At his growth peak, Gary Wilde was just 5-foot-7 and weighed 125 pounds during his high-school days in Norwalk.
But his ability to harness a competitive drive to his athletic ability overcame any size issues, and led to a Hall of Fame caliber career that becomes official on Saturday.
Wilde, along with Ryan Grose (basketball), Robin Welch (distinguished) and Bob Cowman (soccer), make up the NHS Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which will be recognized at an induction banquet and ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Art Gallery at Norwalk High School.
“It’s a humbling thing to think about, to be honest,” said Wilde, a 1979 NHS graduate. “To be a part of a select group that achieved some good things in sports — I just always wanted to be a good teammate and a player that coaches could trust. It worked out pretty well for me.”
As a junior in spring 1978, Wilde was a starter and played center field and first base for the Truckers on one of the best teams in any sport in school history. Norwalk went 18-9 and reached the Class AA state semifinals.
“We didn’t have a superstar — just a lot of good ballplayers,” Wilde said of the 1978 team. “We had a good coach in John Deerer and Ted Dyckman helped him. They taught us the right way to play the game, which we did, and won a lot of games. It was a lot of close games. If it was close, it seemed like we had a good chance of pulling it out.”
As a senior in 1979, Wilde put together one of the best seasons in the 48 years of Norwalk baseball to date. He batted .448 with seven doubles, three triples, three home runs and was a perfect 20-for-20 in stolen bases. His slugging percentage for the season was .824 in 20 games.
For his effort, he was selected to the Northern Ohio League and NW District first teams — then became one of just six players in program history to earn All-Ohio first-team honors.
During Wilde’s four years, Norwalk had a record of 65-29 with a league title, four sectional championships, and district and regional titles in 1978.
“Again, just some really good memories and teammates that had very good coaching and won some unbelievable games,” Wilde said. “There are too many to even name, but our junior year when we went to state, we had quite the run.
“We had games where every way you could imagine to win, we did. I think we won comfortable once. They were all final-inning, last-at-bat games — very exciting and stressful. But that was a close team, and I think that helped us in close games.”
Upon graduation, Wilde held the program record for single-season triples and slugging percentage. He went on to play at NCAA Division II Ashland College.
“Like most kids in Norwalk, I started out playing in the Lefty Grove League,” Wilde said. “When I got into high school, there weren’t too many travel teams at that time, but we did play on one, and by then I could always hit pretty well. I was left-handed, which I think helped a lot against right-handed pitchers back then.”
Using his size and speed, Wilde also said he had a lot of “leg hits” in his day, running out infield ground balls to reach first base in time.
“I was pretty competitive and really studied the game,” he said. “I watched a lot of baseball and was around it. I knew how to play and just used that to my advantage. And I didn’t like to lose. When the scoreboard was on, I wanted to win — and that helped a lot as well.”
When Wilde’s longtime friend and classmate, Wes Douglas, became head coach at Norwalk in 1997, he asked Wilde to help coach. He served as an assistant from 1997-2014. During that time, the Truckers averaged 17 wins per season (303-175) with six 20-win seasons, five NOL titles, six sectional championships and three district title game appearances.
“The program wasn’t in a great spot when Wes took over,” Wilde said. “It was down a bit and we worked hard to get it back up. We had a lot of fun doing it, with obviously some great players coming through. And they knew how to play. All we had to do was kind of lead them in the right direction.
“But the kids made me laugh every day and I enjoyed being around them. They kept me young I always thought, especially in the later years I coached. I coached some really good players from good families, and it was some of the best years of my life. I really enjoyed every bit of it, and to this day I still miss it.”
A well-rounded three-sport athlete, Wilde lettered twice in football and was named All-NOL first team at both wide receiver and defensive back for the Truckers as a senior in 1978. His 90-yard kickoff return touchdown at Tiffin Columbian is one of the longest in program history.
In basketball, Wilde also lettered twice and graduated as the program’s assist leader in a single-season and career. His 137 assists in the 1978-79 season (7.2 average per game) still ranks fifth in program history.
In a game with Bucyrus in 1979, Wilde had 15 assists, a single-game record that still stands today — 41 years later.
“My teammates must have been making a lot of shots that night,” Wilde joked. “I was the point guard from seventh grade on, and Mike Grose was the coach back then, and kind of followed us all the way up. I was a pass-first guard that didn’t look to score that much. But the assists just added up that night.”
Wilde is married to his wife, Cindy, with sons Matt and Justin, and stepchildren Kalleen and Barry. He works in sales for Mags distribution.