DANVILLE DANVILLE — His health is tenuous these days, but Jack Wilson Sr.’s voice is still strong after 61 years of announcing, “Here come the Little Johns!”
Lewis, 90, retired this year as the voice of Danville’s football team.
He missed only two games in those 61 years — once for heart surgery, and once when he was hunting in Colorado, he said.
“I’ve been sick for about two years. I had heart surgery back in ’96 and made it fine through that,” Wilson said.
“I’ve got COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and I can’t walk very far without getting a breath or two.”
The steps to the press box got harder for him to climb, and he decided it was time to hang up the microphone.
At press time, Wilson was in the hospital.
His long announcing career started when he and his brother-in-law built the former press box.
“It was placed on four telephone poles, … so we had to go to the top of the bleachers and had to climb about 10 feet,” Wilson said.
The press box swayed some in the wind, “but we had it tied down good,” he said.
“When we built that old stand, my brother-in-law was up there helping me. He was fixing to move to Dardanelle,” Wilson said.
They had been announcing together, but he asked Wilson if he thought he could take over the job.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it,’” Wilson said. “He was gone, and I’ve had it ever since.”
It’s Wilson’s voice that generations of fans and athletes have come to know.
“That high up, they can hear me all over Danville. It’s a small town, of course,” Wilson said.
He had talked to one woman who lived “a good mile from the stand.”
“She said, ‘I can sit on the front porch of my house and hear everything you say,’” he recalled, laughing.
Wilson grew up in Danville, the son of a lawyer and a stay-at-home mother, and played sports at Danville High School.
When he graduated in 1940, Wilson went to Ouachita Baptist University for two years, where he tried out for football.
“I broke my arm the first week out,” he said.
He transferred to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and was a junior when he quit school.
He joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific for 23 months, he said.
Wilson said he was stationed at a hospital in New Caledonia.
“The first thing I was doing was putting on those plaster of Paris casts,” he said.
When he got out of the Navy, he said, his future wife, Joyce, was waiting for him, and the couple got married.
He has a history with Danville sports that goes back more than 61 years.
He and his wife served as basketball referees for Danville High School, he said.
“We bought two old lace-up balls,” he said.
He also traveled around the county for 25 years or so, refereeing basketball games.
Wilson started coaching in the ’40s, leading Little League teams, which he did for 50 years, said his son, Jack Wilson Jr., who lives in Danville.
“He’s had a wonderful life,” his son said.
Wilson Sr.’s career was as a rural mail carrier, which he called “the best job in the world.”
“I enjoyed it. I carried for 32 years, and I quit when I was 55. I’ve been quit as long as I worked,” he said.
One season rolled into another, and generations grew up, as Wilson announced for the Little Johns.
He was able to announce for both his daughter, Martha Burks of Danville, who played basketball, and for Jack Jr., who was a football star at Danville, Burks said. Jack Jr. went on to play at Arkansas Tech.
Martha said it was nice hearing her dad’s voice calling the games.
“It’s got a little country twang to it,” she said.
Wilson said he has many good memories of his years announcing for the Little Johns.
“One time, we were a little ahead, and we were at the goal line, third down, and in we went. It looked easy to me from the [press box]. Instead of having his hands above his head, [the referee] had them by his ears,” Wilson said. “The other three were pointing. I finally said, ‘Touchdown, Danville!’ It stayed, too,” he said, laughing
“The key to calling a good game is you can’t keep up with all of it by yourself; you’ve got to have a spotter sitting in the chair beside you. If he sees John Jones make a tackle, he’ll either call his number or call his name to me.”
That spotter for Wilson was Steve Pfeifer of Russellville.
“He’s been doing that with me for years,” Wilson said.
D.J. Crane has been coaching the Little Johns for 12 years.
“No one at Danville’s ever heard anything different than Jack,” Crane said. “He’s the foundation of it, really. He’s just one of those guys — he’s one of the guys who’s been around forever and has just been a pillar in our community and in our program.”
Wilson has been well-known for serving in other community capacities. He served as chairman of the hospital board for 10 years and was president of the school board for a decade, too.
In addition, Crane pointed to Wilson’s long volunteer history with youth sports.
The Little League field is named for him, as is the new press box.
Crane said Wilson will be missed.
“His voice as [the team] runs out of the tunnel — ‘Here come the Little Johns’ — you don’t get to hear it now, and it’s sad,” Crane said. “If you’ve spent any time in Danville, you’ve been impacted by Jack.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.