Jim Clark retires from UJ athletics – Jamestown Sun after 46 years

JAMESTOWN – Throughout the past 46 years of the University of Jamestown’s track and field and cross country programs, there has been one constant: Jim Clark.

That’s going to change.

Clark announced that the 2023-2024 season was his final season coaching the programs.

Clark said he started exploring the possibility of retiring in 2016 or 2017. He said he met with then-athletic director Sean Johnson about stepping back to help get more coaches on staff.

“I thought we needed more coaches and we needed younger coaches,” Clark said. “… We were just understaffed in some places and we need to have a little more flexibility to have coaches. … It was more about the program than it was about me, because I had been working day and night, early mornings and weekends, and the program was much more successful than just the past few years. I wanted it to be more successful and I thought this was one of the ways to do that.”

Clark said he considered this season being his last during the search process for a new head coach in 2023.

Clark’s tenure began when he was hired as women’s basketball coach and was encouraged to start the women’s cross country program by then men’s cross country head coach Rollie Greeno. Clark served as the women’s track and field head coach from 1979 through 2017. Since 2017, Clark has served as an assistant coach on the track and field staff while maintaining his role as head coach for the women’s cross country team. Clark said the two coaches he has coached with the longest are Greeno and coach Kathryn Lemm.

During his 46 years, the first head coach of the women’s track and field team has won 41 conference titles and had five individual national champions and 118 All-Americans.

One of those athletes who has had a lot of success under Clark is Kaiann (Arellano) Yatskis. Yatskis is second on the all-time high jump program list and fourth on the all-time heptathlon points list.

“I would say he definitely challenges you, but in a supportive way,” Yatskis said of Clark. “He definitely believes in you more than you probably even believe in yourself. He also always expects the best from his athletes. He made it fun too.”

Yatskis said Clark helped her transition from a distance runner to a heptathlete and helped her learn the heptathlon events.

Yatskis, a Jamestown native, said she grew up with the program and first met Clark when she was coached by his sister, Deb Hornung, in high school track and field.

In 2017, the University of Jamestown established the Jim Clark Award for individuals who “since leaving the University of Jamestown, have demonstrated a commitment to serving others throughout their careers.”

One of Clark’s favorite memories during his tenure still makes him emotional nearly two decades later.

“One thing that stands out is that one of my former athletes, about six years after she graduated, called me in February and said, ‘Coach, my dad passed away in October and I’m getting married in June. Would you like to come to Milwaukee and walk down the aisle with me?” That brought tears to my eyes,” Clark said. “Those are things you remember when you do things for people and they do things for you.”

Clark served as a stabilizing force during the recruiting process for many of his athletes, including Sara Bonn.

“There was a lot of nervousness for so many reasons when COVID came around, it was a weird time,” Bonn said. “But I was nervous about having to take a year off and not being able to fully train because all my facilities that I had were all closed and even the outdoor facilities that I had at school, they weren’t letting people in much. So there was a lot of fear that I , after not practicing for a whole year, was going to be dropped by someone who was interested in me. But he was very firm that way, saying, “No, as long as you do something. Go run down a street or something.” He was really great about making sure he stayed consistent in the contact and making sure he encouraged that they still wanted me in that program.

Clark is so loyal to the programs that Bonn said she and her teammates have jokingly referred to Clark as “the original Jimmie.”

During his tenure, Clark said he has seen tremendous change at the university and its athletic department. He said they played in many different conferences, with the Great Plains Athletic Conference being the best level of competition.

“I think our athletes now have so many more resources and facilities and things like that than we ever had in the late ’70s, ’80s and even beyond,” Clark said. “We never had strength and conditioning coaches, and didn’t really have a weight room when I got here. (We) had some dumbbells and a universal gym station in the corner of the Hansen Center. The only athletic facility when I got here was the Hansen Center and everyone was trying to use every nook and cranny there to get something done or we would be out. They built the Larsen Center probably the second, third year I was here. … If you make it to the GPAC, you’ll probably do well nationally. That wasn’t necessarily the case at all the conferences we participated in.”

Clark said the program has had six head coaches since Greeno retired in 2002, and the university has had five presidents in the past 46 years.

“I’ve had a lot of good coaches to work with over the years,” Clark said. “I am fortunate to have very knowledgeable people, people with experience, people who are enthusiastic and energetic. That was always fun.”

Clark said he already misses the job but hasn’t thought about retiring.

Of all the accolades he has received, Clark said he is most proud of the relationships he has built with his athletes.

“I’m most proud of people staying in touch over the years,” Clark said. “…I always have people write back every now and then and come by when they’re in town and visiting and things like that. Just the fact that they stay connected and feel like a family when they leave here.”

As for what’s next for the 74-year-old, he said he will continue to watch the program from the stands.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be around here,” Clark said. “I’ll go to meetings and probably go out and watch them from a distance and things like that. But it’s a new program and they have to do what is best for the program.