I got chills when the student section at the Mosack Athletic Center burst into cheer at halftime of Providence Day’s boys basketball game on Jan. 24.
The students didn’t personally know the man they were cheering for and what he meant to their school and athletics program. He was one of theirs, though, so they applauded loudly.
But a packed house that included former teammates, classmates, coaches and administrators who traveled from as far away as Texas knew why they were there. They were there for Reggie Clark, a Providence Day icon who graduated in 1987 as the Chargers’ most decorated sports figure – a distinction he owns to this day.
And together, in unison, they chanted: “Reg-gie Cla-rk! Reg-gie Cla-rk!”
Clark and his former coaches stood near half court, smiling and soaking in a near-perfect moment together.
Clark was an all-Mecklenburg County football player as a Charger freshman. He lists his greatest sports moments as a Charger as running for 296 yards in his junior year to beat Sun Valley, beating Class 4A state champion Hunter Huss in basketball the year he led the Chargers to a private-school title of their own and hitting a homerun so far out of Country Day’s baseball field it traveled across four lanes of traffic and into a church parking lot across the street.
To say Clark was athletically gifted is an understatement.
Clark was an all-state performer in all three sports at Providence Day and was drafted in the second round of the MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. But football was his calling.
He entered the University of North Carolina in 1988 as a running back, a position where he started games as a freshman. He was the Tar Heels’ starting receiver as a sophomore, started at safety as a junior and started at linebacker as a senior. He was a gifted enough linebacker to play with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Off the field, Clark is the owner of an infectious smile and huge, engulfing personality. He was bigger than life itself when I was a lower-school student sharing the hallways at Providence Day with my first tangible sports hero.
Clark was once invited to current Providence Day basketball coach Brian Field’s family home to dunk on a goal the Field’s were soon replacing.
Clark broke it with a monster dunk.
“I felt terrible,” Clark said. “But I’ve never seen a kid so excited to have his basketball broken. (Field) was jumping around and screaming, it was crazy.”
Field remembers the day well.
“Personally, Reggie was my hero growing up,” the coach said following the ceremony. “That is one of my favorite memories as a kid (and it) meant I got a new glass backboard, which were rare at that point.”
But this isn’t about me or the childhood memories I can fondly recall of Clark. This story is about honoring Clark and getting it right in the end, and all of that happened on Jan. 24 at Providence Day.
Cleaning out an old trophy case last year, Providence Day middle school athletics director C.D. Cater said he first stumbled upon an old No. 11 jersey. A while later he found a plaque and put two-and-two together.
Around the same time Clark, who has a daughter who attends Providence Day, was watching a Chargers’ football game and said he noticed something.
“I’ve been coming to games for three years and maybe I saw it and it didn’t register before but I happened to look on the bench and saw No. 11,” Clark said of his old jersey number, which had been retired in a ceremony years ago and remains the only football number ever retired at Providence Day.
Clark called his former Charger football coach, Steve Shaughnessy.
“When you coach guys you develop a special bond for them and a love for them,” Shaughnessy said. “And when we realized his legacy wasn’t being upheld – and I don’t want that to sound crass because it was obvious (the jersey retirement) was forgotten and it was a mistake – but it meant a great deal to me because of the affection I have for Reggie and knowing what it meant to his teammates and classmates,
So Shaughnessy immediately began his quest for the re-retiring of Clark’s jersey. At times it was a fight, but in the end, Shaughnessy, Clark, a packed Chargers’ house and Providence Day School got this one right.
“The students were amazing and I think people learned a lot about how people remembered somebody like that,” Shaughnessy said. “Reggie was truly loved by his teammates because of the type of person he was as well as the kind of player that he was.
“To have that many people come back (for the ceremony) was awesome and it shows how much Reggie meant and how much a part of their experience he was.”
Clark said he’s grateful for the evening, the outpouring of support he has received and the ovation the Charger faithful bestowed upon
“It worked out great,” Clark said. “All I wanted was for them to come to me and ask me about it. It’s about doing the right thing and that’s what happened.
“It’s very honorable what (Shaughnessy) did. To think somebody would lay it down for you like that, it just lets you know how much someone thinks of you.”
And, judging from the outpouring of support for one of Providence Day’s all-time heroes and good guys, it was rewarding to see Clark stand at half court, soaking in the standing ovation for a man who has meant so much to a school as an athlete and
“Oh, man, it’s so special,” Clark said. “Without those guys there I wouldn’t have had that success I had here, in college or going on to the NFL and being able to compete at that level. They weren’t just my coaches, they were great father-figures and great friends. They let me know early on they cared a lot and so it’s easy to lay down for someone that puts that much into you.”
As Shaughnessy looked back on the night, he couldn’t have been happier.
“When I was riding home I told my wife that it couldn’t have turned out any better,” Shaughnessy said. “A whole new generation of people got to know what he meant to the school and what kind of person and what kind of player he was. It was
“He was 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he ran a 4.5 (second) 40 (yard dash) and he was the best player on the field,” Shaughnessy said. “But when he walked down the hallways at Providence Day School, little kids idolized him. He was a hero with his personality, his smile – you can’t help but like him.”