By Adrian Robinson, TrackAlerts.Com Writer
Coach Michael Clarke, the most successful school boy coach in all of Jamaica’s track and field land.
Clarke started his love affair with track and field over 30 years ago.
He honed his skills at GC Foster after leaving high school, he then turned his attention to 33 Monk Street.
Being his first stint as coach at any level, he took his time to appreciate and understand his craft.
It took him five years of hard work to reach the apex of high school athletics.
So in 1987 St Jago was crowned king of the hill at CHAMPS.
He explained his departure from Spanish Town after one CHAMPS victory.
“I think it was an opportune occasion, generating out of discomfort and concerns, about certain issues that were boiling, and it was just time to move.”
Next stop on the journey was 189 Old Hope Rd, he assessed the athletic land scape and after five years, JC too were crowned king of the athletic hill.”I think I stayed there for 15 years won and seven times, first time we won was in 92, they had not won in over I think 30 odd years.”
Coach Clarke had some memorable moments at JC one of which was his son walking the 200 meters to earn a point. “It was more of a father son experience, because I wanted him to develop the will and tenacity to go on even when faced with adversity. I encouraged him not necessarily for the points we were way ahead in points. Just for the fortitude of self and of mind and to make it a learning experience
In terms of family life, Clarke has two children. "I also have a daughter Kye Clarke, she goes to St Andrew High School for girls. She has no real interest in track I think she was too immersed in it at an early age she had gone to numerous track meets with me. She’s into sports though, that’s a must as a part of the extracurricular activities. She plays netball, volleyball and at a high level too.”
Some light was shed on his move to 61 Red Hills road and the ease with which this unfolded. “It wasn’t easy at all! One would have thought that the fact that I am a past student of Calabar high school, the transition back would have been easier socially, but it wasn’t an easy affair. There were challenges, because I came with a different style a different notion, probably wasn’t seen as being friendly enough. To the old boys who are accustomed to a different culture, I tried to adjust to their way it never worked. I had to resort to what I knew best. It ruffled a few hairs, for a year or two, but in the long run it turned out ok. That’s the thing with family we come together where the green blood is strongest.”
Having coached at three top track and field high schools St Jago being a co-educational school, Clarke compared for us the differences. “More distractions coming from the girls, for the boys, sometimes it helps to motivate them other times it distracts them. There seems to be from my experiences more tenacity and fixity of purpose at the single sex school.
When quizzed about the offer to coach all girl schools he chuckled then answered. “I admire the coaches who coach girls. You know the ladies have so many issues, the issues are so emotional. You’re nurtured and cultured to treat women softer and gentler and so on. I have coached women yes, I have had my fair share of experiences, but not in a massive way.”
"Back in the days when I was at JC, I coached Michelle Freeman she did well in her year of sprinting for Jamaica, Twylet Malcolm, Cherlyann Phillips a cadre of them.”
Jamaica’s track and field is now in full bloom, there must be a difference motivating the boys in the early days compared to now. “I think it’s more difficult now because there are more distractions, from a social aspect given that there are so much electronic gadgets that they are privy to and have access to.” It’s not that easily analyzed, he explained further. “The motivation now seems to be driven by a social content and in a social context, in the pass it was more of expectation and a stronger will over someone.”
Coaching for more than three decades, translates to well over a thousand athletes and counting.
He singled out a few of his favourite athletes, from the three schools. “Well from St Jago it was easily Thomas Mason, he was iconic in his time. Tough, aggressive, versatile high jump, 4 hurdles 200m 400m.
He did well he had records in class two and class one which lasted for several years. At JC, it was Edward Clarke and Rudolph Mighty. These were tough, fierce competitors, did very well trained very hard and had their fair share of success. At Calabar, now Javon "Donkey Man" Francis, having gone to the level he has gone to as a teenager, as a school boy athlete, he probably would have stood out more than the others. There are younger athletes who are rising to the top, Christopher Taylor stands out Tyreke Wilson.”
When you say AKON you say Michael Clarke, people have wondered about the name. ‘Well Christopher Stokes a friend of mine, we had discussions some years ago to start the club. It’s a French-African word he suggested it I liked it, and it got stuck from there. I was also encouraged by the late Howard Aris, past president of the JAAA, and I finally started it. “
Athletes looking for a promising professional athletic career, if AKON is your aim these are the prerequisites from coach Clarke. “Try and do the things that allow you to stay healthy, get rest, eat well, don’t forget your academic pursuits, invest your time wisely, train hard. Make sure you are surrounded by positive experiences, seek opportunities, jump at them, seek advice and align yourself with persons who mean you well.
Having been a part of so many CHAMPS victories, there must be that special one, coach was quick with the answer. “I think the 1987, being my first one it was done in such a crescendo that stands out and resonates most in my mind.”
Coaching for so long and with the wealth of experience garnered, he gives the same advice to athletes and fellow coaches alike for CHAMPS 2015.”Work hard, train hard, stay honest, stay healthy, stay out of trouble lets all compete fiercely and fairly.”