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Arnold Clark, who ‘loved to coach, loved to be around kids,’ dies at 73

File photo | BDN
File photo | BDN
Arnold Clark gives directions to his team in the Class D state championship game on March 1, 2009, in Bangor.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff
Updated:

Arnold Clark, who coached teams at Calais High School and neighboring Woodland High School to more than 400 victories during his 32 years as a varsity basketball coach, was being remembered Thursday for his competitive spirit and impact on Down East youngsters.

Clark died Wednesday, and while he had been in declining health recently no cause of death has been made public. He was 73.

“Mr. Clark was a blue-collar coach who wanted blue-collar players who played hard,” said Bobby Campbell, a 1987 Calais High School graduate who earned Bangor Daily News All-Maine first team honors as a senior guard under Clark before going on to play at the University of Maine and Husson University. “Whether you were the star or the 12th player on the bench, he didn’t give you any special treatment.

“I was glad that years later I could communicate with him and thank him for the way he affected me. He was impactful on my life in a way not many other people were, to be honest.”

A math and language arts teacher at Calais Elementary School for more than four decades until his retirement at the end of the most recent school year, Clark was a late arrival to coaching high school basketball at approximately 40 years of age.

Beginning in the mid-1980s he led teams to a pair of Eastern Maine Class C championships during 14 years as boys varsity basketball coach at Calais High School and then guided the girls team at neighboring Woodland High School to five Class D state championships in 16 years.

He spent the last two seasons back at Calais, this time as the girls varsity basketball coach.

“I had so much respect for him that I never called him Arnold. Three weeks ago when I last saw him I still called him Mr. Clark,” Campbell said. “We didn’t call him coach, we didn’t call him coach Clark. He was teaching us things even as a coach so that’s why we called him Mr. Clark, just like we would a teacher.

“A think a lot of his success had to do with the fact he started coaching later in life. He had a good perspective, and I think the biggest impact he had on people was because he had that educator philosophy first and then the coaching side came second.”

Clark grew up in the Milltown section of Calais and was a standout athlete at Calais High School during the mid- to late-1960s.

The 6-foot-3 center then went on to star at the University of Maine at Machias where he was a four-year starter who as a sophomore with the Clippers averaged 30 points and 18 rebounds per game, according to a biography penned in conjunction with his 2017 induction into the UMM athletic hall of fame.

“He was a competitor up and down, tough at both ends,” said Calais athletic administrator Randy Morrison, who played with Clark on a St. Stephen, New Brunswick, men’s league team that traveled to such other New Brunswick locales as Saint John and Fredericton during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Down around the post he was hard to stop, and he had a soft jump shot,” Morrison said.

Clark became involved as a coach and administrator in the Calais Little League program, where many of his first players met him before he became the boys varsity basketball coach at Calais High School in the fall of 1984.

“When I heard he got the job, I knew of him as the Little League coach, and we were all scared because he was a big guy and bigger than life to us at that point,” Campbell said. “I asked my dad if he was mean and he said he wasn’t, that he’d expect us to play hard but he’d be fair, and sure enough in Day 1 of practice he set the tone and we went on from there.

“Between Little League and his high school career he affected a generation of kids in a very positive way.”

Calais went a combined 56-7 during Clark’s first three years on the basketball bench and captured the 1987 Eastern C championship with a 78-72 victory over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln the year after going undefeated until a 77-75 loss to Hodgdon in the 1986 regional final.

“He wanted his kids to be tough,” said Ed Leeman, a guard for Clark’s 1985 and 1986 teams who went on to coach the Blue Devils to three state championships and four regional titles during a 10-year stint that ended in 2014. “I’ll never forget, the very first words out of his mouth when I walked into his first practice were, ‘Boys, I like my players mobile, agile and hostile,’ in the sense that you had to have a bit of toughness about you.

“He was a man you respected and wanted to give your utmost effort for. You didn’t fear him but he had this presence, this aura about him.”

Campbell said the team sometimes wore weighted vests or used weighted jump ropes during practice to help build up physical strength.

“Some of that training that people call cutting edge now, he was doing in ‘85 to make us stronger,” Campbell said. “But that was his mindset. He was tough-minded and tough physically, and thought we needed to be both.”

Clark and the Blue Devils won their second regional title together in 1991, edging Washington Academy of East Machias 71-70 in the Eastern C final.

Clark left the Calais post in 1997 but returned to the sidelines three years later at Woodland, where he guided the Dragons’ girls squad to five Class D state championships and six Eastern Maine titles.

That success also came quickly, with Woodland winning back-to-back gold balls in 2001 and 2002. The Dragons won another Eastern Maine crown in 2003 and added subsequent state championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

“He expected a lot of you, he was passionate and he wasn’t afraid to light a fire under your butt once in a while,” said Michelle Ripley, who played for Clark’s 2006 state title team.

Ripley, who later served for two years as an assistant coach under Clark at Woodland, also cited his benevolent side toward the players.

“He didn’t want a lot of people to know about it, but he paid for a lot of kids to go to [basketball] camp, kids that needed it and had potential,” she said. “It didn’t bother him at all to just open his checkbook and send three or four kids to camp.”

Ripley was named the Dragons’ head coach after the local school board opted not to rehire Clark for the 2015-16 season, but elements of Clark’s coaching philosophy remained within the Woodland program.

“As much as I try to be my own coach, I still use some of the same drills he did when I was playing,” said Ripley, who will enter her fourth year as head coach next winter. “We still have some of the same out-of-bounds plays, and he was very adamant that you didn’t throw lazy, long passes and I yell that all the time, ‘No lazy, long passes!’”

Clark spent the past two winters back at his alma mater, though he was sidelined at the end of the 2017-18 campaign with a back ailment.

“He was doing what he loved right up until the end,” Leeman said. “He didn’t want to retire, and he wasn’t doing it for the money, he was doing it because he was doing what he actually loved to do. He loved to coach, he loved to be around kids and he still had the time to be around his own passions — at hunting camp with his family and being around his grandkids.

“He was doing what he loved right up until he couldn’t do it anymore.”

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