By NEIL H. DEVLIN
Special to woodypaige.com
This is a story in Colorado about Steve Wilson, but it could be in any state with its own Steve Wilson.
Wilson was a high-school teacher, administrator and boys basketball coach. You know the type. Tough. No nonsense. Respect the game. Respect yourself as a person. Play hard and mind your business. And don’t be an idiot showing off.
But he was hardly stereotypical. Actually, he was more unique than ordinary. Fluid, not mechanical. And real. Very real.
He died on April 19 at 67 years old after nearly a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s, a disease that ravaged his hulking frame. Very hard for his loved ones and friends to hear he had stopped eating and drinking for more than a week. This was a guy with very large hands. How large? Meat hooks didn’t do them justice. In fact, if he didn’t crush your hand during a greeting, his fingers could reach near your elbow.
A native of Woodstock – Illinois, not New York – Wilson played football and basketball for the Blue Streaks on the way to a hoops scholarship at Southern Illinois. As a Saluki, he didn’t get to play much, but remained on scholarship throughout his career and loved to tell close friends about going head-to-head in practice with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, later one of the NBA’s 50 all-time greats, and “getting my ass kicked.”
Having also coached prep ball in Illinois, Florida and Montana, Wilson was in command of the Boulder Panthers for a bit, before settling in at Westminster, where he discovered his best years on the sidelines. It also involved coaching his only son, 6-foot-6 Blair, and all that came with it. Try coaching your son as the team’s star player. It’s not easy, particularly for a guy who had no trouble expressing himself and refused to suffer fools.
“It was man-to-man more than player-to-coach,” Blair Wilson said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was definitely hard going home with him some nights and hard on my mom (Bette), but even then I’m saying that I owe him a lot for what he taught me and how he used basketball and how it turned me into a man.
“No doubt I missed out on the typical father-son relationship. Parents of other kids can be brutal. I just tried to do my part and let him off the hook as soon as possible. I wasn’t just there because my father was the coach.”
No, he wasn’t. Blair Wilson averaged 33.7 points and 9.3 rebounds as a senior in the 1999-2000 season and led the then Warriors (they’re now the Wolves after merging with Ranum) to the final four as a junior. Wilson’s shooting range began when he stepped outside his home. His 2,349 points set the Colorado all-time mark and today remains the big-school record (he’s now third overall). And at the University of Colorado, Wilson’s four-year run produced a spot in the Buffaloes’ top five in career minutes played as well as the most 3-pointers made (257).
For father and son, basketball was a vehicle likes a 1960s muscle car, but certainly not the means to an end.
“I always thought I had a good idea of what it was growing up, seeing him on a day-to-day basis, and I knew how much he cared about (his players),” Blair Wilson said. “But then it hasn’t been until the last couple of weeks with the outpour of love and support for my father and what people have written and said about him have I been able to understand the impact he had on my life and others.
“Nobody (on his teams) plays anymore … it’s a larger impact he had on people who are now men and women, mothers and fathers. He was hard, a disciplinarian, something you don’t understand. I look back and thank him for it, for that culture and discipline and accountability. Everybody agreed: We hated it, but he knew it was good for us.
“He made real men.”
His son was one of them. Blair Wilson is a Police Sergeant in Westminster, married with a couple of kids. It made his father proud.
Steve Wilson, who finished his working days as an athletic director and assistant principal at Arvada, may have been hard in life and may have had a hard final stretch if life, but his sensitive side arose in his final days. His family, notably his son, appreciated it. The fact that his father’s brain is now in the Mayo Clinic in Florida to be studied also states something about the man.
There will be a service on Thursday, 1:30 p.m., at Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster. Expect a crowd.
“He was a leader, he was tough and it’s why we wanted to follow him,” Blair Wilson said. “He fought the good fight and there was no reason to fight any more. I wanted to yell at him like he did with us … my father’s in a better place.”
(Neil Devlin is the premier high school writer and editor in Colorado, and one of the best prep reporters in the country. He has covered all high school sports and state championships for The Denver Post for the past 37 interrupted years. He became the most prominent and popular, and longest-haired and longest-tenured, prep sports editor in Colorado history because he is an exceptional writer and an award-winning reporter, and he cares deeply about the students and the athletes. Devlin is the father of two — a Special Olympian, and a deputy district attorney, and he’s a dutiful husband. He was raised in the Philadelphia area and still loves his Philly steaks and pro teams — way too much. Neil recently departed The Post and joined woodypaige.com, and is contributing opinion pieces, polls and features on state and national high school sports regularly.)