by Fred Becchetti
The world and Benson, Arizona, were still recovering from war when I arrived in Benson Union High School to teach in 1950. Our school superintendent himself was a returning veteran who was able to recruit me to teach English and Spanish and other returning veterans to teach the sciences, civics and social science, American history, wood shop, agriculture, bookkeeping, typing and several grades in the elementary school.
We were all quite young and inexperienced as teachers. Most of us still sported our military buzz haircut and all of us were in awe of Coach Jack Wilson.
Grizzled by the Arizona sun and his eyes crinkled from looking at distant horizons, Coach Wilson was in his gymnasium office when we arrived on the BUHS campus. It seemed that he had always been there and that he would still be there even after we were gone.
Yes, he was one of the teachers, but, above all, he was the coach. He watched in quiet amusement as the new teachers fumbled around getting a handle on the 200 excited sons and daughters of the San Pedro Valley community who made up the BUHS student body. With a professional eye he looked over the boys as they signed up for another year of school.
He was pleased to see that some of his six-man football players had beefed up during the summer so that he could count on a heavier front line to protect his backfield runners in the fall and winter season. He even saw a strong looking freshman, just in with his “snow bird” family from Indiana, who might be an asset in the campaign of the Bobcats against the anticipated powerhouse Cowboys from nearby Willcox.
He was noticeably thrilled to see that most of his taller boys, gangly and uncertain during last year’s basketball season, had mastered their bodies and would make significant contributions toward Bobcat victories in the coming season. From his office, he could hear the dribbling of his players already practicing their shots and their moves in the empty gym even though basketball was still a season away.
As for springtime baseball, he was pretty much counting on his seniors from last season, but he knew from experience that baseball always
produces surprises, so he would simply wait and see how his players developed and hope for good hitting and fielding during the entire season.
In true western fashion, Coach Wilson, didn’t say much. He was always the quiet person in the room. He coached the same way. No great histrionics from him during the game. In football he left it up to his assistant coach Lou Bulzomi to express any frustration with the way a play had been called, but even that was tempered by the calm that Jack projected. His teams were always well-mannered and in control of their emotions, which was perhaps the secret to Bobcat success under his coaching.
Since I voluntarily did the public-address duty and even the sports reporting for San Pedro Valley News, I attended every game that Jack coached during the eleven years that I taught at BUHS, 1950-1961. I even accompanied his teams in their games away. In all that time and at all those games I never saw Jack lose his calm, no matter how crucial the game or the play was. Above all, I never saw him treat a player with anything but respect, and his players reciprocated with their own respect and and their admiration and confidence in his generalship.
Under Jack’s coaching, Bobcat teams never created any situations on or off the playing field to embarrass the town of Benson or the school.
Jack’s calm and his decency permeated the spirit of all his teams. Jack didn’t make flowery or fiery speeches to inspire his teams. They merely knew from his example what conduct he desired from them.
All of us teachers contributed to the development of the good men that Benson Union High School produced from about the thirty new boys who
entered high school each year during my eleven years in Benson. However, Coach Wilson had a more profound influence on the boys because of their participation in the after-school sports activities of football, basketball or baseball which brought them under the direct influence of Wilson after the academic schedule in the late-afternoon daily practice sessions, in the games themselves and in travel to games away.
There are many BUHS graduates who owe much of their maturity and quality as good men in great part to their association with Coach Wilson. Some of them that come to mind are Jim Blankenburg, Charley Shrode, Jerry Coons, Larry Dempster, Jim Judd, Ambrose Hernandez, Andy Hesser, Ernie Hansen, Jack Hawes, Pete Hesser, Don Lewis, Fernando Mendivil, Jim Hansen, Robert Mendivil, Ralph Horyna, Eddie Estrella, Jim Teak, Eddie Meza and Lloyd Vian.
There are many more, and all of them reflect in their lives the decency and quiet wisdom of their coach, Jack Wilson, who drove down Five-Mile Hill every morning from his beloved Triangle-T Ranch in Dragoon to show his boys how to play games, how to win games with grace, how to lose games with the same grace, how to respect oneself, how to respect one another, how to bring glory to one’s school, how to guard your school’s reputation and, above all, like Coach Wilson himself, how to do good and do the right thing without talking much about it.
Jack would have been the last person to admit to being a teacher, but he was actually one of the best.