Once a Roo, always a Roo.
That’s the mantra of every Killeen High alumni. They’ll also tell you that no one has lived up to the motto more than Al “Doc” Wilson.
After retiring once before, Wilson announced at the end of the last football season that he would retire come the end of the 2017-2018 school year after 57 years with the Kangaroos.
On Friday, Killeen Independent School District and Killeen High School held a retirement celebration to honor Wilson in the Killeen gym and bestowed on him the rare title of Legendary Roo.
For years, many have asked Wilson when he planned to retire and he never gave a date. In recent years he’s always responded with “It’s getting close.”
“I didn’t plan on leaving on an odd number of years,” he said, admitting there comes a point when you know it’s time to walk away, and for him, that moment finally arrived.
Before the celebration started, Wilson took in his last spring football game at Leo Buckley Stadium on Thursday.
“This is the last hurrah,” he said standing on the sidelines as the Maroon and White teams warmed up.
The reality of retirement started to settle as Wilson’s assistant, and successor, Jessica Beeman, had her future new assistant at the spring game to start learning the ropes.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” he admitted, observing from the sidelines.
For a man who has done this for more than five decades, it was an odd sight. Wilson became head athletic trainer in 1961, the first full-time school athletic trainer in Central Texas after graduating from Howard Payne College (now Howard Payne University) in Brownwood.
As the gym packed in Friday night, those in attendance were treated to a display of photos showing Wilson’s history with the Roos.
A large black and white portrait of Wilson made in 1989 and displayed when he was inducted into the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame sat propped against the wall.
“After the ceremony, he carried it through the hotel on his back,” said Wilson’s son, Jerry, laughing at the memory.
Laid upon tables were more photos of Wilson with national championship teams, including the 1991 state championship football team taken at the Astrodome in Houston.
Wilson has also witnessed the success of many of his students who traveled from far and wide to wish him well on Friday.
He pointed to a group standing by the entry of the gym.
“These are all Scott & White doctors.”
Turning to point across the room, Wilson continued to identify past students of his and informed the gathering of their occupations and where they currently live.
“We got coaches that are coming quite a distance,” he added, “but all these people mean a lot to me.”
Attendees also rushed around the gym to hug and congratulate Gayle, Wilson’s wife.
Seeing the crowd of people who came out to honor her husband,
“You can’t describe it in words,” she said of seeing the crowd who came out to honor her husband. “It’s just wonderful, that’s all I can say,” she added while tearing up.
Both Wilson and his wife retired once before, but Gayle admitted, “It’s hard to give up.”
Working with the kids is what has kept them both involved with the school district all these years.
As executive director for athletics for KISD, Randall Hugg, pointed out in his opening speech on Friday, “They say one coach throughout their history will impact 20,000 student athletes in their career.”
But by Hugg’s calculation, he figures Wilson has impacted more than 60,000 student-athletes throughout his time at Killeen High.
Roos football head coach Neil Searcy agreed, thinking back to the last game of the season.
Despite losing the last home game to Harker Heights that would have sent the Roos to the playoffs, the football players put their feelings aside to honor Wilson.
“He’s special to this program, to this school and to our kids,” Searcy said. “They were hurting from a loss, but every one of those kids lined up for Doc to walk through that last time off the field.
“I thought that was big for our kids, and big for Doc, and that tells you how much they wanted to honor Doc.”
Wilson, whether it’s on the sideline of a football game or on the end of the basketball court, can be found wearing maroon and white Roos gear.
But on this special occasion, one his wife thought he’d want to wear maroon for the last time, he decided to go with what his friends called his retirement shirt — a button-up with the American flag and Mount Rushmore on it.
Before introducing Wilson to address the crowd, Hugg added, “You will truly be missed and we appreciate all that you’ve done for us.”
The crowd then gave Wilson a standing ovation as he made his way to the podium. Before he started his speech, there was one person whom he said he needed to thank for supporting him through all the long days and nights that came with the job — his wife.
Searcy knows that a man who has given 57 years to one place deserves time to relax and take a break but he has plans to get him out of the house every now and again.
When it comes time to travel to yearly conventions in Washington D.C., Searcy said he’s already told Wilson he’ll bring him along.
But one tradition Searcy isn’t ready to end is Wilson addressing his football team, to motivate them when it’s time to make a push for the playoffs.
“No doubt, he’s going to be here tossing his state championship ring up when he’s talking to our kids about what it’s going to take to win it all,” Searcy said. “That’s an every year thing.
“We have to have that speech.”
But the most common question Wilson has received since announcing his retirement has been, “What are you going to do?”
And his answer has remained the same up until Friday night.
“I don’t know.”
Wilson usually wakes up at 4:30 a.m. in order to be at the school by 5:30 to start taping ankles during football season.
Whether he’s planned for it or not, the first thing he’ll be able to do is turn that alarm off for good come June 1.
As the school year end approaches, the reality continues to settle in and he admitted “It’s just hard.
“It’ll be hard. I know that. But it’s got to happen.”