Wilbanks named to basketball hall of fame
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 by Chuck Kelly
A Belton native who has dedicated decades to researching and chronicling exceptional careers of thousands of Texas high school athletes is just days away from being recognized for his own notable achievements.
From state champion high school athlete to noted sports historian to Texas Hall of Famer --- that's the journey of Dr. William Lee Wilbanks, known as "Billy" to his friends and classmates of Belton High School
The valedictorian of that 1958 class will be inducted into the prestigious Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame at a dinner in San Antonio on Saturday, May 19.
Although the Hall has been in existence for quite awhile, its small number of honorees exhibits the selectivity regarding its members. Only a few more than 100 former players have been voted into the group over the years.
Wilbanks is the ONLY former Belton player to be so honored. Shocked and surprised was his initial reaction when he was informed of his selection. "I'm really honored since there are so few players out of probably a million or so over 90-plus years," he commented.
Sports has always been foremost in Billy Wilbanks' life.
At BHS, he was a 5'11" All-State senior guard on the Tigers 1958 Class 2A state championship basketball team. He was a unanimous selection to the All-State Tournament team, scoring 21.5 points per game at state. With Belton down by eight points, Wilbanks hit five of the last six field goals in the final 2:45. His jumper with 20 seconds left in regulation tied the game and with 15 seconds left in the ensuing overtime period, another jumper sent the title game into a double OT where James Brantley tossed in a pair of free throws in the "sudden death" overtime for one of the state's greatest comeback victories --- a 58-56 win over New London. The team was coached by the legendary Mack Birtchet and longtime Belton icon Joe Pirtle (then the junior high coach) served as the team's assistant coach.
Pirtle and a group of more than 50 friends plan to make the trip to the Alamo City to view Wilbanks' Hall of Fame induction and share in the joy of the special occasion.
Wilbanks and sports went hand-in-hand at BHS in the '50s. In addition to being an All-State basketball player, he was district champion in the 880 yard dash as a junior and senior and was fourth in regional track competition both years. He was also a two-time district champion in tennis, which he still plays.
Wilbanks played on the Abilene Christian College basketball varsity for three years and graduated fifth in a class of 350. He later earned his Masters and PhD in Criminal Justice and was a professor for 27 years at Florida International University. He published more than 20 books and made numerous appearances on television, speaking on his specialty in the area of murder, statistics, theories, etc.
Only one other former Tiger has been named to a state high school Hall of Fame. BHS record-holding, All-State star in three sports, Bret Stafford (football, baseball and track), who went on to start three years as quarterback at the University of Texas where he set 14 school records. He was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Both Wilbanks and Stafford, of course, are also enshrined in the Belton High School Athletic Wall of Honor.