By Woody Wommack
The Naples News
ESTERO, Fla. – Ever since polio infiltrated his body prior to his first birthday, Dave Clark has lived with crutches and leg braces.
“That’s what I grew up with. I grew up with four feet instead of two. I knew no other way, so I didn’t ever feel handicapped,” said the 57-year-old radio analyst for the Florida Everblades as he sat on a red disability scooter this week in his Cape Coral home.
Clark overcame his limitations to forge an unlikely career in baseball as a player, coach, scout and owner. Hockey, however, has been his primary passion dating back to his youth when he listened to Jim West call Baltimore Clippers games on WBAL.
“If I could have, I’d rather have been a pro hockey player,” said Clark, whose wife, Camilla, is due to give birth to the couple’s second child “any day now.”
Born and raised in Corning, N.Y., Clark endured ridicule as a youngster a half century ago.
“Here I was walking with crutches and two leg braces. Up through second grade, I was picked on mercilessly,” he recalled.
Classmates weren’t the only obstacles.
“Up until that point, physical education teachers would always tell me to go to the sidelines, that there was a chair there where you could sit down and watch. Being 5 or 6 years old, you do what you’re told,” Clark explained.
When a new PE teacher arrived at the start of third grade, Clark was ready to assume his usual role as a spectator. That day the activity was rope climbing.
“Automatically, I started heading to the sideline,” Clark remembered. “All of a sudden I heard this big booming voice, ‘Where do you think you’re going?'”
The teacher instructed Clark to do an about-face, which just about turned around the youngster’s world.
As his classmates soon discovered, Clark’s upper body strength — gained through the daily rigors of having to use crutches and leg braces — exceeded everyone’s expectations, including his.
“I went all the way to the top. I was the only kid to do it,” he said. “That taught me something right there. You can do things, but you’ve got to try first. The teacher said you may not be able to do some things, but you will never know until you try. That lesson sticks with me to this day. Kids started to look at me different. The next activity was baseball, and the rest is history.”