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Bobby Wilkins etches his story into the record

Like Easter eggs, names associated with the long and colorful history of Hendersonville High School pop up every few pages of Wilsontown Lynx, Bobby Wilkins’s slightly fictionalized memoir.

The nuggets include Cecile, Coolidge, Caldwell, Murphy, Edney, Anthony, Lemmons, Moore, Robinson, Patterson, Swofford, Croft, George, Ramsey, Byrd, Pyles, Houston, Laughter, Britt, Kirby, Massagee, Livingston, Moffitt, Sherrill, Orrion, Pace, Kealy, Weakley, Shelton, Brackin, Youngblood, Orr, Westmoreland, Holden. There’s teammates Jeff, Jon and Sam, his sons’ names; and Gwen, Bobby’s wife; and Bo, his grandson.
“Every name in the book has a connection with me,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It could be 5,000 things — they played for me, or they're my child or my best friend or whatever but every name in there has a connection to the story.”
The book covers a single season of the Wilsontown High School boys basketball team’s march to a state championship game — the school’s and the small town’s hopes and dreams on the line. It opens with the deciding shot of the last game arcing toward the hoop… and then starts at the beginning.
A native of Hendersonville, son of teacher and principal George Wilkins, head coach of two Bearcat men’s state champion basketball teams and Hendersonville High School’s principal since 2001, Wilkins, 64, has etched into our town’s permanent record the stories of his own childhood and his days of playing, teaching, coaching and skippering the school.
BobbyWilkinsBobby Wilkins“This book is basically the real story of my life,” he says in a preface. “This has been a lot of fun and something that makes me smile every time I go back through the stories, knowing most of them actually did happen.”
The high school’s name is a tribute to Tom Wilson, Wilkins’s early mentor and model.
“He means a lot to me to this day,” he said. “He was my principal in high school” and later his boss when he called the young college senior and offered him a job teaching math and coaching basketball. “He’s the guy that showed me how to do things.”

'Those would be hard to make up'

The back cover says with a wink that Wilkins “holds firm to saying everything in Wilsontown Lynx actually happened.”
When I challenge him on that, he asks me which ones I doubt. I describe a few — the kid that secretly lived in the gym, the basketball player that hid on top of a rafter 50 feet above the gym floor and got stuck, a sudden snowstorm that resulted in a harrowing ride home from an away game — and Wilkins insists they’re true and he has witnesses.
“Those would be hard to make up,” he says. The characters “all exist and I can tell you some of them will tell you those stories to this day. They've read the book and (have remarked), ‘We remember that.’”
Wilkins recalls as if it just happened the winter night his Bearcats traveled to Brevard for a game. A sudden heavy snowstorm blew in at halftime and blanketed the ground in six inches of snow before the final horn.
“I drove the bus home and now that I think of it I was probably 23-24 years old,” he says. “At that time Cathy Streeter Morgan was the girls coach and she climbed out on the front of the bus probably 20 times to clean the windshield off because the windshield wipers couldn't keep that much snow off. It was unbelievable. Here I was just a young child, carrying 50 kids back.”

‘There’s some crazy stuff’

The publication of the book in February checked off a bucket list bullet for Wilkins, who came to appreciate that he had lived an eventful life. The single season portrayed in the book is a composite of close to 50 seasons of basketball and that many school years.

“There were a lot of things going on when I was coaching and I had some things happen when I was playing in college,” he says. He noticed that a kid’s mischief, a team’s chemistry or game situations tended to repeat themselves. “And then I got into administration, I went, ‘Wow, there's some crazy stuff. I've got to write these things down.’ It’s probably been 25 years I've been writing stuff and finally I said, ‘You know, you need to write a book because nobody's gonna believe how crazy these things are.’ And that's why I did it. I thought it was fun and I thought people would enjoy some of the things that happened.”
Too wired to sleep after basketball games, Coach Wilkins at first picked up pen and paper and later a laptop and put it all down.
“You get home from a ballgame and you're wide awake even though it's 11:30 at night,” he says. “So I'd sit down on the couch and write out some stuff, even if it was just notes. After I got to be an administrator I started writing chapters because I wasn't as worn out after the ball games. … A lot of them were so easy to remember I didn’t have to worry about” whether he had made a contemporaneous account.
“I wrote the first chapter way back when because I felt like that would be a good way to grab somebody's attention into a book,” he said. “It was a slow process but it was fun.”
He wrote off and on for around 10 years before he finished the last chapter, when Sam Coolidge launches the game ending free throws that decide whether the Lynx bring home Wilsontown High’s first state championship.
In real life, HHS won state basketball championships in 1948, 1949 and 1952 under Coach Ted Carter. Its 1972 championship under Coach Jim Pardue is coincidentally the subject of a new documentary, “The Tin Can Man,” which premieres Aug. 5 at the high school auditorium. Wilkins won two more as head coach, in 1987 and 1992.
The 1987 team, which included three of the best athletes the school’s ever produced, Sam and Eric Gash and Marvin Featherstone, won the title easily. The second one is a testament to a savvy and disciplined coach at the top of his game, although Wilkins doesn’t portray it that way.
“They just did what they were supposed to do,” he says of the unheralded squad. “Nobody expected us to win it and we slipped through and won and we only had seven players on that team.” The ’92 team won despite the fact that Wilkins booted his two best players early on for failing to do what he ordered. “But the other guys listened to me and started doing everything perfect and we slid right down and won it. I didn't put any of that in the book. Both were great wins but that second group was special because they shouldn’t have won it. They just listened and did everything the way they were supposed to. It was fun.”

Wilkins says sales have been steady as word gets around, particularly among former players and students, faculty members and friends. Many have commented that they remember the stories Wilkins put in the book and enjoy reliving them in the pages of Wilsontown Lynx.
“Like Marvin Featherstone will be standing there with me and somebody else will come up (and comment on one of the wild stories) and Marvin will say, ‘Heck yeh, that happened.’”

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Wilsontown Lynx is available for sale at the Henderson County Heritage Museum at the Historic Courthouse and at the office at Hendersonville High School. EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the 1972 state championship was the Bearcats' first, omitting state titles in 1948, 1949 and 1952. Bearcat hat tip to Patrick Gallagher for the correction.