Tim Wilson heard his name called and walked to get his high school diploma. He shook hands with the honored guest. When he thought it was time to pull away, Harry Stuhldreher wouldn’t let go.

“He was one of the Four Horsemen, the quarterback,” said Wilson, referring to the fabled Notre Dame backfield from the 1920s coached by Knute Rockne. “He told me he had heard a lot about me.”

Wilson was thrilled.

Today, Wilson is the honored guest at Lake Region High School as its Class of 2010 receives its diplomas. He will speak, reminding them how their actions and thoughts affect others and most importantly, themselves. Wilson is big on personal legacy.

What did you leave behind? Where are you going?

He will tell a story or two from his own very full life as athlete and coach, educator and very active contributor to humanity. It’s doubtful anyone will tune him out. You ignore Tim Wilson at your peril.

That Stuhldreher wouldn’t release Wilson’s hand is interesting. On the Notre Dame website, the quarterback was said to be “cocky, feisty and ambitious, but his field generalship was unmatched.” Wilson has been called a lot of things, but those descriptions fit him well.

He arrived in Maine on June 13, 50 years ago, a 19-year-old student and football fullback off the Slippery Rock campus in western Pennsylvania. Dr. Joel Bloom, considered a pioneer in progressive summer camping, signed Wilson as a counselor at Camp Powhatan for Boys in Otisfield. Soon, Bloom named Wilson his head counselor.

“I asked him if he realized he might lose some campers,” said Wilson, recalling an older brother who graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh but couldn’t find a job teaching in that city because he was black. It was 1950.

“My father was livid. Three of his sons fought in the war.”

Their mother graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but worked as a cleaning lady in a hospital, says Wilson. His father grew up in Savannah, Ga., with a formal education that ended after sixth grade. Still, he could and would debate anyone on politics and history, including professors and the president of Slippery Rock while they sat in the stands at football games.

“My father always said, ‘If you can’t get an A in history, something is wrong with you.’ “

Virtually all of the elder Wilson’s working life was spent as a custodian at a U.S. Steel mill in Pittsburgh. The Wilsons moved from inner Pittsburgh to the suburb of Bellevue, one of the few black families in town.

When Stuhldreher grasped his hand, Wilson looked out into the auditorium for his parents. “It was easy to find them; they were the flies in a bowl of buttermilk. I was the only male of color in the school.”

His father preferred baseball over football and played some with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a Negro League team. Wilson’s mother took him to Forbes Field to watch the Pirates. “Especially when Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers came. The seats in right field were for the colored and Jackie would go there to wave.”

Wilson returned to Forbes Field with his mother to stand in the end zone and watch Steelers games. Fran Rogel, a fullback out of Penn State, owned an Atlantic gas station near the Wilson’s home.

Wilson caddied at a golf club and learned to play the game. He was exposed to tennis. Every day, he was exposed to life with its injustices and its rewards.

For 50 years Tim Wilson has served Maine, his country, and the world. Three Maine governors have given him positions in their administrations. The late King Hussein of Jordan gave him that country’s Medal of Honor. Wilson has the knack of going home again. Powhatan Camp for Boys is now Seeds of Peace where Wilson worked as its director until retiring several years ago. He’s still at the camp, building bridges.

After service in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, he returned to Maine to coach football at Dexter. He left and went back to coach the grandsons of his first players. He’ll begin the fifth season of his second coming in August.

He coached football with Walt Abbott at the University of Maine in the 1970s and has a bond with Jack Cosgrove today. This spring he sat with running back Jared Turcotte, explaining how Turcotte could more completely take on the role of leadership in the locker room and on the field.

He returned to Pittsburgh to care for an elderly mother and found time to reach kids in the local school and the local gangs.

He is 69 years old but the lion in him still roars at behavior he calls despicable and at the lack of commitment and accountability. He sees fewer opportunities in sports for the poor and disadvantaged. He wonders if you model yourself after the best among us.

Tim Wilson will shake hands today at Lake Region. Maybe, there will be two or three he won’t let go.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]