When Coach Steve Roccaforte, better known as “Coach Rocc,” was starting out in his coaching career at the age of 23 at Centenary College in 1989, he was told that he needed to meet James Fred Wasson, better known as “Big Fred,” a Tulsa based businessman who loved the game of basketball and was well-connected within collegiate circles with helpful advice on the top recruiting picks each year. Coach Rocc explained, “He was the guy with connections.” Finding such a great mentor and friend in Big Fred was something Coach Rocc was eager to share with fellow coach, Buzz Williams.
In 1992, the introduction was made and from that moment on, the trio was inseparable. Big Fred became a familiar face at every game. Although, he wasn’t sitting in the stands like the average fan, Big Fred was sitting courtside, alongside his coaching pals. “At the time that we met him, we were really young, and when you are just starting out, you are scared to fail as you are making your way. He was someone who tried to help us without any other motives other than seeing us succeed,” shared Coach Rocc.
Big Fred also became a familiar face at the William’s home. Coach Buzz’s wife Corey shared, “Big Fred is amazing, he is like family to us. My kids always knew that if they ever needed anything, Big Fred would be there for them. But the best part about Big Fred is, he never wants anything in return. He is called Big Fred for more reasons than his size, he has a really big heart too.”
Big Fred’s influence in the lives of these coaches was so much more than the game of basketball, they were constantly discussing the deeper things of life. Coach Buzz shared, “I have notebook after notebook of all the notes I have taken from my observations, and conversations with Big Fred. As I have gotten older, one of the ones I can still hear him telling me repeatedly is; ‘God only makes talented people. Some, more than others, but everyone has a gift. Your job is to help them realize their gift, if they don’t know it already, and if they do know it, help them become their absolute best at it.’”
As Coach Buzz’s career advanced into Head Coaching roles, he began to move across the country, first to Marquette, then to Virginia Tech, and finally to Texas A&M in 2019. No matter where Basketball led him, Coach Buzz was sure to bring Big Fred along for the ride. Big Fred was all too happy to uproot his life each time to keep the adventure rolling. Coach Rocc explained, “Everywhere we went, he was with us. He attended meetings and practices. He even rode on the bus or planes with the team.”
Once the pandemic hit, practices and games were on hold. Without the same rhythms of social connections and daily activity, Big Fred’s health began to suffer. After the pandemic conditions began to lift, the coaches’ work and travel demands ramped back up, but this time, Big Fred wasn’t able to come along for the ride. “One day I went to see him and I called Buzz afterwards saying, we’ve got to do something, Big Fred isn’t doing well.” It wasn’t long after this realization that Coach Rocc would run into his childhood friend, Mike Adams, who also happens to be the Executive Director at Crestview. Mike was able to share some insight on how MRC could help. Before long, Big Fred was moving into Crestview Terrace, MRC’s Affordable Housing in Bryan. While Big Fred was now getting the socialization he so desperately needed, there were other concerns that soon prompted yet another move to Assisted Living at Crestview. This move was only possible for Big Fred through MRC’s Covenant Fund which supports the financial shortfall for those in need through gifts from generous donors.
“This was the best thing we could have ever done for him,” expressed Coach Rocc, “the change and improvements it has made in Big Fred are incredible. It’s a miracle!”
Corey added, “Crestview has been so good for Big Fred, but I think that Big Fred has also been good for Crestview. He is the kind of guy that is always so positive, he just won’t let you have a bad day. He is committed to positivity and always looking at the bright side of things. I am certain that Crestview is blessed everyday by having him there, he just brings encouragement into any room he enters.”
Coach Buzz chimed in saying, “I have known Big Fred for thirty years. His life’s purpose has been to help others. Regardless of gender, or nationality, or how they made a living, he just wanted to help them in anyway he could. He is the most selfless person I have ever known, and by having a front row seat to his daily example, it has inspired me to try to do better in every interaction I have with others. Big Fred has never met a stranger, and is the best I have ever seen in building a trustful relationship.”
After meeting Big Fred, it becomes clear almost instantly that BIG is the correct adjective to use when describing him, but not based on his stature alone. It is a suitable name because Big Fred has lived an extraordinarily BIG life. A life full of big adventures, big dreams, with a really big personality, and an even bigger heart.
But for Coach Rocc and Coach Buzz, it goes a little deeper than that. Big Fred has always been a big encourager, their biggest fan, and a big influencer in their success. When asked to describe the over 30-year friendship, Coach Rocc simply said, “He’s our guy, that’s it.”
Big Fred has a wonderful story of a big life and this is where our donors enter his story. Assistance for Big Fred and over 115 other MRC residents is only available because of gifts from kind and gracious donors who have a passion to ensure older adults get the care and services they need, regardless of their ability to pay the full amount or not.
Corey Williams, great friend to Big Fred, shared, “If it weren’t for the MRC Covenant Fund helping Big Fred get the care he needs at Crestview, I honestly don’t think he would still be with us today. It literally saved his life.”
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