Ken Wild, a former professional baseball player, led the Boys' Club of St. Louis for more than 30 years and made a significant contribution during an exciting era of expansion from 1960 to the 1990s. Wild started his affiliation with the Club as a volunteer coach in the mid-1950's and was later named Athletic Director in the late 1950's and quickly elevated to Executive Director in 1960. Under Wild, many of the Clubs' varsity athletic programs and athletes achieved national and international recognition. And many of the significant facility expansion projects took shape.
Under the watchful eyes of coach Joe Joseph, the club produced many championship weightlifting teams. One of Joseph's lifters, Gary Cleveland, finished 5th at the 1963 World Championships. Cleveland was later selected to represent the United States in the 1964 Olympic Games in Toyko, Japan where he placed 5th.
Under Wild, the Club sported varsity teams in baseball and basketball that performed well in local and national competitions. In 1969, our Juvenile Varsity (15-16 year old) baseball team won the National Championship as the best team in the country. And many of the Boys' Club youth basketball teams won district AAU titles and represented St. Louis with pride at National-level competitions.
Against all odds and logic, Ken Wild founded and coached the only boys' club college varsity basketball team in the United States. The Boys' Club of St. Louis varsity team played a schedule of regional junior college, junior varsity and even varsity teams, Wilds' players had graduated high school but were not enrolled in college and maintained their eligibility. A majority of the Boys' Club players came from low-income families. More often than not, players didn't even have the luxury of playing for their high school because they had to work to help financially support their family in addition to attending school. These young men also formed the core of the Club volunteer program serving as referees and conducting sports clinics for the younger members. As an added benefit, Coach Wild placed one his varsity members on the roster of a college program almost every year.
In the 30-year history of this unique program, Wild's teams won many games including his landmark 500th victory on December 6th 1989. This is quite an accomplishment for any team and coach. But, the most prized victory for Coach Wild was helping his players earn a college scholarship to fortify their life with education and life experience.
Wild spearheaded three major expansion projects during his tenure; construction of the swimming pool in 1969, the athletic field expansion in 1979, and air conditioning the club in 1989. The air conditioning capital improvement project was kicked off with a major St. Louis society event. Anheuser Busch was the presenting sponsor of the soiree at the Adams Mark hotel in November of 1989. Tony Bennett, Norm Crosby, Jack Buck and Spuds Mackenzie headlined the event. Due in large part to the proceeds generated from this event, the Club completed the air conditioning project in 1992.
In an industry where part-time staff turnover can reach 150% and full-time staff turnover can reach 75%, the Boys' Club of St. Louis has been a bastion of staff stability. In the 1960's, Ken Wild pioneered and championed the concept of hiring homegrown staff members. Wild felt it is important to have staff who passionately serve the Boys' Club as a life's calling instead of a job. And, as an indicator of Wild's continued influence and leadership, the average tenure of a current Boys' Club of St. Louis professional staff member is 34.6 years!
Wild retired as Executive Director in January 1991. He was appointed Director of Club Relations and held this post until his death in September of 1997.
The legacy of Ken Wild's tenure is one of innovation, leadership, mentorship and significant contribution to thousands of lives by staying true to the Clubs' mission of helping to develop character in disadvantaged youth. Under Wild, the Boys' Club of St. Louis became one of the leading youth service providers in the nation.