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Meet Mr. Wall

For my last column ever, I could spew some of my own advice, but I doubt you'd listen. I'm young and not even sure of the next step in my own life. Thankfully, I've been sitting on a treasure trove of advice without even knowing it.

My roommate of two years, fourth-year College student Jeremy Lambert, has a 70-year old grandfather, Bill Wall, who is a remarkable man with a remarkable story. On a visit home to South Hill, Va. a few weeks ago, Jeremy off-handedly told his grandfather that I wrote for the school paper. In classic, crotchety old-man style, Wall apparently replied, "Well, why hasn't he interviewed me?"

What makes Wall an interesting person? For starters, Wall had friendships and business relationships with the following sports figures: Raymond Berry, a wide receiver on the Baltimore Colts during the 1950s and 1960s who went on to coach the Patriots to Super Bowl XX; Bob Cousy, a six-time NBA champion point guard on the Boston Celtics from 1951-63; Adolph Rupp, longtime coach of the Kentucky Wildcats who won four NCAA Championships and ranks third all-time in wins by an NCAA men's coach (876); Dean Smith, longtime coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels who won two NCAA titles and ranks just ahead of Rupp with 879 wins; Terry Holland, who, among other things, was the head coach of the Virginia men's basketball team from 1974-1990, leading the Cavaliers to two Final Four trips in 1981 and 1984; and, most impressively, John Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood," who coached UCLA to 10 championships in 12 years during the 1960s and 1970s.

After getting your jaw up off the floor, you probably want to know how Wall knew all of these famous sports figures. Well, it all started when Wall was a teenager and he started both a local baseball youth league and a Youth Foundation that functioned much like a YMCA. After playing two years of football at Ferrum Junior College - now Ferrum College - in Virginia, Wall returned to the area and, with money raised from the Youth Foundation, started a youth football league. One of the boys who played in the league attended the football camp of Sonny Randle, a former Virginia football coach and NFL All-Pro wide receiver. Upon returning to the area, the boy told Wall he should start his own football camp for elite prospects. Though another boy disagreed, the first said, "Mr. Wall can do anything." Wall had loved sports all his life and didn't want this boy laughed at, so he put his and the boy's reputation on the line and committed to creating a football camp at the age of 25. Wall knew a few NFL players who were old friends, so he thought he had a point from which to start building his camp.

At first, registration was slow. Wall had just 10 to 15 kids signed up, and then his dad, who was helping him start the camp, died. But then Wall read about a man in Pittsburgh named Bernard "Baldy" Regan who had established a football camp so successfully that he had even gotten Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath to instruct campers. Out of the blue, Wall called up Regan to ask for advice. Wall recalled that Regan told him, "'Don't cancel your clinic. If you cancel your clinic, you'll lose your money. If you build it up a little bit, you can break even in your first year which would be a pretty good thing to do in your first year. If worse comes to worst and you have to give back deposits to the campers, call your man in Pittsburgh up.'"

"I thought that was cool, that he said he was my man in Pittsburgh," Wall added. Regan told Wall that if he couldn't get enough campers, he would invite them to register at his Pittsburgh camp and he would give Wall $10 for every camper that registered - which was pretty good money in 1965, Wall said.

"Baldy told me to believe in yourself. If you've already invested your money [in something as I had], you've got to believe in yourself," he said.

Wall actually lost money but ran a successful camp in that first year. He took a trip to visit Regan after it ended. "I learned more from him sitting in a coffee shop than I could've gotten from 50 people," Wall said. "He told me how to handle pros. He told me how to get people like Unitas, and Wooden and Cousy, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. What to say to them and how to do it."

To current students, Wall would advise them to