Community Profile: Former basketball star runs Yongsan youth sports program
June 11, 2008
<b>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea</b> - Rickey Clark was 6 feet tall when he was 12. Six years later, at 6-foot-6-inches, he was one of the top 100 high school basketball players in the country in 1987 and got a full basketball scholarship to the University of Tennessee. He could have tried out for the NBA, and perhaps grabbed one of the few coveted spots. Instead, he moved to Germany to live with his uncle and try his hand at playing there. Just a couple of years later, he started working for the Army in Darmstadt and began his career in military recreation and sports programs. As the Child and Youth Services sports director here since 2005, he and his staff of seven manage what he says is the largest overseas youth sports program in the military.
<b>How did your career get started'</b>
My uncle lives in Germany. He got out of military in 1981 and stayed in Germany. He was a former all-Army basketball player. After I finished college, he told me, "OK what are your options now' Are you actually going to make it pro or ... what are you going to do'" I had considered being a school teacher, but wasn't sure. He said, "If you still want to play, I'll let you come stay with me for a year. I can get you a couple of contract offers. Give it a try." So instead of trying to get into the big leagues, I better try and do what my uncle says. I was 22. Could I have made the big leagues' Possibly. For the big leagues, only about 40 or 50 guys get in. So I tried Germany and I actually played ball with the Army in Darmstadt. I started playing with the military team and traveled with the team and we played everywhere in Germany. Coming out of high school I was in the top 100 high school players in America. I played on a lot of all-star teams. When I got to this Army base, I was shocked. I was playing ball with some bonafide players. A chief warrant officer I played with was (Chicago Bulls) Scotty Pippen's point guard in college. We bonded; it became family. In 1993-94, we had a very good team. We won 15 straight games out of 16. Then a sports job came open as the fitness facility manager. This was in 1995. I got the job and that's how I started in the military sports system.
<b>Looking back, what do you think'</b>
I truly think it's a blessing. I don't take a day for granted. Sometimes you look back, especially when you look at other guys who ... maybe this guy should have been in the NBA. You start thinking about the odds, and even the best guys are not in the league. I'm more than satisfied with what I do every day. I'm working for the kids. I've had coaches who helped me and mentored me. This is kind of like ... it's family. I can walk in the door every day and be happy. Regardless of what's going on. If something negative is going on, when a child comes to the door, it's going to change my total perspective. I have to forget about that negative. I have to deal with the positive.
<b>Tell us about your program.</b>
I actually manage the largest sports program overseas. Soccer: 45-plus teams. Basketball: 44 teams, 400-plus players. Winter swimming was about 60-70 kids. Baseball just finished; we had 31 baseball and six girls softball teams. I have 65 kids who play volleyball. Summer league basketball on average is about 60 kids with six to eight teams. Flag football has grown tremendously. When I got here, there were 32 kids and two teams. Now I have 142 kids playing in 11 teams. We created an 8- to 10-year-old league and an 11-13 league. We also have 50 cheerleaders, also a new program, and they cheer for the basketball and football teams. We're doing summer camps, too. We do a two-week soccer camp for two different age groups. I conduct the basketball camp myself. We're going to do a free football camp for three days June 27-29, for ages 8 to around 14. And also a free softball camp for three days. I try to keep the kids busy. We don't get a lot of breaks, and I don't really want breaks. They get to have some fun and do something productive.
<b>How does it all stay on track'</b>
It starts with the staff first. You have to take care of your people. This is sports, and this is a team concept. We can't let things just go. We can't let kids down. I have to be very, very positive when I come through that door. I can't be negative, because then my people are going to feed into that. And, of course, the volunteer coaches. Normally I have five or six coaches who coach two and three different age groups. The thing is ... we're serving greater good; we're taking care of 1,000-plus kids in the community. I really try my best to be hands-on and take care of the staff like we take care of the kids. The same pride we put into the program we put into our people. We can't be lazy and drop the ball ... we have to be ready to go.