High school to honor coach with service on Saturday

Mercury News

Saratoga High School will honor Coach Marshall Clark with a memorial service Saturday and plans to rename the school's track after the coach, who worked with some of world's best runners, including Olympians Don Kardong and Duncan McDonald, in his distinguished career.

``He loved cross-country and track -- that was just who he was,'' said Saratoga Principal Kevin Skelly. ``He loved the kids and never cut anyone. Even if they weren't the best runner, Coach Clark would make sure they had a quality experience as a member of the team.''

Clark died Sept. 30 after a heart attack during cross-country practice near Villa Montalvo. He was 69.

``Coach Clark was a one-in-a-million type of guy. There was not a finer individual on campus,'' Skelly said. ``The only consolation we have is that he died doing something that he truly loved.''

Clark coached at Stanford University from 1968 to 1978 and served as the head coach at San Jose State University before the legendary cross-country program was terminated in 1988, but he was just as comfortable working with high school students as he was coaching the sport's elite.

For the past 11 years, Clark was a fixture at Saratoga, where he passed along his love for distance running to another generation.

Clark grew up in Southern California and lettered in track from 1955 to 1957 at University of Southern California. He started his coaching career at the high school level in Southern California and moved north to coach at Seaside High School before he took over at Stanford. The Cardinal finished second in the country in 1968.

At Stanford, Clark made a lasting impression on Kardong, who went on to finish fourth in the marathon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

``Coach Clark was just as comfortable working with a walk-on runner as he was with those on full scholarship,'' Kardong said. ``He was happy working with runners nobody ever heard of, those who just wanted to improve their individual performance. And he loved working with high school runners as much as college stars, maybe even more so.''

While at Stanford, Clark designed the cross-country course on the Stanford Golf Course, which served as the home of the Pacific 10 Conference championships for 25 years. The Stanford Invitational, featuring the top high school and college runners, has been held on the course for the past 29 years.

Getting his team to work hard was not a problem for Clark, said Alicia Follmar, a standout sophomore on the Saratoga team.

``He was the best coach I have ever had in any sport,'' Follmar said. ``He never got upset with us and just did everything he could to help us improve. I learned I need to have a strong finish and give all I have in my races, but I also learned a lot about being a good person from Coach Clark.''

Saturday's service begins at 4 p.m. at the Saratoga High School gym.

``It's been amazing how many people have called to say how much he meant to them,'' his daughter, Shannon Clark, said. ``A lot of people will be at the memorial to speak about a man who never liked to talk about himself.''

Contact Dennis Knight at dknight@sjmercury.com or (408) 920-5899.