Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 11, 2012

Dalton column: Old friends, legends Hixon and Collins

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — Wil Hixon, Andover’s great basketball coach and a principal of Andover High School, has a wonderful history. Brought up in a small town north of Plymouth, N.H., he graduated at age 16 with excellent grades and no thoughts of going to college in spite of his parents’ wishes and the high school principal’s arguments. Instead he chose to work in a bobbin factory where many of his fellow townspeople worked, including a lot of people he grew up with.

While in high school, Hixon was an all-around athlete but excellent in baseball, a sport he continued to play while working in the factory. The Plymouth State College baseball coach kept an eye on Hixon and convinced Wil to come to come to Plymouth State and play ball. He was so good that the coach played him wherever Wil was needed, so he played second, shortstop, and third, while always swinging a hot bat. Several of his mill worker friends, some colorful, came to the games and cheered loudly for Plymouth State but especially for Wil. Among the halls of fame that have honored Hixon is Plymouth State’s, where he was inducted as both a baseball player and as a high school coach.

After graduating, Wil started his teaching and coaching career at Raymond then Plymouth, N.H. In six years he won two state basketball titles and missed a third because of a fluke. With seconds left and his team down by a point, a perfect pass to one of Wil’s players should have lead to an easy lay up and victory except that, when the player turned around to head for the basket, the referee was inexplicably in the way causing the player to fall and the team to lose. In the locker room later, the referee cried, knowing he had cost a team a state title.

Donald Dunn, Andover’s athletic director, approached Wil in 1958 and made him an offer to come to Andover and coach varsity basketball. He started teaching and coaching at Andover High School in the 1959 school year, and in the next 24 years his Andover High basketball teams won 377 games and lost only 122, winning a state title in 1970. Overall, between NH and MA, he compiled a record of 469 wins and 146 losses. It must be rare for a coach to win state titles in two states.

I spoke to Mr. Hixon last week, reminding him that I was in his history class in 1960. He remembered my political views, and I told him he was one of the best teachers I ever had. He left teaching in favor of school administration, and was principal for his last four years before retiring in 1991. In one of those years, Andover High was picked as one of the country’s 10 best schools by a national magazine.

“I believe in loyalty,” he explained to me as we discussed his career. As the coach of the baseball JVs when Ted Boudreau was varsity coach, a foolish rule was put in place saying a coach had to teach in the school he coached in. Whether it was aimed at Ted Boudreau or not, the rule cost him his varsity baseball job since he was a junior high teacher. As the JV coach, Hixon was offered the varsity coaching job, but he refused to take it out of his friendship with Boudreau. It must have been a heck of a sacrifice for a guy who loved baseball.

Wil and his wife Dawn, whom many of us remember as the pleasant, attractive woman who worked in the high school’s front office, live in southern New Hampshire on waterfront property, and they have three adult children and seven grandchildren, one of whom is a world class diver, and he’s still in high school..

The same year that Athletic Director Dunn recruited Hixon he also recruited Dick Collins and both men started at Andover High in 1959. So much has been written about Coach Collins that I won’t repeat it here, although I will be writing about him again in the near future. I must mention that his football and track teams were so successful that Andover High School’s field house is named for him, and it must be added that his teaching skills were unforgettably good.

When I spoke to Dick last week, we talked about what he has done since retirement. He has served on the School Committee for 15 years — he calls that a great experience — and he has unofficially helped the football and track programs. In all, he has been involved with the Andover School system for 54 years, no doubt a record of its own. He also unofficially contributes his time to the Phillips Academy’s football program and taught there for 10 summers. When Merrimack College began its football program a few years ago, Dick served as an assistant coach. Just in case his “retirement” isn’t busy enough, Dick runs a golf league in the summer, in which Wil Hixon participates. Dick has 21 grandchildren.

These old friends, Wil Hixon and Dick Collins, will be honored this Friday night at half time during the Andover-Lawrence football game, which will be played at Lovely Field. After the game, they will be at Dylan’s Restaurant on Park Street to visit with old friends and students.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman, and his email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com