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story.lead_photo.caption Jerry Wilson, who has taught and coached at Jacksonville High School for 35 years, will retire at the end of the school year. Wilson also served as athletic director for 12 years prior to the 2018-19 school year. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

JACKSONVILLE — After a 36-year career in education, longtime coach and teacher Jerry Wilson will retire at the end of the school year.

Wilson, 58, has worked at Jacksonville High School for the past 35 years after starting his coaching career at Oak Grove High School.

“It’s a good time for me to stop and smell the roses while I can still smell them,” Wilson said. “I lost a real close friend earlier this year. It just shows you that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring.”

During his career, Wilson has coached a little bit of everything, including football, basketball, baseball, tennis and track. For about five seasons, he was the head boys basketball coach, while also serving as the offensive coordinator for the football team. Wilson became the athletic director for the school in 2006 and served in that capacity until the end of the 2017-18 school year, when the new Jacksonville North Pulaski School District hired a full-time athletic director, Scott Waymire.

“I’ve done what I do, and I’ve tried to do it really well,” Wilson said. “You’d like to measure success in state championships and wins and losses, but it’s about relationships, really good ones in the city and even in the state.”

Wilson said it was his decision to retire.

“The great thing is that it was my decision to retire,” he said. “Nothing is bad here. In fact, everything is pretty good. Now is the time to get back and be a supporter and a cheerleader, a volunteer and a fan. I prayed about it. The last time I checked, the man upstairs is undefeated.”

Wilson said he isn’t bitter about not being selected as the first full-time athletic director.

“I took the high road on that,” he said. “I could have thrown rocks and pebbles, but what would that have solved? Nothing changed in my mindset. I’ve been doing the same thing, helping the same kids. I’ve had less travel, which is a good thing. I’m helping with athletics. If Coach Waymire is on the road, I’m here at home, making sure everything runs just like it did. On paper, the job is still the same. Nothing really changed, other than someone came in here from the administrative part that was more certified than I was.

“This has been a blessing in disguise. I’m not one who sits around until someone tells me it’s time to go. In my heart, I know I’m going to miss it, but I always tell people, ‘Everybody is replaceable.’”

Tiffany Bone, assistant superintendent for the Jacksonville North Pulaski County School District, said Wilson has done a lot for the district.

“We admire his work ethic and the impact he has made in the lives of our scholars,” Bone said. “From Day 1, Jerry has been dedicated to his job, and that dedication never wavered throughout his career in Jacksonville.

“We will certainly miss his presence at the high school, but we know the real fun begins now. We want to wish Jerry a long, healthy and happy retirement.”

Jason Cates, the head athletic trainer for the Cabot School District, is a graduate of Jacksonville High School, and he played football for Wilson. Cates also worked with Wilson as the athletic trainer for Jacksonville before going to Cabot.

“He can talk to anybody about anything,” Cates said of Wilson. “He was a coach that I admired and someone that you could always go talk to about stuff, either in school or life or whatever. His door was always open.

“To know him as a coach and a mentor, then be able to come back and work with him professionally, I see the other side of things — the time and the hours to making that thing run. His commitment to kids — the things that he did that nobody will ever know about — is special.”

Wilson is a 1978 graduate of Benton High School. He played football for the Panthers, helping lead them to the 1977 state championship. He attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where he continued his football career.

Wilson’s first year to teach and coach was the 1983-84 school year at Oak Grove in the Pulaski County Special School District.

“I left Oak Grove and came here, and it’s been nothing but a really good fit for me,” he said. “It’s a great community with great people. I’ve been blessed and fortunate.”

Wilson said he was an assistant basketball coach before becoming head coach.

“I coached some good kids here,” he said. “I felt like when I was coming up that you have to have head coaching experience in something to become head football coach. I was a gung-ho football guy because that is what got me through college at Ouachita. I learned a lot being the head coach in basketball because I always felt like I was a great assistant. It was a good experience.”

A year ago, Wilson was inducted into the Benton Athletic Memorial Museum Wall of Fame.

“That was a great honor, but this is home for me,” Wilson said of Jacksonville. “[Benton] is where I graduated from.”

Wilson and his wife, Carletta, have three children: daughters Cortessa and Jerica and son Jeremy. The couple have one granddaughter, Jayse.

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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