Billy Wilson’s absence from the first two classes of the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame had always disappointed members of his family. As did the way his legacy was seemingly forgotten until recently.
Wednesday, 35 years after his death, the 1943 Thorp Award winner was inducted into the Nassau shrine, giving his family a feeling of closure.
“The injustice was rectified,” said his daughter, Sandra Wilson.
Billy Wilson starred in five sports at Lawrence High School. He left his mark on the football field, though, unanimously winning the Thorp, an honor bestowed on Nassau County’s best football player.
His talents could have led to a career as a professional, but there was a problem, and one far beyond his control. He was an African-American athlete, and in 1943, Jackie Robinson was still four years from his MLB debut.
“People knew that my father was a legend,” said Billy’s eldest son, Aloysius, 63, of Malverne. “This honor was long overdue, of course.”
Aloysius and Sandra, 60 of Staten Island, both spoke of how their father tried to shield his seven children from the racial inequalities of the time. Sandra said he never talked about the prospects of his once promising career or the system that held him from it. Instead, he did everything he could to provide what little he could for his family.
“He’d probably be happy about the Hall of Fame,” Aloysius Wilson said. “But at the same time, it really bothered him. It broke his heart. He never complained, he never talked to us about sports. He worked hard. I was just glad he had a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
Somewhere down the line, the Wilson family lost track of his Thorp Award trophy. Newsday presented a new trophy to the family on April 28 at a ceremony at Lawrence High School.
“He would have been completely amazed,” his son, Randy, said then. “It would have overwhelmed him. I can’t even tell you how he would have appreciated this.”
Now the trophy, and a plaque of Wilson’s successes, are in their rightful places with the family and at the Hall of Fame. Sandra Wilson said she hopes his induction forces people to think.
“Now he’ll be in a place where people go to view it, they’ll ask questions,” she said. “Why is he there? What exactly does he represent? The hope is that they’ll get curious about it.”
His children said they always thought their father’s legacy was treated unfairly. But it’s what they heard from his friends and former teammates that justified their stance.
“A man came up to me the other night and said, ‘I played against your dad. He was really good, he was one of the best,’ ” Sandra Wilson said. “I don’t feel like this was closure just for us, I feel like it was closure for a lot of people.”
When she said that, there was no inflection of sadness. Just one of satisfaction.