J.T. Bost Award winner: Always a spark from Clarke

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2024


By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan graduate Emma Clarke, a Tennessee softball recruit, has a house full of plaques and trophies.

She made All-State in volleyball, she played for two basketball state champions, and she’s among the top softball home-run hitters in NCHSAA history, but being named the female winner of the JT Bost Sportsmanship Award for the 2023-24 school year still made her face light up.

Clarke gets it. She understands there’s more to it than scoreboards and stat sheets.

“It’s an award that’s not just about talent,” Clarke said. “It’s an award based on character, so getting this is pretty awesome.”

Previous female winners of the J.T. Bost Award were Carson’s Taylor Conrad, West Rowan’s KK Dowling, South Rowan’s Mackenzie Chabala and North Rowan’s Chloee Stoner.

All of them were well above average athletes who also played the games the right way. They played hard and tough, but they also played fair, and when it was over, they shook hands and handed out a few hugs.

Educator and coach Andrew Poston sponsors the award in memory of Bost, a former colleague who umpired and officiated a multitude of sports before his tragic death in an accident in April 2018.

The other nominees for this year were Carson’s Emily Landaverde, South Rowan’s Avery Welch, Salisbury’s Ashley Yang, North Rowan’s Dasia Elder and East Rowan’s Eleni Miller.

Clarke is unusually gifted in terms of size, agility, speed and power, but has managed to stay grounded. There aren’t any complaints about Clarke from coaches, refs or umpires. She’s inspired teammates. She’s earned the respect of opponents.

West softball coach Jimmy Greene isn’t the most unbiased guy in the world because he’s also the proud uncle of Clarke, but he offered profound words about what makes her tick.

“As talented as she is and as athletic as she is, I don’t think those things can compare to how great she has been as a teammate,” Greene said. “I’ve coached girls at West who were great teammates, but she’s been the best teammate I’ve ever coached. Her love and desire to see others succeed in incomparable. I’ve seen her run from shortstop to hug a right fielder who tracked a ball and made a good catch. She’s like that. You can ask anyone she’s played with.”

The basketball, volleyball and softball teams that Clarke has played on have all been very good or great, partly because of Clarke, partly because she’s had determined coaches and talented teammates.

But when you’re annually contending for conference championships, competing in playoff games, that means there are going to be some painful losses.

Keeping a stout heart in defeat may be the toughest thing there is to do in sports, but Clarke has handled it.

“I’ve watched her after every game talk to any fan that came up to her, win or lose,” Greene said. “There have been tears involved, at times, but she still knew it was the right thing to do. You can’t pout and you can’t whine and be a sore loser. A lot of people don’t know how to lose. She is extremely competitive, but if we lost, she was able to handle it with class.”

Clarke said her favorite game from the basketball season other than winning the state championship was West’s close loss to Lake Norman. That was the Falcons’ only setback in her last two seasons of basketball, but it was also the toughest, the most challenging and the most competitive game.

“That was a great game because that was a game that made us better,” Clarke said.

Jan Dowling has stepped down as West’s volleyball coach — Tiffany Brooks has replaced her — but Dowling won’t forget Clarke anytime soon.

“Emma was one of the hardest-working athletes with one of the best attitudes I’ve ever had the joy of coaching and teaching,” Dowling said. “Sometimes kids can be hard workers, but their attitudes are terrible, like they expect something back from you just because they work hard. Emma never expected anything back. She just wanted to be coached as hard as I could coach her because she wanted to become better.”

So it’s one more award on a tall stack for Clarke, but this one is a little different. This one isn’t based on home runs or kills or rebounds. This one is about intangibles. This one is about heart. This one was about moving on to the next play, no matter how bad a call seemed to be.

“I know a lot of people came to watch Emma play,” Greene said. “I made her introduce herself to a long list of my high school friends and customers, but she always crushed it, and she always managed to smile. She could be a salesman.”

Clarke’s biggest fans were young softball players. They could see that she wasn’t just a powerful hitter and swift shortstop, she was having a great time out there on the field.

“When we held a camp, the first thing the kids want to know was when would Emma get there,” Greene said. “She’s shown a lot of young girls what a blessing it is to play sports.”