by Doug Ireland

Social distancing ain’t easy. In fact, it’s misery, much more often than not.

Drive-by birthday celebrations, windows separating families from elder loved ones, hospitalizations without the comfort of companions … no want or need to continue this list of unfortunate experiences we are all sharing in the new abnormal.

Sheltering in place is tough, unless you’re Bigfoot, who is so used to it. My only concern for the Sasquatch is their beef jerky supply. Surely there’s a stockpile somewhere in Kisatchie Forest.

There’s a subset of suffering for humans with magnetic personalities, the people who are “the life of the party.” It’s like a sudden power outage at night when you’re in an unfamiliar building with few windows.

So why is the most popular person in Natchitoches saying he’s “doing great?”

That’s just the way Coach Black rolls.

Harris Ray Wilson, Jr. is not one to let anything get him down. He appreciates the little things and finds love and joy in every corner.

When the scariest and most heartbreaking events of his adult life unfolded a couple of years ago – a house fire that destroyed his grandmother’s home, at night, with Coach Black and others narrowly escaping, followed less than a month later by the sudden passing of his mother – he briefly paused, but quickly reconnected.

These days are not those, but they do have their own hurdles to clear.

Coach Black, who is autistic, has been a central part of the Natchitoches sports scene since his days at Natchitoches Central High School. His world expanded through his friendship with classmate Jay Goodwin, whose dad, Sam, was head football coach at NSU.

For most of his young life, Black (nicknamed from his affection for a family pet) wanted to be a coach. Jay opened those doors when he started bringing Black to the NSU athletic fieldhouse after school during their sophomore year at NCHS in 1994. Quickly, Black developed friendships among the Demon coaching staff, so much so that once his high school graduation ceremony ended, he immediately bonded with Northwestern athletics.

Since the summer of ’96, a typical day for Coach Black has started not long after dawn when an NSU coach picks him up to bring him to the fieldhouse unless it’s basketball season and Prather Coliseum is the epicenter. He’s been busily engaged helping his coaching mates into the evenings, even making road trips with teams and to help evaluate recruits.

He maintains his bond with NCHS, and long ago became a favorite among the St. Mary’s community. It’s commonplace for him to be mingling with many friends at youth baseball and softball games, or community events. Black is as ever-present as Cane River.

Until this.

Certainly, the occasion of his 43rd birthday April 14 nearly crashed Facebook as Friends of Black sent best wishes. The celebration was remotely accomplished, highlighted by a Zoom conference so pals could sing “Happy Birthday” and enjoy bantering with their hero.

The big day turned into a beneficial one for the Cane River Food Pantry. Friends collected donations in his honor and the goodies were personally delivered by him and pals to the pantry by the weekend.

Otherwise, there have been precious few outings and nothing to compare to his daily routine for the last 25 years. Fortunately, his cell phone and Facebook account (Harris Ray Wilson) are fully functional.

But while we’re stressed, Black is not. He’s living in the moment. He has his faith, he has his family, he has contact with his friends, and he has confidence that ASAP, we’ll be getting back in gear.

“It’s gonna be alright,” says a man who is hopeful and always looking ahead.

In the meantime, you can find him on Facebook. It will brighten your day, too.

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