Stephen F. Austin State University

A Texas Football Legend from Jacksonville (August 2014)

A Texas Football Legend from Jacksonville
By Jeff Campbell

When the calendar in Texas turns to August our thoughts turn to football. Recently I had the good fortune to work on a book about Plano High School's integration and ascension to becoming a Texas high school football dynasty. One of the major players in Plano High School story is Jacksonville's John Clark. The following excerpt is from the book "Football and Integration in Plano, Texas: Stay In There Wildcats!" written by Jeffrey Campbell, Amy Crawford and Kirby Stokes.

After two years as a Plano assistant John Clark took over the head coaching duties in 1966. Coach Gray had left after the 1965 State Champion season to take the head coaching job at Amarillo's Palo Duro High School. "He asked if I wanted to come with him to Amarillo," Clark said. "I told him, 'no Tom, I believe I'll stay here and see if I am lucky enough to get the Plano job.'" However it almost did not happen; Coach Clark eventually resigned and accepted a position at Henderson High School in the Piney Woods of East Texas. The school board met in a special session on a Monday night and convinced Clark to stay. Coach Clark accepted both the Head Football Coach position and the Athletic Director position.

Coach Clark was born on January 10, 1934 in the East Texas town of Jacksonville Texas. As a youth Coach Clark was an all-round athlete playing offense & defense on the football team, basketball, baseball, and tennis. He played basketball at Lon Morris Junior College and received his Bachelor's Degree from Baylor University.

After college Coach Clark started his teaching and coaching career at Amarillo High School in 1957. At Amarillo High School he served as an assistant to the Houston Oiler's legendary Coach Bum Phillips in 1959. After Amarillo he coached and taught at Weatherford and his home town of Jacksonville before arriving at Plano in 1964.

During desegregation, many people credit Coach Clark's leadership with welcoming and encouraging the African-American football players from Douglas High School into the Plano program. Coach Clark said; "I don't think I had a part in it. I can remember one or two got discouraged and thought about dropping out. I told them that would be the first time we had someone from Douglass quit. It wasn't me, it was the players themselves. They expected a lot out of each other. My job was easy." James Thomas who played for Coach Clark and transferred from Douglas to Plano; "In our neighborhood, the African American neighborhood knew and trusted and believed in Coach Clark, and we were taught that. They knew and respected him."

In ten seasons as the Wildcat's Head Coach Plano not only won two state championships but also nine district championships. Coach Clark would compile a record of 107 wins and lose only 17 games. It was ironic that the Baylor graduates first state championship was clinched at Baylor Stadium in Waco; a 27-8 victory over San Antonio Randolph in 1967. The day after winning state Coach Clark taught his Sunday school class. His second state championship was in 1971, a close, hard fought, 21-20 triumph over Gregory-Portland in a game played at the Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Coach Clark also led Plano to two undefeated regular seasons in 1974 and 1975. The Wildcats lost in the 1974 State Quarterfinals to Dallas Carter and in the 1975 Bi-District to Longview.

After relinquishing his head coaching duties Coach Clark would serve Plano ISD as Athletic Director for the next seventeen years. In 1977 the Plano Wildcats would play their inaugural season at John Clark Field. The Wildcats really know how to open a new stadium as they would finish the season with the school's fourth state championship. It would be one of three state championships under Coach Clark's leadership as Athletic Director.

Coach Clark would become the first inductee into the Plano Athletics Hall of Honor. He is also a member of the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor, the Texas High School Athletic Directors' Hall of Honor and the Texas Sports High School Football Hall of Fame.

Coach Tom Kimbrough; "John Clark was very inspirational and was my role model," Kimbrough said. "Any success I had, I share with him because he taught me everything I know. He was so instrumental in whatever success I've had over the years."

Actor Brad Leland Williams, one of the stars of the television show, "Friday Night Lights"; Brad played football for Coach Clark and the Plano Wildcats but suffered a devastating knee injury. "I stood there, crying my eyes out. I told Coach Clark, 'I know my knee's done.' It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I'd never quit anything in my life. But the coach said, 'Brad, you're a good actor. You go and pursue that. But if you ever feel like you're ready to go, your locker is always there. You know you love acting - go get it, son.' "

Former Plano Football Player Ronny Hart: "Coach Clark made everything roll. He was able to bring out the best in you. He expected the best in you. Everybody respects Coach Clark!"

"Football and Integration in Plano, Texas: Stay In There Wildcats!" will be published by the History Press on September 2nd, 2014. It is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.