By Rick Teverbaugh The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — When Johnny Wilson was in high school, he was a three-sport athlete, but so was everybody else.
“Of the guys who played on the 1946 (state championship basketball) team, every one of them played two other sports,” said Wilson, who played football, basketball and track for the Anderson Indians. “Everybody played football or cross country before basketball and then either track or baseball after basketball.”
The delays between seasons weren’t extensive either.
“Football might end on a Friday and basketball start on a Saturday,” said Wilson. “Basketball might end on a Saturday and track began on Monday. But we never worried about that. It just came natural.”
Since 2008, Wilson’s name has been used to honor two of the area’s best three-sport athletes. The Johnny Wilson Award is presented to one male and one female three-sport athlete each year. This year, nine female athletes and eight male athletes are vying for the award. The winners will be named Wednesday during a ceremony at Anderson Country Club.
In addition to the state championship and Mr. Basketball award, Wilson also played baseball for most of the summer. In that sport he had plenty of talent as well. He would eventually log a year with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Baseball League.
He doesn’t see specialization as a good thing for today’s athletes.
“I think burnout is a big thing,” he said. “Basketball players play pretty much year ‘round with AAU. Some coaches demand that players play year ‘round.”
He doesn’t find much benefit in the practice of concentrating on one sport.
“If you go watch kids that are playing in like the eighth grade,” said Wilson, “they are trying to dunk the ball, dribbling behind their backs and between their legs. They just aren’t fundamentally sound. The players just try to mimic what they see on TV. That’s why the European players are coming over and having such an impact. They are better fundamentally.”
Wilson grew up with another Anderson legend, former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine. Erskine isn’t at all backward about voicing his support of the award carrying “Jumpin’ Johnny’s” name.
But Erskine is a big admirer of Wilson for reasons that go well beyond his athletic abilities and accomplishments.
“Johnny Wilson should be the poster boy for Anderson Community Schools,” said Erskine, who has his name on one elementary school and has often suggested another school should carry Wilson’s name. “I grew up with Johnny.
“I came from a poor family, but Johnny’s family was even poorer. We went to Shadeland (Elementary) School together. He had the least chance of anybody of being successful. He was raised by a single parent. But he always listened to the right people and always kept a good lifestyle.”
Then he not only graduated from high school but made it to college.
“In my day only about 10 percent of high school students went to college,” said Erskine. “But again he got the tutoring and got good grades. He has become a successful, dignified person. It is a great story.”
Wilson is honored to have his name on the award.
“It’s been 60 years or so since I played in this area,” he said. “It is truly an honor that people still think enough of me to want my name on this.”
He also hopes that the award might lead to something more down the road.
“I hope by using my name that I can give back for the good that happened to me,” said Wilson. “If by having this it causes some athletes to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to get that award,’ and motivate them to try to compete in three sports, then that would be great.”