Of the hundreds of hours Will Wilson has spent in the gymnasium at Sebspanstispann River High School as a player and a coach, the two hours he spent Saturday afternoon were a memory he’ll hold onto for a long time.
The former Shark star point guard and head coach brought his team from Tocoi Creek in St. Augustine and although his Toros were defeated 51-39 by his former team, the game had much bigger significance than the scorebook — Wilson had the chance to coach in the gym named after his late father.
The oldest son of William “Billy” Wilson III, the late former assistant principal at Sebastian River who passed away in October 2020 at the age of 57, returned to a place his father loved and where he blossomed into a Division I prospect and holds some of his fondest memories.
As soon as the gymnasium at Sebastian River was renamed after Billy Wilson in January 2021 in recognition of his 26 years of service as an assistant principal at the school from the first day in 1994 until 2019, Will Wilson knew if the chance presented itself he had to make a game happen if he took a head coach position at a school.
“The night that we did the whole ceremony in 2021 here, my goal was to one day play in this gym one time and coach,” Wilson said. “I knew if I was fortunate enough to be a head coach and I could set something up, I always wanted to come back here in this gym.”
In his second year as the head coach for Tocoi Creek, Wilson immediately searched for a point in the calendar to make the trip back home happen duringthe offseason leading into the 2022-23 season.
With the assistance of Sharks athletic director Terri Amy, who worked alongside Billy Wilson at Sebastian River for almost 20 years, both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Tocoi Creek were able to make the trip down to take on the Sharks and also get a game the night before against Vero Beach.
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Saturday sports events are not the norm at Sebastian River outside of special events or postseason games, but Amy made it clear that bringing back a former star and coach for a memorable experience was fitting.
“We normally wouldn’t have a game on a Saturday here but when it’s Will Wilson, we allowed a Saturday game,” Amy said. “To be able to have him come back, it’s just so neat and it’s just great to see him here.”
Starting from scratch
Wilson, TCPalm’s Player of the Year as a senior in 2009, played four years at North Florida where he currently ranks fifth all-time in assists. Getting his coaching start in 2015, Wilson took a job as an assistant at Episcopal in Jacksonville before returning home as the head coach of the Sharks.
In three seasons, the Sharks won two district titles and reached a regional semifinal in 2016-17 under Wilson before he returned to Jacksonville to become the associate head coach at the Providence School coaching under Hall of Famer Jim Martin.
During the 2019-20 season, Wilson heard about a brand-new high school coming to St. John’s County and, with the blessing of Martin, decided that Tocoi Creek was a unique opportunity he wanted to explore.
“The draw being in a great school district and the job as a teacher was a good situation for me and building something from the ground up was amazing,” Wilson said. “I’ve been around amazing coaches all of my life and being around those great leaders and coaches, Tocoi Creek was a special opportunity to be able to build something. With the knowledge how you think you foresee a program, I had all of that.”
Helping to create a culture for the Toros, Wilson turned to one of his former star teammates at Sebastian River to help him out. Keith Matthews, TCPalm’s Player of the Year in 2010 and a four-year letterwinner at Fairfield, came on board from his head coaching position at Menendez.
Wilson also was a key figure in helping Tocoi Creek’s girls program find its head coach as another former Shark standout Billy Blackmon, a 2008 graduate who played at Indian River State College and Charleston Southern, has led the Toros.
In a year and half, Wilson and his team have seen positive returns with the results already. Winning 15 games in their inaugural season, the Toros are 5-4 this season as they aim for success in District 4-4A with an eye on a postseason bid.
While his team has had its ups and downs as evident by their disappointing result against Sebastian River after an impressive 64-56 win over Vero Beach the night before, Wilson is pleased with the progress the program has made.
“You always have to take a step back to appreciate the progress you’re making, it can be easy to just look ahead at the next game in front of you,” Wilson said. “After the first season, looking back seeing we won 15 games, the development from the first day meeting our guys to the end of the year was incredible.
“The kids bought in, and I had a great coaching staff that has made basketball fun to say to our school, maybe this could be our thing here. Making hard work the norm for our program instead of extra work has been great and establishing that and in our second year, I think we’re taking another jump forward. It’s been great seeing each step we’ve taken.”
Continuing the legacy
Will Wilson’s move to coaching was a natural fit with his tutelage of educators and coaches preceding him.
His grandfather Bill Wilson became a FHSAA Hall of Fame track and field coach leading Vero Beach to state titles in 1989 and 1990 while teaching for over three decades in Indian River County.
Billy Wilson was an assistant principal at Sebastian River from 1994 to 2019 and in total worked for 35 years in the Indian River County School District. His wife Teneshia Peppers-Wilson was also a long-time educator in the county before her death at the age of 50 in July of 2016.
Enduring the tragic deaths of his mother during his time as head coach at Sebastian River and then losing his grandfather and father within a span of a month in 2020, Will Wilson has always kept the spirits of his loved ones alive through his work as a teacher and a coach.
While his time in the present is spent away from home, Will Wilson, with the assistance of his younger brother Wesley, have provided college scholarships to Indian River County students through the Bill and Billy Wilson Foundation the past two years.
Each step of the way on his life’s journey, Will Wilson holds onto the fundamental values his mentors left behind for him to spread every day starting with treating people the right way.
“For me, it’s about investing in people and as educators and to good educators, that’s your job,” Wilson said. “You’re investing your time and you don’t get paid a whole lot but you’re investing in the kids and you’re investing in making the community better. That’s your currency.
“There’s no better example than seeing what (Sebastian River) did for my dad and what the community did for my grandpa and what they did for my mom. They poured themselves into the community and into the kids and the community and the kids return that. That to me is more valuable than anything and I’ve always taken that approach to education and coaching. That’s why I want to be the best educator and coach I can.”
Bryan Cooney is a high school sports reporter at TCPalm, part of the USA TODAY Network. You can reach him at [email protected] and also on Twitter at @Bryspann_Cooney.