60 Years of Service: Buzz Wood has influenced thousands
Great Futures Start Here is the motto of the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club and Lawrence “Buzz” Wood Jr. has helped make that happen for thousands of local youth. As a 61-year volunteer for the organization, Wood has devoted countless hours to coaching young players and instilling in them the value of hard work and smart choices. His influence and longevity have made him a legend.
In 1953, Wood was 12 when he got his start with the organization when his father, who worked at the former 8th Street unit, took him there. As a youth, Wood played baseball and football. “I tried to play basketball, but I was always too big,” joked Wood. “So that didn’t really work out.”
Despite his not-so-successful attempt at basketball, Wood continued to be an active participant. He began volunteering in 1954 and eventually served on staff. He worked as a custodian, was a water safety instructor and later was named director of the 8th Street Unit, a position he held from 1960 to 1965.
“I was director up until they integrated the clubs,” said Wood. “That’s when they closed 8th Street, which was where blacks went when it was segregated.”
His role then transitioned again to that of volunteer. In 1973, Wood started coaching football at the Wheeler Club. When it closed six years later, he moved to the newly opened Stephens Unit. He has since coached an estimated 4,000-plus players, and sponsored numerous teams in football, basketball and baseball through his civic work with the former group Y.M.A. (Young Men’s Association).
Northside High School head basketball coach Eric Burnett is one of many fortunate youth that have benefited from Wood’s guidance. Burnett played for Wood in the fifth and sixth grades on the Sertoma team at Stephens Club.
“Playing for Coach Wood at the club changed my life,” said Burnett. “I learned discipline and the importance of having a work ethic. Coach Wood expected a lot of us and we all had a great deal of respect for him. No one – I mean no one – disrespected Coach. We were pretty good, too. I am pretty sure we went undefeated my sixth-grade year.”
Burnett still holds Coach Wood in the highest regard.
“Even now, he is a tremendous person to sit and talk with because he has so much wisdom. He is a true man of integrity. Many of the things I do in coaching today are lessons I learned from him all those years ago.”
Burnett is among many recognizable names that were members of Wood’s teams. He has worked with greats, including Almer Lee, Jerry Jennings and NBA and Razorback basketball star Ron Brewer. Despite his obvious impact on so many, there was one point in his life that Wood considered not volunteering at the club.
“When I got married in 1968, I tried to quit. It was one of those things that I figured I should just focus on being a husband and all,” said Wood. “But that didn’t last long. Here came ole’ Higgins (former club executive director Clarence Higgins), telling me he needed my help. So, I never did quit.”
Buzz’s wife, Dewilla, said she hasn’t minded sharing her husband with the club all these years.
“It hasn’t bothered me one bit,” said Dewilla “It is because of what he is doing. He is helping these kids.”
Dewilla also believes volunteering and the Boys & Girls Club is just a part of who her husband is. “His dad got him into it when he was little and he just hasn’t stopped. This is what he does.”
Wood’s many years of service to the organization have not gone unnoticed. In 1998, he was inducted into the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame. He also received the Service to Mankind Award from the Sertoma Club in 2003, in recognition of his dedicated work to FSBGC. The NFL and Boys & Girls Clubs of America also honored Wood for his outstanding volunteer efforts by presenting him the prestigious Champion of Youth Award at the NFL Arizona Cardinals stadium in 2007.
“Buzz is one of the most dedicated volunteers in the history of our organization, with six decades of service to the Fort Smith community,” said Jerry Glidewell, Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club executive director. “He is an icon at the club who has devoted his life to helping young people.”
Wood said he believes there is as much of a need now for Boys & Girls Clubs as when he started and he plans to keep doing his part.
“Kids need someone to show them what to do and how to do it,” he explained. “That hasn’t changed.”
Buzz Wood will never know the exact number of youth he has influenced over the past 60 years, but those members will always remember what the coach meant to them.
“I have had a lot of guys come up to me over the years saying, ‘Hey, Coach Wood!’ and I have to ask their name because I may not have seen them since they were really young,” said Wood. “But, it always feels good and I am glad to know I made an impact.”
This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.