By Andy Knight
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — The Herald Bulletin sits down weekly with a local newsmaker.
Johnny Wilson starred in basketball, football, track and baseball during his careers at Anderson
High School and Anderson College and led the Indians to the 1946 state championship in basketball. He sat down Wednesday at Anderson Country Club with The Herald Bulletin’s Andy Knight to reflect on the significance of the award that bears his name.
THB: Talk about the personal meaning of having this award named for you.
Johnny Wilson: I’m highly honored that they thought enough of me to name the award after me. But the big thing is that the young people should participate in more than one sport. What has happened in recent years is, too much emphasis has been put on basketball. Some of the coaches tell these young men that when the season is over, they have to start playing AAU basketball, and they continue to play all through the summer. Most good athletes are basketball players. Not all, but most of them are good athletes. The big thing they’re wondering about in baseball is why there is such a low number of African-Americans playing baseball. That is caused by too many coaches telling these young men that they need to play basketball year-round, and they’re giving up on baseball. Some of them don’t play football because they’re basketball players. But I think that a young man should try every sport that he can get a chance to play, and then decide on what sport he thinks he can do best. I’ve seen a lot of basketball players that had their minds set that they were going to be Michael Jordan or whoever, and then they end up not doing as well in basketball, where they could possibly have played baseball or run track or played football, and been an outstanding athlete.
THB: What are some other benefits to playing multiple sports?
Wilson: One thing, you don’t tire yourself out in one sport. I think a lot of these young men, they wear themselves out playing basketball year-round. You burn yourself out. When you have another sport, you get a chance to get away with different young men, you get a different chance to participate against others that you get a chance to know. I just think it’s better for life, because in life, you can’t set your mind to do one thing, period, in life. There’s a lot of things that you’ve got to decide to do. Sports is a good way to get started.
THB: What message did you share with the athletes at this week’s luncheon?
Wilson: I think one thing is that whatever you do — if you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger in the world. That’s what it’s about in sports — if you’re gong to be an athlete, be the best athlete in the world. As far as athletics is concerned, the one thing you have to do is take care of your body. You’ve got to stay away from the things that take away from your ability to play. I think back to the days that I played in high school basketball. The only time I came out of the ballgame was when we had the game so sewn up, that I didn’t need to play any more. I was talking to my brother, Gene, who played at Kansas State, and we were talking about the fact that in three years of college basketball, I played every minute of every game with the exception of about one and a half minutes, because I had myself in that type of condition. That’s the big thing: You need to be physically fit and ready to play.
THB: Did you envision the Johnny Wilson Awards growing into what they are today?
Wilson: I just thought it would be something like we were having an award to give out to one or two kids, and the point is, when I first saw the tremendous turnout of the young athletes, all of them looking well-groomed — they didn’t show up looking like some people think athletes are, with raggedy T-shirts or something. These kids come in and they’re really ladies and gentlemen, and they really make a good impression on the program.