Vernon Parish: Looking Back – Wilmer L. “Billy” Bennett

Coach Billy Bennett with Young Wampus Cats

Story by Billy Crawford

Billy Bennett grew up in the Vernon Parish community of Simpson. As a student of Simpson School, he excelled both in the classroom and on the basketball court.

After graduating in 1948, Billy enrolled at Louisiana College in Pineville on a basketball scholarship. He played on the L.C. Wildcat teams from 1949 – 1951.  In 1951, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education and Science.

In September 1951, Billy accepted the position of science teacher and coach at Hornbeck High School. The next year he moved to Leesville High School as a teacher and head basketball coach.

Richard Reese remembers, “Around 1953, I was in the fourth grade, and we lived right down the hill on Lula Street. I would go up to the gym on the hill to watch the team practice. That team had the Goins brothers, Don, Larry, and James, and James Freeman, Eber Sandell, George Fisher, Alton Herring, and Kenneth Smith, the father of Randall Smith. The team was outstanding, 1-A District Champions. Coach Bennett was voted Coach of the Year.”

Dale Hardwick remembers, “What really got me going in basketball was when Coach took us up to Northwestern to watch a college game. I had never been in a gym that size with all the activities, so I made up my mind I was going to play college basketball.”

Edwin Cabra, team captain and All-District performer on the 1962-63 team, remembers, “Other than my father, no male figure had more influence on me growing up than Coach Bennett.  He made you work hard.  I still remember running all those lines and figure 8’s in the gym stands on Lula Street.”

In February of 1964, Coach was appointed Principal of Hicks High School. One of his first acts was to hire Dale Hardwick as the basketball coach.

All this occurred while he was simultaneously Captain Bennett, Company Commander in the Louisiana National Guard Unit in Leesville; Commissioner of the Vernon Parish Summer Youth Baseball Program; and a member of the First Baptist Church, Civitan Club, and N.H. Bray Masonic Lodge 240, among others.

After retirement from the Vernon Parish school system, Billy Bennett continued a distinguished military career. At the time of his death, he held the rank of Lt. Colonel. He was a graduate of the General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Many believe he was on track to become a General Officer.

Wilmer L. “Billy” Bennett achieved all these accomplishments in his lifetime of only 44 years!