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Mr. Boat Driver
Even though Fred Wiley last drove a towboat in the National Water Ski Championships in 1959, his name has spanned the generations as the one-time official boat driver for the American Water Ski Association. The Fred Wiley legend lives on - and with good reason.
Organized water skiing has a history of dedicated, hard-working volunteers, but none has surpassed the dedication and extra-mile effort Fred Wily exhibited in the years he as know as water skiing's "Mr. Boat Driver."
Wiley drove his fist Nationals in 1941, and from then until he was behind the wheel for the championships for the last time in 1959, he was THE driver. From dawn until dusk, he drove for all the Nationals contestants. When he was not on the tournament course, chances are, if there was daylight left, he was giving a skier yet another ride for practice.
In 1958, Wiley estimated that he had driven the towboat in tournament competition for over 30,000 miles. In that year alone, he drove for the nationals, three of the five Regional meets, numerous State tournaments, and there would have been more had not dates conflicted.
Frederic M. Wiley, (who liked to be known only as "Fred") was born in 1911 at Oswego, NY on the shores of Lake Ontario, where he was exposed to boating at a tender age. He was in the trucking business in Buffalo when he was first introduced to water skiing in 1940. Chuck Sligh, who was destined to be among the first of the sport's pioneers inducted in the Water Ski Hall of Fame, taught Wiley how to ski that year, and the following summer, with characteristic determination, Wiley enter the Nationals at Holland, MI.
Sligh recalled some years later that Wiley was not very proficient as a skier and during the jumping event, he took a spill and sustained a deep cut in the calf of his leg from a bolt and wing nut on the binding of one of his skis. This prevented him from continuing as a contestant and he volunteered to drive for the rest of the tournament.
This marked the beginning of a driving career for, in Sligh's words, "the best known and best loved water ski tournament driver in the history of the Sport".
What at first was a pleasurable pastime for Wiley later became a full-time vocation. When he was hired as eastern representative for the Century Boat Company, Wiley and his wife Betty moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL, where his new business connection, his fascination with offshore fishing and his first love of driving for water skiers kept him in boats most of his working hours.
Boat driving was not Wiley's only contribution to the organized sport. He was elected a member of the Advisory Board (later Board of Directors) of the American Water Ski Association in the early 1940's, and he continued to serve on the Board until 1954. His expertise was sought in establishing rules and standards, particularly as they applied to tournament drivers.
Shortly after Wiley's death in 1963, the AWSA Directors approved the institution of the Fed Wiley Memorial Award; a perpetual plaque on which are inscribed the names of those voted each year as the outstanding drivers in the National Water Ski Championships. The plaque is displayed in the Water Ski Museum and Hall of Fame.