A rubber band holds together the small bundle of patches Val Clark keeps in a pocket of her Center Grove letter jacket.

Clark, a three-sport athlete, would like to display them.

She simply can’t find room.

In an era in which an increasing number of high school athletes focus on a single sport, the 5-foot-10 senior runs cross country, plays basketball and participates in track for the Trojans.

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She is on course to graduate next spring with 10 varsity letters.

Every bit as impressive is Clark’s 4.0 grade-point average.

“For me it’s just normal. I don’t really know anything different,” said Clark, who as a ninth-grader participated in four sports by taking part in both track and softball during the spring.

“I do feel kind of cool when I’m wearing my letterman jacket. Growing up I always thought those were the coolest things ever. I get a lot of people saying, ‘Whoa, you’ve got a lot of stuff on the back’, but I’m just glad my hard work is paying off.”

Clark as a junior advanced to the state cross-country finals as an individual. She finished 48th of 207 runners at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute in a time of 19 minutes, 10.3 seconds.

As a backup combo guard in basketball – her favorite sport – Clark averaged 2.4 points for a Center Grove program which advanced to the Class 4A regional for a second consecutive season.

Her memorable 2015-16 school year concluded at the girls state track and field finals at Indiana University. Qualified for the 1,600-meter run, Clark finished 23rd in 5:22.62.

Expected to play a more substantial role for the Trojans basketball team as a senior, Clark hopes it enables her to play at the next level.

Additional exposure is assured this summer playing AAU basketball for The Family, an Indianapolis-based squad coached by Kevin Merriweather, the girls basketball coach at Indianapolis Tindley High School.

Though she still has one year of high school remaining, Clark is already looking into coaching, broadcasting or physical therapy as possible career avenues once in college.

Whatever Clark chooses, Center Grove girls basketball coach Shawn Sanders said he knows she’ll excel.

“In a world where everyone kind of specializes, Val is a little atypical,” Sanders said. “You obviously have to have the talent to do all these things she does, but you also have to have discipline and time-management skills.

“Val has such a good head on her shoulders. She’s not average by any means.”

Anyone needing proof need only observe the 13 sports patches on the back of Clark’s letter jacket, the seven bars (one for each varsity letter) along its right sleeve and the National Honor Society patch sewn onto the left sleeve.

There are the eight patches in her pocket. This will soon be 10 once Clark receives two patches she’s expecting for accomplishments from this past track season.

So much done. So little room.

“I originally started cross-country in the sixth-grade because a friend told me to do it,” Clark said. “I go in thinking it’s something with a ball like lacrosse. I show up in tennis shoes and the coach says, ‘Are you guys ready to run three miles?’

“We got into the season and I kind of struggled at first, especially just mentally. As the year went on I saw myself getting better and my friendships within the team get so strong because of the workouts we were enduring.”

Six years later, Clark values her friendships built through running cross country and track too much to start specializing now.

“All those girls mean so much to me. Without them I couldn’t do those sports,” Clark said. “And basketball’s always just been by love since I was 4-years old.”

Three sports it’s been for Clark and three sports it will continue to be.

As evidenced by her patch-weighted letter jacket, she’s multi-tasked too well to change now.

Val Clark pullout


Name: Val Clark

Age: 17

Family: Parents, Rick Clark and Angie Bills; brothers, Rick, 21, and Christian, 11

Favorite TV show: “Friends”

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite movie: “Zootopia”

Favorite athlete: Tamika Catchings

Favorite team: University of Connecticut women’s basketball

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.