Legendary local swim coach Wally Fall honored his grandfather, John Pugh Wilkinson, with the planting of a memorial oak tree at LSUA. Fall was joined by his family, the “red coats” of the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, members of the LSUA Foundation, and nearly fifty faculty and staff for the honorary ribbon cutting ceremony.
Coach Fall was raised by his grandparents in Shreveport, Louisiana. He took the opportunity of the gift to LSUA to express his deepest gratitude to his grandfather, John P. Wilkinson. Wilkinson made his mark at LSU in Baton Rouge in the early 20th century. He was both the captain of the LSU baseball team and the LSU basketball team, a feat not easily done in college athletics. Wilkinson graduated from LSU in 1916 with a degree in Agriculture and went on to fight in WWI.
Wilkinson’s athletic prowess was highlighted by Coach Fall in the story of his legendary performance against the New York Giants in an exhibition game at LSU. In the early days of major league baseball, professional teams would travel the country playing college teams to prepare for their season. In just such a game, Wilkinson was pitching against future Hall of Famer Kristy Mathewson. With LSU trailing just 2-1 in the 7th inning, the Giants’ head coach requested Wilkinson be taken off the mound for fear of embarrassment for his batters. When Wilkinson refused to leave the game, the Giants’ coach offered him a contract on the spot. Wilkinson played professional baseball for two seasons.
Coach Fall had much more to revere in his grandfather than his abilities on the field. Fall explained, “Pop taught me hard work…to never give up. My grandfather always said, ‘Something will happen if you keep plugging away. You just don’t get to pick when it happens. But, it will happen if you keep plugging away.’”
This December will mark Coach Fall's fifty-sixth year coaching swimming, with forty-eight having been in Rapides Parish. “I’d like to think I have made a positive difference in a lot of kids’ lives,” Fall reflected, noting a number of his former swim students in the audience.
In closing, Coach Fall challenged others to donate oak trees to LSUA. He envisions ten trees donated by December, saying, “This is the start of something good at LSUA. I would like to see this place become a forest. I would like to invite people who have family members connected to LSUA or LSU, to make a contribution to the legacy of the university. It would be noteworthy to plant a tree in their honor here at LSUA. This place is on the move!”
For those interested in planting an honorary or memorial oak tree at LSUA, please contact the LSUA Foundation at 318-619-2917. The LSUA Foundation is a nonprofit organization that cultivates private financial support and bolsters the university’s contributions to higher education in central Louisiana. For more information about the LSUA Foundation, please visit www.lsuafoundation.org.
Written by Adam Lord
Photo credit - Adam Lord