If you tried to write down all of Kevin Clark's little acts of kindness over the years, you'd run out of handkerchiefs before you got past the first paragraph of a long, local swimming love-story that could fill volumes.
After close to 50 years of coaching Lockport youth and scholastic swimmers at every level — many times as a volunteer, never missing practice — Clark, a beloved member of the Lockport Swim Family as a coach, teacher, mentor and friend, has announced that this will be his final season of coaching.
The news has been met with tremendous sadness by many in the district, but with that added feeling that Clark has done more than his share for local youth swimmers past, present and future — joining in legacy other greats who preceded him, including the late great Bob Pauley.
“Yeah, I hired Kevin in 1970,” retired YMCA director Alex Chiara said proudly this week.
“Kevin helped put Lockport swimming on the map. My God, he'll go down in history as one of the most generous men we've ever known — not only with his money, but his time and what he's done for the youth of this community,” Chiara said.
“He worked for me at the YMCA for 25 years and he never took a penny. He volunteered all his hours, plus he was teaching, going to swim meets every Saturday and traveling all over — and he refused to take money. I told him, ‘I'm going to fire you if you don't take money,’ and he said, ‘You can't fire me, because I'm a volunteer.’ He spent his own money on everything for the kids and never missed a practice in 25 years as a volunteer in that little YMCA pool of ours.”
Lockport Superintendent of Schools Michelle T. Bradley, speaking on behalf of the Lockport City School District and the Lockport Board of Education, was among those thanking Clark for his many dedicated years of service.
“As a teacher and coach of many students, Coach Clark inspired, taught and supported children to become better in academics and athletics,” Mrs. Bradley said.
“He truly was passionate and invested in expanding the swim program in the district and the community of Lockport. We are grateful for Coach Kevin Clark's efforts for 50 years and wish him well in retirement.”
LHS boys varsity swim coach John Sullivan and the Niagara Frontier League-champion boys swim Lions recently honored Clark at their “Senior Night” with a graduating senior cap/plaque.
Sullivan noted that not only has Clark has been involved in the Lockport Swimming community as a coach at every possible level for nearly 50 years, his local career goes back even further than that as an alumnus of the programs at LHS and the Lockport YMCA.
“Over the years, he has promoted a love of swimming that has produced two or three generations of active participants in the sport,” Sullivan said.
“He has coached YMCA national champions and All-Americans, but those of you who know Coach Clark, know he knows how to get kids hooked to the sport of swimming. He infuses fun and excitement on a daily basis. He is famous for his Thanksgiving and Holiday Fun activities, relays, and games, highlighted by the great coin dive.”
A Lockport district biology teacher (39 Years) at North Park and LHS, Coach Clark's various titles over the past 50 years include YMCA Head Coach, Camp Kenan Aquatics Director, LHS Boys Varsity Coach, LHS Girls Varsity Coach, LHS Boy’s Junior Varsity Coach, LHS Girls Junior Varsity Coach, LHS Modified Coach, as well as YWCA Summer Swimming Program Director and Instructor.
Clark currently serves as LHS Boys and Girls Junior Varsity Coach, as well as the Lockport Modified Coach.
“What many of you may not know, or some of you might know all too well, is this coin dive is not what it once used to be. This is not a statement about inflation, but rather a reference to the many kids throughout the city who turned in the lucky Canadian coin only to find out they had to explain to their parents how they won a live turkey, or duck, or rooster or pig, or some other semi-domesticated livestock,” Sullivan said.
“I learned a great deal about how to make the sport fun during my years swimming for Coach Clark. I also learned not to turn in Canadian coins.”
Sullivan said the most impactful thing he's learned from Coach Clark is that kids vote with their feet.
“There is no better truism and I have applied this to my interaction with students both in the pool and the classroom,” Sullivan said.
Follow veteran Lockport sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.