C. Lawrence “Preach” Wiseman

He’ll Be Missed

‘Preach’ Wiseman, former Coach of Flying Eagles, dead at 76

This article appeared in the Register-Herald on Oct. 16, 1993.


C. Lawrence Wiseman, a no-nonsense coach who survived a German prisoner of war camp in World II to become one of Beckley’s high school coaching legends, died at his home Friday. Wiseman was 76.

Known as “Preach,” an apt moniker in the opinion of one of his prize pupils, Wiseman steered the Flying Eagles to a trio of state basketball titles, starting in 1962 when his squad went undefeated and stunned Weirton in a dramatic comeback.

“There’s no question about it, he was probably the best friend I ever had,“ said an emotional Jerome Van meter, considered the greatest among Beckley’s storied coaching cadre.

“He was a excellent coach and he certainly belongs in the (West Virginia Sports) Hall of Fame.”

Wiseman served under the famed Gray Eagle after returning from his infantry days in WWII, where he was captured by a German patrol and forced to pick up bodies of dead Berliners in the wake of Allied bombing raids.

It was there, says Van Meter, that Wiseman’s health began to suffer, “but he didn’t let it bother him. He was just not that kind of a guy. He didn’t feel good at times, but he never mentioned it. It’s remarkable that he lasted as long as he did.”

Wiseman was taken as a POW while attempting to cross the Rhine River, winding up in Stalag 17.

Van Meter recalled how Wiseman and other assistants, Vic Peelish and Nelson Bragg, shared coaching duties-even cleaning up the bleachers with a broom in the post war days.

“I’m going to miss him,” the Gray Eagle added. “Preach Wiseman was the best friend I ever had.”

Dave Barksdale, who played on Wiseman’s 1962 basketball team Cagers, called his death “a real loss.”

“Along with my dad, those two had the greatest impact on my life,” said Barksdale, who fulfilled a dream to someday follow in Wiseman’s shoes as head coach in Beckley.

“There were no tricks to what Coach Wiseman believed,” he said. “It boiled down to this—play good defense, which we play, man-to-man, and he believed in the fast break, which is our defense.”

That’s Beckley’s style all the way.

He was a very hard-nosed coach and he expected us to be the same way. You just lined up to see who was better. His personality was seen in all his teams.

Despite his toughness, and his innate ability to sermonize at times, his players had nothing but respect for him, says the current coach.

“I don’t think anyone who ever played for him would have wanted it any other way,” Barksdale said.

“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He pushed us extremely hard to be the very best. He wouldn’t accept nothing less.”

No one seemed to know who first applied the nickname “Preach,” but Barksdale said it fit.

“And I certainly mean that in a good way,” he said. “He has preached many sermons to us about our play, and about other things. “He was very influential in our lives.”

Similar words of respect came from another of his standout Cagers, Beckley attorney John Wooten, a force on the 1967 championship squad.

“He was a tremendous person,” Wooten said. “Probably one of the most positive influences in my life. He was motivational.”

He knew how to get everything out of the kids that they had to give, and, in turn, they got a whole lot out of him. He was just a tremendous person to look up to.

Jim Lilly, himself a coaching legend at Oak Hill, fondly recalled his “friendly rivalry” with the Eagles under Wiseman.

“I loved to watch him,” says the retired Lilly.

“You know the closer the game got, the higher his pants legs got. He would pull his pants up, sit here on the bench, and you could see the lower part of his socks first. The next thing you know, they were to the top of his socks. And, the next thing, they’d be up to his knees.”

Lilly said the news of Wiseman’s death upset him, but he took it philosophically, adding, “The good Lord knows the direction we’re all going.”

Lilly and Wiseman coached together in the 1991 Beckley Newspaper All-Star Classic.

Wiseman’s intensity—on and off the court—was part of the folklore that surrounded him.

In a 1985 interview, he recalled the worst moment of his career—an uncanny five technical fouls in a game at Bluefield.

That prompted one wag on the bench to advise him, “Coach, why don’t you get out of here before you foul out of the game.”

A 1935 graduate of Nuttall High School and New River State (now West Virginia Tech) five years later, Wiseman earned a master’s degree in mathematics at George Peabody College. He taught at Layland Junior High and joined Woodrow Wilson’s staff in 1941 before his Army days.

From 1941 to 1969 he was assistant cage coach under Wiseman from 1941 to 1959.

Wiseman, who caught in a coal league in the days when catchers had no chest protectors or face masks, was Woodrow’s head baseball coach from 1942 to 1970.

His basketball teams not only captured state titles in 1962, 1965 and 1967, but were runners-up in 1961 and 1968. Wiseman led teams were in the state tournament in a dozen of the 17 years he was at the helm—in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1974, and 1975.

In 17 basketball seasons, Wiseman had 279 victories against 120 losses. Only in the 1971-72 ledger when a loss in the regional tournament left him at 11-12 did the setbacks outnumber the wins. He enjoyed on perfect season, in 1961-62, when his squad went 25-0 in capturing the title at Morgantown.

Failing health prompted Wiseman to call it quits in late March 1976.

Barksdale said his mentor kept in touch in retirement, but preferred to stay in the background.

“He was content just to sit back and knowing him, I’m sure he listened to every minute of our games by the radio, and probably said, “What the hell are you doing now, Barksdale?”

“That was coach.”

John Blankenship, who coached three girls’softball teams to state titles at Shady Spring High, said of Wiseman, “What I liked about him most was that he made everyone feel important.”

“As a coach, he was a strict disciplinarian. As a man, he displayed great gentleness,” Blankenship added.

Wiseman was a member of the National High School Coaches Association, the West Virginia High School Coaches Association, the National Education Association, the West Virginia Education Association, Masonic Lodge 104, Elk Lodge 1452 and the Methodist Church.

Melton Mortuary is handling funeral arrangements.

Frog Young writes, “Some people donít remember that Coach Wiseman was a prisoner of War.... His story was told to me ... when he was captured it was in a basement in Germany with two other prisoners ...surrounded by Germans ... they drew straws as to which ones would go out first to surrender.... Preach drew the larger straw and went last .... the first two were shot when they went out....Preacher always had trouble with his feet because as a prisoner his feet got frostbit....”

Frog supplied this newspaper article.

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