Courtesy Sacred Heart Athletics
New York is well represented in the Division 1 head coaching ranks with natives Tom Ryan (Ohio State), Pat Popolizio (NC State), Lou Rosselli (Oklahoma), Steve Garland (Virginia), Troy Nickerson (Northern Colorado), Dennis Papadatos (Hofstra) and Kerry McCoy (Maryland) among those leading programs.
And now there is a new member to that group, as two-time NYS champion John Clark has taken the reins at Sacred Heart.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a Division 1 head coach,” Clark said. “There’s quite an impressive list of New York coaches at that level and I’m honored to be among them.”
Following his All-American career at Ohio State, Clark was an assistant at Stanford, Lehigh and Brown and looks forward to returning to the college ranks at Sacred Heart. [Clark has the fourth-most wins in Ohio State history and was a two-time All-American and Big 10 finalist as well as a four-time NCAA qualifier on the mat for the Buckeyes].
“There were a lot of reasons this job was exciting for me,” he said. “I’ve lived in Providence, Rhode Island for the last 10 years, 6 of them coaching at Brown. So, New England is home for me. Another big draw is that it’s very close to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the top New England talent, so really as far as high school wrestling goes, I couldn’t imagine a much better location.”
For the past two years, Clark’s been coaching in a different capacity, as he started and led the John Clark Wrestling Academy.
“It was a situation where I actually have always been curious about owning a club,” he said. “This was an opportunity to start as the founder and head coach. I’ve always believed in my ability to lead and develop a successful program. So it was a natural progression to own a club. Through that, I felt I could help student athletes believe that they can become great, by giving them the confidence and providing excellent training and access to excellent competition. We had practice seven days a week, including holidays. We went to tournaments almost every weekend. It was very important for me to show them that I was available to them and to show them how important it is to seek out the best competition in the Northeast and the whole country.”
One of the commonly used phrases on the John Clark Wrestling Academy’s social media was “small state, big dreams.” The same type of message could apply to Sacred Heart.
“Every situation is unique. In Rhode Island, we were in the smallest state but I wanted the wrestlers to dream bigger than they ever had before,” he said. “The same goes for Sacred Heart. The team scored a half point at the EIWA conference tournament last year, but I believe there’s so much potential there. We can train to elevate the wrestling, but also so much can be done through positive reinforcement and making people believe in something they may not have thought was possible before.”
Clark is the only coach officially on staff at Sacred Heart right now, but said that is temporary.
“I’m in the process of hiring a coach now and I’d like to bring in two more coaches,” he said. “I’m working to make that possible. In the landscape of Regional Training Centers and the number of coaches many teams have, we want to be comparable to those schools, simply because we need our student athletes to get the attention they deserve.”
Clark had plenty of wrestling expertise around him as he grew up in the Empire State, starting with his father John, who was a national championship winning coach at St. Lawrence University and his brother Mitch, who was a top wrestler in New York and at Ohio State.
“New York was a special place for me to grow up,” he said. “My brother was a two-time state finalist, but didn’t win and so it was a goal of mine to become the first state champion from Section 10. That was something to strive for. People outside the state don’t always realize how big and competitive New York is. I have such fond memories of wrestling in high school. Even though I was in a hockey-driven area, we had great competition throughout the state.”
Not surprisingly, New York will be a place Clark said he will look for talent for his squad. His team already has quite a few Empire State wrestlers, as 10 of the 25 members of the roster in 2016-17 were NY natives.
“I’m definitely trying to get a lot of New York wrestlers,” the former Canton High School wrestler said. “I naturally have a lot of connections from growing up there and through my father and brother. My whole family lives in New York and I think very highly of New York wrestling.”
Now, Clark, the first-ever state champion from Section 10, will look to bring championships to Sacred Heart.