Clark Wilson never got a Gatorade shower after a successful swim. He was never hoisted upon the shoulders of his young swimmers and carried off the deck in triumph.
What Wilson did, in virtual anonymity outside the swimming world, was establish himself as one of the top high school swim coaches in the United States.
One visit with Wilson and you got the feeling you’ve known him forever. He never met a stranger and always had a way of making you feel better about yourself.
His unexpected death this week at the age of 59 literally sent ripples through the aquatic community and touched all the many people he had an impact on.
And that line is long.
“Clark was a special human being with a great heart. He was someone that if you’d ever met him it was like you knew him all your life,” reflected legendary University of Texas swim coach Eddie Reese. “To be a good swim coach, I think first you’ve got to be a good person. And Clark had that all the way. We lost him way too soon.”
Wilson headed up the Champion Aquatic Team for the better part of two decades and worked with hundreds of aspiring young swimmers throughout the East Texas area.
Gilmer’s Grant Koudelka was one of Wilson’s top students. Koudelka, a 2012 graduate of Gilmer, went on to swim for Reese at the University of Texas and earn his degree in engineering.
“I didn’t really know a whole lot about swimming when I came to Clark. He helped me exponentially. I was a kid that just swam for fun and here was a guy that made swimming his life’s work,” Koudelka recalled. “I couldn’t have asked for a better coach. He was a coach and a father figure to a lot of the kids on the team. He didn’t just coach swimming, he coached life.”
Wilson always had an infectious smile and usually sported a days growth that settled into a five o’clock shadow by the end of the evening. That’s what happens when first practice gets started well before the sun comes up.
Longtime Longview ISD athletic director and head football coach John King worked for the last 18 years across the street from Wilson and got to know him quite well.
“Clark had a passion for coaching kids. And he would work at it. It was a 12-month job for him. He didn’t take any time off,” King reflected. “I think he was probably a better swim coach than I am football coach. He was a gem who worked tirelessly and got his kids to perform at a high level. He’s going to be dearly missed.”
While Wilson’s life for the most part was dedicated to the water, he did play one year on the University of Arizona rugby team after his swimming eligibility ran out.
There was also a brief respite when Wilson took time out from the pool to do stand-up comedy. He could talk on a myriad of subjects and do so with great authority. He was a regular renaissance man.
Paige Maly, another one of Wilson’s many pupils, fondly recalled how he gave her encouragement when she needed it most.
“After I had graduated college, I’d always wanted to travel. It seemed everyone was against me traveling and Clark was like the only one that understood and pushed me to go,” said Maly, who now calls Australia her home. “It’s been a very good experience for me and I owe Clark a lot. He’s been there through a lot for me. He was literally like my dad then and always will be.”
Maly, a 2012 graduate of White Oak who ran cross country at UT Tyler, now works as a clinical assistant in ophthalmic surgery in the land Down Under.
Janet Taylor, who coaches club swimming in Tyler, has been a colleague of Wilson’s for 30 years. She fondly recalls the many nuggets of wisdom Clark would share with her swimmers.
“Clark was super highly respected with all the coaches and parents. He always had a joke and kept everybody laughing,” Taylor said.
“One of his nuggets of wisdom he shared came at 5 o’clock in the morning. We were having a hard set and Clark asked one of my swimmers if they’d made their bed that morning. She gave him a funny look and asked why? He told her that if you make your bed every morning before you get started, you have already been successful and accomplished something. The rest of the day makes it easier to accomplish something in life.”
That was Clark Wilson. Keeping life simple, yet being profound.
A celebration of Clark’s life is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, at the First United Methodist Church in Longview.