MASON, W.Va. — He’s been true to his school … and a lot of other people too.
Gary Clark is best known for his countless contributions to Wahama High School, rather it be his 40-plus years of covering White Falcon sporting events as a journalist or even more recently as a radio commentator.
He’s officiated high school sporting events, he’s been involved in coaching his local youth, and he’s even helped numerous Wahama varsity programs with a variety of little duties — rather it be keeping a scorebook or providing instruction to an athlete.
Clark, a 1970 graduate of Wahama High School, was also trusted by many of the coaches and programs he stayed involved with, as he was part of the inaugural WHS Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2010.
A nine-time varsity letter-winner in football, basketball and baseball, Clark enjoyed a prep career that included 1,000 career points in hoops and — at the time in 1969 — a state record with 71 pass receptions for 1,136 yards.
Clark was also an integral part of the school’s first two state qualifiers, which included the 1969 baseball team and the 1969-70 basketball squad — both of which were at the Class AA level.
Clark was also an all-tournament selection as the team’s leading scorer in 1970, which to date is the only basketball team in Wahama history to advance to the state tournament.
Clark’s personal crowning athletic achievement, however, came in 1970, when the then first team all-state catcher was selected in the 16th round of the MLB Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals.
Clark never made it to the big show as a baseball player, but that didn’t prevent him from staying passionate about the sports he loved … or the people he loved for that matter.
Upon returning to Mason County, he got married and went to work — just like any other normal family man does — but Clark also found that he needed an outlet through sports. He started covering a handful of Wahama programs in his spare time with the Point Pleasant Register in 1972 to help fill that void.
He’s seen many highs and lows with his alma mater during his 43 seasons as a sports writer, but Clark has also been fortunate to cover three of the school’s four state championships — which includes the 1996 and 1998 baseball titles in Class A, as well as the football program’s lone Class A championship in 2012.
Clark, however, was unable to attend the White Falcons’ most recent state championship run this past spring in baseball, due to an on-again, off-again battle with cancer over the last seven years.
And that is where this noble story of a God-fearing man takes a very unfortunate turn.
Within the last week, Clark’s bout with cancer has been deemed terminal by his doctors and he has been given roughly four weeks to live. With any luck, the pride of Wahama High School will make it through the new year.
Given what Clark has meant to the Bend Area, a term that he created in print for the WHS school district, officials at Wahama decided it was a necessity to honor Clark for his 50-plus years of dedication to the Red and White while there was still time.
So, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, the hardwood floor at Wahama was dedicated in honor of Clark’s legacy and life. Gary’s former high school coach in all three sports, Grant Barnette, announced at halftime of the Wahama-Southern boys basketball contest that all indoor games in the high school gymnasium will now be played on Gary Clark Court.
Barnette, in his halftime speech, also called Clark the greatest all-around athlete to ever wear a Wahama uniform while pointing out that he was also the 1970 Class President and a team captain in virtually everything he participated in.
Needless to say, Clark was more than overwhelmed by the kind gestures bestowed on him by both his former mentor and alma mater.
“This has been an unbelievable night. I don’t know whether I am really deserving of such a great honor, but I will say this. I love Wahama, and I love the whole area in general. Everyone has been very good to me over the years,” Clark humbly said. “All I have ever tried to do was give back a little bit. I don’t know that I am everything that was said there at halftime, but I really am appreciative of everything that they’ve done here. I really want to thank everyone for tonight.”
When asked to reflect on his years of covering Wahama sports in a media sense, he couldn’t help but crack a smile as he went into deep thought. As he noted, it was worth every minute that he ever invested — regardless of the location.
“I want to thank all of the wonderful people I’ve been blessed to meet over the years in doing this. I really appreciate all of it, I really do,” Clark said. “In the end, I just tried to do what I could to make things a little better. I’ve had a lot of great help over the years as far as the newspaper side of it, whether it be getting my start under Bob Wingett all the way up until now with you Bryan. There are a lot of people who have done everything they could for me so that I could do this. I have always appreciated that so much.
“It’s always made me happy to be able to cover Wahama sports because it was something I always wanted to do. It takes up a lot of hours, but it’s absolutely been worth it. It’s also led to some really great relationships in a lot of other school districts, which I am also extremely thankful for.”
Current Wahama athletic director Ron Bradley, who also serves as the boys basketball coach, has known Gary since their high school days together with the White Falcons. Also a Wahama Athletic Hall of Fame recipient, Bradley couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to Clark than what occurred Tuesday night.
“I graduated from here and when I think of Wahama High School, Gary Clark is the very first person that comes to mind. That’s also a very wide-ranging sentiment across this community and beyond,” Bradley said. “He’s very humble and a very well-respected man. He doesn’t want this attention, that’s not why he has done what he’s done all this time. He’s dedicated a large portion of his life to the betterment of Wahama High School, which I believe speaks volumes about the man.
“What we did tonight in honoring his legacy by naming the court after him is very insignificant compared to what all he has given us at Wahama over the years. I can’t think of a more deserving person to name this gymnasium floor after than him.”
And, as is so true, behind every great man stands an even better woman. Clark acknowledged that his wife of four-plus decades, Vickie, has made numerous sacrifices over the years as he’s gone from game to game and season to season.
Gary admits to being a lucky man in life, and finding such a strong and good-hearted person to spend his best days with only helps prove his sentiments.
“She’s put up with a lot from me because of what I’ve done for Wahama over the years. When I first started, I’d come home from a game, write it up and drive it to Point Pleasant so it could get in the paper — then finally get home around three in the morning. I am very fortunate to have someone that was willing to understand how much I loved this and what it meant to me,” Clark said. “Honestly, Vickie’s been the rock through all of this. She’s always been supportive of me with this and she’s always helped me through the toughest of times. I just cannot thank her enough for everything that she has been to me.”
With his final days approaching, Clark knows — but won’t admit — that his life has made a difference to so many people, rather it be in the Bend Area or elsewhere.
He acknowledges that he will miss doing games on the radio with Rick Ash, Brian Allen and company, as well as typing up Wahama’s latest gridiron outcome for the weekend sports sections — all in an attempt to recognize kids playing the games they love.
But, in perhaps an unknown characteristic that proves his unique quality, Gary Clark isn’t spending his final days reflecting on himself. He’d rather focus on what could be for his beloved alma mater.
“I’m at peace with what is coming. I’ve lived a very blessed life and there isn’t much I would change about my 63 years. I’d very easily do the same things again if given the opportunity,” Clark said. “If I had one wish for Wahama, I’d really like to see them not only get back to the state tournament in basketball … but I’d also like to see them win a state title in the one sport we don’t have one in. Hopefully some day, it’ll come.”
If that day ever does come to fruition, the White Falcons will accomplish most of that feat on Gary Clark Court — and the floor’s namesake will have the best seat in the house for all of it.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.