Burton’s soft-spoken Wilson became fierce competitor on court

Kevin Mays • May 29, 2020 at 4:00 PM

NORTON — Stan Wilson is usually relaxed, calm and a soft-spoken gentleman.

Unless he’s on a basketball court.

Wilson was fierce as a basketball player at J.I. Burton and Tusculum and was even more high-strung as the longtime coach at Burton.

Wilson, a member of both the Tusculum and Burton halls of fame, was a key player for coach Joe Stallard’s team in Norton from 1958-1962, scoring more than 1,000 points in his career.

“He had a big influence on me,” Wilson said of Stallard. “He went to Tusculum and he encouraged me to go to Tusculum.”

The decision was a good one for Wilson. He spent four years there as a student-athlete before earning his master’s degree two years later from ETSU.


Wilson coached eighth grade basketball for two years at Southside Elementary in Elizabethton and spent one season as an assistant at Virginia-Wise, then known as Clinch Valley College, before starting his historic coaching career at his alma mater.

He coached one year as the junior varsity coach before taking over the varsity program in 1970.

While Wilson was a solid basketball player, most of his notoriety comes from his coaching days at Burton, where his distinctive orange suit jacket took a beating from being tossed on and off during his 39-year career.

“I don’t what prompted me to do that,” Wilson said. “I guess it’s just sort of part of the game. You know all the officials and they know you.

“I never really had a problem with any of the officials after a game.”

Whether his demeanor on the bench was the best coaching style or not, it was Wilson’s.

And it was effective.

His 541 career wins still stand as the most by a Class 1 coach at one school in VHSL history.

Wilson guided his Raiders to seven Region D championships, eight VHSL state tournament appearances, five Coal Classic championships in a six-year span and five regular-season Lonesome Pine District titles.


It was Wilson’s knack for preparing his team to win the Lonesome Pine District tournament championship, however, that left his biggest mark.

Wilson’s teams won 12 of them.

“Back in those days, you had to win the district or the tournament to make it to the region,” Wilson recalled. “As the season went along, we just kept emphasizing the tournament. We always told them if you don’t win the tournament, then you can’t advance.”

Many times, Wilson’s teams would finish second or third in the district standings and sometimes lower during the regular season. But the Raiders could never be overlooked at tournament time.

“It was all about the seeding,” Wilson said. “You always wanted to make sure that you lined your team up with a good seed.”


Wilson coached 14 players over the years who finished with more than 1,000 career points.

One team he coached almost had three players surpass that mark.

The 1979-80 squad had Mark Neely and Robbie Leonard, both of whom scored more than 1,000 points, while Jay Coleman scored 985 for his career.

Other basketball greats donned the orange and black for Wilson and the Raiders, including Jake Neely, Gail Livingston, Reecie Gravely and Russell Livingston.

While many were special, one player developed a special relationship with the coach.

Doug Campbell is Burton’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball. He was the LPD player of the year twice, named all Region D three times and all-state twice.

Campbell, now the athletic director and girls basketball coach at George Wythe in Wytheville, still looks at Wilson as a role model.

“Our relationship is something that I have cherished for many years,” Campbell said. “He is someone that I’ve looked up to for many things other than just basketball.

“I enjoy sharing my teams’ accomplishments with him when we talk and feel like he is a major part of how I coach today.

“I’ve always told him that he can sit on my bench anytime. I probably would get caught up just listening to him, but that’s fine with me. He is always going to be my coach.

“I am grateful for him taking the time to show the interest in a kid that wanted to impress him in Little League basketball and hope over the years I’ve continued to make him proud.

“Playing for him was a blessing and something that I wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Campbell said. “Sitting on the floor at the Norton-Wise showdowns is what made me fall in love with playing the game that has been good to me over the years.

“The gyms were packed. Watching the greats of the past and seeing how hard they competed and represented our school made every kid want to play for Coach Wilson.

“He made the game fun. He was a player’s coach and allowed them to be themselves. He was very stern at times when he had to be, but was very encouraging to his players. No one was off-limits to get those butt chewings during practices or that long staredown when you did something wrong during the game. But that’s what made him special to me and pushed me to want to make him proud.”


The gym where Wilson spent too many hours to count as a player and a coach has worn his name since 1995.

While he still had many days ahead of him, one of the biggest highlights of Wilson’s coaching career was when the gym at Burton was named the Richard “Stan” Wilson Gymnasium.

“I don’t guess you could get much bigger of an honor than that,” he said. “It was really humbling.”

The dedication of the gym was supposed to be a surprise, but Wilson found out about it a couple of days ahead of time. He promised to keep it a secret and act surprised.

“But I couldn’t hardly sleep for those two days when I found out,” he said.


The Lonesome Pine District, while known primarily as a football district, had several strong years in basketball, with Wilson’s teams in the thick of things.

Coaches like Ira Joe Lewis at Coeburn and Burrall Paye at Powell Valley come to mind quickly for Wilson when talking about coaching legends.

“Burrall Paye was probably the best coach I ever coached against,” Wilson said.

One of Paye’s assistants, Dave Bentley, became one Wilson’s biggest coaching rivals when he took the head coaching job at J.J. Kelly.

Memories of the late 1980s and into the 1990s were scattered with some of the most heated contests on the basketball courts of Burton and Kelly with stands overflowing and doors being closed before games even started.

“I remember one year Kelly fans showed up about 3:45 wanting to get in for (a 7 p.m.) game,” Wilson said. “Those were some great games.

“Dave was a great coach and he had some great players.”

Years after the rivalry went quiet, Wilson and Bentley remain friends.

“His son is a musician and I remember a couple of years back we sat together at the Best Friend Festival (in Norton) to watch him play,” Wilson said. “They’ve moved to Florida now, but I still try to check in with them from time to time. We keep up with them.”


Wilson’s work at Burton was far more than just a basketball coach and teacher.

Over his career he served at Burton and Norton City Schools as principal, athletic director, assistant principal, food services director, transportation director and truant officer.

“When I look back on it, it was meeting all the people that I came in contact with,” he said. “There’s very few professions where you come in contact with so many people in so many different walks of life.

“It was truly amazing at how many people I’ve had a chance to meet and become acquainted with over the years.”

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