Underappreciated trainers get their due during March

In this March 2009 photo, Al “Doc” Wilson chats with Ellison High School’s head trainer Tony Dunn during a weekly breakfast gathering of all KISD trainers at Henderson’s Family Restaurant in Killeen. Dunn was a student-trainer for Wilson at Killeen High School, before moving to Ellison.

In August, Al ‘Doc’ Wilson will begin his 55th year as the athletic trainer for Killeen High School.

“I am very proud to be a Killeen Kangaroo,” said Wilson.

And that’s no understatement.

“How proud am I? I’ll tell you,” said Wilson. “My family and friends have told me they should bury me under the 50-yard line at Leo Buckley Stadium.”

Wilson chuckles.

“But that won’t happen,” he said. “I’ve told everyone that it’s just best that they leave me at some cemetery.”

Fortunately, Wilson, at age 76, is in good health and there is no pressing reason to spend time discussing his burial.

“I truly love what I do,” he says. “And it is incredibly gratifying to me. About 15 years ago, I stopped teaching classes at Killeen — I taught health, drivers education and general business — but I’ve never stopped being the athletic trainer all these years. And students and former students stop me all the time and say, ‘Doc, thank you so much for what you did for me. You made a difference in my life.’ Now, I have to admit, that can be real tough on me because it’s hard for me not to get emotional when I’m thanked like that.”

Wilson attended Hamilton High School and won a tennis district title in both his junior and senior years.

“I’m about 5-foot-7 and weigh 160 pounds now,” Wilson said. “But back in high school, I barely weighed 100 pounds, so I wasn’t big enough for football. But I loved sports, and our football coach said I should be the student trainer and help tape up the football players — and so that’s what I did.”

In 1961, Wilson graduated from Howard Payne College (now known as Howard Payne University). Throughout college, Wilson continued to be a student trainer. After graduation, he interviewed with several Killeen High School officials, among them athletic director Leo Buckley.

“Mr. Buckley liked me and wanted me to be hired,” Wilson said. “Back then, many high schools didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was. But Mr. Buckley thought one was needed here at Killeen.

“That first year, I coached football for seventh-graders, then went to the high school practices, then took care of the team on Friday nights. From Day 1, it has been a complete and total privilege.

“Now, you have to remember, I am not a doctor. But all the kids kept calling me ‘Doc.’ They’d say, ‘Doc, can you help me?’ ‘Doc, what do you think?’ ‘Doc, what’s the problem with my foot?’ And so, pretty soon, that’s all I was ever called. I guarantee there are plenty of people that have no idea what my real first name is. I’m just known as ‘Doc.’ ”

The last time Killeen won the state football championship was 1991. And while the modest Wilson would prefer the accolades go to the coaches and players, the athletic trainer deserves some praise, too.

Early in the season, Killeen star halfback Dion Marion suffered a sprained ankle.

“I said I wanted to put Dion in a full cast,” Wilson recalled. “And the doctor asked, ‘Why? Nothing is broken. The cast isn’t needed.’ But I insisted and we put him in a full cast for 10 days and then we kept him out for a good part of the season. But he was then healed — and able to play when we needed him.”

Like in the state championship game.

At the Houston Astrodome, Marion carried 16 times for 154 yards, caught seven balls for 52 yards, scored the Roos’ first touchdown — and Killeen defeated Sugar Land Dulles 14-10 to capture the state crown. Marion earned the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

“That game, winning the state football title, remains my favorite memory of my 54 years at Killeen,” Wilson said.

There were plenty of other special memories.

The walkway which leads from the Killeen field house to Buckley Stadium is called “Al Wilson Letterman Walk.”

If a Kangaroo has lettered in football, he can purchase a brick on the walkway.

“The school totally surprised me with that honor,” Wilson said. “It was about 10 years ago that they did it but it still remains such a proud and humble memory for me.”

On Jan. 9, 2014, Wilson turned 75.

“Our head football coach, Sam Jones, came into my office and told me I was needed in the gymnasium,” Wilson. “Well, I always listen to the boss and he was the boss. I wasn’t sure what the problem was.

“Well, I walk in the gym, and all the teams were in there filling the stands and the next thing I notice, I hear them singing, ‘Happy birthday to you!’ You talk about a surprise — and a very special memory.”

Wilson prefers to remain secretive with regard to when he might retire.

He recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. He and wife Gayle have two sons and two grandchildren.

Most certainly, Doc Wilson will be working the 2015-16 school year.

“That would make it 55 years,” he says. “That’s a nice number when you think about it.

“But, you never know, I might stay on for another five or 10 years. I do love what I do.”

And he loves being a Kangaroo.

Contact Allan Mandell at amandell@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7566 and read his column at KDHPressbox.com

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