Carver renames football field to honor legendary coach Keith Wilkes

Carver renames football field to honor legendary coach Keith Wilkes
November 03
12:10 2023

The football field at Carver High School will now and forever be known as Keith Wilkes Field. The field was dedicated to the legendary football coach during a special ceremony last Friday.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education voted to rename the field in honor of Wilkes during a meeting late last year. Carver alumni and current athletic director Daniel Piggott Jr. spoke in support  of renaming the field before the motion was unanimously passed. 

“They always say you want to give people their flowers while they can still smell them and we just wanted Keith to know that Carver will always be home, and everything we do around here is built off his back,” said Piggott during the special ceremony before the game last Friday. 

While it was nice to have someone at the school board meeting to speak on Wilkes’ behalf, honestly, his record speaks for itself. In fact, it’s impossible to tell the story of Carver football without mentioning Keith Wilkes. 

During his time as head coach at Carver, 1992-2007, Wilkes went 139-62-1 and won two NCHSAA 3-A championships in 1998 and 2002. Wilkes also led the YellowJackets to two semifinal appearances and seven times under Wilkes, Carver held the number one seed going into the state playoffs. On top of that, Wilkes helped more than 300 student-athletes get into college. 

Wilkes said “Signing Day” was always his most joyous time as a coach. Signing Day is when student-athletes who have scholarship offers from college coaches sign their National Letter of Intent. 

“My proudest moment was the signing days because you see them come in as 14- 15-year-old boys and leave as 18-year-old men, going on to another level of life,” Wilkes said. 

When he took the head coaching job at Carver, it wasn’t the state powerhouse it was in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Wilkes said when he took the job, Carver didn’t even have a weight room and they barely had a practice field and wins were hard to come by. Wilkes said after a 1-9 season early on, former athletic director Robert Wynn was confident that he was the right man for the job and supported keeping him. 

“Mr. Wynn never turned his back on me,” Wilkes said. “He said he believed in me and he told me that he knew I could do it.”

To start rebuilding the YellowJacket program, Wilkes said he started focusing on getting more out of his players by pushing them to be great. Wilkes said he instilled in his players the  motto, “There’s more to you than you can see today.” He also made a lot of personal sacrifices to make sure his team was successful. On the weekends, Wilkes would use his own vehicle to take his players to different colleges throughout the state. He also mentioned charging nearly $15,000 to his credit card to make sure his players had everything they needed. 

“It was a lot of sacrifices that had to be made … because in life you have to find a way or make a way and that’s what I used to tell the guys all the time,” Wilkes continued. “My thing was, I never wanted to be average, I didn’t want to coach average, I didn’t want average around me. I wanted those guys to maximize their potential and those guys believed in me and I definitely believed in them.”

In 1998, just three years after that 1-9 season, the YellowJackets were arguably the most dominant team in the state. Heading into the championship game against Kings Mountain, Carver was 15-0. After a hard fought battle in the title game at Kenan Thompson Stadium in Chapel Hill, Wilkes and the YellowJackets defeated the Mountaineers 33-28.  

Wilkes said he’ll never forget how he felt watching all the fans from Winston-Salem jump over the wall in the stadium and onto the field at the end of the game. “They said no one in the stands could come on the field, but after we won it looked like everybody from Winston jumped over that wall,” Wilkes laughed.

Wilkes said while at Carver he was just doing what his coaches did for him, coaches like the legendary Bill Hayes at Winston-Salem State University. During his time at WSSU, Wilkes was named All-CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) in 1985 and 1986. In 1986 he was also named CIAA Offensive Player of the Year as a standout offensive lineman. He said, “I just did what I thought was the right thing to do.I grew up without a father and my coaches were everything to me and that’s exactly what I wanted to be for my players.”

Adrian “Bull” McCloud and Joel “Mike” Lowe, who were both on the 1998 state championship team, said Wilkes helped shape them into the men they are today. McCloud said he never had a problem giving 110% effort on the field on Friday nights because he knew Coach Wilkes had his back. 

“It was never a problem for me to go out and play as hard as I could for him because at the end of the day, he saved me from so many things that I could’ve been doing,” McCloud said.

Lowe said what made Wilkes a great coach was his compassion. He said Wilkes always showed his players that he cared. “You know when someone really cares about you and Coach Wilkes made us feel special in every sense of the word,” he said.  

With Wilkes and over a dozen of his former players in attendance, last week the YellowJackets defeated Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy 34-12. The win gave Carver enough wins on the season to advance to the state playoffs. The YellowJackets will face Mountain Heritage in the playoffs on Friday, Nov. 3. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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