Fayette County

Former KHSAA commissioner Billy Wise dies

A popular former commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association who helped turn the organization around in dire financial times died Thursday.

Milward Funeral Home on Southland Drive is handling funeral arrangements for Billy Voight Wise, 80, who died following an illness, his family said.

Mr. Wise was best known for his 25-year career with the KHSAA, the governing body of Kentucky high school athletics. He spent the last three years of his tenure, 1991 to 1994, as commissioner.

When Mr. Wise took over the office, the organization appeared to be near bankruptcy.

According to the Herald-Leader's archives, Mr. Wise said the organization had $14,000 to its name when he took office, and $500,000 in debt. The group was moving into a new headquarters it could not afford, and the financial situation worsened the following year when the boy's state basketball tournament, the KHSAA's main revenue generator, was a financial flop.

During his tenure, Mr. Wise increased revenue by using his popularity to raise dues for member schools by hundreds of dollars. The plan would not have worked had anyone but Mr. Wise suggested it, board members said.

"If anybody else had come in and raised the dues, we would have had a rebellion," former Board of Control member Bob Rogers said at the time. "But the schools rallied behind Billy. They trusted him and had confidence in him."

When Mr. Wise resigned in 1994, he said his greatest accomplishment during his short tenure was the "survival" of the KHSAA.

KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said in a statement on the association's Web site that Mr. Wise was "one of the finest gentlemen to ever cross the paths of the member school representatives and administrators, coaches, game officials, Board of Control members and our staff."

"His value at a pioneering time of sports expansion at the KHSAA was of tremendous benefit to all the students in the Commonwealth," the statement said.

Following Mr. Wise's retirement, he was an active volunteer at his church, the North Lexington Church of Christ on Hume Road, and took a job leading tours of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Georgetown, said his widow, Bonnie Wise.

"It's hard to describe him," she said. "He was a very personal man."

He balanced his "profession and avocation" with being a dedicated and loving father and husband, she said.

Mr. Wise, a Stamping Ground native, was a graduate of Transylvania University and a veteran of the Korean War. His honors include two hall of fame inductions: the Transylvania University's Pioneer Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame in 1995.

In addition to Bonnie Wise, to whom he had been married for 56 years, he is survived two sons, Stephen and Gary Wise; a daughter, Melissa Wise Renner; a sister, Mary Jane Marshall; and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Milward Funeral Home on Southland Drive. Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Monday at the funeral home, followed by a burial at Lexington Cemetery.