Sometimes history needs to repeat itself.
On Friday morning, Newsday awarded the 1943 Thorp Award trophy to the family of Billy Wilson, the Lawrence High School football star who was honored as Nassau County’s best player 74 years ago.
Wilson never had the opportunity to play college or professional football because he was black. At the time, only a handful of African-American athletes were being recruited to the college level. After graduating from Lawrence in 1945, Wilson joined the United States Marine Corps. When he returned to Long Island, he married, had seven children and later worked at Lawrence High School as a custodian. He died in 1982 at the age of 55.
Wilson’s Thorp Award trophy went missing somewhere along the way.
A ceremony was held Friday morning at Lawrence High School to present a new trophy to his family. More than 50 people were in attendance as Wilson’s son, Randy, accepted the award.
“He would have been completely amazed,” Randy Wilson said. “It would have overwhelmed him. I can’t even tell you how he would have appreciated this.”
Randy said their dad loved sports and kept a detailed record book of all of his children’s accomplishments in high school sports. Randy also told the football team in attendance that they should take advantage of the opportunities his father never had.
“Sometimes life deals you a bad hand,” Randy said, “but you need to keep moving forward. Be confident and think positive.”
In a story about Wilson that appeared in Newsday on Jan. 29 as part of a series commemorating Black History Month, Wilson’s oldest son, Aloysius Wilson, said the family wished they still had the missing trophy as a way to remember their father’s accomplishments.
The story, written by Jim Baumbach, sparked the process that led to Friday’s ceremony to replace the lost trophy and honor the memory of Billy Wilson.
“I have four young boys,” Randy Wilson said, “They will be happy to see that their grandfather was recognized and people know how great he was.”
The Thorp Award started in 1942 and is awarded annually by Newsday to Nassau County’s top football player. Hall of Famer Jim Brown won the award as a Manhasset senior in 1952. John Mackey (Hempstead, 1958) and Matt Snell (Carle Place, 1959) also have won the Thorp.
Sal Ciampi Sr., who won the Thorp Award in 1961 as a senior at Lawrence High School, said in the Newsday story that Wilson would have excelled at the next level of football.
“Billy Wilson just came up at the wrong time,’’ Ciampi said. “The black athlete just didn’t have the opportunities then. If he came up in the ’60s, he would have been a major college athlete — big-time major-major.”
Also in attendance at Friday’s ceremony was Frank “Bucky” Trotta, who was Wilson’s high school teammate and the fullback who helped block for Wilson during his Thorp award-winning season. Trotta, 89, still lives in Lawrence.
“This was a great day,” Trotta said. “Billy would have loved it.”