Larry Wilson was a humble man, from humble beginnings who never forgot where he came from. Wilson was born and raised in the small town of Rigby, Idaho and would later become the greatest athlete in Rigby High School history, earning 16 Letters in football, baseball, basketball and track. Larry went on to star at the University of Utah and then with the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League.
On July 7, 1967, the town honored Larry Wilson by retiring his high school number 7 and naming their football field “Larry Wilson Field.” Over 300 friends and acquaintances of Larry descended on Rigby to help honor “Willy.” Even Cardinals vice president Bill Bidwill flew in unexpectedly to participate in the celebration.
According to Wilson family friend, Michelle Barber, the name Larry Wilson Field was supposed to remain in perpetuity. However, when the new high school was built in the early 1990s, Larry’s name was removed and replaced with the name of a local doctor who never played ball in Rigby.
Michelle grew up watching Larry play football and said she and her late father, Dean Allgood, would watch the Cardinals whenever they were on television. Dean was a good friend of Whitey Wilson (Larry’s father) and the family felt terrible when Larry’s name was removed from the field.
“My dad was livid,” Michelle said. “When Larry’s name wasn’t moved with the new field, my father and several others in town went to the school board and tried to get them to see the light,” Barber said. “But it didn’t happen.”
Michelle wrote letters to the local papers expressing her displeasure and in 2016 started a campaign to have Larry’s name restored in its rightful place.
“The continued goal and main objective is to restore Larry’s name to the field, but we also want to permanently retire his high school number 7. It was retired in 1967 but was also left behind when the new school was built.”
Michelle and her sister Colleen started a petition and formally presented their case to the Rigby school board. She knew it would be an uphill battle, because the field had already been renamed for someone else.
“The school board would not discuss it,” Barber sad. “They were unwilling to remove the other person’s name from the field.”
A couple of years had passed, but Michelle hadn’t given up hope. Just a few months ago she met with Rigby High School superintendent Chad Martin, who told her a monument could be placed on campus as a tribute to Larry. Martin suggested they reach out to head football coach Armando Gonzalez, who brought Rigby its first state football championship in 2019.
“Coach Gonzalez is well respected in Rigby and is all for whatever we can do to educate the students about Larry Wilson,” Barber said. “Part of what Coach Gonzalez brings to the table is a leadership program. Another part of our agenda is to create a leadership scholarship fund set up in Larry’s name at the high school as well as reinstating the Larry Wilson award that will go to the best offensive and defensive player of the year. The students will be inspired by Larry’s work ethic, perseverance, determination, and above all, his character.”
Barber says the monument is already in the works. It’s a bronze relief of Larry from his final NFL game with an inspirational quote from him along with his NFL career highlights. The monument is scheduled to be completed this summer and a formal dedication ceremony held on August 27 at 5 pm.
Michelle has set up a Go Fund Me account to offset the cost of the monument and to also help create the Larry Wilson leadership scholarship.
She is grateful for the support and the contributions that have already been received for this worthy project, but still hopes that someday the name of the greatest athlete in Rigby history will be rightfully restored to the football field.
“In this day of self-aggrandizing celebrities and athletes, let’s give the students at Rigby High School someone of substance to look up to and emulate.”