When visitors enter Bayside High School’s gym, they are greeted by an unforgettable photo: a Bayside athlete clenching his fists and screaming as he celebrates a victory. Charles Clark remembers the moment well. The photo was taken right after Clark won the 400 meters in a downpour at the 2006 Group AAA state outdoor meet. He also won the 100 and 200 that day to help Bayside to its only boys state outdoor title. “It’s like I’m a Bayside legend,” said Clark, now 26, as he looked at the photo. “I’m just trying to continue the legacy.” After leaving Bayside, Clark became a three-time NCAA champion and 10-time All-American at Florida State. But perhaps his biggest track accomplishment came during the summer of 2009, when he finished second in the 200 meters at the USA Track and Field Championships, earning a spot in the World Championships. He went on to finish sixth in the world meet in Berlin.
What he’s most proud of is his degree – in sports management. His 2011 graduation came after a long struggle of trying to qualify for college, including taking the SAT four times and the ACT once. In college, Clark made the dean’s list, was ACC All-Academic three times and graduated with a 3.0 grade-point average. Clark is back at Bayside for many reasons. The biggest: He wants to share his story with students through his Charles Clark What Matters Foundation. On May 17, the foundation will hold a silent auction and fashion show at the Sandler Center to help raise $20,000 toward scholarships. “I started the program when I was at Florida State,” said Clark, who runs his own photography company, called UUA Images, and is a professional R&B singer. Some of his music can be found on iTunes. “I would go to schools in Tallahassee and talk to kids,” he said. “I saw the impact I had, and it made me want to do it more and more.”
Bayside athletic director Lisa Corprew heard what Clark was doing in Florida and asked him back. He was an instant hit.
“I didn’t know he would touch the kids the way that he did,” she said. “But they really listened to his message. It’s nothing that the teachers don’t already say, but they listened to him.” Clark’s message is simple: Believe in yourself. “That’s what I tell the kids,” said Clark, who estimates that he has spoken to more than 13,000 in 25-plus schools. “Once you do that, you can go anywhere.” Clark also is back for another reason: In November, he returned as an assistant track coach. Clark helps athletes with drills, proper warm-up techniques, diet and weight training. “He came in here in November and since then, he has built up my speed,” said Xavier King, a senior sprinter who has a track scholarship to George Mason. “He’s made me a contender. So anything that he can give me, I’m going to take.” Clark is still running. Minor injuries have plagued him since 2009, including this past indoor season, when he ran 46.50 in the 400 – among the top times in the world at the time. “I predicted that he was going to make the U.S. national indoor team, but he got hurt about three weeks prior to it,” said Clark’s coach, Maurice Pierce, director of track and field at Hampton University. “But prior to that, his progression was going good.” The injury prevented Clark from representing the United States at the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Poland in March.
Clark’s outdoor season begins Saturday with the Legacy Meet in Baltimore. Then comes a meet in Trinidad.
“I just want him to have an injury-free summer and run a whole lot of races,” Pierce said. “A lot of the big-time athletes aren’t running a lot of races this year because it’s an off year. So Charles can run a lot of races and get his name back out there and let people know that he is still a factor. If he can get through this year, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Larry Rubama, 757-446-2273, firstname.lastname@example.org