Wilson resigns as Hampton baseball coach
By: Devon Moore
Friday, July 6, 2018 | 12:21 AM
There hasn't been much in life that has stopped Gary Wilson from being involved with youth baseball. After walking away from the Hampton baseball team for a second time, it's safe to say there never will be.
The Talbots coach announced his departure last week, opening up a position for a program that he's helped grow since 1997.
“I have no reason that I couldn't go on,” said Wilson, a physical education teacher at Hampton Middle School. “I'm not burnt out, or it's not like I'm ill. It's just more of family thing. It's something my wife and I have been talking about.
“I picked a class that was a good class to finish, and it was this one.”
Hampton (14-4, 9-3) finished fourth in the WPIAL this year, narrowly missing the state playoffs. But class talent wasn't an overriding factor in his decision. This group was one Wilson had been working with in winter sessions since they were in middle school.
“I think it had a lot to do with this particular group of kids,” he said. “It was kind of a group over the years I'd really grown closer to. … For the most part, that group has been together since Little League years.”
Of all players Wilson coached in his 17 years at Hampton, recent graduate Phil Conti developed into what will be remembered among his best.
“(Wilson) definitely took a special interest in our class,” said Conti, a three-time all-section shortstop and William & Mary commit. “He instilled some of his mindsets, taught us how to respect the game before we even started playing for him.”
Wilson has taken a special interest in baseball most of his life. After graduating from Bethel Park in 1975, he attended Central Florida Community College with a focus to play as much baseball as possible, made easier by the favorable weather conditions that Pennsylvania's northern climate can't provide.
“I'm not going to lie to you,” he said. “My ultimate goal was to go down and play baseball. It wasn't easy to go that far away. I was only able to come home for Christmas. It was difficult my freshman year. I didn't think I was going to back at one point.”
Wilson not only went back, he earned a starting role in the outfield and had enough success after two years to earn a scholarship to Flagler College, a Division II program in St. Augustine, Fla.
After his return to the area, Wilson joined the ranks of WPIAL coaches, serving five years at Mt. Lebanon as a varsity assistant, and one year as junior varsity coach at North Allegheny.
Wilson's ties to North Allegheny circle back to his son, Jon, who helped lead the Tigers to a 2009 WPIAL title and earned a scholarship to Maryland. Wilson once relinquished his post after coaching Hampton to a WPIAL second-place finish in 2010 in large part to dedicate more time to following Jon's collegiate career.
Now at a different time, the same reason arises for his second departure — family.
“There's just some things we ant to do,” he said. “Both our kids are married now, and God willing in the near future they have kids and everything. Just preparing for some of that stuff.”
Hampton has made the playoffs seven of the past nine years, with two WPIAL title appearances in 2004 and 2010.
“When I look back at the initial staff I think there was four of us,” Wilson said. “Now we have eight or nine people to work with the kids. It was a lot different then. We had one gym, and now we have two gyms. The weight room we had was the size of my kitchen.”
Many of those assistants are living proof of the influence Wilson had on their baseball lives. Five of Wilson's current assistants played under him.
“I was a little honored to know he went out on our year, and we did the best we could for him,” recent graduate Greg Susi said. “I wasn't surprised, but I'm kinda sad he won't be a part of the program if I want to come back and help out.”
Wilson's ability to work on fundamentals and hone skill sets became a hallmark of his coaching style. Technique, positioning and mental conditioning are the cornerstones of good players and good teams.
“He stresses the little things,” Susi said. “He's able to fine-tune players because he focuses on things like that. Just seeing the improvement in our whole class holistically. He not only brings us together, but develops us individually.”
Wilson may be leaving the position, but he's not going away. He will continue to run his two-week Hampton baseball camp after the school year ends, which regularly draws more than 100 players ages 7-13. In addition, he will continue to coach middle school basketball and stay involved in Hampton baseball in some capacity.
“I'm going to continue to work with kids like I've always done, between the teaching and the lesson plans,” he said “… I'll probably do something with the middle school kids. It's just not going to be the year-round commitment.”
Hampton competed in a tough section that included three of the top four teams in Class 5A. North Hills and Mars finished first and second, respectively. With realignment bringing Moon, Shaler and South Fayette in the fold, the program will need strong leadership moving forward.
“Obviously, we want the program to continue in the same direction its been going,” Wilson said.
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.