Amsterdam resident Walter Frisch was playing cards with a friend a few weeks ago when he heard a familiar name: Wilson.
Seven decades ago, he played basketball at Amsterdam’s Lynch High School with Harrison Wilson Jr. He hadn’t thought of his high school friend for years, but remembered Wilson as a fast and upstanding player who never swore.
Frisch’s card-playing buddy spoke of another Wilson — Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the grandson of Harrison Wilson Jr.
“I didn’t know about Russell,” Frisch said, “but Harrison was a really nice guy.”
Russell Wilson’s connection to Amsterdam is documented in the most recent book of local historian, radio personality and Gazette columnist Bob Cudmore, “Hidden History of the Mohawk Valley.”
Back in 1910, the original Harrison Wilson, whose father was born a slave, left Kentucky for a new home in Amsterdam. At the time, discrimination made work hard to find. Wilson held jobs as a plasterer and worked at a bowling alley, where he reportedly rescued two young pinsetters from a massive fire.
Eventually he secured a small parking lot behind what is now the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame on Amsterdam’s East Main Street.
“I remember parking in that lot,” Cudmore said. “Wilson parked an improbable amount of cars there.”
Income from the lot supported Harrison and his wife, Marguerite, as they raised eight children. Their oldest son, Harrison Jr., grew up to be the strong, fast high school friend of Frisch.
Cudmore said the family placed an incredible emphasis on education.
“When I first started researching the Wilsons,” he said, “it didn’t have much to do with Russell. I was just writing about how well all the kids did in life.”
One daughter grew up to be a cancer researcher, while another was a nurse and cared for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One son was a highly paid lawyer for Ford, and Harrison Jr. became president of Norfolk State University in Virginia, a post he held for 22 years.
“All the sons, at least, were scholar-athletes,” Cudmore said, adding that Harrison Jr. continued playing basketball long after Frisch lost touch with him.
That family’s sporting legacy begun so long ago in Amsterdam was passed down through the generations to Russell.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Cudmore said.
After that card game, Frisch said he went into the basement of the house he built in Amsterdam and dug out an old photo album. He flipped to a grainy, black-and-white shot of his high school basketball team.
“Wilson is dead center,” he said. “Number 13.” Frisch himself is a grinning youth in a No. 11 jersey.
“There are only four of us left from that team,” he said. “Wilson is one. It’s good for Russell to have a shot. It’s time we hand things over to the new generation.”