Athens Academy coach Ed Wilson brings family atmosphere in first season with Spartans

Athens Academy head boys’ basketball coach Ed Wilson stood stoically as his players competed in their last home game of the season. Clad in a blue dress shirt, a green tie, and a gray blazer, the ever-present Wilson had his hands clasped firmly behind his back, his calm demeanor only betrayed by his screaming.


As the final seconds of the game trickled down to a 53-56 loss to Towns County, the crowd and Wilson trained their eyes upon the dejected young men who loitered on the sidelines.

Seated near the home stands, a man with graying hair and a crisp, button-down shirt had his eyes on Wilson. He leaned back in his wheelchair with a sense of oddly-placed contentment.

“That man over there sitting in the wheelchair is a big reason why I am coaching here,” said Wilson, who recently completed his first season at Athens Academy. “That’s my father, who had a stroke [that paralyzed him from the neck down] about four years ago and this is actually his first game seeing us play. He’s a special man.”

Despite the loss, merely attending the game was proven to be enough for Wilson’s father, Mike. According to Wilson’s mother, Linda, Wilson’s father had reassured the Athens Academy basketball players when they apologized to the couple for losing the game.

Mike Wilson told his wife that he didn’t come to see the players win, but to witness them grow.

He is the man who inspired his son to develop a focus on family-like unity after Athens Academy stumbled to 8-17 last season. Wilson led the Spartans to an improved 10-14 – with the support of his family.

“Constant communication is a big thing I’m about,” Wilson said. “To have them [the players] do their classwork, work hard on the court, love their parents. To have them appreciate the relationships that they have. Go love your mom, go love your dad, go be nice to your sister or brother because what else is there?”

Mike, 80, and Linda live in Athens, Wilson’s hometown. Prior to his stroke, they shuttled from their home base in Athens to Naples, Florida. Shortly after the stroke, they moved permanently back to Athens.

“Mike hadn’t been out of our home except to go to the rehab center,” Wilson’s mom said. “It was a family decision that it was time to go back to Athens.”

Wilson, meanwhile, was both the athletic director and head boys’ basketball coach at Frederica Academy at St. Simons Island. With his parents back in Athens permanently, he also decided it was time to return to Athens after a 23-year absence.

Wilson applied, along with 110 other candidates, for the Athens Academy coaching position last spring.

“Ed’s background with independent education and his previous success coaching basketball played in a role in the school’s selection of Coach Wilson for our boys’ basketball position,” Athens Academy athletic director Kevin Petroski said.

Wilson also had family in mind on his first day of teaching at Athens Academy on Aug. 1. Wilson decided the best approach was to encourage the foundation blocks of family: responsibility, comradery, and an ultimate bond.

Behind the tender love and care, Wilson also provided a sense of tough love to his players much like a father would to his children. Starting on Wilson’s first day, he led practices that lasted two hours, five to six times a week.

“Practice was more relaxed and chill [last season],” junior Connor Hatch said. “Coach Wilson definitely wants the team going. It makes you want to work harder because there are 16 guys on the bench and if you don’t work harder, you will end up on that bench.”

Wilson led the Frederica Academy basketball team to three state finals – in 2009, 2011 and 2012 – during his 10 years there.

The players were expected to work hard on their individual skills and drills in order to show their allegiance. In turn, Wilson allows his players to be a part of his family.

This was clear the day that Athens Academy narrowly lost to Towns County. Despite the loss, five of the Athens Academy players proceeded to make small talk with Wilson’s parents near the entrance.

Meanwhile, three other players were dribbling the basketball with Wilson’s 7-year old son, Charlie, and his 4-year old son, Sam, on the court.

Wilson and sophomore Payton Bowles shared a laugh, recalling how Wilson almost bought Bowles’ parents’ house in Oconee County when he moved back to Athens last summer.

“It’s nice to meet coach’s family and see where he comes from,” sophomore Jack Murrah said.

The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.