John Wilson: Former Football Player and Academic All-America Honoree
Sept. 7, 2001
A member of the Spartan football team from 1950-52, John D. Wilson will be inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame on September 7, 2001. Joining Wilson in this year's class are Jerry DaPrato (football, 1912-15), Sue Ertl (golf, 1977-80), George M. (Jud) Heathcote (basketball coach, 1976-95), Sherman Lewis (football/track, 1961-64), Weldon Olson (ice hockey, 1951-55) and Steve Smith (basketball, 1987-91).
"I am very flattered and quite surprised," Wilson said. "It was a privilege to be on one of the greatest teams in MSU history. I was just an ordinary member of that team."
Wilson, who still watches Spartan football games with former teammate Doug Bobo in Hilton Head, S.C., was a member of the 1951 and 1952 National Championship teams. He played in the North-South post-season football game in 1952.
The 1952 Academic All-American also earned MSU's Potsy Ross Award, given to the player who best contributes to the university, athletically and scholastically, that same year. He was inducted into the GTE (now Verizon) Academic All-American Hall of Fame in 1989. MSU's first Rhodes Scholar, Wilson was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, an association of American Rhodes Scholars.
"It was easier in those days to balance academics with athletics," said Wilson, who was president of his senior class. "Big-time sports didn't demand so much of you. We had a nine-game season and stopped around Thanksgiving. Then we wouldn't see each other until spring practice. We became students again."
The Lapeer, Mich., native received the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor in 1953, Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Alpha Theta honoraries and the John A. Hannah Award. He was also nominated for the Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1989 and 1990.
The honors graduate left the East Lansing area in 1955 to get his M.A. in English from Oxford University.
Wilson returned to Michigan State, serving in several capacities including assistant to the Vice-President of Academic Affairs (1958), Associate Director of MSU's Honors College (1965), Director of Undergraduate Education and Assistant Provost, and assistant professor of English (1965-69).
For his endeavors on and off the field since graduation, Wilson was given the MSU Duffy Daugherty Award in 1987. He was also presented the Jack Breslin Life Achievement Award by the Varsity S Club in 1994.
Since his stint at Michigan State, Wilson served as the assistant president of State University of New York (1959-63). In 1968, Wilson became president at Wells College and remained there for eight years. In 1981, Wilson became the vice-president for Academic Affairs and University Provost of Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University. Wilson retired after serving as president at Washington & Lee University from 1983-1995.
Now living in Virginia, Wilson is looking to the induction as a chance to visit a place he considered home for many years.
"I am very happy to come back and see the beautiful campus and see as many friends that might be there," Wilson said.
** Today marks the final installment of a seven-part series unveiling the members of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2001. The MSU Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place this evening at the Kellogg Center. The inductees will be honored at halftime of the Michigan State-Central Michigan football game on Saturday (Sept. 8).
** The MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, which is located in the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center on the campus of Michigan State University, was dedicated on Oct. 1, 1999. It is open to the general public on home football Saturdays, normally two hours after the game. The $250,000 Hall of Fame displays key moments in Spartan athletic history as well as plaques of the 72 current inductees. The charter class of 30 former Spartan athletes, coaches and administrators was inducted in 1992.