Longtime Bearcats track coach headed to Decatur Hall of Fame tonight

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

BAINBRIDGE -- Dr. Larry Clark, whose name is synonymous with track and field at Bainbridge High, leads the first class of inductees in the Decatur County Athletic Hall of Fame.

The ceremony is tonight at the Kirbo Center in Bainbridge, where Clark and three Bainbridge greats will be honored.

Ken Rice, who was a star at Bainbridge High and an All-American football player at Auburn before playing in the NFL, is the only football player being inducted.

Ernest Riles, a baseball star at Bainbridge High and Middle Georgia, and Spencer "Onion" Davis, a former Decatur County and Americus administrator, who spent years as a football and baseball head coach, and also played minor league baseball, are also being inducted.

Clark has coached at Bainbridge for more than 30 years and he said Friday "the time just flew by,'' when he looks back at his career -- a career that saw arguably its biggest highlight last spring when the Bearcats won the first boys state team title in the school's history.

"There have been a lot of highlights,'' said Clark, who was also an assistant coach on Bainbridge's state football championship team.

He has been the Jones Wheat Elementary School principal since 1990 and is the face of education and track in Bainbridge, where he has sent nearly 20 kids to college during his career.

"The thing I always tried to instill in them is to allow them to take their talent to the next level and get an education,'' Clark said.

But his best memories are of taking the kids who knew nothing about the sport and watching them gain their wings.

"In track and field, almost all of them were sleepers,'' Clark said. "I always liked to take the kid who knew nothing about an event and then watch him go on and win a region championship, a state championship ..."

That's exactly what happened with Ty Akins, who won back-to-back state titles in the hurdles at Bainbridge and then won the NCAA hurdles at nationas in 2006.

"When he first came out for the team as a freshman, he wasn't very good at all,'' Clark said. "I was wondering why he was even going out for the track team.''

But those are the pearls of his career, kids like Akins who made the most out of the opportunity. And that list is a long-running river of names for Clark, who has been a teacher, mentor, motivator and more.

Every track coach at Bainbridge -- both on the boy's and girl's teams -- ran for Clark, the wizard of the sport in this past of the state.

"He is everything to track at Bainbridge,'' said Bainbridge girls coach Tandria Phillips. "We all ran for him.''

It's fitting that Clark will be inducted in the first Decatur class -- he was always first-class in everything he touched at Bainbridge.

"I feel very privileged that they even considered me,'' Clark said. 'They tell me I've done a lot to help kids, to help them better themselves.

That's a great way to be remembered.''