Love Filled Life Of Ex-Spartans Tennis Coach

FORT WAYNE – The tennis term of “love” wears a different cloak today.

In the case of former Homestead coach Jim Clark, who died early Wednesday from cancer at the age of 66, love was everything, instead of nothing: Love of his family, who was at his side; his friends, of which there were plentiful; his players, who succeeded under his guidance, and his sport, which lost an icon.

And this particular kind of love, as is the case with any good tennis match, came right back at him with the same intensity as he gave it.

“(The players) loved him because his heart was so much into it,” said Jim Shull, Homestead boys coach and longtime assistant under Clark. “He tried to get his kids to improve, and he was very passionate about excellence, and he had his own personality that the kids related to.”

While stark numbers and cold statistics alone cannot convey the impact that Jim Clark had on his three decades-plus of coaching, those numbers must be given, nevertheless, and stacked side-by-side with his coaching peers, if only for the sake of understanding his dominance.

He was the boys tennis coach at Homestead for 31 years and won 31 consecutive sectionals – an IHSAA record. Of his 28 regional championships, 25 were in a row. He won 18 semistates, which means he reached 18 state tournaments, but never won it all. He had one individual champion in Rick Phillipp but had five players receive the mental attitude award. Twice, he was named the Coach of the Year by the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association.

For all this, and more, he was inducted into the Fort Wayne Tennis Hall of Fame. And the tennis complex at Homestead carries his name.

Yet not long after he retired from Homestead, the University of Saint Francis swooped him up to be its men’s tennis coach.

It was the years at Homestead, though, where Clark earned his chops. It’s where he made the Spartans into a perennial state power.

“For me, he was the staple of the tennis program there,” said Ryan Recht, 10-time men’s city champion and 2001 Homestead graduate. “From me going through elementary school to middle school, everyone knew he was the guy at Homestead, and for the most part, in Fort Wayne for tennis. He always had teams that went to state, and he knew what it took to be one of the best teams in the state each year. He was a great guy and a great tennis person.

“One thing that was unique about him was that he was very carefree and very happy. You could always tell he enjoyed being out there, which made it easier as a player and made you enjoy it, too.”

But Carroll coach Kyle Stoffel, a personal friend and fierce competitor, saw another side of Clark.

“Off the court, he’d joke around with you; easygoing; the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” Stoffel said. “When it was time to get down to business, he was probably as competitive, and focused, and single-minded of a guy that you’d ever meet. Business was business for him, and he was just as intense about that as he was having a good time. When things were over and done, it was time to listen to Jimmy Buffett.”

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane. (“Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”)
View Original Article


Post a Comment