Former Demon reminisces on baseball career

By Junior Johnson

I seem to find adventure by accident when I am riding around looking for old historic sites in our area. A couple of months ago while looking for an old Civil War battle site called Henderson’s Hill in the area of Boyce and Cotile Lake, I found myself lost on a narrow sand and gravel road leading deeper and deeper in to the woods.

I finally decided to turn around and hope to find my way back to civilization. As I was driving back I saw a pickup truck coming in my direction and was immediately relieved. I slowed to a stop, and when the vehicle arrived a wonderful elderly man smiled and asked if I was lost. It was obvious to him it seemed, and I told him that I was in search of Henderson’s Hill. He laughed and said that I was nowhere near the place, but if I would pull over he would turn around and I could follow him to the location.
When we arrived at an old cemetery where the remains of several Confederate Veterans were buried, he got out of his truck and walked to my car and said that this was the place that I was looking for. He introduced himself as Jim Willis. He said that he was an 89-year-old retired school teacher. When he noticed the Northwestern State shirt I was wearing, he said that he graduated from there in 1948. I laughed and said that I was born in 1948.

He began a story that had me spell bound. He said that he played basketball for the Demons and was on the 1948 NAIA Final Four team. He was also a pitcher on the Demon Baseball team and his number 28 had been retired and was on the centerfield wall in Brown-Stroud Field. As I listened to this remarkable man tell this story I could not believe what I was experiencing.
When I thought he was finished, I saw a spark in his eyes, and he said, “I was also a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in 1953 and 1954 after I served my Country in the military.” He said he appeared in 27 games and had a record of 2-2. I was totally blown away at this point. He said that he lived in the area and loved the solitude of long rides in the woods.

I related this story to my friend Doug Ireland at Northwestern State and he said Willis was a remarkable man who was honored at a football game several years ago.

If getting lost in the forest in the future brings me this much joy and excitement, perhaps I should throw away the maps, fill the tank with gas and head to the nearest wooded area……and of course be sure to wear a Northwestern State jersey.

7 thoughts on “Former Demon reminisces on baseball career

  1. Oh gosh! What in the world to say about Jim Willis? There is not enough words to express his accomplishments. He has definitely left a mark on his students at Boyce High School…the whole little town of Boyce…and his alma mater…North Western.
    I am a former student of him and also he has been a long, long family friend. I own much land up on…what I call..Red Store Hill. The cemetery you are talking about with the confederate soliders…are buried in the back part of Dark Neal Cemetary. When we were building our house up there…we found many…what I call…mini balls and confederate buttons off uniforms. It wasn’t a war…but more or less a skirmish. When we found them…it was an everyday occurrence.
    Go back up there and keep prodding…who knows who you will meet next…but I will tell you this…you ain’t gonna find another Jim Willis! You were lucky my friend that day…very little lucky!

  2. So glad I saw this. I am a 1972 graduate of Boyce High School and had the honor of being taught by Mr Willis! Great times!

  3. Junior, your love for our town/area, our Alma Mater and the eloquence with which you describe them never ceases to amaze me. Proud to call you friend! Keep it up, Pard’

  4. What a great story Junior. When you keep your eyes and ears open and a smile on your face there’s no telling what you may find.

  5. Great Story, I like to take those jeep rides like that too but have never run up an alumni in the woods

  6. Fabulous reading Junior!Gosh,you just never know what tomorrow holds in store do you;Reckon,that’s why we keep waking up each morning. Keep up the good work,and keep gas in the tank…..Thanks for sharing,and look forward to the next discovery around the area. gary/images by collins

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