Wilson Named 2014 Little League International Volunteer of the Year

Midland, MI - July 29, 2014

Midland's Wilson to be honored as Little League International Volunteer of the Year after 50 years of service

Fred Kelly fred.kelly@mdn.net  

Midland’s Ed Wilson has spent the better part of a lifetime giving to Little League baseball. And now, Little League is going to return the favor.

Wilson, who is in his 50th year of volunteering, will be honored as the 2014 Little League International Volunteer of the Year, according to Midland’s Northeast Little League website.

As a result, Wilson will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Little League World Series, which will be held Aug. 14-24 in South Williamsport, Pa.

While there, Wilson and his fellow award recipients will be officially recognized prior to a LLWS game and asked to throw out the first pitch. Afterward, they will be free to stay in South Williamsport to watch the tournament for as long as they choose.

A few years ago, Northeast decided to name one of its fields after Wilson in honor of his years of service — which have included everything from managing to assistant coaching to groundskeeping — and he was gracious and humble about the recognition, preferring to shy away from the spotlight.

Not much has changed.

“I didn’t know anything about (my being nominated for this award) or I would’ve put the kibosh on it right from the start,” Wilson, 72, said with a chuckle. “They (Northeast Little League) submitted my name and some stuff (about my volunteer history), and that’s where we’re at.

“ ... Oh, yeah, sure (it’s rewarding),” he added of receiving the award. “I just know that there are so many people that work so hard, and I’m sure they work just as hard as I do. ... There are so many people who have invested so much into Little League, even in our own district. It’s an honor to be recognized, but I just feel a little sheepish about being the guy who is being honored.”

Veteran Northeast Little League coach and manager Todd Rivard, who has worked closely with Wilson many times over the years, was not nearly as hesitant to sing Wilson’s praises.

“It’s so well-deserved. When you put 50 years into something — it’s amazing that one person can volunteer for 50 years. And to be recognized by the national organization, he’s just so well-deserving,” said Rivard, who managed Northeast’s historic 2003 major (11-12-year-old) state champion team with help from Wilson and fellow longtime coach Max Griggs.

“ ... He’s just a student of the game, and he knows the game, and he’s never tried to (run a team) by himself,” Rivard added of Wilson. “He’s always asked for and we (fellow coaches) have always given all the help we can.”

In fact, Rivard noted, one of Wilson’s greatest strengths as a manager has been his willingness to defer to other coaches.

“Sometimes, he’d be the manager of a team, but you’d never know it,” Rivard said. “Everyone wants to talk about the 2003 team, but then in 2006 ... he was the manager of our (all-star) team, but he wasn’t on the field because he had delegated a lot of the responsibility to myself and to others.
“ ... He just wanted to be involved, and he just loved being out there with the kids,” Rivard added. “It is just so much fun to work with him.”

A native of Ohio, Wilson came to Midland in 1964 to work for The Dow Chemical Co. as a chemical engineer. Almost immediately, he got involved with Little League.

“I just loved baseball. That was my favorite sport. I never had the opportunity to play as a kid, but I just loved baseball,” he recalled. “When I first came to town, one of my co-workers had a child involved (in Little League), and I offered to help him. He said he had all the help he could use, but he said he knew another coach who needed some help.

“I wasn’t even married yet and had a lot of time on my hands,” he added. “So I volunteered to work with a minor league team, and the rest is history.”

Wilson noted that, in 50 years’ time, Little League baseball has evolved and changed in some ways, while remaining essentially the same in other ways.

“The talent seems to be getting better every day. It’s tougher to win every year than it was the year before,” he said. “And the equipment now, the new bats they have (are different). ... The kids can hit the ball a lot farther than they could 25 or 30 years ago, and that makes the game a little bit different.

“The thing that’s the same, that has sustained Little League, is that they really do orient it toward the kids,” he added. “It’s for the kids to have a good program with fair competition and top-notch umpiring and coaching and good fields to play on. (Little League) really is a success story.”

Wilson said he enjoys volunteering as much now as when he started 50 years ago. And the reason is simple.

“I enjoy working with the kids and enjoy seeing the kids have good facilities to play on, and it’s just a great feeling,” he said. “It’s nice to win, but even when you lose, you’re still having fun.”

According to Rivard, Wilson’s dedication to helping his players improve is nearly legendary.

“He would throw batting practice until his arm would (be ready to) fall off,” Rivard noted. “He would throw hours of batting practice, and it was just strike after strike after strike. He was just so consistent time after time, and he did it for hours.”

Rivard said he is thrilled for Wilson to receive the International Volunteer of the Year award, and he is hoping that Griggs, who is in his 49th year of service, receives the same accolade some day.

“I hope they do the same thing for Max (in the future). The both of them are not out there for anything other than the love of the game and trying to make a great experience for the kids,” Rivard said. “ ... If (Wilson) had his way, he would’ve just let this (50-year) milestone fly right by and not even say a word.

“That’s part of what makes (Wilson and Griggs) so great — they’re truly there for the love of the game and to try to make the experience for the kids as great as it can be,” he added.

Rivard said it amazes him to look into the bleachers at any given Northeast game and see all of the spectators who have been coached by Wilson through the last five decades.

“There are probably more people in the crowd (who have been coached by him) than there are kids on the field,” Rivard pointed out. “You’ve got parents (who were coached by Wilson) in the bleachers, and you’ve got second-generation and even third-generation (players coached by Wilson) on the field. It’s really quite amazing. ... It just blows my mind.”

While Little League International is paying for Wilson and his fellow award recipients to stay in South Williamsport and has also offered plane tickets, Wilson, in typically humble fashion, is keeping it simple.

“They offered to fly us out there,” he said. “But I’m not going to do that. I told them I’d drive.”

Republished with permission from the Midland Daily News