The famous Clark family (left to right): Coach J.J. Clark, Jearl-Miles Clark, Joetta Clark Diggs, Hazel Mae Clark. (Photo courtesy of Joetta Clark Diggs.)
Elliott Denman wrote this piece in early October about the Joetta Clark Diggs Tenth Annual Sports Extravaganze, held September 18, 2015. The event is a fundraiser for the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation. As everyone should know, Joetta Clark Diggs was an Olympian in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000.
JOETTA AND THE CLARK FAMILY:
PUTTING BACK AND PUTTING BACK
BY ELLIOTT DENMAN
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Not too long ago, the flying feet and phenomenal feats of Joetta Clark helped to pack and indoor arenas and outdoor stadia all over the USA and beyond.
She’s Joetta Clark Diggs now (JCD), she runs only for fun and fitness these days, but she’s never lost the ability and talent needed to continue packing ’em in, either.
Latest evidence: The 10th edition of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Extravaganza, which packed the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, with last week (Sept 18), with fans, friends and devotees of the extraordinary Clark family, and supporters and cheerleaders of all the activities JCD which now keep her going at a familiar pace.
Think JCD has slowed since her late major start, in the 800 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, which was the fourth Olympic appearance of her remarkable career?
Well, think again.
The never-ever stop JCD is busier than ever these days as a motivator, teacher, coach, leader, promoter, organizer, activist, and guiding light of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation and its array of activities designed to back all the virtues of an Olympian’s Olympian.
As she often states, “today, I see a very different picture of our youth. It seems that, too often, academic excellence, athletic involvement and community services have taken a back seat to many of the current-day distractions.”
Thus concerned, she formed the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation in 2002, to and its dedication to teaching good health and positive work ethics, life skills, participation in sports, and the introduction to career opportunities for boys and girls.
She keeps “putting back” and “putting back” some more.
Or lap after lap, to use familiar phraseology.
The JCD Sports Extravaganza became the celebration of the success of all these efforts. Or lap after lap, to use familiar phraseology.
A galaxy of other Olympians – most notably kid sister Hazel Clark and sister-in-law Jearl Miles-Clark, who teamed with JCD to form their Uncle Sam’s 800-meter team at the Sydney Games (as the lone all-family team to serve as a complete American single-event unit in Olympic history) – was there.
And so were such Olympians as Mark Everett (1992-96-2000 800 meters), John Marshall (1984 800), Norman Tate (1968 triple jump), Candy Young (1980 hurdles) and Gail Marquis (1976 basketball.)
A much-saluted member of the audience was Sydney McLaughlin, the Union (N.J.) Catholic High School junior who is already crowned the World Youth Champion, and is so far ahead of her contemporaries’ pace that she’s actually considered a viable candidate for the 2016 Olympic team in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.
But the loudest cheers were reserved for three other New Jersey high schoolers – Union Catholic’s Trae’ Robinson, Franklin’s Jasmine Uzell and Nicholas Varka, who will be off to college thanks to the big assists provided them by the “Joetta’s Geniuses” scholarship programs.
Guided by JCD and her foundation’s Board of Directors, her home state has seen such cutting-edge programs as her Fitness Challenge, Head 2 Toe Fitness, Fitness 4 Fun, and track and field/speed camp, spring to life in Plainfield, Somerville, Newark, Orange, Belleville, Asbury Park, North Plainfield, Jersey City, Cape May Court House, and several other locations.
Did you know there’s a town named Clark in New Jersey? (But it’s not named for her celebrated high school principal Dad, Joe Clark, of “Lean on Me” film fame…or any other family members.)
But maybe it should.
Consider what the Clarks did on the track before any of them got busy off the track.
JCD’s 24-year career included those four Olympic Games, nine national collegiate titles (for the Tennessee Vols) and a truly amazing 21-time top-10 ranking among America’s 800-meter leaders.
Three-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark (JMC) was the 1993 World Champion at 400 meters and collected Olympic 4×400 relay golds in 1996 and 2000, all after a brilliant career at Alabama A&M.
Hazel Mae Clark (HMC) ran the 800 at the 2000-04-08 Olympics and was a five-time national collegiate champion for the University of Florida Gators.
Check out the all-time USA women’s 800-meter list and you’ll see that JMC still tops them all (with her 1:56.40 at Zurich in 1999), with JCD ninth (with her 1:57.84 at Monaco in 1998) and HMC 13th (with a best of 1:57.99 in Oslo in 2005.)
All these credentials, please note, are just the tip of the Clarks’ mountain of magnificent deeds on all levels. It might take an hour or two to google all their achievements.
Oh, and did we mention that coach to them all at one time or other has been none other than J.J. Clark (brother of Joetta and Hazel, husband of Jearl) who did many splendiferous things previously as mentor of the Tennessee Vols and Florida Gators, a long list of USA national teams, and now is making major strides with his University of Connecticut Huskies?
All along, corporate backers have been vital to the success of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation.
And “good on them” because all their “putting back” enables JCD to “put back” a whole lot more.
As the people at AT&T put it, “every record in every sport creates a watermark of achievement held in place until the next wave pushes further. “
Well and good, but it seems the next wave has a lot of pushing to do, it it’s ever going to catch up with the Clarks.
JMC’s American 800-meter record has been in the books for 16 years.
Add up the JCD, HMC and JMC Olympic appearances and you get to 10. Add up all their years on the ranking lists and you get into the range of 40.
Can you name a watermark in their sport to top all those numbers?
The answer is obvious and it’s “no, no and no again.”