Clark's smile, will to win won't be soon forgotten

August 20, 1993|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

To the off-duty Washington police officer who found his lifeless body inside a crumpled gold Nissan Stanza Tuesday on the University of Maryland's College Park campus, Archie Clark probably was just another statistic -- one of 406 traffic fatalities so far this year.

But to Clark's family and his many friends from Oakland Mills High School and the University of Maryland, the 21-year-old Clark was someone special.

"He was the Magic Johnson of Oakland Mills," said Ken Klock, Clark's former football coach and the athletic director at Oakland Mills. "He always had that smile on his face. Little kids idolized him and he enjoyed talking to them. He was just a happy guy."

Kathy Avery, an Oakland Mills instructional aide who nagged Clark to get the grades he needed to win a football scholarship to Maryland, said everyone used to tease Clark about his smile.

"It was just like Magic Johnson's," she said. "Archie was poor and didn't have many fancy clothes to wear, but he would give you anything he had and was the most popular kid in his class. When he received his diploma at graduation everyone stood up and cheered. All social cross-sections liked him. He was like a member of my family."

Clark also played basketball at Oakland Mills and was a member of the 1979-80 Class 3A state championship team.

His former basketball coach, Dave Appleby, said: "He was a high-quality athlete and a leader who demanded that others play hard. He was one of the fiercest competitors we've ever had. His stats weren't gaudy, but they belie his value to the team. He was what separated us from the other teams when we won the state title. He should serve as a role model to every kid from his background that you can make it if you try and you get the proper support. He got the help he needed at Oakland Mills."

Clark, 6-foot-4, weighed 240 pounds. He was the youngest of four children. His mother, Jonetta Clark, 45, was a single mother who took pride in the fact that Archie was the first of her children to attend college.

A knee injury and academic deficiencies kept Clark from fulfilling his football potential at Maryland.

"But he was finally getting his academics together," Klock said. "He had decided to major in education and was going to graduate in two years."

Clark could have been a fine high school football coach, Klock thinks.

"He was one of the smartest players we ever had," Klock said. "He understood the game and was a coach on the field. He understood what everyone was doing on every play and that's rare. He loved football and was proud of Oakland Mills football."

Clark, a former Baltimore Sun All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year, a Howard County Player of the Year and a three-time All-County pick at linebacker, also played quarterback at Oakland Mills.

In his senior year, the team was 5-5, but he had 84 tackles, five fumble recoveries, two interceptions and three quarterback sacks. He was 59-for-138 (43 percent) passing for 749 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 549 yards in 92 attempts (six-yard average) and six TDs. He ran the 40-yard -- in 4.7 seconds despite his 6-foot-3, 215-pound high school size.

In his sophomore year, the Scorpions won the county football title.

Clark's football jersey (No. 24) hangs in the Oakland Mills gymnasium -- one of five numbers that have been retired.

In basketball his senior year he averaged 10 points and eight rebounds, shooting 63 percent from the foul line and 61 percent HTC from the floor. He led the team with 150 rebounds as it compiled a 22-2 record.

"You don't take death into consideration until it happens to someone close to you. Then it jolts you," Appleby said. "He'll be remembered and honored in the Oakland Mills community. He made something of what he had. And he gave strength to everyone around him."

Clark originally injured his knee playing in an all-star basketball game his senior year. He recovered in time to play in the Big 33 all-star football game.

"The Big 33 was a big thing to him," Avery said. "He was so personable that he was one of two or three players chosen to meet with the governor of Pennsylvania."

A picture of Clark taken for the Big 33 game sits in the trophy case at Oakland Mills.

But Clark reinjured the knee his freshman season at Maryland and it required major surgery.

"I never thought he could get playing football out of his blood," Avery said, "but the last time I saw him in June he had decided to be a teacher and give up football."

Avery had been out of town most of this summer, but was expecting Clark to visit her any day when she heard the news of his death.

Clark was the driver of the Nissan the police officer observed speeding and crossing a double yellow line near the College Park campus.

When the officer caught up, he found the car wrapped around a telephone pole on Paint Branch Drive. Two occupants, including Clark, were dead at the scene. The third passenger died later.

Clark had left a party at a university apartment in the Leonardtown complex and was dropping off two friends at the campus. He was driving with a suspended license. Police are awaiting autopsy results to discover if alcohol or drugs were involved.

Clark's closest friend, Kevin Moore, had last talked to him July 24, the day of Moore's wedding. Clark had been his best man.

"We've been best friends since first grade. He was like a brother to me," Moore said. "He was very generous and could talk to anyone. I was at football camp at Bowie [State] when I heard the news and came right home. It makes me reflect on what's important in life. I'm going to dedicate my football season to him. I'm going to miss him."

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