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Community mourns Wilson

How much did coach Bill Wilson matter to the Bearden High School football program?

“He definitely changed my life, and I only knew him for a year,” said Matt Williamson, a junior All-Region 1-5A defensive end, about coach Wilson’s impact during his one season as BHS head coach. “He was always in a good mood — he always had this smile on his face — and he could bring you up and make you laugh even at the worst moments when you felt like quitting.”

Wilson, head coach at Bearden High School for one season (2006) after more than 30 years in coaching, died April 17 after suffering a heart attack the day before. He was 58.

“You never got the feeling that he was ever going to quit at anything,” Williamson said. “He gave you the feeling that everything was going to get finished and everything’s going to turn out right.”

Under Wilson’s direction last fall, Bearden enjoyed its best season since 2000, finishing 7-4 after earning a first-round Class 5A state playoff berth.

“His leadership had a direct effect on us going that extra mile as far as practice goes and as far as games go,” Williamson said. “We had some rough times this season, and we had some really happy times this season. Coach Wilson’s demeanor never changed, he was always this steady, reassuring force pushing us forward.”

Dawson Halliday, BHS starting quarterback, said Wilson “just came in and it was unbelievable. You wouldn’t think a coach could come in and make the impact he did in just one year. He was such a positive guy, such a great leader. And he was really just a role model for us and taught us how to live and how to play the game like men.”

As a person, “Coach Wilson just walked through the hallways and he would say ‘hi’ to everybody,” said Halliday, a junior. “He didn’t have to know them, every little kid, everybody, he was just that kind of guy. He could tell when people were having a bad day, and he would give them an encouraging pat on the back.

Halliday labeled it “great charisma.”

Donald Dodgen, Farragut High School varsity boys basketball head coach, said he’s known coach Wilson for “a long, long time, ever since his days back in Newport and the Cocke County area” dating more than 30 years.

“What always impressed me about him — great coach, there’s no doubt about that — but his love for kids,” Dodgen said. “The first thing he’d talk about, always talking about his players and his kids … that’s how he’d talk about ’em, as his kids. … He was always big on loyalty.”

As for self-sacrifice, “He would fix up locker rooms for ’em, take money out of his own pocket to do a lot of the facilities and stuff himself no matter where he was, West High School, Bearden High School, Cocke County High School,” Dodgen said.

A former standout player at Fulton High School and Carson-Newman College, Wilson was most notably head coach at West High School for 28 seasons, retiring in the late 1990s. His success at WHS resulted in the Rebel football field being named in his honor.

Williamson added, “I can’t imagine how people who have known him twenty or thirty years are feeling right now. He just had such a huge impact on so many people.

“He touched all their lives in different ways.”

Wilson is survived by his wife, Linda, son, William Wilson III and daughter, Whitney Wilson Grossman. Services were held Thursday, April 20, at Washington Pike United Methodist Church.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in Wilson’s name should be addressed to the Bearden High School Fieldhouse Building Fund, 8352 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919.


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