Over 30 years, the Northwestern State track and field program has gone from one Wilkins to another.
Just like track, life has a way of coming full circle sometimes.
When Demon alumnus Ronald Wilkins departs from Bowie, Maryland, for the gathering of NSU’s 1987 Conference Championship team on Saturday at the Leon Johnson NSU Invitational, his reunion will be two-fold.
Not only will he get to reconvene with some former teammates and coaches, but it also gives him the opportunity to see another Wilkins compete on the same track he did, 30 years ago.
His son, Joshua Wilkins, is a junior on the NSU team, and just like his father, is a standout on the Demons distance corps.
Joshua has posted one win and five top-four individual finishes this spring, and his first-place time of 3:52.39 last Saturday at the LSU Alumni Gold is the Southland’s sixth-ranked mark in the 1500 meter run.
“He’s only seen me compete collegiately a handful of times,” Joshua said. “So it will be great for him to be at the meet and get to see me race.”
The elder Wilkins, who was one of the strongest competitors for NSU from 1984-1988, made sure to pass down everything he learned from the great Leon Johnson, who will also be celebrated Saturday for his upcoming induction into the Southland Conference “Hall of Honor.”
That recognition, and introductions of the former competitors, is set for 12:30 at the Walter P. Ledet Track Complex. Field events begin at 10 with racing starting at 1, involving 11 schools, including rivals Lamar, McNeese, Southeastern Louisiana, UL Lafayette and Louisiana Tech.
While Ronald is eagerly anticipating watching his son run, he’s almost as pleased to see his former coach.
“I would not be where I am today without coach Johnson. He provided me the opportunity to come run at a great organization and a place that made a lifelong impact on me,” he said. “Coach wanted your best every day, and that is something I wanted to pass down to Joshua, which is why he is doing what he is doing at Northwestern State.”
Through the lessons instilled in him from coach Johnson, Ronald has been prepping his son for track and field success since Joshua first started the sport in the sixth grade.
“I was able to learn from such great coaches during my time at NSU, so I instilled that knowledge in Joshua,” he said. “From junior high through high school, he learned everything I knew and that helped him be track ready going into college.”
For the younger Wilkins, track was not always his first pick, even though he was aware of his father’s success in the sport.
“I didn’t have a choice but to know about his success! You know how dads are, he was always telling me the same stories over and over, but I still wanted to play basketball,” Joshua said. “It wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 that I started to really like track. I was competing in the larger races and hanging with the big boys at the top, so that is when I knew there was a future for me in the sport. I can’t blame him now, because things have turned out pretty good so far.”
While Joshua has had his fair share of success on the track, the friendly rivalry between him and his father will forever serve as extra motivation while his time is spent as a Demon.
“It seems like every time I meet someone in town that knows (my father), I always hear new things about him,” he said. “Whether it was about him being a good person, or his achievements on the track, it’s always something. His teammates have talked to me, and told me stories, and that makes me want to be better, especially if I hear about a record in an event, I want to top it.”
Ronald knows his days as the family record holder are numbered, and as fathers do, wants the best for his son.
“I want Joshua to far exceed everything I’ve ever done. He has the most awesome confidence of a young athlete I’ve ever seen, and he never fears competing at the next level,” Ronald said. “I know he has probably looked at my old times and wants to break them, but he would never tell me that. I think I still have him beat in one event, but Joshua has smashed all the other times I set.”
While NSU’s only home meet of the spring provides the ideal setting, Ronald is still flattered his alma mater is recognizing the championship teams of 1957 and 1987.
“The big thing for me is that the University remembers,” Ronald Wilkins said. “To honor us this weekend, brings all those memories back together. For them to reach out, to say ‘we thank you, we appreciate you, and we haven’t forgotten about you,’ means everything.”