Dwayne Wingler (’54)

Frank Giardina: Wingler’s Passing Saddens Our State

This article appeared in the Charleston Gazette on Nov. 9, 2014.

Before DuPont’s Randy Moss or Dunbar’s Melvin Walker, there was Beckley’s Dwayne Wingler.

Our state lost one of our all-time great multi-sport athletes with the recent death of Wingler, the former Woodrow Wilson star Dwayne Wingler.

In Beckley’s storied athletic history, Wingler is considered the city’s all-time best athlete and basketball player.

He was an incredible football and basketball star. Wingler was so good that he was recruited by Kentucky to play basketball for the legendary Adolph Rupp and football for the legendary Bear Bryant. He ended up playing football for Blanton Collier at UK, who, after leaving Kentucky, coached the Cleveland Browns to the 1964 NFL championship.

In high school, Wingler played on three straight state championship basketball teams in the early 1950s under coach Jerome Van Meter, who won four in a row from 1951-54. During that run the Flying Eagles defeated Charleston (1951), Fairmont (1952), Parkersburg (1953) and Mullens (1954). In the 1954 state tournament, Stonewall Jackson was favored to win the state title, but Mullens, with a young Willie Akers and coach Lewis D’Antoni, upset the Generals in the semifinals.

Former Richwood player and a longtime Kanawha County and Fairmont State teacher Jim Young remembers Wingler.

“Wingler wasn’t just an incredible athlete, he was also a very confident player,” recalls Young. “When he walked in the gym, everyone knew who he was and from the minute he stepped on the court, he owned it

“When he was a sophomore, Beckley beat Fairmont 53-52 in the 1952 championship game. Wingler was fouled late in the game and he was going to shoot two free throws with Beckley down by one point. Before he shot the free throws, he walked up and down the media row, smiling and telling all of the writers to go ahead and write about it and tell everyone that this game is over, and that he would hit the game-winning free throws because there is no way he was going to miss.

“Then he stepped up and made them. He shot them underhanded. All of Van Meter’s players at that time shot free throws underhanded. Wingler was like Ali. He would tell you what he was going to do to you and then he would do it.”

In 1954, Wingler won the state’s Amateur Athlete of the Year award, a rare honor for a high school athlete. He was chosen over WVU football legends Sam Huff and Bruce Bosley.

When he played head to head against East Bank and Jerry West, Wingler scored 34 points and West scored six. In fairness to West, he was only a sophomore and his improvement would come later as he became the greatest star in state history.

Wingler will be honored and remembered with a memorial service in Beckley at 3 p.m. next Sunday at the Beckley Family Worship Center.

Among those speaking that day will be former Marshall football coach Bob Pruett, former Duke and Woodrow Wilson basketball star Howard Hurt, former Woodrow Wilson coach Dave Barksdale, former St. Albans and University of Charleston basketball coach Tex Williams, Beckley Mayor Bill O’Brien, Wingler’s son Daniel and childhood friend Larry Hawkes.

Our state has had many incredible athletes, but not many any better than Dwayne Wingler.

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