Dick holds a special place in the hearts of the sports community

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You won’t be able to find the words “seat reserved for Wendell Dick” implanted on any of the athletic bleachers located throughout Winchester and Frederick County.

But the odds were, if there was an event going on, you could count on “Mr. James Wood” being there.

Wendell Dick — who died at the of 80 on Friday — led a rich and full life with many interests, and his love for sports was a big part of it.

He was a four-sport high school athlete at James Wood (he graduated in 1958), a college athlete at both Potomac State College and West Virginia University, a successful football coach at Frederick County Junior High School, an assistant track coach at James Wood, and a cross country and track official for 50 years (1960-2010). He helped create the James Wood Athletic Hall of Fame (it was formed in 2000 and is named after him; Dick was an inaugural inductee) and he’s a member of the Potomac State College Athletic Hall of Fame (2005).

And whether it was through his various jobs with Frederick County Public Schools or raising funds and cheering from the bleachers during his post-retirement years, Dick was always supporting athletes and coaches in some fashion.

“Wendell and I have been friends for nearly 60 years,” said legendary football coach Walter Barr in an email, who is renowned for his career at James Wood but also coached at Sherando, Shenandoah University and Shepherd University. “He was a wonderful role model for young people and everyone admired him.

“It seems that his most important goal in life was to help others. I was a beneficiary of Wendell’s generous giving of himself. He was always so supportive of me no matter where I was coaching and teaching. He will be greatly missed by many many people.”

“He was Mr. James Wood,” said Russ Potts, a 1958 Handley graduate who competed against Dick in high school and attended Potomac State College with Dick. “He loved the Colonels and never missed an athletic event.”

That pattern of never missing an athletic event started when he was a student. Dick had perfect attendance for all 12 years of his schooling, and he was a fixture on the varsity scene for four years at James Wood.

5fcec18aafdd0.imageDick earned 14 varsity letters with the Colonels in the sports of football, basketball, baseball and track & field. Dick was named an Outstanding Area Athlete in his junior year of 1957. More than 6 feet tall, Potts said Dick was a forward in basketball, a quarterback, defensive back and linebacker in football, a catcher in baseball, and someone who ran the quarter-mile to the mile in track.

Potts recalled Dick’s impressive performance in the first basketball game between James Wood and Handley in their junior year in 1957. Potts said Handley had the No. 1 team in the state and No. 1 scorer in the state in Eddie Grim. Potts said Dick probably scored in double-digits in a 57-45 James Wood win, but it was his defense on Grim — who scored 50 points against Turner Ashby that year — that stood out the most.

“James Wood upset Handley, and he was the star of that game,” said Potts of the contest that gave the Colonels their district title and was one of just two defeats for the 20-2 Judges. “That knocked Handley out of a chance to win the state championship, and it was a great victory for James Wood.

“In that game, Wendell had four fouls in the first half, and he played the whole game. Coach [Jim] Casey wanted to take him out, but he said, ‘No. Please, I want to play.’ He was a tremendous athlete and the best defender on the team.”

That impressive athleticism was evidenced by what he did after he left James Wood as well. He attended Potomac State on a basketball scholarship and led the team in free-throw shooting for each of his two years. Dick then went on to be a goalkeeper for West Virginia University’s soccer team. Dick was also an excellent fast-pitch softball player who was inducted into the Fast-Pitch Softball Hall of Fame in 1990.

Later in the 1960s, Dick would prove to be an adept coach, leading what is now Frederick County Middle School to several undefeated football seasons.

Archie Anderson said the team went undefeated in both 1965 and 1966. A star lineman, Anderson was part of the James Wood senior class that Barr would lead to the 1970 Group AAA state championship, the only state title in the program’s history.

“He was my first football coach,” Anderson said. “He was great. He demanded a lot from you, but he gave a lot back, too. He wanted everything to be perfect, and we worked until we got it just the way he wanted it. He set the tone for what we did [with Coach Barr].”

It wasn’t just the football drills that made Dick so special.

“He was a good man,” Anderson said. “He knew people. He knew kids. He helped a lot of kids in school. He’d pick them up and take them to school. He did a lot for those kids and a lot of people in Frederick County. He knew sports and knew the community.

“He was very well-liked. I never met anyone who didn’t like Wendell Dick.”

Dick would go on to work in assistant principal, principal and coordinating administrator roles at Frederick County Middle and James Wood, but he never strayed far from sports.

James Wood coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner said one of his favorite memories involving Dick came on the day in 2002 when Woshner — then the Colonels’ cross country coach — experienced his boys’ team winning the Group AA state title.

“He worked the state [cross country] meet every year, and he never asked for payment for it. He always did it for free,” Woshner said. “He came up to me before the official results were announced and said, ‘I think you guys got it.’

“I remember saying to him, ‘I’ll believe it when I hear it.’ When they announced we had won, he was one of the first people to come up and congratulate us. That kind of sticks in my memory. He was always there, even when the events weren’t at James Wood High School. He would travel to watch our teams and cheer them on wherever they were competing.”

Virginia Tech freshman softball player and 2020 James Wood graduate Ivy Rosenberry said Dick’s support was greatly appreciated. Rosenberry said whenever he made eye contact with an athlete, he always had a smile on his face.

“It was always so big,” Rosenberry said. “He’d be there for all the basketball games, and he’d see me across the gym, and he’d give me a hug.

“There was something relieving about him being [at sports events]. He’d bring a calming feeling, that no matter what you did he would always be so happy for you and your performance.”

Rosenberry said Dick’s support was appreciated off the field, as well. She said Dick mailed her an article about a famous men’s pitcher, which dealt with the mental aspect of sports and ways to improve one’s game.

“He really took time to find little things that could help the athletes around James Wood,” Rosenberry said.

“Wendell is by far the biggest fan that James Wood ever had,” said Woshner, who came to James Wood in 1992, began coaching in ‘93 and became CSA in 2003. “He was a stellar athlete in his day also, so he really had a special place in his heart for James Wood.”

Dick didn’t just support the athletes at James Wood, either. For example, since Dick’s death, anyone who hops on social media can find scores of tributes to Dick from people associated with the other three Winchester-Frederick County schools.

“He really enjoyed watching athletes from every school,” Woshner said. “He always knew who the top athletes were throughout the district, region and state.”

Rosenberry noted every year at the JWAA banquet, athletes receive a copy of the record book that she said Dick started in high school as his senior project.

That project started a legacy of giving back to James Wood that Woshner says is a tough act to follow.

“He knows a ton of people in the community,” Woshner said. “Whether it was for a JWAA golf tournament or the cash party, he was the person that was going out and knocking on doors and asking for contributions to help support all of our scholarship funds, and the funds that come through the athletic association.

“He had backed off doing a lot over the last few years because of his health and his age, and it’s definitely been different. It’s been harder. He had done so much of that work for so many years, it’s causing a lot of people to relearn what we need to do to pick up the slack.”

Woshner said that last sentence with a chuckle. Woshner also said he’s realizing just how much hard work Dick put into updating James Wood’s record book, because that task has fallen to him in recent years.

“He was invaluable and a huge loss for us,” Woshner said.

The biggest loss to James Wood is Dick’s spirit and appreciation of others, qualities that resulted in the naming of the James Wood Football Stadium for Jerry Kelican, the naming of James Wood’s football field for Barr, and the naming of Millbrook’s gym after Dick’s former coach Casey, the Colonels’ longtime athletic director.

Woshner said under normal circumstances, James Wood — which held a Wendell Dick Day in 2010 — would hold an event during the basketball season to honor Dick’s life. Because of the uncertainty as to whether the season will happen and with crowd sizes due to COVID-19, Woshner said James Wood will likely have to wait until the 2021 football season, provided things are relatively normal by then.

Whenever it happens, it should be quite a turnout. And an emotional experience.

“There’s a great, big, huge hole in my heart,” Potts said. “I really love that guy. He was universally loved.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki
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