The most decorated boys basketball coach in Medina County history is gone.
Medina County Sports Hall of Famer Dave Sladky, who compiled a 290-156 record at Wadsworth from 1972-93, died Monday at the age of 74 at the HMC Hospice Care Center in Granger Township.
The 1960 Brecksville High graduate had battled cancer.
“He was a very kind person,” said current Wadsworth girls assistant coach Mark Postak, the starting center for the Grizzlies’ 1987 Suburban League championship team. “He was always full of energy. He’s kind of like a father figure. He was a very positive person and loved the game of basketball. He loved the kids that he coached.”
Sladky inherited a Wadsworth program that had failed to produce a winning record in three of the previous four seasons. Yet the Grizzlies went 12-8 in his first year, posted winning records 19 times in his 21 seasons, grabbed nine conference championships (1978, ’83, ’86, ’87, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92, ’93) and became legendary for a full-court philosophy that wore opponents into submission.
Sladky was the county’s career wins leader until being surpassed by Brunswick’s Joe Mackey last season.
Sladky forever will be remembered for Wadsworth’s heart-pounding run to the 1981 Class AAA state championship game, where the Grizzlies fell 77-63 to Dayton Roth at Ohio State’s St. John Arena after winning a school-record 22 games.
Runner-up to Cloverleaf in the Pioneer Conference, Wadsworth embarked on a 16-game winning streak to reach the state title game, including a stunning 54-42 overtime upset of superpower Barberton in the district semifinals that saw Bill Oehlenschlager make a half-court heave at the regulation buzzer.
The Grizzlies also rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit in the regional finals to knock off 25-0 Canton McKinley, whose top players, Ronnie Stokes and Troy Taylor, later played for Ohio State. Wadsworth created further drama by making 1-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter against the Bulldogs, then held off 24-2 Cleveland John Adams 59-57 in the state semifinals.
“It’s kind of tough to put into words,” Postak said. “When Coach Sladky took his team to the state finals, I was in sixth grade, so I was just getting started getting involved.
“My first real experience with high school basketball was going and watching their tournament trail. I remember when that happened, I wanted to be able to play for him some day.”
While the state runner-up team was Sladky’s most famous, the one he held dear to his heart and considered his best was the 1991-92 squad. Featuring Matt Sladky, Jeff Csatlos, Rob Pack, Joe Turner and Penn recruit and 1,000-point scorer Jamie Lyren, the Grizzlies went 21-2 and posted the only perfect league season under Sladky.
The highlight was Feb. 22 at home with Michigan coach Steve Fisher in attendance, when Wadsworth beat Cuyahoga Falls 49-48 on a 15-foot baseline jumper by Pack as time expired. The game had 10 future college players, including the Black Tigers’ two superstars, 6-foot-10 Robbie Eggers (Indiana) and sharpshooter Landon Hackim (Miami of Ohio).
The Grizzlies’ season ended with a loss to Firestone in the district finals. The Falcons sported 6-7 future Michigan Wolverine Quinton Brooks, Xavier Musketeer Andre Smith and Akron Zip Scott Gooden and later advanced to the D-I state semifinals.
A longtime guidance counselor at Wadsworth High, Sladky had plenty of other coaching stops and was athletic director at the Naval Academy Prep School in Rhode Island in the early 2000s. His resume also included assistant positions at San Diego State, Baldwin Wallace University, Walsh University and Strongsville.
In recent years, Sladky was an assistant to his Wadsworth successor and friend, John Martin, for the Canal Fulton Northwest girls. Sladky then helped his son Mike, the current head girls coach at Brecksville.
Sladky, who lived a mile from Wadsworth High for the last 30 years, is a member of three other athletic halls of fame: Ohio Basketball Coaches, Greater Akron High School Basketball Coaches and Wadsworth.
His basketball coaching tree is extensive and includes Martin (Wadsworth boys/girls), Postak (Wadsworth girls), Chris Hassinger (Medina boys/girls), Scott Callaghan (Wadsworth and Hoban girls, Copley boys), and Mike Vukovich (Black River boys).
“I texted this to Mike (Sladky) today, and I said, ‘If it wasn’t for your dad taking a chance on me, I wouldn’t be a high school basketball coach,”’ Hassinger said. “He’s the one that took that risk on a kid that just came back out his senior year after not playing as a sophomore and junior and treated me with kindness and respect even though I hadn’t been a part of the program.
“I told my son at dinner tonight, ‘Think about all the hundreds of kids I’ve had a chance to impact, and it all goes back to coach Sladky.’ The guy is so respected and such a figurehead in the community. He was a hero for us as little kids because we remembered the day he went to the state championship. The (plaid) jackets and pants he wore, he was a celebrity.
“You cared about him. You hear kids all the time say, ‘I’m not having fun,’ or, ‘I don’t like my coach.’ We loved playing for him. I was a role player at best, and I loved playing for him. I was a bad player, and I was willing to dive on the floor and get scabs on my knees for that guy and the culture he built.”
Sladky, the vice president of Primerica Financial Services since 1984, is survived by his wife, Carol, a former longtime physical education teacher at Wadsworth, and sons Mike and Matt, who both competed in D-I college athletics.
Visiting hours will be 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Hilliard-Rospert Funeral Home, 174 N. Lyman St., Wadsworth. The memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Friday at First Christian Church, 116 E. Boyer St., Wadsworth.
In lieu of flowers, a scholarship has been established. Those who wish to donate should contact the treasurer’s office at Wadsworth High.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.