MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Forest Lake Rangers did not win a high school football game in the fall of 2014.
By most accounts, that would constitute a miserable season. For one head coach, it has been a memory of a lifetime.
Jeff Wilson took over the team as the head coach this fall. He added a special offensive line coach — his father, Gary.
“The only time I coached [Jeff] was in American Legion baseball,” said Gary Wilson.
The reason it’s taken on such significance is because Gary was diagnosed with a blood disease called MDS.
“It takes so much energy out of you. You can”t walk a great distance,” Gary said.
He is not eligible for a bone marrow transplant because of his age, and the reality of mortality is ever present.
“Keep going. Keep going,” Gary said. “I think I’m not done yet.”
Gary and Jan Wilson were both born and raised in northeast Minneapolis. They’ve been married for 58 years, and Jan says the key to their longevity has been honesty, love and care.
Gary became a fixture in north Minneapolis, coaching kids for 60 years from the park board to the high school — every sport, all year.
“He’s been a good husband,” Jan Wilson said. “He comes home at night, he doesn’t go sit in a bar or anything like that.”
He lobbied for 25 years to get a gym built at Farview Park and Rec Center. And when they finally relented, they put his name on it.
“It means a lot,” Gary said.
It’s a place that serves the community seven days a week, and it’s a reminder of his legacy and beliefs. It’s a tribute to his commitment to the youth.
“He never looked at a kid and felt they weren’t worth his time,” Jeff said.
Time is not on Gary’s side. Chemotherapy and blood transfusions are now part of his routine.
“We know that your days are numbered on earth,” Jan said. “If the Lord takes him, we’ll be ready.”
That’s why this fall has been so precious, being able to join his son in an arena that has provided them with their bond.
“You never look at him as someone that’s gonna disappear,” Jeff said. “And he’s a tough coot, and if he’s feeling bad he doesn’t tell you.”
But Gary is comforted by a faith that allows him a sense of peace.
“I know where I’m going when I go,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about that. I just hope the grandkids can carry on.”
And his son is comforted by one magical fall, where he and his father shared a daily love for a game — and one another.
“We’re still trying to find solutions for it. I don’t think this is a long-range deal. I think it will catch him,” Jeff said. “It was really, really enjoyable to have him [coaching], even though physically I think he struggles a little bit out here. But he’s had a blast, I’ve had a blast.”
It’s often said that sports are about more than the final score, and that winning isn’t everything. But for Gary and Jeff, just being on the field together is enough.