The Belton community lost a great ambassador of the city with the passing of Harry Wilson this past Sunday at age 62.
Harry Lewis Wilson was born on April 25, 1955, in Temple to William Henry Washington and Mary M. Wilson.
Harry and his twin brother, Barry, were raised in Belton with their older brother, Leroy, and younger sister, Marion.
Harry attended the Harris School through the fifth grade, Tyler Elementary, Belton Jr. High School and Belton High School, where he was an early star in both Tiger Football and Tiger Track and Field.
Nicknamed ‘Wildhorse’, Harry was a defensive back in 1970 for the Belton Tigers. The 145-lb. Harry was an honorable mention on All-District 13-3A Team as a sophomore.
Lightning fast, Harry was part of a speedy sprint relay unit, teamed with the likes of Carlos Stewart, Willie Gene Knight and Randy Costello. They won the District 13-3A 4 X 110 Relay event with a time of 43.7 and placed third in the region in 1971.
Harry possessed one of the fastest times in the history of Belton Athletics in the 40-yard dash, registering a time of 4.3 as a sophomore. He also registered a 50.1 in the 440-yard dash.
“He was such a joy to watch run,” Dr. Joe Pirtle, one of Harry’s coaches, said. “When he came around that corner in the quarter-mile, he was an absolute joy to watch.”
In 1971, Harry was a prototypical three-way player for that era. He was halfback, defensive back and returner. He played three ways at 167 lbs. He played alongside his twin brother, Barry, who was a 205-lb. fullback.
In the midst of a solid season, the Tigers hosted Gatesville for Homecoming on Nov. 5, 1971.
That night changed the course of Harry’s life, as he was paralyzed making a tackle following a quarterback strip.
Going through extensive rehabilitation and Barry’s transportation and care, Harry graduated with his class in May of 1973 from Belton High School.
The Belton community was huge in their support for Harry, as they raised money for his care and education. Following his graduation from Belton, he received an associate’s degree in business administration from Victoria College and bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Houston.
The Belton Athletic Department permanently retired Harry’s jersey number 22 and presented him with the first Harry Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1974. The award is still named for Harry today.
In 1998, old Tiger Stadium was renamed Wilson-Kerzee Field after Harry and Richard Kerzee, who died during a 1986 soccer practice.
One of the great things about the Wilsons is how their service to the Belton community, and to Central Texas as a whole, motivated many in the area. He spoke to many a Belton Tiger player over the years, with one of his last appearances coming last summer after a Tiger Football summer practice.
He was active in civil service for 16 years, having been named Fort Hood Handicapped Employee of the Year on four different occasions for his computer expertise and devotion to duty.
One of Harry’s classmates was Jamie Light.
“Harry was a one of a kind person,” Light said. “Not once did I ever meet Harry where not have a smile on his face and a warm hello.”
Another one of the Wilson’s friends was Jay Taggart.
“Harry always that smile,” Taggart said. “He may have had the worst of days, but that smile never went away. I would see him at 3 Corps at Fort Hood and he was a huge part of their organization out there.”
Pirtle and Joe Brooks were coaches during the Wilson’s playing days.
“I was with him at the hospital after the accident,” Pirtle recalled. “Throughout all of the commotion, Harry never lost that smile.”
“When I would see Harry at the hospital, I would ask him how he was doing,” Brooks said. “He didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to know how his Maulers were doing. Maulers were the name of the team when we would split the team in drills. He wanted to know how they were doing.”
Former Tiger David Murray was elevated to varsity following Harry’s dreadful injury.
“He was tough. He ran hard. He hit hard. He just couldn’t play basketball,” Murray joked. “I was on the B team when Harry got injured. He was injured on Friday night, they elevated me to varsity and they took his number 22 jersey out of use. He was one heck of a guy.”
Belton Journal publisher David Tuma recognized the impact that the Wilson family had in the community.
“So many of us forget that at one time that the schools were separated,” Tuma said. “They played during a time were there was an adjustment period, to where both schools integrated (Harris High and Belton High). To be part of that change is an amazing part of the history of Belton. I lived here a long time and have heard so many wonderful things about the Wilson brothers. The thing that amazes me is that so many of their fellow football players admired them for their courage, both of them. It’s not a black or white thing: it is a man thing. It’s a Tiger thing. They speak of them in total admiration. The twins are two of the best men that Belton has ever produced.”
Classmates of Harry’s thought the world of him.
“Harry Wilson was nothing short of a class act,” Dr. Teresita Aguilar said. “Aside from his tremendous athletic skills and dedication, I remember him as being a kind and thoughtful person. He was a gentleman. Incredibly respectful and highly respected. And yes, that tragic football injury was a shock for our senior class—and for many others in the community. Yet, Harry maintained his dignity, his humor, and his beautiful smile when he returned to campus after his injury. I remember him being very smart and soft-spoken, he had this calmness about him that I really appreciated. Yes, Harry was a class act for the Class of 1973, and one student that everyone remembers. May his gifts be remembered and his legacy never be forgotten.”
“It is a day/night football game that everyone remembers when Harry was injured,” Norman Northen recalled. “He still had that Harry smile everything that you saw him. His brother, Barry, gave up some things to be his brother’s legs and favorite side-kick. What a pair. Also, in Belton back in the day, we didn’t even know they were African-American students. We were all the same, friends and Tigers forever. We in the Class of 1973 were glad to call Harry a friend and classmate. We were all a better person for having Harry as a friend.”
“I’m a better person for having Harry as a friend in my life,” Donna Willis-Denekas said. “I’ll never forget the night Harry got hurt. Having Harry as a classmate was something else. He was so polite and funny. He could always put a smile on your face. He gave us the gift of strength and compassion for your fellow man. Harry Wilson will never be forgotten to the Class of ‘73. Heaven has taken one of Belton’s best.”
“Harry Wilson was a symbol of strength, determination and trust,” Jann Puckett-Featherston said. “His determination to proceed with a routine in life and graduate from high school, as well as further his education, was a role for the class of ‘73 to follow. Harry had a quick wit, a slow easy smile with a quick chuckle. His kindness exuded friendship and goodwill to all. The support from his brother Barry was a bond that only a devoted sibling and true friend could experience. The “twins” as they were called never met a stranger, always had a kind word to everyone, which was always lit with bright smiles and a friendly wave. An honor to call Harry Wilson a friend.”
Harry accepted God’s plan for him and completely embraced it.
“Not only did Harry accept God’s plan for him, but Barry accepted it and was a big part in Harry’s life,” Taggart said. “Not many people have done that in their lives. Not many 18-year-olds would put their life on hold to take of their brother.”
Athletes that played after Harry Wilson were impacted in positive ways as well. One of those athletes impacted was current Temple baseball head coach Toby Rumfield. A member of the Belton Wall of Honor, Rumfield saw Harry at old Tiger Field many nights when he would come off of the field as the Belton’s quarterback in the late-1980’s
“I can always remember seeing Harry Wilson sitting at the football games at the ‘Old Tiger Field’ in his chair,” Rumfield said. “Harry Wilson was an example of what Tiger Pride truly is. He never wanted anybody to feel sorry for him. I always respected that he actually finished his diploma at Belton High School with so many odds against him. He will be truly missed.”
Harry Wilson’s visitation will be on Friday, February 9, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wake services will be Friday, February 9, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Branford/Dawson Funeral Home in Temple. Funeral service will be at First Baptist Church in Belton on Saturday, February 10, at 3 p.m. Burial will be at North Belton Cemetery.