New book on Jumpin' Johnny Wilson

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New book on Jumpin' Johnny Wilson

Postby rlee » Sun Feb 24, 2008 2:28 am

Men's assistant basketball Coach Johnny Wilson has lived an interesting life. He has played in the Negro Baseball League and was a star for the famous Harlem Globetrotters. His wonderful story which documents his rising from the poverty-stricken Anderson, Ind. to his current career of coaching along side of his son Head Coach John Wilson Jr., has now been captured in a book titled Jump, Johnny, Jump. The book is on sale at the bookstore on campus and at all home men's basketball games. Wilson shares his experiences on the road with the Globetrotters including stories about meeting famous stars such as Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays. The book was written by author Dick Burdette.


Book tells Wilson's tale
By: Adam Roberts
Lock Haven University Eagle Eye

Everyone has a story to tell, but Assistant Basketball Coach John Wilson Sr. has a lifetime's worth that are now immortalized on the pages of a new book.
"Jump, Johnny, Jump!" by human interest columnist Dick Burdette chronicles the life of "Jumpin'" Johnny Wilson from his childhood in Anderson Ind. to his professional sports career.
Wilson, Indiana's Mr. Basketball 1949, played baseball in the Negro League and travelled the world with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Wilson's life and accomplishments are all woven through the turbulent and segregated fabric of the mid-twentieth century.
"Young people from middle school to college should see how things were and that people can get along together no matter what color they are," said Wilson of his past.
The forward of Burdette's book was written by one of Wilson's closest friends Carl Erskine. Erskine, a white man who grew up with Wilson in poverty-stricken Anderson, went on to a professional baseball career with Brooklyn Dodgers where he played with Jackie Robinson.
In a time when racial tension ripped through the Dodgers clubhouse Erskine befriended Robinson and his family, he says, because of his boyhood friendship with Wilson.
"This book reflects on Johnny Wilson the way history reflects on Jackie Robinson," Erskine wrote in the forward. "Johnny, like Jackie faced a segregated nation. But they both rose above that."
In the face of oppression Wilson remained true to his character.
"During that time I was the same person I am today," said Wilson. "(Racism) didn't affect me. I had my life to live and I got along with everybody."
One of the men that helped elevate Wilson to his professional sports career was his high school basketball coach Mr. Charles M. Cummings.
While many of his teammates called the coach Charlie after graduation Wilson won't refer to the white, Missouri native without showing him the respect of calling him Mr. Cummings.
"He did more for me than any other person besides my parents," Wilson said.
Wilson's careers in baseball and basketball began after he left Anderson College his junior year.
After fruitless tryouts with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox, Wilson got his big break with the Chicago American Giants of the Negro League. The owner of the American Giants was also the business manager of the famed Harlem Globetrotters.
"In two days I signed a baseball and basketball contract," Wilson explained.
Even though Wilson still contends he was always a better at baseball than he was at basketball he eventually chose to travel solely with the 'trotters, as he calls them, because it was a better option financially.
With the 'trotters Wilson saw the world, travelling to Europe, Asia, Africa and his favorite, Australia.
The tales of his time with the storied basketball franchise are filled with famous friends and mystical moments.Wilson recalled one time in Osaka, Japan where he met one of his idols, Joe DiMaggio and his wife, Marilyn Monroe.
On the court Wilson also had some memorable times.
After their games the 'trotters did different sports skits that included various trick shots. In the football skit a player hiked the ball to Wilson and he kicked the ball into the hoop.
One night Wilson's mother came to a game in Marion Ind. and when he got the ball he sunk the kicked shot. The next night Wilson hit the same shot in Cleveland in front of the Cleveland Browns' place kicker.
Wilson's career with the 'trotters ended on a promise he made to himself.
"I said if I got married I'd quit because I couldn't be a good married man with all of the temptations," Wilson said.
From there Wilson pursued his childhood dreams of coaching. He is in his fifth year as an assistant to his son John Wilson Jr. at LHU.
The idea to write about Wilson's life came to Burdette when he was working on a different book about the heyday of the Globetrotters.
After an interview with Wilson for that book Burdette began work on "Jump, Johnny, Jump" in 2002.
Burdette conducted interviews all over the country as he compiled accounts from people who affected Wilson's life and those who knew people like Mr. Cummings.
The book went on sale on Jan. 18, 2008 through Author House publishing.
"Jump, Johnny, Jump" is on sale at the LHU bookstore and all Bald Eagle home basketball games where Wilson will sign copies of the book.
Aside from his exploits as an athlete Wilson's biography shows that with determination people can rise above the circumstances that hold them down.
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Postby rlee » Thu Feb 28, 2008 2:03 am

Savannah Woods' Essay: Jumpin' Johnny Wilson

“Jumpin” Johnny Wilson

Johnny Wilson is part of our history in Anderson, Ind. He has achieved so many goals and set an example for all of us to follow.

He was a basketball coach for one of my mother’s friends. He shared with me some of the values that Mr. Wilson taught. They were to always be respectful, obey your teachers and parents and stay out of trouble. Mr. Wilson is a very strong and positive individual.

I would like to tell you about a very sad story.

In 1946 Johnny Wilson wanted to play college basketball for Indiana University. The head basketball coach at Indiana University was publicly asked about “Jumpin” Johnny Wilson, an African American from Anderson who was named Mr. Basketball later that year.

When this head coach replied that he did not feel that Wilson could make the team, the spectacular Johnny Wilson was washed away in the tide of segregation. In accordance with the Big Ten gentleman’s agreement, an African American basketball player had never been recruited.

I am glad there have been some changes since then. I bet that Indiana University regretted that unfair decision they made.

“Jumpin” Johnny Wilson earned eleven letters for Anderson University in just three seasons he played. He played three years of Raven basketball, each season being selected All-conference and team M.V.P. He was also twice named All American, including finishing 3rd in the nation in scoring.

Johnny Wilson still holds Anderson University records for career scoring average, season scoring average, field goal attempts in a game, and ranks 8th on the career scoring list with 1,540 points. Wilson was also named All-conference in both basketball and track. Johnny Wilson played with the Chicago American Giants in the Negro leagues and basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Not only was Johnny Wilson successful as a player, he is also a remarkable coach. He coached basketball at Malcolm X College and Indianapolis Wood High School before returning to Anderson University and Anderson High School to coach. Mr. Wilson and his son are now coaching in Pennsylvania.

Johnny Wilson’s honors and awards are numerous. He was named as one of the Top 50 Athletes of the Century in Indiana an was named the CO-athlete of the Century by The Herald Bulletin. He has been elected into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, won the Humanitarian and the Black Sports Pioneer Award. He has also received Distinguished Service and Citizen Awards from Boy Scouts of America, Masons, Black Expo, The City of Anderson and has been chosen a Goodwill Ambassador by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Johnny Wilson also pursued his education. He also went to Anderson University and earned a degree in education.
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'Jumpin' Johnny' not slowing down

Postby rlee » Mon Mar 03, 2008 3:18 am

'Jumpin' Johnny' not slowing down
By Mike Beas

It's virtually impossible to walk the entire length of the Wigwam's west hall and not be pulled in by one of the many photographs gracing its walls.
They are predominantly black-and-white reminders of Anderson High School's athletic lineage, and the 1940s were glorious times indeed. The 1946 Indians captured Indiana's boys state basketball title and the track program held state supremacy for four consecutive springtimes from 1945-48.
Johnny Wilson, one of the strongest fibers bonding the aforementioned successes, is as good an all-around athlete that Madison County,maybe all of Indiana, has ever seen.
Many longtime area residents claim he's the finest ever. The younger crowd can only hear the stories, observe the photographs and imagine. And wonder if the man fits the tale.
"So many grandfathers have told these wonderful stories," laughs Wilson, 80, currently an assistant men's basketball coach for Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, which is coached by John Wilson, Johnny's son. "And people believe them."
For good reason, says former AHS teammate and Wilsons close friend Carl Erskine, who graduated a year ahead of Wilson. When it comes to the young man a sportswriter once tabbed "Jumpin' " and then sat back and watched the nickname stick like flypaper, rarely is the hype exaggerated.
"I grew up with Johnny and we were good buddies because we lived only a couple of blocks apart. Johnny was just an excellent all-around athlete," remembers Erskine, who parlayed his baseball talents into a 12-year Major League Baseball career as a pitcher with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He could have been an excellent baseball player, but (AHS track) coach Carl Bonge wanted him for track, there was no two ways about it. Baseball wasn't even a consideration."
In the era of track and field athletes digging one's spikes into cinder surfaces, Wilson was as feared as he was during the winter months on a basketball court.
A sprint specialist, Wilson as his nickname suggests, was quite the high jumper during his youth, taking first at the State Meet at Tech High School in Indianapolis as a junior and third in the 100-yard dash. The following season he ran first leg of the Indians' winning 880-yard relay effort and placed second in the high jump.
Wilson's senior year was also when he was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball.
Ah, basketball.
Wilson admits hoops was his second-favorite athletic passion behind baseball, which, ironically, he never played at Anderson High School. Yet it's basketball with which the Wilson legend is most closely attached.
Inside the cozy confines of the original Wigwam and even during road games, it wasn't uncommon for Wilson to feel the eyes of 5,000 spectators zeroing in on him even before the referee had tossed the ball up for the opening tip-off.
One thing in my favor was back then no one else was dunking the basketball before the games. I would and the players on the other team would be watching me," said Wilson, who could leap high enough so that his elbows at times came in contact with the rim.
“We played so much together, but getting the ball in to Johnny was tough because teams would sag back on him," remembers Erskine, a guard for those mid-40s Indians ballclubs "Coach (Charlie) Cummings would get on me to shoot more, that if I didn't make it Wilson would be all over the backboard.
Not only could Johnny jump, his timing was so perfect. A dominant player for his day."
Anderson High School has been fortunate in that it has produced numerous golden eras in athletics. The time of Jumpin' Johnny Wilson stands near, if not at, the very top of the list.
And don't for a moment believe time is slowing the man down.
At an age in which the end of the rainbow becomes visible, Jumpin Johnny is funneling his cold-weather hours into assisting the team at Lock Haven and not slowing down a bit. Hardly a surprise considering Wilson's mother, a woman who birthed 10 children from her home, spent a total of five days in the hospital during her lifetime.
"I love it. This is my fifth year and I'm really enjoying it. My son doesn't need me as far as Xs and Os. I keep the players loose," he said. “I feel great. I've been very fortunate to have good health."
And Anderson has been just as fortunate to have him.

Johnny Wilson will be at the Anderson Public Library, 112 E. 12th St., at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 29, to speak and to sign his book "Jump, Johnny, Jump." Books will be available for purchase.
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Postby rlee » Sun Apr 20, 2008 1:06 pm

Book chronicles Wilson story
by Jim Bailey

— It might be no stretch to say Johnny Wilson was born too soon.
The Anderson native, one of the two most famous athletes to come out of his hometown, played high school and college sports, was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball of 1946, put then-tiny Anderson College on the national map and went on to play professional basketball and baseball, later coaching on the high school and college level.

His boyhood friend, Carl Erskine, also played professional baseball, throwing two no-hitters and setting a World Series strikeout record with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But Wilson was denied the chance to play at the major league level in either sport; he played baseball in the Negro Leagues and basketball with the famed barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters. The social climate in this country was just beginning to change as Wilson grew up, but integration of major sports teams was too slow to afford him a shot at the big time.

Wilson’s story is told in Dick Burdette’s book, “Jump, Johnny, Jump!” published by AuthorHouse of Bloomington. Wilson introduced the book recently at a reception and book-signing at the Anderson Public Library.
Burdette, Wilson noted, was a newspaper writer who had in mind a book on the Globetrotters. Instead a friend steered him to Johnny. “He put off the ’Trotter book,” Wilson explained.

Wilson observed that many avenues were not open to blacks at the time he went to high school and college. But he gave his Anderson High School coach, Charles Cummings, credit for steering him toward higher education.

“He had me take college prep courses,” Wilson explained. His high school counselor had doubts and went to Cummings. “If he doesn’t pass, he won’t play,” Cummings said. Wilson passed, played and led AHS to the state championship his senior year with a then-record 30 points in the final game.

Indiana University’s famed coach Branch McCracken, worried about competition in a then all-white Big Ten, didn’t encourage Johnny. “My mom always told me, ‘Don’t go where you’re not wanted,” Wilson said. He wound up at what was then Anderson College and helped turn a mediocre program into one of national notoriety. It would be Shelbyville’s Bill Garrett who became IU’s first black basketball player a year later.

“Anderson College at that time was different from Anderson the city,” he pointed out. “There were lots of things I couldn’t do in the city. But there was no discrimination at the college. The church (Church of God, the college’s parent church) had always taught the brotherhood of all people.”
The book chronicles Wilson’s journey, which included three years at AC before events led him to look at professional sports instead of finishing college.

But he found some doors still closed. He participated in a St. Louis Cardinals tryout camp, batting 11 times, hitting four home runs, three triples and two doubles, finishing second in throwing and first in wind sprints. When someone asked a scout how Wilson had done, he asked, “Which one is Wilson?”

Eventually a tryout with the Chicago White Sox earned him a shot – but with the Negro League’s Chicago Black American Giants. Instead of traveling by train, and later by plane, to games, he would be spending hours on the road in an old bus, staying in second-class lodging and eating at black-owned restaurants or snacking on the bus.

Then came the opportunity with the Globetrotters, where Johnny, who earned his nickname by his incredible leaping ability that at barely 6 feet tall enabled him to match up with the giants of the game, played in the top unit that included the legendary clown prince Goose Tatum and dribbler Marques Haynes. Wilson’s placekicking experience from football also made him the kicker in the ’Trotters’ comic football routine (he regularly put the ball right through the hoop).

A two-year Army hitch interrupted his ’Trotter career. As increasing acceptance of the best black players into the National Basketball Association ate into the Globetrotters’ talent pool, Wilson decided to leave, finish college and begin a teaching and coaching career. When the head coaching job at Indianapolis Wood opened, he became the first black head basketball coach at an integrated high school in Indiana. From there he became head coach and athletic director at Malcolm X Community College in Chicago. Eventually he returned to Anderson, becoming a volunteer assistant coach at AHS and then girls head coach. He now assists his son at Lock Haven State University in Pennsylvania.
Wilson will turn 81 in July. “I probably won’t coach more than another 14 years,” he quipped.

Johnny’s brother, Gene, accompanied him to the book-signing. “Gene was probably a better athlete than I was, but he didn’t get the publicity,” insisted Johnny
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