and he loved to be around the kids. He was always engaging them in the hallways.”

Wilson, who had the gymnasium at Friendswood High School named in his honor in 2001, also served as a little league and youth basketball coach in addition to his school duties.

His gift in life was to help individuals better themselves.

Mark Griffon, the current principal at Friendswood High School and the Mustangs’ head basketball coach from 1986-2000, also benefitted from the culture Wilson helped create at FHS.

“He was a guy who knew how to get the best out of his athletes,” Griffon said. “If you look back on all the success he had, it was because he knew how to motivate individuals and how to play as a team at the highest level.

“He had a keen knack with X’s and O’s. He was big on running different defenses every time down the floor. He would never let opponents get used to a particular defense. That was real forward thinking at that time.”

Griffon, who was in junior high during Wilson’s tenure, fondly remembers one of Wilson’s special creations.

“He had something called a Terrific Turtle,” Griffon said. “He’d send you this certificate with a turtle on it, and it had a handwritten note from him about something terrific you had done.

“He had either seen you do it, or another student or teacher would tell him about it. He’d send those out all the time. It really built you up.

“Walt Wilson, Henry Winston, Myrlene Kennedy…those three people laid the foundation for all the success that has come from Friendswood High School since the 1960’s. Those three are the pillars for all the success we’ve enjoyed.”

Even when his team didn’t participate in the state tournament, Wilson made sure he was a regular at the event.

“He was a fixture there,” Griffon said. “Walt and I continued to go there until just recently, and he had a great historical perspective. He knew all the good teams and all the players.”

And, as Griffon explains, Wilson possessed some inside knowledge.

“They had this parking pass at the state tournament, and Walt had gotten a copy of one,” Griffon said. “They’d just change the color every year.

“Each year, Walt would find out the color, and we’d go to Kinko’s there in Austin, make a bunch of copies and pass them out. Eventually the UIL wised up to the Walter Wilson method.”