Clay Battelle, Local Sports, Sports

COLUMN: Ryan Wilson’s passion was always the highlight during his run at Clay-Battelle

MORGANTOWN — It began as a small gathering — maybe four or five players at the start — that would make their way over to Ryan Wilson’s house after a Friday night high school football game.

They would sit there in the living room and pop in a VCR tape of the game that had just been played, or they would all watch highlights from around the area on the Fifth Quarter TV show.

As Wilson’s tenure grew as Clay-Battelle’s football coach, the gathering grew.

“It eventually got to where the whole team was coming over,” said Wilson, who stepped down Tuesday after 40 years at the school, 29 spent as the Cee-Bees head coach.

His wife, Terry, would make sure none of the boys went home hungry, and those boys would play with Wilson’s then two young children, who were up way past their bedtime.

“I would just sit and listen to them all make fun of each other,” Wilson said. “Sometimes they would throw a joke at the coach, too. ‘Hey, Wilson nice play call there,’ stuff like that.

“I was a part of their lives. You make memories you never forget in high school, and I was a part of that for 40 years.”

There may be no better way to sum up what it’s like being a high school football coach at a small community-based high school.

Sure, the bigger schools get the bigger headlines, the bigger athletes, but there is just something different at coaching at a smaller school.

“There are advantages to both, but at a small school, you know every single kid walking through the hallways,” Wilson began. “You know their parents. You know their grandparents. You have that bond.

“There is that feeling of being part of something more. Like one year we needed to paint the bleachers, well, so many people from the community came out and helped. There is that sense of togetherness at a smaller school.”

Wilson lived it for 40 years at Clay-Battelle, where the average enrollment varies between 300-350 each year.

It’s here we break from normal protocol, because out of all the lives Wilson impacted, mine is included.

I still remember the first time I spoke to him, a telephone call as a rookie reporter back in those days looking to put together a Friday night preview.

“You’ve never seen us play before, have you?” Wilson replied when asked about the team’s running game. “We actually throw the ball all over the place.”

And then you go out the next day to cover the game and the Cee-Bees threw all of two passes.

That story is relayed to Wilson, who gets a good laugh, only to summon out of his memory banks that the team had been hit with a rash of injuries the week before.

You want stories? Wilson’s got them. Like when he was an assistant coach and he and another assistant drove out to the middle of nowhere probably to scout a future opponent.

They sat there in the bleachers, drawing up all of the formations and plays in a notebook, only to realize they had left that notebook in the stands when they were halfway home.

They were forced to draw up what they could remember, but it probably wasn’t the most detailed scouting report.

Or the time C-B and heavily favored Cameron played to a triple-overtime tie.

By the time that first overtime had ended, fans by the bunches had made their way down the hill and surrounded the corner of the end zone where the action was being played out.

You want to talk about hostile, it was every bit of that and more that night in Blacksville. If that game hadn’t ended in a tie, there may had been a small riot.

“Yeah, I probably did worry about everyone’s safety that night,” Wilson says now.

More than anything else, though, Wilson not only opened up his program to that rookie reporter, but he also continued to do so through the years to the point where Ryan Wilson was much more than just a contact.

He became a great friend, too.

In the years to come, the school may find another guy who wins just as much. It may find a young man who sticks around 45 or 50 years.

Clay-Battelle will never find a man who could possibly care any more about the school and the community like Wilson, though.

He always spoke with as much passion for the small victories as he did after the big ones.

No one took more pride than Wilson whenever the community got together a number of years back to build a new press box at the stadium, and then a few years later when an artificial surface was added to the field.

Back in the late 1990s, when C-B had just defeated Bishop Donahue for the first time in school history, the memory is still so vivid of Wilson just walking around the field, almost refusing to head back to the locker room, because he didn’t want the feeling to go away.

That may sound slightly corny to some, but that is the love Wilson had for his players, his team, his community.

“To do this for 40 years, you have to have a passion for it,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to do it anymore, and that’s hard. I’m sure as I go through this, so many memories will come back to me.

“The memories, that’s what I took away when I walked out of the field house for the last time. I’ve got a collection of memories that will last forever.”