ANDERSON — Elwood's Sammy Mireles listened intently Wednesday afternoon at Anderson Country Club as Johnny Wilson recalled some of the challenges he faced as a black athlete in the 1940s and '50s.
The Anderson legend's story made Mireles' own struggles pale by comparison and reinvigorated an athlete that is never lacking for motivation.
"It was great listening to him and seeing what he went through and he still ended up where he did," Mireles said shortly after being named the 2014 boys overall winner of the Johnny Wilson Award. "It was just great."
Wilson was a three-sport star at Anderson High School, where he led the Indians to the state basketball championship and was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball in 1946. He was also a part of two state championship track teams and starred on the football field.
But Indiana University shied away from recruiting him because of the color of his skin.
Instead, Wilson landed at Anderson College — where he continued his three-sport prowess — and later played professional baseball for the Chicago American Giants and pro basketball with the famous Harlem Globetrotters.
Mireles' challenge has more to do with his size — 5-foot-9, 170 pounds — than his race. NCAA Div. I programs have been reluctant to offer a scholarship despite the fact the running back set the state's career rushing record this fall.
After hearing Wilson speak, Mireles — who also is a two-time semistate qualifier in wrestling and a top hurdler for the Panthers' track team — is as committed as ever to playing college football at the highest level.
"I haven't reached my final goal, yet," he said. "I still want to go to college and play so I've got to keep working until I get that goal."