A multi-sport athlete at Rangeley Lakes Regional School, he began working at his alma mater. During his first year there — 1977 — the boys’ middle school basketball coaching position opened.

“I wanted to get involved with the kids,” Clark said. “I wanted to see if I could coach basketball. They offered me the job after I applied. I was the only one that applied.”

It was a natural progression for Clark. Growing up in Rangeley, sports was a significant part of childhood.

“I’ve always been sports-minded,” Clark said. “My whole family was involved in sports. We did every sport coming and going. Rangeley offered so many different sports and you had to be a multi-sport athlete to keep the programs going. So I did everything but downhill skiing, but I did cross country and jumping back when they offered it in Class D.”

Soon after taking his first middle school job, the girls’ middle school position opened, as well. Clark began coaching both programs, and he quickly developed a passion for teaching the game.

“That kind of solidified that love of working with kids,” Clark said. “I loved coaching basketball. Basketball was my passion.”

When Gavin Kane — now a household name in basketball coaching throughout Maine — landed a coaching job at Rangeley in the early 1980s, Clark joined him at the varsity level. Kane coached the boys, and Clark coached the girls. It helped Clark see coaching at a new level. He’d only known what his own former coaches had taught him. He started attending clinics and learning from other coaches.

“You knew you had to step the game up a little bit,” Clark said. “You couldn’t just continue to teach what you were teaching in middle school. That opened up another world to me, and I knew that basketball was something I wanted to be involved in. No matter what I did, I wanted to coach basketball.”

In May 1986, after nine years of coaching, Clark was in a car accident. He was in the hospital through August.

At 28 years old, he was paralyzed. He lost his job, and questioned whether he could continue to coach.

“I really had my doubts that it was going to happen,” Clark said. “How do you teach them a drop-step power dribble when you can’t be out there teaching it? You’re talking it but you can’t show them.”

The kids who were playing at the varsity level at that time were the players he had coached in middle school. Despite his uncertainty, he tried to continue.

“They were the kids that I knew,” Clark said. “They believed in me enough that they wanted me to continue coaching. They didn’t want to see somebody else come in. I said, ‘I’ll see what happens and I’ll give it a shot and see if I can do this out of a chair.’

“They knew I was a coach and that I knew basketball and that I could teach them. I had that support. That was probably the best thing to keep me in coaching because those kids believed I could continue coaching.”

Though coaching was still possible for him, it was a challenge to adjust to life in a wheelchair. He also had to face the sudden death of his wife a couple of years later. Despite the hardship, he says he never contemplated leaving coaching.

“When I first had my accident, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was just getting started,” Clark said. “My hometown was not accessible to me. I couldn’t go into stores. I couldn’t shop. The last thing I was going to do was let that stop me from being who I am.”

He’s been coaching ever since. He had a later stint coaching the Rangeley girls and most recently coached the Rangeley boys. He also coached with Kane at Dirigo in both the boys’ and girls’ programs. He’s currently an assistant with Kane at Spruce Mountain.

While at Dirigo, he recruited his friend, the late Rob Marcia, to help the coaching staff, giving the Cougars two coaches in wheelchairs.

“Because Gavin knew me from coaching in Rangeley together, he saw me for what I was and the chair didn’t matter,” Clark said. “It was all about basketball.”

He had to change his coaching style as he adapted to coaching from a wheelchair. It allowed him to see the game in a different way.

“You just take so much for granted,” Clark said. “When you go to talk to a post player about the drop-step or a spin-around-and-under, you’d go and demonstrate it. Now I couldn’t demonstrate it. I had to talk a kid through it so they could see it and do it in one fluid motion. I had to think the game a lot more than demonstrate it.”

If anything, his circumstances pushed him to work harder to prove that he could do all he wanted to do in life. In addition to coaching, he’s active in playing wheelchair basketball games around the state.

“The easiest thing in the world would have been to hide behind closed doors,” Clark said. “I could have said, ‘I don’t want to go outside and do this because I don’t want people looking at me and feeling sorry for me because I’m in a wheelchair. I looked at it the other way. I had to go out and prove to people that I’m like they are. I just have to do it a little differently. I wanted to go out there and be as normal as I can be.”

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Capable coaching

Despite disabilities, coaches continue to thrive

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