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Clark lost his battle, but won over his players …

By Staff
SYMBOL OF COURAGE From the moment he arrived on the Decatur campus, East Central Community College baseball coach Jamie Clark pointed his Warriors in the direction of the MACJC state title. He finally got there, but on Wednesday, Clark lost his six-month battle with cancer. Photo by Marty Stamper/The Meridian Star
By Marty Stamper/The Meridian Star
July 20, 2001
Thought for the day: Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Sometimes even that's not enough.
I can remember the first time I met Jamie Clark.
He had just been approved as baseball coach at East Central Community College and was standing in the parking lot on top of the hill that overlooks the Warrior baseball field.
As fate would have it, he spent most of his 14 years at EC trying to get his teams to the top of the hill.
When he didn't jump in his truck and head back to the Delta, I thought he either knew something I didn't or else he was just plain nuts.
After all, the two seasons before he took over in the fall of 1987, the Warriors went 2-28 in 1986 and 3-29 in 87.
There were many reasons why the EC baseball program was so bad then … no scholarships, a small district in which several high schools didn't even play the game, and not exactly a glut of talent at the ones that did.
So when EC went 17-25 his first season, it was nearly a time for rejoicing. At least now, the team might win.
A 20-19 showing in 1989 started a run of 11 straight seasons with at least a break-even record.
Warriors win pennant
Clark always liked a good laugh. I'll never forget finding a cassette in the early 1990s that had the call on Bobby Thomson's famous home run "the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant" playing it, and then kidding Jamie about when was he going to win a pennant at EC.
EC? Win a championship? Not as long as Gulf Coast, Pearl River, and Hinds had teams.
A rules change that allowed schools to get players from beyond their district opened the door and Clark worked hard recruiting and began fielding some very competitive teams with the 1996 squad starting a string of five straight appearances in the Region 23 Tournament.
A 40-18 showing in 1997 set a school record for wins that still stands. That team was the MACJC state runner-up to traditional powerhouse Gulf Coast.
In 1998, Clark's vision came true as the Warriors won the MACJC State Tournament at Scooba. An opening-day win over East Mississippi put EC in the winners' bracket where the Warriors rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat Gulf Coast 9-7 in the second round.
On a splendid spring Sunday afternoon, the Warriors finally reached the top of the hill, beating Gulf Coast again for their first state championship after spotting the Bulldogs an early 8-3 lead.
A program that once couldn't win back-to-back games was now the state champion.
Clark loses battle
Indeed, it was a glorious day. But that was then. Clark lost his battle with an inoperable brain tumor Wednesday night at his home in Decatur. He went from a picture of health at the start of the 2000 fall drills to receiving the medical prognosis of his remaining time on earth just a few weeks into 2001.
And that's how he faced his unbeatable foe … with all that he had.
Already badly weakened, Clark could only watch as his players and managers took care of the cleanup chores that chilly day. He thanked them, knowing they probably had some Valentine's Day business to tend to.
Jamie, Mickey, and the Babe
Baseball games were only a small part of Clark's legacy. You'll find many of his former players coaching today see Philadelphia's Scott Hill, Neshoba Central's Brian Jones, Enterprise's Mark Davis, Forest's Luke Gibbon, Noxapater's Zach Sanders, Winona's Gregg Perry, or even EC assistant coach Jake Yarborough as proof.
Ask them how their time at EC helped prepare them for their life's calling and you'll learn about Clark.
Being on time and doing a job every day without expecting a big reward were traits that Clark demanded. If you were there to play baseball, then you weren't there to break curfew, skip class, and frequent the watering holes other students often managed to do.
He'd much rather have a player with just above average ability who would work hard to get better than a star who was content with his ability.
As former player Craig Vowell said earlier this spring: "We were talking about coach Clark when we first found out about it. A lot of guys didn't like him when they were there, but we'd all say we are better men today because of him."
Clark was definitely proud of the 98 championship team, but his players that made the honor roll each semester were his real pride and joy.
Some would go on to play at four-year schools including two who appeared in the NCAA Division I College World Series and a few have played for minor league professional teams. But he knew most of his players would make their living in a more traditional role and helping create solid citizens was a top priority.
One goal that Clark didn't attain was winning a Region 23 championship.
Clark is probably busy now trying to get those two on his new team. Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Eddie Matthews are probably high on his list of recruits, too.
Can't you imagine Jamie trying to get the Babe to make curfew? Or maybe lead off an inning with a bunt? Yet you know he'd try.
(Clark loved limericks and we spent many hours making them up. Just ask his family. Here's one for old times' sake.)
There once was a coach named Clark,
Who brought a program in from the dark.
You may question his sense,
But on the right-field fence,
You'll see that he made his mark.
Visitation is tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Barham Funeral Home between Decatur and Newton. Funeral services are set for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Clarke-Venable Church in Decatur with burial in Caile Cemetery in Belzoni.
Marty Stamper is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at mstamper@themeridianstar.com.