by Scott Kindberg
Allen Wilson entered my life nearly 20 years ago.
He was a sportswriter from The Buffalo News. I was a sportswriter from The Post-Journal.
He lived in Buffalo. I lived in Jamestown.
He was a fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels. I loved Duke.
But we had many other things in common, including a passion for high school sports.
That’s why I couldn’t wait to give my friend/colleague a call one night exactly 18 years ago. That was the evening that I drove to Buffalo to cover a basketball game, pitting Fredonia against Traditional. That was the night that senior Michael Heary poured in 62 points in the Hillbillies’ 110-106 overtime loss.
That was also the night that I one-upped Allen.
Because he couldn’t attend the game, I called him upon my return to the office — there were no such things as cell phones in December 1993 — to let him know what I had witnessed. I also told him how several fans offered their best “we-are-not-worthy” bows when Heary fouled out in overtime and how those same fans stood in line to shake his hand when the game ended.
The pain in Allen’s voice was obvious. For one of the few times in his professional life, he had missed out on a chance to witness history. Every time we ran into each other in the years that followed, the conversation would somehow find its way back to that game. Allen’s eyes would get wide as I would recount the shots Heary hit, the 23 points he scored in the fourth quarter and the reception he received from the opposing fans.
Allen, who had selected Heary to The Buffalo News’ All-Western New York first team the year before, knew all about the hoops prodigy from the Southern Tier, but it was clear that Allen’s regard for Heary grew even more.
But Allen, who died Saturday at 49 after fighting a losing battle with leukemia, didn’t miss much else in this neck of the woods.
He made trips to Jamestown in the late 1990s to see basketball star Maceo Wofford at McElrath Gymnasium; he attended the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner in 2009 when Heary and Fredonia native and Olympic silver medalist Jenn Stuczynski Suhr were enshrined; and he was courtside at the Buffalo State Sports Arena when the Red Raiders won the Section 6 Class AA basketball title last March. A few days after that victory, he wrote a column about Jamestown coach Ben Drake.
While Allen eventually traded covering high school sports in favor of covering the Buffalo Bills in 1999 and also became a columnist, I’ll always believe that Allen’s heart was in high school sports and the athletes who played simply for the love of the game.
Maybe that’s because Allen was a pretty fair high school athlete in his day. Born in Durham, N.C., Allen was an all-conference outside linebacker in high school. One of the highlights of his senior year, according to The Buffalo News website, was getting a chance to work out a few days with then-college star Lawrence Taylor, who went on to a Hall-of-Fame career in the NFL.
In college at North Carolina Central University, The Buffalo News site notes, he was a member of the school’s NCAA Division II national championship basketball team and also had a chance to play a pickup game with NBA great Michael Jordan.
Maybe that helps explain his love for the Tar Heels, huh?
But the Allen I knew loved just about everyone and everything. And, in turn, everyone loved Allen.
Six weeks ago, I attended a benefit for Allen at Ilio D’Paolo’s Restaurant in Blasdell. Among the hundreds of people who turned out were former Bills Thurman Thomas and Ruben Brown and current Bills Fred Jackson and Brian Moorman. Also there were high school and college coaches and athletes, newspaper colleagues and family members. Quite honestly, I didn’t expect that Allen, who was resting at home in anticipation of a bone-marrow transplant, would be able to attend.
To my delight, he was there.
When the evening drew to a close, I found my way from my table in the back of the banquet room. Allen had his back to me, so I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and, as he always did, smiled and we exchanged a hug.
I told him that I would continue to pray for him.
A few days later, I sent Allen a Facebook message, informing him that former Fredonia High School boys basketball coach Dave Polechetti had a VHS tape of that Fredonia-Traditional game from years ago that he was going to have converted to a DVD. When that was completed, I wanted to arrange a time when the three of us could sit down and watch it.
“Awesome,’’ Allen wrote back. “I would love to see that game.’’
Then he ended his message with the following:
“Thanks for coming to the benefit. Always great to see you.”
I’m so thankful I had that chance to see Allen one final time.
My heart is heavy today.